About the Holiday
If you live in a cold climate and cabin fever has set in or if you live in a warm climate and want to get out and enjoy the day, why not take the opportunity of today’s holiday and go fly a kite? Whether you’re steering a simple diamond or a fancy dragon, watching a kite dip and soar through the sky is an exhilarating experience!
Red Kite, Blue Kite
Written by Ji-li Jiang | Illustrated by Greg Ruth
“I love to fly kites,” young Tai Shan relates, but not he’s while standing on the ground. Instead, because his city is so crowded, his Baba and he climb to the peak of their triangular roof where they are “above but still under, neither here nor there. We are free, like the kites.” While they fly their kites—red for Tai Shan and blue for Baba—Baba tells stories, and Tai Shan feels as if he is soaring through the clouds, “looking down at the dotted houses” and wanting to stay up there forever.
But one day dark times descend. Tai Shan’s school and many others are shuttered. Baba is taken away by men in red arm bands and sent to work in a labor camp. Tai Shan is sent to live with Granny Wang, a farmer who lives in a village next to the labor camp. A thick forest separates Tai Shan and Baba. During the day Granny Wang teaches Tai Shan how to make straw grasshoppers and spin cotton and lets him ride her buffalo. At night Tai Shan dreams of flying kites from the rooftop with his father.
On Sundays Baba walks for hours to visit Tai Shan. He spends time telling stories and playing with his son and his friends. Then they climb the hill and fly kites, Tai Shan’s red one following Baba’s blue. “The kites hop and giggle as they rise and dive, soaring and lunging together.” At the end of the day, Baba returns to the labor camp for another week. In the autumn Baba tells Tai Shan that he won’t be able to visit for a long time. But he has a clever plan—a way that he and Tai Shan can see each other.
Baba gives his son a new red kite and tells him to fly it from the hill each morning. He will see it from his camp. In the evening Baba will fly his blue kite so that Tai Shan can see it. Tai Shan likes the idea of this “secret signal.” The next morning Tai Shan runs to the hill and launches his kite, knowing that “Baba is smiling as he watches the red kite dancing.” In the evening he returns to the hill, and after a long wait “Baba’s blue kite sways into the white clouds.”
Every day Tai Shan sends his father a silent message—“‘How are you, Baba? I miss you.’” and “Baba’s blue kite swirls and circles, replying, ‘I miss you, too, little Tai Shan.’” Autumn is coming to a close, but still Baba does not visit. One day no blue kite appears in the sky. The next day and the next no kite appears either. Tai Shan asks Granny Wang to take him to the camp to see Baba. If there is no kite on the fourth day they will go, Granny Wang promises.
That night Tai Shan dreams about the thick forest and hears Baba whisper, “‘Tai Shan, I saw your red kite fly so high.’” But these words are not in a dream, Baba is there. But Baba is not home to stay. Hurriedly, he gives Tai Shan his blue kite, telling him that he will not be able to fly it for a while. He asks Tai Shan to fly both kites and know that he is looking up and thinking about his son. Suddenly, men with red armbands rush in and take Baba away. Tai Shan tries to run after him, but Granny Wang holds him back.
Tai Shan cries and does not understand. Granny Wang explains that Baba is being sent to another labor camp far away because the authorities don’t agree with his ideas. During the three days when he didn’t fly his blue kite, Granny Wang says, Baba had been imprisoned. He had escaped and run all the way to see Tai Shan before he was taken away. Now Tai Shan flies the two kites every day and thinks of being together with Baba.
One summer afternoon, Tai Shan dozes while he allows his red kite to dip and soar in the clouds. When he opens his eyes, he sees dozens of red and blue kites in the sky. Tai Shan jumps up. He sees Baba smiling at him and “holding the string of a huge blue kite dancing in the sky.” Tai Shan’s friends are also smiling and flying their new kites. Tai Shan runs to Baba, and Baba runs toward Tai Shan. The sky “is filled with kites—red and blue. They hop and giggle and cheer as they rise and dive, soaring and lunging together. They are free, flying everywhere.”
An Author’s Note about the Chinese Cultural Revolution follows the text.
Inspired by the story of a family friend whose father was sent to a labor camp during the Chinese Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, Ji-li Jiang wrote Red Kite, Blue Kite “for the many fathers and sons who suffered during that turmoil.” Jiang’s story is a universal and relevant reminder of the precious freedoms of thought and speech that need constant and vigilant protection. Through her sensitive storytelling and lyrical language, Jiang offers a story of understanding, hope, and infinite love that will fill readers’ hearts.
Greg Ruth’s stunning paintings show all the emotion of Jiang’s story through exquisite, realistic portraits of Tai Shan, Baba, and Granny Wang. The distinctive landscapes of China are rendered in colorful foregrounds set on gauzy backgrounds of rising hills. Smoky images of the followers of the Cultural Revolution mirrors the darkness and destruction of the time in a way that is understandable for the young audience. The final two-page spread of Tai Shan and Baba’s reunion amid dozens of red and blue kites is inspiring and full of the strength of the human spirit.
Red Kite, Blue Kite is a must for school and public libraries and makes an excellent addition to home libraries as well.
Ages 5 – 9
Disney-Hyperion, 2013 | ISBN 978-1423127536
For a downloadable Educator’s Guide click here.
Learn more about Ji-li Jiang and her books on her website!
Find galleries of books and illustration for children and adults plus lots more on Greg Ruth’s website!
Kite Flying Day Activity
Soaring Kite Maze
The dips and rises your pencil takes through this maze is a little like the way a kite flies through the sky! Print your Soaring Kite Maze and enjoy!
Picture Book Review