This is an exquisite book on every level. It demonstrates the highest of production values from the perfectly proportioned cover to the truly heart-warming story expertly illuminated by expressive illustrations and enclosed within beautifully fitting endpapers.
This is a book to treasure and share across the generations for the gentle wisdom it imparts and the tactile pleasure it offers to the reader. The text is sparse yet lyrical and the sense of perspective in the illustrations, as well as the contrast between light and dark, is superbly done.
After a father gives his three children a few coins with instructions to spend them to fill an empty pagoda, they each embark on their quests. The two sons spend wisely and make sound investments but it is the youngest, Ling Li, who in filling her pagoda, also fills her father’s heart with joy and pride by demonstrating that she truly has obtained the wisdom he hoped for when he set the challenge.
In an age where compassion and kindness are sorely needed, this book is perfectly timed and its simple message inspired by the Dr Martin Luther King quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” will resonate with young and old alike.
In just a few more days, the lumbering Ox takes over from the scurrilous Rat in the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Rat was arguably one of much shifting and called for quick-wittedness at which the wee rat excels. The new year of the Ox promises a more measured, assured and progressive adventure, one marked by restoration, resoluteness and renewed strength. I wonder how this will translate on a global scale. One thing is for certain, no matter what your beliefs or desires, all can be enhanced by wisdom, patience and the practice of compassion. So this year’s Chinese New Year offering is the enchanting picture book by new picture book duo, Steve Heron and Benjamin Johnston, Ling Li’s Lantern.
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.
A champion of wellbeing for children, author Steve Heron is the founder of Nurture Works Foundation and developed the acclaimed ‘BUZ – Build Up Zone’ social and emotional programs and initiatives used in many schools throughout Western Australia. His first dabble with writing for children led to a series of six picture books in the ‘Feel Safe Feel Right Series.’ Ling Li’s Lantern is Steve’s first stand- alone picture book and a superb story of compassion, kindness, and the true nature of wisdom.
Suitable for children 5+, Heron’s insightful storytelling and Benjamin Johnston’s fastidiously composed illustrations draw young readers back in time to enjoy a delightful fable unfolding against the lush, green hills and terraced rice paddies of an unmistakably Chinese village.
Ling Li and her brothers are given a modest sum of money by their father Da Zhi and sent on a quest designed to nurture their wisdom. The first two children succeed in their task — one is particularly astute, the other clever — but Ling Li demonstrates the special wisdom of compassion and her father draws a connection between her kindness bringing light to the village and a lantern light filling a pagoda.
Although unmistakably influenced by traditional fables, Heron’s tale is refreshingly different. Unlike so many other examples of sibling folklore around the world, Ling Li’s Lantern does not focus on rivalry, power, or the usual outsmarting tactics. Rather it is a tale of surprising kindness and hope.
From the traditional Cormorant fishermen, architecturally perfect buildings and stylised landscapes, Benjamin Johnston has taken his inspiration from Chinese paintings of the Qing era and the author’s visit to the stunning Five Pagoda Wind and Rain Bridge in Chengyang, China. Undertaken entirely digitally, the illustrations bring the family and bustling market-place characters to life, grounding them in this authentic little village by a river.
Although unspoken in the story, the villagers seem to be preparing for a Chinese New Year Festival with food and craft stalls dominating the market. Lanterns feature in the patterned end pages of this picture book and are increasingly depicted in the second half of the story, their diffuse light bringing a hopeful, celebratory feel along with a touch of warmth at the end of the day.
The final glow of the sun faded as evening began to fall.
As Ling Li walked past the last few stalls, she heard a man calling out, ‘Lanterns for sale!’
A truly heart-warming story told with the utmost cultural sensitivity in a traditionally reserved style, Ling Li’s Lantern is a gloriously rich and inspirational picture book to share at home or with primary aged readers in the classroom. There are teacher’s notes available, offering creative literacy, critical thinking, and personal/social ideas for teachers to consider when sharing this text.
At the very core of this engaging tale is Ling Li’s kindness. Her simple acts are sure to resonate with every young reader.
Reviewed by Lisa Hoad (CBCA Reading Time)