Margaret Mahy (1936-2012) worked as a librarian in her native New Zealand before becoming a full-time writer in 1980. Beloved by generations of readers, she wrote over 150 books for children and young adults, and in 2006, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Award (the "Nobel Prize of children's books") for her contribution to children's literature.
In colorful language well suited to a story of ingenuity and valor, Mahy presents the Chinese folktale about brothers with amazing powers. Although the broad outline is the same as The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by Kurt Wiese (first published in 1938), Mahy's stirring retelling is very different from and just as good as the earlier effort. She has elaborated on the story, spicing it with more action and adding ironic humor. Replete with striking character portraits, the Tsengs' dramatic watercolors evoke the Orient and provide authentic, historical details. As in all fine picture books, text and illustrations blend, creating an inviting world for young readers and listeners and heightening the story's dramatic impact. Children will be caught up in the many narrow escapes and will benefit from the subtle lesson on the importance of working together. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
K-Gr 4-- The seven brothers walk, talk, and look alike, but each has his own special power. When the third brother runs afoul of the emperor and is sentenced to be beheaded, the fourth brother, who has bones of iron, takes his place. The emperor then tries drowning and burning but each time a different brother foils his scheme. Mahy retells this traditional Chinese tale in graceful, witty prose. She uses classic storytelling elements to their best advantage and, without any attempt to imitate Chinese syntax, her choice of words gives a feeling of time and place. Both jacket notes and an editor's foreword give background information about the tale. Beginning with the cover, which shows the smiling brothers looming over a cowering emperor, the Tsengs' rich watercolors complement and enhance the story. With great skill, they interweave elements of ancient Chinese painting with lively pictorial storytelling. The emperor, encased in voluminous ceremonial robes, is an embodiment of corrupt yet insecure power, and the beautiful faces of the seven brothers, although alike, glow with life. Many readers will be familiar with the classic Claire Bishop/Kurt Wiese version of the The Five Chinese Brothers (Coward-McCann, 1938). The style of both text and illustrations is so different from the Mahy/Tseng book that comparisions are inappropriate. An exceptional new telling of the story. --Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY