thirteen: the river by libby hathorn and stanley wong
The River by Libby Hathorn & Stanley Wong
Curriculum Corporation, 2001
“The story is about a treasure! You’ll see…”
What is Xian’s treasure, and what does it mean to Hong? Stanley Wong’s design expertly sets the scene with his brushstroke title, Chinese lettering and faithful depiction of scrolls, furnishings and landscape. Single spread illustrations cover each page with the two interwoven stories differing in layout. The use of frames for today’s indoor urban scenes is perhaps a metaphor for its controlled nature, where Hong’s father is single-minded:
“Hong! You haven’t done your homework… get on with your duties!”
Rural China (of 50-60 years past) is depicted in sprawling landscapes that reach the edges of each page.
Children enjoy The River for its adventure and introduction to Chinese culture. Insertion of three panels within the larger illustration (p. 30) cleverly shows action essential to the plot. The blue and white pot (of the past) is placed near the blue and white iMac computer on the next to last page suggesting a coming together of past and present (as is the theme of Xian’s treasure).
Libby Hathorn clearly has a strong interest in presenting Asian stories. Notes mention the Vietnamese story on her website which readers will want to explore. In this book, Hong is gifted the story of The River and the reader shares it with her.
Xian’s remembrance of home, “Keep to the river. Remember, it’s your friend,” sets the linear path that she must follow from her old life (when her mother dies) to the future with her grandparents.
Two notes of incongruity in this family tale concern Xian’s father not being mentioned, and
the incident with the boy and girl which happens in her grandparent’s village, her safe haven.
Hathorn presents a good adventure, but it did not flow as strongly as the story’s river. More exploration into Hong’s family life would have served the story better. We are left wondering why Ming gave her story to Hong and not her own granddaughter.
If the reader can ignore these small points of discontent, they will indeed have found a treasure and will perhaps be inspired to ask about their own family’s stories.