Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain
written by Margaret Bateson-Hill, illustrated by Francesca Pelizzoli, Chinese text by Manyee Wan, paper-cuts by Sha-Liu Qu
(Alanna Books, 2014)
Lao Lao is a contented old woman who spends her days making intricate paper cuttings for the children in her village. When the greedy Emperor hears that ‘she can make anything’ he leaps to the wrong conclusion. He has Lao Lao imprisioned in a freezing mountain-top tower with a pile of paper, a pair of scissors and a chest to fill with jewels cut from the paper.
No doubt young children reading/listening to the story will be scornful of the Emperor’s greed and the futility of his treatment of Lao Lao, since paper cut-outs can only ever be jewel-like and their value lies in their intricate beauty and craftsmanship, as well as the love with which they are bestowed. So the Ice Dragon’s arrival on the scene will be met with relief, as he rescues Lao Lao and metes out icy retribution on the Emperor and his guards.
Francesca Pelizzoli’s artwork echoes the stylised towering landscapes of old Chinese scroll painting. The illustrations are generally contained within a black border, whereas the magnificent, blue dragon bursts out from the confines of this border, emphasising its size and power. Throughout the book, alternating patterns underly the Chinese text, and like water marks in antique Chinese paper, different paper-cut images and calligraphic characters are scattered throughout the book. Back matter gives some background to written Chinese and provides instructions on making paper-cut patterns, including the complicated dragon that can be seen in the background on the cover – its template takes up both sides of the inside-back cover.
Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain was first published in 1996 and, along with Masha and the Firebird from Margaret Bateson-Hill’s folktale series, has recently been reissued in hardback by Alanna Books. This new edition replaces the Traditional Chinese script of the original with Simplified Chinese in a new translation by Manyee Wan, so that it reflects the format of the Chinese language that is currently being taught in British schools. There’s a little rhyme that Lao Lao repeats throughout the book and its Chinese translation uses lots of repetition. Unfortunately that’s as far as I get, but for a child learning the language, that is definitely an in-road into the Chinese text. Alanna Books has already taken the unprecedented step of producing a CD with two of their award-winning Lulu books read in an amazing twenty-three languages: so it would be nice to think that a bilingual audio book of Lao Lao of Dragon Mountain might be next!
Read an article, ‘Discovering Dragons‘ by Margaret Bateson-Hill, written for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ blog.