Little White Duck

A Childhood in China

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 - Grade 7
  • Reading Level: Grade 5

The world is changing for two girls in China in the 1970s. Da Qin—Big Piano—and her younger sister, Xiao Qin—Little Piano—live in the city of Wuhan with their parents. For decades, China’s government had kept the country separated from the rest of the world. When their country’s leader, Chairman Mao, dies, new opportunities begin to emerge. Da Qin and Xiao Qin soon learn that their childhood will be much different than the upbringing their parents experienced.

Format Your Price Add
Available at all major wholesalers and distributors. Save 25% when you buy direct!
Interest Level Grade 4 - Grade 7
Reading Level Grade 5
Genre Graphic Novels, Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Diverse Books: #OwnVoices, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diversity
Copyright 2012
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Graphic Universe ™
Language English
Number of Pages 108
Publication Date 2012-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 4.4
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF062000, JNF007020, JNF062020
Dewey 741.5'973
Graphics Full-color illustrations
Dimensions 7 x 9
Lexile 710
Guided Reading Level V
ATOS Reading Level 3.2
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 151496
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Afterword, Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Original artwork, Reviewed, Starred Reviews, and Timeline

Author: Na Liu

Na Liu is a doctor of hematology and oncology. She moved from Wuhan, China, to Austin, Texas, in 1998 to work as a research scientist for MD Anderson Cancer Center. She met her husband, Andrés Vera Martínez, in Austin. Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez live in Brooklyn, New York, with their daughter, Mei Lan. They take annual trips to visit their families in Wuhan and Austin.

Author, Illustrator: Andrés Vera Martínez


  • Texas Maverick Graphic Novels Reading List, Winner, 2013
  • The Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Graphic Novel of the Year, Winner, 2013
  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, Winner, 2013
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2013
  • School Library Journal Best Book, Winner, 2012
  • Shelf Awareness 10 Best Books of the Year, Winner, 2012
  • Kirkus Best Children's Books, Winner, 2012
  • Horn Book Best Books of the Year, Winner, 2012
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, Winner, 2012
  • Black Eyed Susan Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2012
  • Cream of the Crop for Children's and Young Adult Literature, Winner, 2012


Library Media Connection

“This is a beautiful introduction to a China that few of us will ever understand.” —starred, Library Media Connection

The New York Times Book Review

“‘Little White Duck’ isn’t Communist propaganda. It is at once more innocent and more sophisticated. What Liu and Martínez do is convey a child’s-eye view of a country in transition. Politics, culture and history play into their stories, but the reader’s awareness of them is a child’s awareness… Their characters are more than just pieces to be puzzled into someone else’s narrative. They’re living, breathing people.” —The New York Times Book Review

Shelf Awareness

“Liu and Martínez find the universal moments in the details of an exotic land, inviting readers to see themselves in Da Qin’s experiences of friendship, family and country. An extraordinary graphic novel-memoir by a husband-and-wife team offering a rare view of 1970s China.” —Shelf Awareness

Kirkus Reviews

“With this intimate look at her childhood memories, Liu skillfully weaves factual tidbits into the rich tapestry of her life…Beautifully drawn and quietly evocative.” —starred, Kirkus Reviews


“The stories are vivid even without Martinéz’s bold artwork that evokes both traditional Chinese scrolls and midcentury propaganda posters. The result is a memoir that reads like a fable, a good story with a moral that resonates.” —Booklist Online

School Library Journal

“Based on her childhood experiences, Na Liu and her husband have created a rich, multilayered memoir, incorporating history, geography, language, culture, and mythology into eight short stories; then weaving them together to create an exquisite tapestry of life in China during the 1970s….This picturesque treasure introduces Chinese culture through a personal perspective that is both delightful and thought-provoking.” —starred, School Library Journal

The Horn Book Magazine

“Author and illustrator together give us an unvarnished and intimate account of a real childhood: plain-speaking, rough-hewn, and very much down-to-earth. While the time and place the book depicts are very different from our own, there’s not a hint of sentimentality or exoticism: the scene where the mother shames the girls into cleaning their plates by telling them the real story about starving children in China is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. A glossary, a chronology, and an author’s note provide context.” —starred, The Horn Book Magazine

Publishers Weekly

“Liu is a calm storyteller whose words are enlivened by Martinez’s enthusiastic and energetic art, and their respective tones complement each other fluidly. Martinez’s work is a loving depiction of his wife in childhood, providing atmosphere through not only his period details in the stories, but also the between-story spreads that broaden the reader’s scope in understanding life in China at that time.” —Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

Recommended Reading

Living History

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu; illus. by Andres Vera Martinez (Graphic Universe, 2013)
Gr 4-7-Each short chapter tells of a different aspect of Liu’s childhood in 1970s China: her parents’ grief at the death of Chairman Mao, her school’s rat-catching crusade, a famous Chinese hero, her visit to poor cousins in the country. These stories with universal elements of childhood also capture details about the society and times.