The Five Chinese Brothers
|Author||Claire Huchet Bishop|
|Cover artist||Kurt Wiese|
|Genre||Children's books, picture books|
|Publisher||Originally Coward-McCann; currently Putnam|
The Five Chinese Brothers is an American children's book written by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by Kurt Wiese. It was originally published in 1938 by Coward-McCann. The book is a retelling of a Chinese folk tale, Ten Brothers.
Long ago in China lived a family with five brothers who resembled each other very closely. They each possessed a special talent. One can swallow the sea; one has an iron neck; one can stretch his legs; one can survive fire; and the last can hold his breath forever. When one of the brothers, a somehow very successful fisherman, agrees to let a young boy accompany him on his fishing trip, trouble results. This brother holds the entire sea in his mouth so that the boy can retrieve fish and treasures. When the man can no longer hold in the sea, he frantically signals to the boy, but the boy ignores him and drowns when the man releases the water.
The man is accused of murder and sentenced to death. However, one by one, his four brothers assume his place when subjected to execution, and each uses his own superhuman ability to survive (one cannot be beheaded, one cannot be drowned, one cannot be burned, and one cannot be smothered). At the end of the story, a judge decides that the brother accused of murder must have been innocent, since he could not be executed, and the five brothers return home.
Reception and controversy
Though often considered a classic of children's literature, The Five Chinese Brothers has been accused of promoting ethnic stereotypes about the Chinese, particularly through its illustrations, and many teachers have removed the book from their classrooms. However, the book has had some defenders. In a 1977 School Library Journal article, Selma G. Lanes described the illustrations as "cheerful and highly appealing", characterizing Wiese's "broad cartoon style" as "well suited to the folk-tale, a genre which deals in broad truths". She added, "I cannot remember a tale during my childhood that gave me a cozier sense of all being right with the world."
- Schwarz, Albert V. (1977). "The Five Chinese Brothers: Time to Retire". Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 8 (3): 3–7.
- Klein, Gillian (1990). Reading into Racism: Bias in Children's Literature and Learning Materials. Routledge. p. 55.
- Kinchloe, Joe L. (1998). How Do We Tell the Workers?: The Socioeconomic Foundations of Work. Westview Press. p. 289.
- McCaskell, Tim (2005). Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality. Between the Lines. p. 102.
- Lanes, Selma G. (October 1977). "A Case for the Five Chinese Brothers". School Library Journal 24 (2): 90–1. Republished as: Lanes, Selma G. (2006). "A Case for The Five Chinese Brothers". Through the Looking Glass: Further Adventures & Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature. David R. Godine. pp. 185–9. ISBN 978-1-56792-318-6.
- "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". National Education Association. 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- Zaniello, Thomas A. (1974). "Heroic Quintuplets: A Look at Some Chinese Children's Literature". Children's Literature 3 (1): 36–42. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0441.
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