Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review - D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet

D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet (Discover the World)
by Carol Crane
illustrated by Zong-Zhou Wang
Date: 2006
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Winding its way like a long dragon through 4,000 miles of mountains, desert, and grasslands, The Great Wall of China was built entirely by hand, taking hundreds of years and millions of workers to complete. That's just one of the myriad wonders of China children will discover in this far-reaching book. D is for Dancing Dragon brings China's history and culture alive by describing its unique customs, art works, music, foods, geography and wildlife. Children will learn, for example, that paper, ink, printing, umbrellas, kites and fireworks are all Chinese inventions. They'll find the secrets of how silk is made, how chopsticks work and why you should never cry on the Chinese New Year's Day. They will even learn a few Chinese words, as well as which astrological animal sign belongs to them. This captivating book is sure to be of special interest to anyone curious about this beautiful and mysterious land.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The only other installment I've read in this series of alphabet books is M is for Maple... and I wasn't impressed with that one, either. D is for Dancing Dragon could have been a nice non-fiction book highlighting all things Chinese. Instead, it comes across as paradoxically braggy and clueless.

I don't know if the author has any connections to China. In the section about the author, it's stated that she's written a lot of picture books about various U.S. states. The lack of Chinese flavour shows in the writing. So many times, even when it's claimed that China came up with the concept or has been using it for centuries, the word used is not Chinese. (A few examples are marionettes, macramé, and sweet dumplings that are eaten at Chinese New Year; surely those all have Chinese words to describe them.) And Chinese New Year and the zodiac are muddled as concepts. The timing of Chinese New Year is described twice in slightly different ways, neither of which make sense (the wording is off). And as for the zodiac, the book states: To tell which month the calendar is in, every year is given an animal name or sign according to a repeating cycle. From what I understand of the Chinese zodiac, the animals correspond to the years, not the months. I have no idea how you tell what month you're in with that calendar... but I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with the animals.

Over and over we hear about how Chinese inventions or landmarks are the biggest, the longest, the earliest, the most important, etc. It's like the book itself has a fragile ego and needs to constantly be talking itself up to its readers. I would've preferred more facts (and fewer legends) about the origins of certain things. Some of the sections are quite interesting (I particularly liked the pages for J, which are about jasmine flowers and tea; O, which are about Chinese opera; and X, which are about language). But there's a distinct rose-coloured-glasses tone to the whole book in that it ignores all of China's problems. (Of course, a highly politicized book might not be as suitable for kids. However, I had the same issue with M is for Maple in that it barely talked about Canada's Indigenous peoples and their history. D is for Dancing Dragon likewise makes no mention of issues with Hong Kong, Tibet, or Xinjiang.)

This book is really heavy on the text. Each letter is explained with a few paragraphs of prose, a short rhyming verse, and an illustration. Maybe it's just because of the particular e-book format I read, but this didn't really seem like a picture book to me. It looked more like an illustrated textbook... and, as such, I found it rather boring on the whole.

I don't think this series is for me. I like the basic idea of tailoring alphabet books to different locations to highlight their special traits... but the two examples I've read so far have not impressed me.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.14 out of 5 ladybugs

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