SHEN OF THE SEA -- 1926
by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
This is another Newbery Medal winner that I have known about but had never read. It is a charming collection of Chinese folk tales. "Shen" is not a person, I learned, but the word for a demon. Some of the stories are "just so" -- Ah Mee's is the hapless boy who ends up inventing printing; lazy An Fun invents gunpowder; Ah Tcha the Sleeper introduces "cha" or tea.
The illustrations are wonderful silhouettes, in imitation of Chinese shadow puppets. (I learned all about those in a splendid book I reviewed a year ago at this time.*)
Given the date and the culture, it's not surprising that most of the heroes are boys. There is no historical or geographical context (other than "long ago in China")--are the tales common to all regions? Taken only from one? And how did Arthur Bowie Chrisman choose these tales? The jacket flap says only that "He spent several years in California....and during this period he spent much time studying the history and literature of India and China." A bibliography and source notes would be helpful to the adults who may use the book in elementary classrooms and to students who are curious enough to want to learn more.
* Shadow Woman by Grant Hayter-Menzies