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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Under the Cherry Blossom Tree by Allen Say

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.

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