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

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Super Fruit Babies

In these stories, miraculous children born from fruit defeat evil and save their villages. All in a day's work when you're a fearless hero.

Momotaro by Mitchell Motomora, Illus. by Kyuko Tsugami
Momotaro the Peach Boy is born from a huge peach that his mother finds floating down the river. All goes happily until he is 15 years old, and some ogres raid his village and return with their spoils to Ogre Island. Equipped with a bag of cakes, Momotaro sets off to defeat the foul ogres. With the help of a dog, bird and monkey, is he up to the task? What do you think? 
Following the story are some suggestions to extend children's reading experience, such as having them retell the story, draw pictures about it, etc. Another suggestion is to share other Japanese folktales with kids, and hopefully this blog will provide some options for that.
Momotaro is nicely illustrated by Kyuko Tsugami. My favorites are the pictures of the ogres, apparently done in the Japanese style. They are bizarre, large and have long canine teeth, but are not too scary. These ogres are one bright color from head to toe and wear gold bangles on their wrists and ankles. They are completely amused by Momotaro and his small band. Our hero, however is completely serious, and is dressed to get down to business with a sword and a fan decorated with the rising sun. Apparently, Japanese war fans were used by Samurais and are called Tessen or "Iron fan."
This is an exciting story, and is even better paired with the girl power version below.
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra, Illus. by Meilo So
Like Momotaro's parents, Uriko's parents find their unborn child floating down river, this time inside a melon. She grows at a magical pace and when she is five, she has learned to cook millet dumplings and sword fight. One day, a bunch of Oni giants come to Uriko's town to gather babies so that they can eat their navels for snacks. They gleefully sing " Belly buttons! Belly buttons! Tasty baby belly buttons!" Like Momotaro, Uriko gathers her newly-made animal friends and sets off to make the Oni sorry. The Oni may not be interested in noshing on Uriko, since she lacks a navel, but can she defeat them? Take a look at the book's cover, above, and make your best guess!
Sierra's lively version, based on stories told in Shimane prefecture, is a perfect read-aloud. She explains that she uses certain Japanese storytellers' vocabulary like boro, boro ("'We won't, we promise, boro boro,' sobbed the oni") and zushin, zushin ("A troop of oni came tromping into town, zushin, zushin."). Sierra is a former children's librarian, and it's obvious that she knows what children want. Her early books were on how to tell stories, and do puppet plays. Read about her at: Judy Sierra
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons is playfully illustrated by Meilo So. This is evident beginning with book's cover, where the Bs in the title each have belly buttons.The fat and comical Oni have furry knees, long claws and very visible belly buttons of their own. Uriko's kimono reflects her fruity origin, with watermelon coloring and a black seed design around the neckline.
 The pictures have a lot of movement, as when Uriko pitches millet dumplings to her new animal friends, steers her boat to Onigashima, the Oni's  island home, and frees the evidently delighted babies, with a chubby cheeked infant wrapped in one arm. and a sword in her other hand.
I love the overall package of this book: the outrageous story, gutsy heroine and fun illustrations. It is a pleasure to share with others!

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