Friday, March 7, 2008

"Lon Po Po"

Title: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China
Author: Ed Young
Illustrator: Ed Young
Publisher: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1989
Genre: Traditional Stories, Multicultural
Age Range: K-3

1990 Caldecott Medal

Summary: This story is the Chinese version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Three young Chinese girls are left at home alone, while their mother goes to visit their Po Po, grandmother. When she leaves, a wolf disguised as their grandmother tries to come into their house. They are tricked at first and let her in. Soon, they realize that she is really a wolf. They go outside and climb a tree, telling the wolf that there are gingko nuts that will give everlasting life. The children tell the wolf they will pull it up in a basket; however, they keep dropping the wolf, and eventually he breaks his heart and dies. They stay safely in their home until their mother returns with their grandmother.

Response: “Little Red Riding Hood” was one of the stories I listened to many times growing up. There are a few differences between the version I grew up with, and this Chinese tale. The story I grew up with had one little girl going to visit her grandmother, wearing a red coat. This story has three little girls who are left home by their mother, and there is no mention of anything red in the entire story. The wolf is already disguised as the grandmother when the girl arrives, in the tale I recall, and she is able to outsmart the wolf by stuffing its stomach with cotton balls. This story is very interesting because it shows the different interpretation of another country. I think it is amazing that these tales can be universal, just altered a bit to fit a certain culture. The dedication on the first page was very eerie to me because the author says that the wolf is considered to be a symbol for human darkness. So, perhaps the wolf in the story is actually a human who has a dark heart and soul. The picture next to this dedication shows a wolf and a human intermingled. The illustrations in this book are very mysterious and abstract. They are drawn using watercolors and pastels. You can not see much of what is going on, especially with the wolf. He is dark and dangerous. His pictures are a lot larger than those of the children. The smudging of the artwork really gives a surreal and scary atmosphere to the book. Some of the pictures are a little difficult to discern, but they all give a very mysterious vibe. The wolf was overpowering, but the girls were able to outsmart him because his hunger was getting in the way. I think that this version of “Little Red Riding Hood” is a little darker because you see the children actually getting close with the wolf, as they all climb in the bed. Also, they kill the wolf by breaking his heart. He is pulled up and dropped three times, dying the last time. His desire to get these nuts that give everlasting life, and perhaps eat the children, clouds his judgment and it costs him his life. I think that this story is told with a much darker tone because the Chinese culture is trying to emphasize a few points. First, for children, is to be obedient to their parents. The young girls disobey their mother’s orders and open the door for the wolf because they think it is their grandmother. They put their lives at risk, and although it may be a bit extreme, it shows children the dangers of not being obedient. The second lesson is to not be greedy and selfish. The wolf’s motive for all his action was to fulfill his desire at the moment. He wanted to eat the children, so he disguised himself as their grandmother. He wanted to get up in the tree to eat the nuts, so he trusted the children to pull him up. What confused me a bit was the fact that he was out in broad daylight under the tree with no disguise on. Obviously the children already knew he was a wolf before this time, but he did not know they had caught on. He was still pretending to be the grandmother without any sort of disguise. This was not the typical “Little Red Riding Hood” tale for me. I felt like it was a darker, scarier version of the story.

Teaching Ideas: This is a great story to incorporate while reading traditional tales. I think a great idea would be to read this, as well as a few other versions of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Then perhaps create a Venn-Diagram (example shown on Blog) displaying the similarities and differences in the stories. Talk about how different cultures interpret stories, and how they may alter them to fit their lifestyle.

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