Sun Youjun, translated by Lily L. Shi,
The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll
Better Link Press, 2011.
“Once there was Little Butou. Little Butou was a tiny rag doll. Now I will tell you about his adventures, that is, his encounters with many interesting and exciting people and situations…” So begins The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll, originally published in 1961 in China, the first book by the prolific and beloved Hans Christian Andersen nominee, Sun Youjun, best known for his magical fairy tales. The book’s availability in English is an adventure in itself: 13-year-old Lily Shi of Lewiston, Maine loved it so much that she wanted her friends to enjoy it too, so she spent the summer translating the book for them to read. Thanks to her perseverance, an English translation is now available for the first time, published by Better Link Press.
The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll is part The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, part Toy Story, and part Scheherazade coming-of-age tale – of a doll, that is. Although Little Teacher made Little Butou with love and care out of scraps of rag, he was a little selfish, had a little bit of a temper, and was more than a little bit cowardly. After his original child owner, Dou Dou, rejects him, a warmhearted girl named Ping Ping takes Little Butou in. But when Little Butou twice spills Ping Ping’s rice all over the ground, even after she tells him how every grain has value and must not be wasted, Little Butou runs away. He feels angry with Ping Ping for scolding him, and decides to find Dou Dou, who won’t care about things like rice grains.
Thereupon follows a tale of happenstance, adventure, misery, and miracles, as Little Butou winds up hundreds of miles from both Dou Dou and Ping Ping. Danger and near death, new friends and recurring rat enemies help Little Butou not only learn to find courage, but also to value love – the love that goes into every grain of rice, and the love that people like Ping Ping show everyone around them. The accomplished translation captures the rhythm and pacing of Chinese speech and sentence structure, imbuing a sense of the country into the words themselves. In addition, the highly entertaining cast of characters and their magical realism-studded adventures keep the values within the story– selflessness, bravery, and gratefulness for kindness and love – from feeling preachy or forced.