Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brief Thoughts on Shen of the Sea

Since I read Shen of the Sea months ago and need to review it for the Newbery Challenge, I am going to write a few brief thoughts about the story collection.

Shen of the Sea was written by Arthur Bowie Chrisman and won the Newbery in 1926. Children's literature has come a long way since then, but I still think this book would appeal to some children. I loved this book when I was in 5th grade. We had those Troll Book order forms each month and one month I chose this book. I loved the stories and how the author took inventions and familiar things, like gunpowder, and told a Chinese story to explain their origins. The ideas of cleverness, laziness, and different values and the way the Chinese viewed these were fascinating to me.

As an adult rereading these stories, the stories still fascinate me. Now though, I think about issues like cultural authenticity and if Arthur Bowie Chrisman was respectful to the culture and if he could accurately capture the culture of the Chinese. I found this blog that aided my concerns on the stories a bit:http://newberryproject.blogspot.com/2008/03/shen-of-sea-1926.html and was from Amanda's blog : http://riofriotex.blogspot.com/search/label/Shen%20of%20the%20Sea The first blog was created by a group of people to talk about the Newbery books and Amanda is a librarian who has her own blog. From her posts, Chrisman seems to be a mixed bag. He seemed respectful of the culture in some ways and said he was aided by a Chinese man and translators, but at the same time, there are cultural inaccuracies. It is hard as an outsider to capture another culture, not necessarily impossible, but difficult. I agree with Amanda that the stories are fun and easy to read, but should not be the only tools used in a classroom. Chrisman had a few too many inaccuracies and even though he seemed respectful to the culture, the book cannot be seen as accurate.

I think it is a fun read and I enjoyed it, but I would probably not recommend it to young readers, without explaining that it is fiction and only loosely based on Chinese folktales and probably then I would only recommend it to mature readers who would understand that it is fictionalized. For me it is a 3 cups of cocoa book, because I loved it when I was young and I still like to read the stories. I just keep in mind that they are not the best representation of Chinese culture.


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