Name of Book: Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society
Author: Adeline Yen Mah
Illustrator: Cover art by Kim McGillivray, Interior illustrations by Fred van Deelan
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Audience: Ages 10 and up
Summary: Ye Xian lives in Shanghai, China with her father and his evil live-in girlfriend until she is thrown out of her home. Ye Xian, dubbed CC for Chinese Cinderella, is taken in by Grandma Wu and given shelter, family, and encouragement to cultivate her strengths and identity. David, Sam, and Marat are orphans in Grandma Wu’s care and they, along with CC, become a part of a very dedicated network of Chinese who seek to help the oppressed and helpless. Historical events unfold as Japanese occupation of Shanghai and the American bombing of Japan transpire in 1942 to solicit the help of this secret Dragon Society network in a fictional, kung fu, global adventure.
Literary elements at work in the story: The story appeals to a wide audience as it centers around a twelve year old girl, incorporates three orphan boys skilled in kung fu, includes a global cast of characters, touches on world religions, draws on Chinese culture and traditions, the reality of war and human sacrifice along, with a good dose of adventure. The author titles the chapters that serves as a map to piece together the story along with maps of China and Shanghai in 1942, historical note, a glossary of Chinese words, and an explanation of the Chinese Zodiac that are most helpful. Character construction and development are really interesting and keep the reader engaged and attentive. The perspective from events that were unfolding in China in this fictional account prompted a more global awareness of history.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic ability: One of the strengths of this book seems to be that it recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of humanity regardless of gender, age, culture, and economic ability. Children are celebrated for their contributions as well as adults. The multi-generational partnership venture proves to impart a better world and promote coexistence. Chinese, Japanese, German, and American characters portray distinctive features but the thoughts and hearts show that human traits of compassion, justice, and human dignity are universal. This common thread is woven into exploring various faiths such as Buddhism, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian to recognize that we may have different names for God but ultimately, we are all reaching for the same Sacred One.
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes), Revelation 21:1-4, Wisdom of ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) circa 180-175 B.C.E.
Theology: Who is God? Why do people suffer? Is it really possible for us to coexist? This book raises some really difficult questions and presents challenging situations to test our theology and humanity. Sam, an orphaned Muslim boy, states “The goal of all religions is the same. It is the realization that God is in our mind.” This offers forgiveness, grace, and hope of transformation of the human heart. The struggles of many of the characters touch on the very things that Jesus speaks to in the Beautitudes. The book ends where humans of various faiths, nationalities, and animals have joined forces to overcome evil and seek a better world that echoes the promises in Revelation.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Ask the children what makes a person a member of a family. Sometimes people become members of family by marriage or a special relationship.
- Describe the members of CC’s family, both biological and extended family.
- Think about biblical families and can you recall any that might show some similarities to CC?
- What families do you consider yourself a member of and what is the connection? (Biological, school, team/club, church, global)
- How do you handle a problem/disagreement that arises with a family member?
- What are ways families handle differences?
- How do you envision God wanting us to handle our differences?
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Alice E. Blanton