The Death of Echadon, Where is Tibet?, Prince Siddhartha, Hero of the Land of Snow and The Children of Nepal
Until recently, there were few Buddhist storybooks available in this country for children. Now, several publishers are using Eastern traditions to develop children's literature. The following are a few of the books currently obtainable for children ages five to twelve.
THE DEATH OF ECHADON: How Buddhism Came to Silla
By Edward B. Adams.
Seoul International Publishing House: Seoul, 1986.
32 pp. $7.50. Charles E. Tuttle, distributor.
This ancient legend recalls how the people of Korea, who once rejected Buddhism in order to preserve their own traditions, later came to embrace the teachings of Shakyamuni. Two successive kings from Silla believe that Buddhism will bring peace and happiness to their kingdom. They try to convince the people and the stubborn palace officials of the need for Buddhist understanding. The second king is perplexed and without hope until he grants an audience to a sincere young man named Echadon. Echadon loves the Buddha's teachings and offers to die in order to bring about a miracle that will change the hearts of the people.
In the end, Echadon witnesses the changes he had hoped for. The king and queen then set an example by taking vows as a monk and a nun, which will provide an American reader of any age with an enlightened view of royalty.
WHERE IS TIBET? Text and illustrations
by Gina Halpern. Tibetan translations by Ngawang Jorden.
Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, N. Y., forthcoming.
48 pp. $18.95/$12.95 (paperback).
With detailed and sensitive drawings, Gina Halpern creates a charming full-color picture book. Few illustrators have been able to capture Tibetan style and imagery in a modern format, but Halpern succeeds with both humor and originality. Two Tibetan children lead us to their homeland, seeming to climb up out of the picture book to act as the reader's personal guides to the Himalayan kingdom.
By Jonathan Landaw. Illustrated by Janet Brooke.
Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1984.
144 pp. $15.95 (paperback).
In lyrical prose, Jonathan Landaw tells the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Thirty short chapters depict each significant step of Siddhartha's development. The early life of the Indian prince is presented with enough simplicity that a young reader has no trouble identifying with a child who lived so long ago and far away. On such a foundation, even the complexities of how and why Siddhartha left home are made comprehensible to a young audience.
HERO OF THE LAND OF SNOW
Adapted by Sylvia Gretchen. Full-color illustrations by Julia Witwer.
Dharma Publishing: Berkeley, 1990.
36 pp. $14.94/$6.95 (paperback).
King Gesar, the eleventh-century hero of this Tibetan epic, has spiritual force and great compassion. In this first volume of the King Gesar series brought out by Dharma Publishing, Sylvia Gretchen retells the prophecies of Gesar's birth.
Although the story is enhanced by engaging artwork, the length of the text and the maturity of the narrative themes make this a book for older children (eight to twelve years old). The intrigue is concerned with a conflict between good and evil and investigated through mystery and ambiguity. The reader may predict a happy ending, but there are moments when this is brought into doubt. Even Gesar's own mother questions her son's wisdom: "Have you brought us to ruin with your magic and mischief?" she once asks him. But, in the end, Gesar's calmness and intelligence (and his magical powers) help him overcome the trials of exile, poverty, and public ridicule.
THE CHILDREN OF NEPAL
Matti A. Pitkdnen with Reigjo Hdrkonen.
Carolrhoda Books: Minneapolis, 1990. 48 pp. $14.95.
The Children of Nepal is one in a new series of books about the children of the world to be published by Carolrhoda Books. The authors present an intimate view of the lives of children in the various geographical settings of Nepal, from the snowy region of Everest to the heat of southern Terai. Through vivid narrative and striking photographs, factual information becomes an integral part of an interesting story.
First, the reader is face-to-face with the world's highest mountain as seen from the rhododendron groves sixteen-thousand feet below in the homeland of the Sherpas. A short political history of Nepal follows, and then the characters are presented: Togendra lives in Kathmandu and sells coconut slices to augment the family income. Baba, the holy man, meditates at the Pashupatinath temple and gives people advice. Ashok, the maroon-robed monk, lives at the Bodhnath stupa surrounded by images of Tibetan Buddhist deities. Young Rameshoweri is kept home from school so that she can care for her infant sister until her parents return from working in the fields.
Whitney Stewart is the author of To the Lion Throne, a biography of the Dalai Lama written for children.