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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #11 (March 13, 2007), page 16.
An auspicious start
China Tells How the World Began!
As told by Miwa Kurita
Illustrated by Saoko Mitsukuri
Edited by Miyoko Matsutani
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95
By Josephine Bridges
Along, long time ago, the universe was nothing more than a soupy mush — can you imagine?" So begins the first of two Chinese folktales as told here by Miwa Kurita, who was born in Jilin, China, and took with her many folktales from her native land when she moved to Japan 16 years later. She’s a good storyteller, constantly engaging her readers’ participation with questions, and China Tells How the World Began! is well worth reading either to oneself or aloud to younger readers.
"How the World Began" takes place over millions of years, yet the story never drags. Readers are likely to find themselves feeling a strange sympathy for the story’s only character, a god who wakes up to find his surroundings "pitch black and slimy," and inadvertently creates our seven continents by trying to escape the goo. After that, however, the god begins to work very hard holding the heavens up and the earth down. The tired god eventually dies, but features of our world such as the wind, the sun, and the rivers have their source in him.
The second tale, "Why Cats Hate Rats," is a humorous contrast to the first poignant story. "Once upon a time," it begins, "people had no way of remembering what year it was." The gods’ suggestion, "We could choose twelve kinds of animals and use one as a symbol for each year," meets with the people’s approval, and it is decided that these twelve positions of honor will be given to the first twelve animals to cross a river. Back in those days, cat and rat were friends. "Is that hard to believe?" asks the author. "It’s true. But there was one problem: neither one could swim." The rest is an irresistible tale of how trust and kindness can be repaid with treachery.
Saoko Mitsukuri’s illustrations, particularly in "Why Cats Hate Rats," are bright and bold, and provide lots of starting points for conversation about these stories. Refreshingly, Miwa Kurita avoids obvious morals and encourages young readers to think for themselves with her retelling of these two folktales.
The Asian Folktales Retold series, which will eventually include stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, and Korea, is off to an auspicious start with China Tells How the World Began!