“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing • Middle grade fiction (illustrated)

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing
by Gue Yue and Clare Farrow • Illustrated by Helen Cann
Just out! •
Barefoot Books • Middle grade fiction (illustrated)
Wouldn’t you rather be free, for just a day, than spend a lifetime in a cage?
Story: Eight-year-old Little Leap is growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. He loves to spend his days flying kites, playing games with his friends, and practicing his flute. One day, he catches a songbird—but she refuses to sing as soon he places her in a cage. Little Leap Forward cannot understand why....Then Mao’s Red Guards arrive and everyone’s lives change as even the littlest freedoms are restricted. Little Leap comes to terms with these changes as he decides whether he can hold onto the beautiful bird who will not sing, or should return her to her freedom.

Story behind the story: The launch title in Barefoot Books’ New Young Fiction list for readers ages 9-12, Little Leap Forward is based upon the real-life experiences of accomplished musician Guo Yue. Born in Beijing in 1958, the year of Mao's Great Leap Forward, his name is a revolutionary one: Guo meaning Kingdom, Yue meaning Leap Forward. His family lived in a traditional courtyard in the maze of old alleys known as the Hutongs, between the beautiful Drum and Bell Towers and the river where he played as a child. His courtyard housed the families of five traditional musicians, mostly from the countryside. From these musicians he learned how to put not just his breath but his whole body into playing the flute. In 1982 Yue left China for England with the help of his sister who lived there. He studied flute at the Guildhall School of Music. Yue now plays 15 different bamboo flutes and records on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. He has worked on the soundtracks of several international films, including Bertolluci's Oscar-winning 'The Last Emperor' and 'The Killing Fields'. An accomplished cook, Yue has also written, with his wife Clare Farrow, Music, Food and Love.
"I have heard Guo Yue play his music, I have eaten his food, and can guarantee he delivers in a magical way." Peter Gabriel

“This is a story that deepens with each rereading…. The authors thread together themes of music, freedom and friendship so subtly that children will hardly detect the shifts going on within Leap Forward until he takes Little Cloud to the riverside. By ending the novel before the worst tragedies befall his family, Guo and Farrow suggest that Leap Forward has gained the inner strength he needs to get through whatever lies ahead.”—Jennifer M. Brown, Shelf Awareness

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing has been selected by Anokaberry as one the the top 20 Best Books of 2008 for Middle Grade Readers.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and some reviews are in, and more in the works; please click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say about this book and be sure to come back as there are more reviews to come!


Tina Ristau, Elementary Media Specialist said...

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing by Guo Yue was a great book. The illustrations were beautiful and the setting of Beijing is quite timely with the Olympics taking place there. Set just before the Chinese Revolution Guo Yue's book is a fictional account of Little Leap's childhood in China. The Afterword contains photographs and factual information about the author's childhood. Little Leap's story is touching and entertaining both, and provides not only a story to its readers, but also historical information about a time period most children are not familiar with.
Rating: 4 stars
-- Tina Ristau, Elementary Media Specialist, Irving Elementary, Waterloo, IA

Nan Hoekstra said...

Amid themes of freedom and daily labor, a story-a life-unfolds. A solid 5 in basket lingo. I see a homeschooler anchoring China study with this gem. I see a read-aloud for elementary or middle with kite-building and flying for art and physical education. Beautifully written and sumptuously illustrated. A banquet!

Jacquie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacquie said...

I will find room for Little Leap Forward in my picnic basket as its message will resonate for a long time. Guo Yue tells his story with wonderful metaphor and the illustrations deepen the meaning of his message...one which teaches the power of friendship and family and how centering both can be. I believe children needs stories of hope, tolerance, and values around family and friendship and this book delivers. While our sixth graders participate in their China studies I will share this as a read aloud.

Eva M said...

#4 - Recommend without reservation!

Grades 3 to 6

8-year-old Leaping Forward, living in an old part of Beijing in 1966, thinks his life is just about right. Sure, he misses his dead father, and it would be great to have a bit more food on the table – his mom and five sisters have to carefully count out every grain of rice. But Leaping Forward flies kites with his best friend Little-Little, makes friends with pretty Blue, tends his silkworms, and tries to encourage his caged wild bird to sing by playing on a flute.

Leaping Forward doesn’t think anything is wrong with all-white kites (rather than the multi-colored beauties of the previous generation) or all-blue clothing or revolutionary songs, and these facts are presented to the reader in a child’s accepting and nonchalant tone. But when the Cultural Revolution slams down on Beijing, Leaping Forward can’t help but notice how narrow and limiting life is becoming. His friend Blue and his sisters must cut off their long hair or risk having it cut off by force. Kite-flying is banned, books and art are burned, and school is closed.

Suddenly, Leaping Forward understands why Little-Little was always so troubled by his caged bird. “Wouldn’t you rather be free, just for a day, than spend a lifetime in a cage?” Little-Little asks. It is Little-Little, a free spirit by nature, who urges Leaping Forward to go with him again to their spot by the river, away from the trucks and loudspeakers of the Red Guards, to fly a forbidden kite and to play music on the flute – not revolutionary songs or scales but wild and free music. When Leaping Forward finally decides that he must let his caged bird fly free, something within him is able to stretch free of its bonds and fly free as well.

Never depressing or gray, this is an authentic child’s-eye view of Communist China. Try as it might to wring color, spontaneity, and joy from people’s lives, Mao’s government never did succeed. Red berries, yellow birds, and green mulberry leaves sparkle in Leaping Forward’s story, making it come vividly to life. The many watercolor illustrations depict the people and places of Leaping Forward’s world in winsome, jewel-toned detail.

This is an autobiographical book, and readers will be fascinated by Guo Yue’s afterword, which extends his story to the present day and includes several photos of the chubby-faced author as a boy. The timing is right, now that kids all over America have been fascinated by China's Olympic games, to share this fine book with them.

Patti Harju said...

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing.
This is the beautifully written and illustrated story of a young boy, Little Leap, living in Beijing in 1966. The story itself is very entertaining and the historical aspects paint a picture of life in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. Little Leap makes and flies kites, raises silkworms, goes to the market for his sisters, and makes a birdcage for Little Cloud, his pet bird. He also witnesses how life changes for those around him during the revolution. The book is the story of the author, Guo Yue's childhood in Beijing and the Afterword extends and explains the story.
I would use this book as part of a unit on China, especially with the younger grades. It would be a wonderful read aloud selection. Books such as this one give our children that necessary glimpse into other lives, times and cultures. I give this book a 5 - I strongly recommend it.

Theresa G said...

Little Leap Forward gets a "4" in my picnic basket. As a social studies teacher, I am always looking for literature to help my students make connections and this book is a great one!! Set in China just before the Cultural Revolution, the story is told through the eyes of a child who doesn't notice some of the more subtle changes happening around him until they impact him directly. But students of history will be able to see the changes in not only the text, but the wonderful illustrations as well. A perfect companion to study of Communist China, the book is ideal for grades 5 and up.

PLLoggerR said...

Guo Yue and Clare Farrow’s book, Little Leap Forward: a boy in Beijing, is an intriguing historical novel loosely based on Yue’s childhood during the Cultural Revolution. It is a book about sharing, hardship, and freedom. Friends sharing ideas and helping each other find things that make them happy during tough times. Living without (food, school, and colorful kits are three examples) and how people manage to work around and through these hardships. Freedom isn’t just about people’s movements, but their thoughts, their imagination, and their interaction with the natural world.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Helen Cann, who has captured the essence of the Beijing hutongs (the old courtyard homes near the drum and bell towers) and provided light to a potentially dark story. The story ends with an Afterward providing details and pictures of Yue as a child.

The story is sweet, clearly geared to the younger set (grades 3-5). I kept wanting more details and in the end found that what I would have preferred was an actual autobiography with more of the details and style of the Afterward, but, perhaps that would best be for an older audience.

I give the book a 4 as I think it has great potential. Students will like the illustrations; teachers will like the potential for tie-ins to a unit on China.

Joan Bray said...

Little Leap Forward was a pleasant surprise. I am a 6th grade Ancient Civilizations teacher and chose this selection to tie in Ancient China with a more modern China. The book is well-written with an entertaining and historical story line. The illustrations are exceptional and make the book a 4 to this reader.
Rating: 4

Lori said...

Rating: 4 stars

This was a wonderful book. I was spellbound from the moment I started. I read the entire book, cover to cover, in one sitting. Little Leap is such an endearing character, and his story is so touching. I enjoy books like this that teach you a little about history without hitting you over the head with it. Learning about the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of Little Leap and his family was really effective! I really think it would be appropriate for younger children as a read aloud and for older children.

I think this book would fit nicely into a unit on China or the Olympics. I am going to incorporate it into my seventh grade literature class this year.

Lori Stolaksi, St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, Milwaukee, WI

Deborah Muldawer said...

Superbly written and beautifully illustrated, Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijung by Guo Yue is a masterpiece sheathed in simplicity.

Through the perceptions of Little Leap Forward, his best friend Little-Little, and his girlfriend Blue, the reader is challenged to find new ways of defining art and new ways of expressing freedom.

Little Leap Forward's experiences are paralleled by those of his beloved pet bird, Little Cloud, who refuses to sing while trapped in a cage. As Little Leap Forward becomes aware of the value of freedom, he releases his pet and then finds his own song by listening to the joy in hers.

Despite deep symbolism and disturbing historical information,the book Little Leap Forward retains a certain innocence through Little Leap's point of view as an eight-year-old child.

Little Leap Forward is a versatile book and one well worth reading for its literary and historical value.

Anonymous said...

This is a sweet little book with lovely illustrations and a good deal of historical interest, but not an easy seller for young readers. I recommend this as a read-aloud for students 5th grade and up as part of a unit on China. It would be a great selection for a discussion group.

---Pamela Burke, Librarian, Marlboro School, Marlboro VT

Sam Maskell said...

Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing is a sweet, loosely autobiographical tale of growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Leap Forward lives in a very poor, crowded area in Beijing with his mother, sisters, and best friend Little-Little. While the politics of Mao Tse Tung's China never become the story, they are always present; from the food rationing, to the special uniforms, and even the banning of kite flying you get a sense of what is happening around Leap Forward. In front of that tumultuous backdrop Leap Forward experiences life as a rush of sound, color, and experience, even as he accepts the limitations of the Cultural Revolution with a child’s trust.

The story weaves together themes of freedom and creativity when Little-Little cleverly traps a beautiful song bird. Leap Forward builds a cage to keep the bird. However, trapped within the cage, the bird, named Little Cloud, refuses to sing. Leap Forward’s mother gifts him with a flute and lessons that the young boy hopes will enable him to play and inspire the bird to sing. Realizing that the caged bird will not sing, Leap Forward releases him.

The watercolor illustrations are charming. The outdoor scenes are bright with sharp colors that fade into beige and grays to emphasize the bleak housing of city scenes.

This book makes a welcome addition to any larger public or school library. (#4 – Recommend without reservation)

~Samantha Maskell, Youth Services Librarian
Rockingham Free Public Library (Bellows Falls, VT)

Lydia Kirkman said...

I liked the book Little Leap Forward but the fact that it didn't have much drama with the soldiers was a bit disappointing. Overall though I thought the book was awesome! I would rate it a Picnic Basket 4.

Sarah D (6th grade student of L. Kirkman, NWMS, Greensboro, NC)

Jenn H. said...

I give Little Leap Forward a good "4" and think it would be a good companion read with Yang Ching Compestine's Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, giving a nice boy's perspective on the Cultural Revolution.

Leap Forward learns solid lessons about the nature of freedom and music after capturing a young bird. The beautiful symbolism of caged birds, kites, and bright ribbons conveys the tension present in China during Mao Zedong's rule as Communist leader. Unlike Compestine's book, Guo chooses to illustrate the quiet struggle of the artistic class without harsh pictures of soldiers and backbiting neighbors. In some ways, this quiet picture is more thoughtful and heart-renching for all its silent beauty.

Jenn Hartley
Teen Services Librarian
Austin Public Library

Kay Bowes, Youth Services Librarian said...

Exquisitely portrayed is this glimpse into life in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in China. Little Leap Forward and his friend Little-Little enjoy the simplistic village life they live until the Red Guards arrive. Gone are the colorful clothing they could choose to wear, gone was the life having more than your neighbor. They “. . . should all live like peasants – be good communists.” There is little of beauty left in the city until Little-Little captures a singing bird as a present to Little Leap Forward. The bird is placed in a cage next to Little Leap Forward’s home but she never sings. The truth becomes apparent,finally, to Little Leap Forward that the bird will not sing while she is imprisoned, much like the inhabitants of Beijing. This is a very quiet, beautiful story, written subtly yet is very moving and emotive. The small framed paintings add such dignity to this evocative little book. This may have little shelf-appeal to youngsters, but once they begin to read it, they will not put it down. It may require some booktalking ; but could easily be used in classrooms on a unit on Chinese history or the power of freedom to a people.

Rating: 3

Kay Bowes, Youth Services Librarian, Brandywine Hundred Library, Wilmington, DE

Anonymous said...

Little Leap Forward was a nice blend of historical information presented in a story format. Although I would not recommend the book for the storyline alone, it is an enjoyable read and the characters are believeable. More important, I think, is the feel for the time and place that this book creates. It is a good history lesson in an easy to read and understand format. I believe children studying this time period would benefit from and enjoy reading this story. I look forward to recommending this story to students and teachers.

A solid 4

Susan O'Connell
school librarian
Woodbury Elementary School
Woodbury, VT

sexy said...