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Newbery Medal winner Freedman (Lincoln: A Photobiography) delves deep into Chinese history in his intelligent, comprehensive biography of the 5th-century B.C. philosopher Confucius, whose teachings have influenced the development of modern government and education in both China and the West. Freedman draws on stories, legends and collected dialogues from The Analects of Confucius, written by his students, to reveal a man of deep perceptions as well as great humor. The author reports that, when a disciple told the scholar that he did not know how to describe his teacher to a local governor, Confucius said, "Why didn't you tell him that I'm a man driven by such passion for learning that in my enthusiasm I often forget to eat, in my joy I forget to worry, and I don't even notice the approach of old age." Skillfully and smoothly weaving Chinese history, culture and language into the narrative, Freedman also explains Confucian philosophy succinctly, without dumbing it down ("The first task of a true statesman, Confucius said, is to face the truth, to use words honestly"). Cl ment's moody, ethereal illustrations complement the thoughtful text yet play up the mystery of Confucius's life. Like worn pages ripped from an ancient tome, the rubbed, faded images strewn with photorealistic fruits, petals and berries plunge readers into otherworldly scenes. For today's students, this portrait is a comprehensible introduction to Eastern thought. Just as Confucius "prodded [his students] to think in new ways," it will open new doors for young readers. Ages 8-12.
- to think in new ways," it will open new doors for young readers. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Grade 4-8-In writing this biography, Freedman faced two obstacles: a distorted popular idea of Confucius, and a paucity of data about the real man. He directly addresses the first, and his engaging book beautifully compensates for the second. He sets his subject in the context of strife-torn China, since Confucius was a radical reformer whose ideas had political applications. Politics, education, spirituality: the philosopher has something to say in all these areas, and Freedman compellingly conveys the profundity of his thoughts. Frequent brief quotations from The Analects lend immediacy to the story and help obscure the biographical lacunae. In a final chapter, Freedman points to the impact of Confucius's ideas, seeing in them sources for Western democratic concepts, as well as Eastern respect for family and education. Parenthetical pronunciation guides make the pinyin names accessible, and a note on sources and suggestions for further reading aid those whose curiosity is sure to be whetted by this fine book. Clement's illustrations are superb. His "portrait" of Confucius is unidealized, based on written descriptions of him. Each full-page piece of art does homage to Chinese-style painting, simulating old pictures, some damaged, others bearing the seals of many owners. Crumbling frames add color and geometric design to these pale figural and landscape depictions, onto which photographed petals, fruits, buds, or leaves have been superimposed, creating timeless notes of natural color and local flavor. The world today could hardly do better than to ponder the wisdom of this sage.
Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.