Reviews for Master Swordsman & the Magic Doorway : Two Legends from Ancient China


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 September 2001
Gr. 2-5. In the first of two tales, Little Chu, who wants to protect his village from bandits, studies with a swordsman whose idea of training is to load the boy down with chores and chuck things at his head. After years of lifting and ducking, Little Chu earns a sword, which the master suggests he use for chopping cabbage. Indeed, Little Chu becomes a famous chef, with a most intimidating way of slicing vegetables. In the second tale, an artist, commissioned by the emperor to paint a great mural, is condemned to death lest he ever create another such masterpiece. To save himself, he paints a blue door in his panorama and walks through it when the executioner draws nigh. While evoking the look and feeling of traditional Chinese art, Provensen treats each story differently. She uses small vignettes in the first; in the second, she switches to compositions featuring elaborately robed figures set against the mural that is nearly indistinguishable from the foreground "reality." A source note would have been helpful. ((Reviewed September 15, 2001)) Copyright 2001 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2002 Spring
Subtitle to the contrary, these seem to be two original stories, and they seem to be set in an imagined ancient China, beautifully and evocatively depicted but having little to do with actual place or time. The language in the first story is fresh and arresting; the art is full of movement and humor. The second tale is more contained and more conventionally illustrated; it will elicit quiet reflection. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #1
Subtitle to the contrary, these seem to be two original stories, and they seem to be set in an imagined ancient China, la Tikki Tikki Tembo-in other words, beautifully and evocatively depicted, but having little to do with actual place or time. That said, the stories are enjoyable. In the first one, a boy from an impoverished, bandit-plagued village sets off to learn swordsmanship from a legendary master; instead, the master, using highly unconventional methods, teaches him how to sidestep weapons so skillfully that he will never need to use one. "The Master Swordsman" is all action, of the child-appealing kind: swift moving, slapstick, and presented in a series of comic-book-style panels. After Little Chu goes to study with Master Li, the panels depict Little Chu being bonked on the head by (or, finally, avoiding being bonked on the head by) various objects, from logs to chairs to stewpots to cabbages. "One day, as Little Chu was carrying water, a jug came sailing over the hut. BONG!! 'LOOK SHARP!' glugged the jug." The language is fresh and arresting; the art full of movement and humor. Text and art function interdependently, in true picture-book fashion: the text, for example, never states that it is Master Li who is hurling those dangerous projectiles. In story number two, "The Magic Doorway," an artist outwits, through his extraordinary talent, the jealous, murderous emperor who has commissioned him to paint "the greatest painting in the world." This tale is more contained and more conventionally illustrated with full-bleed double-page spreads; it will elicit quiet reflection rather than laughter. m.v.p. Copyright 2001 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2001 September #2
There's an audacious quality to Caldecott Honor-winning Provensen's (A Visit to William Blake's Inn, 1981) work, never more so than here, where she yokes together two Chinese stories, and uses Chinese painting as the inspiration for her oil on vellum images. There's luminosity in both the glow of the art, and in the purity of the telling. In the first tale, Little Chu's desperately poor village is beset by bandits, so he seeks to learn swordsmanship from the great Master Li. Master Li's stewpot, water jug, and log all have lessons for Little Chu, and he learns them painfully. In the end, though, he masters the sword so well that he needs it only to chop cabbage, and brings prosperity to his village by wielding the famous sword to prepare meals. The Magic Doorway teaches likewise. The emperor is so taken with the magnificent painting Mu Chi is making on the palace wall that he wishes to have the artist put to death when he finishes, so no one else will have so great a work. But Mu Chi, who could make deer leap in his painted canyons and rabbits nibble the grass, paints a blue door, and then escapes through it: "I have some more paintings to make, and I cannot make them without a head," he tells the emperor. The elegant precision of both prose and painting will speak to young readers, bringing home complicated lessons about freedom, choice, and preparedness. (Folktale. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 October #5
Two inspiring tales of paradox from the Middle Kingdom captivate Caldecott winner Provensen (The Glorious Flight; A Visit to William Blake's Inn). In the first, the Master, who maintains that he no longer teaches, trains his apprentice Little Chu in an unorthodox way to develop the lightning instincts that will make the boy an extraordinary swordsman. In exquisitely timed painted panels, Provensen chronicles the boy's improving skills until one day Little Chu successfully dodges the Master's sword and the man bequeaths to him the weapon and releases him from service ("You will never need to draw it. No enemy can touch you. Use the sword to chop cabbage"). In the second tale, a greedy emperor commissions a great wall painting by Mu Chi, then plots to behead him so that the artist can never top his work for the emperor. But the painter outsmarts the ruler. Taken together, the tales contrast the outcome of generosity versus parsimony. Both the action-packed panels in the first story and the spreads in the second contain traditional Chinese motifs; the paintings never lose their simplicity of line and narrative clarity. Oil painting on cream-colored vellum and calligraphy-like type add to the feeling of ageless calm. These magic tales with impeccable visual pacing prove once again that Provensen is a master storyteller and a consummate artist. Ages 5-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2001 November
K-Gr 3-A distinguished illustrator uses the China she imagines as a setting for two philosophical fantasies. Though the stories are described as "legends from ancient China- retold," the CIP information is more accurate, categorizing the book as fiction rather than folklore. In the first story, a small boy from a village beset by bandits travels far to apprentice himself to a master swordsman. After two years of dodging talking objects like jugs and teapots, Little Chu learns to be attentive and alert, to anticipate danger. Master Li then presents him with his great sword and tells him to use it to chop cabbage. The bandits are so daunted by his skillful chopping of vegetables that they leave the village in peace. The second story concerns the conflict between a great painter and a greedy, cruel emperor. Commissioned to fill a huge, blank wall, the artist spends years painting a mural, knowing that the jealous emperor will kill him when he is finished. His solution to the problem, while echoing many Chinese stories about a picture coming to life, is not a traditional one. Although Provensen tells a good story in crisp, dramatic sentences, her stock characters engage in overly formal dialogue and have been placed in whimsical situations that exist only in the Western imagination. Her art pays respectful homage to Chinese narrative hand scrolls, and her sense of composition, color, and narrative flow are products of her distinguished career. Nonetheless, Emily Arnold McCully's Beautiful Warrior (Scholastic, 1998) and Molly Bang's Tye May and the Magic Brush (Morrow, 1992) are more authentic and accurate depictions of China.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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