Tales of the Monkey King

by Retold by Benjamen Santamarfa. Paintings by Brian Deines
32 pages,
ISBN: 0887766846

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A Review of: Tales of the Monkey King
by Olga Stein

The writing is somewhat uneven in quality, though by and large this retelling of an ancient Chinese legend is captivating and will be enjoyed by kids 10 years of age and younger. This book was written with the noble aim of forging "a bridge of understanding and support between Canadian and Latin American children." The author is a writer, journalist, and activist for human rights, and was, before having his life threatened and fleeing Mexico, the first ombudsman for the impoverished children in Durango, Mexico.
The Tales of the Monkey King begins with the author's visit to a children's shelter in Mexico City, where he's encouraged to tell a story that will calm the traumatised youngsters and help them fall asleep. Naturally, the story is about a heroic Monkey King, who refuses to accept the inevitability of death, and goes to great lengths to acquire the powers to turn himself and his subjects immortal.
Traveling great distances, scaling the heights of a great mountain, the Monkey King finds the immortal partriach, the only one who can reveal "the marvelous Path to Immortality". But after 20 years of studying, the Monkey King makes a misstep and is told to leave. He must consequently find his own route to Immortality, and that route, turns out to be through a dream-precisely what the children at the shelter require. They need to know that sleep will lend them the power to overcome their fears. They also need to have faith enough to endure through life's adversities.
I would have liked to see a little more detail in the story. For example, what misstep did the Monkey King make? But this is a minor quibble. The author is to be congratulated on this book, which is superbly illustrated by the award-winning artist, Brian Deines. One would hope that educators will take note of what Santamarfa is hoping to do and will take steps to support him in his efforts.

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