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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #29 (July 17, 2007), page 20.

Folktales retold with a light touch

Chinese Fables Remembered

As told by Miwa Kurita

Illustrated by Saoko Mitsukuri

Edited by Miyoko Matsutani

Heian, 2006

Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95

By Josephine Bridges

The second book in Heianís new Asian Folktales Retold series, Chinese Fables Remembered, is a fitting companion to its predecessor, China Tells How the World Began. Two stories of comparison and contrast ó the first between two brothers, the second between two roosters ó are themselves worthy of comparing and contrasting, a fine exercise for young readers.

In the first story, "The Brothers and the Birds," a greedy elder brother and a kindhearted younger brother live together until the elder brother evicts the younger, which turns out to be a blessing in disguise. When the younger brother decides to cut down a tree outside his former residence, sell the wood, and buy food with the proceeds, a bird nesting there offers to show him "a land overflowing with gold," if only he will spare the tree. The younger brother is happy to oblige, and hops on the backs of several birds who transport him to the land where he fills his shoes with gold. "Thatís plenty," he says, and indeed it is. He builds himself a beautiful home, and finds "a bride as kindhearted as he was." When the older brother wants to know how all this came to be, the younger brother tells him about the birds. Miwa Kurita likes to involve her readers in these stories, and when the older brother tells the bird, "Hurry up, and show me where the gold is," she asks, "He wasnít very polite, was he?" Her deft touch, coupled with the elder brotherís tragic, if appropriate, fate, may well encourage good manners in some young readers.

"The Two Rooster Friends" is a far more lighthearted tale of a golden rooster who is impressed with the abilities of the other creatures around him, and a purple rooster who thinks he can do everything just as well, if not better. The golden rooster comforts the purple rooster when things donít work out quite as easily as he thought they were going to, and even rescues his ungrateful friend on a couple of occasions. And just as in real life, the purple rooster learns a lesson, but itís probably the wrong lesson.

Saoko Mitsukuriís ingenuous and frequently humorous illustrations are just the right accompaniment to these folktales retold with a light touch. A note following the stories explains that "The Asian Folktales Retold series was created to capture the spirit of Asian folktales and give them new life, showing children how these stories help us both evaluate the modern world and connect with a rich cultural past." Itís a worthy goal, and Miwa Kurita and Saoko Mitsukuri have achieved it.


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