If I were to combine a nun, an arranged marriage, some kung fu, and a children’s picture book together, the results would certainly be disastrous. I cannot even imagine what shape or form such a monstrosity would assume! But in the telling of a traditional legend by Emily Arnold McCully, Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu does all of that elegantly, gracefully, and memorably.
I am not from Asia and have not studied the area much in my lifetime, so it’s no surprise t--hat I am not familiar with the tale of the nun and her kung fu, nor her apt pupil. The story is about a young girl whose father believed in her and wanted something more for her than traditional foot binding and frivolous pursuits, so instead of having her raised as a “lady,” he sent her to school to learn academics and kung fu. One day when her town is attacked, she must leave and decided to join a group of monks to live and train with them for life. She later saves the life of a young girl who is attacked, and then helps the girl learn kung fu to best her unwanted arranged marriage.
It sounds like a simple plot, and it is—which is part of what makes it so beautiful in the first place. The nun doesn’t focus on beating everyone up—as many people might imagine when they hear about kung fu for the first time—but on being calm, stilling your thoughts, and using your own strengths to best someone else (as well as their own weaknesses against them). It is much more about being wise and careful—as well as tranquil—than about being a big tough fighter.
That said, the nun is tough as is her pupil, and the book itself—though a bit long for my six-year-old—was absolutely beautiful, with smooth, cool watercolor images and multi-layered characters with intricate expressions. The details in everything from the dirt and nature to the clothing, pagodas, and other manmade materials were extraordinary and kept my daughter’s focus while reading the book. We did not care for the early pages where cells were used to quicken the beginning of the story—it’s hard to concentrate on just the first one while others are so easily visible—but the rest of both the imagery and the story itself were wonderful and served as great discussion starters for both of us.