"In the beginning . . . "
This story begins like a bit of ancient myth; for in that kind of story the Earth and its inhabitants were explained. In this case the oxen are shown, first as living with the Emperor of All the Heavens in his Imperial Palace, but then sent to Earth to aid man with his labors.The role of helpmate to man was a punishment, however, since Ox Star was delegated by the Emperor to explain that food was meant to be eaten every third day. Ox Star, who was strong but not very smart, relayed the message incorrectly: "The Emperor had declared that you shall eat three times a day, every day!" Because of this error, he and all the oxen in heaven were banished to Earth.
The simplicity of the story and its myth-like quality makes it appealing and adds to the folklore tone. It is the illustrations - angular and graphic - that makes this picture book exemplary. With acrylic and gouache, the artist has inlaid varied pieces in patterns like collage separated by strong borders and outlines.
The warm rich colors represent the heavens and China farmlands, laboring men and the beast of burden. Stylized eyes delineate mood and intensity of emotion; tears, drooping lids and round-eyed wonder.
Reminiscent of Gerald MacDermott's "Arrows to the Sun" and "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" by Leo and Diane Dillon, Hong's work carries a power of shape, space and line. This new addition is welcome to the study of art and the culture of Chinese folklore.
Utahns can really be proud of their authors of children and young adult books. We have a long list of respected writers who delight readers with novels, informational books and poetry.
It is time to celebrate a new name to these ranks, Lily Toy Hong, an illustrator whose first picture book is making inroads in the children's book market. "How the Ox Star Fell From Heaven" will be a featured picture book by a national bookseller as a "book of the month" and will be included in a reading textbook.
Hong is being invited to autograph parties and is sharing her talent with schoolchildren. One sixth-grade teacher reported that the lively and informational presentation was one of the best she had ever seen.
Hong, while new to the book illustration business, is not unfamiliar in the role of artist. She does free-lance art work and for three years was a designer and production artist for a greeting card company. "My favorite stories are folk tales, legends and myths, and I love learning about my Chinese heritage, so I hope to do more books in this area."