Books by Jeanne M. Lee

Released: April 4, 2002

A tender story about kindness and trust, with illustrations that combine elements of both East and West in their silken colors and fine line. Mei Mei's parents are dead, and her brothers, who had always been jealous of her, have abandoned her. She tries to live on her own by the sea, but one day, starving, she begs food from the gnarled old woman, Po Po, who sells shrimp-and-bitter-melon dumplings at the market. Po Po is cold and sullen, but lets Mei Mei follow her home, and soon teaches her to catch the shrimp, make the paste, and harvest and cook the melons. Eventually, Mei Mei even takes over the selling. The old woman is often in pain, however, and when Mei Mei massages her back, she tells the story of a youthful injury and hopes lost. Mei Mei sees in this a reflection of her own sorrow. Sailors from dragon ships come ashore to wrest food from the village, and a young slave sailor eats the bitter melon dumplings and finds in their strange taste a memory of his childhood. He seeks out Mei Mei, and Po Po hides them both while she scares off the sailors who come seeking the slave. Po Po offers her own wedding clothes and dowry to Mei Mei, and the last moment of the tale finds the three glimpsing a future of love and happiness for all of them. Lee's colors are like watered silk and the sea: pinks and teals, rose and turquoise, contrast with the dark accents of Mei Mei's long hair and Po Po's white locks. A fine tale told with subtlety and beauty. (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: April 8, 1999

A book of the basic teachings of Buddha, presented through a collection of six classic, simple tales. When a monkey takes refuge from a monsoon in a cave, he happens upon a group of bickering animals—a monkey, lion, turtle, jackal, and dove. Before the fighting becomes too fierce, a small statue of Buddha begins to glow in the darkest corner. To pass the time—and to stop the fighting—wise Buddha spins enlightening stories of tolerance, endurance, sagacity, truthfulness, kindness, and clarity. Buddha recounts his past lives in many forms—from monkey to pigeon to willow tree—to his captive listeners. Such straightforward yet profound tales combine with the art and design for an example of bookmaking that is aesthetically pleasing in every way. Color-washed linoprints cleverly distinguish the stories from the black-and-white narrative frame, while an informative afterword offers brief background detail about Buddha and these six "birth stories" known as Jatakas. (Picture book/folklore. 4-7) Read full book review >
THE SONG OF MU LAN by Jeanne M. Lee
Released: Sept. 15, 1995

A beautiful translation of a sixth-century Chinese folk poem about Mu Lan, a woman who spends more than a decade in the emperor's army disguised as a man and returns home a hero. The text is printed on soft-hued watercolor illustrations where milky rivers flow through hazy, beige landscapes. The figures are deliberately stilted; each detail is carefully and delicately drawncostumed soldiers and horses, banners, glowing fabrics, folded draperiesbut the artfully created panoramas won't draw readers' eyes across the pages, many of which look more or less alike, and which leave the action fairly vague. The poem is written in free verse, with the original appearing in Chinese calligraphy running down the side of each spread. Lee creates a powerful and distinctive mooda product of spare imagery, elegant repetitions, and use of the present tense to describe the distant pastthat makes for an affecting read- aloud. (Picture book/folklore. 4-9) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 20, 1993

"Drawn from the writings of Chuang Tzu [fourth century B.C.],...the Butterfly Philosopher," a tale that explicates the idea that wisdom may lie in an altogether fresh point of view. The first part of the story is somewhat confusing: "a boy...dreamed he was a butterfly, and, as a butterfly, he always dreamed he was a boy." His literally acting like a butterfly causes "trouble"—when he tries to fly above a buffalo, he lands on its back and is carried off; when he's hungry, he astonishes bystanders by sucking a flower's nectar. However, like a butterfly, he doesn't mind derisive laughter, and he has a special understanding of natural beauty—and also of an invading army (he imagines it to be a centipede) and its warlord, whom he sees as a beetle on its back (the insulted lord lets him go as "either madman or a prophet"). When lord and army perish, the Butterfly Boy is suddenly revered, "but praise meant no more to him than insults." In Lee's spare, carefully constructed paintings, figures are stylized and the butterfly's alternate visions appear in insets. Not easy or entirely successful but, still, a philosophic tale with worthy and venerable roots, certainly worthy of discussion. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
SILENT LOTUS by Jeanne M. Lee
Released: Oct. 10, 1991

Inspired by the 12th-century temple at Angkor Wat, Lee sets a tale in long-ago Kampuchea (Cambodia). Lotus is lovely, but silent from the day she is born. However, by quickly comprehending her parents' gestures, she learns to represent her name with her hands; ultimately, she finds a worthy calling when she becomes a dancer at the king's palace, telling ``tales of gods and kings'' with her graceful gestures. Lee illustrates this simple but pleasing story with elegantly decorative paintings, bright with subtly contrasted color, their clean compositions reminiscent of Allen Say's art. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >