________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 12 . . . . February 12, 1999

cover The Legend of the Panda.

Linda Granfield (reteller). Illustrated by Song Nan Zhang.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 1998.
24 pp., cloth, $19.99.
ISBN 0-88776-421-5.

Subject Headings:
Giant panda-Folklore.

Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4

image Children are particularly fond of legends which explain how animals came to be the way they are. In her retelling of The Legend of the Panda, Linda Granfield, award-winning author of 15 non-fiction books for young readers, has given her audience a simple and moving story of how the panda came to have its black and white coat. Dolma is a beautiful young shepherdess who tends her sheep on the steep slopes of the mountains surrounding the Wolong Valley in China. When a small white panda cub, known as a "Beishung," joins the flock, Dolma is delighted to watch him nibble bamboo shoots and frolic with her sheep and lambs. One day, returning from gathering herbs, Dolma surprises a snow leopard attacking the defenseless Beishung. Without a thought for her own safety, Dolma rushes forward and attempts to beat off the attacker. Although she saves the panda cub, Dolma is killed by the snow leopard. The Beishung, out of their deep love for Dolma, join the grieving villagers in smearing themselves with ashes. As the pandas wipe their eyes and hug themselves, they stain their thick white fur with black.

      Gifted author and illustrator Song Nan Zhang, winner of the Mr. Christie award for A Little Tiger in the Chinese Night, has enriched the tale with wonderfully vivid paints depicting the ancient Wolong Valley in Springtime. Inspired by his experiences while traveling the Silk Road, the artist has created nine beautifully detailed double-spread pages which are certain to hold the attention of young viewers.

      Granfield seems to have an unerring instinct for subjects that fascinate young people. She has combined her love of history with a storyteller's imagination to create outstanding books like In Flanders Fields: the Story of the Poem by John McCrae [1995] and Amazing Grace: the Story of the Hymn [1997]. However, The Legend of the Panda, with its blend of folklore and information, is not quite so successful. The narrative belongs rather to Dolma than to the pandas, and the episode at the end of the story when her sisters choose to join Dolma in death will be puzzling and disturbing to five and six year olds.

      The author has augmented the book with two pages of information about the giant panda in which she mentions the efforts undertaken by the World Wildlife Fund to save the endangered animal. The reading level of this segment of the book is considerably more advanced than the narrative preceding it, thereby presenting a minor difficulty in ascertaining the intended audience for this picture book. This little essay is definitely too difficult to be read aloud to primary students; however, it could prove useful resource for students in upper elementary grades who are often required to do projects on endangered species.


Valerie Nielsen, a recently retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB, and co-chairs the committee responsible for the Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364