Wednesday, October 29, 2014

‘Yeh-Shen’ by Ai-Ling Louie

Photo of a book, Yeh-Shen by Ai-Ling Louie, propped against a cushion with a crocheted afghan folded next to it.
Intrigued by the statement in our text for Children’s Literature, that a story from China “predates the earliest European version of Cinderella by 1,000 years” (Johnson 131), I chose the 1982 retelling of Yeh-Shen by Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young, as one of two different visual or literary interpretations of Cinderella.

One of the differences, as highlighted in our text, concerns the source of magical intervention that lets Cinderella “go to the ball.” Instead of a fairy godmother, Yeh-Shen is aided by the bones of her beloved pet fish.

And the meeting between Yeh-Shen and her prince is different from the meeting described in the 1697 European version that was written by Charles Perrault. Instead of meeting during the ball, Yeh-Shen’s prince hides in waiting while women try on Yeh-Shen’s slipper. He follows her home when she stealthily removes the slipper from its pavilion.

Finally, there’s no reconciliation between Cinderella and her step-sisters, as there is in Perrault’s tale. Yeh-Shen’s stepmother and stepsister remain living in their cave and are eventually killed by falling rocks.

Ai-Ling Louie and illustrator Ed Young worked with a story that had been told in the author’s family for three generations and for whom research indicated the story had been told in China since the days of the T’ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) This retelling takes a traditional approach to the source manuscript, by Tuan Ch’eng-Shih, which is reproduced in the book.

The jacket flap identifies Young’s media in Yeh-Shen as pastel and watercolor. A biographical note talks about Young’s careful research into traditional costumes and customs of people in the area where Yeh-Shen is set.

Greenish-blue appears prominently among the colors that are used, and the fish is a recurring motif.

The mood in Yeh-Shen is very formal and traditional. The illustrations support a very straightforward approach to storytelling. And, if anything, the “setting” of the story resembles a stage play. The actors in the drama are surrounded by empty space as if they were acting on a stage.

Works Cited:
  • Johnson, Denise. The Joy of Children’s Literature. 2nd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2012. Print.
  • Louie, Ai-Ling. Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China. Illus. Ed Young. New York: Philomel Books, 1982. Print.
  • Perrault, Charles. Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper. University of Pittsburgh, 2003. Web. 29 October 2014.

Composed for Cuesta College’s ECE 234, Children’s Literature

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