Friday, February 27, 2015

PPBF: The Seven Chinese Brothers

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

The Seven Chinese Brothers,
by Margaret Mahy and Jean and Mao-sien Tseng
The Seven Chinese Brothers
Written by Margaret Mahy
Illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng
Scholastic, 1990
grades K-3, reading level 4.8

Folk Tale, Siblings

"Once upon a time, when Ch'in Shih Huang was emperor of all China, seven remarkable brothers lived together on a beautiful hillside. They walked alike, they talked alike, they even looked so much alike that it was to tell one brother from the brother next to him. All the same, each brother had something special about him. Each brother had one amazing power that was all his own."

This folk tale mixes fact and fiction as it sets this magical family in the very real setting of the Qin dynasty. Seven brothers want to help repair a hole in the Great Wall. When the first brother is arrested and threatened with execution, the second takes his place. The story progresses as each brother in turn substitutes himself for the previous brother. Because of their incredible powers, like super-strength, iron bones, and fireproof skin, the brothers are able to cheat the executioner each morning. But it is the seventh son who is able to rescue the entire family and give the emperor's army their just reward.

What I Love:
I love Margaret Mahy's retelling. She is a master wordsmith and a mischievous storyteller. I always feel like the author is smirking as she spins a tale. The watercolor art is beautiful, fine contemporary illustrations with a definite nod to traditional Chinese design.

courtesy aliexpress
1. Celebrate Chinese New Year with crafts from Rachel on MalMal.
2. Order instructions for a Kirigami Great Wall of China from Amazing Pop-Ups.
3.  Cook up Emeril's Szechuan Style Spareribs from Food Network.
4. Spin a tale. Grace Lin twists this story into her own version, titled Seven Chinese Sisters. Read her website for ideas and activities, then try writing your own.
5. Professor David K. Jordan has posted a fabulous treasury of Chinese folk tales with explanations for English-speaking readers as well as a trove of links to Chinese history and culture.
6. Check out these and other Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Patricia
Reviewed by Joanna
Reviewed by Vivian
Reviewed by Barbara

Reviewed by Diane
Reviewed by Penny

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for February 27, 2015 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.


  1. Wow. I looked to see if this was at my library before I read the post. Now, I'm REALLY disappointed it's not available. I'm going to look at some of my used book sites, too. Thanks for sharing this one. What a fun retelling.

    1. I wish I could loan it to you. Say! That's an idea! Some kind of Netflix for kidlit authors:)

  2. What stunning illustrations. I love the retelling of this tale. I'm curious enough I want to read it. I love folk tale.

    1. I love to compare the style of different culture's folk tales. My shelves are full of collections. Do you have a favorite source?

  3. Oh my gosh! I almost squealed with excitement when I saw this post, because this is an old childhood favorite that my dad used to read to me when I was a little girl. I've never met anyone else who has ever heard of it. Excellent choice!

    1. Thanks, Heather. That makes my day. And don't we all hope our books will inspire the same reaction in the next generation of readers someday? For now I'll settle for the warm fuzzies of sharing Margaret's book with you guys.

  4. I've never heard this folk tale--so I want to read it for myself!

    1. There was an early classic called The Five Chinese Brothers, but I prefer this version.

  5. I know the earlier version you mention but I would be eager to get my hands on Mahy's version.

    1. I didn't think it was scarce, but after Stacy's comment . . . i hope you get to read it.

  6. Nice to see a retailing. I loved the original bu it was dismissed by Chinese readers as stereotypical. Looks like this one is fresh and the art more realistic. Thanks!

    1. I do love the style of the original but didn't have a copy handy to compare them precisely. 'Hope you enjoy the new version too.

  7. This is a great one! I like your observation that she's a, "mischievous storyteller." That sums it up nicely!

    The Kirigami Great Wall of China looks dazzling. Thank you for including that. I'll have to check it out.

    Happy Year of the Ram!

    1. Thanks. I am fascinated by any kind of paper engineering!

  8. I LOVE this book, Joanne! And I LOVE Margaret Mahy! Such a master storyteller! Did you ever read The Chewing Gum Rescue? We used to get it from the library on a cassette tape, and the whole family loved it. But now we can't get it anymore, and I've never been able to find the book :( Anyway, thanks so much for sharing this fabulous title and fun activities!

    1. Thanks for the audio recommendation. Also try The Man Whose Morher Was a Pirate and Orphan Jack!


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