Some books should come with a warning: Avoid this book at all costs. Unfortunately, Laurence Yep has written such a book with The Earth Dragon Awakes.
While, in theory, it would be interesting to read about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 with fictional characters to set up the story, in reality, the book stinks. Alternating chapters cover two families, one rich and white, one poor and Chinese. The Chinese family are servants to the rich family, but really they all care about each other so very much. Having two families in the story allows the author to show us the destruction from two sides of the city. However, since the families are connected only at the beginning and the end, it seems a bit contrived. There are chapters throughout the book that explain what was going on all around the city, but continuing to use the Chinese imagery (like the title, “Earth Dragons Awakes”) is not helpful nor does it set the mood. Another annoying aspect is the dramatic writing in these chapters. Example: “People have forgotten how bad they [earthquakes] can be. But they will soon remember.” Blech. For my vote, the most annoying aspect of the story was the mother’s obsession with bringing umbrellas everywhere and how that pathetic little idea gets played in the book over and over again.
Some story ideas are not meant to be expanded. Just look at any movie based on a Saturday Night Live skit if you need an example. Such is the case with the story of the ugly duckling. When you write it out this way it sounds cute:
A duckling is born that doesn’t look like the others. He is teased and called ugly. But he grows up to be the most beautiful creature of all, a swan.
There, didn’t that sound sweet? It’s a wonderful analogy for those times in childhood when we feel like we don’t fit in. What a wonderful idea that one day we may grow into something special.
Unfortunately, when you expand the idea, like in Donna Napoli’s new book Ugly, it doesn’t sound so cute anymore. Actually, it has got a little Edward Tulane going on. (Wouldn’t you love it if “Tulane” caught on to represent an overload of hardships? Like, “That book pulled a total Tulane on me.”) In fact, at Amazon the book is paired with Edward Tulane, in case you want to totally depress your child one weekend.
Ugly the duckling is just about pecked to death by other ducks on the pond, putting the other ducklings in danger. Mother Duck feels she has no choice but to kick Ugly out of the nest to survive on his own. When he tries to chase after her the next day, he is attacked by other ducks who try to drown him. Nice. He escapes and finds himself face to face with an fighting wallaby (did I mention this is set in Tasmania?), who gives him a decent pounding before starting a friendship. That friendship is cut short as the wallaby is attacked in the night and most likely eaten. Ugly makes friends with a wombat, but can’t stand living in burrows, so he befriends some geese, who promptly get shot. And I’m not even done yet, but I’m too tired to go on. In the end, of course, he finally finds a family of sorts and becomes beautiful at last. If only I could say the same for this story.