Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A Plot Twisted

Wherever you go there will always be those individuals who take pleasure in playing pranks on others.  These tricks range in complexity from a jump and shouted boo to an elaborate deception taking days, or even weeks, to put in motion.  Responses of the recipients of these high jinks range from reluctant admiration, irritation, discomfort, fear or to thoughts of retaliation or justice.  The bottom line, truthfully, is no one likes to be the target of another's shenanigans.

When we see antics like this in action, we have an opportunity to offer support to the unfortunate individual or individuals because, more often than not, there is a very fine line between practical jokes and bullying.  Let's Scare Bear (Holiday House, July 9, 2019), debut picture book written and illustrated by Yuko Katakawa, uses a 

a tale in the Japanese oral tradition known as rakugo

to shape an original and lively look at behavior of individuals.  It, like life, gives readers wisdom in making choices and in determining their reactions.

Manju cake!
Chewy! Sweet! A treat to eat! 

Four gathered friends, who loved manju cake, were about to enjoy this delectable delicacy, until loud noises interrupted them.  It was Bear.  This large, courageous animal of the woodland realm happened to be walking past their tree.

Mouse, who could be viewed as the opposite of Bear, in most respects, wanted to scare him.  Fox decided to scare Bear first.  The display of his teeth was nothing compared to Bear's big open mouth lined with rows of sharp pearly whites.

Spider's web and Snake's squeeze were no match for Bear's strength.  When Mouse decided to utter a boo, it sounded like a peep.  Bear couldn't help himself.  He laughed.  He turned to Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox and told them there was only one thing which terrified him.

After their failed attempts, the companions could hardly wait to hear what scared this forest champion.  His reply and frightened reaction to hearing the words were unbelievable.  He rushed to his cave to seek shelter.  The foursome rushed back to their tree.  What they did next was precisely what Bear wanted.  By changing one letter in the word scare, Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox could have results more favorable to everyone.

A delightful blend of narrative, dialogue and sound effects in the writing of Yuko Katakawa captivates readers from beginning to end.  The use of illuminating adjectives and expressive verbs further engages readers in the characters' exploits.  Yuko Katakawa's keen sense of humor is seen in the twist she supplies to the scare tactics of Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox.  She makes it clear tricksters are open to being tricked in return.  Here is a passage.

"I'll go first," said Fox.

Fox flashed his
knife-sharp teeth
at Bear.

Bear flashed his knife-sharp teeth back at
Fox and laughed.

Using mixed media on all her illustrations Yuko Katakawa gives us a first look at her considerable talent with her dust jacket. (I am working with an F & G.  I don't have my personal copy yet.) Inside Bear's den we can see his umbrella carefully placed in a jar near his entrance.  We are introduced to the forest friends, Fox wearing his jacket, Mouse in overalls, Spider wrapped in her webbing and Snake wearing her glasses with a red bow on her tail.  Will careful readers see beyond Bear's pretended fear?  Will they notice the placement of his paws?  On the other side of a spine with the same pattern found on the opening and closing endpapers are three small images of the foursome.

To the left, on the back, of the dust jacket on a pale golden yellow canvas the friends are exhibiting in these illustrations three stages of emotions.  They go from glee, to despair and to exhaustion.  On the opening and closing endpapers are an intricate, tiny diamond pattern.  In each diamond is a daisy.  The shades of red, white and yellow create a sense of peace.

A half circles pattern in a light teal and white provides a background for the verso and dedication at the front and the author's note at the back.  On the title page on a white canvas Mouse is pouring tea in cups in anticipation of the sweet treats and companionship.  The heavier and matte-finished paper is ideal for the illustrative style and themes present in this story.

Each visual spans a double page or full pages.  The size contributes to the pacing and drama of the story.  Yuko Katakawa shifts her point of view for the same purposes.  We are inside the tree with the friends, farther away, then close and then farther away again before returning to close.  It's as if we are there with them.

Readers will be fascinated with the details in the illustrations.  The patterns on the tea cups, the manju cakes, the clothing worn by the characters, all of the facial expressions and body positions and the extra text found in Spider's webs heighten the narrative.  They contribute to the wonderful enchantment of this new folktale.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On a canvas of green grass along the bottom with a pale rosy sky above Bear has declared his greatest fear.  On the left, bent over and on the ground in fear is Bear.  His paws cover his face as he trembles in dread.  The four companions on the right are shocked by his announcement.  Fox, holding his tilted head, can't believe it.  Snake coiled on Fox's head is questioning this with the shape of her tongue.  Mouse falling through the air is also questioning this with the shape of his tail.  Spider and her web need answers, too.  Readers will undoubtedly laugh out loud.

As an introduction to a Japanese oral tradition, the art of storytelling, a discussion on bullying, tricksters in folktales or as a highly entertaining story, Let's Scare Bear written and illustrated by Yuko Katakawa is a marvelous selection.  This is guaranteed to be a storytime favorite no matter the age of the listener or reader.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Yuko Katakawa and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Yuko Katakawa has an active account on Instagram

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