cover image Blue Willow

Blue Willow

Pam Conrad. Philomel Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22904-6

Next to Gallagher's (The Selfish Giant) luminous paintings of a quaint, storybook China, this lengthy story seems contrived; the late Conrad's (The Tub People) text has an unfinished quality. She weaves in elements from the traditional legend surrounding the blue willow plate (which is of English design, not Chinese), but the development of themes and characters seem secondary to the working out of the plot. When her wealthy father opposes Kung Shi Fair's marriage to Chang the Good, a lowly fisherman, the stage is set for tragedy. Kung Shi Fair, in her boat made of cassia, fig leaves and orchid banners, bravely sails off to join her lover but drowns in the surging river. As Chang the Good tries vainly to find her, he is killed by hunters who think they are aiming at a marauding leopard. Kung Shi Fair's remorseful father commissions a blue willow plate that tells the story, ""so that parents everywhere would always listen to their children, and would always, always heed what was in their children's hearts."" Initially, Conrad's language is poetic and delicate. But as the intricacies of the plot multiply and the didactic intent of the story unfolds, the language becomes more prosaic and repetitious. The joy of the young lovers, the disapproval of the worried father, the fear of the villagers, all seem more apparent in the colorful art. Ages 6-10. (Sept.)