The Dinner that Cooked Itself
J.C.Hsyu and Kenard Pak
Flying Eye Books
This elegant retelling of a Chinese folktale (no source is given) centres on Tuan, a hardworking young man orphaned as a child and brought up by kindly neighbours. When he comes of age, the couple seeks the services of a matchmaker for Tuan. The first suggestion has an unsuitable animal symbol, the second has a clashing elemental sign, the third seems promising but her parents reject Tuan for being too poor.
A lonely Tuan continues working hard and one evening when out picking cabbages he comes upon a large snail. The kindly young man sees this as a sign of good fortune and takes it home to care for. Indeed his luck does then take a turn for the better. The next night and for several thereafter, he returns home from work to discover a delicious meal awaiting him on the table.
Curious as to who is doing him such kindness Tuan resolves to discover the identity of the cook. Coming home earlier the next evening, he sees something most curious: from the snail’s jar emerges a beautiful woman ‘in long silk robes that flowed like water’. She tells Tuan that she’s a fairy sent by the Lord of Heaven to care for him until he marries and to whom she must now return as she cannot be seen in her true form by a mortal.
However, she leaves behind her shell and that never runs out of rice, so Tuan always has food. He does eventually find a wife and the couple live happily together in true folktale fashion.
Pak chooses a palette of muted, predominantly earthy tones
to create the mixed-media illustrations for this unusual story, which is told in an appropriately direct manner as befits a traditional tale. Interestingly he gives all characters an angular jaw structure,
which reminds me of the calligraphic strokes shown on the final double spread and this makes them stand out in stark contrast to the fluidity of elements portrayed in some of the scenes.
Keep Running, Gingerbread Man
Steve Smallman and Neil Price
Billed as a story about keeping active, this version has the Gingerbread Man running away from his makers, the little old man and woman, (good to hear they were both involved) dashing from the clutches of various animals as he chants his well known ‘Run, run as fast as you can … “ refrain until he encounters a fox. This vulpine character is a keep-fit enthusiast, which enables him to keep up with the escapee
and of course he is more than happy to give the little fellow a lift across the river. The tricky hitchhiker however, manages to make his escape (this time) leaving his breathless pursuers participating in a keep-fit class, led, of course, by that fitness-fanatic fox.
This is a fun twist on the tale vividly and amusingly illustrated by Neil Price. The healthy lifestyle message is clearly evident visually and verbally within the narrative so why the need for the ‘Next Steps’ page at the back of the book. Wearing my teacher’s hat I found the suggestions unnecessary and condescending. Undoubtedly though, the book would be a good starting point for discussions about watching one’s weight and keeping physically fit; I’m all for stories across the curriculum.
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