I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told

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Lee, Jeanne M
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Research Projects
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An untitled story takes the reader immediately into a dark temple filled with random animals fleeing a storm. As the animals bicker, a stone statue of the Buddha quiets them. He will tell them a story to pass the time. There follow six Jataka stories done as an engaging children's book. They are illustrated in strong linocuts, some in one, some two, and some many colors. The Foolish Forest Sprite tells of a sprite who drives away the lions from his forest, but then the farmers come and cut down the trees, and soon all the animals have to flee. When the sprite asks the lions to return, they refuse. All creatures depend on each other for their existence; only tolerance of others can bring harmony. The Deceitful Heron tells a well-known KD tale, but with three changes from the versions I know best. First, the teller is a tree near the fresh full pond. Secondly, the heron carries individual fish in his beak to their doom. Thirdly, the tree-narrator is the place where the victim-fish are eaten. The Monkey and the Crocodile, the book's title-story, is a famous tale involving the claim that the monkey has left his heart behind. The special feature here is that the monkey claims to show his heart hanging on the fig tree to the foolish crocodile. This colored picture is perhaps the best of the book. The monkey exults You can't even tell a fig from a monkey's heart! The Flight of the Beasts is the familiar story of the hare who fears that the the earth is caving in; in other versions the fear is that the sky is falling. The result is the same: a stampede. Here the lion stops them just before they race into the ocean. He asks the elephants if they saw the earth caving in, and they answer that the tigers did. The tigers point to the rhinoceros, who points to the oxen, and so on. The Wise Dove is about the captured dove who does not let himself get fattened up. He ends up free while all the other captives are eaten. Three Friends in a Forest reshapes the KD story of the rat and friends, only here without the rat. The two-color large illustration of the tressed antelope is one of the book's best. At the end of the last story, the animals awake as if after a long sleep, and the storm is over. The Buddha is a simple statue, but they all seem to remember the same stories as they leave the temple.
Farrar Straus and Giroux,
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