"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Seven Chinese Siblings

The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy, Illus. by Jean & Mu-sien Tseng, 1990.

According to the Editor's Note, this Han tale features an emperor who really lived from 259-210 B.C. Ch'in Shih Huang was known to be cruel, but he brought about the unification of China and planned the construction of the Great Wall. In this story, seven remarkable brothers live during Huang's rule. Each has a very special talent, from incredible hearing to amazing strength to fantastic instantly growing legs. One day First Brother hears some men struggling to repair a hole in the Great Wall, so the brothers send mighty Third Brother to help. When the emperor learns about this fellow, he is threatened and orders that he be captured and executed. Luckily, each brother in turn trade places, using their unique qualities to evade death. But finally, the emperor crosses the youngest brother, whose ability is crying very large tears, big enough that only a few can drown a whole city, which proves to be very unfortunate for the ruthless ruler.

The Tsengs provide watercolor paintings of the strongly similar brothers and their world.

The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker, Illus. by Grace Lin, 2003.

Seven Chinese Sisters is described as an update on the old folktale, and so reader's can enjoy six gifted girls as they rescue their baby sister from a  hungry dragon. Their talents range from riding a scooter as fast as the wind to counting to five hundred plus to making the most delicious noodle soup in the world. Lured by this tasty food, the dragon spots the youngest child and takes her instead. Fortunately, baby sister speaks her first word, "help!" and the sisters prove to be more than a match for him, even kindly promising to bring the starving creature soup on the next day. Readers will be delighted when they discover Seventh Sister's hidden talent when she "grows tall."

Grace Lin has created fun and sweetly detailed illustrations for the story. The sisters bear a strong family resemblance, but each one's personality comes through. They all have their own hairstyles. They share an affinity for the color blue, but each girl's clothing sports a different pattern. When moving about the house and the lawn, every girl is absorbed by her own interest, from karate to communing with a stray dog. Even the dedication page has a nice detail: the sisters' identical black shoes, lined up from the largest to smallest pair ease along the page.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Magic Horse of Han Gan

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong, Trans. by Claudia Zoe Bedrick, 2006.

Young Han Gan loves to draw, but doesn't get much opportunity because he is from a poor family. One day, he delivers a meal to the painter Wang Wei and stops to sketch some horses in the sand. Impressed, the artist provides Han Gan with supplies and thereby launches his artistic career. The young man continues to paint horses, always showing them tethered because they are so lifelike that he fears they may run away. Like The Boy Who Drew Cats, Han Gan has a very special talent. Eventually, a great warrior comes to him, asking that he create a steed beyond any other, one the man can take into battle. Han Gan is willing to try, and makes a magical horse with no need for physical nourishment or sleep. The horse is wonderful indeed, but can such a special creature be made for a life of combat?

Although Han Gan's horse is a legend, the masterful painter lived 1,200 years ago in China. He painted his horses on silk, and an example of his work is included in the back of the book. Chiang Jiang Hong has illustrated the story using the same technique as Han Gan, painting directly on silk. Also as the fabled artist, Hong's horses look as though they might gallop off the page.

Friday, December 20, 2013

King Pom and the Fox

King Pom and the Fox by Jessica Souhami, 2007.

This Chinese story eventually became what we know as "Puss in Boots." Poor Li Ming owns nothing but a pomegranate tree, and is jokingly known as "King Pom." One day he catches a fox stealing his fruit and the animal promises to make him rich if he lets it go. He agrees and as in "Puss...", the clever creature contrives to win him a kingship, a beautiful queen and a palace. And they all, including the fox, live happily ever after!

Author Jessica Souhami also created the book's hand painted paper collage illustrations. Set against a creamy background, the bold colors pop, particularly the reds and oranges of the pomegranates and the fox's fur. The self-satisfied expression on the fox's face at Li Ming's wedding alone is worth a look at this merry retelling.

Why Rat Comes First: a Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Why Rat Comes First: a Story of the Chinese Zodiac retold by Clara Yen, Illus. by Hideo C. Yoshida, 1991.

This story has a different explanation for Rat's first place in the Chinese zodiac than his/her tricky behaviour with Cat. Author Clara Yen's father made it up to entertain her when she was a child. The Jade King in the clouds has heard tales about earth's animals, but he has never yet met any. So, he sends out invitations to a great feast. He is initially saddened when only twelve animals show up, but he decides to reward them by naming the years of the zodiac cycle after each of them. Rat feels that he should be first because he is smart, but Ox disagrees and thinks that he should be the leader due to his strength. When the animals argue over who should be the winner, the Jade King declares that earth's children should be the ones to choose. Information following the story describes the animal's characteristics and their ruling years.

Hideo C. Yoshida made the book's cheerful colored pencil and ink illustrations. The stylized animals are expressive and agreeable.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Another Chinese Cinderella Story: Wishbones

Wishbones: a folk tale from China. Retold by Barbara Ker Wilson, Illus. by Meilo So, 1993.

This is  basically the same story described in the post about Yeh-Shen, retold by Ai-Ling Louie, minus the punishment of the heroine's cruel step family, and plus a helpless but still living father and an overly greedy king for a husband. Meilo So, who also illustrated The Cat's Tale and Tasty Baby Belly Buttons provides the playful art. Cinderella type Yeh Hsien is shown feeding her pet fish rice with chopsticks, the stepsister mirrors her mother in every way from dress to snotty posture, and flipping fishtails cover the endpapers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rooster's Antlers: a Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The Rooster's Antler's: a Story of the Chinese Zodiac retold by Eric Kimmel, Illus. by YongSheng Xuan, 1999.

This story also occurs during the creation of the Chinese Zodiac, but it has a completely different plot than the tales of Cat and Rat (See: Why There is No Cat in the Chinese Zodiac ). Instead of having the creatures compete in a race, the Jade Emperor will choose the animals and their order for his own reasons. Rooster is sure that he will be chosen first, because of his beauty. He is colorful, feathery, and he has a fabulous pair of coral antlers. Dragon is also wonderful to see, but he doubts himself because he is bald headed. His conniving friend Centipede is sure that he can get Rooster's antlers for Dragon, but he has a price. Centipede is worm like and helpless and needs fierce jaws and many legs to run with. Rooster may be vain, but he is a generous creature. What will happen when he lends his crowning glories?

YongSheng Xuan has illustrated this tale of Dragon, Centipede and Rooster in vibrant colors against a sky blue background. The pleasing pictures look like (are?) bold but detailed papercuts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lon Po Po and Auntie Tiger: Chinese Red Riding Hood Tales

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.

Auntie Tiger by Laurence Yep, Illus. by Insu Yee, 2009.

The Big, Bad Wolf is a Huge, Horrible Tiger in this version of the tale. Mother has to go into town to get food, so she must leave quarreling Big Sister and Little Sister alone. When their "darling Auntie" shows up, the elder sister is sceptical, but the young one is most interested in the treats that "she" brings, and opens the door. The tricky cat has disguised his most tigerish parts, and he eventually swallows Little Sister whole. Fortunately, he has met his match in Big Sister, who dispatches him and rescues her sibling. Mother returns home to find her daughters working together happily, having learned a lesson from the fiendish feline.

Insu Lee's tiger is more comical than frightening, although his claws and teeth cannot be overlooked. Decked out in a purple tunic and flowered headscarf he is hardly convincing, yet he certainly looks optimistic about his plan. Lee plays with form and texture as he brings the girls' home setting to life as a bulbous tree trunk houses an alarmed chipmunk, jagged and wavy foliage conceals the eager tiger and Big Sister takes shelter in a tree bursting with heart shaped leaves and trumpet flowers.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Monkey King by Ed Young

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

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!