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Monday Reading: Water Stories in Asian Folktales and Mythology

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.

Last Week’s Reviews and Miscellany Posts

Iphigene and I thought that instead of posting monthly round-ups of our activities here in GatheringBooks, we thought that it would be more meaningful to share with fellow Monday-Reading-enthusiasts our previous week’s reviews, in the event that you may be interested to pay a visit. Click on the images (or links) below to be taken to our posts.

Book Reviews

Miscellany Posts

Photo Journal/ A-Z Photo Challenge: T is for Tiny Traveler

Book Hunting Expedition: Launch of “Stream of Stories and Whispering Water Tales” and Project Splash! Asia

Photo Journal/Travel Theme: Mystical

Photo Journal/Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

Water Stories in Asian Folktales and Mythology

We have just launched our new bimonthly theme here in GatheringBooks until the end of December so I thought that it would be good to begin with a few Asian-themed books about water – perfect for our Project Splash! Asia initiative for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2013.

Urashima and the Kingdom Beneath the Sea

Retold By: Ralph F. McCarthy
Illustrated byShiro Kasamatsu
Publisher: Kodansha International, 1993
Book borrowed from the public library.

In the jacketflap of the book, it is said that this magical legend is touted to be the Rip Van Winkle of Japan. As I read through the gorgeously-illustrated picture book, I can understand why.

The narrative revolves around a kind-hearted fisherman named Urashima Taró who once saved a little sea turtle from being tortured by children who had nothing better to do with their time. After a year, Urashima met the sea turtle out on the sea as he was fishing and wishing and dreaming. Now a giant sea turtle, it offered to bring him to the Dragon King’s palace in return for saving its life.

Urashima is said to have never thought twice – this is, after all, his dream – to see the palace underneath the waters. And it was all that he could ever dream about. He lost track of time what with the Dragon King’s daughter, fair Princess Otó attending to his every need and desire. After awhile though, he yearned for his home above the sea, and was he surprised that things did not seem to be the way they were before. I shall leave it to you to discover what happened – and how the passing of time can be so seemingly-innocuous and deceptive.

What I loved best about this book is the illustration. In each page, one can see traces of the canvas spread from which the artwork is drawn from. The muted colors, the attention to detail, the sober and inscrutable faces – all communicate a great deal.

The Last Kappa of Old Japan: A Magical Journey of Two friends

Story and Illustrations By: Sunny Seki
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, 2010
Book borrowed from the public library.

This is my first time to hear about kappas in Japan. The book describes them to be mythological creatures who are “believed to be messengers of the god of water; they often do mysterious things and like to eat cucumbers.”

The cultural notes found at the back of the book further describe them to be “depicted with beaks, turtle backs and greenish skin. The direct translation of kappa is ‘river child.’”

In this book, young Norihei grew up in Old Japan, before the advent of electricity. He discovered and befriended this “strange creature with webbed hands and spots on his back” named Kyu lying weak and helpless in his cucumber garden. Instead of being scared out of his wits, Nori-bo splashed water on Kyu-chan and helped him regain his strength, and ultimately saved his life. A beautiful and unlikely friendship blossomed between the two.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

While mindful that other human beings are out to exploit Kyu-chan’s differentness, the two friends protected each other until the time that Kyu-chan gave Norihei a crystal necklace shaped like a water drop as a parting gift, as his family had to move away. They found each other more than twenty years later when an unfortunate accident made Nori-bo drop the crystal necklace into a stream to call his friend for help.

While I was not too crazy about the illustrations, I love how their friendship survived the test of time and how things came full circle in the end. Teachers would also be delighted to find quite a few cultural notes and learn the story behind the popular dish ‘kappa roll.’

The River Dragon

Story By: Darcy Pattison
Illustrated by: Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1991
Book borrowed from the public library.

This is my favorite of the three books that I am sharing with you this week. The author’s note at the beginning of the book describe Chinese dragons to be portrayed with very specific characteristics: “the head of a camel, horns of a deer, eyes of a demon, ears of an ox, neck of a snake, scales of a carp, palms of a tiger, and claws of a hawk. Beings of great power, they control the thunder and lightning and live in the heavens and under the waters of the earth. They fly without wings, usually surrounded by clouds or mist, and are frequently shown clutching a great pearl in their claws or jaws. Passionately fond of swallows, they have a keen sense of smell and are afraid only of centipedes and five-colored silk scarves.” 

With a rich mythology such as this, I figured that one can never really run out of stories to tell here in Asia. What appealed most to me in this book is that it contains all the ingredients for a successful narrative. There is the love story as seen in the blossoming romance between Ying Shao the blacksmith and his betrothed, the dainty and gentle-natured Kal-Li. There is subtle attempted-murder with Kal-li’s father feeding Ying Shao swallow-delicacies to make the dragon under the bridge smell it in his tummy when he crosses the bridge going back home. And the cunning and quiet simplicity of the underdog finding deliverance through fortune cookies, five colored silk scarves and crawling centipedes. The illustrations also do the majesty of the river dragon justice with its fire, danger, and darkness.

Currently Reading…

I am still deeply in Zamonian literature having fallen in love with Walter Moers’ fantastical and inventive prose. This is my third Moers novel. I hope to finish this in a few days so that I can borrow Rumo from our public libraries.

PictureBook Challenge Update: 131-133 (120)

PoC Challenge Update: 33 (25)

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13 comments on “Monday Reading: Water Stories in Asian Folktales and Mythology

  1. How to Live Forever looks great. I love books about books… I’m so excited to find you have that as a regular theme.

    • Hi Jo, unfortunately we just concluded that theme as we have just launched our new theme on ‘water tales.’ I hear you, though. The ‘books about books’ has been my favorite theme so far this year.

  2. Love the illustration of the Chinese dragon.

  3. I couldn’t find The River Dragon at the library, but they have other Darcy Pattison books, plus when I searched, other ‘water’ books came up. Perhaps I’ll have some to share with you Myra. I did love all those books about books you shared. Great theme, & I’m looking forward to this new one.

  4. Gorgeous illustrations are an awesome accompaniment to a story. Enjoy! Here’s MY MONDAY MEMES POST

  5. This post has inspired me to read some more multi-cultural books with my class. I have a stack ready to go and need to dive in. So often the folklore and stories from another culture are so intriguing! I have a gorgeous book of Vietnamese tales that I want to uncover and share.

    • Hi Carrie, do let me know if those Vietnamese tales are water-themed in any way, it could be a perfect fit for our Project Splash! Asia initiative for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in 2013. :)

  6. Thanks for sharing. I ILL’ed the Colin Thompson book since I couldn’t find it anywhere.

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