From School Library Journal
Grade 1–5—One snowy night in ancient China, a poor boy named Ping becomes lost while searching for firewood. A friendly innkeeper offers him shelter and food, while a great magician, also staying at the inn, entertains him. When he hears the boy express longing for wealth, power, and fame, the kindly man offers him a pillow that will grant his wishes. Sleeping on the pillow, which is decorated with the Taoist yang/yin symbol, Ping dreams of a long life. He commands an army, becomes prime minister, loses everything only to regain it once more, then watches his sons and grandsons repeat the cycle. In the end, "Money was like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, power was like a flickering lamp, and fame lasted no longer than a bubble in a stream." Ping wakes to find his circumstances the same as they were, but his heart at peace. Demi sets her characteristic tightly drawn, flat-colored figures inside golden circles. Showing the fortunes of Ping's dream descendants, she fills the circles with repeating figures, decoratively visualizing an endless cycle of existence. A detailed note identifies the source for her story. The lesson Ping learns is central to Taoist and Buddhist thinking, so the book would pair nicely with Jon J. Muth's Zen Shorts
(Scholastic, 2005) and Ed Young's Night Visitors
(Philomel, 1995) where an introduction to East Asian thought is part of the elementary curriculum. However, adults may appreciate the book's message more than children.—Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams
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In China, Ping is happy with his family’s modest circumstances until he meets a magician who amazes him with an illusion of diamonds. Suddenly Ping desires “money, power, fame, and everything life can offer,” but the magician cautions him, offering a pillow for the evening. Ping’s dreams show how wealth and power lead to an endless cycle of greed, envy, and war for him and his descendants. In the morning, Ping awakens, grateful for his humble life. Demi’s dainty, jewellike art is the perfect vehicle for this story, adopted from a Shen Jiji short story. Rendered in traditional Chinese paints and inks and framed in her characteristic gold borders, the pictures of Ping’s early life have a graceful simplicity while the nightmarish dream scenes intensify with entanglements. The concluding moral explains,“He who finds peace in his heart has found his palace of gold.” Grades K-3. --Linda Perkins