Updated date:

The Water Mother, a Fairy Tale From China

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

The Water Mother, A Chinese Fairy Tale

The Water Mother, A Chinese Fairy Tale

My Children’s Alphabet Book

If you have followed my Fairy Tale Alphabet book series, you know I created a children’s book using fairy tales for each letter of the alphabet. I tried to keep them global, and not concentrate on only the classic Grimm’s fairy tales. This one is a Chinese fairy tale. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are.

— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Photo references for The Water Mother

Photo references for The Water Mother

The Water Mother, A Fairy Tale from China

There once lived a woman with her daughter-in-law and daughter. Although the daughter-in-law was kind and dutiful, her mother-in-law hated her. One day, the mother-in-law decreed that they could not buy water from water-carriers any more. This meant that the daughter-in-law would have to carry it from the well a long distance away. The work proved too hard for her, and she was beaten when she failed. She tried day after day and could only bring a small amount of water in the jar because it was too heavy to lift when it was full. Her mother-in-law was continually furious with her and the poor girl was miserable. One day, she thought of drowning herself in the well. Just then, an old woman found her crying and asked what was wrong. She told the old woman that she had decided to drown in the well but the old woman told her not to do that. Instead, the woman gave her a stick and told her to strike the water jar with it when she needed water. The old woman instructed her to tell no one and to never strike the jar twice. This seemed a curious thing to say but when the daughter-in-law took the empty jar home and struck it with the stick she found the jar was full of water.

For a time, the girl was very happy. But her mother-in-law was suspicious and wondered how she was suddenly able to carry the water she hadn’t been able to carry before. So she spied on the daughter-in-law, and seeing how it was done, she stole the stick and struck the water jar twice. Suddenly, a terrible flood gushed forth from the jar. No matter what the mother-in-law did, it continued to flow until it caused a flood. The flood filled the house and rushed into the streets flooding other houses and soon the whole valley was under water. Ignoring please for help, the mother-in-law ran for higher ground.

Many people drowned in the flood and so did her daughter-in-law. The water jar had become a spring and filled the valley with water. Afterward, a great temple was raised for the daughter-in-law, and they ever after called her the Water Mother.

Collage Illustrations

I used several photo references for girls and wells for this illustration. This collage was one of the last I worked on before publishing my book. I hope you enjoy seeing my progress on the collage. The cat has nothing to do with the story but I felt it added a bit on interest. Also, there is no crane in the story, but a crane is considered good luck in the Chinese culture and it is flying away because the daughter-in-law didn’t have good luck in this story. I didn’t like the sad ending and was tempted to change the story so that the mother-in-law died and not the girl. However, a Chinese friend told me that all Chinese stories have sad endings. She would not have been so honored if she had not died.

Value Sketch

Value Sketch

The most important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.

— Charles Dickens

Published with Lulu

This fairy tale has been shortened to fit into my book along with all the other letters of the alphabet. If you would like to read the full version, you can Google the title and find the story as The Water Mother.

My book, The FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World, was self-published last year with Lulu.com because Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) refused to allow illustrations that spanned the central gutter of the page. They demanded at least a half-inch margin around the outside, which I could have done, and a half-inch margin through the center margin, which would destroy the look and cohesiveness of the double-page illustrations. I had to find a different publisher who would allow the illustrations the way I wanted them. KDP obviously does not understand illustrated children’s picture books. If you are interested in purchasing the book, go to the Lulu website and put my name or the name of the book in the search.

Did You Notice

In my collages, I use paper from magazines, old wall calendars, catalogs, and circulars. Often I will add things into a collage you can't see unless you are looking for it.

Color Composition.  Notice all the blank white space.  I decided at the last minute to add a plant and the crane to eliminate some of the extra white space.

Color Composition. Notice all the blank white space. I decided at the last minute to add a plant and the crane to eliminate some of the extra white space.

The most beautiful things in the world must be felt with the heart.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Final Thoughts

Did you hate the sad ending? Did you think the mother-in-law should have seen some consequences for her actions? I thought so but that is not how it is done in the Chinese culture.

I hope you like my story and my fairy tale alphabet book idea. If you are interested you can purchase it on Lulu but not on Amazon. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 29, 2020:

Peggy Woods,

I realize there must be great sacrifice in some cultures for there to be honor but I hate that it is so sad or that the guilty aren't punished as she should have been. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 29, 2020:

Yes, I read "The Good Earth" many years ago. I guess not every story can have a good ending.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 31, 2020:

Peggy Woods,

Oh, dear, I am with you. I felt the same way and was going to change the ending but my Chinese friend said that all Chinese fairy tales are sad. She could not have been honored in that way if she had not died. It made me think I should keep the ending true to the culture even though I thought it was very unfair too. Have you read "The Good Earth" by Pearl Buck? It has a similar ending. I hated that the mistress lived but the good wife died and only then did the husband see who was truly important to him. Pitiful. But there you are. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 30, 2020:

What a curious tale! It does not seem fair that the daughter-in-law had to die. This fairytale is not the typical good over bad lesson.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 19, 2020:

William Kovacic,

Thank you. I agree. Illustrations are the heart of good children's books. The best ones give you more than the story gives so I try to add things the story itself didn't have. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on April 19, 2020:

You're right, Denise. It was a sad story. But I still enjoyed reading it and of course, what would an alphabet book be without your great illustrations!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 18, 2020:

Devika Primić,

I'm happy you like this one so much. It does my heart good. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 18, 2020:

Mitara N,

I'm glad you liked this story. If you know of stories, fairy tales or folk tales that would be interesting in the next alphabet book, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 18, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

It is interesting to read about other cultures and see what stories they find important to them. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 17, 2020:

Marie Flint,

X does follow W but this is the fairy tale from the first book, not the new one I'm working on. I've only got A and B done for the new book. I hope that's not a disappointment. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 17, 2020:

MG Singh,

Yes, there aren't too many from China that are really popular. I was lucky to find this one. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 16, 2020:

DreamerMeg,

I thought it was a let-down as well but my Chinese friend assured me all the best Chinese stories end that way. You may be right. That is the way life often is. Although I love the stories where truth and justice overcome lies and evil. It gives me hope. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 16, 2020:

Hi Denise, congratulations!! This is new to me. I like that you have another of your publications going forward. Interesting and amazing! Your work is inspiring.

Mitara N from South Africa on April 16, 2020:

Fascinating story to the series. A very sad tale, linked to the happenings of many living the tale leave alone China. Also interesting what you mention about a crane. The pictures you give reference to are so beautiful and captivating.

Alway enjoy the read

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2020:

It was quite a shock to read that the girl died and the mother-in-law survived! Your friend's comment about the ending was interesting. It's always interesting to learn about other cultures.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on April 15, 2020:

Death in the Chinese culture is different from the American perception. For them, life on earth, under the Buddhist tradition, is a state of misery. Only when they ascend to their higher self do they experience wholeness and bliss. Things may be a little different today, but perhaps not with the COVID-19 business.

I laud your research and striving for authenticity in your images. The cat, though? Well, I think you just like cats. You might have considered a panda on a mountain, but you do have a crane. Leave well enough alone, I say.

Actually, I'm becoming a little excited. In the alphabet, X follows W. Or are you skipping around?

Anyway, it's a pleasure following you on this alphabet series with the collages. Thank you!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 15, 2020:

Denise, it's a lovely story and related so beautifully. Chinese culture is unique and sometimes it's difficult to fathom it. Come to think I have hardly read any fairy tale from China.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 15, 2020:

I was very sad that the daughter in law died, it seemed so unfair! What a pity the mother in law didn't face consequences for her actions. But then, I suppose that this is very often how life operates!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 15, 2020:

Linda Lum,

I don't know why I added the ginger kitty really. I just wanted a bit of color and interest in front of the static well. I love cats so why not? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 15, 2020:

Bill Holland,

Keep a lid on it! Why didn't I think of that? You are too funny. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 15, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

I'm such a child at heart. I love children's books and children's literature of all types. I'm so gratified to think you like what I created here. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 15, 2020:

Liz Westwood,

The Magic Porridge Pot? I'll have to look that one up. I don't know it. I'm glad you like the illustrations. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 15, 2020:

Eric Dierker,

Thanks so much. Even I like watching how the art comes together and I already know how it will come out. Haha. I hoped other people would find it as fascinating as I do. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 15, 2020:

What an interesting story—I immediately thought of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. I love that you are finding and sharing with us tales from all over the world. I like the collage, especially the ginger kitty. Stay well and safe my friend. Blessings to you.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 15, 2020:

Well, first of all, stay away from that jar and keep a lid on it. Second, your art is exquisite. Third, be healthy and happy, today and moving forward.

Blessings always

bill

Lorna Lamon on April 14, 2020:

I believe in 'what goes around will come around' however, a great temple was built to honour the daughter-in-law so this made me smile. I always enjoy how you bring it all together Denise and I love the quote from "The Little Prince" - perfect for the piece. Another wonderful addition - loved it.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 14, 2020:

This reminds me of 'The Magic Porridge Pot' tale. You have done a great job with the illustration and finding tales from so many different countries.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 14, 2020:

A fine tail. That mean old mother in law reminds me of Cinderella's step mom.

I really appreciate this series. It is fascinating how you put the art together. (adorable pictures)

Related Articles