The scratchy, brown-on-brown artwork in Be Water, My Friend (Lee and Low Books, 9/06) has an ancient quality that reinforces the sense of legend that surrounds Bruce Lee. Ken Mochizuki and illustrator Dom Lee’s picture book assumes that the reader will already have an interest in — or at least familiarity with — that legend.

The main text carries Bruce Lee through age 18, when he left Hong Kong for America, with an afterword summing up his career and the tragically short remainder of his life. The focus here is not on Bruce Lee’s external display of his martial arts skills, but rather on his internal struggles between the gentleness of a boy who loved ballroom dancing with his mother and the aggression of an occasionally wayward youth.

The only depictions of hand-to-hand combat occur in a boxing ring, and the story’s turning point takes place not in a competition but in a boat. On the whole, it’s a calming story — the sort of story that might have benefited book-loving young Bruce Lee as he strained to stay on the right path.


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