Paul Yee, illustrated by Shaoli Wang,
Tradewind Books, 2005
Paul Yee’s book Bamboo uses a Chinese folktale filled with magic and trickery to relate how good will can prevail over the evil actions of others. Yee spins the tale of a young farmer named Bamboo, who falls in love with Ming, a girl he meets at the market. Upon marrying, they plant a bamboo grove, symbolizing their love. However, once they join his brother Banyan’s household, his jealous wife Jin causes problems for the couple. Jin, envious of Bamboo’s good natured wife, sets out to cause many problems for the kind and gentle Ming. Meanwhile, wishing to provide for his family, Bamboo sets out to the New World to seek his fortune, leaving Ming at home to help with the farming. After his departure, Jin decides that the farm must be divided even if it has always been shared by the brothers. Banyan and Jin take the best field with the plough and buffalo. Ming is left with no tools and poor land. Ingeniously, she cuts bamboo stalks, and attempts to use the bamboo to till the land. Magically the bamboo jump to life, and tills the land for her. Spying on her sister in law, Jin attempts to steal the bamboo, but the poles leap up and beat her. Returning to her husband she claims Ming beat her. The husband warns her to leave Ming alone. Banyan, attempting to put an end to the quarrelling, throws the poles into the river. Ming worries that she will not be able to irrigate the land properly. Magically the water begins to run from the old water field. Jin is furious with the good luck that has descended upon Ming. In attempt to have her husband side with her, Jin smears her face with charcoal and accuses her sister in law of beating her. When her husband’s refuses to help her, she threatens to shame her husband in front of the entire village. Feeling he has no choice, Banyan cuts down the entire grove of bamboo. After many months the courageous Ming receives a letter from her husband Bamboo announcing that he has struck it rich. While she awaits his return, a messenger announces that her husband’s ship is lost at sea. Ming does not lose hope, but waits by the dock for her husband to return. Jin visits her sister-in- law at the dock one night, but greedily eats food the villagers have left for Ming, and worse, Jin’s baby accidentally falls into the river. Brave and unselfish, Ming jumps in the water to save the child and is swept to sea. Magically, her husband rescues her with the help of the magic bamboo that was tossed into the river by his brother. Happily reunited as a family, sister-in-law Jin begs for mercy, and Ming forgives her. The magic of the bamboo brings great fortune to the kind couple who are generous to all around them.
The tale is well told and the characters are easily identified. Elements of magic and trickery are present and the text is interspersed with dialogue that moves the action along quickly. The illustrations by Shaoli Wang are very beautiful and are acurate representation of life in a small Chinese village. The illustration’s connections of characters to the plot may be confusing for younger students, as the characters clothes and appearance change as the story unfolds, but details of the narrative are clearly noted in the text.
Another heart-warming tale of the perseverance of the human spirit from Paul Yee that will be thoroughly enjoyed in a classroom.
Thematic Links: Folktales; Chinese folktales
Vol. 11, number 3
E - Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!
G - Good, even great at times, generally useful!
A - Average, all right, has its applications.
P - Problematic, puzzling, poorly presented.