POC Reading Challenge Update: 4 of 9

Picture Book Reading Challenge Update: 9 of 72

Fats here.

Lon Po Po by Ed Young – Winner of the 1990 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Most Distinguished Picture Book

To all the wolves of the world
for lending their good name
as a tangible symbol of our darkness.
– Ed Young

Prior to the launch of our Message in a Bottle theme and our Chinese New Year special, I had already bought this book at the $1 Bookstore at the Chula Vista Mall. Because we here at GatheringBooks love fractured tales and revel at books worthy of awards—this one being a recipient of the Caldecott Medal—Ed Young’s wonderfully illustrated Chinese version of the Brothers Grimm’s Little Red Riding Hood is perfect for my comeback after being sick for about one week. (Still coughing my lungs out but this is all for the glory of book-blogging. Huzzah!)

The Plot

Once, long ago, there was a woman who lived alone in the country with her three children, Shang, Tao, and Paotze. On the day of their grandmother’s birthday, the good mother set off to see her, leaving the three children at home.

And so the mother leaves the children by themselves, tells them that she will not return that night and reminds them to close the door and latch it well. Litte do they know, a wolf who lives nearby sees the mother leave. He then disguises himself as the children’s grandmother—their Po Po—and knocks on the door. The children tell the wolf that their mother left to visit her. Undeterred, the wolf replies,


Lon Po Po trying to convince the children to let him in


“To visit me? I have not met her along the way. She must have taken a different route.” 


“Po Po!” Shang said. “How is it that you come so late?”

The wolf answered, “The journey is long, my children, and the day is short.”

The wolf tells the children that he has a cold and they must let him in. While Shang, the eldest daughter, is unconvinced, the other two cannot wait. One unlocks the door and the other opens it. As soon as he enters the door, the wolf blows out the candle that Shang is holding.

As Tao and Paotze, the little ones who let the wolf in, hug their Po Po (who is actually a Lon Po Po, which is Chinese for ‘granny wolf’), the wolf realizes how plump they are. So the wolf pretends to be sleepy and invites the three children to climb into the bed with him.


Lon Po Po in the bed with Shang, Tao, and Paotze

But when Shang stretched, she touched the wolf’s tail. “Po Po, Po Po, your foot has a bush on it.”

“Po Po has brought hemp strings to weave you a basket,” the wolf said.

Shang touched grandmother’s sharp claws. “Po Po, Po Po, your hand has thorns on it.”

“Po Po has brought an awl to make shoes for you,” the wolf said.

At once, Shang lit the light and the wolf blew it out again, but Shang had seen the wolf’s hairy face.


Lon Po Po falling into his demise

Shang, being the eldest and most clever, devises a plan to trick the wolf. She tells the wolf that gingko nuts have the power to make one immortal and that she and her sisters are willing to climb the tree for him. Delighted, the wolf lets the children out and Shang tells her sisters about the wolf as soon as they are up the tree. Did they succeed? I guess the picture on the left holds the answer to this question. The children climb down, go back to the house, and fall asleep peacefully.

Ed Young and the Brothers Grimm: A Comparison

As I was searching for resources for this review, I came upon this nice comparison table made by Scholastic for teachers. Needless to say, Lon Po Po is a good teaching material and this resource guide is one way of helping children understand the story from a different perspective.

How well do you know the Brothers Grimm story? If your memory is not as good as mine, then maybe this stop-motion animation created by Oxbridge Baby will help you remember.

In the classic tale, the only characters were Red, the wolf, mother, grandmother, and the woodcutter. There was no woodcutter in Ed Young’s version and the three sisters replaced the character of Red. Ed Young reversed the original tale by making the mother leave and the three children stay. Also, in the Brothers Grimm version, granny was sick. But Ed Young decided that it would be granny’s birthday.

Of course there was the wolf, the fairy tale villain whose menacing features were brilliantly highlighted by Ed Young’s art. While the classic wolf stopped Red in the forest and tricked her into taking the long path, Ed Young’s wolf knocked on the door (similar to what the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs did) and presented himself as the children’s grandmother. Even the unveiling of the wolf’s true nature was different for both European and Asian versions.

Moreover, while the woodcutter saved Red in the classic version, Ed Young gave his characters more freedom and assigning them a more ‘powerful’ role by allowing them to rescue themselves—yay, girl power! *wink*

Lon Po Po is More than Your Average Fairy Tale

Ed Young redefines a fairy tale with his artistic rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. Some readers may find his version a haunting retelling of the original (as seen through his dark, murky artwork), but it also challenges the way readers think.

Traditional Chinese clothing replaced the red hood. Also, no longer do we read about the wolf’s big ears, eyes, and teeth. We are introduced to activities of daily living that may be part of Chinese culture. The gingko tree, of course, did not escape me. The gingko is known to have various uses as food and traditional medicine, with its species restricted to a small area in Eastern China.

Ed Young’s dedication quoted above is a reflection of the famous idiom, wolf in a sheep’s clothing. In this red-riding hood story from China, we see a reversal of roles between the cunning Lon Po Po and the more astute Shang. Both were tricksters but Shang’s goodness prevailed. This, I think, is the one thing that both versions agree upon: the big bad wolf gets defeated in the end.

As a treat for wonderful readers such as yourselves, here are two videos related to Little Red Riding Hood. The first one is what is called an infographic animation that offers facts while telling the story of Red. The second is a cover done by Brooke on a song called Little Red Riding Hood by Sam and the Shams and the Pharoahs. Have fun watching!

Ed Young, winner of the 1990 Caldecott Medal, has illustrated over 40 books for children, four of which he has also written. He cites the philosophy of Chinese painting as his inspiration. For more information about his life as an artist and children’s book illustrator, visit his bio here as presented by Scholastic.


25 comments on “Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

  1. myragarcesbacsal

    Such a lovely post. Welcome back, dear Fats! And yes, are you familiar with Hoodwinked? It’s like a postmodern twist to Red Riding Hood on film. You have got to see it. Ela couldn’t get enough of it and she has watched it again and again and again lately since her teacher showed it as well in school. I also have several Ed Young picture books here with me – I hope I’d get a chance to review them. =)


    • Thank you, M.Myra! =) This was 4 hours in the making!! The editing was driving me crazy. Maybe next time I’ll just have you or Mary post my reviews. Haha. Yes I am familiar with Hoodwinked but have not seen it yet. Maybe I’ll find it on Netflix. If I feel better to go out tomorrow, then I might visit the library for 2 more Chinese picture books. If not, then I have one more Ed Young book to post.


  2. My kids loved Hoodwinked too. Great post, Fats – definitely worth all the effort. I’m a big fan of Ed Young’s books and have gradually been collecting his books. One of my favorite retellings of Little Red Riding Hood is Roald Dahl’s, in his Revolting Rhymes – Not for the faint-hearted. I used to use it with my (adult) English classes – Here’s a video.


    • Thank you, Marjorie. =) I think coming up with this post, with all the edits and previews and comings and goings would make me faint more than Roald Dahl’s video. Haha. Yes, I have seen it, and yes I am a Roald Dahl fan. And you’re right, his Revolting Rhymes are not for the faint-hearted. I wasn’t sure if I should post it here or not so I only came up with three videos. But I do appreciate your sharing this video for other readers. Ed Young’s artwork is so beautiful. =)

      PS. My computer is having problems lately, so the video link redirects me to my blog post. I hope my posting this link works. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.


      • I think it’s my fault the link didn’t work – I must have pasted in the wrong link by mistake, so thank you for adding it 🙂 And I really enjoyed the videos you did choose. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or feel slightly disturbed by the second one – its slickness makes the story quite creepy, I think – and all very interesting counterpoints to Lon Po Po.
        Funnily enough, the story I’m reading to my boys (12 and 9) at the moment is about a wolf too – but very different to Little Red Riding Hood. It’s called The Eye of the Wolf by French writer Daniel Pennac – we’re only half way through at the moment and are utterly enthralled. I’ll definitely be blogging about it on PaperTigers!


      • It is always fun searching for different versions of fairy tales, be it in writing or in video. Was it the one with the infomercial? Could it be that the word you are looking for is disturbing? Because that was certainly what I thought when I first saw the video. I had to admit that it was rather interesting, the way the creator interpreted the story. There were a couple more videos that had dark gory themes but I decided against posting it.

        Did you see the Yeh-Shen review? I posted the Revolting Rhymes there for Cinderella. I am looking forward to your review. Have you read Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls?


  3. Yes, I have now read your Yeh-Shen review- again, a wonderful, in-depth post – and no, I haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s book – yet – now there’s a thought, perhaps it’s time to introduce Older Brother to Neil Gaiman…


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Hi Marjorie! We were supposed to feature Gaiman’s Wolves in the Walls and his The Day I Swapped my Dad for two goldfish during our Haunting Tales special but never really got around to doing it – we were able to manage a Dave McKean and David Almond Special though at the time – which reminds me, we should include Gaiman’s picture books as one of our themes in the coming months. Haha. =) We’re looking forward to knowing more about your Reading round the world challenge. =)


  4. I love your post about Lon Po Po. It is one of my favorites, I’ve used it many times over the years in my classroom. My nieces have enjoyed it with me as well.


    • Hi Sharon. I’m glad you enjoyed this post by fats. Its amazing how many of our stories share similarities across cultures.


    • Thank you, Sharon. =) The funny thing is, whenever I see this in the bookstore, I would pick it up but not buy it. I suppose the wolf on the title page scared me. But when I saw this at a $1 bookstore, I knew I had to grab the opportunity. I do like reading about fractured tales. =)


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  6. Hello! Came here through Marjorie of PaperTigers. She recommended this to me while commenting on my post on Neil Gaiman’s ‘The wolves in the walls’.

    A wonderful post. Loved the culturally chinese twist Ed Young gives to the Red Riding Hood story. Reminded me of a similar story in which the mother goat goes out, leaving her kids at home, and a lurking wolf comes by, pretending to be the mother, and how the kids outwit him. I forget the name of the story. I think these must be all versions of the same cautionary tale.


    • Hello Sandhya! =)

      I am glad you liked it. Aside from the fact that Lon Po Po is yet another wonderful fractured fairy tale, Ed Young’s illustrations are as equally wonderful. It is a good contrast to Dave McKean’s art in The Wolves in the Walls, although both art evoke a creepy feeling to it.

      I found the story you were talking about. It’s called The Goat with Three Kids. =)


      • Thanks for that link, Fats!:) It seems like a lovely site for children’s stories. The version I have read was a bit different, retold to make it less sad. The wolf gobbles up all except the littlest kid, but they are alive in his stomach, squirming and giving him a tummyache. The mother goat, having put something in her food to put him to sleep, then proceeds to cut open his tummy, rescue her kids, fill it up with stones, and sew it back again!


      • The different versions of children’s tales goes to show just how endless the possibilities are. It subtly teaches about stretching one’s imagination. The version you’ve read did sound witty. =)


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