Books at Bedtime: Red Thread by Ed Young

I have been intrigued by the Red Threads in Chinese folklore that link people invisibly and irrevocably, ever since first reading about them in Grace Lin‘s beautiful picture book The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale. They then reappear in her wonderful Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Jama at Alphabet Soup quotes Grace as saying: “To me, those red threads, those connections are the stories we share.”…

Red Thread by Ed Young (Philomel Books, 1993)So I couldn’t resist picking up Ed Young’s Red Thread (Philomel Books, 1993) when I came across it recently: and it’s a wonderful story, which grows in meaning the more you read it. Wei Gu is a young man who, having been orphaned as a boy, is keen to find a wife and be part of a family. Hearing that a matchmaker is going to be in the town of Quinge, he travels there and makes sure he is at the temple good and early – in fact, he is so early that it is still dark (and here, Young’s illustrations are particularly stunning). He meets an old man, a spirit who can tell him that the red thread connecting him to his future wife leads to a three-year-old girl, and that they will marry in fourteen years time. Not only that, but they can go together to see her right there and then. However, Wei Gu is disgusted that she is apparently the daughter of vegetable sellers; and he also finds her ugly. Horrifically, he orders his servant to murder the child – but the red thread cannot be broken so easily and when Wei Gu marries fourteen years later, he discovers that the flower seed his beautiful wife always wears between her eyebrows carries a not unfamiliar story with it…

The narrative is simple but still manages to convey psychological depth; and the complexities inherent in the story mean that the book will grow with young readers. The act of violence is shocking – but as is so often the case in fairy-tales (and I am particularly struck by parallels with the western Snow White here), young readers/listeners will probably be less affected by it than the grown-ups reading it to them. The message that you can’t outrun your destiny is clear – but all the same, Wei Gu is lucky after his wicked act to end up with a loving wife who still loves him, even when the truth comes out.

A red thread runs throughout the book, straight across the pages, separating the text from the main focus of the illustrations, which completely fill each double-page spread. There are grandiose architectural spaces, busy market scenes and energetic close-ups, all depicted in a beautiful pallette of blues and greens, with orange as a striking outline color. In fact, as far as Young’s illustrations go, this for me is right up there as one of my favorites.

Now, there’s a question: which books by Ed Young are your and your children’s favorites? I am being very kind putting it in the plural, because I would find it very hard to narrow it down to just one myself!

One Response to “Books at Bedtime: Red Thread by Ed Young”

  1. Aline Says:

    I haven’t read Red Thread yet. It sounds beautiful. We are big fans of Ed Young in our household as well, and one of our favorites is “I, Doko”, a very poetic fable. It’s not everyday that you find a book told from the point of view of a basket!