Customer Review

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PRESERVING THE ROOTS OF JAPANESE CULTURE, November 12, 2005
This review is from: Kamishibai Man (Hardcover)
This book is absolutely amazing. It's like walking through a museum in many ways -- and don't we parents feel great when we take our kids to a museum? We feel like it's worth the admission price to ensure our children know how to appreciate history, art, and beauty.

In the introduction, Allen Say writes, "When I think of my childhood in Japan, I think of kamishibai. It means 'paper theater.' Every afternoon, the kamishibai man came on a bicycle that had a big wooden box mounted on the back seat. The box had drawers full of candies and a stage at the top. We bought candies and listened to the man's stories."

Say was born in Yokohama in 1937, into a very different Japan than what exists now. Back in the days where people didn't have televisions in their homes, children would eagerly anticipate listening to the kamishibai man's stories. "Clack! Clack!" He would beat his wooden blocks together until he'd drawn a crowd of listeners. His stories were cliffhangers, ending with "to be continued." So the children would return the next day to hear what happened next.

In this book, an old man who has retired to the countryside remembers his days of being a kamishibai man. "I've been thinking how much I miss going on my rounds," he says to his elderly wife. So, she makes him some candies, and he rides his bike back into the city, humming along the way (until he reaches the urban metropolis). Much has changed. The trees and quiet parks have been replaced with concrete and buildings. "Who needs to buy so many things and eat so many different foods?" he wonders to himself.

The cover of the book shows you what his theater looks like. (Oh, don't you love that picture?) He takes out his wooden blocks and clacks them together, just like in the old times. In his mind, he's seeing the happy faces of children running to him. Thus begins a story within a story, and Say changes his style of artwork to preserve the style of the kamishibai man's illustrated cards.

He tells the story of what it was like for him when TVs came along and began to replace his job as entertainer. In a poignant scene, a little girl comes to her window and shushes him! You can see her siblings inside, sitting mesmerized in front of a television set. The sadness on the storyteller's face expresses the end of an era.

But as the elderly man finishes his story, he looks up to see that he's surrounded by clapping middle-aged people, who remember him. "We grew up with your stories!" one of them shouts. They applaud him, and he's even filmed by a news station (which is ironic, isn't it?).

The facial expressions in the artwork are stunning; you have to look at each picture carefully to notice all the exquisite details. I've watched my five-year-old stare and stare at these pictures. This would be a great addition to school libraries and classrooms -- teachers will love to read it out loud because it's captivating and full of dialogue.

In the afterword, a Japanese folklore scholar explains more of the significance of Japan's post-war transition to an electric, affluent society. She writes, "The artists who had made their living in kamishibai turned to more lucrative pursuits, notably the creation of manga (comic books) and later anime [cartoons], but they never forgot their roots in kamishibai."

-- Reviewed by Heather Lynn Ivester for Mom 2 Mom Connection
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