I, Doko: The Tale of a Basket is indeed the tale of a basket, but it is also the tale of a family and a culture. Ed Young adapts a Nepalese story, born of the oral tradition, and with a deft stroke of his talented paintbrush makes it a visual treat for readers and listeners. Like many folktales, there is a lesson at the heart of the story. The lesson has to do with treating older people with respect and deference, even when their intellect is compromised by advancing years. This is heady stuff for the lap listener, but Young's tremendous artistic talent transforms a mere lesson book into an engaging story of a family, a culture and the basket that holds them together.
Doko the basket, who narrates the tale, notices all the changes his family endures as the years progress. His master, Yeh-yeh, chooses him from all the other baskets and takes him home to his wife, Nei-nei, and their new baby son. Doko has many jobs in the family, from toting the new baby to carrying kindling and food. As the years go by, Doko totes the body of its master's wife and the dowry for his grown son. In the end, Doko is called on to tote the elderly Yeh-yeh to the steps of the temple, where he'll be left to the care of the priests. But the youngest member of the family, ordered to carry out this onerous task, comes to his senses and shows himself to be wise beyond his years.
Young's gift is his use of the gentle word and subtle art. Each page is surrounded by a gold frame, and each glorious illustration is speckled lightly with gold paint, creating an antique glow. On one spread, the dry brown earth of drought-stricken Nepal fairly crackles with dust as the sad shapes of the basket-laden people walk barefoot toward the horizon. But despair leads to celebration on the next page, where the brown sky is now the pink and rose and red of good luck and a wedding as the boy joyfully joins his bride and her family.
A rich treat of gouache, pastel and collage from a master of the picture-book form, I, Doko is a book to be pored over.