Monday, March 28, 2016

China's Forbidden City

The China Institute contacted me to see if I would be interested in seeing books from their We All Live in the Forbidden City program. (The Forbidden City refers to the Imperial Palace in Beijing that housed the seat of Chinese government for about 500 years.  It is now home to the Palace Museum.)  I reviewed their book for very young listeners or readers.

Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City by Brian Tse.  Illustrated by Alice Mak.  Translated by Ben Wang.
China Institute, 2016

A mother creates a bowl and decides to paint it with a pig to represent her young daughter, nicknamed Piggy.

Mommy is good at making pottery.  She has made a bowl, and on the bowl she painted a piggy.

Holding the bowl, Mommy smiles and says "At the sight of Piggy, my hearts leaps with joy!" Oh, silly Mommy.
To make Piggy happy, the mother paints a cloud.  White Cloud, too, needs happiness, so she adds birds, and Flower, and Butterfly, and Tiny Goldfish.  Fruits join the tableau as well, to "represent the joyful meeting of all living things."  When finished, the bowl is lovely; and it is Piggy's; and it is a gift of happiness,

There are so many lovely things joined together on it, all gifts of happiness from Mommy to Piggy, which is me.  Mommy smiles and says, "Oh, silly Piggy!"

The story is short and simple, yet steeped in Chinese culture and meaning. The illustrations are of mixed medium and feature simple ink drawings colored in cheery pastel colors with watercolor highlights.  As each item is added to the painted bowl, the facing page features a facsimile of a  pattern on one of the porcelain bowls in the Palace Museum collection.

A small (3 small-print pages) section titled "What Happiness!" follows the story and briefly explains Chinese customs pertaining to auspicious name selection and the creation of symbolic happiness that brings concrete blessings.

A final section contains beautiful photographs of the antique bowls represented in the story.  The photos are presented on white space without text, so that young children can enjoy them.  Descriptions are on accompanying pages.

Bowls of Happiness will provide a very small introduction to Chinese art and culture to the very young.  Art teachers may find it useful for discussing painted pottery.  The book is perfect for small hands and sharing one-on-one or with a very small group.  The overall presentation is lovely.

Other books in the We All Live in the Forbidden City series are:


My copy of Bowls of Happiness was provided by the China Institute.
 

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