Monday, February 18, 2008
Lon Po Po by Ed Young
Young, Ed. 1989. Lon Po Po: A Read-Riding Hood Story From China. New York: Paperstar. ISBN: 0698113829
Similar to the classic story of Red-Riding Hood, Lon Po Po tells the tale of a wolf disguised as a grandmother, called Po Po in this Chinese tale, to trick innocent children. Set in China, Young adds a variation by having the wolf come to the children's house while the mother is gone. The three sisters become suspicious when they go to bed with Po Po, only to find her different. The girls comment that her foot has a bush on it and that her hand has thorns. Shang, the oldest daughter, figures out that Po Po is a wolf and quickly devises a plan. She and her two sisters convince the wolf that it must have gingko nuts, which can only be enjoyed by climbing the tree and plucking them out. Of course, the wolf cannot do this task and must be lifted by the girls, who proceed to drop the wolf three times, eventually killing him. They then go back to bed and sleep peacefully with a locked door as their mom requested.
The story shines on the ingenuity of a the oldest sister to protect herself and her sisters in the face of danger. Shang creates a strong female heroine, who is quick-thinking and protective of those she loves. The sisters work well together, creating the idea of teamwork as a way to defeat a common enemy. The story follows the Red-Riding story American kids have enjoyed for years, but the illustrations are what set this book apart from the American version and make it distinctively Chinese. The pictures are captivating. The dedication sets the standard high in words and picture by saying, "To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness." The words are thought-provoking but the picture is amazing. It shadows the outline of a wolf looking at the reader with the outline of a human looking to the right, mixing both man and beast. Suspense is added further by the illustrator when he only shows the shadow of the wolf when "Po Po" is at the door. The illustrations are even more startling by the illustrator's decision to depict only parts of the whole picture. For example, when the wolf is in bed with the children, Young only shows the wolf's eyes, which are brightly colored in contrast to the dark fur of the wolf. The author uses this again by showing only the rope falling from hands as the girls drop the wolf to his death. This simple showing of only part of the picture makes the actions stand out while letting the reader imagine the rest.
"The juxtaposition of abstract and realistic representations, the complicated play of color and shadow, and the depth of the artist's vision all help transform this simple fairy tale into an extraordinary and powerful book." Publishers Weekly
This book would be excellent for two classroom or library uses. First would be to expose children to other cultures. Another connection would be to use it in comparison to the version American kids know well. By reading both, students could see how cultures often have the same stories and tales with slightly different twists depending on their cultures and customs.