HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier
Authors: Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
Illustrator: Jonathan Bartlett
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, 2014
Related website: http://www.yingc.com (author), http://www.amuletbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10 – 12 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Compestine , Ying Chang, and Compestine, Vinson. Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier (published in 2014 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, 115 W. 18th St., New York City, NY 10011). It is around 1974, and thirteen-year-old Ming, whose mother has died, lives in the small, remote Maoist Chinese village of Red Star. His father Chen, an intellectual who has been demoted by Mao, is an archaeologist with the museum in Xi’an. Chen believes that the tomb of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang who built the Great Wall, with its life-size terra-cotta army created to serve and protect the emperor in the afterlife, lies hidden in the hills around them, though he has no actual evidence. In fact, while the father is away pleading for more time, the Gee brothers bring in one of the soldiers for Chen to examine. While Ming awaits his father’s return, the soldier miraculously comes to life and begins telling Ming all about the history of Emperor Qin, the Great Wall, and why the terra-cotta soldiers came to be.
However, the town’s Political Officer finds out about it and hatches a plan to raid the tomb, sell the artifacts on the black market, blame Ming and his father, and condemn them to the brutal labor camps. Ming and the soldier, named Shi, escape to the mysterious tomb where Ming experiences the tomb firsthand, braves deadly traps, and witnesses the terra-cotta army in action. But will he be able to save both the terra-cotta soldiers and his father from the corrupt Political Officer and his Communist cronies? The book is illustrated with photographs of the excavated tomb with its many terra-cotta soldiers and the Great Wall, as well as of Communist Chinese village life in the 1970s during the Cultural Revolution. There are some instances of praying “to gods known and unknown,” including the kitchen god, and a few references to drinking wine.
However, the action-packed adventure story contains a lot of history not only about the reign of Emperor Qin but also about small village life in 1970s China woven into the fictional narrative. The authors are a mother-and-son team. Ying Chang Compestine grew up in Communist China but now lives in the United States and is a popular author of children’s books who made herself known to the young adult literature community through her 2007 novel Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party based upon her childhood. Vinson Compestine is a National Merit Scholar. Intermediate readers will likely find Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier interesting both for its excitement and for its historical information about these fascinating time periods. Also included are Chinese words, such as Ba Ba for father, that are written out in Chinese characters and accompanied by their translations as well.