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Showing posts with label Chinese Folktales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese Folktales. Show all posts


The Dragons of Pan Gu (2013)

Written by Kevin White

Illustrated by Rex White

Chimeric Press

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.
Nothing very visually exciting, though flipping through it again, I realized that Pan Gu is almost made to resemble a flip book creation. Those quick sketch lines pack a lot of movement in them.

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."


Lon Po Po (1989)

Translated and Illustrated by Ed Young
Watercolors and pastels
Philomel Books

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:

To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol of our darkness.

The rest of the book could have been filled with blank pages, and I'd be a happy man.

This is a Red Riding Hood story, we are told, one that has been passed down orally in China for over a thousand years. There is a a wolf (lon) disguised as a grandmother (Po Po), for the purpose of devouring small grandchildren.

"Be good while I am away, my heart-loving children. Remember to close the door tight at sunset and latch it well."

 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.

"How is it that you come so late?"
"The journey is long, my children, and the day short."
"Why is your voice so low?"
"Your grandmother has caught a cold, grandchildren, and it is dark and windy out here."

Clearly, it is this rhythm of question and answer which is a hallmark of a Red Riding Hood story, much more-so than the presence of and Red Hoods.

"Your foot has a bush on it."
"Po Po had brought hemp string to weave you a basket."
"Your hand has thorns on it."
"Po Po has brought an awl to make shoes for you."

Such a comforting rhythm. It is therefore a chilling effect when the children ask,"Po Po, why did you blow out the candle?" and there is no answer given.

Click here for more Chinese Folktales!

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The Hunter (2000)

Retold by Mary Casanova

Illustrated by Ed Young

Pastel and gouache

Text set in Papyrus ICG

Book design by Michael Nelson

"The author first heard this story from an exchange student from Chang Chun, the capital city in the Ji Lin province of northeast China," begins the book, prior to the dedication.

Following this are reproductions of 15 stylized Chinese characters and their English translations:

Suffer - Drought
Snatch - Soar
Hasten - Rescue
Dragon - Palace
Reward with - Treasure
Magic - Rock
All - Benefit
Floor - Disaster
Begging to - Escape
Doubt - All
Heavenly - Secret (Plan)
Turning to - Stone

Not counting the cover and title page, Young produced 15 illustrations for this particular book, each corresponding to one of these characters, which appear as tiny, scarlet imprints on the right hand corner of each page, like a seal. Taken in total, they form a narrative.

This is the story of a young hunter named Hai Li Bu, charged with providing the meat for his village in a land where game has grown scarce and life is hard. "The children rarely laughed, the young women seldom sang, and the white-haired people were too weak to leave their mats."

However, deep within the caves beneath the village lives the Dragon King, whom Young illustrates with a multitude of fierce strokes, seemingly unconnected to any shape or outline. He is surrounded by treasures and by magic, and it is with him that Hai Li Bu must bargain.

"Your treasures are beautiful, but the only thing I desire is to understand the language animals. Then I can be a better hunter."

The Dragon King reared back and from out of his mouth shot a round stone. "Take it," he said, "and your wish will come true. But remember one thing: You must not pass on the secret of your gift, or you will surely turn to stone, like the one you now hold."

For a while, this gift helps the hunter, and he is able to return to his village each night with more and more food. But there is a price to be had, one of heightened responsibility. He must warn his fellow villagers of a coming storm - which he knows about due only to his understanding of the birds and the beasts. His fellow villagers do not believe his words, and so he is forced to divulge the secret of his knowledge.

"Look," he said, "the birds flee." As he spoke, his toes grew stiff as stones. "Tomorrow the mountain will be struck by lightning," he added, and his legs became granite hard. "The village will be flooded," he said, and his hands stopped in midair. "Listen," he said, "believe me and have courage." And as he spoke these last words, his lips turned to stone.
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