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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #1 (January 2, 2007), page 15.
The peasant girl and the great painter
Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin
In 1906 His Royal Highness King Sisowath gathered his Khmer kingdom’s finest musicians and most delicate dancers and set sail with them for an official palace visit to France and a number of overseas French possessions. During its tour of the colonial steward’s homeland, the King’s entourage met the great painter and sculptor Auguste Rodin. It appears Monsieur Rodin was taken by three of His Highness’s court dancers: Sap, Soun, and Yem. This is historical fact.
The Master’s acclaimed sketches, washed with exuberant watercolor, are today on exhibit at the Museé Rodin in Paris. So moved was Monsieur Rodin by the almond-eyed girls’ disciplined elegance that his diary reports: "When they left, everything went cold and dark. I thought that they had taken the beauty of the world away with them."
Okay, a bit of an overstatement by over-stimulated 21st-century mall cinema standards, but a solid premise for a children’s story beginning humbly for a little girl named Sap from a small Khampou village outside Phnom Penh. Sap starts her palace studies super self-conscious of her sun-dark skin. She tries as hard to bend her back and hold her balance as she does to hide her dirty fingernails.
When the big day for selecting the Royal travelling troupe finally arrives, "Princess Soumphady came over to watch her stance and feel her muscles. Work in the fields had made Little Sap strong. The Princess pointed and helpers hustled Little Sap into the group of moon-faced girls. Little Sap had won a place in the dance troupe!"
Little Sap journeys West; reader and attentive little listeners learn about hard work and persistence and making dreams come true. Author Michelle Lord also teaches us some basics about traditional Khmer culture. It’s all a terrific trip.
Publisher Lee & Low Books is known for its commitment to multicultural children’s books. With Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, it combines Ms. Lord’s gently adventurous tale with illustrator Felicia Hoshino’s at-once simple and intense full-page pictures.
In the end, this a story and picture book all about a picture — a famous picture of a humble country girl who gets to see herself as a great man sees her. As a wondrous apsara, just like those carved lyrical spirits dancing around stone palace walls.
For further information about Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, on the author and illustrator, as well as other children’s titles published by Lee & Low, visit <www.leeandlow.com>.