I’m finding myself feeling some of the same things I felt after I finished Tales from Silver Lands. I wasn’t in love with this book, but I did kind of enjoy reading it.
I think some of the harsh criticism it has gotten by some contemporary readers might be a little unwarranted. I’ve heard the racist word being thrown around a lot by reviewers, but I don’t necessarily think that it is racist. There were some characters who might have been buffoons, and some people might think that these people fit into old Chinese stereotypes, but there were also a lot of characters who were admirable and good. Racist is a strong word, and to say that Chrisman saw all Chinese people as inferior or even in a negative way would be, I think a false accusation.
Then there’s the issue of these stories being actual folklore. Most contemporary reviewers don’t seem to think that these stories are actual genuine Chinese folktales. I guess the question you have to ask is, how many people need to tell a story in order for it to be considered a folktale? No, Chrisman never visited China, but he claims to have collected these stories from Chinese immigrants. If even one Chinese immigrant was telling Chrisman these stories, and that person had received the story from someone back in China, then I don’t have any problem with these stories being labeled as folklore, even if they weren’t told widely throughout the Chinese region.
It’s really easy for us to look back on the 20’s and think, “Those silly people of the past. Why would they even publish this? But they give it the Newbery award?” I think that contemporary people sometimes unfairly look at the citizens of the past in a condescending way. We think that if we had lived back then, we would have done things differently. The librarians and the Newbery committee of the 1920’s were awarding the book they thought was the best of the year for the kids of their time. This book made me laugh out loud several times. There were some really good stories here. There were some that dragged too, but for the most part. I am glad that I read it.
Next up: Smoky the Cowhorse. I’m not feeling very good about this one. I think it’s going to be a challenge.