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Illustrated by Rex White
I thought this one was just great, it has a real cinematic quality to it. I've reviewed a few books now that have attempted to begin their stories before the dawn of time, though I think they've all thus far been of the Judeo-Christian ilk. But the beginning of time is the beginning of time, I suppose, and inky blackness is inky blackness.
Long ago, Pan Gu walked in the void of the heavens. He was all there was and he was alone, so Pan Gu never smiled.
Pan Gu is drawn as a quick little illustration in the lower right-hand corner. He looks like an unfinished sketch, with all of the extra pencil strokes retained. He has a worried, pensive expression, not what one would expect from the Creator of All Things.
For the next several pages, Pan Gu moves about the pages, creating a world that is only a dull brown seed.
The show doesn't really start until page 7, a double-page spread of the black dragon. In contrast to the previous sketches, this character appears to be rendered with cut-paper. He is large and foreboding, containing as he does, all of Pan Gu's knowledge and logic. I like that they took their time before showcasing this and the true artistry of the book.
It builds to a crescendo as the white dragon is introduced, containing all of Pan Gu's ideas and dreams, but both are equally ferocious. "Darkness chased the light which then chased the darkness in return. They fought tooth and claw, and caused chaos in the void as each tried to put an end to the other." The artist is able to do some cool things with the imagery, bright flashes of light shining from their claws.
Finally, their battle descends upon the Earth, a tiny, stationary planet in the midst of the cosmos. And as the two equally-empowered dragons continue their never-ending fight, the Earth slowly begins to rotate.
But then comes a real narrative twist, as we're suddenly on the planet Earth, where a boy and his grandfather are fishing as the sun rises.
"There is wisdom in the balance between light and dark, ocean and land, even dreams and logic.
Each controls for a time, but must give way to the other for its own sake."
"What about young and old, Grandfather?"
"Yes. I suppose especially then."
I loved this book for two reasons before I even read it. First, the wonderful cover - so dark and mysterious, those white glowing eyes which betray no anger, no fear, no emotion of any kind. And then, there is the dedication:
In this version, the elements of the story are reversed from how we generally know it. It is the mother who travels to see the grandmother, and the children who are left at home. And it is the wolf who comes to their home, disguised as old Po Po, knocking on the door twice (which I thought was a curious detail to add, so used am I to things happening in threes).
Young uses a technique he calls panel art to move the story along - which on the surface appears to be an ancient form of comic strip art. Each illustration is divided up into several panels which form a single image, and also suggest the passage of time and movement within that image. I can take it all in in an eyeful, yet I also feel the moments ticking by as the children determine whether or not to give the presumed Po Po entrance.
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Illustrated by Ed Young
Text set in Papyrus ICG
Book design by Michael Nelson