cover image Hearsay: Strange Tales from the Middle Kingdom

Hearsay: Strange Tales from the Middle Kingdom

Barbara Ann Porte. Greenwillow Books, $15 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15381-6

Porte (Black Elephant with a Brown Ear [in Alabama]) dishes up chop suey--mostly tasty--in 15 tales, a mix of Chinese folktales and original stories inspired by Chinese legends and lore. The tone and emphasis of her storytelling may not sound culturally authentic (to see how Western the perspective is here, readers may wish to compare Ed Young's The Lost Horse [Children's Forecasts, Apr. 27] with Porte's version of the same story, embedded in the entry ""Famous Painting""), but the author substitutes an equally notable virtue: a contagious passion for the exotic. She studs her writing with nuggets mined from history and tradition (source notes testify to her research). Stories explain in detail how feet were bound (girls were fed rice dumplings stuffed with red beans, believed to soften the bones), how emperors chose concubines, etc. Magicians and the supernatural occupy prominent places as well; along the way, readers learn such matters as how people turn into ghosts and how those apparitions are appeased. A few of Porte's own stories feel cobbled together, straining to incorporate so much material, but if her plots are not always seamless, she frames her entries with unusual imagination and her prose flows with consistent ease. Ages 10-up. (May)