March 21, 2016
Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen
An egg rolls down hill and plunks into a nest but Mother Duck, who is busy reading, doesn’t notice. When her eggs hatch, she has a variety of ducklings, striped and spotted, and one that is much, much bigger than the others. Regardless of their difference, Mother Duck loves all of her ducklings and she teaches them to swim, waddle and dive. The biggest one, Guji Guji, always seems to catch on first. Young readers will see in the illustrations that he is a crocodile.
One day three hungry crocodiles come out of the lake. They spot Guji Guji and make fun of his duck-like walk. But the crocs aren’t giving up. They explain to him that his grey color, claws and pointed teeth are all normal for a crocodile and designed to help him eat ducks, not live with ducks. They tell Guji Guji to bring the ducks to the dock and challenge them to practice diving, right into crocodile mouths.
Guji Guji doesn’t like to think that he might be a crocodile. He doesn’t want to be bad but he has to acknowledge that he isn’t exactly a duck either. In spite of this, he knows who is family truly is (quack quack) and knows he has to save them from the crocs.
Yet again, I’m not going to reveal the climax. Read the book! Suffice it to say that Guji Guji saves the day and makes peace with his place as an adopted child. That’s what adults get out of the book and I can see why because the theme is there and it isn’t subtle. I read a number of reviews online and adults worry that children will only receive the message that their birth family/culture was bad. Frankly, I don’t think so. I think that for the most part kids are going to accept the surface story. Guji Guji needs to chose sides — crocodile or duck.
Yes, adoption is one of the themes but as a parent I would be much more worried about protecting my child from the negative portrayals of various cultures that saturate the media. If my child seemed upset about the way the three crocodiles are portrayed, I would ask “Do you think all of the crocodiles are bad? What about Guji Guji?” The answer is rather obvious (no!) yet elludes the adults who have missed this obvious fact.