Ten Little Dumplings
Ten Little Dumplings
The ten brothers did everything together: Ten getting ready in the morning. Ten playing by the old fish pond. Ten eating rice at the big round table. Ten falling asleep by the light of the moon.
In traditional Taiwanese culture, sons were valued more than daughters because they could bear descendants and carry on the family line whereas daughters were married off to another family and take on their husband’s surname. Speaking to this context, Larissa Fan’s picture book, Ten Little Dumplings, gives voice to Taiwanese daughters whose lives and experiences may have been rendered invisible or overshadowed by others in their families. As indicated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, Fan’s inspiration for this story came from the history of her father’s family in Taiwan and the well-known Chinese folktale “Ten Brothers” which was adapted into television shows and movies. The folktale is about a family of 10 brothers who each have a unique supernatural ability and who work together to defeat an antagonist. Fan’s story also focuses on 10 brothers, but it also inverts the traditional folktale by highlighting the uniqueness of the family’s daughter as opposed to the 10 brothers who Fan represents as a group.
The book’s plot is straightforward, yet effective, in conveying the importance of perspective in revealing the whole “truth”. Fan draws attention to how certain narratives or viewpoints may become predominant at the expense of others, but that these other perspectives are equally important and valuable in their own right. Cindy Wume’s colourful illustrations complement the narrative and character development.
The book opens with the story’s cultural context and setting which serve as the backdrop for understanding the lives of a specific Taiwanese family and their children. With the story taking place in the village of Fengfu, readers are introduced to a Taiwanese family that has 10 sons, which is seen as lucky by their fellow villagers and a sign of prosperity and success. As the story unfolds, Fan provides glimpses into various moments in their lives, moments which include studying in school, camping, eating together as a family, and participating in sport competitions. Having grown up and done everything together, the 10 brothers subsequently make their way into the world and become respected and successful adults.
At this point, Fan shifts the narrative perspective to the family’s daughter for the remainder of the story. In doing so, Fan cleverly changes how readers will view this family by inscribing their daughter’s experiences into the family’s collective history. Speaking as an adult, their daughter affirms her own self-worth and accomplishments during her childhood: “These dumplings were my brothers. You may not have seen me, but I was there too.” Although she may not have been the centre of attention, she has always been there with her brothers. The daughter states confidently that she has developed her artistic talent and raised a family of her own with her husband and daughter. She refers to her own daughter as “my little dumpling” and exclaims, “How lucky I am!”
The choice of illustration style is appropriate for the book’s intended readership and narrative tone. Illustrator Cindy Wume used ink, coloured pencils, and gouache to create the book’s images. In some respects, Wume’s images are reminiscent of the illustration styles that appear in some forms of television animation for children. As such, they are more accessible for readers as they help to convey the story from a child’s perspective and also evoke a more lighthearted tone.
Wume’s illustrations supplement the narrative effectively and convey their own story about the family’s daughter. If readers go through the story again after reading it for the first time, they will spot the family’s daughter if they look at each picture closely. She is sometimes recognizable by the orange hat that she wears. For example, in the first double-page spread that introduces the family and village of Fengfu, the family’s daughter is looking out their house’s window. In another image that shows the siblings camping, she can be spotted among the greenery, wearing an orange hat and reading. When the 10 brothers take part in a race, their sister is present among the crowd with her signature orange hat on.
If teachers use this book in the classroom, it would be helpful to provide some historical context so that students will understand why sons were more valued than daughters in traditional Taiwanese culture. In addition, this knowledge will enable students to recognize that such a distinction is culturally and temporally specific, rather than something that is “innate” to a cultural community. This is important because it complicates our understanding of “culture” and situates it in a specific context. Certain popular representations of Asian communities in contemporary television shows and movies tend to rely on certain narrative tropes that situate “Asian” culture in opposition to “Western” culture. For example, they may depict or allude to a now predictable narrative arc whereby a family’s child—often a daughter— frees herself from an oppressive culture of her parents and larger community and embraces “Westernized” ideals.
Given the conventions associated with the picture book genre and its primary audience, there is a potential danger of falling into this type of reductive narrative trope, particularly as the genre also restricts the extent to which authors may explore complex topics in detail. However, Fan avoids such a trap because she explores the different layers of family life within which the 10 brothers and their sister live. She conveys the complexity of culture as the family’s daughter is not simply disempowered or oppressed. Instead, she is able to listen, learn, and participate—albeit not necessarily as a central figure—and grows up into a successful woman with a happy family. The book’s final image of the grown-up daughter sitting with her own child, also a daughter, evokes a positive representation of female lineage and empowerment that is articulated from her perspective rather than that of her brothers. In a broader context, Fan’s book contributes to the growing body of Canadian literature that portrays the contemporary experiences of Asian communities.
Currently based in Toronto, Larissa Fan is both a writer and artist whose cinematic work has appeared at national and international festivals, such as Anthology Film Archives, Images Festival, and Kassel Documentary Film & Video Festival. She studied at the Ontario College of Art & Design and graduated with an MFA in Film Production from York University, Toronto. Active in Toronto’s experimental film community, Fan has curated film screenings and written about experimental film. With a keen interest in analogue media, she has worked in 16mm and Super 8 film and has used experimental techniques to document the world around her. Fan’s picture book reflects these film interests, albeit in a different creative context, by providing an imaginative rendering of the experiences from her father’s family. Her melding of “fact” and “fiction” serves to convey a particular reality about the world as exemplified through her representation of the 10 brothers, but it also evokes an alternative version of that reality that signals change and empowerment.
Cindy Wume is an illustrator and picture book maker who lives in Taipei, Taiwan. She primarily uses gouache, linear, ink, dip-pen, and coloured pencils for her artworks and derives inspiration from her observations and imagination. She authored her first picture book, The Best Sound in the World, which was published in the United Kingdom in 2018. More information about her work is available on her official website https://cindywume.com.
In her “Author’s Note”, Fan mentioned that she did not realize how her father’s family also had a sister until she was older. As a result, Fan states, “Learning this made me wonder about who is left out of the stories we are told and why.” Indeed, Fan taps into those untold stories and reinscribes people’s unacknowledged voices in a creative manner through literature.
Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.