>Passport: China – Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat by Amy Tan

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Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat“Before you go out into the world,” Ming Miao told her five kittens, “you must know the true story of your ancestors….”
And so begins the story of Sagwa of China, a mischievous, pearl white kitten. Sagwa lived in the House of the Foolish Magistrate, a greedy man who made up rules that helped only himself. One day, Sagwa fell into an inkwell and accidentally changed one of the Foolish Magistrate’s rules. Little did Sagwa know she would alter the fate — and the appearance — of Chinese cats forever!

This is an absolutely beautifully written story that educates children (and any who read the book) on why Siamese cats are really Chinese cats, and why their faces, ears, paws, and tails turn darker as they grow up.

Sagwa, is a “pearl white kitten,” that lived with her parents in the House of the Foolish Magistrate. Sagwa’s parents were forced by the Magistrate to write his strict, selfish rules by dipping their tails in ink. One day, Sagwa accidentally falls into an inkpot and then walks over one of the Magistrate’s Scroll of Rules that proclaims that all singing must be banned. Her paw marks that stain the scroll, change the meaning of the rule so that it now reads, “People must sing.”

Once the villagers hear the new rule, they sing in praise of the Foolish Magistrate, which warms his heart and causes him to take back all the old strict rules. The Magistrate celebrates what Sagwa has done by opening his house to all stray cats in the kingdom. He declares that the cats shall eat as much catfish as they wish and that from this day forth, “all Chinese cats shall have dark faces, ears, paws, and tails–in honor of the greatest of felines, Sagwa of China.”

Sagwa - Sagwa's Storybook WorldAmy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and this wonderful tale of  Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club (which remains one of my favorite movies), and her essays and stories that have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

Tan, who collaborated with Schields on her first children’s book in 1992, tells this charming tale perfectly, in language that is both simple and elegant. And Schields’s artwork complements the text wonderfully with its traditional Chinese border decorations and colorful, well-drawn characters.

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