In a time of terrible drought, even a good hunter like Hai Li Bu cannot find enough food. One day he rescues a small snake from a crane. She is the daughter of the Dragon King of the Sea, who wants to reward the hunter. All Hai Li Bu asks for is the ability to understand animals, so he can find food for the village. But he must never reveal his secret or he will be turned to stone. All prosper from his gift. But when he learns from the animals that a terrible flood is coming, the only way he can convince the villagers to listen is to sacrifice himself by revealing his secret. The traditional folktale concludes that now the villagers "listen to every person." Young's compelling double-page images, seemingly brushed black lines on warm, brown-toned paper, retain the energy of their generation. Several zigzag strokes create a distant village; thicker brush stokes stretched across the empty page become the attacking cranes. Emotions roll as we turn the pages to absorb the visual story. Small, red, calligraphy rectangles are added, one per page. A glossary translates them, so we can see that they also tell the story in extremely succinct shorthand. The three narrative modes further enrich the fable. 2000, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The Hunter is a Chinese folktale that Mary Casanova first heard from a foreign exchange student staying in her home. It is the story of Hai Li Bu, a hunter whose small village is suffering from a severe drought. Hai Li Bu desperately seeks food for the starving villagers, who have not only grown weak from hunger, but have begun to argue among themselves and have ceased to listen to one another. While searching for food, the hunter rescues a small snake from an attacking crane. The snake turns out to be the daughter of the Dragon King who offers to reward the hunter by fulfilling a wish. Hai Li Bu, in his typically selfless fashion, asks for the gift of understanding the language of the animals. His wish is granted with the condition that he must never tell anyone about it lest he be turned to stone. With his new abilities, Hai Li Bu provides handsomely for the needs of the villagers and all are restored to health and happiness. However, one day the hunter learns from the animals that heavy rains are coming that will bring a devastating flood to the village. But when Hai Li Bu tries to warn the villagers to abandon their homes, they refuse to believe him. Hai Li Bu is now faced with the most difficult of choices. If he does not reveal how he learned of the flood, the villagers will not leave and they will die. If he does reveal the information, he will die. True to his nature, he reveals the secret and, as the villagers watch in sorrow, he turns to stone. When the villagers return to the ruins after the flood, they recover the stone body of their hero and carry it to the mountaintop to stand as a reminder that they must always take time to listen to one another. Casanova has retold thestory in clear and simple language, avoiding heavy-handed didacticism. The illustrations by Caldecott-Award winning artist and native of China, Ed Young, are done in pastel and gouache. The colors are subdued, suitably capturing the bittersweet mood of the tale. The drawings on a cinnamon-colored background are expressionistic rather than representational; often a page will contain only the outline of a figure and the perspective varies from page to page, heightening the dramatic effect. Young includes numerous Chinese elements, including Chinese written characters on each page, representing an idea specific to concepts presented on the page. The union of a moving and simply told tale and subtly evocative illustrations make this an especially beautiful picture bookone that deserves to be treasured. 2000, Atheneum, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: David Russell The Five Owls, March/April 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 4)
K-Gr 3-Hai Li Bu, a hunter from a drought-stricken village in mythic China, rescues a small pearly snake from the beak of a crane. The snake tells the young man that she is the daughter of the Dragon King of the Sea, and takes him to visit her father's undersea palace. When the Dragon King tries to reward him with fabulous jewels, Hai Li Bu asks only to understand the language of animals, so that he may provide more food for the starving inhabitants of his village. The Dragon King complies, but on the condition that Hai Li Bu must not reveal his secret, or he will turn to stone. Hai Li Bu restores his famished community to health, but when the animals warn him of an approaching flood, the hunter cannot convince the villagers to leave their homes without exposing his source of information. The tale of his sacrifice is well told in measured, poetic prose, unified by repeating word patterns. Young's spare calligraphic illustrations, ink against a muted golden-brown background that recalls old silk, are more suggestive than representational. Pastels add touches of color to art steeped in the tradition of Chinese brush painting. While sophisticated, the artwork is accessible and perfectly suited to the tale. A red seal appears in the corner of each double-page spread. The ancient characters within each one, all translated below the source note, comment on the story while reminding readers of its original language. A handsome addition to any folktale collection.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
In this spare retelling of a Chinese folk tale, a hunter receives a wonderful gift that ultimately costs him his life. When Hai Li Bu rescues a small snake who turns out to be the daughter of the Dragon King of the Sea, her grateful father gives the young hunter the ability to understand the language of animalswith a warning that he will turn to stone if he ever reveals his secret. One day the animals herald the approach of a devastating storm. Hai Li Bu is unable to convince the local villagers to flee until, at last, he resolutely tells his story, turning to stone bit by bit before their horrified eyes. Against almost featureless flecked backgrounds in which warm, subtly modulated browns are the dominant colors, Young (A Pup Just For Me/A Boy Just For Me, 1999, etc.) places figures formed by strong, economically brushed outlines; their placement opens up great depth and space in each scene, and both the dragon's spiky hugeness and Hai Li Bu's quiet heroism are clear to see. A Chinese ideogram or two in the bottom corner of each spread adds a thematic caption, explained in a key. After the catastrophe, the chastened villagers return to rebuild, erect Hai Li Bu as his own monument, and forever after are careful to "listen to every person, even the youngest child." As much about the changing character of Hai Li Bu's community as about his own selflessness, this multilayered tale will leave readers moved and thoughtful. (Picture book/folk tale. 7-10)