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Library : Book Reviews > Sagwa, The Chinese...

Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat
Amy Tan
Illustrated by
Gretchen Schields

Review by: Deborah Beebe

     This story unfolds with Ming-Miao describing the true ancestral lines of the Siamese cat; that is actually a Chinese cat; to her family of five kittens. As Ming-Miao explains to her kittens, the Chinese Siamese began their journey a thousand cat lives ago; and one of their most famous ancestors was Sagwa of China.
     As Ming-Miao continues to explain, Sagwa was the cat responsible for the darker markings on the faces, ears, paws and tails of the Chinese cat and the reason that her kittens have been taught the most polite miao-miao-miao instead of the piercing mee-yow-OW cry of the Siamese cat.
     As four of Ming-Miaos kittens listened intently as she tells the tale of their family history, one precocious kitten was off on her own, in search of a lizard she had spied under a nearby rock.
      As this picturesque story continues we learn of the many adventures of Sagwa of China and her family; parents Mama Miao and Baba Miao, brother Dongwa and sister Sheegwa. Their lives take place in ancient China in the House of The Foolish Magistrate.
      The Magistrate rules that there will be no singing until the sun goes down. He believes that if the people sing while they work they will lose concentration and not work hard enough.
      It is Mama Miao's job to write down the names of the people that break the rule. So unfair to the people she whispers as Baba Miao reflects, "we are only cats, with no power to change the world".
      Sagwa, had been listening to her parents and was also very upset over the unfairness to the people. "We are not helpless, we can change the world", she exclaimed!
     As Sagwa jumps to the Magistrates desk from her perch above, she lands precisely in the pot of ink used to write the Scroll of Rules for the village. Sagwa, whose face is now covered with the dark ink, quickly wipes her eyes clear with the nearest piece of paper that her paw can find. As Sagwa soon discovers, the paper she used is the Magistrates Scroll of Rules. And, worse yet, Sagwa's nose has completely covered the word "not" so as now to read "the people must sing until the sun goes down".
       This book is enjoyed by 3 to 6 year olds that learn how the Magistrates heart was warmed to change and the effect that Sagwa's mishap had on the ancient Chinese village.
      This book is also a wonderful supplement to the current PBS series "Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese"

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