Monday, April 25, 2016

Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children

Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children by Arthur Bowie Chrisman is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and BooksAMillion (but, seriously, check with your local library before purchasing).

The Blurb

1926 Newbery Award Winner
A series of fascinating Chinese stories, strong in humor and rich in Chinese wisdom, in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought.

My Review 
Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars 
This book is hideous.

I first encountered this book as a child and didn't finish it the first, second, or third time (in high school!) that I attempted to read it. I had to wait until I grew up and gained adult superpowers, applying the force to make myself finish this book. I groaned when I reached the third story and saw how many stories were left.

I can't believe this collection of why-tales is called humorous - imagine a white man pulling at the corners of his eyes with his fingers while saying ching, chow, cho. It's that kind of humor. Teaching like this might have been okay back in the day (before the Civil Rights Movement), but the delivery of these "lessons" isn't acceptable now.

This book is no longer billed as authentic Chinese folklore because it's not. Names like Ah Fun ('All Fun' when said a'loud with a southern drawl that Arthur Bowie Chrisman, born in Virginia and died in Arkansas, most likely possessed) detract from a rich culture with its own just-so stories. 
The writing is awkward and boring. Even as a child, I knew I wasn't learning anything real about China so what was the point? I didn't want another history lesson on civil rights in America. I just wanted to read, I wanted a story that would transport me to another place and time, a brief break in the monotony of the day. If it taught me something, great.

This book doesn't paint a picture of China. It doesn't teach anything about Chinese history. Cultural details are thrown in awkwardly, caricatures of a foreign entity, and because I don't believe Chrisman about how he collected these tales (I feel they were born in his mind while scrunched over his writing table), I don't trust the details.

The book could be used to teach about cultural appropriation but that's for older folks; kids usually don't want another lesson. This book is one of those books that can turn off kids from reading, especially if they aren't already keen on the activity. Unless your child is an activist or has the goal of reading all the Newbery books, skip this one. There are better books out there. Find and read them instead. 

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