A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and her son, Vinson Compestine, is a culturally rich historical novel with the excitement of an Indiana Jones adventure, as 14-year-old Ming, son of an archaeologist, gets led into third century B.C. Emperor Qin's tomb by one of the emperor's clay soldiers come to life. Like Ying Chang Compestine's fictional memoir, the award-winning Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, it shows readers what life was like during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. Lots of violence in the accounts of Emperor Qin's battles against the Mongols (including beheadings, a soldier trampled by horses, and an officer who cuts off his own arm with a sword). And in the "present" (the 1970s), there's danger and grave injury when tomb robbers encounter deadly booby traps, including shooting darts, poison powder, needles containing snake venom, and a gunshot that fells a character. A great read for tweens, adventure fans, and readers who love history and learning about other cultures.
What's the story?
Ming, a 14-year-old boy in 1970s China, is at home in his village while his archaeologist father is at the museum he works for in the city, when some farmers bring a found artifact to sell: a clay male figure, broken in pieces, that they think is an earth god. It turns out it's one of the terra-cotta soldiers created to guard the tomb of third century B.C. Emperor Qin. Ming learns this when the head of the soldier, named Shi, comes to life and starts speaking to him. Shi recounts his personal history as a young soldier about Ming's age in that long-ago era, and Ming tells Shi about life in China under Mao Zedong. Once Shi is reassembled, he can walk and act like a human. He and Ming must act quickly to prevent the corrupt local political officer from robbing -- and destroying -- the emperor's tomb and blaming it on Ming's father.
Is it any good?
SECRETS OF THE TERRA-COTTA SOLDIER is an exciting adventure with an unusual supernatural twist. The writing is distinguished by snappy dialogue, sly humor, gripping supense, and down-to-earth, often cooking-flavored metaphors like this one: "His speech was like a drop of water in a pot of hot oil; the crowd bubbled and sizzled with excitement." And readers get lots of historical background about Imperial China and its military, as well as a feel for the political realities of 1970s China and what it was like for the underdog child of an "intellectual" in a school dedicated to teaching revolutionary ideas and "reeducating" intellectuals.
Apart from the thorough political, historical, and cultural context, readers will enjoy a nail-biting, Indiana Jones-type adventure once the main characters leave the village and penetrate the emperor's tomb, dodging centuries-old booby traps to succeed in their mission. They'll also learn a bit about Chinese food, deliciously described, with recipes at the back for two dishes from the story they can make themselves. That's a lot of ingredients folded into one book!
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about China's Cultural Revolution and how the country changed once it became communist. How is a communist country different from a capitalist country like the United States?
How do you like the supernatural element in The Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier? Have you read other stories where a thing or creature comes to life?
What's fun about historical fiction? Do you like learning about other eras through book characters?
- Authors: Ying Chang Compestine, Vinson Compestine
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, History, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Amulet Books
- Publication date: January 14, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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