________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006


Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem About China.

Ed Young.
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2005.
32 pp., cloth, $23.95.
ISBN 0-8118-4343-2.

Subject Headings:
China-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1 and up / Ages 6 and up.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

**** /4


Beyond the great mountains,

Far to the east, a vast fertile plain. In its sky, mist rose and fell, rain water gathering, river cascading


Beyond the Great Mountains is a visual poem about China. Young writes about the topography of the land, as well as many natural and human-grown resources of China.

     In an interview (http://www.chroniclebooks.com/Chronicle/excerpt/0811843432-e0.html) Young explains how the origins of the book date back 20 years ago when he was teaching a workshop on Chinese brushwork and calligraphy in Boulder, CO. He needed to demonstrate Chinese characters to the workshop attendees so he crafted a poem using a roll of paper towels from a nearby washroom. Although the original poem he created with 40 basic Chinese symbols has been revised, Young states that, “at the heart it is the same poem.”

     During the interview, Young discusses his fascination with Chinese symbols and states that he is teaching “Chinese through the characters, through pictures, the way I would have liked to learn it.” He discusses how the publisher worked to create an innovative way to format the book because an accordion type of book was not pragmatic. The publisher developed a book with tiered pages, and each page is a different colour. The book's binding is at the top of the page and each line of the poem appears at the narrow edge of the bottom of the layered paper. When the book is open, readers can view the poem in its entirety. The design of the book is symbolic because Chinese text is read from top to bottom.

     The words chosen by Young for this uniquely designed picture book create powerful images and indeed the verbal text of the poem can be read without lifting each tiered piece of paper. However, the visual poem is actualized when each layer is raised and the cut and torn textured collages that visually symbolize each line of the poem are revealed to the reader. The visual representations for each line of the poem are simultaneously simple and complex and are accompanied by ancient and/or modern Chinese characters. The end pages at the back of the book include information about the ancient and modern Chinese characters and their corresponding English words. In the “Author's Note” at the end of the book, Young writes about using Western and Chinese symbols and about his purposes for creating the book.

     The rich and synergistic relationship among the text, the illustrations and the distinctive format and layout of this sophisticated picture book demands and rewards multiple viewings and readings.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo is a professor of language arts in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria, in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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