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Little Leap Forward - A Boy in Bejing Review by Susan K. Marlow

Guo Yue and Clare Farrow
IllustratorHelen Cann
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

Little Leap Forward is Barefoot Books first foray into fiction for middle-grade readers (ages 9-13). Everyone in the family will enjoy this beautifully illustrated story of a young boy growing up in Bejing, China, during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution of 1966. The hardback book is 5" x 8" and 126 pages long, with two or three full-color illustrations for each of the ten chapters.

Little Leap Forward lives with his mother, brother, and four older sisters in a poor and overcrowded section of Bejing--a maze of dark, narrow alleys and high brick walls. His father was a musician but is no longer alive. When he is not running errands for his family or attending school, Little Leap Forward loves to play the flute and fly kites. One day he and his best friend capture a small yellow bird. Little Leap Forward hopes he can train the bird to sing along when he plays his flute. However, behind the bars of its bamboo cage, the little bird is not happy and does not sing. What will Little Leap Forward do--continue to work with the bird or set it free?

I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into another culture through the eyes of Little Leap Forward. The plot is simple but the insight into the lives of the Chinese people living under Communist rule in the 60s is more complex. From a child's point of view, however, life is life--going to school, flying kites, playing a flute, and running along the river. The author was able to weave the sights, sounds, and even the smells of his boyhood in Bejing into the story to make it come alive.

Included in Little Leap Forward is an afterward, which fills in some of the history of the Cultural Revolution and "the rest of the story" of the author and his young friends from the book. The black and white photographs add a sense of "this really happened" to the story. Little Leap Forward would be an excellent resource for a unit study on China for any age through middle school. Younger children will delight in the pictures as the story is read aloud while older students will gain insight from the author's well-written work. A few Chinese words and characters are sprinkled throughout the text.

Barefoot Books always produces high-quality work, and this first young fiction novel continues their tradition of "Celebrating Art and Story." To see a delightful video presentation of Little Leap Forward, narrated by the author, go to:

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2008