Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon
By: Judy Young
Illustrated by: Jordi Solano
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: December 2017
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
The year is 1572, and the place is just outside Beijing, China. Hu Wan, an inquisitive nine-year-old, lives with his grandfather. The two spend their time tending to their vegetable garden and make their living by selling gourds that they grow and then carve into ladles and bowls.
When a heavy rain comes, Hu Wen proves his mettle by helping his grandfather raise all the gourds above the water that is soaking the ground. Hu Wan’s grandfather soon falls ill from the dampness and it is up to the boy to tend to the garden. Fortunately, grandfather recovers and all seems well.
Every year, one special gourd is grown inside a uniquely shaped clay pot that Grandfather makes and turns into a cricket cage. This year, he has given the honor of making the clay pot, and overseeing the growth of the special gourd to Hu Wan. The boy is honored and takes the project seriously. When it is time for the gourd to be removed from the clay pot and carved into something special, Hu Wan decides the gourd looks like a sleeping dragon.
Hu Wan makes a lovely cricket cage out of the gourd and when he catches a cricket and puts it into the new gourd cage, both he and his grandfather enjoy the cricket’s songs all night. The next day, Hu Wan discovers that the emperor has died and the leader’s nine-year-old son is now emperor. He learns that gifts are being requested in the hopes that the presents may cheer up the new emperor. After some thought, Hu Wan decides to offer his sleeping dragon cricket cage. But when a guard outside the Forbidden City mocks the handmade gift, Hu Wan is saddened at the thought that the emperor may not accept his gift.
Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon takes readers to an interesting point in Chinese history and shows what life was like for the peasants living outside the gates of the Forbidden City. As well as learning a little history, youngsters will see the sacrifice Hu Wan makes in the hopes of cheering up another boy - an important lesson for all. The author was inspired to write the story after seeing a museum exhibit of ancient cricket cages. The art of creating these fascinating cages is explored through Hu Wan’s learning how to make one. And their use, the enjoyment of cricket songs in the house, will ignite children’s imaginations as to how they could perhaps create their own cricket cage.
Quill says: A very interesting story that gives young readers an inside look at what life was like in China so very long ago.