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WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS. Ed Young’s Beyond the Great Mountains is the size and shape of a children’s book and contains illustrations commonly thought to accompany children’s literature, but is rightly described as a book for all ages.
From The Asian Reporter, V17, #5 (January 30, 2007), page 20.
Rock of wonder, precious stone
Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem About China
By Ed Young
Chronicle Books, 2005
Hardcover, 30 pages, $17.95
By Josephine Bridges
Here in its entirety is the text of Ed Young’s latest magnificent addition to children’s literature:
Beyond the great mountains,
far to the east, a vast fertile plain.
In its sky, mist rose and fell, rain water gathering, river cascading
down cliffs and boulders, through valleys into fields.
As sun, moon kept watch, earth gave birth
to sprouts above, metal below,
trees of hanging grains, corn, wheat, millet and rice.
In winter’s ice, summer’s fire, more plants flourished.
One of drooping leaves, bamboo; of even-rowed, leek;
another of sprawling vines, squash; of fuzzy stems, hemp.
To the west, where birds roost, a rock of wonder, salt, was found.
To the south, rice fermented into wine.
A precious stone embraced heaven and earth, jade.
This was Middle Empire, China.
Beyond the Great Mountains is written in the sparest of language, and yet it is an absolutely sumptuous book. Young’s paper collages of landscapes, weather, celestial bodies, plants, birds, and minerals illustrate the author’s homage to the country of his birth. "Seal-style" Chinese characters, used in 500 B.C.E., link pictures and words. A chart comparing ancient and modern Chinese characters, many of which are very similar even after 2,500 years, brings this book to a close.
Ed Young, illustrator of more than 80 children’s books, some of which he also wrote, was born in Tientsin, China, grew up in Shanghai, and then moved first to Hong Kong and later to the United States, where he lives, to our good fortune, today.
Twenty years in the making, Beyond the Great Mountains originated at a workshop on Chinese brushwork and calligraphy. "Since I wasn’t prepared to do a demonstration," the author explains, "I made a spontaneous poem on a roll of paper towels from a washroom in sumi brush and ink." Asked if Beyond the Great Mountains is his favorite of all his books, Ed Young answered that it is, "for now. And I don’t say that about every book."
While Beyond the Great Mountains is the size and shape of a children’s book, and while it contains illustrations, which are commonly thought to accompany children’s literature, Chronicle Books rightly describes the audience for this significant achievement as "All Ages."
Whatever you are doing, stop right now. Go to your favorite bookstore and buy Beyond the Great Mountains, one copy for yourself, and one for someone you love. Let’s make them reprint this marvel hundreds of times.