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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Clay Puppies

Ho-Shing and Yong-Hu sat at the edge of the river, their furry legs dangling into the water, just enough for their large paws to get wet. "This feels good. It is so hot and so humid today," Yong-Hu said.

Ho-Shing nodded in agreement and swirled his feet around in the clear water. "See the fish swimming by?" he asked.

Yong-Hu looked down. "Oh, yes. There are many of them."

"They are so content with their lives, just swimming along, enjoying the cool water, being carried down the river with the current. Their only worries are large birds and a fishermanís net," Ho-Shing said.

Yong-Hu grabbed a handful of mud and put it in his paw. He began to shape it into a small animal. Ho-Shing looked over at him. "Yong-Hu, you are making a Nini-Gou from the mud. Itís like clay, isnít it?"

"What am I making? I thought I was making a puppy. What did you call it?" Yong-Hu asked.

"A Nini-Gou. That is what the people in Henan Province call them. They are clay puppies, or other small animals too," Ho-Shing explained.

"Iím making a Nini-Gou," Yong-Hu laughed. He finished shaping his puppy and put it down on a nearby rock to dry. "Why donít you make one too?"

"Perhaps I will," Ho-Shing said. He scooped up a handful of mud and started working it with his paws. Soon he had made something.

Yong-Hu began to laugh. "Thatís the funniest looking Nini-Gou Iíve ever seen. What kind of animal is that supposed to be?" Ho-Shing didnít answer. He continued to shape the clay. He reached over and pulled a twig off a bush that was growing on the riverbank. "What are you doing?" Yong-Hu asked, curiously.

"Iím making a whistle." Ho-Shing poked holes into the clay animal and then scooped the extra dirt out. "Iíll set it down here and let it dry and then youíll see what I mean." Soon the rock was covered with Nini-Gou. There were all kinds of odd-looking animals. Children love to play with these.

"Maybe we could take one of these to Li-Ming. She gave us the umbrella when we needed it. Perhaps she would enjoy playing with these little Nini-Gou," Yong-Hu suggested.

"What a thoughtful idea! Iím sure she would. After they dry, weíll take them to her village and leave them on her doorstep. When she comes outside to play, sheíll find them. Sheíll not know it was us. It is better that way," Ho-Shing said.

"They sat at the river for a few hours. The clay dried in the hot sunshine. "Ah. They are dry now," Yong-Hu said, touching them. He gathered them in his arms.

"Perhaps it would be better if we got a large leaf to carry them in. You might drop them if you try to carry so many at a time," Ho-Shing said. He stood up and went in search of a leaf. "Here is one." He put it down on the ground. Yong-Hu put the clay figures onto the leaf and Ho-Shing folded it over them.

"Much better," Ho-Shing said. Yong-Hu picked the package up and the two pandas headed towards the village. The sun was setting when they arrived. "Itís dark and now is a good time for us to leave them. Nobody will see us. Go and put them in front of the door. Weíll sleep in the woods tonight so we can see her tomorrow when she finds them."

Yong-Hu snuck up slowly and set the Nini-Gou down, one at a time, near the door. When he had finished placing the last one, he ran back to Ho-Shing. They giggled with joy at their deed. That night, as the moon shone high in the sky, the pandas slept.

"What is this?" they heard. Both pandas sat up. "Li-Ming, somebody has left a gift for you. Come and see. Clay animals."

Li-Ming ran outside. "They are beautiful. I will play with these every day," she said, picking each of them up and examining them. "But who brought them for me?" she asked her father.

"It doesnít matter. Whoever it was didnít want recognition. Whoever it was did it out of kindness and caring for you. Enjoy them, my little Li-Ming," her father said.

Ho-Shing and Yong-Hu heard. "She likes them," Yong-Hu smiled.

"Yes. She does. Letís go now, Yong-Hu, before we are spotted near the village," Ho-Shing said. The pandas walked back to the river, feeling good about what they had done.

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