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Monday, July 1, 2013

Beyond the Moongate: True Stories of 1920s China, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Quan. Tundra Books, 2013. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"The adobe house, built of sun-dried earth and straw, was the house where Popo had come as a bride and where Papa grew up. The front room contained a simple stone mill and a foot-operated wooden mortar and pestle for husking and refining rice. My brothers loved to "work" these primitive machines, creating a great deal of noise and dust."

I did not read Once Upon a Full Moon (Tundra, 2007), but my interest is now piqued and I will have to check for it at the library. In this continuing story, Elizabeth Quan shares vignettes of her family's trip from Toronto to rural China in the 1920s.

There they share life with their father's mother in a remote southern village:

"She showed me the covered earthen pot behind the bedroom door and the wooden basin on a stand in the courtyard. I dipped my fingers into the cold water, then went to the other side of the house to see my family. And so, my two years in China had begun..."

Talk about culture shock...the children of the village are appalled by the appearance of these interlopers who wear unusual and never-seen-before clothing. It only makes their arrival all the more obvious! In the stories readers read about some very familiar traditional Chinese customs...Chinese New Year, clothing, celebratory food and fireworks. There are others that may not be so familiar:

"It was a perfect day for visiting the graves of the ancestors...At each site we visited, the men and boys raked and tidied up. We always left food for the spirits before moving on. When lunchtime came, we rested in the shade and talked about our common ancestors, forever remembered."

Each chapter takes only two pages; one to describe various aspects of life in the village, and the other with a watercolor image to complement the facing page of print. The brightly colored artwork adds visual understanding to the description. What a lesson in culture for these children who were growing up in Canada. They returned home acutely aware of their Chinese culture. Often humorous, always personal, it is a close look at another time and place, and an engaging look at one of the world's many cultures.

An afterword is accompanied by a photo of Elizabeth Quan's beloved grandmother and tells a bit more about the remarkable woman they visited over that two year hiatus from life in Toronto. It speaks of her love of family and of the land 'beyond the moongate'.

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