Friday, September 11, 2009

The Five Chinese Brothers

In which I attempt to incite my children to violence and they are underwhelmed.

Welcome back to Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them (explanation here).

Somebody asked me if I would feel differently if the books that people wanted to ban or challenge were things I truly thought were inappropriate for kids. She implied that it's easy for me to make fun of not wanting kids to read books about two daddies when I have no problem with someone having two daddies. So this week I decided to read something with which I might have a real problem. And in honor of today, and the violence associated with it, I decided to read something violent.

In The Five Chinese Brothers (by Claire Huchet Bishop, illus. Kurt Wiese) five brothers who look exactly alike have five different superpowers, each of which luckily corresponds to the five ways their town tries to execute criminals. When the first brother drowns a little greedy boy, the law comes after them and the brothers take turns pretending to be the first one and using their powers to escape justice. This book has the added bonus of having been challenged as promoting racial stereotypes* (I think because all five brothers are supposed to look exactly alike and the pictures are highly stylized). So there was going to be, I thought, lots of juicy conversation, lots of teachable moments, lots of good dirt for the blog.

I read it to Captain Destructo in the library. I cringed. I mean, a kid is drowned and never heard from again. Then the rest of the book is the town trying to kill the brothers by beheading, death by fire, drowning, and suffocation. Here I am reading it aloud to my two year old. But I refused to budge. I didn't change a word. Tink read it to herself and then I sat them down to discuss it.

DESTRUCTO: (happy and charmed) They get to see their mommy in the end!
JACQUI: Hello?
DESTRUCTO: Why you say "he-yo?"
JACQUI: What did you think?
TINK: Pbbltt.
JACQUI: You didn't like it?
TINK: Nah.
JACQUI: Because it was violent?
TINK: No, because it was boring.
DESTRUCTO: Yeah. It bo-ying.
TINK: Can we go have breakfast now?
JACQUI: But --
DESTRUCTO: Yet's go! (exit, pursued by sister)

And that, ladies and gentleman, is all I got. At least you know I'm not making this stuff up.

* It has been challenged both for the racial stereotypes and the violence.


Joanna said...

I always kind of *liked* that book! :-) But I guess it IS ridiculously violent, isn't it.

Sorry your experiment didn't go quite as planned! :-)

cath c said...

i remember my school librarian reading it to my second grade class! i loved the book then, but then again i still love the gorier scarier brothers grimm tales.

Corey Schwartz said...

Interesting that they found it boring. I remember liking it as a kid. (And the "why you say he-yo?" cracked me up!)

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Haven't read it, but it sounds fairly awesome.

Angela said...

I loved your video clip on Lee's blog! Wish I would have run into you in LA!

FrecklesandDeb said...

I used to love that book. It was one my mom let me purchase from a book club at school. I read it over and over and loved the triumph of the brothers. I haven't read it in a long time, but I think the brother who was holding all that water in his mouth gave that greedy boy lots of chances to come back to shore. I didn't see that he had any other choice but to let the water out of his mouth.

I don't think I ever thought about asian stereotypes or violence when I was reading it. I just thought it was a good book.

Anonymous said...

Why are your kids smarter than you?