Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fuse 8 n’ Kate: The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese

A little while ago Kate asked me, “Bring me a bad book. Like, a really good bad book.” Well, I don’t want to give anything away but I may have hit on something. My husband and I were just discussing the other day the fact that this book was ubiquitous in our youth. If you were born in the late 70s or early 80s, the odds are good that somebody you know read it to you. This all ties in quite closely to current discussions of picture books with racist elements that sit blithely on shelves in children’s rooms anywhere. Remind me to show Kate They Were Strong and Good one of these days . . .

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, PlayerFM, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

In case you’ve ever wondered what our recording set-up looks like, Drew, the resident Penguinologist, put together this quickie video on a whim. It’s haphazard but fun.

How’s THIS for a first sentence?

While I appreciate that The Book Hound took the time to draw a connection between the Dionne quintuplets and the publication of this book, the assertion that, “While it is possible to conclude the illustrations in The Five Chinese Brothers are ethnic stereotypes, although not everyone agrees with that, it is impossible to make a case that the text contains or implies a racist premise, unless one misreads the first sentence,” is an idea that holds no water.

What is the name we have for an image in a picture book where you have to flip the book on its side like this? I simply cannot remember.

It is not difficult to find the Weston Woods/Scholastic Teacher’s Guide for this book. Note what it says at the end: “Other book based films and videos about Chinese culture are available from Weston Woods. These include: THE STORY ABOUT PING by Marjorie Flack TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO written by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent”. Just . . . . wow.

The two alternate versions of this book that have been created include the following:

I made a mistake in the recording, misremembering that Grace Lin wrote this second book as well as illustrated it. In truth, to date we have yet to see a version written by anyone of Chinese or Chinese-American descent.

You may be happy to hear, I was able to find the video of a boy reading Owl Babies to actual baby owls. Enjoy:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I find it interesting that you say my argument holds no water, but then do not support your assertion. If my argument does not hold water, you ought to be able to articulate why it doesn’t.

    • Ah. The limitations of the podcast form. All right then, I will explain at greater length.

      There is a longstanding history in the United States of white people saying that BIPOC individuals “all looked exactly alike”. This statement is by no means new, and was around in 1938 during the publication of this book. For this story to make sense, the five brothers must be identical. However, the statement is not that they all looked alike to one another but that they “all looked exactly alike”, a term that taps directly into this prejudice many white people hold towards people of another race. Few would contend that a book containing yellow-skinned people with slanted eyes is offensive, but to compound that with the assertion that such people all look the same, right on the very first page, is unconscionable. Would this have occurred to Bishop during the original publication of the book? Of course not! But in the 21st century the sentence takes on additional weight and depth.

      I think the Dionne quintuplet theory is dead on, though.

  2. Limitations of a podcast do no apply to a blog, so your first sentence does not make any sense.

    Yes there has been a long history of saying that Asians all look alike. However, there is not such history of saying they “all looked exactly alike.” The word exactly makes a huge difference. It is the word exactly that makes the brothers quintuplets.

    Even with the history of the term “they all look alike,” you still have offered no proof or data that the book or author is racist. Even the Chinese version by Wang Yu-Chua published in 1960 by a communist controlled Chinese publishing company uses the phrase “all looked exactly alike.”

    It is easy and simplistic to read contemporary sensibilities back into older literature and make them say things they don’t say. If Bishop had not used the word exactly, I would be inclined to agree with you. But she didn’t and that additional word makes a world of difference.