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Showing posts with label Ed Young. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ed Young. Show all posts


The Cat From Hunger Mountain (2016)

Written and Illustrated by Ed Young

Paper collage

Philomel Books

This book is dedicated to 'the strange virtue in deprivation, an unwanted and the least understood gateway to humanity and life's riches,' which is not the most straightforward of dedications, but Ed Young does not make orthodox picture books.

There is a simple lesson in this story: the importance of not wasting food, but it is wrapped up in so much beauty and mysticism, that it seems to have come directly from some ancient Buddhist text... albeit one with a talking cat.

Young has again used paper collage as his medium, and to great effect. The snowy landscapes are especially vivid, and the cut paper is used well to show the cold breath coming from the mouth of his wandering Lord Cat. A few pages later, and the cut-paper is now a beige, barren landscape where famine has persisted for several years... even the long, red paper strip to signify blood coming from the beak of a hunter bird had a special vibrancy to it. I don't often think of paper-collage being so detailed and precise. Young fits it all in perfectly. I could feel the movement from one land to the next, the proportioning of the characters, the distance between them.
Hunters gifted him with rare meats...
Lord Cat is the main character who lives at the top of a tall pagoda atop Hunger Mountain in extreme opulence, while all around him his subjects wallow in hunger and misery. He only ever eats half the bowl of rice given to him each day, and demands the rest be taken away. It almost seems like its his way of rubbing his wealth into the noses of his many servants. All the meanwhile he shouts, "There is more rice to harvest!"

"Are you blind? Can't you see the bowl is half-empty?"
But all good things must eventually come to an end. Famine eventually overtakes his kingdom, reducing all to waster. For the first time, Lord Cat must leave Hunger Mountain, and go wandering through the land, conversing with beggars and becoming a beggar himself. Like the Buddha, he discovers the true meaning of contentment and happiness.

The famine persisted a second year.
 To this day, if you enter this temple in the foothills of Hunger Mountain, you'll find an urn in the shape of a cat. From it you can take out a tab with an inscription that reads, Only I know what's enough."


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!

Click here for more books by Ed Young!


Seven Fathers (2011)

Retold by Ashley Ramsden

Illustrated by Ed Young

Cut paper collage

A Neal Porter Book

"I was intrigued by this uniquely Nordic version of a spiritual quest," writes Ed Young. "No one thought it was ideal children's book material, even though I've always maintained that children are perfectly capable to comprehending much deeper thoughts and feelings than we are willing to acknowledge."

This is an Ed Young book, and that mean it is going to be beautiful to look at, beautiful to flip through, beautiful to hold. So damned artful in it design and presentation. I love the brown pages, the splatter of white paint for snow, the rough, charcoal outlines of his characters.

"One winter's evening, a lone traveler trudged down a winding forest road looking for a place to spend the night." A more classic beginning to a folk-tale than any I've heard. Coming across an old house where an old man chops wood, the traveler asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father," is the response. "He's around back, in the kitchen."

Inside is another old man, "older than the last," and the traveler again asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father. He is in the parlor."

The trick of the narrative begins to unveil itself. Indeed, in the parlor, sits an old man, "much older than the last." On and on. Ramsden's writing becomes more playful the further in we go. The traveler meets, "a very, very, very, very, very old man. His head was small and shrunken with just a wisp of white hair on the pillow."

Followed by: "a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very old man, so small, so shrunken, he was no bigger than a baby."

The traveler closed his eyes and listened for a reply, bit all he could hear was a gurgling noise than fluttered and quivered and shook until finally he was able to make out some faint words: "I am not the father of this house."

I couldn't help but think of ill-fated astronaut Dave Bowman, navigating his way through the interior of the monolith, and wondered if Kubrick had any Nordic blood in his directorial veins.

"In the storytelling tradition, we often say, 'Behind me is the one I heard this story from... and behind that storyteller the one who told them the tale...' and so on," writes the author, who is himself primarily an oral storyteller. "Amongst the first peoples there was always a profound sense of how we are all connected to the one who came before us and the spiritual origin that underpin our entire existence."


Genesis (1997)

Illustrated by Ed Young

A Laura Geringer Book

"To me, Genesis represents the very beginning of all possibility - the energy that is the seed of life," writes Ed Young in the introduction of this splendid little book.

Although I almost wonder if the smallness of the volume works against it. We're dealing with abstractions here. Each opposing page has a line from the King James version of the book of Genesis, set alongside Young's best attempt to capture that thought artistically. I would love to know more about his thought process in this. For example, the first illustration is:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was wihtout form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Well, what would you paint? Young presents a textured, dark red background, within which sit two vaguely human-shaped forms, one large, one small. Is this God? Is this the void? The "firmament in the midst of the waters" takes the form of a bright stretch of light acorss a dark, thundercloud of blue and gray.

The only thing which is distinct are the two "great lights" set within the firmament of heaven. Even when we get into the territory of the animals - birds of the air, fish of the sea - they are only vague and indistinct. A feather, a fin, a hand, lost in a swirl of color.

I wish the book had been larger. Much larger. It reminds me a bit of looking at the paintings of Mark Rothko in books and not understanding what the big deal was. It was only when I saw them in person and was overwhelmed by their sheer size that at last was in awe. These illustrations too, I feel, could benefit from such an enlargement. What would the impact be if the black and red shapes meant to signify God and Void were large and encompassing instead of small and compact within this book?

Nonetheless, this is a beautiful book. But the beauty isn't limited to the paintings.

"The endpapers," Young writes, "are composed of the names of hundreds of endangered and extinct animals, with those that are extinct highlighted; for I also see in Genesis a gentle reminder that the earth is ours to protect."


Iblis (1994)

Retold by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

Illustrated by Ed Young

Designed by Michael Farmer

Display type hand-lettered by Judythe Sieck

Pastel and watercolor on Canson paper

Text set in Deepdene

Harcourt Brace and Company

This is the story of Adam and Eve in the gardens of Paradise. This is the story of the Serpent, of the Devil, and of the Fall. This is not based on the first book of Moses, however, but on the Islamic version which was written by Jarir-at-Tabari in Baghdad in the 9th century.

For five hundred years Adam and Eve had lived in Paradise. And for five hundred years Iblis, the great Satan, had been trying to get in.

It is the angel Ridwan who stands guard outside the garden, and the first image of the book is of his clenched fist and flaming sword.

Trying to figure out a way to sneak in, Iblis tricks the serpent, promising to tell her the three magic words which will save all who hear them from illness, old age and death. The serpent - both beautiful and vain - allows Iblis to shrink to the size of a speck of dust and sit himself "between her teeth, making them poisonous for eternity."

From this perch, Iblis can then speak as the serpent, and is thus able to address Eve incognito.

"Dearest serpent, in this garden of God, have we not all that can be desired?"
"It would seem so. But are you not troubled that the noblest fruit of the garden is denied you by God?"

He goes on to tell her that the fruit gives eternal youth and health. Eve is indeed curious.

"How do you know this?"
"An angel told me as I lay under the forbidden tree."
"I must see this angel!"

Iblis is a master shapeshifter. In a moment, he has flown out from the serpent's mouth and transformed into "a perfect young man with wings like clouds."

"I am a man made into an angel," Iblis told her. "I become an angel by eating the fruit that God has denied us. I was near death, ill and infirm. I ate and lo, you see me a thousand years later."

Eve needs no more convincing. She takes and she eats. She gives to Adam and he eats.

It is not clear why the fruit is forbidden. There is no mention of "the Knowledge Between Good and Evil," which I always found to be one of the most compelling aspects of the Biblical story. Neither is there any mention of Adam and Eve suddenly realizing their nakedness and attempting to cover themselves.

At that moment, the tree comes to terrifyingly life. Young spreads it out over two pages, the terrible, twisting branches of that hideously overgrown tree, like a hundred dark snakes, the form of the humans writhing from within, trying to escape. This is the manifestation of God, and He is not pleased.

"Depart from Paradise, thou Adam, thy wife, Eve, and the animals that led ye into disobeying my command."

It is now, at God's command, that leaves are given to Eve and Adam, and they are expelled. It seems a slight distinction, but I'm certain in the Biblical version they fashion the fig leaves before God comes to find them.

Adam is banished to the island of Serendib, which is now - Oppenheim tells us - present-day Sri Lanka. Eve finds herself exiled in Jeddah. I'm trying to figure out how they went on to produce the human race between them if God sent them to opposite ends of the bus like this.

And Iblis - the star of the book - is flung into the River Eila, which flows into Hell. We see him, screaming, now transformed into his true form, falling into the roaring flame of eternal hellfire.

And they all lived eternally cursed ever after!


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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