Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Like its companion volume, The Rainbow People (1989), Tongues of Jade is a collection of folktales retold by Laurence Yep. Sixteen of the seventeen stories originally appeared in The Golden Mountain, a book of Chinese folktales collected in the 1930’s in Oakland’s Chinatown by Jon Lee, and the last story, “The Ghostly Rhyme,” is a story gathered by Wolfam Eberhard in San Francisco’s Chinatown. These were tales recalled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the United States in the nineteenth century who called themselves “guests of the Golden Mountain.” As a leisure activity, they told one another stories that illustrated aspects of Chinese culture with which they identified. Following the Chinese idea of jade as a preserver, the book as a whole suggests that by telling stories, the storytellers’ jade tongues maintain part of the group’s cultural heritages.

Through the use of simple and concise language, Yep artfully retells the stories in third-person narrative form and organizes them into five sections according to the following themes: “Roots,” “Family Ties,” “Wild Heart,” “Face,” and “Beyond the Grave.” At the beginning of each section, a brief introduction links the theme to Chinese culture. These introductions assist readers in understanding the meaning and significance of the stories. The attractive black-and-white watercolor illustrations by David Wiesner preface each story and augment the simple retellings beautifully.

The first...

(The entire section is 626 words.)