Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Lon Po Po: a Red-Riding Hood Story From China by Ed Young, 1989.
This Red Riding Hood tale is about three little sisters, Shang, Tao and Paotze, who are left alone for the day when their mother goes to visit their grandmother. Of course, it is then that the wolf comes to call. Although the girls are gullible enough to let him in when he claims to be their grandmother, Shang, the oldest, is clever enough to lure him out of the house and the three have what it takes to defeat him.
Ed Young won the 1990 Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po's art. This wolf is a scary one, with flashing eyes and gaping jaws.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Monkey King by Ed Young, 2001.
Ed Young has provided readers with a lively introduction to the Chinese Monkey King. In his Author's Note, we learn that Monkey's story is told in the epic Journey to the West, set during the T'ang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). It describes the travels of monk Tang Tsen and his companions Monkey, Pig and Water Demon as they seek to bring Buddhist scriptures from India to China.
Young's story includes Monk Tang, the Jade Emperor, Guan Ying, the Goddess Mercy, and the Buddha himself. It begins with the "birth" of Monkey from a rock on Flower Fruit Mountain and his fast rise to monkey royalty. An ambitious trickster, he studies with a master to learn magical tricks such as changing shape, turning cloud somersaults and dividing himself into 100 little monkey soldiers. He can defeat bandits, steal weapons and the immortal peaches of heaven and evade punishment, but he is unable to best Buddha. Hundreds of years later, he regains his freedom when he agrees to become holy monk Tang's disciple, but Monkey is not done with trouble!
Young's collage illustrations of handmade and bought paper impart pleasing color and texture. The dynamic art shows the mischievous Monkey vaulting and somersaulting through his adventures and also interestingly depicts his allies and foes. The Red Beard Bandit has appropriately fiery facial hair, along with blue skin, pink tufts of hair and some serious fangs. The Dragon King is first shown as a menacing shadow. Guan Ying is serene, clad in white and a veil of light.
This book is a great choice to expand your knowledge of tricksters and legend and may send you in search of the full epic, Journey to the West.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Yeh-Shen: a Cinderella Story from China retold by Ai-Ling Louie, Illus. by Ed Young, 1982.
This Cinderella story dates from the T'ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and precedes European versions of the tale. It contains the kind, ill-treated orphan girl, her cruel stepmother and favored stepsister. There is the equivalent of a ball (spring festival) and royalty to marry. Yet, there are different and interesting details as well. Yeh-Shen does not receive help from a fairy godmother or a tree on her mother's grave. Instead, her aid comes from the bones of her only friend, a fish that she raised and loved, who was murdered by her vicious stepmother. The spirit of the bones answers Yeh-Shen's daily requests for food, keeping her alive until the festival, when it provides her with a cloak of kingfisher feathers, an azure blue gown and magic golden slippers for her miraculously tiny feet. And you know the rest.
Ed Young's magical illustration's are done in pastels and watercolor and each somehow incorporates the fish as part of the design (See Yeh-Shen's festival clothes, above). He uses glowing jewel colors, as in the picture of the stepmother comforting her daughter while Yeh-Shen works. The background is the magenta scales of the fish, and the woman's robes are patterned with purple, turquoise, green and garnet. Her golden bangles seem to shine.
Fairy tale devotees should be sure to add this lovely Cinderella story to their book list!
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen, Illus. by Ed Young, 1967,1988.
Set in ancient China, this is the the story of the emperor's tiny youngest daughter, who is generally overlooked. Although Djeow Seow is usually alone and spends much of her time playing with her kite, she is able to put her toy to good use and save her father when evil men lock him up in a tower. Her older and seemingly more important brothers and sisters mourn the emperor, but the observant child, with the advice of a kind monk, knows how to feed and eventually rescue her powerful dad. Through her loyalty, Djeow Seow wins the love and recognition that she deserves.
Ed Young won a Caldecott honor for his illustrations, which are based on a traditional Asian papercut method. They are full of detail and color. In Djeow Seow's dragon-head kite, the color gradually shifts from purple to red to hot pink. The emperor's ornate dragon embellished robes also change color, in the garment itself and from page to page, now green and gold, then pink, then red and orange. The art is beautifully balanced and the action often occurs over an entire double page spread, as when the kite soars at the top of the left side, the little girl and the monk bow to each other on the bottom right, and both images are connected by the kite's angled string.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Turning now to Chinese folktales and legends, I begin with the story of the Chinese zodiac. There are many picture book and illustrated versions of this story for children. The basic tale goes like this: an important person/deity decides to create the first calendar and summons all the animals of China to help. He will name the first year in the twelve year cycle after the first animal that reaches him. Rat, cat, dog, pig, rooster, ox (water buffalo), tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, monkey and sheep are all invited. Although cat and rat are best friends, rat schemes to be first with a trick that shuts the unfortunate cat out of the race and destroys friendship between them and all of their descendants. Rat also takes advantage of the strength and speed of Ox (Water Buffalo) to grab a lift. Rat is triumphant, and Cat is furious.
I will be adding to this post as I find additional versions of the story.
The Great Race: the Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey, Illus. by Anne Wilson. 2006.
The Jade Emperor, King of Heaven, decides to create a calendar and name each year after a different animal. He holds a swimming race across the river to determine the order that the beasts should appear in the new cycle. Here, the dirty Rat actively eliminates Cat from the competition by pushing him into the river while he is asleep. He also takes advantage of Ox by riding his back across the river, but then scuttling ahead of him into first place once they arrive on dry land.
Once all the animals but cat arrive, the Jade Emperor declares that every child born in an animal's year will share the talents of that creature.
After the story, information on the Chinese calendar, its important days, and the years and characters of the twelve animals are included.
The illustrations are done in bright collage. Wilson uses repeating circles, ovals and squares, and the Jade Emperor and the animals are done with intentional simplicity, like a child's drawing.
The Cat's Tale: Why the Years Are Named for Animals by Doris Orgel, Illus. by Meilo So, 2008.
This is the same basic tale, but told in a frame story. Mao the cat and Willow the girl belong to each other. When Nai Nai, Willow's grandma, comes to watch her, the child isn't happy about it because it means that her mother has gone out. Nai Nai begins to tell the story of the Zodiac's origin, but Mao is enraged when she forgets to mention Cat, and gives her a scratch. Nai Nai is angry with Mao and Willow is mad at her Grandma, so the girl and kitty head to another room by themselves. As Willow strokes Mao, the cat tells her the real story of the Zodiac race and Rat's betrayal. The story unfolds, and Willow realizes that she has lost her stuffed pig. Fortunately, at the tale's end, Grandma appears and has the perfect way to make up with her granddaughter and Willow's feline friend.
Meilo So, who also illustrated Tasty Baby Belly Buttons, provides cheerful illustrations. Round Mao has wide amber eyes, a dear little heart shaped pink nose, and a very large indignant mouth when Nai Nai leaves Cat out of her story.
Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac. by Ed Young, 1995.
This is the same storyline, but it also follows cat's unsuccessful struggle to reach the Emperor. The animal's years and characteristics precede the tale. In the Author's Note, Young explains that the zodiac was established 5000 years ago by Emperor Huang Di. Young's illustrations are done in charcoal and pastels on Japanese rice paper.
What the Rat Told Me: a Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Marie Sellier, Catherine Louis and Wang Fei. 2008.
It is stated on the endpapers that this story is adapted from a Chinese Buddhist legend from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE). It takes place on the morning of the dawn of the world. The animals must climb the Jade Mountain to reach the Great Emperor of Heaven. Although the rat has promised to wake the cat for the journey, he fails to do so. As each creature arrives, the Emperor praises their finest qualities. The sun rises for the first time, and the beasts take their places in the wheel of time. But, not the poor cat. The dates for each sign are given following the story.
The graphics are big and bold, all done in black, white and red. The Chinese characters for each animal, plus the emperor and the mountain, are used.
The Animals of the Chinese Zodiac by Susan Whitfield and Phillipa-Alys Browne. 1998.
Buddha wants to make a calendar and the name the years, but he becomes ill and sends his Apsaras ("flying women with magical powers") to invite the animals for a visit. So, the ladies journey to a farm, the mountains, the rivers and the plains to spread the news. This story gives more detail on the animal's behavior and travel habits. Rat is given the benefit of the doubt. Is he a trickster or just forgetful?
The animals are colored fancifully: a blue horse with a red, yellow and orange mane, a tiger with green stripes and a orchid shaded monkey.
In this picture book version, the human emperor looks for a way for all to remember the year that the prince and heir was born.
This is my favorite telling of the story, largely because of the art. Wong brings a very playful touch to the tale. On the title page, best friends Cat and Rat are shown with Rat sitting on Cat's head and dangling some string and a bell for her to play with. Ox smiles broadly at the twosome's flattery before they cross the river. Each creature is fussed over once they arrive, and a delighted Tiger is shown getting a tummy rub from one of the emperor's advisers. The art is also full of movement, from the various beasts travels through the river to the ruler's pacing with his line of advisers following him like ducklings, to the Dog shaking water off himself as he meets the emperor.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Animal Dreaming: an Aboriginal Dreamtime Story by Paul Mori, 1998.
This is the story of the Kip-a-ara (initiation into manhood) of Mirri, who is told of the earth's origin by his friend and elder Gadurra. As they set off on walkabout, Mirri learns that the Great Ancestor War-ra-mur-run-gun-di created the animals, birds and fish and they all lived together in a watery place. Everything was fine until the birds decided they should have all of the land for themselves. A giant battle commenced, but three, Garn-dag-itj, the Ancestral Kangaroo, Bal-an-ga, the Ancestral Long-Necked Turtle and Din-e-wan, the Ancestral Emu would not fight. Instead, they looked for ways to bring peace. Each had a powerful dream and afterward, the land began to change. All the animals made their homes on earth and were at peace. From that time, when the animals dreamt, they lived their dreams. When the story ended, Mirri looked at rock paintings of the Dreamtime and knew that a time would come for him too to leave his mark.
Mori's paintings of Mirri and Gadurra are done in alkyds on canvas, while his Dreamtime images are based on traditional Dreamtime motifs and are painted in acrylics on wood. The questing boy and his surroundings are painted realistically, using deep dark colors to show a mysterious sacred space. Some of the striking Dreamtime pictures look almost like mosaics, with spirals, wavy lines and dots of earthen colors creating a night sky giving way to a dream. The backgrounds of the pictures of the emu, kangaroo and turtle are highly textured and look to be painted with natural pigments, suggesting the cave drawings that Mirri sees. Readers will enjoy the surrealistic pictures, such as the great snake coiling itself and changing into a twisting, rock hillside.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Gidja the Moon by Percy Trezise & Dick Roughsey, 1984, North American edition 1988.
In this legend, Gidja the Moon brings mortality to the humans of the Dreamtime and becomes a celestial body, along with his wife, the Evening Star and his daughter the Morning Star. The story describes how the (super)human Gidja courts and wins his wife, then has and loses their little daughter Lilga to death. Death has been unknown to the first people, who blame Gidja and violently chase him away when he is trying to bury Lilga's body. They go so far as to try to kill him, but he does not die. When they fling him into the air, he becomes the moon that we know, waxing and waning as the days pass. At this time, he curses the people to be mortal.
In the book's introduction, we are told that the moon symbolized death to Australian Aboriginal people, but also Nature's seasonal rebirth and the afterlife. "They believed that Gidja attends the good gate at the portal of the new horizon, the Aboriginal concept of life after death. No one passes through the good gate without Gidja's approval."
Gidja the Moon includes a map of Australia with a detail of Cape York and a glossary with pronunciation of names.