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by Laurence Yep & illustrated by Jean Tseng & Mou-sien Tseng

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-590-46168-0
Publisher: Scholastic

Puzzlingly described as an "original folktale" (LC classifies it in 398.2), the bizarre story of Little Chou, a poor Chinese boy who finds, hidden in a basket of silver, an evil ku snake that kills people and takes their money to its master. When the snake proves indestructible, Little Chou swallows it in hopes of being rid of its evil, but that night a mysterious light emanating from his stomach becomes two ku snakes, which he also resolutely eats. The next night there are fifty dancing, luminous snakes, then a hundred, and finally so many that it appears that "the stars had fallen from the sky and emptied into the courtyard." When the greedy master of the original ku snake comes to reclaim his abandoned "pet," Little Chou tricks him into eating it and the man dies horribly. Good and evil receive their just deserts in this cautionary tale, but the snakes are a grotesquely ambiguous symbol, described as lethal yet also beautiful and almost innocently playful (in the end, Little Chou actually misses the creatures he's been at such pains to destroy). Further, the story's logic collapses at a crucial juncture: why, if the rich man was so fearful of the ku snake that he tried to get rid of it, would he wish to reclaim it when it had multiplied a thousandfold? The Tsengs' watercolors range from exotically colorful to murkily mysterious, with the characters' expressions and poses dramatically exaggerated. (Picture book. 6-9)