My niece has some sort of inexplicable, life-long fascination with anything to do with China or the Chinese culture. Admitedly, her life has been short thus far, but that's beside the point. I knew she would appreciate this book simply because it's a Chinese story. She did like it, she appreciated the art, and the story itself.
The story is more or less a do unto others story--it talks about the virtue of charity and kindness to those in need. It's a pretty book that tells a story that's been told in a million different ways. It's pretty, but nothing particularly special. What makes this book a four star book for me, though, is the part it played in a little piece of daily life today.
When I picked my niece up from school today, this book was sitting in the seat of the car beside me, and we were going to be reading it in 15 or 20 minutes or so. While we were stopped at a light, a woman was on the sidewalk holding up a sign asking for help. The sign said she was diabetic, and that she needed money for food and medicine. I saw the woman, but did what is typical, and ignored her.
In the back seat my niece said, "Amy, does that lady need money?" I said, "She says she does." My niece asked, "Why isn't anyone helping her?" I sighed and said, "I don't know, Baby." My little eight year old niece then got truly mad and said, "You know, people are so selfish these days! They always only think about themselves and never about helping others! It's always me-me-me!" She may as well have hit me right between the eyes with a hammer. Nothing can stop someone in their tracks faster than truth from the mouth of a child. I caught my breath, and then I saw Lord of the Cranes, in all of it's beautiful red cover-ness, sitting in the seat beside me. This stop light, this needy woman, this fabulous child, and this book all converged at this moment, and it was a really weirdly powerful moment! As that pretty red cover of Lord of the Cranes winked at me, I said, "You know what, Baby? You are absolutely right. We'll help her."
So I don't know if Lord of the Cranes was more than an enjoyable story to my niece, but as I learned today, that's all it needed to be for her, because she already lives the lesson.
But it was certainly more than that to her cynical, suspicious, hard-hearted auntie. My niece and Lord of the Cranes reminded me of an important and timeless lesson. A lesson that is especially vital and worthy of occasional reinforcement in this me-me-me world. Books and babies. They are great teachers.