Crouching Tiger

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Crouching Tiger Book Poster Image
Boy learns to appreciate his heritage in universal story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids learn about Chinese culture, food, New Year celebrations and traditions, including parades, lion dancers, fireworks, and the red paper envelopes kids get that are filled with money. They will also learn about the origins and practice of tai chi, and find an illustration of the little boy in different, labeled tai chi poses on each two-page spread. An informative author's note is filled with facts about Chinese martial arts and Chinese New Year traditions. 

Positive Messages

Know and honor your cultural heritage and family traditions and your elders. And practice makes perfect, as we see the little boy go from awkwardness to skillfulness the longer he practices tai chi. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Vinson's parents are kind, loving and supportive, and his grandfather is wise and patient. Grandpa shows him the way but isn't pushy, sometimes laying the groundwork for growth without spelling everything out. For example, he has Vinson practice using the pole, but the boy doesn't know until he's proficient what he's been training for: to carry it in the Chinese New Year parade with the lion dancers. 

Violence & Scariness

The grandfather uses his martial arts skill to save a woman on the street from being hit by a wooden board carried by an inattentive worker. Little Vinson describes the moment: "In a smooth motion, Grandpa crouched like a tiger, swept up a leg, and kicked the board, breaking it neatly in half." 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while Crouching Tiger is about a Chinese-American boy coming to appreciate his heritage, it has universal appeal. Many kids who have parents or grandparents from another country, or parents who identify with their ancestral roots, can be ambivalent about speaking a different language or keeping up traditions from a foreign land. Crouching Tiger handles the complexity of those feelings with subtlety and grace. 

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What's the story?

When his grandpa, a tai chi master, comes from China for a visit, Vinson, a young Chinese-American boy, is interested in learning a new martial art, but disappointed when he finds the slow movements and measured breathing a lot less exciting than kung fu. And he doesn't like Grandpa calling him by his Chinese name, Ming Da, either. But when he sees his grandfather save a woman by kicking away a board aimed at her head, then gets an important role in the Chinese New Year parade and comes home with a bunch of money-filled red envelopes, he begins to feel it's pretty cool being Chinese.

Is it any good?

CROUCHING TIGER has Ying's always-strong storytelling and exceptional illustrations by Yan Nascimbene. The art is stark and stylized, capturing the complex emotions of little Vinson as he goes from resistance to acceptance to pride and joy. From bold crowd scenes to delicate portraits of Grandpa and Vinson practicing tai chi in the backyard with leaves gently falling, the illustrations enhance every moment of the narrative. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it's like for kids who have two cultures. Is it double the fun, or doubly hard? 

  • Families can also talk about ethnic traditions. Why is it meaningful to eat certain foods and celebrate holidays in the same way your family has for generations? 

  • Is it sometimes tough to admire and respect a family member from "the old country" who speaks a different language or speaks English with an accent or dresses differently? Have you ever had mixed feelings about your heritage? 

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