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

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cricket's Cage

The Cricket's Cage: a Chinese Folktale retold by Stefan Czernecki, 1997.
This pleasing Beijing folktale is about emperor Yongle's desire to place four watchtowers at the corners of the newly built imperial palace and the humble cricket who proves to be the perfect designer. Yongle is incredibly hard to please and his minister Wu Zhong has already presented him with more than sixteen different plans, only to have each rejected. The emperor threatens to behead his minister, which causes a chain reaction as the minister in turn menaces the Master Builder with execution, who passes the ultimatum down to the carpenter, who builds the tower models. The carpenter doesn't know what to do, so he visits his friend the cricket seller, who gifts him with a cricket for inspiration and good luck. Although the carpenter is in despair, he promises the cheerful cricket that he will build it a new cage before he dies. After the carpenter has retired to bed, the cricket draws a plan for an elaborate cage that he hopes to make his home. It proves to also be perfect for a tower, saving the lives of several men and ensuring happiness for the emperor, the carpenter and the cricket!
In Czernecki's Author's Note, we learn that Yongle was the third emperor of the Ming dynasty and he really did restore the imperial palace at the capital. He had the royal buildings protected by a wall and created the Forbidden City. He then found his way into this tale, which was originally published in Beijing Legends by Jin Shoushen in 1957.

Czernecki's artwork is made with Chinese mineral and vegetable pigments and the pictures are bordered with dragon designs of the emperor's robe, in yellow, because only he was allowed to wear that color during his rule. The little green cricket appears at the bottom of every page of text. Overall, this is a bright and beautiful book.
Some charming examples of cricket cages:


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