Life of a Genius

By Demi
Illustrations by Demi


Even as a young boy in eleventh-century China, Su Shih was clearly special. After finding a rare inkstone, he began to write stories and verses expressing his love of the natural world. His words flowed effortlessly. His brush danced across paper. Su Shih grew up to become a leading scholar and statesman, eventually taking the name Su Dongpo. Integrating his love of natural order and humanity into his writings and civic works, Su Dongpo promoted justice and condemned corruption—often at his own peril. His life was rife with reversals of fortune; but through it all he retained his grace, his humility, and his compassion. Award-winning author and artist Demi has created a graceful tribute to one of history’s most accomplished yet overlooked figures. Here Demi talks about becoming an artist and how she discovered Su Dongpo.

Su DongpoDemi comes from a family of artists. Her great-grandfather was the painter, William Morris Hunt. her great-grand uncle was the architect, Richard Morris Hunt, dean of American architecture. Her father was a prominent producer and patron of the theater, and her mother was an accomplished watercolorist. “From the very beginning there was never a question of what I would do, but rather a question of how much,” says Demi. “I do believe a great deal of my inspiration comes from my family.” Demi learned about Su Dongpo from her husband, who is of Chinese heritage. “My husband has always held Su Dongpo in the highest esteem, particularly for his spirit which shone like a star through life’s triumphs and adversities and lives on through eternity.”

Demi conducted several different kinds of research to write and illustrate the story of Su Dongpo. “The research for the story involved reading everything I could find in English on Su Dongpo. I also traveled to China to many of the places mentioned in the book—from Sichuan, to Beijing, to Hainan Island, and beyond. And I have a Chinese art library, which was a marvelous reference for the illustrations.” Demi’s research unearthed an astounding amount of information about this true Renaissance man. “Su Dongpo was China’s greatest genius,” Demi commented. “His life embodied the enlightenment of Buddhism, the simplicity of Taoism, and the wise teachings of Confucius. He was also China’s knight-errant, traveling the country and helping others with true generosity of spirit. He was a great leader, statesman, judge, philosopher, poet, painter, scholar, engineer, architect, and humanitarian who approached everything with joy and grace.” Demi recalls feeling surprised about how timely and universal his message still is today. “Perhaps Su Dongpo’s greatest legacy was the example he set with his indomitable spirit. What a great example for children, and how relevant the need for such leaders today!”

Demi has already begun sharing the book with children. “I have found that children are moved by the message, and like to draw pictures to go with the poems.  They use the book as a springboard to their own art.”  What does she hope readers will learn from the book? Demi says, “What I hope for all readers of this book is that they will take away the magnanimous heart and soul and spirit of Su Dongpo!”

Demi lives in Carnation, Washington.

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 2 - 8

Reading Level:

Grades 4 - 4


Nonfiction, Middle Grade, Identity/Self Esteem/Confidence, Responsibility, Religion/Spiritual, Poetry, Overcoming Obstacles, Occupations, History, Education, Dreams & Aspirations, Childhood Experiences and Memories, Biography/Memoir, Art, Asian/Asian American Interest, Leadership, Persistence/Grit, Self Control/Self Regulation, Pride


Fluent English, Fluent Dual Language , Poetry Grades 3-6, Lee & Low Poetry Collection, Nonfiction Grades 3-6, Nonfiction Collection Middle School, Asian American English Collection High School, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, Chinese Culture Collection, Biography and Memoir Grades 3-6, Appendix B Diverse Collection Middle School, Appendix B Diverse Collection High School, Asian/Asian American English Collection Grades 3-5, Asian American English Collection Middle School, Asian American Collection English 6PK, English Guided Reading Level T, Diverse Background English Collection Middle School, Biography and Memoir Middle School, Chinese and Lunar New Year, High-Low Books for Teens: Middle and High School

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