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Mei Li

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  631 Ratings  ·  132 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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Aug 20, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
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

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
I started reading this to my son, and then I stopped. Because San Yu, Mei Li's brother, is a kind of a jerk. My son is 3, and I can't get into a realistic discussion of gender roles with him. So, I told him this isn't true anymore, that girls can do anything that boys can, and please go and play with your legos while mommy can stew on something written in the 30s, and should have died a natural death but didn't because it won the Caldecott Medal. (This last is my opinion).

It bugged me when the b
Dec 29, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2011 Dolly rated it liked it  ·  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
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'
Matthew Hunter
Mei Li won the 1939 Caldecott. 4-year-old Sigourney loved the black ink drawings. The Chinese landscapes, architecture, fashions and costumes interested her to no end. But the story's message - little girls are lesser beings that can't do most things - stinks. Prime example: a diviner tells Mei Li that she'll be a ruler some day. Then, pages later as the book ends, Mei Li's told that one day, she'll be the monarch of her own home. Holy dated gender roles! Granted, I'm reading a 1930's book with ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
It's unfortunate that this early Caldecott winner (only the second book to win) depicts girls as being unable to do many of the things boys do simply because of tradition. However, if using this book in class, it could be a good example of how things have changed in the world, how sex roles are not quite as rigid as they used to be.
Eh okay I'm so torn because I loved the artwork. The shading and the intricacy in which the faces and areas were drawn is simply mesmerizing; however, it was tough reading about a little girl who was no more than an animal to her family and the community. It makes sense in a historical way but it did make it difficult to read at some points.
Alyson (Kid Lit Frenzy)
Caldecott Winner - 1939 I decided not to rate this one. I always struggle to rate a book that was likely advanced for the year it was published. It rubs me completely wrong for present day and the message it sends about the place of a girl, but part of me is impressed that a book about a Chinese character won an award during that time period.
Cristine Braddy
May 25, 2015 Cristine Braddy rated it really liked it
The kids and I are reading through the Caldecotts this summer. We enjoyed the story. Yes, some of the language and ideas seem dated but we enjoyed chatting about that. They said they were pleasantly surprised.
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
Book Concierge
Mei Li is the youngest child in a loving family. She’s easy to spot with her “candle stick” pigtail atop her head. One day she goes with her brother to the New Year Fair. They have many adventures and eat wonderful treats, but almost miss getting back through the city gates!

Originally published in 1938, this won the 1939 Caldecott medal. Wonderful illustrations bring the Chinese cultural celebration to life. This is a great way to introduce very young children to a different country and its cul
Jul 25, 2017 Rhonda rated it it was ok
Shelves: edlt-501
I absolutely adore the black charcoal illustrations in this book. This would be a great companion book to a nonfiction story about Chinese new year. There is also a great wall of china reference. You can definitely tell this book is from the 30's. Although I loved the illustrations, the plot was a little slow in some spots and it made it difficult to keep my attention.
Mar 14, 2017 Patsy rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book which was named 1939 winner of the Caldecott award. Whether it is culturally accurate or not, I enjoyed reading about this family. The characters are affectionate and hard-working.
Jun 21, 2017 Brett rated it liked it
Cool illustrations & I'm glad that Mei Li has no time for the traditional "Girls stay home & make themselves useful" thing. But I can't say it enough: Man, old-timey picture books are wordy!
Mar 20, 2017 Ranea rated it liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This was the 1938 Caldecott Medal Winner. (I'm trying to track down and read as many Caldecott winners as I can.) I loved the copper pressed illustrations in this story. They took two years to complete, and they are beautiful. The story is a sweet one about a little girl who wants to go to the New Year Fair, but my favorite thing about this book, by far, is the illustrations.
Brianna Rice
Mar 23, 2017 Brianna Rice rated it really liked it
This historical fiction story would be best for 3rd-5th graders. I would use this story when teaching students about the traditions in China.
Victoria Y.
Jul 11, 2017 Victoria Y. rated it it was ok
Shelves: libs642
This black and white informational biography and picture book tells about the life of a little Chinese girl, named Mei Li, and her struggle to prove herself as a female. In Mei Li's struggle to prove herself, she lost all her possessions and had nothing to give to her family, but her family just wanted her home. This is a great story to help tell children to be themselves and they shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone, just believe in themselves.
Mar 30, 2010 Josiah rated it it was ok
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
Jul 16, 2013 Allison rated it liked it
Shelves: caldecott
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
May 06, 2015 Meltha rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, picturebooks
This is the second oldest Caldecott out there, back in the early 1930s, and I'm more than a bit torn over it. The illustrations (single color) certainly have a lot going on in them and in some cases are quite beautiful, but given the time period I'm not really sure how accurate the story is or how culturally true the clothing and customs might be. I know extremely little about China, so for all I know they're dead on, but I'm not sure. Mei Li, the protagonist, is a little girl who wants to go to ...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
Randi Goodnight
In Mei Li a young girl, Mei Li, and her older brother, San Yu, go to a fair on New Years. At the fair Mei Li and San Yu compete for who could do better at the fair. While competing with her brother Mei Li consults a fortuneteller who tells her that she is going to be a princess. While Mei Li thinks about being a princess she spends her three lucky pennies and her three marbles and looses her brother. Trying to find her brother she realizes that they have to be home soon or they will get locked o ...more
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
Dec 29, 2011 Laura5 rated it liked it
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
Merissa Leonard
This story is about a girl, Mei Li, who sneaks out of the house with her brother. They go to the New Years celebration where Mei Li try’s to prove that there are things that girls can do at the fair. The illustrations in this book are only black and white. The look of the sketches seems to be done with an ink brush or pen. The brush strokes add different texture to the picture. Some of the images have tiny dots for the shading in of the picture, which adds a shadow effect in most of the pictures ...more
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
Dec 01, 2016 Caitlyn added it
Shelves: multicultural
1. Mei Li wants to go to the city with her male relatives to gather gifts for the Kitchen God. However, girls aren't allowed to go. Mei Li sneaks away by following her brother. She has many adventures, but is happy to return home to the Kitchen God who helps her to understand the importance of home.
2. I really like the cultural aspects of this book. I think it would be interesting to discuss the evident gender roles in this book. I also really liked that Mei Li loves adventure, but is happy to r
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
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