PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Two Top-Ten picks of Chinese-themed Australian books by Chris Cheng

Monday, November 12th, 2012

In this final post in our 10th Anniversary Top-10 series, we present not one but two book lists from Australian author Chris Cheng, both with a Chinese theme.  The first focuses on picture books and the second on middle-grade/YA fiction.

Chris is the author of more than forty books for children of all ages, including two books in Scholastic’s My Australia series, The Melting Pot and New Gold Mountain, which explores racially-based conflicts on the New South Wales goldfields during the 1860s. Before becoming a full-time writer, Chris was a primary school teacher and then spent almost eight years teaching in the Education Centre of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where he established Australia’s first Zoomobile.  He has written many non-fiction titles about animals and the environment, and do read this Personal View he wrote for us a few years ago, Drawing from eco-riches: Australia’s environment in children’s books.

Chris is just coming to the end of his stint as an ambassador for Australia’s National Year of Reading.  He is currently co-chair of the International Advisory Board for SCBWI and is Co-Regional Advisor for Australia and New Zealand.  As well as his website and author blog, do check out Chris’ New Kidz Books In Oz blog; and he reports on Asian, Australian and New Zealand books for Cynsations, where you can also read an interview.


(Current) Top-10 Australian Books with a Chinese theme X 2 by Chris Cheng

Far out… you want to limit this list to 10… that is night on soooooo difficult. We are a multicultural country with immigrants from many other places around the world coming to Australia and being integral to the foundation stones on which modern Australia is constructed.

So these are my ‘current’ top 10 favs of a multicultural nature – all by Australians and all have a Chinese theme … biased I know … and they don’t include my books!

Picture Books:

~ The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Lothian, 2006)

~ Big Dog by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Armin Greder (Scholastic Australia, 2004)

~ The Boss by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Fiona O’Beirne (Scholastic, 1992)

~ Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year by Sally Rippin (Omnibus Books, 1996)

~ The Kinder Hat by Morag Loh, illustrated by Donna Rawlins (Ashton Scholastic, 1985)

~ Moon Bear Rescue by Kim Dale (Lothian, 2006)

~ The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (Viking/Penguin Australia, 2007)

~ The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin (Walker Books Australia, 2010)

~ Rebel by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Di Wu (Phoenix Education, 2011)

~ The River by Libby Hathorn, illustrated by Stanley Wong (Asian Education Foundation/Curriculum Corporation (Australia), 2001)


~ The China Coin by Allan Baillie (Penguin Group Australia, 1992)

~ Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson (Macmillan, 2003)

~ Foreign Devil by Christine Harris (Random House Australia, 1999)

~ The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang (Puffin Australia, 2002/Kane Miller, 2011)

~ Garden of the Purple Dragon by Carole Wilkinson (Macmillan, 2005)

~ A Ghost in my Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang (Puffin Australia, 2009)

~ Hungry Ghosts by Sally Heinrich (Hachette Australia, 2007)

~ Just One Wish by Sally Rippin (Penguin Group Australia, 2009)

~ The Secret Life of Maeve Lee Kwong by Kirsty Murray (Paw Prints, 2008)

~ Year of the Tiger by Alison Lloyd (Penguin Group Australia, 2008)

Anne Spudvilas

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Like most children’s book illustrators, Anne Spudvilas earns a living through many kinds of art work. She’s done court sketching, school presentations, and commissioned portraits as well as children’s books. Preparation for her most recent book, The Peasant Prince involved traveling to China with author and former classical ballet dancer, Li Cunxin, and studying Chinese painting. After her trip, Anne received an Australian Council grant that allowed her to focus exclusively on illustrating the story of Li’s remarkable life. It’s a luxury for an illustrator to work on only one project for a while!

Ann Spudvilas with Li Cunxin and his familyThe trip to China was wonderful, as Anne’s email and photos demonstrate (Here she is with Li’s brothers). “Visiting China with Li, getting to know him and his family and friends and discovering a country so rich in culture and history was the experience of a lifetime. Beijing was buzzing with new buildings going up everywhere, the skyline is alive with moving cranes, and workers were re-landscaping the streets before our eyes in preparation for the Olympics. My strongest memories are of the wide smile of Li’s mother, the delicious array of food, seeing Beijing grandfathers with their baby grandchildren, and the gorgeous old Beijijng Opera costumes for sale in the Panjiayuan market. And I can’t leave out the exhilarating experience of watching the students at the Beijing Dance Academy.”Beijing Dance Academy

The success of The Peasant Prince, has led Anne to another project. Li is sitting for a portrait that Anne will enter in the 2008 Australian Archibald Prize competition, awarded annually to the best portrait of a person “distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics.”

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The Peasant Prince is coming out shortly in the United States with the title Dancing to Freedom, with a new cover illustration by Anne. We’ll be reviewing it on the PaperTigers website soon.

The Peasant Prince

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

The Peasant PrinceThe Peasant Prince, just published in Australia, tells the inspiring and now beloved story of author Li Cunxin in a picture book format. From a childhood of near starvation in the Chinese countryside to stardom in the highest echelons on classical ballet, Li told his story first in the 2003 adult memoir Mao’s Last Dancer, now in development as a film with director Bruce Beresford.

Encouraged by his friend, children’s book illustrator Graeme Base, Li pitched the memoir to Penguin and was enthusiastically encouraged first to write more, then to write in more detail, and eventually to cut some of the many hundred thousand words he had delivered. The finished book, an immediate success, soon came out in a young readers’ edition. The former dancer, by then a stockbroker, began doing book tours, where parents and schools urged him to do a picture book.

Li had read books illustrated by Anne Spudvilas to his own children and had loved them, so when she was suggested as illustrator for the picture book, he knew immediately that she would be “fantastic.” Anne got a grant from the Australia China Council to accompany him on a trip he was making to China, where she met his family, dance teachers, and ballet school friends. “She soaked it all up,” he said in a recent radio interview, and even decided to study Chinese painting. “Her first batch of illustrations took my breath away,” he said. He was especially impressed with how Anne had captured his family members.

“It’s been a great experience,” Anne emailed me recently, after we met at the book launch party for Elise Hurst. Li agrees. The illustrations really help tell the story. “Kids today are so privileged,” he said on the radio. “I think the picture of our family table when I was young, with just a tiny bit of food on it, might help them see how different my life was. Even my own kids seem to appreciate my story more since the books came out.”

More on Anne’s adventures in China coming soon…

Added on July 2008

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The Peasant Prince is now available in the U.S. as Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao’s Last Dancer (Walker).