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Little Soldiers

An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve


About the Book

In the spirit of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Bringing up Bébé, and The Smartest Kids in the World, a hard-hitting exploration of China’s widely acclaimed yet insular education system—held up as a model of academic and behavioral excellence—that raises important questions for the future of American parenting and education.

When students in Shanghai rose to the top of international rankings in 2009, Americans feared that they were being "out-educated" by the rising super power. An American journalist of Chinese descent raising a young family in Shanghai, Lenora Chu noticed how well-behaved Chinese children were compared to her boisterous toddler. How did the Chinese create their academic super-achievers? Would their little boy benefit from Chinese school?

Chu and her husband decided to enroll three-year-old Rainer in China’s state-run public school system. The results were positive—her son quickly settled down, became fluent in Mandarin, and enjoyed his friends—but she also began to notice troubling new behaviors. Wondering what was happening behind closed classroom doors, she embarked on an exploratory journey, interviewing Chinese parents, teachers and education professors, and following students at all stages of their education.

What she discovered is a military-like education system driven by high-stakes testing, with teachers posting rankings in public, using bribes to reward students who comply, and shaming to isolate those who do not. At the same time, she uncovered a years-long desire by government to alleviate its students’ crushing academic burden and make education friendlier for all. The more she learns, the more she wonders: Are Chinese children—and her son—paying too high a price for their obedience and the promise of future academic prowess? Is there a way to appropriate the excellence of the system but dispense with the bad? What, if anything, could Westerners learn from China’s education journey?

Chu’s eye-opening investigation challenges our assumptions and asks us to consider the true value and purpose of education.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

Little Soldiers asks us to think deeply about what we value and what we want for our children – academic success, workplace success, group achievement, individual achievement, creativity, love of learning.  I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a game changer that challenges our tendency to see education practices in black and white.” —Madeline Levine, Ph.D., Author of New York Times bestsellers, The Prince of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well

“The American and Chinese ways of educating children are approaching a head-on collision begging the question ‘which system best prepares kids for success?’ In Little Soldiers, Lenora Chu deploys her journalistic inquiry and her motherly heart to investigate the attributes that underlie this urgent question. Chu’s fascinating storytelling urges the reader to ask questions like, ‘Do the ends justify the means?’ ‘Is a child’s life for a parent or government to dictate, or is it their own?’ These questions and more lie at the heart of Chu’s important book, which is necessary reading for educators, parents, and anyone interested in shaping the character and capabilities of the next generation of Americans.” —Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford dean of freshmen, and New York Times-bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult

Little Soldiers is the best book I’ve read about education in China.  Lenora Chu’s perspective is unique: as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was educated in the American system, and then she returned to China and enrolled her own son in a Shanghai public school.  She tells this personal story with great insight and humor, and it’s combined with first-rate research into the current state of education in China.” —Peter Hessler, New Yorker staff writer and author of River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving

“What if you had a child in one of those Shanghai super-schools? Would the child love it? Hate it? Become a math whiz? A robot? Both? As Lenora Chu takes us along on her own adventure in parenting, she affords us, not only an insider’s view of China, but an exploration of people- and society-making at its most foundational.  Riveting, provocative and unflinchingly candid, Little Soldiers is a must-read for parents, educators, and global citizens alike.” —Gish Jen, author of The Girl at the Baggage Claim

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062367853
  • ISBN 10: 0062367854
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 09/19/2017
  • Pages: 368
  • List Price: 34.99 CAD
  • BISAC3: EDUCATION / Philosophy, Theory & Social Aspects

Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu

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