Week-end Book Review: The Water Dragon by Li Jian

Li Jian,
The Water Dragon
Better Link Press, 2012.

Ages: 4+

Every day Ah Bao collects firewood in the forest near his tiny mountain village.  He carries a small ax and a rice crock made from a gourd. One day, Ah Bao notices a shiny red pebble on the ground and puts it in his rice crock. As soon as he does this, the crock begins to shake and rattle, and before he knows it, the crock is overflowing with more rice than Ah Bao could ever eat.

When he gets home he realizes that the stone has the same effect on money!  Now Ah Bao and his neighbors are never hungry or poor, but it hasn’t rained in the village since he found the magic stone. Ah Bao places the stone inside a bucket of water in the hope that it will overflow, but instead, the stone absorbs all the water in the bucket.  The next day, Ah Bao goes in search of the water dragon he dreams about, hoping he will convince it to shower his village with water once again.

Along the way, Ah Bao meets several animals caught up in trying predicaments.  He helps each of them and is rewarded in turn.  Each animal also warns Ah Bao that he will soon meet “a greedy red monster.” Undaunted, Ah Bao moves on.  When he finally meets the monster, both Ah Bao and the reader are surprised at how he handles the situation and the turn of events that follows. Ah Bao becomes a hero, but not as we might have expected!

This remarkable book is experienced illustrator Li Jian’s first foray into writing his own picture book. The story was inspired by legends he heard his elders tell when he was a child.  The pictures, which combine Li’s classical training in Chinese painting with his talent for bringing fairy tales to life, are at least as compelling as the bilingual text (in English and simplified Chinese characters).  Ah Bao is both a courageous and humble hero with a big heart and a sense of responsibility. He will be admired by children and parents, who will doubtless look forward to Li Jian’s next solo offering.

Abigail Sawyer
May 2012

N.B. Li Jian’s illustration work is currently highlighted in PaperTigers’ Illustrator Gallery.

One Response to “Week-end Book Review: The Water Dragon by Li Jian”

  1. PragmaticMom Says:

    This book looks great and I really love the illustrations. Thanks for telling me about it. It feels like a Chinese fable but is it, in fact, a modern one?