I’ve mostly blogged about stories, writers and illustrators that I’m a bit familiar with. But I’ve started looking round at more blogs on such things, and sometimes discovering new treasures. I don’t know how I came to Terry Hong’s “Book Dragon” entry on The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. (I must have just heard of the book then, because I can see I went to another review by Ruby Winkle.) I got hold of the book and I love it for both the story and the illustrations.

So, anyway, there’s a little girl, the Emporer’s daughter, Hwei Ming, who’s blind. Her father asks the usual people to cure her blindness but they cannot. But somewhere in the south an old man begins the long journey to Peking to anwer the Emporer’s request for help.

When the old man is refused entry to the outer city he tells the guards his stick is a “seeing stick” and carves his journey and the guards’ faces into its golden wood. He is led to the inner city where he does the same for the guards there. Impressed, they let the old man in to the palace.

He tells Hwei Ming about his journey and she feels the carvings on the “seeing stick”, then feels the faces of the people around her, for the first time – the old man, her father, the guards. The next day he returns and tells more stories, stories carved into the stick, and so the girl begins to discover the world through touch…

Well, I’ve left out lots of the details, but as you can see Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini’s illustrations are amazing, as they turn from greys to colours as the tale progresses and whirl between the folk-art of the stick-pictues and the atmospheric brushwork that illustrates the main tale. There’s a sort of expressionism in the trees, that somehow through their sinuously unfamiliar shapes convey both the oriental and the, to me, unfamiliar space of the sightless:

Although it has the feel of a folktale, Jane Yolen made it up. She says, intriguingly (and thanks to Terry Hong for this):

“I made up THE SEEING STICK myself based originally on a legend about a boy who made bamboo flutes and tied them to the legs of doves so that the wind whistled through the flutes when the birds flew up above the city. The legend was reported in a single paragraph in FIELD AND STREAM magazine. (We were visiting my husband’s family in West Virginia and there was no other reading material in the bathroom!) But the bamboo flute morphed over several years into the seeing stick, probably because my youngest son’s best friends in elementary school were twins one of whom was partially sighted. Or maybe it was the twins’ younger brother who was partially sighted. I can’t remember. That was almost forty years ago.”

Never satisfied, now I wonder too about that first story…



  1. terryhong said

    AMAZING how the internet )even more so for a Luddite, believe you me!) can connect us from all over the world like this! I don´t know how you got to BookDragon either, but am so glad you did! Come back again soon! Happy happy holidays, too!

  2. i love these drawings and their perspectives taken from above, thank you for sharing

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