Ten-year-old Alex plays Xiangqi, or Chinese chess, with his great-grandfather Tai Gong every time he visits him at the retirement home. No matter how hard Alex tries, he never seems to be able to beat Tai Gong. That is, until one day, Tai Gong decides to share a piece of his personal history with Alex – a story about his time in a secret Chinese- Canadian military force sent on missions during the Second World War.
Catherine Little introduces young readers to Chinese Canadians’ role in the Second World War in her latest picture book, Endgame: The Secret Force 136. Little also explores the history of discrimination that Chinese people faced in Canada over many decades.
Tai Gong tells Alex that until after the Second World War, Chinese Canadians couldn’t vote and were barred from becoming doctors or lawyers and from using public swimming pools. As Alex listens to the story about Force 136 and its role in helping Chinese Canadians gain the right to vote, he finally understands how he can beat Tai Gong in Xiangqi: by seeing the big picture, thinking many moves ahead, and knowing the importance of making sacrifices.
Sean Huang’s images create a sense of interconnectedness between the past, present, and the imaginary. The colours red and black, representing the two armies in Xiangqi, feature prominently in the illustrations. These images offer visual reminders about the importance of Xiangqi to Chinese communities and their histories.
Endgame illustrates how learning about and understanding our families and cultural histories can help us to better navigate the world. It’s also a story about the importance of determination in the face of discrimination. The historical notes provide additional information that will support educators and parents to have conversations about the history of Chinese people and communities in Canada. Parents and educators can also use this book to talk to young readers about standing up for themselves and the central role that marginalized peoples often play in dismantling the discrimination they face.