Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I mentioned in a previous post that we have been exploring picture books with an Asian focus with our senior classes.  One of the first books we looked at was Ruby's Wish and it certainly generated some deep discussions.

Ruby is living in China in the early nineteenth century.  Her grandfather has made his fortune on the Gold Fields or "Gold Mountain.   That was what the Chinese called California when many men left to join the Gold Rush there."  As was the custom of the time, Grandfather has many wives and many sons who also have many wives and they all live together in a magnificent home.  "So at one time, the house was filled with the shrieks and laughter of over one hundred children."

Life is good for Ruby. She like to wear red but this is traditionally meant for celebrations.  This does not deter Ruby who adds a red ribbon to her jet black hair when her mother insists she must wear somber colours.  Grandfather is generous and so all the children are provided with lessons.  In spite of this, though, things are not always equal for boys and girls.  Ruby observes that girls are expected to learn cooking, keeping house and embroidery while the boys are free to play after class.

Ruby is careful with her calligraphy and is noticed by her grandfather.  One day she uses her calligraphy skills to write a heart-felt poem.

Alas bad luck to be born a girl; and worse lucky to be born 
into this house where only boys are cared for.

Her grandfather is given the poem and Ruby is summoned to his office. This is where the real skills of Ruby shine.  Her grandfather asks for examples of this inequality.  Her first example is small and unimportant. The boys get better cakes, Her second is also fairly minor. The boys have splendid lanterns in the shape of goldfish and dragons while the girl's are plain. Finally she makes her most important point :

"the boys will get to go to university, but the girls will be married."

How will her grandfather react?

Here are a set of teaching notes, Kirkus review and illustrator web site.  A note at the end of the book explains that this story was inspired by the author's mother - the real Ruby who did indeed attend university as one of the first female students.  You can see the whole book here.

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