An ancient, robust, and beloved Chinese folktale is splendidly revived in The Seven Chinese Brothers, a new version by the New Zealand author Margaret Mahy.
The seven brothers live in the time of the first emperor of China, Ch’in Shih Huang, who used forced labor to begin building the Great Wall. EEch brother has his own peculiar physical gift — bones as strong as iron, for example, or legs that grow to any length — which he uses to help the groaning laborers and to defy the cruel emperor.
These magical attributes may strike the adult as uncomfortably odd, but children delight in such fantasies of immense and benevolent strength. When the brothers use their powers to foil the emperor, who wants to destroy them — each brother coming to the aid of the next — kids will delight in the defeat of the archetypal authority figure.
Mahy’s spirited retelling has wit, lively images, and vigorous, rhythmic prose that begs to be read aloud. The watercolor illustrations are unusually fine, too, blending historical detail into colorful scenes filled with energy, drama, and humor. A+