cover image The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale

The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale

Ed Young, Tracey Adams. Harcourt Children's Books, $18 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201016-4

Both text and art are elegantly spare in Young's (Lon Po Po) newest retelling of a Chinese folktale, which may be among the Caldecott Medalist's finest works. Sai, introduced as a wise man, loses his horse; when people arrive to comfort him, he tells them, ""You know, it may not be such a bad thing."" It proves, in fact, to be fortunate: the horse returns with a mare. Sai rejects his friends' congratulations (""Perhaps it is not such a good thing""), and he is right again (the mare throws Sai's son). This pattern continues, and by the end, Sai's son, like his father, ""trust[s] in the ever changing fortunes of life."" It's a relatively metaphysical lesson for a picture book, but Young's restrained and even suspenseful telling brings the message home warmly and appealingly. The illustrations--subtle collages with pastels and watercolor-- eschew Young's often characteristic abstractions in favor of a delicate, slightly flattened style, reminiscent of traditional Chinese painting. Tranquil scenes of Sai's exchanges with his neighbors alternate with dramatic spreads (e.g., the dappled horse rearing, a lightning bolt in the sky behind it). As a bonus, three laminated, jointed paper figures of Sai, his son and the horse are tucked into a plastic sleeve on the back jacket. An author's note exhorts readers to use these figures to ""extend the story beyond the limits of these pages."" No doubt they will. Ages 5-8. (Apr.)