Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
Celebrate the lunar Year of the Water Dragon with Ying Chang Compestine‘s latest picture book which reminds us all again (gently and poignantly) about the value of patience and perseverance (especially relevant in this Dragon year!), the wisdom of elders, and the importance of cultural connections.
Ming Da greets his grandfather upon his arrival from China with a bow, just “as Mom had told me to.” When he sees his grandfather practicing tai chi the next morning, he immediately wants to join in, but not before he shows off his own version of kung fu “kicks and punches.” Tai chi is slow, and makes Ming Da’s legs and arms heavy and wobbly. “As the weeks passed, I felt cheated,” Ming Da complains. “Maybe Grandpa didn’t know real kung fu.”
Ming Da’s disappointment leads him to avoid Grandpa: he reads on the bus on the way to school, hides in his room, even resorting to headphones to shut out his grandfather. But one morning, Ming Da watches Grandpa avert a serious accident, saving two people on the street: “In a smooth motion, Grandpa crouched like a tiger, swept up a leg and kicked the board, breaking it neatly in half.” Ming Da’s shocked reaction – “‘Wow, Grandpa, how did you do that?'” – is met with the expected answer: “‘Lots of practice,'” followed by “‘I started at your age.'” Finally Ming Da is ready to train.
When New Year arrives, Grandpa gives Ming Da “a red silk jacket embroidered with dragons.” [That mythical beast had to pop up somewhere!] Ming Da’s embarrassment over “this silly jacket” eventually becomes beaming pride as he experiences quite a memorable night, filled with tasty treats, hóng bāo (red envelopes with lucky money), and an unexpected, unforgettable starring role in Chinatown’s traditional lion’s dance.
Ming Da’s journey toward recognition of his grandfather’s accomplishments which leads him to honor his own dual heritage is gloriously captured in the soft watercolors of veteran illustrator Yan Nascimbene‘s full-page panels: Grandpa in his traditional suit with Ming Da side-by-side in his jeans and perpetually untied high-top sneakers; dozing, shoe-less Mom reading her Chinese magazine while wild-haired, booted Dad delves into a thick English book, a Picasso-esque Cubist canvas hung next to a floral brush painting on the back wall; the diverse, overflowing (literally onto the facing page) crowds of New Year celebrants scattered like confetti throughout Chinatown. From the mini-Ming Das demonstrating tai chi poses on every left page, to the aquarium rug, to the bus ads, to the pigtailed neighbor and her dog peeking over the fence, Nascimbene makes sure that Compestine’s story of youthful self-discovery is wonderfully enhanced by his many delightful, surprising details.
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