Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy, the author, a well-known New Zealand author of children's and young adult books wrote many books providing her characters with strong supernatural elements.  She has written more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collection of short stories.  Among her children's books, The Seven Chinese Brothers has been considered a national classic.

Publishers Weekly stated that this book was different in that she elaborated it by spicing it with more action and adding ironic humor.  The moral of the story, Working together, will be swept up by the readers.

The Seven Chinese Brothers is about courage, strength, and working together.  Seven identical brothers, that looked so much alike the it was hard to tell them apart, lived together.  Each one of the brothers had an unusual gift.  First brother could hear "a fly sneeze form a hundred miles away," second brother could see just as far as first brother could hear, third brother could lift mountains if they got in his way, fourth brother  had bones of iron, fifth brother had legs that could grow as tall and thick as tree trunks, sixth brother never got hot, and seventh brother cried but each tear could flood a village.

One day the emperor felt that if someone was that powerful they should be put to death, the only problem was that he didn't know seven brothers existed.  He thought there was only one.  The emperor had a  brother captured.  Just as he was about to be put to death another brother was switched out so that the method of death was overcome by the brother's gift.  This happened until at last the emperor has going to kill by arrows.  There was no one who could overcome this, until seventh brother began to cry and this caused the emperor and his men to be swooped up by the flood of tears. 

The moral of the story is that working together can conquer anything.

The illustrators, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, did a fabulous job intertwining ancient pictures paintings with the story by the author.  Simple watercolors provided just the right feeling of softness in the clothing and shading to complement the swords.

It turns out that there are similar stories like this of the ancient Seven Chinese Brothers tale.  The Wizard of Oz gave powers to the tin man and the lion and the scarecrow.  This story is often compared to Mein Kampf, five identical Chinese brothers having similar supernatural abilities.  A story that dates back to 259-210 simply has to be copied to today's times for our enjoyment.

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