Monday, April 6, 2020

MMGM: Red Scarf Girl

I wasn’t sure about highlighting this book right now with all that is going on with Covid 19. I thought people might not want to hear about a serious book right now, especially one set in China. But then I realized that I often like to read books about people surviving extraordinary times when my own life is difficult. It puts things in perspective.

Red Scarf Girl was recommended for kids who were old enough for YA, but not ready for edgy YA on the Read Aloud Revival, a great website for finding book recommendations!

I'm drawn to books about communism, because I lived in the Crimea in the 90s right after communism fell. It surprised me then how many of my Russian friends were nostalgic for communism, despite how their families had suffered under it. But it was all they’d ever known. This child’s perspective on the Cultural Revolution might surprise you as well.

From Amazon:

In the tradition of The Diary of Anne Frank and I Am Malala, this is the incredible true story of one girl’s courage and determination during one of the most terrifying eras of the twentieth century. This edition includes a detailed glossary, pronunciation guide, discussion questions, and a Q&A with the author.

It's 1966, and twelve-year-old Ji-li Jiang has everything a girl could want: brains, popularity, and a bright future in Communist China. But it's also the year that China's leader, Mao Ze-dong, launches the Cultural Revolution—and Ji-li's world begins to fall apart.

Over the next few years, people who were once her friends and neighbors turn on her and her family, forcing them to live in constant terror of arrest. And when Ji-li's father is finally imprisoned, she faces the most difficult dilemma of her life.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, this page-turning, honest, and deeply personal autobiography will appeal to readers of all ages.

Ji Ji Jang, the author, from her website,

My thoughts:

While reading this book, I couldn't help thinking of Breaking Stalin’s Nose, a fictional account of a boy in Stalinist Russia. My son, 15, read the first part of Red Scarf Girl, and said, “But she thinks communism is okay!”  We had a great discussion about propaganda and its effect on people.

What endeared me to this book was its simple story telling. The author doesn’t use a lot of fancy language. The occasional metaphor doesn’t detract from the prose. I liked how she included an afterward on what happened to her and her family after the end of the book.

Like Breaking Stalin’s Nose, it’s Ling's connection with her family that helps Ji-Ji break free from the brainwashing/propaganda she’s believed. Both books are really about the triumph of the human spirit and love for family over a system that seeks to separate families and neighbors and pit them against each other.

Highly recommended. Although Red Scarf Girl takes place in the 60s and was written in the 90s, the message is still very relevant today.

Content warning: While there is some violence in this book, the one death (a suicide) happens off the page. Of course, you know your child or students best, but I would recommend this for MG readers.

To learn more about Ji Ji Jang, go to

What kind of books do you like to read during difficult times? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I read this about 20 years ago when I adopted my daughter. When she was older, she read it too at the recommendation of a teacher. I still remember the story of what the author had to go through. It really gives you a perspective on what hardships in life are. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Thanks for featuring this title on MMGM. I had not heard of it and am always drawn to historical fiction set in this time period. Sounds like the perfect book for an active discussion about communism.

  3. Overcoming challenges is always relevant; it's the stuff stories are made of. I know a few people who lived through the Cultural Revolution in China and had stories to tell. But you are right that few have made it to young readers bookshelves.

  4. I've read quite a few adult memoirs living through Mao's China so I'm interested in seeing it from a child's viewpoint. Also highly relevant, given how much the response to covid feels like communism. Not saying it is, but how easily we could be tempted to fall into that ideology. En garde! This might be my favorite word of the day :)

  5. This sounds like an amazing story! It definitely takes bravery to write a book like this. Thanks for the review!

  6. This may have been written years ago, but it feels very timely. And I like that it is told from a child's viewpoint -- brainwashing can be a powerful tool. I have always been fascinated with Russia and studying the language for two years, Russian history and political science. So, this book is going on my list. Great share!

  7. This sounds like a very good story for understanding what it's like to live in that environment. Fiction is such a great way to make history accessible to kids. Thanks for sharing!

  8. What an important story to share that includes valuable topics for teaching and discussion moments for both young and old.

  9. This sounds really, really good. I can't believe I never heard of it. Thanks for the heads up. I will track down a copy.

  10. I love this book. (Well, in a frustrating way.) And you're right, it's a lot like Breaking Stalin's Nose. I think it's so important to read books like this!

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