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Los Cinco Hermanos Chinos /Five Chinese Brothers

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Since 1938, this folktale about five identical Chinese brothers, each with an unusual talent, has entertained children and adults alike. When one brother is sentenced to death for a crime he could not help committing, each brother stands in for him and uses his special talent to escape the given punishment. After four tries, the judges decides the brother sentenced to deat Since 1938, this folktale about five identical Chinese brothers, each with an unusual talent, has entertained children and adults alike. When one brother is sentenced to death for a crime he could not help committing, each brother stands in for him and uses his special talent to escape the given punishment. After four tries, the judges decides the brother sentenced to death must not be guilty, and all five brothers live happily with their mother for many years.


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Since 1938, this folktale about five identical Chinese brothers, each with an unusual talent, has entertained children and adults alike. When one brother is sentenced to death for a crime he could not help committing, each brother stands in for him and uses his special talent to escape the given punishment. After four tries, the judges decides the brother sentenced to deat Since 1938, this folktale about five identical Chinese brothers, each with an unusual talent, has entertained children and adults alike. When one brother is sentenced to death for a crime he could not help committing, each brother stands in for him and uses his special talent to escape the given punishment. After four tries, the judges decides the brother sentenced to death must not be guilty, and all five brothers live happily with their mother for many years.

30 review for Los Cinco Hermanos Chinos /Five Chinese Brothers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sonky

    This book is a disgusting example of Orientalism in action in the educational system of the United States during the 20th Century. The cover alone should warn you of the prejudicial and stereotyped contents. I love this book dearly.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fergus

    This is an overtly racist book. Oh, none of us ordinary WASP kids in Canada realized that back in 1957. But books like this made our too-polite Far Eastern friends squirm. Their silence shoulda spoken volumes to us, had we then listened. You know, in the fifties those friends were - due to unjust immigration laws - few and far between. True North strong and free? Sure, if you were white, male & straight… others need not apply! At the turn of the twentieth century, there were abundant feelings that This is an overtly racist book. Oh, none of us ordinary WASP kids in Canada realized that back in 1957. But books like this made our too-polite Far Eastern friends squirm. Their silence shoulda spoken volumes to us, had we then listened. You know, in the fifties those friends were - due to unjust immigration laws - few and far between. True North strong and free? Sure, if you were white, male & straight… others need not apply! At the turn of the twentieth century, there were abundant feelings that some Chinese citizens had magical powers - like these five brothers - and were bent on some mysterious evil, as witness Bartok's violent early opera The Miraculous Mandarin. And with the rise of Mao's brand of communism, sinophobia gave vent in Quebec to the stern label of "la perile jaune!" Rank injustice of which we're now rightly ashamed. And still the world is unjust today. Still we round pegs in our square holes squirm. But laughter eases unrest. As - rue the day - I laughed in 1957 at this book. I harboured a lotta inner unrest back then. Our family justice system was not fair, for the 1950’s were the era of Spare the Rod & Spoil the Child! It took me nearly seventy years to see that justice everywhere is unjust. But guess what? The nonstop friction we kids harboured in our hearts - back in the 50’s when we always had to be Seen and Not Heard (unless we wanted a good flogging!) - left us with priceless pearls within them. For having had our heads bashed repeatedly we now cherish silence and boredom. And the laughs now come more easily, having been pent up inside us for so long. And Love itself may now rise again like a Phoenix from such ashes! So THAT’s why this book made me chuckle in ‘57, in my then-reactionary country. Racism should be a crime. But the world’s gears are outta whack. Yet we ARE in a time of increasing social freedom… And if the Flood ever returns - As it does here to one of these poor kids - The fraternal love that leads us to offer a helping hand to our harried brothers and sisters will make a BIG difference in this sinking world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Hale

    This book was given to my uncle, when he was a kid, and then passed on to me. I absolutely loved it. I remember reading it time and time again and was actually surprised when I saw so many complaints about it. The first complaint is about racism, specifically the charge that the book is suggesting all Chinese people look the same. Now, I've read it as a child and I've read it as an adult, and I was never given that impression. The only characters the book says look alike are the five brothers. I This book was given to my uncle, when he was a kid, and then passed on to me. I absolutely loved it. I remember reading it time and time again and was actually surprised when I saw so many complaints about it. The first complaint is about racism, specifically the charge that the book is suggesting all Chinese people look the same. Now, I've read it as a child and I've read it as an adult, and I was never given that impression. The only characters the book says look alike are the five brothers. I always just assumed they were quintuplets, so of course they looked the same. If you changed the ethnicity from Chinese to Australian, this book would not give you the impression that all Australians look the same. While I understand this to be a culturally sensitive point, I think, in this case, more is being read into the story than was intended. The second complaint is about appropriateness for children. As an adult, I can say that this book had no adverse effects on me. I'm college educated, married, employed, have no history of drug or alcohol abuse, and no fixation on death. Despite the fact that a death does occur in this story and there's multiple representations of attempted executions, I turned out better than fine (as did my uncle, who read it before me). There's no reason to believe that kids today won't handle these issues just as well. If it makes your kid ask questions, fine. Answer them. That's what a parent does. For my part, I didn't have any questions about death or ethics when I read it as a kid. I just thought it was a funny story and I tried to figure out which of the brother's powers I would most like to have. If you can handle all that, then I'd definitely recommend this book. I do have a question, though, for those more knowledgable about it than I am. My edition of the book has the same image shown on this site, but the cover is red instead of white. Does anybody know why this is? Is it merely an older version? I haven't seen any images of a red cover anywhere else.

  4. 4 out of 5

    E

    It's a classic, but it was way too upsetting for me when I read it in kindergarten and I never liked it after that. (The death of a child and four attempts at execution? I know the Grimms' fairy tales aren't much better, but sheesh... ) Like many, I'm also not too keen on the illustrations. It is SUCH an old racist stereotype to portray all Chinese as looking the same. The pictures - true products of their time - don't help kill that misconception. Of course it's absurd to think that every kid w It's a classic, but it was way too upsetting for me when I read it in kindergarten and I never liked it after that. (The death of a child and four attempts at execution? I know the Grimms' fairy tales aren't much better, but sheesh... ) Like many, I'm also not too keen on the illustrations. It is SUCH an old racist stereotype to portray all Chinese as looking the same. The pictures - true products of their time - don't help kill that misconception. Of course it's absurd to think that every kid will automatically become racist from reading this, but it's also naive to think such images unchecked have no influence. When an eight year-old kid in my classroom pulled his eyes into a slant and sang, "I'm a ching-chong-Chineseman!" while his Vietnamese classmate sitting two seats away from him turned red, I know he didn't come up with that stereotype on his own. I don't think the book should be banned, but I don't think it should be read unsurpervised either. People like my father are very sentimental about the book since they have fond childhood memories of reading it - just as many progressive people have fond memories of Little Black Sambo and Topsy. Nevertheless, if it's going to be read to young children, I think it absolutely fair to alter the illustrations in modern publications to be less overtly caricaturing, as seen in the reproduction of Little Black Sambo into Little Babaji. The original versions can and should be preserved for children old enough to have a discussion about our bleak history of racism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Every team is a group...but every group is not a team - the five Chinese brothers work as a team and accomplish more than a group could. Great book for a child just starting to participate in team sports.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stef

    This book was first published in 1938 by an American author and is based on a well-known Chinese folk-tale. It tells the story of five identical brothers, each of whom has a specific and unusual ability. One can hold the sea in his mouth, one has an iron neck, one can stretch his legs, one can survive fire and one can hold his breath forever. These abilities are all put to the test when one of the brothers is sentenced to death for the accidental drowning of a small boy who died because he faile This book was first published in 1938 by an American author and is based on a well-known Chinese folk-tale. It tells the story of five identical brothers, each of whom has a specific and unusual ability. One can hold the sea in his mouth, one has an iron neck, one can stretch his legs, one can survive fire and one can hold his breath forever. These abilities are all put to the test when one of the brothers is sentenced to death for the accidental drowning of a small boy who died because he failed to keep a promise he made. Each of the brothers survives a different form of execution and are eventually pardoned. The illustrations have been considered controversial in contributing to a stereotyped view of the Chinese. Similarly, the story has been criticised for being macabre - the forms of execution include beheading, suffocation, drowning and being burned alive! However, the story has a clear moral to it and is fundamentally concerned with loyalty, trust and keeping one's word. The illustrations have a cartoon like quality to them and a simplicity that reinforces the moral of the story. The story is vividly told and the narrative is enhanced by the illustations which effectively tell the story in pictures. This is an unusual book which was out of print for a number of years and may be too much for sensitive readers but the story is compelling and stays in the imagination. It would be suitable for children aged from four upwards.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jon Williams

    This was my favorite book in kindergarten. It may even be the book responsible for motivating me to become a reader. I loved the story and I love reading it to my kids now.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Reading_ Tamishly

    I just loved it! Why is this one so happy and funny when it all involves is punishment? This one has been so cleverly written. The illustrations are just perfect! Amazing! Read it to make yourself happy. Or just catch a kid nearby to narrate it!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    A picture book of five brothers each endowed with a magical strength used to save each other. It could be argued that it portrays the stereotype that all Chinese look alike, but even the authorities and witnesses cannot tell these siblings apart. Based on a Chinese tale that was retold when published in 1938.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shiela Chan

    (In the Phils) Remember when Nido powdered milk gave away stuff when you purchase the huge can? There was a time when the freebies were collection of short stories in little pamphlets. I was estatic! Literally begged my mom to keep buying milk to get my little hands on 'em (even if I'm lactose intolerant - stomach discomforts for the price of imagination). And I didn't regret it even once. This story is one of my beloved fairy tales. It starts like this. There were 5 chinese brothers and they loo (In the Phils) Remember when Nido powdered milk gave away stuff when you purchase the huge can? There was a time when the freebies were collection of short stories in little pamphlets. I was estatic! Literally begged my mom to keep buying milk to get my little hands on 'em (even if I'm lactose intolerant - stomach discomforts for the price of imagination). And I didn't regret it even once. This story is one of my beloved fairy tales. It starts like this. There were 5 chinese brothers and they look exactly alike. One had the power to swallow an ocean. I'll stop right here... This statement blew my little mind! I can still remember how I felt at that time when I read this. Books that withstand the test of time, retain that indescribable giddy sensation you felt when you immersed into its world are those that unquestionably deserves to be rated 5 stars. (at least for me)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I don't know how many times I read this as a kid. I think I might have checked it out of the library every single week for a while. I had such fond memories of it that I finally just bought my own copy and was delighted to discover I still love the story as much as I did back then. I don't know how many times I read this as a kid. I think I might have checked it out of the library every single week for a while. I had such fond memories of it that I finally just bought my own copy and was delighted to discover I still love the story as much as I did back then.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    3.0 stars. I remember reading this as a kid and liking it because it was unlike most of the other stories I was reading. A fun little Children's book. 3.0 stars. I remember reading this as a kid and liking it because it was unlike most of the other stories I was reading. A fun little Children's book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    According to my mom, when I was very young, I used to come into the bathroom every single night while she was trying to take a bath and tell her the story of The Five Chinese Brothers. Evidently, I was quite annoying. But not only do I not remember doing this, I also didn't remember the story at all. Even though as an adult I've reread most of my childhood favorites, this is one I never sought out, probably because I've been hearing for years that it's a little racist. Then today, I discovered a According to my mom, when I was very young, I used to come into the bathroom every single night while she was trying to take a bath and tell her the story of The Five Chinese Brothers. Evidently, I was quite annoying. But not only do I not remember doing this, I also didn't remember the story at all. Even though as an adult I've reread most of my childhood favorites, this is one I never sought out, probably because I've been hearing for years that it's a little racist. Then today, I discovered a Little Free Library (which incidentally is a bizarre and wonderful concept and everyone needs to get one in their neighborhood) a couple of blocks from my house. I looked inside and there was a copy of The Five Chinese Brothers! I might have squealed a little. So I brought it home and read it and I still do not remember this book at all. I didn't find it racist, although I suppose if someone wanted to make something out of, "once upon a time there were Five Chinese Brothers and they all looked exactly alike," one could, but I don't, so let's not. It's a pretty dark story though. The first brother takes a kid fishing and the kid gets killed, so the first brother is sentenced to death, but because each brother has a physical oddity that makes him immune to a particular method of execution (and because they all look alike), each time the town changes the method, a different brother stands in. So my two thoughts on this book are, first, that it's a lot of attempted killing for a kid's book, although no worse than Hansel and Gretel or the Wicked Witch of the West, so I'm sure if you let your kids read it, they won't end up warped. And second, it's only about 500 words long, so I really didn't need to bring it home; I could have just stood on the sidewalk and read it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    I loved this story when I was a youngster; however, reviews were negative, especially in regards to the illustrations. So when I found an updated illustrated version of this story, I acquired it for my classroom library. My students loved this story as much as I did when I was their age!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Torok

    The people who complain about the "intense violence" must be either very naive and easily influenced by a children's book or just plain stupid. Violence should not be the highlight of the story. Stories are not about face value. You should learn something from the book as it is useful as a tool. As for racial undertones. I don't think that word means what you think it means. Declaring that 5 brothers look the same, regardless of ethnicity, does not declare racism. That is just absurd. Even sayin The people who complain about the "intense violence" must be either very naive and easily influenced by a children's book or just plain stupid. Violence should not be the highlight of the story. Stories are not about face value. You should learn something from the book as it is useful as a tool. As for racial undertones. I don't think that word means what you think it means. Declaring that 5 brothers look the same, regardless of ethnicity, does not declare racism. That is just absurd. Even saying that 5 Chinese people look the same is not racist. In no way, shape or form does that say that one race is better than another. The only way it can be construed as racist if by bringing ones own prejudices to the book. Then you become the racist, not the illustrator. Great book. Loved it. I will definitely read it to my children.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nahid Hasan

    After a long time, just read a very well moral story. This story is one of the most unique story i've ever read. The Five Chinese Brothers, who all look alike. And their confidence, their unity and prompt to their mother is amazing. Loved it!!! After a long time, just read a very well moral story. This story is one of the most unique story i've ever read. The Five Chinese Brothers, who all look alike. And their confidence, their unity and prompt to their mother is amazing. Loved it!!!

  17. 4 out of 5

    R.

    The freakiest illustration was the brother who swallowed the ocean. And why didn't he just breathe through his nostrils instead of killing the little boy? In the same league of cruel Oriental childrens stories as the, ah, filmstrip Rikki Tikki Tembo No Sarembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Berry Pembo. Speaking of which, back when SNL was good (the Charles Rocket years) there was a oneshot character named Filmstrip Man who spoke in that...that style. Beep. Kah-lick. The freakiest illustration was the brother who swallowed the ocean. And why didn't he just breathe through his nostrils instead of killing the little boy? In the same league of cruel Oriental childrens stories as the, ah, filmstrip Rikki Tikki Tembo No Sarembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Berry Pembo. Speaking of which, back when SNL was good (the Charles Rocket years) there was a oneshot character named Filmstrip Man who spoke in that...that style. Beep. Kah-lick.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sincerae

    I read this book in Colliers Junior Classics when I was child. Today such a book would probably be considered politically incorrect for the postmodern classroom. I enjoyed it when I read it in my childhood and thought it had great adventure and humor. However, I don't know what my impressions would be of it today. I wonder how Chinese people would perceive it. That would be more my concern. I read this book in Colliers Junior Classics when I was child. Today such a book would probably be considered politically incorrect for the postmodern classroom. I enjoyed it when I read it in my childhood and thought it had great adventure and humor. However, I don't know what my impressions would be of it today. I wonder how Chinese people would perceive it. That would be more my concern.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Absolutely one of my favorite books as a kid. I took it out from the library over and over again. When I was a teenager and my brother was 4 or 5, I started taking it out again to read to him. An entertaining story of 5 brothers and their special abilities, and how they used them to help each other.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    3.5 stars. I read The Five Chinese Brothers to my niece and nephew last night. It's a book that my husband read as a child, and so I thought I'd give it a try on the kids. The story is violent, I won't lie. A kid drowns and The First Chinese Brother in this story is held responsible for the kid's death. He's arrested, tried, and ancient Chinese justice is meted out to this brother (i.e., he's sentenced to death, and the method in which that sentence is to be carried out is grisly). Hijinks ensue 3.5 stars. I read The Five Chinese Brothers to my niece and nephew last night. It's a book that my husband read as a child, and so I thought I'd give it a try on the kids. The story is violent, I won't lie. A kid drowns and The First Chinese Brother in this story is held responsible for the kid's death. He's arrested, tried, and ancient Chinese justice is meted out to this brother (i.e., he's sentenced to death, and the method in which that sentence is to be carried out is grisly). Hijinks ensue, and basically children are treated to a story in which the five Chinese Brothers thwart four grusome attempts to carry out the death sentence. Yeah, it's lovely bedtime fare. BUT, although violent, and kind of repetitious, the story is good. My niece especially thought this book was great--she kind of liked the shock value, and she liked trying to figure out how the brothers were going to get around this punishment. My nepehw was drawn in to the story and he certainly listened, but when we finished reading it he was, "still trying to decide" if he liked the story or not. It's probably a little much for little kids--we just balanced this out by reading Dragons Love Tacos again. The illustrations aren't all that attractive, but the kids didn't really seem put off by them. I think that they kind of liked the fact that this story was not warm and fuzzy, and I think that made the story all that more interesting and intriguing for them. Still, it's not one that I'll probably read to them again any time soon, and certainly not before bed. UPDATE: After discussing this book with my friend Brandy, I realize that I don't think this book warrants a 3.5 star rating! The violence was intense, the illustrations were unattractive on multiple levels, the story could be interpreted as having racist undertones, and it centers on the brothers evading justice. Thank you for talking to me about this book, Brandy! It really helped me do a better job of evaluating this book!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It is absolutely no secret I am pretty obsessed with China, I just got back from Beijing and I can't help but want to read anything set in China. This is an older book and you know kinda disturbing as it is a children's book. It is pretty much five brother's trying to avoid an execution. Dark stuff right? Yeah I loved every page. Not sure what that says about me. The story is fantastic and I do think it is a great book kids should read though as it teaches about Team work and the importance of l It is absolutely no secret I am pretty obsessed with China, I just got back from Beijing and I can't help but want to read anything set in China. This is an older book and you know kinda disturbing as it is a children's book. It is pretty much five brother's trying to avoid an execution. Dark stuff right? Yeah I loved every page. Not sure what that says about me. The story is fantastic and I do think it is a great book kids should read though as it teaches about Team work and the importance of listening to people so you don't get killed seriously. Most rules exist for reason and kids need to listen anyway I digress. I enjoyed this very quick children's book and I think it is certainly worth reading as it does teach a lot of basic lessons I do think some kids are lacking. If I ever have a kid I will be ok with he/she/whatever gender they choose reading this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    ABC

    This story just does not make a very good children`s book. First, a child dies. Then, as punishment, the first brother is sentenced to be executed and the storyline is how he manages to escape being killed. It is pretty to difficult to explain words like "execution" "drown" "smother" "burn" in a bedtime story! This story just does not make a very good children`s book. First, a child dies. Then, as punishment, the first brother is sentenced to be executed and the storyline is how he manages to escape being killed. It is pretty to difficult to explain words like "execution" "drown" "smother" "burn" in a bedtime story!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    If I am not mistaken, I remember first seeing this book on the Captain Kangaroo show. His show was great for advocating reading to children. While dated (and some claim stereotypical), it is still a good story about overcoming overwhelming odds through trickery and deceit. But the first brother wasn't really guilty of the crime he was to be executed for anyway. If I am not mistaken, I remember first seeing this book on the Captain Kangaroo show. His show was great for advocating reading to children. While dated (and some claim stereotypical), it is still a good story about overcoming overwhelming odds through trickery and deceit. But the first brother wasn't really guilty of the crime he was to be executed for anyway.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shanna

    The Five Chinese Brothers, is a trickster tale where one brother gets in some trouble and the rest of them use their special abilities to help him get out of it. A good book for problem-solving lessons. I used this one to go along with math trail blazers unit on graphing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    One of the best read-aloud stories for primary students, despite its racist reputation. a great lead-in to discussions about responsibility and justice. May also be used with middle schoolers to discuss prejudice and racism in literature, as well as banned books.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I love this book, I don't care what anyone says about it. I love this book, I don't care what anyone says about it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ahuvah Zimmerman

    Three stars because although I loved this book as a child, the racial undertones and cultural misconceptions that I now recognize makes me not want to read this book to young children.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Morrell

    This "kids" book messed me UP when I was a child. It's the story of five Chinese brothers, each with a special talent. One can swallow the sea, one has an iron neck, one can't burn, etc etc. The brother who can swallow the sea brings in many fishes to the market, and attracts the attention of a small boy who begs to go with him. Unfortunately the boy is a jerk, and when the brother swallows the sea, the kid runs out to gather treasures from the bottom and refuses to come back when the man starts This "kids" book messed me UP when I was a child. It's the story of five Chinese brothers, each with a special talent. One can swallow the sea, one has an iron neck, one can't burn, etc etc. The brother who can swallow the sea brings in many fishes to the market, and attracts the attention of a small boy who begs to go with him. Unfortunately the boy is a jerk, and when the brother swallows the sea, the kid runs out to gather treasures from the bottom and refuses to come back when the man starts gesturing frantically, leaving the man with no choice but to vomit out the ocean, sweeping the boy away to his death. What follows is a "comedic" story about trying to execute the man in many horrid ways, only to be fooled by the identical quintuplets swapping places and getting out of death (guess what happens to the one who can't be burned?). Everyone is amazed, he must be innocent, exonerated, happily ever after (because of course identical quintuplets would never be noticed in a small Chinese village). Now, I remember the story ending with the boy drowning, I vividly recall a picture with the little boy waving from the seabed while a giant tsunami comes right at him. Nope not there, all my imagination. Does this messed up little book explain why I have had tsunami and drowning dreams my whole life? I'm gonna say a big old "probably!" Does it explain why I have gravitated to the darker forms of entertainment? Maybe? Is it a twisted and screwed up little picture book? Oh heck yeah.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    What a cute story for children! It has drama, action, and a witty plot. I asked my daughter what the moral of this story is. Keep your promises! At the heart of the problem was a boy who lied and did not obey. He causes all kinds of problems for others. Written in 1936, this children's book deserves an admired place in history. What a cute story for children! It has drama, action, and a witty plot. I asked my daughter what the moral of this story is. Keep your promises! At the heart of the problem was a boy who lied and did not obey. He causes all kinds of problems for others. Written in 1936, this children's book deserves an admired place in history.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Sahlstrom

    What a charming children's tale. I loved reading this. I think I have some vague recollection of reading a story of this sort (maybe even the very same) when I was much younger and it was definitely one of my favorites. What a charming children's tale. I loved reading this. I think I have some vague recollection of reading a story of this sort (maybe even the very same) when I was much younger and it was definitely one of my favorites.

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