Saturday, January 18, 2014
Little Sima & the Giant Bowl: a Chinese Folktale
Little Sima & the Giant Bowl, Adapted by Zhi Qu, Illus. by Lin Wang, 2009.
In Little Sima's great-great-grandfather's day, dragons wove clouds in the sky that would bring about the rain or snow that the people needed. One day, the village dragon decided to stop his duty and went to live in the river instead, bringing about a drought, and making a nuisance of himself by breathing out fire and draining the villagers' wells of much needed water. For one hundred years, the people suffered, until Sima's family fed and offered shelter to a fragile old man, who in return gave them a gift that would save the village. Some years later, young Sima and his friends are playing when an accident occurs that forces him to choose between following the rules and ensuring regular rainfall or saving his friend's life and facing the consequences.
The tale's Afterword explains that, like several of the other Chinese folktales mentioned on the blog, the story features a real person, in this instance Sima Guang, who lived during the Song dynasty from 1019 to 1086. He was a government official, a scholar and an author whose book Zizhai Tongjian (A Mirror for Good Governance) is still read in China. The fictionalized Sima is intended to be a heroic role model for children. This story is in the "On My Own Folklore" series from Lerner publishing. Although it is thoroughly illustrated, it it not in the picture book format, but is the size of an early reader book. A glossary is included as well as a list of further reading and websites to explore.
Wang's attractive, dreamy illustrations set the mood for the story. Muted washes of pale green and speckles of blue, or burnt orange and pink streak the skies. The highlights are the paintings of the dragons snaking through the sky, with antlered heads and whiskered snouts.