Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue, Clare Farrow

Little Leap Forward

Written by Guo Yue, Clare Farrow
Illustrated by Helen Cann

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Selected by a distinguished independent panel of experts including our editorial expert, Julia Eccleshare, for Diverse Voices - 50 of the best Children's Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK.

A fascinating snapshot of how totally life changed in Beijing for a little boy, Little Leap Forward, his family and his friends when Chairman Mao came to power. The son of a musician, Little Leap Forward’s life revolves around his love of music, especially the old Chinese music his father used to love. But when the Red Guards spread throughout Beijing, enjoying the old pleasures becomes dangerous. Beautifully illustrated and produced in an attractive hardback.


Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue, Clare Farrow

It's the summer of 1966, and the streets of Beijing are bristling with rumours about revolution. For eight-year-old Little Leap Forward and his friends, life seems unchanged - they fly kites, run errands, play games. One day, Little Leap Forward captures a songbird - but he cannot persuade her to sing. Will he break with tradition and give her back her freedom? Little Leap Forward is a semi-autobiographical account that is based on the author's experiences of the Cultural revolution. He was born in 1958, the year of Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward. It offers an explanation of what the Cultural Revolution meant to him, his family and the Chinese people.

The author reads from the book and talks about his experiences of life during China's Cultural Revolution in this video.

About the Author

Guo Yue, Clare Farrow

Guo Yue, whose first name means ‘Leap Forward’, grew up in the old alleys and courtyards of Beijing before and during the Cultural Revolution. Surrounded by musicians (his father’s colleagues) and the sounds and smells of Chinese cooking, Yue lived the life of a Beijing street-child, playing in the alleys and by the river with his friends. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution his school was closed and his mother, a teacher, bought him a little bamboo flute, paying for his lessons with small measures of cooking oil. Soon labelled as a ‘counter-revolutionary’ by the Red Guards, she was beaten and tortured by her own students, and sent to do hard labour in the countryside. Following this separation, which would have a profound effect on his work as a composer, Yue put all his thoughts and feelings into playing the flute, becoming a soloist in the army of the People’s Republic of China. In 1982 he left China with a scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and began a professional career in the west, devoted to the sound and expression of freedom in music. His flute playing is characterised by soaring melodies and exquisite improvisation. Discovered by Peter Gabriel, he has performed in Womad festivals around the world and recorded with Real World. He has also collaborated with many musicians, singers and composers, recording on the film soundtracks of The Last Emperor, The Killing Fields and the award-winning Beyond the Clouds documentary series. Since the publication of Music, Food and Love, which was written with his wife Clare Farrow and accompanied by a CD, he has also become known as a specialist in authentic Chinese cooking, giving workshops in food festivals and cookery schools all over the world and appearing on radio and television. Little Leap Forward, also written with Clare Farrow, is his first work for children. In 2009 it will tour as a theatre production by Horse + Bamboo in the UK.

Clare Farrow is a writer and editor, with a background in modern and contemporary art, architecture and music. She met Guo Yue in London in 1994 and together, through many layers of conversation and recollection, they wrote his childhood memoir with recipes Music, Food and Love, published by Piatkus in 2006. Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing – published by Barefoot Books in the UK and US, and voted as one of the best children’s books of 2008 by The Washington Post – is the second book to emerge from this collaboration, inspired by a tiny bamboo flute, which Yue plays to sound like wild birdsong. Basing the story on the everyday details, colours, sounds, characters and childhood impressions that Yue described to her for Music, Food and Love, and using her own experiences of childhood (especially with nature), Clare created a semi-fictional account of the weeks that led up to the Cultural Revolution in Yue’s childhood – ‘a poetic interpretation of reality’, with universal themes of love, friendship and freedom. In 2009 the story will tour as a theatre production by Horse + Bamboo in the UK. Clare and Guo Yue will also be taking part in the Children’s Bookshow tour in October 2009, giving shows and workshops. Clare is currently working on a novel, as well as further writing projects with Guo Yue. Together they have two children.

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Book Info


120 pages


Guo Yue, Clare Farrow
More books by Guo Yue, Clare Farrow

Author's Website


Barefoot Books Ltd

Publication date

1st October 2011




Publisher Profile

Barefoot Books Ltd is an imprint of Barefoot Books

logo Barefoot Books celebrate art and story that opens the hearts and minds of children from all walks of life, inspiring them to read deeper, search further, and explore their own creative gifts.

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