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.

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