Monday, September 21, 2009

A Traditional Japanese Tale

The Beckoning Cat by Koko Nishizuka, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger. Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 5-8

Based on a Japanese folktale, this delightful retelling supplies readers with an understanding of an ancient good luck symbol and its origins. Japanese born author, Nixhizuka’s debut children’s book is a dream-like tale of a son whose father’s illness prevents him from selling fish to earn a living.
Yohei the son, feeds and cares for a drenched, mud-splattered cat. When Yohei cannot sell the fish, the cat, in apparent appreciation, beckons customers to Yohei’s humble home. They buy the fish he was unable to sell, and had to bring home with him when his father is suddenly taken ill.
Thanks to the cat, he’s able to sell all the fish before they spoil. The customers promise to return and Yohei is able to earn a living, and care for his father.
This tale of a son’s devotion, love and care for both his father and a stray cat is accompanied by muted watercolor gouache, ink and colored pencil illlustrations. Artist Litzinger’s flat, almost primitive, style accents the magical qualities of this folktale. Her occasional bright colors emphasize the importance of the character, lifting it from the earthier tones in the background. Her decisions to fade some of the colors adds depth in a sometimes opaque but effective scene layout, and increasing the brightness of the colors adds energy as the tale progresses to its fable-like ending.

Monday, September 7, 2009

One Way to Remember Birthdays . . . .

The Birthday Tree by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Barry Root. Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 7-9

Jack’s father was a sailor who left the sea with his wife, after losing three sons to the waves. To honor Jack’s birth, his parents plant an apple tree.
As Jack grows, so does the tree. His parents notice the apple tree seems to reflect Jack and his moods and his health. When Jack leaves home, his parents watch the apple tree to understand what’s happening with Jack.
When a meadowlark perches on the tree, they think he’s traveling over land, when it’s a gull, he’s sailing the sea. When the apple pies are sweet, Jack’s happy, but when lightening strikes the tree, the sailor father and his wife become concerned.
Newbery Medal award winner Fleischman often begins a story asking “what if . . . .” which is true for this lyrical mythic tale. Illustrator Root uses earth-toned watercolors in a careful mix of large and small images. Oval paintings on several pages are used to capture the shape of the seasonal tree, emphasizing its importance. With careful use of light and dark, the artist has crafted timeless paintings to accompany a powerful family story, with a twist of magic.