cover image Eyes of the Dragon

Eyes of the Dragon

Margaret Leaf. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, $18 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-06155-5

""Long ago in faraway China there was a little village. It lay up against a tall mountain on which there lived wild beasts and, some said, wild men.'' Thus begins a tale inspired by a real 13th century dragon-painter named Ch'en Jung. Li's grandfather, the town magistrate, has persuaded the villagers to build a wall around their town; when it is finished, however, it looks rather plain. The village elders hire Ch'en Jung for 40 silver coins to paint a portrait of the Dragon King on the wall. The painter agrees to do the job on the condition that he be allowed to paint the dragon in his own manner. He proceeds by painting first the tail and works toward the head; at one point the dragon's head and tail almost meet. But when Ch'en Jung is finished, the magistrate won't pay him because the dragon doesn't have any eyes. The magistrate soon regrets his decision, but by then it is too late. Leaf's reference to the dragon's eyes is reminiscent of William Blake's ``Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright,'' a ghastly, unforgettable moment. Young's vibrant, iridescent pastels give readers broad sweeps of color and haunting landcapes. These pages carry out the full force of the text and are luminous in their intensity, especially when the serenity of the countryside is submerged in the consequences of the magistrate's mistake. A glorious work. Ages 58. (April)