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I bought this after reading and loving the authors previous book, The Water Dragon. I was hoping there might be a dragon in this as well, as the blurb mentions the little monkey meeting the Dragon King. Sadly there isn't really a dragon, at least not one that looks like a dragon, but I am still very happy to have bought this book.
Before having children I read everything possible on parenting. One of the recommendations I remember reading was to expose children to books, games, and toys from other cultures. According to some studies, children who grow up listening to stories from other cultures, and playing with dolls of more than one ethnicity are less inclined to prejudice and intolerance of others. Personally I think there is probably more correlation than causation here. I think parents who go out of their way to expose their children to other cultures are probably less likely to be teach their children hatred, and I think hatred is most often learned at home. Still, it seemed like one of those ideas that could do no harm, and with home education, I felt learning about other cultures was important, so I have tried to collect some good stories from other parts of the world. But beyond all the educational and philosophical reasons for buying these books - I discovered something else as well. Many of these stories are truly magical. They do have qualities about them that make them different from what we read everyday. Perhaps it is just a different view of the world, but the illustrations are almost heartbreakingly beautiful, the story has a charm and magic to it, and there is something very unique about this book, at least from a western perspective.
This book is told in both English and Chinese. Of course I can not read the Chinese and neither can my sons, but I think there is still some value in them seeing the way other people read and write, and the writing itself is interesting to look at. When trying to find out more about this book I remember reading one review or statement that said this would prepare your child for the global market place by learning another language. Quite frankly I can not see any child learning either Chinese or English from a book like this. Yes it would be grand if they were taking lessons in either language, but this is not going to teach your child Chinese. We can't even tell which words go to which character. My sons asked me how I knew the Chinese text is really the same story. Of course I do not, they could have printed anything and I would not know the difference, but considering it's credentials I will have to believe it is accurately translated. The book was originally published in China and was edited and designed by the Editorial Committee of Cultural China.
Apparently, the Monkey King is a common hero in Chinese folk tales. This story however is about before he becomes king, when he is just Little Monkey. Little Monkey was not born like other monkeys - instead he sprang out of a monkey shaped rock which was split open by the sea. I couldn't help thinking of a Japanese Folk Tale Momotoro the Peach Boy, and wondering if perhaps the people in that part of the world are as squeamish about discussing the facts of life with children as I am. But although the little monkey is an orphan - he is fortunate. The Old Monkey King adopts him and raises him as own, but when his adoptive father is hurt and near death, little monkey must undertake a heroic journey to save him. He will encounter many dangers and hardships along the way, but seeing his bravery and determination, and knowing that he acts to help another , the immortals along the way help and guide him. He meets the Immortal Turtle, the Phoenixes and the Dragon King, each of whom teach him or give him a magic power. Will his strength and courage be enough to save the old monkey king?
There is a strong sense of reverence for his parent, which I have found common in folk tales from this part of the world, where the hero always treats the elderly with great respect. There is also a sense of paradise being found, not by seeking glory or riches, but by seeking to help others. The hero is not especially large or powerful, nor is he even completely brave, but he perseveres because of his desire to to help another. But, while there is a very strong moral to this story, it does not come across as preachy or intended only to educate. This is just a story to be enjoyed. My son loved the Little Monkey, and the story as whole. He loved the animals the monkey met as well. The Dragon King does not look at all like a dragon, but I told my son he was a magic dragon and most likely took a shape that would not frighten little monkey. Yes, my son agreed, that must be it, because the two legged dragon looked very much like a monkey except for the face.
I absolutely loved the artwork in this book. The pictures are so beautiful that they stay with you long after you have finished reading and even my 4 year old commented on what a beautiful place the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits was. This style of art is very different from what we would normally see in children's books and this gives it a magic all it's own. I have so many children's books, and many of them have beautiful illustrations but this does stand out as among the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen, Each tree has so much character it looks as if it is really alive. The fruits on the trees appear to be peaches. I don't even like peaches myself, but they look so delicious you wish you could reach out and pluck one. The pictures are full and vibrant but never overly busy or cluttered. There is just a serene beauty to most of them, although the scene becomes more grey and somber as the Monkey King Lies ill. I have seen the ocean painted so many times before, but never quite like this. I especially liked the pair of cranes as well. The expressions are also captured perfectly, including joy and sorrow, wisdom and kindness. There is nothing I could fault the artist on, he has created a vision of paradise with a brush and paints.
Reading this book leaves the reader with a sense of calmness and peace, something many of need more of in this busy age. I would recommend this book very strongly as a bedtime story. It is the prefect book to calm and quiet a child before bed. But while I know this book is not intended for adults, I would recommend it anyway - to anyone who could use a little joy, beauty and peace in their lives.
This book is expensive. New copies sell for £12.69 from Amazon but the Book Depository has it for £9.12. Both prices include free delivery. A used copy, from the USA will cost you more than buying a new book from the Book Depository or Amazon Marketplace. I very rarely spend this much on a book, but in this case it was well worth it. This is a hardback book with good thick pages, and the artwork is so stunningly beautiful that this is real pleasure to read. My son was delighted with this well, it is the type of book that a child will truly cherish - and this is another one that will stay on my shelves long after the children outgrow it. Reading this book is akin to meditation, or walking in a beautiful garden. The beauty of the illustrations has already found it's way into my sons "make up" stories, where the islands of dinosaurs and dragons now have the same beautiful trees and mountains and this book. I could also see the wonder on his face as he carefully turned the pages, caught up in the illustrations, as if he were able to glimpse into another world. The price is not bad at all when one considers what a thing of beauty of this is.