Cover image for The master swordsman & the magic doorway : two legends from ancient China
The master swordsman & the magic doorway : two legends from ancient China
Provensen, Alice.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, [2001]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
In two original stories set in ancient China, Little Chiu masters the sword and Mu Chi escapes death through his marvelous painting.
The master swordsman -- The magic doorway
Reading Level:
450 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.0 0.5 55127.

Reading Counts RC K-2 3.4 2 Quiz: 26485 Guided reading level: M.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Fairy Tales

On Order



Little Chu wants to defend his family and protect the village from bandits. He apprentices with Master Li, the greatest teacher of the sword in all of China -- and finds that having the skill means he'll never have to use it. When the Emperor sees Mu Chi's magnificent mural, he decrees that the painter's reward shall be death. After all, no one but the Emperor should own such a perfect painting. Wielding the power of art, Mu Chi is able to find a way out of his dilemma. These two stories about masters of their arts are retold and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Alice Provensen, a master artist in her own right. Readers and listeners will be enchanted by the humor and irrepressible spirit with which these characters take on obstacles and triumph over them.

Author Notes

Alice Provensen was born Alice Rose Twitchell in Chicago, Illinois on August 14, 1918. She took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of California at Los Angeles before finding a job at the animation studio of Walter Lantz. She met her future husband, Martin Provensen, while he was working on a Navy training film during World War II. They married in 1944 and relocated to Washington D.C., where she worked as a graphic artist for the Office of Strategic Services. They later moved to New York and became known as an author-illustrator picture book team.

They created many award-winning picture books including A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Inexperienced Travelers by Nancy Willard, which won a 1982 Caldecott Honor, and The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, which won the 1984 Caldecott Medal. Their other books included A Year at Maple Hill Farm, Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Karen's Curiosity, Karen's Opposites, The Fuzzy Duckling, Katie the Kitten, The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, and A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. They also created Tony the Tiger, which was the advertising symbol of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.

She continued working after her husband's death in 1987. Her books included The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States, A Day in the Life of Murphy, Punch in New York, and Klondike Gold. She died on April 23, 2018 at the age of 99.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 2-5. In the first of two tales, Little Chu, who wants to protect his village from bandits, studies with a swordsman whose idea of training is to load the boy down with chores and chuck things at his head. After years of lifting and ducking, Little Chu earns a sword, which the master suggests he use for chopping cabbage. Indeed, Little Chu becomes a famous chef, with a most intimidating way of slicing vegetables. In the second tale, an artist, commissioned by the emperor to paint a great mural, is condemned to death lest he ever create another such masterpiece. To save himself, he paints a blue door in his panorama and walks through it when the executioner draws nigh. While evoking the look and feeling of traditional Chinese art, Provensen treats each story differently. She uses small vignettes in the first; in the second, she switches to compositions featuring elaborately robed figures set against the mural that is nearly indistinguishable from the foreground "reality." A source note would have been helpful. --John Peters

Publisher's Weekly Review

Two inspiring tales of paradox from the Middle Kingdom captivate Caldecott winner Provensen (The Glorious Flight; A Visit to William Blake's Inn). In the first, the Master, who maintains that he no longer teaches, trains his apprentice Little Chu in an unorthodox way to develop the lightning instincts that will make the boy an extraordinary swordsman. In exquisitely timed painted panels, Provensen chronicles the boy's improving skills until one day Little Chu successfully dodges the Master's sword and the man bequeaths to him the weapon and releases him from service ("You will never need to draw it. No enemy can touch you. Use the sword to chop cabbage"). In the second tale, a greedy emperor commissions a great wall painting by Mu Chi, then plots to behead him so that the artist can never top his work for the emperor. But the painter outsmarts the ruler. Taken together, the tales contrast the outcome of generosity versus parsimony. Both the action-packed panels in the first story and the spreads in the second contain traditional Chinese motifs; the paintings never lose their simplicity of line and narrative clarity. Oil painting on cream-colored vellum and calligraphy-like type add to the feeling of ageless calm. These magic tales with impeccable visual pacing prove once again that Provensen is a master storyteller and a consummate artist. Ages 5-8. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3-A distinguished illustrator uses the China she imagines as a setting for two philosophical fantasies. Though the stories are described as "legends from ancient China- retold," the CIP information is more accurate, categorizing the book as fiction rather than folklore. In the first story, a small boy from a village beset by bandits travels far to apprentice himself to a master swordsman. After two years of dodging talking objects like jugs and teapots, Little Chu learns to be attentive and alert, to anticipate danger. Master Li then presents him with his great sword and tells him to use it to chop cabbage. The bandits are so daunted by his skillful chopping of vegetables that they leave the village in peace. The second story concerns the conflict between a great painter and a greedy, cruel emperor. Commissioned to fill a huge, blank wall, the artist spends years painting a mural, knowing that the jealous emperor will kill him when he is finished. His solution to the problem, while echoing many Chinese stories about a picture coming to life, is not a traditional one. Although Provensen tells a good story in crisp, dramatic sentences, her stock characters engage in overly formal dialogue and have been placed in whimsical situations that exist only in the Western imagination. Her art pays respectful homage to Chinese narrative hand scrolls, and her sense of composition, color, and narrative flow are products of her distinguished career. Nonetheless, Emily Arnold McCully's Beautiful Warrior (Scholastic, 1998) and Molly Bang's Tye May and the Magic Brush (Morrow, 1992) are more authentic and accurate depictions of China.-Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.