“Find Tom in Time: Ming Dynasty China” by Fatti Burke

Ming China

Tom is a young boy who is “ordinary most of the time”—that is, unless he’s visiting his grandmother Bea, an archaeologist whose artifacts have the power to transport Tom back into time.

In Find Tom in Time: Ming Dynasty China, Tom and Grandma Bea’s cat Digby (who unlike his owner and Tom is firmly anti-adventure) find themselves in the Ming Dynasty, thrown into the middle of the construction of the Great Wall. Each page presents a different scene: at home, at the opera, plowing farmland, at a ceramics workshop or celebrating the lantern festival. The narrative runs through the different scenes, with Tom running from activity to activity, often looking for Digby, who has wandered off or snuck off with someone’s dinner.

Each page also includes a handful of key facts about the topic at hand. At the doctor’s surgery, for example, there are small notes on acupuncture (including that “it is still used today!”), on an apothecary and on the medicinal properties of mulberries and bugbane. Facts are bite-sized and age-appropriate; new words are explained in context. The “find” element relates to a list of items on each page that the reader needs to find—and given that the book is aimed at children aged 5-7, the list includes items ranging from a person using an abacus to a person who has dropped their noodles.


British Museum: Find Tom in Time, Ming Dynasty China, Fatti Burke (Nosy Crow, August 2020)
Find Tom in Time: Ming Dynasty China, Fatti Burke (Nosy Crow, August 2020)

The Find Tom in Time series was published in collaboration with the British Museum. The Ming Dynasty volume is the third book in the series, coming after Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome (Ancient Greece is forthcoming this summer). While young readers may have already been introduced to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, they may be less familiar with Ming Dynasty China; the book not only introduces key themes and topics of the period, but also marks it as an important one to learn and understand.

Children who are both familiar and unfamiliar with the Ming Dynasty will find much to engage with, in large part due to Fatti Burke’s bright and lively illustrations. Burke’s use of color and patterns bring an energy to the pages that is perhaps less easily achieved in a museum setting. The illustrations are animated and details are plentiful and Burke appropriately captures the key forms, shapes and themes of the time period.

Ming China

Billed as “for fans of Where’s Wally”, the act of close observation means that readers can’t help but observe life during the Ming Dynasty. The book does a good job of, where possible, trying to show how some traditions and practices from that time still occur today. And there’s an element of relatable fun—children (and Tom) running through the market or standing on chairs to speak to friends or a child who has broken a precious, porcelain vase.

Tom, Grandmother Bea and Digby are engaging characters making, Find Tom in Time: Ming Dynasty China a fun entry into a fascinating period of time.

Melanie Ho is the author of Journey to the West: He Hui, a Chinese Soprano in the World of Italian Opera.