The Red Tiles: Tales from China

Paths. Dec. 2020. 184p. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781844645978; pap. $18.95. ISBN 9781844645992.
Gr 6-8–Eight stories about children who lead complex lives in mid–20th century rural China. Inspired by the renowned writer’s childhood, the central characters’ lives are enriched by lush and picturesque surroundings, but challenged by the often harsh reality of their situations. The stories are fairy tale–like in their construction: A central character who frightens or intimidates others, followed by a hard-earned moral truth. In the opening tale, “The Story of Herding the Ducks,” two boys learn the importance of cooperation after several mishaps result from their competitiveness. In “A Revolt of the Dolls,” a group of dolls living in the underground of a shop, rejected by the shop’s Dickensian owner, rebel against their mistreatment. After the dolls escape from complete darkness, it is the sun that allows them to see how truly beautiful they are. Wenxuan’s appreciation for the healing power of the natural landscape shines through, even when the characters are confronted with difficult truths. The two longest stories, “The Field of Wormwood” and the title story, “The Red Tiles,” take place in a school setting and feature characters whose lives are entwined with the land. In “Wormwood,” an older woman is so distraught by the town’s plan to move her from her beloved cottage to make room for a new school that she becomes destructive. Several characters in these stories display violent behavior that may be disturbing to some.
VERDICT Wenxuan’s stories paint pictures of a rural world that will engage mature readers who want a journey to another place and time.

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