The Garden of Empress Cassia {a book review}

The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang: a Book Review at RoamingRosie.com

As soon as I finished reading The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang, I was seriously tempted to turn back to the first page and read it all over again.

I liked it that much.

But I had appointments to keep and a review to write, so my rereading will have to wait.

Before delving into the story, let’s get the basic description out of the way:  it’s a chapter book of 112 pages that’s suggested for elementary to middle school children between the ages of 8 and 12.  Of course, I’m in my thirties and really enjoyed it, so I’d say you could push that age limit out a bit, even if it is targeted to kids.

The story is about a Chinese-Australian named Mimi Lu.  Her parents own an herbal shop and insist that Mimi be proud of her Chinese heritage, but Mimi just wishes she could blend in with everyone else.  Wishes she could be “normal.”  To make matters worse, her father doesn’t want her to pursue her love of art, and she’s being bullied at school.

Another prominent character is Mimi’s art teacher, Miss O’Dell.  Miss O’Dell is an Irish-Australian that is a kind, calming, and somewhat enlightening presence throughout the story.  She’s also the one who gives Mimi the gift of the magical pastels.

These pastels allow Mimi to draw the ancient garden of Empress Cassia, and the magic in them transports people into her drawings, much like the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins.  The garden is a place of healing and inspiration, and it’s beautiful.

The reason we know the garden is so beautiful is because the imagery in the story is so vivid and alive.  It’s really one of my favorite things about the book.  The writing is so fluid and transportive that the scenes come to life in a natural way that leaves the reader feeling as though they’re experiencing what Mimi is experiencing.

But just in case you can’t quite imagine it for yourself without any help, there’s also a gorgeous illustration of a map of the garden in the back of the book.

My other favorite thing about this book is the strong moral story.  It’s not shoved at you or anything, but it’s potent.  First of all, Mimi is truly goodhearted.  Even when the bully steals Mimi’s cherished gift, Mimi truly worries for the other girl’s safety.  And when Mimi questions whether or not she’s actually a good person and deserving of the pastels, the wise old man in the tale helps her distinguish between someone who’s good but occasionally acts naughty and someone who is actually a bad person.

It even ends with showing that Mimi doesn’t really need the magic pastels to make magical pictures.  As an artist, she already has this vibrant magic in her heart.  And kind of like Dumbo learning he doesn’t need his feather to fly, it allows kids to see that maybe – just maybe – they already are special.

Overall, I feel Mimi is an excellent roll model, and I not only feel comfortable offering this book to my own children when they’re older (they’re in preschool now), I want to encourage it.

This tale is about following your dreams and passions, about being strong and confident in the face of meanness and adversity, and about embracing who you are.

The Garden of Empress Cassia is a story you shouldn’t miss.

Awards for The Garden of Empress Cassia

  •  CBCA Notable Children’s Book of the Year
  • Aurealis Award Winner
  • Shortlist, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
  • USBBY Outstanding International Booklist

Click here for a sneak peak of the first 2 chapters! 

Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the U.S. edition from my Usborne Books & More website, but you can still (yay!) find copies of the book on Amazon.

Similar books, with recommended ages ranging from 8 to 12:

Andie's Moon by Linda Newbery Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch I Lost My Mobile at the Mall by Wendy Harmer Butterflies by usanne Gervay

Happy Reading!

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Children’s Picture Books by David Wiesner {Book Reviews}

Children's Picture Books by David Wiesner {a book review}

I recently sat down with my daughters and “read” some of David Wiesner’s books to them.

I put “read” in quotes because most of these books have little or no words.

But the pictures… well, the illustrations are breathtaking.

I was a little nervous when I first saw them.  I was afraid maybe the illustrations were too intricate to hold a preschooler’s and a toddler’s attention.

I was wrong.

My 4-year-old would ask me to tell her the story, and then we’d flip through the book again and she’d tell me the story.  My 2-year-old would point out all the little details as we read.  They both requested the books over and over.

I’d borrowed as many as I could find from the local library, because I didn’t know yet if they were worth the investment to purchase them.  But now I know my girls love them.

I narrowed down my daughters’ favorites to two:  Flotsam and Sector 7.

Flotsam by David WiesnerFlotsam

Flotsam is a tale of a young boy who discovers an old camera while exploring the shore.

He digs it out of the sand and develops the film.

What he finds in the photos is, quite simply, amazing.

There are sea turtles with tiny cities growing on their shells.  Sea horses watching tiny aliens play.  And so very much more.

I enjoy this book at least as much, if not more, than my girls.

Here are some images from Flotsam:

Children's Picture Books by David Wiesner:  Flotsam

Children's Picture Books by David Wiesner:  Flotsam

Sector 7 by David WiesnerSector 7

Sector 7 is the story of a young boy visiting the Empire State Building on a school field trip.

While on the observation deck, he meets a curious character:  a mischievous cloud.

They become fast friends and the cloud takes the boy to on a trip up into the sky.  They visit Sector 7, the Cloud Dispatch Center, where clouds receive their instructions about how they should be shaped and where they are to go.

The boy happens to be an artist, and the clouds happen to love his sketches.  The clouds decide to replicate these sketches, and mayhem ensues.

Here are some images from Sector 7:

Children's Picture Books by David Wiesner:  Sector 7

Children's Picture Books by David Wiesner:  Sector 7

While those two are our favorites, Wiesner has some other gems as well.  Similar books include:

Tuesday by David WiesnerTuesday

On Tuesday, strange things happen.  This Tuesday, lilypad-riding frogs take to the skies, exploring the town by air.

Free Fall by David WiesnerFree Fall

In Free Fall, a young boy falls asleep with a book in his arms and visits magical, far-away lands and the knights, castles, and dragons within.

Hurricane by David WiesnerHurricane

In Hurricane, two young brothers see a tree fall to the earth during a storm.  It becomes their playground, representing everything from a pirate ship to an exotic jungle.

June 29 1999 by David WiesnerJune 29, 1999

In June, 29, 1999, a young girl’s science project of vegetable seeds is launched into the atmosphere, has an extraterrestrial encounter, and we find out what happens when lima beans loom over Levittown and artichokes advance on Anchorage.

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