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The Big Wave
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72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2004
I bought this book at a yard sale for twenty five cents. I read it to my six year old daughter and it was her favorite bedtime book for several months. It was a joy for me to discover how much I loved it, too.
The themes are "mature," in that a boy watches his entire family die and then his friend watches him grieve this loss. My six year old was not too young for this, however; to her, death is as natural as the sun coming up unless I make a big deal about it. Pearl Buck presents a deep reverence for life, death, and living with danger and uncertainty that permeate the story in an accessible and real way. The end message is hopeful and joyous.
I found in this book something rare in children's and even much contemporary adult fiction: a nonthreatening, sensitive portrayal of how people deal physically and emotionally with overwhelming loss; it's sort of like Elizabeth Kubler Ross 101 for a child's understanding. How unusual, and valuable.
Kathleen Norris wrote in The Cloister Walk that for many years literature gave her what religion gives some people in the way of guidance and comfort in life's challenges. It seems to me the pinnacle of good literature to show commonalities between people of all ages, all over the world and through history, suggesting values people from other cultures and times have used to deal with universal human dramas. For me, The Big Wave does that.
I hope I'm not the only parent who thinks kids deserve books with more substance than Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants offer. Pearl Buck obviously respected children and their capacity to understand. Add to that its lovely clear language and stunning imagery of the setting...well, all told this is maybe my favorite kid's book, even if it only cost a quarter.
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2002
First of all, I am disgusted at the ignorance of some of the other reviewers thus far. I am not Japanese, and cannot attest to whether or not Jiya and Kino are "ridiculous" names, but to assume that Pearl S. Buck needed to do "a little more research" about Japan is equally ridiculous. Pearl S. Buck was born in 1892. She lived and wrote in China and Japan in the early years of her career. I believe she lived in Unzen, Japan for an entire year in 1927. So if those names are ridiculous for little boys now, perhaps they were not so THEN, when the book was written, and in the particular area where Buck lived. I don't know.
I found this book to be valuable for introducing youngsters to the tremendous and powerful body of work produced by the first American woman to ever win the Nobel Prize for literature, Pearl S. Buck. Her writing is deliberately slow and written in the classic style of fables to serve a purpose and set the tone and mood. Young readers who are not properly introduced to the historical context and significance of Ms. Buck's work may find her writing and this book to be "blah blah blah." This is unfortunate. Children coping with loss and trauma, and children interested in both Japanese culture and earth science (volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, which literally translates to "big wave," for those who seem to be confused) would love this book. It is a useful book for teachers to introduce difficult material to youngsters as well. My only complaint is that this edition did a poor job of duplicating the masterpieces of Japanese printmasters Hokusai and Hiroshige, both of whom were major influences on the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. The replicas in this book fail to do the originals justice.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2005
I read this book many years ago, and have been waiting for the right moment to read it to my child. This week, while we are absorbing the 12/26/2004 tsunami in South Asia, I deemed the moment right.

The story is set in Japan at some time in the past, when the farmers and fishermen in the community are following the paths their fathers and grandfathers set. We see the story through the eyes of Kino who lives on a mountain farm, and learns about the sea through his friendship with Jiya, who lives "in the last house in the row of houses toward the ocean, and [whose] house [does] not have a window toward the sea" because, as Jiya tells Kino, "the sea is our enemy." Kino is relieved that he does not live near the sea, but his father reminds him of the great volcano, twenty miles away, and tells him that they "must learn to live with danger."

The storyline is simple, almost inevitable. A volcano erupts under the sea and causes a tsunami, which sweeps away the fishing village by the sea. Many lives are lost. As the survivors slowly recover, and Kino's friend Jiya starts to accept life again, Kino asks his father all the questions that children need to ask after a natural disaster. His father's answers each question with patience and wisdom, in a manner open-ended enough so that the reader (or reader and parent) can pause and talk about their own beliefs and feelings. Or the reader can turn the page and stay absorbed in this well-crafted story.

My only disappointment with my paperback edition (HarperCollins, 1986, ISBN 0-06-440171-5) is that it left out the famous woodblock prints by the 19th century Japanese artists Hokusai and Hiroshige. I pored over these illustrations as a child and immediately recognized them when I saw them in my library copy. Pearl Buck selected each individual print to allow her readers to see the beauty of Japan, and they form an integral part of the story. I would recommend you buy the Library Binding version by HarperCollins (1999, ISBN 0-38-199923-8) or check out a book with illustrations from your library.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon January 8, 2003
"The Big Wave," by Pearl S. Buck, is a short novel that takes place in Japan. The main characters are Kino, a farm boy who lives on a mountainside, and his good friend Jiya, who is the son of a fisherman. The two boys bond despite the cultural differences between the farming and fishing communities. But with the presence of a volcano and the threat of the great ocean wave of the book's title, life holds danger for these boys.
This is a simple but beautifully told tale. Buck's themes include courage in the face of danger, the impact of geography upon the lives of the Japanese people, and the cycles of death and life. But most of all the book is about hope and friendship. For a good companion text, try one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
Pearl Buck's "The Big Wave" was my introduction as a 3rd grader into a world that was not a fairy tale world. Buck tells the story of friends, Kino and Jiya. They live in Japan as a farmer's son and a fisherman's son, respectively.

Kino is not as comfortable with the sea as Jiya is. But they swim together and go on outings together, enjoying their friendship and their families.

When the tsunami strikes, Jiya loses everything in his life.

This is the point that is unusual in a children's book. Buck takes Jiya through the grieving process. Kino's father has many wise things to tell his son about life and death and the way we must accept that death is part of life.

A child of 8 could probably read this book on her own, but read aloud, it gives a chance to discuss the fears and issues. The knowledge that families go on and life goes on even after terrible tragedy is a beautiful lesson in this well-told tale.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 1999
I liked this book. My English teacher made us read this book even thought we are on a seventh grade reading leval and this book is on a fourth.I though this book had a good plot and it showed the peaceful and caring nature of the Japaneese. It also show the strong emotional bond between two friends and their familys. I would recomend this book to anyone who is in for enjoying a good book with not much time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2013
This was a great read with my nine year old daughter. It opened up many discussions about life, grief, sadness, and the ideas of "home" without being too graphic or overpowering. It was very age appropriate for my 9 year old daughter.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 1998
Kino lives on a farm on the side of a mountain in Japan. His best friend Jiya lives in the fishing village on the foot of the mountain. Everyone in the village fears the Big Wave. When the Big Wave comes Kino and Jiya's lives are changed forever, but their friendship will never end. I liked this book, it was interesting to read about how a volcano and the sea combined can be so powerful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2011
Having recently lived thru a familial loss of the most crushing kind, I found myself, yet again falling back on the lessons this story taught me so many years ago when I came across it in middle school - then, I felt myself to be precocious with regard to literature, having long mastered Dickens and Steinbeck and London, yet Pearl Buck's story of two children, and their struggle to come to terms with the starkness of the end of life and all it portends, and that eternal truth, "life is stronger than death," struck me in a way which reverberates to this day.

Having sought to console friends and family in times of loss and strife, as we all do in our lives, I've turned to the wisdom I gleaned from The Big Wave time and again.. It truly is a book that changes the way you see the world, and I believe any parent, or anyone who has a child in their life would do well to expose them to this story ASAP - for me it provided an outlook which in times of loss and pain, has truly been a blessing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2007
Well told story to aid children in dealing with disappointment, fear, death. Beautifully illustrates the purpose of life.
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