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Kids’ Books: ‘The Painted Wall and Other Strange Tales’

May 01, 2004 1 min read

Liao-chai, a collection of stories originally compiled by Pu Sung-ling, is the Chinese equivalent of the Grimm Brothers’ work. The Painted Wall contains 23 of the tales—most no longer than five pages—as adapted by Bedard. Many describe poor scholars struggling to make a success of their lives; all offer commentary on Chinese society within a supernatural context. In “Planting a Pear Tree,” for example, a pear seller refuses to give his fruit to a poor Taoist priest. After a bailiff, taking pity on the priest, buys him a pear, the grateful man buries a pip and a luscious tree grows. He offers the fruit to the crowd, then disappears. Only then does the fruit seller discover that his cart is empty. Other stories deal with topics such as theft, loyalty, and friendship. A few, including the title story, involve more adult themes. Overall, however, Bedard’s book offers a valuable alternative to more commonly read fairy tales and a gateway to discussions of non-Western culture.