Ling Li is the youngest child of Da Zhi, a highly respected village elder. She is his only daughter and shares the family home with quick-thinking, Jingming and fun-loving, Miao. Mindful that all aspects of success are built with wisdom, Da Zhi devises a great challenge for his offspring to promote wisdom within them.
He gives each an amount of money and the directive to use it to fill one of three empty pagodas. They each have one day to complete the task. His sons tackle the quest with vigour and ingenuity, each successfully filling their pagoda to the rafters. Da Zhi commends them for their ability to implement strong investment techniques and for working hard to achieve their goal; all clever wisdoms.
Little Ling Li takes more time to ponder the wisest way to complete her father’s challenge. She wonders through the pristine hillsides and paddy fields to the village in search of enlightenment but along the way encounters several people in various states of distress and difficulty. She stops every time to listen and help where she can, each delay chipping away at the money her father gave her to complete her task in order to make the lives of these people a little better: a magician is rewarded, a lost little girl is distracted with favours, a market seller’s luck is changed with her first sale…
By the time the final glow of the sun fades, Ling Li discovers she has all but spent her allowance and uses the last of her coins to buy a beautiful lantern to light her way home. All is in darkness when Ling Li finally arrives home, ashamed and forlorn for seemingly failing her task. Her sage father then leads her and her lantern into the empty pagoda where she discovers the true worth of wisdom, a special wisdom that she alone attained.
This beautiful tale unfolds like a paper fan suffused with the essence of Zen. It escorts readers through a challenge where they themselves are encouraged to explore how sensible, fortuitous choices can be made even when restrictions are imposed; something young children must consider every day of their growing lives. It questions the characteristics of wisdom and what makes good, clever and special wisdom, compelling us to understand that kindness and compassion are powerful attributes and infinite benefactors of good fortune.
Heron’s lilting prose befits the tone of this tale; long leisurely sentences create mood and character intimacy while Johnston’s stirring artwork in shades of ochres, browns, teals and reds, is perfectly suited to the Asian nuances of Ling Li’s story. The lantern adorned end pages are especially alluring.
This story is sure to set hearts aglow. Gentle, perceptive, and visually enticing, Ling Li’s Lantern is a judicious choice to share this Chinese New Year or indeed throughout the year.