Ed Young's Lon Po Po
A Red-Riding Hood Story from China
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
From a Chinese folktale: These girls can handle themselves with wolves!
Ed Young grew up in Shanghai, and it is thanks to that heritage that he can bring us this Caldecott Medal winning version of Lon Po Po.
Three girls - Shang, Tao and Paotze - are left alone by their mother, who is going to visit their grandmother for her birthday. So it comes as quite the surprise when Grandma comes to their door.
My little jewels...this is your grandmother, your Po Po.
Well, no. No, it isn't. It's the old, neighborhood wolf. When he gains access, he blows out the candles before the girls can see him.
Now, like all good fairy tale villains, this wolf knows how to draw things out. And besides, he's old. Rather than eat the children right away, he'd really like to get some shut-eye.
The three girls and Wolf-Grandma all share a bed. And it's there that the girls start noticing that Grandmother doesn't feel all that Grandmother-like. It's the oldest, Shang, who figures out what's up first. But she doesn't let on. She knows she needs to lure the wolf away from her siblings.
Fortunately, she's smarter than the wolf. Next thing you know, she and the littler girls are up a tree that the wolf can't climb.
Then they go on offense.
Three girls vanquishing a wolf; you don't get more empowering than that!
Ed Young's watercolors and pastels are the real star of this story, evoking dark danger in their richness and honoring ancient Chinese panel art at the same time. He presents a gather-around-the-campfire good ghost story, with a live-to-see-the-light-of-day ending.
(Young later illustrated Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China, reviewed on this site.)
The obvious similarities between Lon Po Po and Little Red-Riding Hood have made it popular with teachers for stimulating early classroom discussions about comparative literature.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China is probably not the perfect book for those prone to nightmares, but for kids who treasure a little thrill, it's a great read.
And for little girls who see like to see themselves as powerful and capable, you couldn't do better!
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