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Books in Brief: Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan; Frankie by Mary Sullivan

CHILDREN’S
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan; translated from the Mandarin by Helen Wang; illustrated by Meilo So; Candlewick Press, 381 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 and up.
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Two lonely children, scarred by tragedy, form an inseparable bond in this lovely novel from a beloved Chinese author set in the Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

Seven-year-old Sunflower is sent with her father, an artist, to Cadre School in the countryside where he spends every day doing hard physical labor and every night attending meetings before staggering home exhausted, too tired to even tell his beloved daughter a story.

Across the river, a boy named Bronze, who was rendered mute by a terrible fire that swept through his village years before, discovers he is not “the loneliest child in the world” when he notices Sunflower sitting by herself across the river. Bronze’s family is the poorest in the village, but when Sunflower’s father dies in a freak accident on the river, the family takes her in.

The author offers a kind of cinematic detail in his lyrical descriptions of the terrible fire (“the dry reeds burned furiously, spitting and popping like firecrackers”), the reed marshes, a field of sunflowers. The author draws an unforgettable portrait of a loving family - the grandmother Nainai, Bronze, his parents, even their hard-working buffalo - and the struggle to survive, doing back-breaking labor in the fields, doing without to help Sunflower go to school, coming up with moneymaking schemes like the crafting of reed shoes or deciding to build a house with a special roof of cogon grass after a violent wind storm destroys their home. After a plague of locusts, when the village is slowly starving, there is a terrible incident when Bronze spends hours in the marsh trying to catch a wild duck to make into soup, only to be accused of stealing.

This marvelous book won the 2016 international Hans Christian Andersen Award and is the first full-length book by Cao Wenxuan to be translated into English.

PICTURE BOOK

Frankie, words and pictures by Mary Sullivan; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $12.99. Ages 4 to 7.
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This irresistible picture book tells the story of a shelter dog arriving at his “forever home” only to find that the ball, the bone, the stuffed toy, the rope, the blankie, the bed are already the property of senior dog-in-residence Nico. The charming story can be appreciated as a dog story and also as a lesson about sibling sharing. Sullivan’s energetic, droll illustrations bring grumpy Nico and exuberant Frankie to life. She says the book was inspired by a foster puppy named Frankie who stayed with her and her dog Nico. A portion of the book’s proceeds has been donated to Austin Pets Alive, “which first took Frankie in.”

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