cover image Monkey King

Monkey King

Ed Young. HarperCollins Publishers, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-06-027919-6

Caldecott Medalist Young (Lon Po Po) opts for elegance in this deceptively simple adaptation of Chinese myth. In piquant phrases and minimalist collages, he summarizes the antics of the Monkey King, a trickster hero. Monkey has learned ""the art of turning cloud somersaults, riding the wind, changing shape, and disappearing in the blink of an eye,"" and he uses his magic for mischief. While serving the Jade Emperor, he ""plucked all the forbidden fruit from the immortal peach tree and gobbled them up. Then he tumbled home before anyone could punish him."" Monkey's evocatively named opponents, including Dragon King and Red Beard Bandit, cannot defeat him, and finally Jade Emperor seeks Buddha's intervention. In an impressive gatefold spread, Monkey is trapped in the shadowy Five Finger Mountain, actually Buddha's obsidian hand. Upon his release 500 years later, Monkey improves his behavior on the path to enlightenmentD""but it wasn't always easy to stay good."" Young bases this distilled saga on Wu Cheng'en's Buddhist epic, The Journey to the West, which he glancingly mentions in an afterword. The tale may be better suited to older readers who can handle its epic qualities and some characters' cameo appearances. His cut-paper compositions, in earthy shades of spice and sky, might be described as freestyle; pencil marks remain visible and shapes are imperfectly carved, requiring plenty of imagination. Young's dynamic artwork and his mercurial transitions between spreads mimic Monkey's own shape-shifting, making for deliciously unpredictable reading. All ages. (Mar.)