Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: The Jade Stone

A Chinese Folktale adapted by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen. Pelican Publishing Company, 2005. (first published by Holiday House, 1992) In the back of this picture book is a word from the author Caryn Yacowitz. She explains that the story was heard by a merchant named A. L. Gump on a trip to Beijing in 1917. He told the story to his son Richard, who put it in a book titled Jade, Stone of Heaven, an expository study of jade. Yacowitz was so entranced by the story she decided to do a retelling. The illustrator of this volume is Ju-Hong Chen, an artist who was born in Shanghai and has lived in America since 1982. He has illustrated several other children's books.

"Long ago in China there lived a stone carver named Chan Lo. Chan Lo spent his days carving birds and deer and water buffalo from the colored stones he found near the river.
"How do you know what to carve?" his young apprentice asked.
"I always listen to the stone," replied Chan Lo. "The stone tells me what it wants to be."

So opens the story of Chan Lo. His skill reaches the ear of the Emperor of All China, and when the Emperor is given a gift of a perfect piece of green-and-white jade stone Chan Lo is summoned to carve it. The Emperor demands a dragon of wind and fire to be carved. Chan Lo promises to do his best. However, as he listens to the stone, what he hears are water sounds, not dragon sounds. What is he to do? The Emperor will not be satisfied unless he carves a dragon. But he can not go against what he hears from the stone.
"Chan Lo could not carve what he did not hear, but he was afraid to disobey the emperor. His fear weighed heavy in him like a great stone as he picked up his tools and began to carve. He worked slowly and carefully for a year and a day."

Chan Lo is true to his vision and to what he hears from the stone. The Emperor is angry at first, but in the end he is won over by the loveliness of the stone itself in it's true form. Pacing his garden in the moonlight he hears the stone singing its water song and he realizes the wisdom of the jade carver, who is rewarded instead of punished. This is a fine story for children and adults struggling with questions of how to become their truest selves and use their gifts to the best expression. Use it to teach the Quaker testimonies (SPICES) of integrity and service.

The artwork in the book is beautiful ink and watercolor painting on handmade rice paper. Each character in the story is illustrated uniquely and identified on the title page and frontispiece, from the Third Imperial Adviser to the Horse Master and Spectators. The facial expressions and delicate details of their clothing are complimented by Chinese character "chops" labeling them through out the story. In close examination the depth of the landscape become continually revealing, but in a large group read-aloud some of the details will be missed.

The story is adapted into a children's play in the book Enter The Dragon by Leslie Li.


Caryn Yacowitz said...

Thank you for your lovely review of my book The Jade Stone!
I also appreciate the Quaker values you suggest it teaches.
Best regards,
Caryn Yacowitz

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)