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December 6, 2009

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Wit and humor for children

CHINESE calendar animals are pretty strait-laced characters in mythology °?- until they end up in Sarah Brennan's hands. And kids both Chinese and foreign love the wit and humor that she brings.

From this Hong Kong expat's pen the reliable Ox in Chinese tradition is lazy and suspected of stealing the farm produce. The mighty dragon is a lonely yet fearsome child eater. And the clever rat dreams of leaving home for the bright lights of the city.

In an ambitious series, Brennan plans to release one picture book in the year of each animal. Over the next nine years these books will also paint a picture of China - figuratively and literally with illustrations from Harry Harrison, an award-winning illustrator.

This month the third in the series "The Tale of Oswald Ox" is released on Chinese mainland.

Many books have been written about China - from business books to memoirs to fiction - but few have tried to explain it from a child's perspective. The idea occurred to Brennan after writing and publishing in China her first books "A Dirty Story" and its sequel "An Even Dirtier Story."

"It was weird reading to Chinese kids stories with a European context so I wanted to write something that related to their culture, which means more of an immediate connection," she said.

The result was the tale of Chester Choi, a child-eating dragon living in the mystical mountains of the South China Sea. It worked so well that Brennan decided to set up her own publishing company for the rest in the series plus other books on the trials of parenting.

Impressions of the different China's depicted were collated over Brennan's long experience as a Hong Kong expat where she has lived for 11 years. Unsatisfied with the typical trailer wife activity of hanging out at the cricket club discussing the price of chalets, she started writing for an expat magazine about parenting.

Before Hong Kong she was a litigation lawyer in London.

In between complicated medical litigation cases on which heavy burdens hung, she would stare out of the window and imagine moving to Ireland to work in a bakery and write in her spare time.

Having always written funny verse, Brenan hit upon the fact that kids, just like adults, loved a bit of dark humor - something that Chinese school textbooks rarely dabble in.

It was an even greater realization that a fresh approach to the Chinese context could engage both Chinese and Western audiences.

In her books there is a mix of ancient and modern, countryside and city - two very Chinese themes.

Harrison's wry, satirical pen illustrations of one used to dealing with the dark entanglements of politics add value, with plays between words and pictures weaving multiple layers.

Brennan's books are available at Garden Books, and


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