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Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun's Kung Fu

By Emily Arnold McCully

This is my favorite picture book of recent years from Caldecott Medalist McCully. She originally called the story “Kung Fu Nun” a juxtaposition of words that I found intriguing (and wacky.) Emily, David Saylor (the Art Director) and I lavished attention on this book, finding Chinese silk to shoot as a background for the art, creating a beautiful panel-design, and of course, crafting the telling of the tale. The result is one I’m still proud of; one that I think stands with McCully’s best. 

Mingyi is trapped. If she doesn’t marry the bandit Soong Ling, he will ruin her family’s business - and her life!

Confused and desperate, she can think of only one person to help her: the legendary Wu Mei, the “beautiful warrior.” Once before the astonishing kung fu master had helped Mingyi fight off a thief. Could Wu Mei defend her again?

The master agrees to help, but not in the way the young woman expects. Instead, Mingyi is given a one-year crash course in kung fu philosophy and technique, which gives her not only the strength to defend herself against her bully of a suitor, but a way of life.

Today the methods named after Wu Mei and her most famous pupil are the most popular forms of kung fu taught around the world.

Reviews and Awards

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Award
ALA Notable Children’s Book
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Nominated for the 2000-2001 North Carolina Children’s Book Award

“McCully’s pictures are as pretty and filled with incident as ever, shown in a horizontal format that allows for panoramic views as well as narrow “shots” on a single page. Whether her frame is large or small, McCully focuses attention on essential figures and gestures. This is, above all, a human story, sparkling with comic expression and physical feats. Boys and girls alike will love the scene in which Wu Mei dispatches a trio of thugs with kicks and slicing hands.” - The Riverbank Review

⋆ “In a genre where the flashy and creatively interpretative are becoming the illustrative norm, it’s easy to underestimate McCully’s quieter and more literal art. Her restraint keeps the visuals from overshadowing the text, however, and more importantly from undercutting the text’s emphasis on the concrete application rather than the abstract philosophy. . . . Design keeps things moving too: oversized horizontal pages feature varying numbers of panels, so that the freedom of the drawing is disciplined by straight framing borders and boxes of text. Historical yet energetic, this will make for a vigorous readaloud (one you may want to save until just before recess).” - Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

⋆ “Celebrating discipline and inner strength while retelling legends connected with styles of kung fu, this story authentically recreates a period of Chinese history and gives readers not one but two lively heroines.” - School Library Journal, starred review

“The defeat of the swaggering bully has elemental appeal, and there are great comic action scenes of the huge bandit hurtling through the air. In traditional Chinese style, the art of this large-size book includes narrow narrative panels that alternate with wide, detailed, misty landscapes in watercolor, tempera, and pastel. The pictures reinforce the story of strength that comes from mastering yourself and finding harmony in the universe.” - Booklist, boxed review

Purchase Options:
Indiebound • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Spring 1998
Picture Book
ISBN: 0-590-37487-7
Price: $16.95/$22.99
Trim Size: 12" x 10"
Page Count: 40
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? yes

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