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Lady White Snake

A Tale From Chinese Opera

Book illustration

Retold by Aaron Shepard
Illustrated by Song Nan Zhang

Lady White is a thousand-year–old snake who, through centuries of meditation and self-discipline, has managed to attain human form. On a visit to China’s famous West Lake, she falls in love with a young man and soon becomes his wife. But when a Buddhist abbot discovers her true origin, she must fight for both her marriage and her freedom.

From one of the most popular of Chinese operas comes this tale of love and courage in the face of blind intolerance. Accompanied by illustrations depicting traditional costumes and staging, this retelling brings to life a timeless legend and a classic art form.

Picture book • Ages 7 & up

Aaron Shepard is the award-winning author of The Baker’s Dozen, The Sea King’s Daughter, The Monkey King, and many more children’s books, while his Web site is known internationally as a prime resource for folktales, storytelling, and reader’s theater. Once a professional storyteller, Aaron specializes in lively retellings of folktales and other traditional literature, which have won him honors from the American Library Association, the New York Public Library, the Bank Street College of Education, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the American Folklore Society.

Song Nan Zhang is a fine-art painter, author, and illustrator who was born in China but now lives in Canada. His first children’s book won Canada’s prestigious Mr. Christie Book Award. His background for this book includes being married to an amateur performer in Chinese opera.

Pan Asian/Edustar

Hardcover ~ 2001

Ebook ~ 2015

Also published in bilingual editions with Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese

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Book cover


“Shepard retells a popular story in Chinese opera. Richly patterned images that call up Chinese sources as well as impressionism bring this version to life for older readers. Children who eagerly watched the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will recognize the fierce grace in Lady White Snake’s swordplay, a grace evident even while she’s pregnant. Notes at the back talk about Chinese opera stories, costumes, and actors, as well as the geography and cultural content of the tale.”—GraceAnne A. DeCandido, Booklist, Oct. 15, 2001

“Shepard and Zhang present a tale from Chinese traditional literature in the form most Chinese would know it—as an opera performance. Shepard’s text, written in vivid, engaging prose, tells the tragic tale of an immortal white snake that is transformed into a lovely woman in search of love. . . . Zhang’s color work and skill in composition perfectly complement the dramatic, action-packed text. This picture-book version of a famous Chinese story cast in a unique Chinese art form offers American children an authentic encounter with this rich and ancient culture.”—Margaret A. Chang, School Library Journal, Mar. 2002

Sample Text

The newlyweds decided to move to the city of Zhenjiang and open an herb shop of their own. The shop was a great success, for Lady White could tell just what was wrong with a patient and just what compound to prescribe. What’s more, she showed great dedication in helping the sick, no matter how poor.

The two were supremely happy with their work and with each other. Adding to their joy, Lady White soon announced she was expecting a child.

One day when Lady White had gone off to rest, an old Buddhist monk entered the shop and spoke to Xu Xian. “I am Fahai, the abbot of Gold Mountain Temple,” he said. “I have come to warn you of a great danger. By my spiritual powers, I have discovered that your wife is a thousand-year-old snake. She hides her true nature for now, but one day she will surely turn on you and devour you.”

“How dare you say that!” said the young man. “It’s nothing but wicked slander!”

But Fahai told him, “Just make sure she drinks realgar wine for the Dragon Boat Festival. She’ll change back then to her true form, and you’ll see for yourself.”

Sample text copyright © 2001 Aaron Shepard. Illustration copyright © 2001 Song Nan Zhang.

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