Books Literary Silk Road - China and Middle East Middle Grade Picture Books Reading Ruminations Reading Themes

[Saturday Reads] Asian Legends Re-imagined by Ed Young and Tom Birdseye


Fats here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.


 My post for today coincides with our current theme on Chinese and Middle Eastern literature. Both picture books featured in this post are retellings of Chinese legends. One book was written and illustrated by Ed Young; the other was written by Tom Birdseye and illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen. One of the reasons why I wanted to share these books is because of their stunning illustrations.


The Sons of the Dragon King

Written and illustrated by: Ed Young
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2004)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.

I am fortunate to come across a copy of Ed Young’s The Sons of the Dragon King in the juvenile nonfiction section of our library. This book was published in 2004 and it is one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read this year.

The Sons of the Dragon King is as thick as a typical picture book but the pages contain longer narratives. In the author’s note, it was mentioned that the book was based on a Chinese folktale about the Dragon King who ruled over many Chinese tribes. Different parts of China have different retellings of the Dragon King story, and The Sons of the Dragon King is Ed Young’s favorite version.


According to the legend, the Dragon King had nine sons who are all immortal and very different from each other. When the princes got older, they left the king’s palace and traveled to different regions of China to get away from the watchful eye of their father. Later, the Dragon King searched for the whereabouts of his sons because of the unsettling rumors that he has received.

The Dragon King disguised himself as a common peasant and visited each of his sons to find out what they were all up to. In every visit, the Dragon King was informed that his sons were so lazy that they did the same thing every day. Luckily for the Dragon King, he was able to figure out how to make each of his sons useful with their unique interests.




I’ve always loved the artwork of Ed Young. The cover of this book is simply beautiful. The illustrations are quite simple but still look magnificent.

The Sons of the Dragon King is an excellent resource to teach children about the rich Chinese culture by celebrating Chinese architecture and design. Through this book, parents are reminded to recognize the potential in their children, while children will realize that each of us possesses a special gift that we can use to help others. The Sons of the Dragon King is a Parents’ Choice Approved Award Winner. Check out the photos below for real examples of Chinese design.

Chinese roof with dragon design – a representation of Chi Wen in the book.
A dragon horn.
A dragon horn that represents Pu-Lao in the book.
An ancient bronze falchion with dragon. Represents Ya Zi in the book.
An ancient bronze falchion with dragon. Represents Ya Zi in the book.
An incense burner/holder that represents Sua Ni in the book.
An incense burner/holder that represents Sua Ni in the book.



A Song of Stars

Adapted by: Tom Birdseye
Illustrated by: Ju-Hong Chen
Published by: Holiday House (1990)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.

A Song of Stars features the love story of Princess Chauchau and herdsman Newlang. Princess Chauchau was the daughter of the Emperor of the Heavens. She was a weaver but she did not weave wool or silk. She wove the shimmering threads of the sky. She made gleaming robes for the sky dwellers. Newlang was a lowly herdsman who enjoyed “singing soft songs that only an ox could hear.”


One day, while Princess Chauchau was weaving, Newlang passed by humming his usual soft songs. They looked at each other and instantly fell in love. Princess Chauchau left her loom and Newlang left the cattle. Together, they sang a song of love for everyone to hear.


The Emperor was pleased when he saw the love between his daughter and the herdsman. It was a love that was “strong and sure, full of trust and warmth.” The Emperor sent for the two and immediately announced that they should be married.

But soon the lovers became devoted only to each other and always being together. Work gave way to long walks hand in hand beside the river of stars. Duty was replaced by soft kisses while sitting in the lap of the moon. The ox wandered about untended, nibbling light from any star it pleased. The loom lay still and silent, no longer weaving threads of the firmament into gleaming robes for the sky dwellers.

The Emperor was not pleased. He called for the two and declared that they should be punished. Princess Chauchau and Newlang were decreed to be separated by the Milky Way. Only once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh month, would they be allowed to cross the great river of stars and meet. Oh, such heartache!


The love story of Princess Chauchau and Newlang was the inspiration for the Chi Hsi festival in China and the Tanabata festival in Japan. Tanabata is also known as the Festival for Star-Crossed Lovers. How fascinating is that!

I enjoyed reading this book because I was in awe of Ju-Hong Chen’s unique art style. The images look as glorious and radiant as the stars in the universe! I love, love, love it! I checked out other books that he has illustrated and it seems like he uses a different technique each time. A Song of Stars is a lovely addition to your list of Asian legends/folktales. Below are pictures from the Tanabata festival in Japan.





Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!


#AWBRead2015 Challenge Update: 44 (35)

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Asian Legends Re-imagined by Ed Young and Tom Birdseye

  1. Pingback: [BHE 164] More Reading Resources About China and the Middle East | Gathering Books

  2. Oh my goodness. This looks amazing.


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