My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My Thoughts after Reading
This middle grade book is about a boy who got separated from his family when Japan invaded China. We follow his journey of hardship surviving alone with only his pig. The horrors of war was told in a sympathetic way, and the illustrations are simple but impactful.
The only thing that bothers me it was the names. The boy’s name is Tien Pao . Straightaway, as a Mandarin speaker, I know what his name is in Chinese characters, and I know what Tien Pao means. Strangely, having named our main character in the Chinese spoken way (ie pronounced Tien Pao), the author then went on to name his sister and the pet pig in a translation way, the very clunky sounding ‘Beauty-of-the-Republic’ and ‘Glory-of-the-Republic’. Non-Mandarin readers will know what their names mean, but not know what it sounds like in Chinese. ‘Of-the-Republic’ is not a name I have come across before, so I also could not place what single character was used for this, nor what I would have called them if I spoke in Mandarin to them. I have asked on social media and no one is able to provide me with an answer. If only I could ask the author what made him decide to name Tien Pao one way, but his sister and pig another.
On a personal note, I was very pleased to read about the rural farming Chinese as I have written a book in a similar setting. I wish I had come across this book when I was writing it a few years ago, rather than a few months before its launch. Coincidentally, my book is also about a boy and his pig. So I was heartened to read about Tien Pao’s relationship with his pig, the children carrying baskets on their backs, and even Tien Pao and his pig sitting inside these baskets, even though my book, Secrets of the Great Fire Tree, is set about 60 years later than the story in this book.
This only shows how timeless The House of Sixty Fathers is. It is lovely and heart-warming, especially when we read the section about the sixty fathers. A beautiful story.
Tien Pao does not notice at first when the sampan breaks loose from the river bank. It carries him away on the swollen river, far back into the Japanese-occupied territory from which he and his family have just escaped.
At last he reaches land, and starts out on the long, dangerous journey back to his parents, with only the family pig, “Glory-of-the-Republic” for company. One day he sees a foreign airman shot down, and helps to save his life. They hide together from the Japanese, with the assistance of guerrillas; and Tien Pao has yet more adventures in front of him before he reaches the safety of the House of Sixty Fathers, and finds his family again.
This could be the story of any child in any war. The author has put into it all his love, sympathy and insight, for he was once himself the adopted “father” of a little Chinese war orphan like Tien Pao.
Meindert Dejong was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his lasting contribution to good children’s literature.