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

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Japanese Magic Kettles

I can't find a cover picture for Gonbei's Magic Kettle, but I did find this lovely image from Flicker Here

Gonbei's Magic Kettle told by Michiko Nakumura, Illus. by San Murata, 1980.

This is basically the same story I mentioned in the post about Japanese Children's Favorite Stories. It is a bilingual edition in both English and Japanese. In this variation, Gonbei, a farmer, finds a group of bratty kids tormenting a raccoon that they have caught and tied up. He bribes the children to leave the poor beast alone by giving them his sack of rice balls. Afterward, the grateful raccoon promises to make Gonbei a rich man. The creature turns into a kettle, and after some adventures, returns with the well-off Gonbei and the two friends retire together to enjoy their older years.

I am writing about a small paperback book with only grey scale illustrations inside. The cover picture includes modest color. I don't know if it was ever published in another form. The pictures are cute, but readers today are used to full color, and so these would pale in comparison.Still, it is a nice little book, and the final drawing of the raccoon and the old farmer walking away together and holding hands is sweet.

The Furry-Legged Teapot retold by Tim Meyers, Illus. by Robert McGuire, 2007.

In Meyers' Author's Note, he tells the reader that this story, known as "Bunbuku Chagama" is famous in Japan and probably came from medieval times. The Morinji Temple in Tatebayashi (north of Tokyo)is said to have the original teapot. Meyers has a different opinion. :)

The kettle-animal in this tale is a tanuki or raccoon-dog. I am unacquainted with those, so I googled away:

Isn't it cute?
Yoshi the tanuki drives this story; he lives with his family and can't wait to transform himself into another creature or object, as his people do. He is impatient, but sure enough, as he grows older, he's able to change into a butterfly, a rock, a snail, etc and then, to trick the farmer's wife, a kettle! But, whoops, he can't change back, at least not completely. He is kept in a monastery for strangers to look at and he is unable to ask them for help or kindness. Is Yoshi doomed to be a teapot forever? Or will the visiting emperor and his grandson be able to see the truth?

 Robert McGuire lived in Japan for four years, working as a teacher and designer, in addition to illustrating. His acrylic paintings of the tanuki and his family show anthropomorphic beasts standing upright and wearing clothing. The people Yoshi interacts with are realistically drawn and wear shocked expressions when they see a kettle with animal legs. Unlike the other animal-kettles we've read about, Yoshi can't pop his head out, making the hybrid teapot even stranger to see.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

Japanese Children's Favorite Stories Edited by Florence Sakade, Illus. by Yoshisuke Kurosaki, 1958.

This collection has twenty stories chosen in 1953 from Silver Bells magazine, an English language version of a popular Japanese children's magazine. There are familiar stories such as "Peach Boy", "The Old Man Who Made the Trees Blossom", and "The Grateful Statues" as well as tales I've been totally unacquainted with, like "The Toothpick Warriors" "The Bobtail Monkey" and "The Rabbit in the Moon."
 My favorite tale in the book is called "The Magic Teakettle." In fact, my next post will be of some picture book versions of the story. The story goes that an old priest buys a secondhand iron tea kettle and when he puts it over the fire to heat it up for tea, it suddenly grows the head, feet and tail of a badger and tries to run away. The priest's pupils chase it, and it becomes an ordinary kettle again. As this is unsuitable for a kettle, they sell it to a junkman, who soon learns that the badger-kettle is a Bumbuku, who can bring good luck if treated kindly.
Some other interesting stories in the collection are "The Long-Nosed Goblins," in which blue and red goblins find new uses for their smellers and learn a lesson about literally putting their noses in other people's business and "Why the Jellyfish Has No Bones," an odd tale about enemies octopus and jellyfish, and the Dragon's King's  daughter, who is ill and needs unusual medicine for her recovery.

Each story is illustrated by several small greyscale drawings, and a full page color picture, such as the cover illustration of "Little One-Inch".  I love the cheerful vintage feel of the pictures. Many of the characters are rounded and smiling. The badger-kettle looks like he's having a ball as he walks the tightrope in view of a crowd of awed, happy faces and  I like this picture even more than the picture book versions of the story!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Crane Wife

The Crane Wife Retold by Odds Bodkin, Illus. by Gennady Spirin, 1998.

The Crane Wife is yet another animal bride/bridegroom story where one spouse is given a simple rule to follow and she/he can't help breaking it, bringing about sorrow. Think of stories like "East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon," "Beauty and the Beast," the Selkie legends, and in a recent post "Urashima Taro." These restrictions are spelled out clearly: don't look at me during a forbidden time, don't speak of me to others, don't let me find my animal skin, don't open the box I've given you, and don't watch me at work!

In this case, the lonely sailmaker Osamu ruins his chance at happiness when he intentionally observes his wife as she is making a magical sail for him to sell. He watches her even though he has been explicitly asked not to, even though he knows that she makes these sails at a great personal cost. He is stupid, yet the reader can't help feeling empathy for his self-created trouble. He has not been a particularly cruel man, saving and nursing a crane harmed during an autumn storm. He seems to love his wife Yukiko. Yet, he can't keep his promise to her, allowing conceit, ambition and rationalization  to overcome his better judgement.

The injured crane

I've already expressed my admiration for illustrator Gennedy Spirin in my post about the Russian folktale "The Firebird" here , and I continue to be impressed by the  watercolor and gouache art in The Cranewife. Fortunately, Spirin mentions finding visual references from medieval Japan, so we know in what his art is grounded. He uses rich but subtle colors in his beautiful paintings and the spreads swirling with leaves, clouds and snow brings a mystical feel.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Momotaro, Peach Baby

Two more books about the legendary Momotaro. See Super Fruit Babies .

The Adventure of Momotaro, The Peach Boy Retold by Ralph F. McCarthy, Illus. by Ioe Saito, 1993.

This is Momotaro's story told in Japanese and English verse. The details are the same as in the Fruit Babies post. Momotaro is born from a peach and later,in the company of a dog, bird and monkey,  defeats pesky demons that have been terrorizing his village. The pleasure here comes from the verse, which gives the characters a chance to express themselves and be slightly less flat. When Grandmama spies the huge peach floating down the river, she entices it:

"'The water's bitter over there!" she sang.
"It's made of fishes tears!
The water's sweeter over here!'
Now, peaches have no ears..."
The verses are also subtly funny. When Momotaro bests the Demon King, we are told:
"Our hero dodged about so fast, it made the king's head spin.
At last he fell (from dizziness) and landed on his chin.
Momotaro jumped on his back and gave his arm a twist.
'Surrender, fiend!' he cried. The king said:

'Well, if you insist!'"

This is an enjoyable version of the story. McCarthy also retold The Moon Princess .

The art by Ioe Saito, painted more than fifty years ago, is outstanding. Vibrant, action filled pictures bring the story alive. Momotaro's parents look joyful throughout, well pleased with their serendipitous son.

Here, Momotaro is born:

From myopera.com
And here, he meets the dog:

From myopera.com

I don't have a picture to show, but this book has the scariest  looking demons I've yet seen in a Japanese folktale. They are realistically built like a man, but have skin tones that range from bright white to peacock blue to brilliant red. Mops of hair, horns, fangs and eyes like the wolf creature in Michael Jackson's Thriller video complete their looks. They're creepy!

Momotaro and the Island of the Ogres Retold by Stephanie Wada, Paintings by Kano Naganobu, 2005.

"Momotaro-san, Momotaro-san
Please give me one of those
Millet dumplings you're carrying.
I'd gladly give one to you,
If you'll go along with me
To conquer the ogres!"
Japanese folk song preceding the story

This is the longest and most detailed version of this story that I've read. Momotaro is described as a gift from the gods and is said to be the strongest, bravest man alive. An anecdote of him defeating a charging bear shows this.  He is also the handsomest in the countryside, is wise and kind, and is loved by all. His animal companions are rather vicious and constantly fight on the way to meet the ogres, and Momotaro has to remind them to work together for the common good.
Another addition is that among the vanquished ogres are women, children and the elderly. The king ogre not only admits defeat, but agrees that his people will give up their demonic ways and become fishermen.
The Postscript of the book discusses the Momotaro story's popularity with both children and adults and talks about similar Japanese tales and another boy hero, the mighty Kintaro.

According to the book's Postscript, Kano Naganbou was a Japanese artist who lived from 1775-1828 and painted the illustrations of Momotaro's tale on handscrolls. He used ink, colors and gold on silk. He belonged to the Kano school of painting and became an official painter to Japan's military government, which was considered an honor. Apparently, the story of Peach Boy was popular even before Naganbou painted his scrolls, and there was at least one earlier illustrated version!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mysterious Tales of Japan

Mysterious Tales of Japan by Rafe Martin, Illus. by Tatsuro Kiuchi, 1996.

Rafe Martin has retold ten magical stories, most previously recorded by Lafcadio Hearn more than a century ago. While I have already written about The Boy Who Drew Cats, the other tales have not yet been discussed on this blog. They all have an eerie, otherworldly feel, like some campfire or Halloween tales.  Loved ones can be more than human, as in "The Pine of Akoya" in which young Akoya falls in love with a man who plays hauntingly beautiful  music on a silver flute  and "The Snow Woman" where lovely Yuke coaxes her husband to tell her about a strange winter meeting long ago. Some of the tales are ghost stories, such as "Ho-ichi the Earless" where an accomplished blind storyteller finds himself performing for a potentially deadly company and "Black Hair" in which a financially poor samurai abandons his good first wife and later realizes his mistake. And in some, those who don't obey the rules become sorry like in "The Crane Maiden" when the aged parents peer at something they shouldn't and  "Urashima Taro" in which a kindhearted fisherman foolishly opens a box his wife advises him to keep closed. Each story is prefaced by a relevant Haiku, such as
" On the low-tide beach
Everything we pick up
which puts readers in the frame of mind for the story of "Kogi, "a priest who has a special affinity for fish and wishes that he could experience a carp's life. As promised, the tales are all deliciously mysterious. The author's Story Notes follow the tales, providing more details for the curious reader and a Bibliography is also included.

From "Urashima Tasho"
Mr. Kiuchi has contributed ten color plates to Mysterious Tales of Japan as well as small grey scale sketches that precede each story, such as a turtle before "Urashima Taro," a crab for "Ho-ichi the Earless," and a fish taking the line for "Kogi". The color pictures show characters in key moments of action, like the unearthly Snow Woman entering the woodcutters' hut amid a swirl of crystal flakes or
the disguised warriors coming for the Snake Lord's "bride" in "A Frog's Gift."

The Five Sparrows: a Japanese Folktale

The Five Sparrows: a Japanese Folktale Adapted & Illus. by Patricia Montgomery Newton, 1982.

This is another tale similar in theme to The Old Man Who Made the Trees Bloom (See that post Here ) that contrasts good and evil people's behavior, where kindness is rewarded and wicked deeds are punished. A group of bad children are throwing stones at birds, and break a poor sparrow's back. Fortunately, a compassionate old woman rescues the bird and nurses it back to health, in spite of the jeers of her family. When the sparrow can  fly again it brings her a magic seed which will provide bountiful gifts.
Her envious neighbors feel that they too should be rich, and the mother of that house starts looking for injured birds. She becomes impatient however, and hurries the process along harming not one but four sparrows. She too eventually receives seeds from the birds that she nurses, but they only bring illness, enraged neighbors and clouds of nasty flies.

Newton's art is done in grey scale, turquoise and orange on white. It is done in a traditional style, so the rock-throwing children look like adults to me. My favorite pictures are of the sparrows, looking sweet and downy-headed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fifty.Fifty Me Challenge Jan. and Feb. Stats

Working on the fifty.fifty me blog challenge

Majoring in: Japanese Fairy and Folktales
Minoring in: Steinbeck

January Books Read:

  • Brooklyn, Burning by Steven Brezenoff: Is about homeless teens in Brooklyn, NY, but covers much more than that. Sixteen year old Kid isn't welcome at home, wants to be in a band and has been badly hurt by love. Kid tells this story to "You." As things unfold, you realize that neither Kid's gender, nor Kid's new friend Scout's are given. And they never are. Brezenoff has left this open for the reader. The teens are given tender support by young adults, and I liked the way this cobbled type of family helps Kid as best they can.
Folktales:  The Wise Old Woman, The Tale of The Mandarin Ducks, The Tale of the Lucky Cat, The Beckoning Cat, I Am Tama, Lucky Cat, The Greatest of All (See my blog posts for extended summaries of these)

February Books Read:

  • Unwholly by Neal Shusterman: This is the second book in the Unwind series. It continues with the thought provoking situations raised in UnWind's dystopia (teenagers can be retroactively aborted/"Unwound", babies can be "Storked," etc.) and raises new ones. Connor, Risa and Lev appear again and we are also introduced to Cam, a teen "Rewind" made entirely of the best parts of other Unwound teens. Action continues. I love this series!
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green: is sad, beautiful and great to listen to on CD, because Kate Rudd reads it so well. Teenage Hazel has lung cancer, and meets Augustus, the guy of her dreams, in a cancer support group. They plan to go to Amsterdam and meet their favorite author, to ask him what happened to his characters after his novel ends. Life with cancer is treated very honestly; the teens are not angelic and falsely heroic. I fell in love with Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac.
Folktales: The Old Man Who Made the Trees Bloom, Why Cats Chase Mice, Issun Boshi, The Silver Charm, The Boy From the Dragon Palace, Wabi Sabi, The Moon Princess, Mysterious Tales of Japan, Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake (See my blog posts for extended summaries of these)

January Films watched:

  • Lincoln (2012) (at theatre): I was afraid that this would be dry, but I did enjoy it. Daniel Day Lewis got the Oscar for best actor and it was easy to see why. I was also interested in Sally Field's performance as Mary Todd Lincoln.

February Films watched:

  • Les Miserables  (2012)(at theatre): I really enjoyed it. It took me awhile to figure out that Jean Valjean was acted by Hugh Jackman, but when I did, I was impressed.I got a big kick out of the crooked Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his blowzy wife (Helena Bonham Carter, of course).  The music stuck with me and I was saddened in all the right places.
         I had seen the 1998 non-musical version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush, and I liked   Rush's performance as  Javert much more than Russell Crowe's. I felt that he showed the anguish of the character better, but I also have to say that I have a crush on Geoffrey Rush, and have had ever since I saw him in this and Quills.
  • Anna Karenina (2012)(at theatre): This book is about so much much more than Anna, her love affair and subsequent disgrace, but I have to honestly say that it's not one of my favorites. This movie, on the other hand, I liked. It was just so beautifully done, with the Kiera Knightly (Anna), Jude Law (Karenin) and the gorgeous Aaron Taylor- Johnson as her Count Vronsky.Yummy costumes and scenery!
  • Midnight Cowboy (1969): I'd never seen this classic starring John Voight as an unsuccessful hustler and Dustin Hoffman as his pathetic friend/would be pimp. It was pretty depressing and I was kind of obsessed about looking up the difference between the movie and the book. I wanted the back story of Crazy (AKA Chalkline) Annie.
  •  Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012):  I loved this Young Adult book (read it many years ago) and really liked the movie too. I was pleased to see that Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the novel, also wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. Login Lerman was fine as the sweet, odd Charlie. I also liked the supporting cast, and was happy to see Mae Whitman again, having gotten to like her in Parenthood. Having seen Ezra Miller in We Need To Talk About Kevin, in which he played a murderous and terrifying character, I was curious how he would be as the likeable Patrick. I was also somewhat worried that Emma Watson (Sam) would grab the attention because of Harry Potter fame. Actually, I thought that they were both excellent. The movie made me simultaneously wish I was a young woman again and thank God that I'm not!
  •  Bully (2011): This is a powerful documentary about bullying in our U.S. schools. It was directed by Lee Hirsch, who was himself bullied when he was a young person. It follows the lives of several young people who are constantly bullied and talks to the courageous family and friends of two young men who committed suicide over the way they were treated.
        Two teens that especially stood out for me were Kelby and Alex.  Kelby has a girlfriend, but in her town, that's just not accepted. Still, she wants to be the one who can make a difference. Alex is picked on everyday, and is punched and poked with pencils on the school bus. He wants it to be jokes, so he can still think of those people as his friends. After all, if they aren't, then what friends does he have? Be sure to watch the special features on the DVD, so you can see Alex in the happier times that follow.


Alex Libby in the movie Bully from www.wired.com
Check out The Bully Project !


Books: 18/50
Movies: 6/50
Major: 15/7
Minor: 0/3

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake

Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake by Ann Tompert, Illus. by Demi, 1993.

When an old couple realize that they will have no rice cakes to eat in celebration of the New Year, the old man sets off to market to sell his wife's wedding kimono. He does so with her blessing, because eating rice cakes for the first three days of the new year will bring them good fortune. As he travels he sees six statues of the Buddhist deity Jizo standing in a row in the cold. He cleans the snow off of them and promises to leave them an offering on the way back. At market the old man trades the kimono, not for rice cakes as was planned, but for fans, out of kindness for a neighbor. He makes several more exchanges, ending up with five bamboo hats, which he really does not need. But, he has yet to pass the Jizo statues. Maybe he will find a use for hats after all.

Rice Cake!
Japanese New Year Kagami Mochi from Feel and Share Culture

The text of the story uses Japanese characters throughout, like a rebus. Readers will learn to recognize the characters for "rice cake", "fan", "kimono", etc. if only while they read this book.

Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake is illustrated by the prolific Demi, who is also an author, and has published more than 130 books in her career. In her Illustrator's Note, she says that she has followed an Oriental law of placement and design, ten chi jin, with Heaven above, Earth below and Man in between. Most of the pictures give us a broad view of each scene, only when the old man interacts with the Jizo statues is there a close up drawing (on the cover). The scenes at the market place convey the bustle of the day, with children walking on stilts, people herding animals, a bear dancing and flashes of colorful parasols, kites and lanterns. The New Year's celebration features dancing dragons, pink tree blossoms and a double layer rice cake. Kids will enjoy looking at each detail in the crowded scenes.