Books by Wenhai Ma

THE SWAN'S GIFT by Brenda Seabrooke
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Seabrooke (The Bridges of Summer, 1992, etc.) gives the narrative a formal tone in this sentimental tale about the farmer, Anton, who turns to hunting to provide for his starving family and can't find anything to shoot. When he finally spies a swan, he realizes that it's too beautiful to kill. The swan flaps its wings and diamonds fall to the ground; Anton ends up with enough food for the rest of the winter and his family prospers. Ma exhibits an admirable economy of style in his pencil and watercolor pictures of rustic settings and peasants in dress that looks vaguely Eastern European; he achieves a pleasant contrast between the transparent layers of paint and the sculpted figures. A somewhat precious story but the pictures keep it afloat. (Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1995

A morality tale from Korea illustrates the values of loyalty, respect, and compassion. Hungbu, the good younger son, suffers the loutishness of his older brother, Nolbu, wanting to bring dishonor to the family. Nolbu repays Hungbu's humility by turning him out of the house after their father's death. When Hungbu mends a swallow's broken wing, the bird repays his kindness with magic seeds that grow into treasure-filled gourds. The messagethat the spirit world rewards good deeds with material richesis one of the most prevalent in children's storytelling. Jaffe (Patakin, 1994, etc.) wisely states in an afterword that today's children might not even consider Hungbu a hero. In spite of that concern, she does not impose a modern sensibility onto the story. The illustrations, like the language, take a no-frills approach, providing watercolors of familiar scenes: the homeless underdog, the unfolding of riches, the unleashing of a horrible ``reward.'' It's debatable whether tomorrow's adults will respond to such a black-and-white depiction of their complex world. It's a debate worth having, though, nicely argued here. (Picture Book. 3-8) Read full book review >
THE PAINTED FAN by Marilyn Singer
Released: April 1, 1994

Set in long-ago China, a tale of a greedy lord who hopes to evade his fate and the courageous girl who brings it to pass. After hearing that the Painted Fan will be his undoing, Lord Shang commands that all fans be destroyed; still, Bright Willow, a poor farmer's daughter, brings along an heirloom fan after Lord Shang selects her as his unwilling bride. When she's caught talking with a young groom, Shang agrees to waive her punishment if she can fetch a huge pearl that's guarded by a terrible demon. The fan's magic is instrumental in her success and the subsequent destruction of the wicked lord; the young people, revealed as heirs to the warring houses Lord Shang supplanted, are happily united. Singer knits together several folkloric motifs to create an original tale with satisfying strands of adventure and romance. The Chinese-born illustrator, now a professor at Duke University, makes a fine picture-book debut with dramatically posed scenes of realistically depicted figures in impressionistic settings that effectively enhance the mood. (Picture book. 6-10) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

In the Once Upon America series, a story set circa 1868-69. Chin Jin Mun, ``a boy of 12 years by the white devils' counting,'' is a delivery boy for his father's laundry. He meets a slave girl, Lew Wai Hing; shocked to learn that she is never allowed outside, he decides to win her freedom. That he succeeds strains credibility, as does the premise that a Chinese boy of this period would not accept the girl's traditional position. Still, Goldin has done her research and created a story from the meager material available about Chinese women in San Francisco at that time, while a subplot involving Jin Mun's brother allows her to discuss the role of the Chinese in building the transcontinental railroad. Some details (Jin Mun's seeing women with bound feet in San Francisco; his learning English at a missionary school) are unlikely for this date, but not impossible. The narrative is readable, though the dialogue is burdened with information. Concluding note; illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-11) Read full book review >