The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there lived an emperor who had only one daughter. Her name was Hwei Ming." In a brief note at the start of the book Yolen explains that the princess' name means "a darkened moon, with the hope of becoming bright and full in the future." The emperor was deeply saddened that his only daughter was blind and resolved that anyone who could help her to see would be rewarded with a fortune in jewels. Terrazini begins the story with black and white illustrations but, five pages into it when we first meet the person who will help the princess to see, color gradually beings to find its way into the illustrations until the pages are bursting with color and coated in a glossy sheen that makes the pictures look and feel like cloisonné, the ancient technique for decorating metal work objects.

Monks, magician-priests and physicians came but no one could help the princess. At the same time, an old man who lived far away in the south country heard tales of the princess and begins the long journey to the palace. With him he takes his long walking stick made from a single piece of golden wood and his whittling knife, his only possessions. When he reaches the walls of the Outer City the guards refuse to let him enter. The old man sharpens his knife and begins to tell the guards the story of his journey. As he does so he carves their likenesses into his walking stick, much to their delight. Convinced that the guards of the Inner City will want to see this, they take the old man by the arm and lead him to the Inner City guards. Also impressed, the take the old man to the Imperial Palace.

Upon meeting Hwei Ming, the old man takes her face in his hands and then begins telling the story of his journey to the palace. As he does so, he guides the princess' fingers over the carvings on his walking stick, including the likeness he has made of her. He tells her to feel "the long flowing hair of the princess. Grown as she herself has grown, straight and true." Then he asks her to feel her own straight hair. Gradually, he teachers her to see with her fingers, as she makes her way through the palace feeling the faces of everyone she encounters. Each day, the old man tells the princess a new story and she makes her way through the walled city, feeling every aspect of his tale, then the wood of his carving stick where he has recorded his stories. The last page of the book reads, 

As the princess listened, she grew eyes on the tips of her fingers. At least that is what she told the other blind children whom she taught to see as she saw. Certainly it was as true as saying she  has a seeing stick. But the blind Princess Hwei Ming believed that both things were truue. And so did all the blind children in her city of Peking.

And so did the blind old man.

I love the twist at the end of this book! And, as I learned when I read Jane Yolen's blog, she did not originally know that the old man was blind when she wrote her first draft of the story. After sharing it with her writing group, one writer asked, "Is the old man blind, too?" Yolen says it was at this point that she "understood what my entire story was about!" Amazing! If you are a fan of beautiful illustrations and fairy tales, The Seeing Stick is a must have. For more of Terrazini's sublime artwork, check out the images below.  And, for those of you who really like picture books, scroll to the bottom for more artwork from illustrators who are similar to Terrazini.

In the late 1990s I discovered two artists I fell in love with - Lisbeth Zwerger and S Saelig Gallagher. Both remain somewhat mysterious. Gallagher only has handful of published works to her name. The picture books Blue Willow by Pam Conrad and Mama, I'll Give You the World by Roni Schotter as well as Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant and cover art for Frances Hodgeson Burnett's The Secret Garden and Philip Pullman's The Firework Maker's Daughter, a great chapter book for emerging readers, and Sir Terry Pratchett's fantastic trilogy for middle-grade readers that is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Mary Norton's Borrowers books, The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers and Fliers, which I have reviewed on my blog. She seems to have all but disappeared from the world of illustration and kids books since then. I do know that her first name is Susan and, in 1999 when Blue Willow was published she was living in San Diego. If anyone knows anything about her PLEASE share!

Lisbeth Zwerger is a bit easier to track down. Born in Vienna in 1954, she is an illustrator mostly of fairy tales and has provided artwork for many familiar stories, including The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, as well as many of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. A full list of the books she has illustrated can be found at Zwerger's work has a magical, dream like feel to it and her color palette is always warm and welcoming and perfectly suited to childhood imaginings. For a couple more artists like Terrazini, Zwerger and Gallagher who are actively creating today, scroll to the bottom and enjoy some of Zwerger's radiant artwork on the way down.

Jen Corace, whose website is currently under construction but her work can be seen at the gallery site Tiny Showcase, definitely creates images that have a magical, dreamlike feel that can be, at times,   more menacing than Zwerger and Gallagher's work. However, Corace's her picture book work is more tame. She works often with the amazing Amy Krouse Rosenthal as well as Randal de Sève on her wonderful book Mathilda and the Orange Balloon.

Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Book CoverLittle Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Book Cover
Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Book CoverThis Plus That: Life's little Equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Book Cover

And, last but not least, the spectacular Sophie Blackall, and her artwork and name can be found all over my blog. Sophie has a new book coming out this year for adults called Missed Connections. For years now Blackall has been reading the "Missed Connections" column in the classified ad and illustratiing those that especially intrigued her for display on her blog. Scroll to the bottom for one of her pieces.


Buy this book!But this book!
BUY THIS BOOK!Buy Missed Connections on Amazon


Saturday, May 21, 2011
Ack! 'Round 7pm or so... I was browsing the shelves and saw you on the other side. I swear I glimpsed our entire future together in that brief moment. It was beautiful.  And then someone asked you for the time. I mean c'mon, who doesn't have a damn time-telling device of some sort these days! 

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