A charming fairy tale set in ancient China with a Jewish twist.
Gathered amid other children, Ping Ling listens as her grandmother tells the story of their famous ancestor Persimmon. It’s a genuinely charming opening, and as Ping Ling’s grandmother narrates, the authors make the reader aware of the importance of the very act of storytelling. Persimmon was the daughter of a Jewish mold-maker and a Han Chinese woman in the third century B.C. She inherits her father’s aesthetic prowess and becomes an excellent panda portraitist. She lives in the forest for inspiration and takes care of a panda named Bampo—a pet reserved only for royalty. Persimmon, no royal herself, happens to save Prince Tin Ling’s life one day in the forest, and after he recovers in his palace he searches for the girl that came to his rescue. Meanwhile, Persimmon is in dire legal straits for having taken a panda as her pet and must stand trial for her crime, facing a possible death sentence. The resolution is fairy tale perfect, and Ping Ling and her playmates are gratified by the tale; the reader will be too, as the prose and Kanowick’s simple, black-and-white illustrations are equally charming. But for readers unaware of Judaism’s surprisingly long (if limited) history in China, some integrated background or a simple preface would have enhanced the book’s broader appeal. A brief sketch of a famous example such as the Kaifeng community or a relevant history of the Silk Road would’ve sufficed. There is a playful historical reference when Persimmon’s father is commissioned by the emperor to build his terra cotta army, and these touches enhance the historical reality while still engaging in the story’s allegorical elements that promote love and loyalty. There’s not a word too many in this slim, enjoyable volume, which is great for children not afraid of a little history.
A pleasing children’s story featuring characters with a unique, intriguing cultural background.