Authors: Shirin Yim
To Graeme, for loving my storiesâS. Y. B.
To my daughter, Olive, and my dear friend ImogenâS. B.
Text Â© 2002 by Shirin Yim Bridges.
Illustrations Â© 2002 by Sophie Blackall.
All rights reserved.
Book design by Kristen M. Nobles.
Chinese calligraphy by Jianwei Fong.
The illustrations in this book were rendered in gouache on Arches hot-pressed paper.
The Library of Congress has previously cataloged this title as follows:
Bridges, Shirin Yim.
Ruby's wish / Shirin Yim Bridges ; [illustrated by] Sophie Blackall.
Summary: In China, at a time when few girls are taught to read or write,
Ruby dreams of going to university with her brothers and male cousins.
[1. Sex role-Fiction. 2. Education-Fiction. 3. China-Historyâ19th century-Fiction.]
I. Blackall, Sophie, ill. II. Title.
PZ7.B75234 Ru 2002
Chronicle Books LLC
680 Second Street, San Francisco, California 94107
f you walk down a certain road in a certain city in China, past the pet market with its yellow-and-green ricebirds hopping in their bamboo cages, and the goldfish and the terrapins in their porcelain bowls, you will come to a block of houses, five houses wide and seven houses deep. Many families live here now, and the buildings are brown with age and dirt. But if you look closely, you will see that, once upon a time, this was all one house, the magnificent home of one family.
The house was built by an old man who returned from the Gold Mountain. That was what the Chinese called California, when many men left to join the Gold Rush there and few came back again. But as I said, this man did come back, and he came back very rich. And he did what rich men did in old China: he married many wives. His wives had many sons, and these sons also had many wives. So at one time, the house was filled with the shrieks and laughter of over one hundred children.
Amongst these children was a little girl that everyone called Ruby, because she loved the color red. In China, red is the color of celebration. On New Year's Day, children receive red envelopes full of good-luck money. Brides wear red on their wedding days. But Ruby insisted on wearing red
day. Even when her mother made her wear somber colors like all her other cousins, Ruby would tie up her jet-black hair with red ribbons.
Because he had so many grandchildren, Ruby's grandfather hired a teacher to come to the house. Any grandchild who wanted to learn could join the classes. This was unusual in China in those days, when most girls were never taught to read or write.
Whenever the weather was fine, classes were held in the garden. The windows of Ruby's grandfather's office opened onto that garden. Often, he would rise from his desk to gaze out of his windows at his grandchildren.
One day, Ruby's grandfather looked down from his window to see the high white wall of the garden plastered with calligraphy. His grandchildren had been practicing their handwriting. Ruby's grandfather laughed to see that many had smudged ink on their hands and faces!
Then he noticed a sheet that was more beautiful than the rest. Which of his grandchildren had produced such wonderful calligraphy? Down in the garden, the teacher was praising Ruby. Her ears were turning as bright red as her jacket.
But if Ruby was doing as well as her boy cousins in her studies, she had to work much harder. When the boys had finished their studies for the day, they were free to play. But the girls had to learn about cooking and keeping house. In fact, as far as their mothers were concerned, these were the
things girls had to learn.
One by one, the girls stopped going to the classes. All except Ruby. She would catch up on her embroidery at night. Many nights, her candle flickered long after everyone else had gone to bed.