Friday, November 17, 2017

Smoke by Cao Wenxuan illustrated by Yu Rong

I really enjoy reading powerful picture books to older students especially those that focus on conflict resolution.  Smoke would be an excellent book to use with any Primary class.

Mr Shou and Mr Pang live in nearly identical houses on different sides of the river.  An argument on a bridge sets off their feud.  Each father returns home :

"From now on, you aren't to go over to the west of the river to play with Beanpole! That whole family are so ugly, thin as rakes, all of them."
"From now on, you aren't to go over to the east of the river to play with Butterball! That whole family is so ugly, fat as pigs, all of them."

The two fathers also ban the dogs from playing so Pointy Ears and Floppy Ears are forced sit on each side of the river desperate to have fun.  Eventually the dogs just need to play and so they jump in and frolic before returning to sit under the apple trees.  Time passes until one day both families are cooking near the river. One uses wet firewood and so the smoke is black and the other uses dry firewood and so the smoke is white.  As the smoke drifts into the air it intermingles.

"they hugged like two friends meeting. They twirled happily in the sky ... like two ribbons of silk, one black, one white."

The dogs chase the smoke, the boys then jump into the river and climb into a boat to chase the plumes of smoke. Finally everything settles down, the smoke disappears out of sight and the boys return to their respective sides of the river.  Now comes the important turning point. Mr Pang compliments Mr Shou about his apples and Mr Shou compliments Mr Pang. Apples fly from one side to the other.

This is the third Cao Wenxuan book that I have featured here.  Bronze and Sunflower is a novel and Smoke and Summer are picture books but all have philosophical undertones reflective of the authors own passion for this subject.  Smoke actually feels like an ancient folk tale filled with wisdom. It would be good to link this with books by Demi.

Take look at the illustrator's technique - the video is in Chinese but you can see her skillful papercuts and the music track is especially haunting.  You can read more about Yu Rong and see her work here.

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