By Allen Say (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children, 2010, 32 pp., $17.99, hardcover)
Reviewed By Twila Tomita, Nichi Bei Weekly Contributor
If you are a fan of Allen Say, you’ll be happy to know that he has a new book, “The Boy in the Garden.” Quiet, understated, and appealing as always, Say begins by introducing a Japanese story about a kind woodcutter who releases a crane from a trap. The grateful crane becomes a woman and marries the woodcutter. To help make money, the Crane Woman secretly weaves cloth from her feathers in an adjacent room, extracting a promise from her husband not to look. When he peeks in the room, she becomes a crane. No longer able to remain his wife, she flies away. This story was read to Jiro, the protagonist of our book.
Now the story of Jiro begins. Young Jiro sees a bronze crane statue while playing in a garden. He approaches the crane, thinking it might be the grateful crane. The adults laugh at his mistake. Offended, he wanders into a mysterious empty home where he finds a kimono folded neatly on the floor. Since the garment is just his size, he puts it on. (Is this reminiscent of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?)
A woman comes to the door, enters, and prepares food for him. He asks if she is the Crane Woman. She does not answer.
Jiro believes he must go out to find wood like the woodcutter in the grateful crane story. He returns without a single twig. After he spends some time with the Crane Woman she disappears into another room and he cries out for her to stop. At this point his father, drawn by Jiro’s voice, awakens him. “Wake up, son,” his father says. “You’re having a bad dream.”
“The Boy in the Garden” has a mystical quality. The watercolor illustrations are elegant. The final illustration is a crane flying in the moonlight, suggesting that Jiro may not have been dreaming. While appropriate for school-age children, there is something to delight all ages.
Say has written many children’s books including “Grandfather’s Journey,” which won the Caldecott Medal in 1994. Other popular titles are “Tree of Cranes,” “The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice,” “Music for Alice” and “The Bicycle Man.” Say also illustrated “How My Parents Learned to Eat” and “The Boy of the Three Year-Nap.”