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Friday, November 06, 2015

Just Finished Reading... The Garden Of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang

The other night, I was at the Nova Mob meeting, where Ford Street Publishing was invited to speak to the members - I go anyway, but it was nice to see people I've met through Ford Street and SCBWI and other such groups, and I was on the Q and A panel. 

Gabrielle Wang, a Melbourne writer whom I know through SCBWI, was there. She has been kind enough to do an interview on this site with some of my lovely students, so I know her through that as well. 
Actually, she did it twice. That time, a student did a graphic novel page inspired by a scene from the book and Gabrielle posted it on her web page. If you want to keep these two interviews, you'll find a link on the side of this page to my ebook The Great Raven Author Interviews. Not very professionally done, but free! Go get it now! 

Like the other guests Gabrielle had brought some of her books to sell. At the end of the evening, having signed some copies of Rich And Rare, she sighed,"Oh, well, I guess I'll have to take my books home."

But there were three of her books on the table I hadn't read and thought it about time I did, so I bought those. There was this one, The Wishbird(she was working on that at the time of her second interview) and The Hidden Monastery. I'm looking forward to the other two.

I believe Empress Cassia was her first book. It's short, simple and very sweet. The heroine, twelve year old Mimi Lu, is an Australian Chinese girl who is good at art and lives with her herbalist father and gentle Buddhist mother in a home above their traditional medicine shop. Like a lot of migrant children, she is embarrassed about taking a migrant-style lunch to school every day. (In my case it was European style; I remember my classmate who was horrified to be offered some of my mother's wonderful poppyseed cake, because, you know, there are drugs made with poppy seeds!) 

One day her art teacher gives her a box of magical pastels with the warning that she is never to let anyone else use them. In the wrong hands they can be a curse.

For Mimi they are a blessing. She draws a wonderful garden, the garden of Empress Cassia, a Chinese Ruler who saved her people thousands of years ago without anyone being hurt, even the invaders. She  created this garden as a refuge and sanctuary and Mimi's footpath picture draws in those people who are hurt and need healing. When they return, they don't remember the trip, but are healed mentally. 

Of course, as you'd expect, someone else does get hold of the pastels, though not through Mimi's fault...

The book is very short, no more than about 20,000 words, if that, and illustrated with Gabrielle's lovely art. The language is not too difficult for younger readers.

It has the gentle style of her other books. I do love the gentleness of this author's writing style. The first book of hers I read was The Pearl Of Tiger Bay, which was set in a small coastal town inspired by Victorian coastal town Lorne. The Pearl of the title was an old mansion formerly a grand hotel, host to movie stars and royalty, which is about to be torn down by developers. As in this one, there was a touch of fantasy, but not so much as to overwhelm the book. And I suddenly realised, when I went on to read A Ghost In My Suitcase, that it was a prequel to Pearl, with a ghost busting Chinese grandmother who appears in both books, once in China and once in Australia. 

Anyway, if you feel the need for a soothing, gentle read, this lovely children's book is for you. 

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