On Cat Mountain by Francoise Richard, Illus. by Anne Buguet, 1994.
Sho is a servant in the house of a haughty, nasty woman, but luckily she has one friend to talk to: her black cat, Secret. Unfortunately, the uncaring mistress discovers the kitty, and throws it out of her house. When a fortune teller comes to town, Sho learns that she will find her Secret on the dangerous Cat Mountain, from which no one has ever returned. He assures her that what she's lost is more precious than anything her sour mistress has. Caring only about this promised treasure, the mistress sends her away at once. Sho reaches Cat Mountain and meets strange young women who offer her hospitality, but who she overhears talking of a terrifying possibility. Luckily, she finds herself reunited with Secret, who is now a cat-girl. She protects Sho and sends her home with a special bag that will bring her freedom. When the servant's jealous mistress learns of the results of Sho's journey, she is compelled to go to Cat Mountain herself. As we have learned by reading Japanese folk tales, or most fairy tales, it is best not to be a villain in a story, because you will certainly be punished, and this wicked old woman is no exception.
Anne Buguet's illustrations are lovely and intriguing. Sho's mistress is drawn with a sneer on her face and a haughty erect carriage. The ladies, both human and feline, have lustrous black hair and flowing robes. And the formidable wildcats that greet the unkind mistress are solid, slinky and well blessed with fangs and claws!
The Boy of the Three Year Nap by Diane Snyder, Illus. by Allen Say, 1988.
A poor widow lives on the banks of the Nagara river with her lazy son, Taro. She works hard to support them, because unfortunately, although Taro is healthy and smart, he most likes to sleep. When a rich merchant and his family, including a lovely daughter, move into the neighborhood, Taro's mother wants him to work for the new neighbor. However, Taro has a secret plan that involves priest's robes, dark makeup, and Ugigami, the town's patron god. Could he win the rich man's daughter and a cushy life for himself? This good-natured traditional Japanese tale of a trickster tricked will please readers of all ages.
This is another work illustrated by Allen Say (see my previous post about Under the Cherry BlossomTree), this time a Caldecott Honor Book. The book's title page shows a full moon over rooftops, and behind one window shade we can see our anti-hero yawning widely. He is doing this same thing on the cover. Readers have no doubt that his nickname is suitable. All the characters are expressive, from the bucktoothed merchant during his disturbing encounter with "Ugigami", to Taro's displeased new mother-in-law to the widow, who easily moves from irritated to shocked to smug.
Under the Cherry Blossom Tree: An Old Japanese Tale retold and Illus. by Allen Say. 1974.
This is a new kind of story to me. It is called a pillow or makura, and is a short humorous tale used in Japanese joke houses or yose to prepare an audience for longer stories to follow.This makura is about a horrible, mean landlord who complains all the time. One day in spring he goes out to sit under a cherry tree to eat cherries and grump about the people celebrating the new season. Suddenly, he swallows a cherry pit, which does not go to his stomach, but instead to his head. The next day when a fruit tree begins to grow out of his skull, he is not pleased. This sets the wheels in motion for events that eventually give the crusty old man what he deserves and bring pleasure to his neighbors.
These Allen Say illustrations are different from the ones in his later award winning book Grandfather's Journey, or his Tree of Cranes or Emma's Rug, primarily because Under the Cherry Blossom Tree is a smaller work with black and white illustrations.
Still, even in grey scale alone, the pictures are appropriate and perfect for this somewhat bizarre story. The illustrations are quite detailed, with lots of shading.Whether the old grouch has a tree blossoming or a fish pond splashing in his head, Say keeps it comical rather than gross. Readers won't feel much pity for the mean landlord because awake or asleep, he has a scowl on his face, but they will enjoy his transformations.
Three Samurai Cats: a Story from Japan Retold by Eric Kimmel, Illus. by Mordicai Gerstein, 2003.
Okay, pulling no punches, I need to tell you that I love this story and its illustrations. It's unusual and it's funny. A daimyo (powerful lord) finds that he has an unwanted visitor who mocks him and does just as he pleases: an obnoxious giant rat. He seeks help from a shrine well known for its corps of samurai cats. He gets the best cat of the best. The cat samurai is very impressive, but he fails to remove the smug rat. Another even larger, well armored feline fighter appears. He leaves in disgrace. So, the daimyo requests one more warrior. This cat is old, broken down and dressed in rags. All he seems to do is eat, sleep and ignore the challenges of the feisty rat. Is it possible that he can succeed where the mightier samurai failed? How can he force the bratty rat to go?
In an author's note, Kimmel explains that this is an example of a story a Zen master might use "to surprise their disciples out of conventional patterns of thinking." The conquering cat is a roshi or Zen master, and he shows that he can beat the rat through stillness rather than violence. The story's original source is Kenji Sora's The Swordsman and the Cat.
Gernstein's humorous illustrations really shine here, because they are a perfect match to the story. They are full of amusing details. The rat bully arrives at the temple with his belongs tied up in a hobo scarf hanging from his tail. He later uses this as a bib as he consumes all the fine food in the place. The slash happy 2nd samurai cat shows off slicing up everything from a bucket to an apple to a butterfly, but he is so absorbed with his form that he just doesn't see that powerful kick coming from Mr. Rat. The 3rd cat seems barely responsive most of the time, but as soon as the rat is vulnerable, his yellow eyes are wide open and he is ready.The art was made with pen and ink with oil paint on vellum paper.
Maneki Neko the Take of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth, Illus. by Kathryn Otoshi, 2010.
This is another version of the story described in my post Tales of Lucky, Happy Cats . Tama's beckoning habit is explained by her up and down face washing movements. Nevertheless, she leads a samurai to safety during a nasty thunderstorm, who in turn helps Tama's poor monk friend by giving him enough money to turn Kotoku Monastary into Gotokuji Temple.
Nearly all of the book's scenes are washed with plums and pinks, giving the land a magical feel. The action is backed by beautiful sunrise and sunset light. This contrasts well with the colors of the storm, when deeper purple and blue greys are used for the threatening skies and dark shadows. Tama and her monk share many scenes of companionship, from strolling through the marketplace, to cuddling, to enjoying the moonlight while drinking tea (the monk) and chasing moths (Tama).
This book from Annick Press, which rather oddly does not credit an author or adapter, tells essentially the same bittersweet story as The Moon Princess , but also reveals the origin of the smoke plume issuing from Mount Fuji. Here, the maiden's name is Kaguya-hime (Radiant Princess) and again she has many suitors whom she rebuffs by setting them impossible tasks, such as bringing her the jewel from the forehead of a dragon, fetching the stone bowl of the Buddha and obtaining a golden bow from the sacred tree of Mount Horai. When the Emperor himself comes for her hand, she must reveal her secret and leave her family forever. Yet, she comes to care for the Emperor and when she departs she has special gifts for her parents and her love.
Jirina Marton has illustrated the book with beautiful oil pastels and the pictures seem to glow with jewel-like tones. There are paintings of serene stillness, such as the couple's home by night, illuminated by the bright full moon, or the maiden Kaguya-hime communing with a bird, but also active scenes, as when a suitor's boat is caught in the middle of a lightning storm, or when the Emperor's Guard falls back in surprise when the Princess' original father is revealed. Kaguya-hime is drawn as lovely, pale and expressive, with compassion in her eyes.
Lady Kaguya's Secret is a pleasing version of this tale to share with a loved one.
Majoring in: Japanese Fairy
Minoring in: Steinbeck
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (Teen): Teenage Astrid has a confusing life, so she likes to relax on her picnic table, watching planes go by overhead. As she does, she sends the airplane passengers all of her love for safekeeping as she talks to them. In her daily life, she has a perfectionist mom who favors her younger sister, a stoned dad, an all-American prom queen best friend, Christina, who is closeted, and a secret relationship with her coworker Dee. Astrid hasn't told anyone about Dee, not even Christina, because she needs space to figure out what she feels, and she doesn't want to be popped into a category. With some guidance from her philosopher friend Frank (her imaginary take on a big thinker we've all studied) Astrid tries to muddle through to a steadier place. I thought this book was pretty great.
Astrayby Emma Donoghue (Adult): This is a collection of short historical fiction and the stories have a connecting thread: each character finds him/herself somewhere in life that they didn't expect to be. British elephant Jumbo and his trainer are on the verge of a move to America and a stint with P.T. Barnum, a young gold miner and his partner are about to part ways, a young lady learns the truth about the father she loves and more. This was a fantastic journey with interesting characters in sometimes heart-wrenching situations.
Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway (Adult): Holloway's memoir details her relationship with parents whose behavior can be unsupportive, indifferent and cruel to flat out monstrous. During her childhood in the 1970s, her father is physically and emotionally abusive and her mother is rather pathetic. Once her mother remarries, she is aloof and essentially abandons her teenage kids. Holloway negotiates all this with some help from a friend's family (who own a funeral home) and her own college-age sister. As an adult, in spite of everything, she still loves her family although only her bound with this sister remains.
My Princess Boyby Cheryl Kilodavis (Children): is a lovely picture book about accepting people for who they are (my review forthcoming).
The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler (Teen): This fun story is about two teens, former best friends and next door neighbors Emma and Josh, who are fascinated with their Facebook pages. This is not unusual, but this is in 1996, before the social network was launched . When Josh gives Emma an AOL CD-Rom, she is surprised that something called Facebook comes up when she logs on, showing her life 15 years in the future. She shares her secret with Josh, who is initially skeptical, but becomes a believer when he learns that he will be married to one of the hottest girls in class. Emma's future is less satisfying, and she soon begins to tamper with it, causing other rippling changes. I got a kick out of revisiting a time with pagers, not cell phones, VHS tapes, mixed tapes and of course, when the Internet was still a novelty.
The Ruiningby Anna Collomore (Teen): I was interested in this because it has a connection to Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." In fact, I was hot to read it, and ordered it from the library right after I read the reviews. Young college freshman Annie leaves an unhappy upbringing in Detroit to become a live-in nanny for a perfect family in California. Things are magical at first; Annie loves her three year old charge Zoe and is thrilled by the friendship of her young and glamorous mother. Unfortunately, things start to break down really quickly and Annie must work harder and harder to please her employers. Odd things begin to happen, Annie begins to get physically and mentally exhausted, and things are obviously not right. I was annoyed by the naivete of some characters and had difficulty believing the end, but I do think teens will like this suspenseful story.
Folktales:Belching Hill,The Badger and the Magic Fan,Gonbei's Magic Kettle,The Furry Legged Teapot, Japanese Children's Favorite Stories, The Crane Wife, The Adventure of Momotaro; The Peach Boy, Momotaro and the Island of Ogres, The Five Sparrows (See my blog posts for extended summaries of these)
March Films watched:
The Master (2012): I was drawn to this film largely because of the actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I love Hoffman! I'd watched him act practically anything. Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a post World War II drifter who meets up with Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and his wife (Adams) who lead a movement called "The Cause." I've read that this is based loosely on L. Ron Hubbard and also somehow on John Steinbeck.
Beasts of the Southern Wild(2012): My husband and I really enjoyed this movie about little Hushpuppy and her people, who live in "The Bathtub" a bayou community with its own culture. It took me about an half an hour of watching it to let go and get into it. Young Quvenzhané Wallis gives an amazing performance.
Perfume : The Story of a Murderer(2007): This boasts Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman as actors, and an added attraction for me was Rachael Hurd-Wood, who played Wendy in the 2003 non-animated movie Peter Pan. It is a bizarre, bizarre story and I was fascinated throughout. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a poor boy in 1700s France with an extraordinary sense of smell and little else, inside or out. He studies the art of creating perfume and becomes obsessed with making the perfect scent. Unfortunately, lovely young women provide the main ingredients. Don't expect realism with this story, but it's definitely worth watching!
Touch of Pink(2005): This fun story is about Alim, a gay Pakastani man who is not out to his family and how that changes. He lives in England with his loving partner and is a successful photographer, while his traditional, critical mother lives in Toronto and wonders why her son isn't married yet. When his Canadian cousin's wedding is being planned, this stirs things up and Alim and his mom are reunited, with amusing results. Will he have the guts to tell his mother who he really is? Will she accept a white, non-Muslim son-in-law? Luckily, Alim also has a guardian angel in the form of the spirit of Cary Grant (played fabulously by Kyle MacLachlan) who helps him to be an elegant young man. My husband loved seeing the clothes "Cary" wore. He compared it to my love of the costumes of Downton Abbey. :)
Who am I? I'm a Youth Services/Reference librarian working in Dakota County, MN. I'm Master Gardener and I volunteer at Minnesota Spay/Neuter Project as a cat socializer. Still, reading amounts to a huge chunk of my life!