cover image Beautiful Warrior

Beautiful Warrior

Emily Arnold McCully, Emily Arnold. Arthur A. Levine Books, $19.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-590-37487-3

In this compelling picture book, Caldecott Medalist McCully explores the legend of a female kung fu master in 17th-century China. Young Wu Mei is a spirited girl, born into the Forbidden City, whose father refuses to have her feet bound or ""pursue idle pastimes"" like other girls. Instead she studies with tutors and learns kung fu with the boys. When an invasion separates her from her family, she decides to pursue her talents at a monastery, and becomes a Buddhist nun. Wu Mei later uses her wisdom and kung fu skills to instruct a young girl who wishes to escape an arranged marriage and to pursue a life of kung fu study. The two are credited with developing the kung fu styles still in practice today. McCully mines a historical period little known to young readers to create a vivid and vibrant tale, and carefully lays the groundwork for the moment that the lives of Wu Mei and her pupil Mingyi eventually dovetail. Along the way, readers are introduced to some of the old Chinese social customs and the spiritual tenets of Buddhism, and they will likely marvel at the bold and unusual female role models. McCully renders watercolors in panel vignettes and double-page spreads to skillfully stage plenty of martial arts action and to depict the striking details of a pristine Chinese monastery, a tattered village and a lush countryside. Her predominant browns and greens are occasionally emboldened by the flash of red or blue as the kung fu masters leap into a scene. An author's note may send kids scrambling for Bruce Lee movies and martial arts lessons as an extension of this fascinating introduction to an unlikely martial artist. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)