Image of Scroll
Release Date: 
September 19, 2023
Christy Ottaviano Books
Reviewed by: 

Scroll entices the reader to really look, linger, enjoy, and repeat.”

Scroll, a new picture book by first time author/illustrator Hui Li, is a welcome addition to the wide world of children’s books. This clever and imaginative story mixes magic with practical knowledge in unexpected ways.

The book opens with a brief description on the origin of Chinese characters. Starting thousands of years ago, folks would carve characters into animal bones and tortoise shells to record important events or ask a question of the ancestors. These bones would be heated until they cracked and the “reader” of the cracks’ patterns would understand what the future would hold. It is believed that these early inscriptions are the foundation of the Chinese characters.

Some of the most common words are identified in a neat alphabetical list. AIR is three wavy horizontal lines; CLOUD looks like a swirly lollipop; FLOWER closely resembles a snowflake; RAIN is drawn a bit like three tines of a flat rake with drips of water falling off each tine. We are treated to the characters for DRAGON, RAINBOW, THUNDER, TOWN, TURTLE, ZITHER, and a dozen others.

After this one-page introduction to the Chinese characters, we are taken back to the days of old where a little girl, Lulu, is watching her grandpa paint/draw/write on scroll paper. He shows Lulu how to paint the character for BIRD and she is thrilled. He shows her MOUNTAIN and FIRE and then she’s hooked. Off she goes on her own to explore the world of character drawing. She sets out a big section of scroll paper and no sooner does she draw DOOR then things begin to glow. The door is no ordinary door. It is a portal. Lulu and Dumpling waste no time and head off into the portal, paint brush in hand.

What should they encounter on the other side but a sweet little BIRD who is there to welcome them and show them around. BIRD is drawn exactly like the Chinese BIRD character. In fact, as Lulu and Dumpling soon discover, the entire place is made up of Chinese characters. All of the characters that were introduced in the beginning play out in the story sooner or later. The reader is reminded of them on each page with little red character icon boxes to help with deciphering.

At first Lulu and Dumpling have a grand time meeting everyone in Chinese character village, but when Dumpling runs off to chase a dragon, Lulu has to use some quick thinking and her newfound skills to calligraphy her way out of trouble. But in a sweet twist of events, what was meant to deter actually was received as a kind gesture and things come together happily. Lulu and Dumpling, all adventured out, draw a DOOR and jump back through the portal and back home where Grandpa is just waking up from a nap. Lulu is bursting to tell Grandpa, and kind Grandpa is all ears. Cute as a button.

As an expert in Chinese calligraphy, Hui Li is quite a competent artist and has translated her skills into a solid picture book design. Her calligraphic line moves beautifully into an interactive energy that her main characters ride in such an unusual way. Scroll entices the reader to really look, linger, enjoy, and repeat.