In our library sessions last term my senior classes explored a number of picture books with an Asian setting. With each book we looked in detail at the author's inspiration, other works by the author and illustrator, background information about the story (many of which were based around real events and people) and took time to talk about cover images and book design.
One of the books that elicited the most discussion was Sparrow Girl. Just like my students, I had no idea Mao declared war on sparrows along with rats, flies and mosquitoes. This time was called the four pests campaign. It is easy to understand the science of why this had such terrible effect. Killing 30 billion sparrows led to a catastrophic famine leaving 30-40 million people dead. Here are a set of lesson notes for this book. For more information about this book read this review.
Before reading this book we talked briefly about Mao and his ideas and then watched this short. but disturbing film from Germany where you can see people beating drums and killing the sparrows.
"They're like teardrops. The sky is crying birds." - Ming-Li
The hero of this fictional account by Sara Penny Packer is little Ming-Li. She cannot understand why the sparrows are considered bad. With her brother's help she rescues just seven precious birds. The crops fail. Ming-Li tells her father her secret. She has saved a handful of sparrows.
"Your daughter brings us a miracle!' ... From this day, sparrows will be safe in our village. And we will tell everyone we meet from other villages about the wisdom of the Sparrow Girl."
Sara Pennypacker is the author of the terrific junior series Clementine and also the books about Stuart along with the wonderful senior novel Pax. Yoko Tanaka has done many books but one we are reading at the moment is The Magician's Elephant as we prepare for the visit by Kate DiCamillo to our city next month.
Over the next few days I will talk about some of the other books we explored this term.