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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Painting With Chalk

Painting with Chalk

A bit of a warm streak hit us here in Florida while most of the rest of the country was freezing.  It’s a strange December when it’s 80 degrees outside.

Anyway, it does mean we’ve been spending plenty of time outdoors.  In shorts, too, but that’s not the point.

One of the things I showed my girls today was that chalk wasn’t just great for drawing – it was great for “painting,” too.

This is a method of drawing where you simply dip your chalk into a cup of water before drawing with it.  (Kind of like watercolor pencils.)

I let the chalk soak for a few seconds before drawing, and I repeatedly dipped it back into the water while drawing.  The wetter it was, the smoother the finished product.

Painting with Chalk

You can see that I made some different shapes to show my girls how the colors would look when the chalk was wet.  It was brilliant against the brick and smooth to the touch. My oldest daughter liked to blend the colors.

You could, obviously, also do this on concrete, but we have brick in the backyard.  Whatever surface you usually use for chalk drawings should work.

We also used the blocks from the chalkboard storage box and blocks set I made.

And my girls also drew all over themselves with the wet chalk.  My 21-month-old especially.  She covered her legs in the wet chalk, and thought it was hysterical.  Luckily, one of the reasons I love chalk so much is it’s very, very easy to wash off.

Have you tried this?  I’d love to know if your kids enjoyed it, too!

Purple Pancakes

The weekend is almost here!  How are you going to celebrate it?

How about purple pancakes???

Now,  I do try to avoid adding a lot of food coloring into my kid’s diet, but every now and then, color just makes things fun.  Of course, these pancakes would also work without the color, if you prefer.

purple pancakes

purple pancake patterns

So, what you see in the photos is that I used Bisquick to make these pancakes.  I stirred in a little purple gel food coloring, and then poured the mix into a squeeze bottle.  To make this successful, you have to make the batter a little thin.  Otherwise, it will get stuck in the nozzle.  So use a small whisk or a fork to make sure there are no big clumps.

Then, heat up your pan or griddle and grease it like you normally would for pancakes.  And then:  the fun begins.

The squeeze bottles allow you to draw pretty much any shape you’d like.  As you can see above, I drew some hearts, but also some “swirls” in crazy patterns.  The swirls were especially fun to eat.  Especially with your hands.  :)

But, I also like to say that all food is finger food to toddlers.  Honestly, as long as my kids eat, I don’t care if they use their hands.  As long as they’re eating, they could use their toes.

Anyway, to achieve the best results for solid shapes (hearts, stars, etc), draw the outline first and then quickly fill it in.

And remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Your kids will love you anyway.  Plus, older kids will probably want to get in on it.

To spruce up the pancakes, add a little cinnamon to the batter.  Or sprinkle some chocolate chips or small blueberries over them after you’ve drawn your shape on the griddle, but before you flip them.

Have fun!  And if you tackle this food art, please let me know what you make!