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Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood

By: James McMullan

James McMullan was a timid, artistic boy growing up in a privileged western community within China. When WWII erupted, his comfortable life was upturned. Full-color illustrations.

ISBN: 9781616202552

JLG Release: Jul 2014


Sensitive Areas: Violence: Child Abuse, Violence: Graphic Descriptions
Topics: James McMullan (1934- ) , Childhood and youth , U ,S , illustrators , Children of missionaries , China , World War II (1939-1945) , Personal narratives , History of China, 1937-1945 , Parental relationships , Moving households , Coming of age

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Nonfiction Middle

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Awards & Honors

Booklist 2014 Top 10 Books for Youth, Biography; Amazon.com Best Books of the Year 2014, Nonfiction Children’s Books; Booklist Top 10 Multicultural Nonfiction for Youth, 2015

Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Booklist*, The Horn Book Magazine, The Horn Book Guide^, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

School Library Journal

In this poignant memoir, McMullan, illustrator of Kate McMullan’s bestselling I Stink picture book (HarperCollins, 2002) and creator of more than 50 posters for Lincoln Center theater productions, chronicles his childhood during World War II. Born in Tsingtao, China, in 1934, young Jim lived a life of privilege as the son of wealthy Eu In this poignant memoir, McMullan, illustrator of Kate McMullan’s bestselling I Stink picture book (HarperCollins, 2002) and creator of more than 50 posters for Lincoln Center theater productions, chronicles his childhood during World War II. Born in Tsingtao, China, in 1934, young Jim lived a life of privilege as the son of wealthy Europeans. His grandparents went to China as missionaries. They operated an orphanage for abandoned infant girls and later taught the young women to embroider. Their distinctive cutwork creations became the seeds of a profitable exporting business, the James McMullan Company. By the time Jim was born, his family was among the best known in Cheefoo, and his parents were the toast of the lavish social scene. Everything changed, however, when the war began. Jim and his mother traveled from China to Canada and to India while his father served with the British Army. While Jim had difficulty adjusting to new schools and was bullied because of his strange accent, his mother suffered from depression and alcoholism. The book is composed of one-page vignettes that face a corresponding full-page watercolor scene illustrating a pivotal moment in the McMullan family history and/or Jim’s childhood. Delicate layers of pale green, soft lavender, and rich ocher tones bleed and blend into deep violet shadows—a subtle visual nod to the themes of nostalgia, isolation, and loss explored throughout the work. McMullan’s compositions are both quiet and stirring in their depiction of a lonely little boy struggling to find his place in a chaotic and often unkind world. In addition to McMullan’s personal remembrances, the book also offers readers a glimpse into what life was like for children growing up during this time. While the melancholy subject matter may not engage casual readers, fans of memoirs, students studying World War II, and aspiring artists will find much to appreciate.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Horn Book

McMullan was born in Tsingtao, North China, in 1934 to an Irish-English missionary family. His privileged childhood was disrupted by the 1937 Japanese occupation; by 1941, he and his mother were sailing for her Canadian homeland. In 1944 the two took a freighter’s “long, looping, evasive southern route” from New York to Bombay to McMullan was born in Tsingtao, North China, in 1934 to an Irish-English missionary family. His privileged childhood was disrupted by the 1937 Japanese occupation; by 1941, he and his mother were sailing for her Canadian homeland. In 1944 the two took a freighter’s “long, looping, evasive southern route” from New York to Bombay to meet his father; by 1945, the boy had circled the globe. Meanwhile, at one unsatisfactory school after another, Jimmie—ever awkward at sports—found bullies but few friends, though his artistic talent charmed some. McMullan punctuates his spare narrative with character-revealing incidents and memorable moments: the small boy, housebound by Japanese soldiers outside, studying painted Chinese scrolls “so quiet and subdued but somehow so alive”; a kindly Shanghai boxing instructor observing that “you’ll be an artist and not a boxer”; or the Himalayas as backdrop to tiny figures doing calisthenics. With an impeccable sense of place, McMullan re-creates such diverse settings in full-page art facing, and illuminating, titled pages of text: “My Father at the Piano”; “The Wrong Accent”; “The Bombing Scare.” His palette is gentle: mauves and rusts ripen into peach or rose while areas of more saturated tones focus the drama. Each memory of this observant child becomes a richly evocative scene as well as a harmonious composition—at times enlivened with telling detail, at others reduced to the utmost poignant simplicity. Like David Small’s Stitches, this is an intimate and powerful autobiographical journey. A postscript, endpaper map, and acknowledgments are appended. joanna rudge long

Book Details

ISBN

9781616202552

First Release

July 2014

Genre

Nonfic

Dewey Classification

741.6092

Trim Size

Page Count

128

Accelerated Reader

Level 7.7; Points: 3;

Scholastic Reading Counts

Level 11.9; Points: 7;

Lexile

N/A

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Algonquin

Potentially Sensitive Areas

Violence: Child Abuse, Violence: Graphic Descriptions

Topics

James McMullan (1934- ), Childhood and youth, U,S, illustrators, Children of missionaries, China, World War II (1939-1945), Personal narratives, History of China, 1937-1945, Parental relationships, Moving households, Coming of age,

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