While working on my forthcoming guide Around the World with Picturebooks, I have been writing notes for Katherine Paterson’s The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks. This delightful folk tale of Japan was new to me, having read mostly Paterson’s middle grade and YA works like The Great Gilly Hopkins, The Bridge to Terabithia, and Jacob Have I Loved. I have enjoyed all of these and was delighted to find she had written some picturebooks also. I had known she was raised in China, daughter to missionary parents there, but I wasn’t aware that as an adult she went to Japan for missionary work and grad school. I also wasn’t aware that she had adopted two daughters (as have I) and that she fostered children as well. Recently she was interviewed by Lauren Daley regarding how the story of The Great Gilly Hopkins came to her. The Great Gilly Hopkins, if you haven’t read it, concerns a very angry girl (justifiably so) who has been abandoned by her mother and bounced around foster families until she is completely unattached and out of control. Katherine’s ability to get inside Gilly’s head and portray her so believably struck me deeply all those years ago and has stayed with me. In a recent interview Paterson talks about her inspiration for the book:
I asked Paterson how the story came to her. Turns out Paterson and her late husband — who have two sons, and adopted two daughters — were also foster parents at one point.
“My husband and I were asked to be foster parents to two kids…and I didn’t realize how different it was to be a foster parent, how hard it was to mother children who aren’t yours, [who] would only be with us a short time… And I realized, that in saying that it was difficult, I was saying that these two people were disposable. And I was so ashamed … Because no one is disposable.”
That of course, struck a chord with me since our recent time at #wildandfreetexas talking about issues of social justice. It recalled the quote from Paul Farmer:
“The idea that some lives matter less, is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
And of course, Father Greg Boyle’s words:
We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”–Tattoos on the Heart
All that to say, that if you haven’t read The Great Gilly Hopkins to your family, the Advent season might be a truly fine time to do so. It is a book that will cultivate a “deep trench of empathy” in your children that will help them to see how blessed they are and how much we need to stand with those who have been thought of as disposable. The other great news is that The Great Gilly Hopkins was made into a movie (by Katherine Paterson’s sons–which to me as a #wildandfreemama is the greatest legacy we can have as parents–when our children expand on and extend the work we’ve begun!) and it is available for Christmas giving! You can read more about it here. So check this out and comment here if you’ve read The Great Gilly Hopkins and if you loved it!
4 thoughts on “The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks”
Just put Gilly Hopkins on hold because that deep, rich trench of empathy is just what I want to cultivate–in myself and my children.
I know you’ll love this book. Paterson is so good. I was so touched she had used those very words “disposable” so recently in talking about the plight of foster children. Such an important reminder. Thanks for responding!
If you need early readers/reviewers for Around the World with Picture books, I’d love to be included. Picture books are a passion of mine!
Thank you, Kortney. Remind me mid-summer when I’m getting close to finishing! I’d love to work with you.