The Master Swordsman and the Magic Doorway

The Master Swordsman and the Magic Doorway

by Alice Provensen

Little Chu wants to defend his family and protect the village from bandits. He apprentices with Master Li, the greatest teacher of the sword in all of China — and finds that having the skill means he'll never have to use it.

When the Emperor sees Mu Chi's magnificent mural, he decrees that the painter's reward shall be death. After all, no one but the


Little Chu wants to defend his family and protect the village from bandits. He apprentices with Master Li, the greatest teacher of the sword in all of China — and finds that having the skill means he'll never have to use it.

When the Emperor sees Mu Chi's magnificent mural, he decrees that the painter's reward shall be death. After all, no one but the Emperor should own such a perfect painting. Wielding the power of art, Mu Chi is able to find a way out of his dilemma.

These two stories about masters of their arts are retold and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Alice Provensen, a master artist in her own right. Readers and listeners will be enchanted by the humor and irrepressible spirit with which these characters take on obstacles and triumph over them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Two inspiring tales of paradox from the Middle Kingdom captivate Caldecott winner Provensen (The Glorious Flight; A Visit to William Blake's Inn). In the first, the Master, who maintains that he no longer teaches, trains his apprentice Little Chu in an unorthodox way to develop the lightning instincts that will make the boy an extraordinary swordsman. In exquisitely timed painted panels, Provensen chronicles the boy's improving skills until one day Little Chu successfully dodges the Master's sword and the man bequeaths to him the weapon and releases him from service ("You will never need to draw it. No enemy can touch you. Use the sword to chop cabbage"). In the second tale, a greedy emperor commissions a great wall painting by Mu Chi, then plots to behead him so that the artist can never top his work for the emperor. But the painter outsmarts the ruler. Taken together, the tales contrast the outcome of generosity versus parsimony. Both the action-packed panels in the first story and the spreads in the second contain traditional Chinese motifs; the paintings never lose their simplicity of line and narrative clarity. Oil painting on cream-colored vellum and calligraphy-like type add to the feeling of ageless calm. These magic tales with impeccable visual pacing prove once again that Provensen is a master storyteller and a consummate artist. Ages 5-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Little Chu, tired of the bandits who sweep regularly down on his village, asks Master Li, the great teacher, to teach him the sword. Instead, he is told only to help, and he is constantly the target of thrown objects. Finally, he has learned to dodge all blows. He can use a sword to prepare meals, for no one dares to challenge him. Mu Chi, the greatest painter of ancient China, is recruited to paint a wall mural for the emperor. It is so wonderful that the emperor does not want him to ever paint another. As he finishes the painting, the clever artist figures out a way to avoid the death the emperor has decreed for him. Provensen's colored oil on vellum illustrations on a creamy, textured ground suggest ancient Chinese scrolls;black lines provide definition of forms, with colors for naturalistic context. All is created with a charmingly deceptive simplicity giving substantive character to the simple but engaging text. No precise sources are given for the tales. 2001, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer:Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-A distinguished illustrator uses the China she imagines as a setting for two philosophical fantasies. Though the stories are described as "legends from ancient China- retold," the CIP information is more accurate, categorizing the book as fiction rather than folklore. In the first story, a small boy from a village beset by bandits travels far to apprentice himself to a master swordsman. After two years of dodging talking objects like jugs and teapots, Little Chu learns to be attentive and alert, to anticipate danger. Master Li then presents him with his great sword and tells him to use it to chop cabbage. The bandits are so daunted by his skillful chopping of vegetables that they leave the village in peace. The second story concerns the conflict between a great painter and a greedy, cruel emperor. Commissioned to fill a huge, blank wall, the artist spends years painting a mural, knowing that the jealous emperor will kill him when he is finished. His solution to the problem, while echoing many Chinese stories about a picture coming to life, is not a traditional one. Although Provensen tells a good story in crisp, dramatic sentences, her stock characters engage in overly formal dialogue and have been placed in whimsical situations that exist only in the Western imagination. Her art pays respectful homage to Chinese narrative hand scrolls, and her sense of composition, color, and narrative flow are products of her distinguished career. Nonetheless, Emily Arnold McCully's Beautiful Warrior (Scholastic, 1998) and Molly Bang's Tye May and the Magic Brush (Morrow, 1992) are more authentic and accurate depictions of China.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
There's an audacious quality to Caldecott Honor-winning Provensen's (A Visit to William Blake's Inn, 1981) work, never more so than here, where she yokes together two Chinese stories, and uses Chinese painting as the inspiration for her oil on vellum images. There's luminosity in both the glow of the art, and in the purity of the telling. In the first tale, Little Chu's desperately poor village is beset by bandits, so he seeks to learn swordsmanship from the great Master Li. Master Li's stewpot, water jug, and log all have lessons for Little Chu, and he learns them painfully. In the end, though, he masters the sword so well that he needs it only to chop cabbage, and brings prosperity to his village by wielding the famous sword to prepare meals. The Magic Doorway teaches likewise. The emperor is so taken with the magnificent painting Mu Chi is making on the palace wall that he wishes to have the artist put to death when he finishes, so no one else will have so great a work. But Mu Chi, who could make deer leap in his painted canyons and rabbits nibble the grass, paints a blue door, and then escapes through it: "I have some more paintings to make, and I cannot make them without a head," he tells the emperor. The elegant precision of both prose and painting will speak to young readers, bringing home complicated lessons about freedom, choice, and preparedness. (Folktale. 7-10)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
11.20(w) x 8.76(h) x 0.42(d)
450L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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