The Magical Starfruit Tree

An impecunious boy’s act of kindness to an old beggar bears a magical tree of starfruit for all the hungry Chinese villagers, except a miserly peddler who gets his comeuppance for his past stinginess (Amazon)
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Beyond Words Pub Co
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Average: 4 (1 vote)


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Book Review for "The Magical Starfruit Tree"

Field of Interest/Specialty: Visual Arts
Posted On: 12/04/2018

Cathy L. Thomas
NCTA – Book Review: “The Magical Starfruit Tree”
9th -12th Grades – Art I, II, III, IV & AP Studio Art
Poca High School, Poca, WV
“The Magical Starfruit Tree” by Rosalind C. Wang is a children’s book that tells a Chinese folk tale. I feel the lesson being taught in the story is appropriate for upper-elementary students.
“Ah-Di” is a peddler who brings starfruit he has harvested to sell at the market in southern China. The book describes Ah-Di as “mean” and that “no one liked him.”
On a hot and dry day, Ah-Di brought two full baskets of fruit to peddle. He was excited by the idea of making lots of money. He would run off any people who could not afford his starfruit, tell them to “stay away.”
An old man in shabby clothes with a jade sparkle in his eyes explained he was very thirsty, but had no money. He asked Ah-Di if he could show mercy and give him a starfruit. The peddler got angry and called the man a beggar. The old man asked if he could just have a small fruit that would be thrown away anyway and if he did the Jade Emperor of Heaven would surely bless him. Ah-Di told the old man that he would beat him with a stick if he didn’t go away and asked why he would need the old man to ask for blessings for him.
People gathered around and shamed the peddler for being so mean to the old man. A young acrobat, Ming-Ming, came and gave Ah-Di two coins he had just earned from performing. Ming-Ming told the old man to select a large fruit for himself. He hesitated, but took the fruit and ate it.
The old man picked a seed out of the fruit and asked the boy to help him plant it. The old man asked if someone in the crowd could bring him a post of hot water. He poured the water where they had buried the seed. Immediately, a green shoot appeared. The plant grew so tall that the onlookers’ necks were sore from looking up. The old man commanded the tree to grow leaves, and it did. Next, he told the tree to bloom, and flowers appeared. He told the tree to bear fruit. He asked Ming-Ming to climb the tree and gather the starfruit for the crowd. Even Ah-Di was given some.
The old man struck the tree with his cane, and the tree shrunk until it was small enough to fit in a hand. He gave the little tree to Ming-Ming and told him to plant it in his yard. The old man bowed to the crowd and walked away.
The people could not believe what they had witnessed. When Ah-Di noticed his baskets were empty, he screamed and thought the old man must’ve given all his fruit to the crowd. He was devastated his “wealth” was all gone. He ran looking for the old man but the only thing he found was his cane.
The crowd laughed at Ah-Di’s misfortune and thought the old man had to have been a messenger from the Jade Emperor of Heaven sent to teach the greedy peddler a lesson.
The book ends with an explanation that (in Chinese culture), the Jade Emperor of Heaven is “fair and just.” His teachings dictate if you are unkind or disrespectful to the elderly, punishment will come, but if you share and are caring towards others, you will be rewarded.
As a teaching resource, “The Magical Starfruit Tree” could be used alongside any moral lesson: on doing what’s right, being kind to others, showing respect, sharing, etc. There are several lessons to be learned from the story. Ming-Ming didn’t hesitate to offer the money he had just earned when he saw the old man in need. The boy realized he could make more money but the need was right there at that moment.
The story could give an opportunity for young students to share times when they have had the opportunity to help others and talk about how it made them feel. Maybe they have witnessed someone else not doing what they should have and how that made them feel.
The group could compare the expectations of the Chinese culture on how they are expected to treat others and show respect to the elderly and isn’t it the same way in the United States? (Showing how alike children from all cultures are)
The book is written by a Chinese author who now lives in Washington. The story came about because she was frustrated at the lack of Chinese folktales in libraries and she wanted to be able to share them in readings with American children.
The illustrator, Shao Wei Liv is also from China. She came to the United States in 1982. Although her art studies were done in California, she is heavily influenced by her roots. I think the fact that both the author and illustrator of the book are Chinese and surely heard this legend in their own childhoods is an important fact to point out to students about this book. Also, regarding the illustrations, the book could be shown to middle and high schools students for examples of children’s book illustrations from different cultures. (styles, colors, art materials used, etc.)