Angel in Beijing book cover

Belle Yang’s latest children’s book will take you on a picturesque tour of Beijing but it’s the depiction of the passing of time that will strengthen your emotional connection to it.

  • Title: Angel in Beijing
  • Author: Belle Yang
  • Illustrator: Belle Yang
  • Reading level: 4-8 years
  • Date published: 2018
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Country: USA
  • Country printed in: China
  • Eco-friendly Printing: FSC MIX paper from responsible sources
  • This book delivered to Dubai, UAE by Amazon

Told in the first person, an unnamed girl finds and keeps a cat but loses it to a giant flying kite. She eventually finds Kitty after a tiring search across Beijing, only to unselfishly leave the cat behind as company for an old granny who lives alone. The girl keeps her promise to granny and Kitty, and returns to visit.

The preface of one of the author’s adult non-fictions was contributed by “The Joy Luck Club” novelist Amy Tan, who wrote: “Belle Yang is an American writer who writes in English and thinks in Chinese.” Yang’s done the same with her illustrations. In “Angel in Beijing”, she depicts the city’s landscape in gouache over variations of light and dark black strokes reminiscent of Chinese ink paintings. She’s used a bigger, more contemporary colour palette in anticipation of a viewer unfamiliar with the capital city and its indigenous cultures.

The storyline that is driven by and that unfolds against the picturesque landscape also holds the plot, that strengthens the reader’s emotional connection to the story: the passing of time.

The girl finds the cat on New Year’s Eve when snow is thick on the ground. They’re still exploring Beijing together on her bicycle in the spring/summer and it’s only during the Dragon Boat Festival that Kitty flew away on a big kite. In the final scene, cold weather clothes are worn again, signalling the passing of another season.

The Dragon Boat Festival happens in the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, which does not correspond to the Gregorian, and ‘loses’ around eleven days a year to it. New Year’s Eve, when the book begins, is ushered in with firecrackers, which are traditionally lit for the Chinese new year. Yang does not call her opening scene “Chinese New Year’s eve” but simply “New Year’s eve”.  But if you pick up the cultural cue–in this case the firecrackers–you’d understand the whole story not just in one space–Beijing–but also in one time–the Chinese Lunar calendar. Otherwise, you may well position the story’s journey over time between two calendars, and have a slightly different understanding of the amount of time the girl and Kitty have shared together.

Regardless this laborious minutiae, Yang’s lavish landscapes not just across space but also time, will take you on the journey from season to season as the relationship between the girl, Kitty and then granny, develops.