Scary relatives

After the Hong Kong Writers’ Festival finished I had a lot of fun trawling English language bookshops in Hong Kong. I was determined to take home a swag of books about Hong Kong and China both as gifts and to add to our library of books about Asia.

I wish I could read Mandarin. It would open up a whole world of stories, but until I get around to learning to read Chineses characters, I’m stuck with reading books in translation. You’d think, that with China such a world power, there would be hundreds if not thousands of children’s books set in China and written or translated into English. Sadly, this isn’t the case. You can only hope things will change soon.

The most beautiful book that I brought home from hong Kong was Auntie Tigress and Other Favourite Chinese Folk Tales retold by Gia-Zhen Wang and illustrated by Eva Wang. Auntie Tigress is a very scary child-eating monster who decorates her immense cape with trophies collected from her little victims. The story echoes a combination of Little Red Riding Hood and the stories of Baba Yaga. Mei-Mei is the kindhearted and courageous little girl who escapes the clutches of the scary Auntie Tigress. Like many contemporary children’s book about China Auntie Tigress is published in America by Purple Bear Books.

I gave Auntie Tigress to my gorgeous great-nephews, four-year-old Miles and two-year-old Guy. I was a little worried that they’d find it too scary and too exotic. I was also nervous they might see a connection between the Auntie who read them the story and scary Auntie Tigress but they snuggled in close and swallowed up the story hungrily. Little Guy especially enjoyed echoing my growls when we got to where Auntie Tigress was chasing Mei-Mei. When we’d finished, I chased them up and down the hall until they were giggling like crazy. I love the way folk tales can allow little kids to experiment with big ideas about fear and courage in the safety of their own imaginations and the company of people who love them.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never completely disappears.”

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