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Book Review: Cixi “The Dragon Empress” by Natasha Yim, Peter Malone (Illustrator)

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Cixi “The Dragon Empress” is a children’s picture book in the Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames.

Author Natasha Yim’s book is an historical account of the state of one courageous and brave woman who wanted to escape the odds of a difficult upbringing and childhood in China. She felt like an outcast in her own home and her parents ignored her and favoured her siblings. This really hurt her deeply. So, when at the age of sixteen she got a chance to escape her home, she was very glad to work as a concubine in the Forbidden City. She was transported from a very difficult life to a life of lavish comfort. She wore beautiful necklaces, and silk gowns. However, when she bore a son, her life changed even more. She became an Imperial Consort, one of the emperor’s highest-ranking wives. At that time she had power, prestige, and ability to change things that she never imagined.

Yim does a splendid job of portraying Cixi and how she must have felt being an outcast in her own home. Women in these days didn’t have too many options. But Cixi’s feistiness and courage earned her an historical mark like no other. Her message is that women can aspire to be more than they are supposed to be because of their upbringing. But did Cixi live up to the image of “Dragon Empress”?  I will let the reader decide for him or herself.

The illustrations are vivid and colourful. They illustrate what people wore, ate, and how they spent their time during this historical time in China.  The story has educational value and will be very useful to school kids ages 9 to 13. It is a wonderful read and an evocative story that most kids will be able to sink their teeth into. It is a sad and inspiring story at the same time. But it has a depth that is rarely found in a children’s picture book. Kids will want to keep reading and re-reading the book quite a few times.

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