I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told

I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told

by Jeanne M. Lee
     
 

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A colorful introduction to Buddhist fables

A monkey, caught in a monsoon, finds shelter in a cave amid the rubble of a temple. The monkey is not alone. A lion, a jackal, a turtle, and a dove bicker in the cramped space, until a statue of Buddha comes to life. "Hush, children, hush." Buddha says. "I will tell you a story to pass the time." From the tale of

Overview

A colorful introduction to Buddhist fables

A monkey, caught in a monsoon, finds shelter in a cave amid the rubble of a temple. The monkey is not alone. A lion, a jackal, a turtle, and a dove bicker in the cramped space, until a statue of Buddha comes to life. "Hush, children, hush." Buddha says. "I will tell you a story to pass the time." From the tale of the clever monkey outwidding a hungry crocodile to that of a bird and turtle rescuing a friend, the six amusing parables told by the Buddha will introduce young readers to the famous cycle of fables in Buddhist literature known as the Jatakas, or birth stories, which Buddha originally told to his disciples to illustrate his teachings. Joined with stunning linocut illustrations, Jeanne M. Lee's retellings form a book notable for both its beauty and its wisdom.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In a sort of story-within-a-story form, Lee presents six short Jatakas, or 'birth stories,' drawn from Buddhist literature...The appealing character of the monkey will pull children into the tales, which convey lessons in a direct yet gentle way that is never preachy. The accompanying linocut illustrations are lovely.” —Booklist
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A monkey that takes refuge in the ruins of Buddha's temple during a monsoon sets the stage for these finely honed retellings of six Jatakas, or birth stories. As the monkey's eyes adjust to the light, he discovers he is in the company of a lion, turtle, jackal and dove, and a statue of "the Enlightened One" begins to speak. In each tale, Buddha assumes a different shape to impart his message of peace, attentiveness, tolerance and respect. Lee (The Song of Mu Lan) effortlessly and subtly weaves Buddhist practices and principles into her evenly paced tales. Each story is a study in brevity and restraint yet, like Buddha, conveys enormous empathy. For instance, after a heron, in a deceptive ploy, consumes all the fish in a lake, a crab outwits him then makes his way back to the water, "weeping all the while for his lost friends." Lee draws the frame story in black-and-white, with Buddha in teaching posture and the animals listening attentively. The full-color illustrations for each Jataka combine the strength of woodcuts and the fluidity of Chinese silk painting, with their serene landscapes in soft colors and confident black lines; the full-spread illustration of a lion heading off a stampede of animals bound for danger is especially moving. Fans of Aesop's fables and the Just So Stories will likely find these characters equally as compelling, while others will discover a gentle and graceful introduction to Buddhism here. Ages 5-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Lee, who brought us The Song of Mu Lan long before Disney, has now collected and retold six Jataka tales in this dramatically illustrated volume. The frame tale of a monkey getting lost in a cave, and finding conflict and dissent among the animals there-until a statue of the Buddha comes to life and relates the tales that follow. Some, like the story of the deceitful heron, are well known in many variants. Others are more obscure, and Lee retells them simply and directly, with an eye to her young audience. An afterward provides brief background on the life of Gautama Buddha, and notes sources.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-A group of animals, sheltering in a cave from the fierce monsoon rains, hears a small statue of Buddha speak. The six stories he tells calm the beasts and teach them wisdom. Chosen from the hundreds of ancient Jataka tales, the selections are, like many of Aesop's fables, gems of moral philosophy. Lee's retellings not only encapsulate some of the teachings of Buddhism, but also suggest the centrality of Buddha in that religion. Each selection begins with a different incarnation of the Buddha: "I was then a willow tree..."; "I once was a monkey..."; "Long ago, I was born a golden antelope...." The smoothly flowing text shares each page with a bold block print, some in black and white and some with subtle colorings. Both words and pictures are arranged for reading aloud and invite comparison with other beast tales and discussions of Buddhist teachings. Like Demi's Buddha Stories (Holt, 1997), which shares only one tale with Lee's book, these stories will enrich collections of folk literature and parables from the world's religions.-Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A book of the basic teachings of Buddha, presented through a collection of six classic, simple tales. When a monkey takes refuge from a monsoon in a cave, he happens upon a group of bickering animals—a monkey, lion, turtle, jackal, and dove. Before the fighting becomes too fierce, a small statue of Buddha begins to glow in the darkest corner. To pass the time—and to stop the fighting—wise Buddha spins enlightening stories of tolerance, endurance, sagacity, truthfulness, kindness, and clarity. Buddha recounts his past lives in many forms—from monkey to pigeon to willow tree—to his captive listeners. Such straightforward yet profound tales combine with the art and design for an example of bookmaking that is aesthetically pleasing in every way. Color-washed linoprints cleverly distinguish the stories from the black-and-white narrative frame, while an informative afterword offers brief background detail about Buddha and these six "birth stories" known as Jatakas. (Picture book/folklore. 4-7)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374335489
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Publication date:
03/31/1999
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
40
Sales rank:
695,332
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 10.84(h) x 0.41(d)
Age Range:
5 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Jeanne M. Lee is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Song of Mu Lan and Silent Lotus. She lives in Massachusetts.

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