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Mei Li

3.11 of 5 stars 3.11  ·  rating details  ·  437 ratings  ·  98 reviews
After spending an eventful day at the fair held on New Year's Eve, Mei Li arrives home just in time to greet the Kitchen God.
Hardcover, 48 pages
Published April 1st 1955 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 1938)
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Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice SendakMake Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskeyThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack KeatsThe Polar Express by Chris Van AllsburgThe Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
Caldecott Medal Winners
60th out of 77 books — 291 voters
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry PinkneyWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice SendakFlotsam by David WiesnerMadeline by Ludwig BemelmansMake Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
List for #nerdcott
177th out of 327 books — 33 voters

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Community Reviews

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1939 Caldecott Medal Winner

Fantastic black and white illustrations in this book. It looks like it was done with ink and brush, with tiny dots for shading. The story is about how Mei Li sneaks out with her brother San Yu to attend the big New Years celebration and tries to prove in various ways that there are things for girls to do at the fair.

It's dated, but I didn't feel like it was particularly insulting to Chinese people--it sounded like the author based it on a real little girl whom he knew
Young Mei Li disobeys her parents and the traditions of her society by following her brother into the walled city the morning before New Year's Day. The story takes place in China almost a century ago, and readers will delight in this little girl's adventure into the city as well as her attempts to leave the city before the gates close for the night! Mei Li is both curious and brave, and readers will relate to her attempts to prove herself worthy of the trip in her big brother's eyes. The realis ...more

I had low expectations for "Mei-Li" based on what little I’d heard and the fact that it was written by a Westerner about Chinese culture in the 1930s/40s. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was neither as misogynistic or culturally insensitive as I’d feared it would be. I certainly wouldn’t want it to be a first or only primer on Chinese culture or women’s rights, but I believe it could be an enjoyable and educational addition to family or classroom read-alouds if bracketed with
Petrie Serrano
I was worried about this one at first because it depicts non-white characters in the 1930s. Then I felt a bit better after reading the illustrator/author lived in China and spent two years on a book about a real little girl he knew. Then my heart sank again after reading the poem translated from the Chinese at the beginning that seems to imply girls are worthless.

However, the entire story exists to contradict the poem by showing all the things a girl can experience and accomplish at a New Year'
Jan 05, 2014 Dolly rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
We are working our way through the Caldecott Medal winners and are just tracking down the last few that we haven't read yet. As this book was written before my parents were even born, we were excited to see children's literature from long ago. The illustrations are terrific - the black and white drawings are very expressive and engaging and I can appreciate the time (2 years) that the author/illustrator took to create them. The story, I felt, was fine. It did depict girls as being less privilege ...more
Gabrielle Blockton
Date: October 15th, 2014

Author: Thomas Handforth

Title: Mei Li

Plot: Mei Li and her family prepare for the Kitchen God in their home to tell them what they must do during the coming year. Meanwhile, Mei Li and her brother go outside the city walls to explore the New Year Fair in the city.

Setting: North China, near the Great Wall

Characters: Mei Li, Mrs. Wang, San Yu, Uncle Wang, Igo

Point-of-Views: Third-Person

Theme: Celebration; Your family and home is your kingdom and palace; within its walls all
Tracy Poff
This review also appears on my blog.

Mei Li wishes to go to the New Year Fair in the city, but little girls always have to stay home. Undaunted, she sneaks out to visit the city, following her brother. What adventures await?


Thomas Handforth's Mei Li is the winner of the 1939 Caldecott Medal. Unlike the previous winner, Animals of the Bible , Mei Li is a real picture book.

The story centers around a young Chinese girl, Mei Li, who is unsatisfied with remaining at home, while the New Year Fair is g
Theresa Womack
The book Mei Li won a Caldecott Medal in 1939 so when I first took this book off the shelve I had to remind myself of that. The cover of the book has no illustrations besides some writing in Chinese. Inside the front cover the book has a map, which helps the reader to understand where she is when at home and where she is at when in the city. I enjoyed the story itself. The pictures on the pages also told a story. Some of the pictures went a long with what as written but there were many pages tha ...more
I believe that we adult readers of these old picture-books look for things that will date them, look for cultural insensitivities and sexism, to the point where we find them when they're not even there. As a (white, girl) child I would have loved this adventure and been not harmed by it at all.

As an alert adult, I def. appreciate all the different Chinese faces and bodies. Each is clearly an individual - there is no 'Chinese race' or representative person.

And as a pragmatic parent, I found the
Jamal Scott
This book uses a lot of color on the cover of the book. On this inside on the left it has a introduction to the book. On each page there's text on each page instead of every other page. When you start reading the pictures are black and white. The pictures also look like they were done with pencil on the inside.

This book takes place in china with a little Chinese girl named Mei Li. She wanted to go to the New Year Fair in the city. She wasn't able to because little girls had to stay home. She wou
A charming little story about a little girl who sneaks to the New Year's Festival to have adventures with her brother.

I knew there was a degrading little poem about a girl's worth on the first page, so I skipped that when reading it to my son. He has enough "boys are better than girls" attitude already so I didn't need to feed that fire.

The illustrations were very detailed and my son enjoyed them despite his usual distaste for black and white.

The story was fine. It seemed choppy to me at times,
If this book were more well-known today, I believe that Mei Li would be a very popular character amidst the offerings of picture book literature. She is a fun, spirited girl living in a time and place during which girls were quite restricted in the activities that they could enjoy, yet on the special day described in this book she really lives it up and has a great time.

Mei Li sneaks off with her brother San Yu to the fair in Peiping, where she is mesmerized by the bustle of activity that swar
This book won the 1939 Caldecott Award, which makes me think they were still trying to iron out the kinks with the award. It was an interesting book, but not one I was overly fond of. I think "Wee Gillis" should've won that year, though I've still not read Wanda Gag's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and that might be better. This book is about a young Chinese girl named Mei Li, her mother, her brother San Yu, and Uncle Wang who are about to celebrate New Years. Mei Li goes with her brother an ...more
From the cover I was prepared for a story and images filled with stereotypes. I was pleasantly surprised.
I really like the very first illustration of Mei Li and her mother. Love the expressive realistic faces.

on another look noticed the first translated rhyme:

"We Keep a dog to watch the house,
A pig is useful too,
We keep a cat to catch a mouse,
But what can we do
With a girl like you?"

This comparison of having a girl being like owning a domesticated animal makes me nauseated.

Historical con
I was intrigued to learn that this is one of two Caldecott Medal winners not readily available in bookstores everywhere these days, so I immediately rushed to the library shelf to see what terrible things I would find in the pages of the 1939 Caldecott winning title.

My impression after reading? It's fairly charming, and I'm not really sure why it's not widely available. The depiction of the Chinese setting seems respectful, if dated. I was afraid I'd find some kind of terrible made-up pseudo-Ch
Amy Foster
I did'nt expect to like this book as much as I did, mostly due to the outdated illustrations and the assumption that I would find stereotyped characters. But the book was surprisingly refreshing and featured characters that were more true to Chinese culture but also relatable to any child around the world. Somewhat lengthly for young children but an interesting look at imperial China.
This story is so unlike what is now being published, but the illustrations are still wonderful. The story itself needs quite a bit of background knowledge to do it justice. Since "Peking" is no longer the correct English spelling of "Beijing," that lead to a discussion of geography with the students. Since it is a longer story and there is not time to do it justice, I only read it to one of the older classes.
Little Mei Li wants to visit the city the night before the Kitchen God appears like her male family members, including her older brother. She sneaks out and has adventures, trading her precious possessions for deeds that benefit her selfish brother. She is taken home, happy, by her uncle and awaits the visit of the Kitchen God.

I enjoyed the illustrations in this book; the black and white sketches were detailed, but lacking background details; I wish there'd been more. Also: sexist poems! "We kee
1939 Caldecott Winner

For the time that this book was published, the illustrator did a pretty wonderful job with the characters. They do not all look like stereotypical identical Asians. I was happy to see that they were individuals and the scenes were a lot of fun.

****Spoiler alert****

I enjoyed the pictures here, but the lesson to be learned was not my favorite. It seemed okay at first since it was a girl going off to prove that girls could have an adventure too, but then she returns home and i
Tricia Douglas
This was a Caldecott winner in 1939. Written in 1938 it must have been a wonderful book to acquaint children with life in China. The illustrations are wonderful and detailed. Costumes, games, and general life in China at this time are told through a child's eyes, in particular, a girl's eyes. Today we have so many more books for children on life in other countries, but this book still has a flavor that will be remember for a long time.
Mei Li is a book about a Chinese girl that wants to attend the New Year’s Fair. She sneaks off with her brother to the fair where is taken back by all the activities that are going on because she has never seen anything like it before. She returns home after having a day that she will not forget.This book pictures are very descriptive and they show a little part of the Chinese culture and this is helpful for children because at a young age they don’t understand different cultures, so this can be ...more
Samantha Weatherford
This book was very long, but well written with illustrations that match the period. An older child with a high reading level may enjoy it. It is a good multicultural book that shows how life was in oriental cultures. It is an older book an enforces the idea that girls cannot do the things boys do, but Mei Li does have many adventures. It also teaches a little about money and trading since the girl has to pick and choose how to spend her three pennies and marbles. Lastly it teaches that your home ...more
While Mei Li presents the idea of a young girl who attempts to make something of herself in a society that views females as essentially worthless, at the end of the tale she isn't very successful, and seems to accept that the best place for her, at least for now, is in the house.

This book is very much a product of its time, so it's interesting historically but not really the best for modern children too young to place it in a historical context.

Veg*n families might want to know that the treatm
Reenie Peppers
Themes: Chinese culture, Chinese New Year celebrations, sibling dynamics
Activities: research other aspects of Chinese culture, plan a Chinese New Year celebration, discuss the illustrations contribution to the story
Look no further than the first illustration and translation to jumpstart a discussion.
"We keep a dog to watch the house,
A pig is useful, too,
We keep a cat to catch a mouse,
But what can we do
with a girl like you?"

They are preparing for a feast for the kitchen God at the Year Fair. Her brother, San Yu, reminds her of the roles of a girl. Her kingdom is her house.

Here's another passage that will spark further discussion:

"This is the thrifty princess,
whose house is always clean,
no dirt within her
The illustrations in the book are gorgeous black and white prints. The introductory page pretty much sums up the "moral" of what could be an awesome story.

"We keep a dog to watch the house,
A pig is useful, too,
We keep a cat to catch a mouse,
But what can we do
with a girl like you?"

The girl like you in this story is Mei Li, who rebels against the wishes of her family to join her brother, San Yu at the New Year's celebration in town. Mei Li has wild adventures in town and does everything her b
Enjoyed this much more than I expected. The story is reminiscent of the writings of Pearl Buck. Not sure if kids will like it but might be worth a try for Chinese New Year.
1939 Caldecott Award

Favorite illustration: The end papers (!) which are a map of the city and countryside that Mei Li visits during the story.

Favorite line: "As surely no kingdom could be as nice as home. How glad she was at the sight of her house among the trees behind the wall!"

Kid-appeal today: I suspect it will be mixed. It has a nice story-line with Mei Li being told what she can and can't do at the fair, but she tries to find fun and exciting things to do anyway. In the end she realizes he

A young Chinese girl is supposed to stay home on New Year's Eve. She wants to see the festivities in town, though, so Mei Li leaves while her parents aren't watching and rides to town with her brother. She participates in the festivities and watches with wonder, leaving town with her uncle and brother just in time to make it home that evening.

Though it was interesting, the book was wordy and I think children would have difficulty getting into the story. I partic
Meng Zhang
Mei Li, which was written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth, was the winner of the Caldecott Award in 1939. It is a picture book and a piece of multicultural literature for primary readers. It is a story about this Chinese girl who goes to attend the New Year Fair in the nearby city with her brother. The second half of the book is about the time when they come back from the trip and welcome the arrival of the Kitchen God at midnight. This book is very visual and gives children the illustration ...more
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