"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Mightiest One

Both of today's stories are about the most powerful thing on earth. While we readers might assume it will be something huge and impressive, these tales show us otherwise. The seemingly humble can be mighty too.

The Stonecutter: a Japanese Folktale Adapted and Illus. by Gerald McDermott
McDermott's book, The Stonecutter, came out in 1975 and is still a classic, readily available in libraries. It is about Tasuku, a stonecutter, who chips stone blocks from the mountain for others to use in building palaces and temples. His honest work pleases the mountain spirit, who overhears Tasuku's wish to be a prince and grants it. From there the modest worker wants to be in more and more powerful positions, leading to a sobering outcome .
Full of strong graphic art,  The Stonecutter packs a bright visual punch. McDermott used hand colored paper to make the collages. They rely on bold shapes and overall impact rather than fussy details. His clean designs convey the drama of the story and impress his readers.
The Greatest of All: a Japanese Folktale retold by Eric A. Kimmel, Illus. by Giora Carmi
The Greatest of All teaches the same lesson as The Stonecutter, but is lighter in tone. Kimmel tells the reader that his source is a story called "The Wedding Mouse," and therefore Kimmel's version is about a pompous mouse searching for "the greatest of all" to be his daughter's husband. She is in love with a field mouse, but Father Mouse stomps off to betroth her to the human emperor. The mouse is surprised to hear the emperor admit that there is one that is greater than himself, but the social climbing mouse feels entitled to seek out that mightiest one. As he interviews each groom-elect, he is finally led to the perfect husband for his child, and the emperor even writes a haiku for the wedding!
Each panel of Giora Carmi's art is contained by a speckled terracotta border, adding visual unity through the book.  His illustration of the absurdly grand Father Mouse reminds me of Yul Brynner in The King and I, with the addition of an armload of cheese. The personified sun, cloud, wind and wall are appealing, especially at the wedding at the wedding, where the wind blows flowers into the path of the merry couple, and the cloud cries tears of joy.

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