Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon
Amy paints a dragon with a long, thin body. It has horns like a stag and claws like an eagle.
"Are you sure that's a dragon?" asks Sam.
"It doesn't look like a dragon," adds Willa.
"Hmm...," Amy says. Maybe they're right.
Amy scribbles with her pencil and doodles with her crayons. She glues beads to the paper (and some to her hair).
Bits of dragons emerge. Dragons with shiny green scales. Dragons with leathery wings. They look great. They look just like the dragons in Ms. Mary's book. But...
None of them work. None of them feel quite right.
These dragons are NOT the dragons Amy wanted to make.
"Time to clean up!" says Ms. Mary.
"I'm not done!" cries Amy.
The rest of the class put their dragons on the show-and-tell table.
But there's nothing from Amy.
Nothing at all.
Willa and Sam come over after school, but Amy can't even smile.
"Oh dear," says Amy's grandma. "Why the sad face?”
So Amy tells her.
Her grandma gets a twinkle in her eye.
"Come," she says. "Let me tell you a story."
Amy Wu, the buoyant youngster from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, has her sophomore outing in which she explores a crisis in creativity that is resolved through family guidance, imagination, and lots of glitter.
Amy and her classmates enjoy a storytime with their teacher, Ms. Mary, who reads them a book about dragons. The dragons portrayed are situated squarely within western cultural traditions, hoarding treasure, blowing fire, and battling knights in shining armour. Ms. Mary then encourages the students to make their own dragons, "special" and "yours."
One child creates a dragon with wings out of postal stamps while another sculpts a chubby dragon with a daisy-chain tail. Amy, informed by her own cultural traditions, makes a thin long wingless dragon with horns like a stag and claws like an eagle. Her fellow students question whether it is really a dragon, and Amy, feeling confused and discouraged, doubts herself. She subsequently creates dragons that are pale imitations of dragons that they just read about. It feels wrong, and Amy doesn't understand why. At the end of the day, all the children put their dragons on the show-and-tell table, all except Amy.
When Amy returns home with her two friends Willa and Sam, Amy is downcast and dejected. Grandma learns about what happened at school and tells Amy and her friends a story. Grandma’s story involves dragons that are very different from the kinds Ms. Mary talks about. There are dragons that bring rain, dragons that are wise and just, and dragons that even fly without wings.
Amy is fired up once again to create, and she rummages in the attic to find part of an old Lunar New Year's dragon costume. Her friends encourage Amy to bring the dragon head to school, but, once they leave, Amy enlists the help of her family to make it truly her own, with silk scarves, beads, and plenty of glitter. At last her dragon feels ready, and Amy unveils it to her classmates at school the next day. Together, they do an impromptu dragon's dance in the classroom that brings joy to all. Amy's dragon reflects her Chinese heritage and incorporates the dragons she learned about the day before: it is red, yellow, with a big snout and golden horns, enormous green wings, and beads, glitter, and “feels just right”.
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon celebrates the strength of trusting your own creative vision and instincts, receiving the guidance of trusted adults in your life, and the joy of making and sharing art in community. It is unfortunate that the teacher figure fails to incorporate a lesson plan that spans dragon mythology the world over, with the Eurocentric lesson initially stifling and silencing the ideas of other cultures. Nevertheless, all is not lost as Amy’s feisty, pink-haired grandmother comes to the rescue with her affirmation of dragon lore that embraces Amy's culture and gives her space to explore what dragons mean to her.
The illustrations by Canadian Charlene Chua elevate the already strong text. Chua’s rich and vibrant palette is especially striking in the spread featuring Grandma's story of Eastern dragons, which is complete with a green pagoda with a red dragon's tail coiled at its base. Amy wears her dark hair in three pigtails, and her rounded figure, clad in a magenta Chinese-inspired embroidered silk top at the end of the story, is full of impetuous energy. Classmates of Amy are diverse in skin tone, with one wearing glasses. Back matter in the book includes instructions on how to create a dragon craft of one's own, as well as a note about Eastern dragon lore.
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon is a story that is sure to invite creative activities from children that reflect their own backgrounds and interests, just as Amy's independent, spunky personality is sure to bring in more fans.
Ellen Wu is a collections services librarian specializing in juvenile materials in Surrey Libraries. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.