book review

Have you Heard of the Mystery of the Giant Masks? Mystery of the Giant Masks of Sanxingdui by Icy Smith

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Author Icy Smith is one brilliant story teller. In her book Mystery of the Giant Masks of Sanxingdui, she carefully weaves a story about tradition, honor, art, respect and beauty.

MYSTERY OF THE GIANT MASKS OF SANXINGDUIBrother and sister team Wei and Min prepare for the Warrior festival with their family and friends. Part of the art and tradition of the Shu people was bronze crafts. People would come from far away to admire their tall bronze statues and masks as well as smaller wares that were for sale.

As Min’s brother Wei becomes a warrior during the Warrior Festival, a great flood hits the village.  Many homes were destroyed. As they begin to clean up from the storm and flood, news of a coming attack reaches the Shu people. What should they do, stay and fight a war or leave and let peace stay and linger ? Min and Wei, lead the villagers to flee their homeland but before they do they release the spirits of the bronze statues and masks and bury them in deep pits along with all of their other bronze objects.

There they sit for over 3000 years. In 1986 the giant and incredible statues, masks, and artifacts of Sanxingdui in Sichuan Province China we discovered and declared the 9th wonder of the world.

This story completely captivated us. Icy Smith uses beautiful and gentle language to offer an invitation to the Shu people, who they were, how they lived, and the beauty of their life in that place. The back of the book offers an up to date account of how the bronze masks and statues were found and the museum that has been built around them.

Artist and Illustrator Gayle Garner Roski beautifully illustrates this story with vivid and detailed watercolors.

We were so honored to read this book and thank author Icy Smith for giving us a review copy. While I was at the NCSS convention in Boston I had the honor of meeting Icy Smith and she generously gave me a few of her books to read and jump into. Look for more stories, books, and adventures to come from this amazing author.

Something To Do

Let’s find and discover Sanxingdui and the Sichuan Province in China.


Many Chinese archaeologists have identified the Sanxingdui culture to be part of the ancient kingdom of Shu, linking the artifacts found at the site to its early legendary kings. The Shu kingdom was founded by Cancong.Cancong was described as having protruding eyes, a feature that is found in the figures of Sanxingdui.

The Sanxingdui archaeological site is located in Chengdu Prefecture in Sichuan Province China.

The city was built on the banks of the Yazi River, and enclosed part of its tributary, Mamu River, within the city walls.  The city walls were 40 meters at the base and 20 meters at the top and varied in height from 8–10 meters. There was a smaller set of inner walls.

The walls were surrounded by canals 25–20 meters wide and 2–3 meters deep. These canals were used for irrigation, inland navigation, defense, and flood control. The city was divided into residential, industrial and religious districts organized around a dominant central axis. It is along this axis that most of the pit burial have been found on four terraces. The structures were timber framed adobe rectangular halls. The largest was a meeting hall about 200 m2.


Let’s Paint: A Story Cloth

In Mystery of the Giant Masks of Sanxingdui, Min and her Aunt paint a story cloth telling the story of a great flood which had happened in the past to their people. Story cloths have been used all over the world to record and actual event which has happened to a certain group of people. A story cloth can also be myths or legends. It’s a craft and tool used to remember something very important by a specific group of people.

There’s a couple of ways you can do this.

  • First you could paint the story of the Shu people and their beautiful masks. Taking a large piece of paper draw and paint the story of the archaeologist finding the large masks.
  • Next you could paint the mask themselves and telling the story of the Shu warriors.
  • Another idea is that you can choose a story you know already such as Noah’s Ark and paint that. Whenever anyone asks you about your painting, you can tell them it’s a story cloth.

Look and Discover: The Masks of Sanxingdui


I LOVE this Sanxingdui Mask Activity from one of our Multicultural Children’s Book Day Reviewers A Field Trip Life!



The Bower Museum

Let’s Discuss:

Since the Sanxingdui site has been discovered many questions have been asked?

1. Who were the Shu people?

2. Who burned and buried these sacred treasures and impressive masks ?

3. What do you think happened before they were buried ? Why were they buried ?

4. For ancient people, how did they know how to use advanced bronze making techniques ?

5. How advanced was the Shu culture ?

6. What made the Shu culture disappear ?

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