Written and illustrated by Rich Lo
Sky Pony Press 6/01/2014
Age 4 to 8 36 pages
“The Chinese opera is anything but boring. Songs, acrobats, acting, and costumes make the opera a truly spectacular show to behold. Spending the summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera, a young boy yearns to be a part of the show. Rehearsing his acrobatic moves day and night with the show’s famous choreographer, the boy thinks he is soon ready to perform with the others. But the choreographer doesn’t agree. Upset, the boy goes home to sulk. What will he do next? Will he give up on his dream, or will he persevere and work his way up in the show?”
“Father was the band leader and composer of the Chinese opera in Hong Kong. Sometimes I sat on top of the instrument cases and watched the actors onstage.”
A young boy admires his father and the Chinese opera. He wants to become a famous acrobat. He asks the best acrobat in the troupe to teach him some acrobatic moves. Gai Chui agrees. The two exercise and practice acrobatic moves, such as the praying mantis and the drunken monkey. The young boy is good and he knows it. At school, he brags that he will soon be an acrobat in the Chinese opera. The boy decides it is time to tell Gai Chui he is ready for a performance assignment. Gai Chui laughs and calls the young boy presumptuous. That evening, the young boy sulked. His father shows his son pictures of himself at the beginning his career. To be a band leader, the father explains, he had to learn every instrument so he could compose songs, which he also needed to learn to write. Does the young boy understand the message his father had imparted? Will he continue to dream of becoming an acrobat in the opera?
The first thing I noticed about Father’s Chinese Opera was the beautiful illustrations. The watercolor scenes are bright kaleidoscopes of color. The back and fore grounds are washes of orange, blue, green, and reddish-purple. The Chinese opera comes alive on the pages. The young boy, immersed in the opera through his father’s work, wants to be on stage as an acrobat. The famous, and real, Gai Chui agrees to mentor the boy. The acrobatic moves fly around the pages as student and teacher strike identical poses. Father’s Chinese Opera is simply a gorgeous picture book.
The young boy knows he is good. He brags to school friends, and then tells Gai Chui he is ready for his acrobat assignment. Being told he is disrespectful, unqualified, and overconfident the boy sulks, proving Gai Chui correct. I love how the boy’s father, the leader of the Chinese opera, explains to his son why Gai Chui said what he did. The boy wants to start at the top, or near the top, rather than earning his way as others must do. I had no idea a composer, at least for the Chinese opera, must know how to play every instrument. That feat in itself is amazing (and screams picture book story).
The boy’s indomitable spirit brings him back to the stage, this time as a flag carrier. You can see the joy on his face as he weaves towards the edge of the page. Learning to work your way up to where you want to be is a difficult lesson for a young child. Children live in the here and now, wanting what they want now. Delayed gratification is not a message in the story, but it falls in line with waiting your turn, working your way up, persevering, and keeping a colorfully bright spirit as you work toward that dream.
Children will love Father’s Chinese Opera. It will be a treat for their young eyes. At first, many will think of a circus because of all the color and movement. Boys will connect with the acrobatic moves the young boy learns from Gai Chui, looking at it as karate. It will be up to the reader to explain to the children the story is about a Chinese opera. But those problems are not due to story or art, but rather American culture. Father’s Chinese Opera is a wonderful book for school and classroom libraries.Children need to read about other cultures and Father’s Chinese Opera is a good book to start their journey.
The author’s note explains more about the Chinese opera, his father’s journey, and their move to the U.S. The note is an interesting read and quite informative. Adults will enjoy the author’s life story, though abbreviated. If the author expounded on this note, he would have a captivating memoir.
FATHER’S CHINESE OPERA. Text and illustrations copyright © 2014 by Rich Lo. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Sly Pony Press, New York, NY.
Learn more about Father’s Chinese Opera HERE.
copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews