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Once Upon a Full Moon

by Elizabeth Quan

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new experience, asia, travel
list price: $24.99
published: 2007
publisher: Tundra
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Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

Once Upon A Full Moon

Canadian picture books with immigration themes are highly sought after by teachers trying to support heritage curriculum units in late primary and early intermediate grades.

Elizabeth Quan’s autobiographical story, Once Upon A Full Moon, not only gives testimony to her ability as a raconteur and watercolour impressionist, it covers new material in the Canadian immigrant experience. Rather than reading about the arduous journey to Canada and sacrifices made to eke out a living, Quan’s audience takes a reverse journey in the 1920s with the Lee family to see the children’s grandmother – a journey from Toronto to Dun Ngan Lai, a small farming town in the Kwangtung province of China, at a time before jet planes and diesel engines.

The reader shares in the Lee family’s excitement of train meals and platform stretches across Canada; Chinese opera in Vancouver; whale sightings from the “Oriental section” of a Pacific Ocean steam ship; Japanese tea in Yokohama; cable car sightseeing in Victoria, Hong Kong; a bumpy rickshaw ride through crowded streets to the ferry terminal; block pillows and rattan beds on the ferry to Canton; jostling with coops of chickens aboard a steam train to Dun Ngan Lai; and, finally, a foot journey with coolies through rice paddies to Grandma’s open arms.

Lyrical descriptions of the countryside are generously supported by charming, watercolours that are both detailed and free in the way they depict the diversity of the Pacific Rim region. The cycle of the moon provides a comforting touchstone to home, and acts as temporal background to the journey.

Lee King’s determination to connect his six children with their grandmother in an effort for them to know their roots is awe inspiring considering the expense and stress of travelling as a family of eight in the 1920s. It is particularly touching when Lee King breathes in the crisp air at the Dun Ngan Lai Station platform and reconnects to the place “where his ancestors, for a thousand years, had had their beginnings and their endings.” This is a book that appeals to all ages.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2007. Vol.30 No.4.

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Elizabeth Quan’s father had made a success in the New World, but he longed for his home in China. So in the early 1920’s, he and his family set out on an arduous trip to the far side of the world. By train, ship, ferry, cart, and on foot, Elizabeth, her parents, and her brothers and sisters set off from Toronto to a village in China to visit the grandmother they have never met.

From the mountain of luggage to the whales breaching in the Pacific and geishas on wooden sandals on the cobbled streets of Yokohama, Elizabeth Quan describes sights that would captivate any child. But hers is also a journey of personal discovery. Did she fit in in Canada, where her straight dark hair and even the foods she ate set her apart? Would she fit in in China where she was just as different to the people she met?

In the course of her family’s travels she learns that home is a state of mind and that the moon can find us, no matter where we are.The rhythms of travel and the longing for connection are conveyed in lyrical text and lovely watercolors in a truly memorable book.

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Contributor notes

Elizabeth Quan is a Canadian watercolorist active in the art scene both nationally and internationally, and has been for over 25 years. She is known for her vital and organic impressionistic works which are included in hundreds of private and corporate collections. She was the last protégé of Jack Pollock. Elizabeth holds a BA in East Asian studies from the University of Toronto, and was connected with the Chinese Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum for six years. She has published two books: Quan, My Life My Art, and The Immortal Poet of the Milo — three Chinese puppet plays. She was an active puppeteer for many years. She is widowed with three grown daughters and lives in Toronto.

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Editorial Review

"Nothing short of enchanting…"
-The Globe and Mail

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