Williams writes children's book on China

April 26, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

Suzanne Williams of Danville is the author of a children's book called "Made in China: Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China" (Pacific View Press, Berkeley, 1998).

"The book came out early this year and has had good reviews particularly from the Asian press," she says.

The non-fiction book, illustrated by Andrea Fong of San Francisco, is 48 pages long. It presents 17 Chinese inventions in the context of Chinese history and culture.

"If you read the book from beginning to end you will have an introduction to Chinese culture and history, as well as a lot of keen info on how ancient inventions worked," says Williams. "As one fourth-grade girl said, 'Even the boys will like it because of the machines and stuff.'"

For instance, Williams says kites were sometimes used to drop bombs of gunpowder into walled cities. Neat!

But in describing how crossbows, the assault weapons of the ancient world, were invented, she also reminds her young readers that crossbows were used to shoot cables across canyons as a first step in building suspension or hanging bridges.

Williams says "Made in China" is a good resource for teachers and parents looking for something more than dragons to talk about at Chinese New Year.

"Today," she writes, "we see examples of Chinese inventions around the world...suspension bridges, canal locks, dike and levy systems on our rivers, oil derricks, the spinning wheel, even umbrellas. From kites to Chinese medicine, from fireworks to wheelbarrows, from spinning wheels to sailing ships, Chinese inventions changed our world."

The cost is $18.95.

"It is a fun book," Williams says. "Pacific View has a line of books, Dragon Books, that includes two other titles on China, one on the Philippines, and one upcoming on Mexico. All are beautifully illustrated for children."

Williams uses a simple, direction approach in explaining frequently complex ideas to children (fourth or fifth grade and up). The water color illustrations are lovely, and are complemented by sturdier black and white diagrams explaining how things work.

Here, in part, Williams describes the role of bells in ancient China: "There were no CDs or radios in ancient China. There weren't any tapes. Zhou people made their own music. In an orchestra of bone chimes, stringed instruments and flutes, the most majestic instrument was the bronze bell. Sounds boomed and trembled from big bells or rang high and clear from small ones. These bells came from the same bronze workshops that cast vessels and tools. Zhou bells didn't have clappers inside. A musician struck them to make them play. Each bell was tuned to ring two different pitches, one if the bell was hit high, and another if it was hit near the bottom. The bells were used for ceremonies and for music. But they might have had another use. Since they didn't have clappers, they may have started out as grain scoops. The king didn't ask for gold or money when he collected taxes, but grain. He wanted to know he was getting the right amount. Matched sets of bells could be used to measure exact amounts of grain for the king."

Williams is now working on the Mexico book with Zoe Harris. The working title is "Pinatas and Smiling Skeletons: Celebrating Mexican Festivals," to be published this year by the same press.

Williams was born in Berkeley and graduated from UC Davis. Her daughter is currently attending Davis.

"We lived in the Pacific Northwest from 1973-1991 so I consider myself a West Coast person as well as a Californian," she said. "I taught elementary school, preschool, ESL, outdoor education and special ed and I have three kids so I read a lot of children's books and writing them seemed natural," she added.

"I don't teach full-time anymore but do have a creative writing class at a local elementary school and do school presentations on writing and Chinese inventions (soon to add Mexico). I also do some newspaper and magazine work, primarily travel, family, and art reviews. I've always told stories, but when I was a kid I drew them and thought the words. I was an adult before I got hooked on writing. Writing the multicultural material combines a lot of my passions for people, art, and kids. I like what I do."

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