China’s Bravest Girl


A simple rhyming text keeps the pace brisk in this adaptation of a fifth-century Chinese legend about a young woman who goes to war to save her family's honor. Hua Mu Lan's father has no eldest son, and so the faithful daughter decides, "For love of her elderly father / she will dress in warrior's clothes, / walking and talking like a man, / so no one ever knows." Hua Mu Lan's "courage wins the day" and a "hundred battles," earning her the rank of general and the Emperor's highest esteem. Arai's jewel-toned paintings accurately portray the life of the period, and margins depicting a Chinese screen contain an inset of text in Chinese. But the flat, often expressionless figures move through the static compositions without making emotional contact with the reader. Children will nevertheless enjoy the heroine's exploits and the moment of revelation when her war companion discovers her true identity. When he proposes that the "best of friends"


become husband and wife, the dignified Hua Mu Lan responds: "You treat your friends with honor. Can your wife expect the same?" The young man agrees, concluding this ancient legend with modern sensibilities and read-aloud appeal.