Book review

The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean (2001)

Have you watched a kite flying recently? Can you visualize one now, bucking around in the wind, sailing and diving? Now, can you imagine being up there with it, riding the kite? That is what the boy, Haoyou, does in this amazing story set in thirteenth century China.

What happens to get Haoyou up there in the clouds? Well, It's a fantastic story of revenge and double dealing, and obedience to one's elders, and it all begins with the terrible sudden death of Haoyou's father. Haoyou's father is a poor seaman, but he has a beautiful wife, and is the envy of many because of her. It is envy that makes Di Chou, the first mate, send Haoyou's father up into the sky on the wind tester, to test the omens for their next voyage. That is a kind of kite riding too, but Haoyou's father dies of fright. And no sooner is Haoyou's father out of the house, than Di Chou turns up to propose marriage to Haoyou's newly widowed mother. This sets the scene for the story to really begin, because Haoyou goes to extraordinary lengths to shanghai evil Di Chou on the eve of his wedding day. He has the invaluable help of his cousin, Mipeng, for this daring plan.

You could say the plan works, because between them, they certainly get rid of Di Chou for a few months. On the other hand, you could say the plan has unexpected consequences, because The Great Miao, circus master of the Jade Circus, sees something of Haoyou's antics, and comes to claim him for the circus.

The Great Miao turns Haoyou into

It meant 'Up-in-the-Air', and the citizens of Dagu had never seen the like. The fact that the performance could only take place on windy days did not lessen Qiqi's value to the Jade Circus. For people came to the circus to see the flying boy and, if they were not able to see him, came again to salve their disappointment.

The Great Miao plans to take the Jade Circus to perform for the great Kublai Khan himself, the new Mongol conqueror of China. It's lucky for Haoyou that his lovely cousin, Mipeng, travels with him, because he needs a fair amount of looking after in the extraordinary adventures that befall a circus kite rider!

But who exactly is The Great Miao? And does he really want to perform for the Kublai Khan? Or not? You'll have to read this book if you want to know the truth.

I loved this book. It has all the life and excitement of ancient China, from the foul-smelling waterfront at Dagu, to the fabulous Jade Circus with the its Chinese acrobats and Mongol horsemen, to the magnificence of the Kublai Khan's summer camp. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Geraldine McCaughrean has written many books. If you enjoy The Kite Rider you might like to look at these:

It's fantasy, but it has real people, so you might like to look at this one next, by Carlo Gebler:

Also, the very exciting book by Louis Sachar would fit this description:

This new one by David Almond also features a circus, and a fantasy story with real people:

Or you could try one by Michael Morpurgo:

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