“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” This ancient bible scripture could very well be the premise of author Judy Young’s latest picture book, called Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon.
In the book, humble Hu Wan is a nine-year-old peasant boy who gardens garnet-colored carrots, golden onions, and delicious purple beets alongside his aged grandfather. Hu Wan and his grandfather live near the Forbidden City, the place where the emperor and his own nine-year-old son live, and the place Hu Wan and his grandfather will never see with their own eyes unless they are personally invited by the emperor.
Hu Wan and his grandfather care for their vegetables through spring, summer and the rainy season. They also protect the gourds that will be made into unique ladles and bowls they will sell in the village market. This season Hu Wan has the honor of deciding what shape the gourd will take. He decides to shape it a lovely sleeping dragon. Although it’s not very good (at least in his opinion), he offers it as a gift to the new emperor – a nine-year-old who is grieving the sudden death of his father. The new emperor’s guards laugh at Hu Wan’s crude gift, but the young emperor has a different reaction.
Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon is a quiet and lovely book about humility, familial love, and giving the best of yourself – even when you think your best doesn’t amount to much. Ms. Young’s prose is simple and quite evocative, and brims with the innocence of youth. Artist Jordi Solano’s illustrations are simply luscious, with warm brown tones, rich red’s and soft green’s and gray’s. The entire presentation works together to offer a calming effect to young children and the parents who read to them.
Use this book to fuel discussions on family roles, family relationships, sudden losses (deaths), and giving the best you have, even when it seems others around you have more to give. It can also be used to open a discussion about how the person who makes the biggest impact might be the last person you would have thought of.