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Book Reviews



Toshi Maruki    Kazumi Yumoto    Satomi Ichikawa    Catharina Valckx



  Toshi Maruki

Bibliographic Citation:
Maruki, Toshi.  1983.  Hiroshima no pika.  New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.  ISBN 0688012973.

Life changes for the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 at 8:15am when the United States dropped an atomic bomb.  This story follows Mii and her parents as they struggle to escape the fire and aftermath of the bomb.  It describes the horrors they suffered that day and the years that followed.


    In the picture book Hiroshima No Pika, Toshi Maruki retells the painful story of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima through the eyes of seven-year-old Mii and her family.  By fictionalizing the story, Maruki allows readers a more personal glimpse into this historical event.  She begins by painting a peaceful before image.  "That morning in Hiroshima the sky was blue and cloudless.  The sun was shining.  Streetcars had begun making rounds, picking up people who were on their way to work.  Hiroshima's seven rivers flowed quietly through the city.  The rays of the midsummer sun glittered on the surface of the rivers." (Maruki 2)  Everything was as it should be.  The only difference was that the people of the city had prepared for an air raid by tearing down old buildings and widening the streets. 

    As Mii and her parents are eating sweet potatoes, a "sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange--then white, like a thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once." (Maruki 7)  The author uses vibrant colors to sharply contrast with the peaceful morning.  She mixes factual information with the perspective of a first-hand experience.  She tells, "Moments before the Flash, United States Air Force bomber Enola Gay had flown over the city and released a top-secret explosive." (Maruki 9)  By combining fact and fiction, she enables young readers to learn as they listen.  Maruki does not shy away from vivid details or gruesome descriptions.  She says, "Mii saw children with their clothes burned away, lips and eyelids swollen . . . Some people, all their strength gone, fell face down on the ground, and others fell on top of them.  There were heaps of people everywhere." (Maruki 15)  Though some younger audiences may have trouble with these words, they effectively capture the horrific scene that Hiroshima endured that day.

    In addition to capturing the horrors of Hiroshima, Maruki embodies the Japanese people who lived within the city.  Maruki subtly adds cultural touches, such as when Mii's mother "untied the sash from her kimono and wrapped it around her husband's body as a bandage" and when the old woman "took a rice ball out of her bag and gave it to Mii" (13, 33).  She relays how the people of Hiroshima gather every year on August 6.  They inscribe the names of loved ones who died because of the bomb on lanterns and set them adrift on the seven rivers that flow through the city (Maruki 45).  They serve as a means to remember those who lost their lives.     

    Maruki's words are aided by her brilliantly colored drawings.  Mii is depicted with a wide face and almond-shaped eyes.  Her slightly tan skin betrays her Japanese heritage.  Both Mii and her mother are shown wearing bright red and blue kimonos (Maruki 5).  The family sits on the floor at a low table for breakfast, surrounded by Asian pottery and partitioned from the other rooms by shoji screens.  Throughout the story, Mii can still be seen clinging to her chopsticks from breakfast.  Her mother has to forcibly remove them from her hands four days later (Maruki 35).  Within the scene where the city gathers to set lanterns down the rivers, Maruki has filled the double-page spread with red, paper lanterns with Japanese characters inscribed on them (45).  People in kimonos clutch the lanterns as they write.

    Maruki also utilizes her drawings to convey the tragedy of the atomic bomb.  As the bomb drops, chaos takes over the illustrations.  They erupt into orange and red flames that lick at the bodies of the victims (Maruki 13).  As Mii and her mother attempt to escape, Maruki has drawn naked, brown bodies being chased and consumed by fire.  Many of the illustrations are very graphic and would not be suitable for younger audiences.  While Mii describes how she saw a man and the body of cat floating down the river, Maruki draws the image of river flowing filled with the bodies of dead fish and animals (19-20). 

    While the book contains graphic images and details, Maruki effectively combines narrative and historical events.  She relays the importance that "Among the victims, in addition to the Japanese, were people from many other countries, such as Korea, China, Russia, Indonesia, and the United States."  By using such bold and vivid drawings, she helps to convey the importance of learning from history's mistakes.  She notes that, "The atomic bomb was unlike any explosive ever used before.  The destruction on impact was greater than thousands of conventional bombs exploding all at once, and it also contaminated the areas with radiation . . . ." (Maruki 41)  I would probably have issues with using this book with younger audiences, but I can see utilizing it during a social studies discussion on the bombing.  I think it would help add personal impact, rather than telling the story through facts alone.  It discusses the continuing consequences long after the bomb was drop, emphasizing the importance of thinking through one's actions.     


  Kazumi Yumoto

Bibliographic Citation:
Yumoto, Kazumi.  1996.  The friends.  Translated by Cathy Hirano.  New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.  ISBN 0374324603.

Three young boys decide to spy on an old man because they overhear that he will die soon.  Their curiosity changes into friendship as they begin to spend more time with the old man and learn what he has to teach them about life.   


    In The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto, she tells the poignant and candid story of three young friends' curiosity about death.  When Yamashita is absent because of his grandmother's funeral, it sparks the interest of his two friends who have never experienced death first-hand (Yumoto 9).  Soon it overtakes their conversations and their dreams.  It permeates everything.  Kawabe comments, "These days all I can think about it dead people.  Or about when I am going to die and what happens when we die.  But even though I know in my head that everyone dies sometime, I just can't believe it."  (Yumoto 15-16)  The boys' fascination reflects their inability to comprehend death and what happens to a person afterwards.  Like most children, they are simply looking for answers.  Yumoto expertly develops the three young friends into distinct personalities, creating each character with his own set of family problems.  Whether it is Kiyama's mother drinking too much or Kawabe's absentee father, the problems force the boys to find something or someone else to focus on.   

    Kawabe first gets the idea of watching the old man when he overhears his mother say he will probably drop dead soon (Yumoto 14).  Yamashita looks like he is going to burst into tears when he hears the plan.  Using his dominate personality, Kawabe pressures the rest of the group into following along (Yumoto 15).  At first the group merely sits against the wall surrounding the old man's house.  They follow him to the convenience store and learn his habits.  When the old man learns the boys' purpose for watching him, he begins to try harder and cleans up his garden.  Kawabe remarks, "He's taunting us.  He knows we're watching him and that's what's giving him energy." (Yumoto 53)  This first change in the old man's routine marks the turning point of the story and the increase in the narrative's slow pace.  As the boys find a way to break the monotony of their schoolwork, the old man rediscovers the way to live.  "Living is more than just breathing.  So dying must be more, too." (Yumoto 81)  As much as the old man comes to rely on the boys' friendship, they have come to rely on him to teach them about life, and eventually death.  Through their friendship with the old man, the young friends find answers to their many questions, just not in the way they envisioned.          

    Yumoto has recreated a strong Japanese background for the story's setting.  The story's main characters bear traditional names and are called Kiyama, Kawabe, and Yamashita.  Set outside Tokyo, the boys attend cram school, in addition to their regular elementary school.  The cram school even runs during summer holidays and is meant to prepare the boys for their junior high entrance exams (Yumoto 8).  The idea of not getting out of cram school until eight or nine o'clock at night would be preposterous and unthinkable to many American students.  It demonstrates the contrast between the two countries educational systems.  In the boys' daily lives, the author intertwines Japanese cultural markers, such as food and clothing.  The young trio eats fried noodles at school and buys yogurt drinks after cram school (Yumoto 8).  Also, Kiyama watches as his father pours hot green tea over rice for dinner (Yumoto 29).  The author utilizes food as a means to revive the old man's interest in life.  Though they argue about it, the friends leave sashimi on his doorstep as a gift (Yumoto 39).      

    In addition to the simple cultural references, Yumoto's frank discussion of death helps readers understand the Japanese rituals surrounding it.  Yamashita describes his grandmother's funeral in detail for his friends, in attempts to satiate their curiosity.  He recounts how when someone dies they burn their body in a crematorium.  "And an hour later all that's left is bones and ashes." (Yumoto 9)  Yamashita goes on to say that "everybody picks the bones out with chopsticks and puts them in an urn." (Yumoto 10)  This custom demonstrates the Japanese culture's way of handling death.  They do not shield children from it or bar them from the funeral.  Yamashita was expected to participate in the funeral rituals the same as the adults.  One critic observed that "this book stays firmly rooted in the country and culture from which it came, while telling the universal story of our perennial fascination with death, love, bravery, and ghosts.  The point is subtly made that reverence for life goes on amid unpleasant details." (Edwards) 

    I must admit that I had a hard time dealing with Yamashita's details about his grandmother's death.  Since he had not seen her in a long time, he was distanced from her death and spoke in a frank and emotionless manner.  Also, while I found the boys' curiosity to be a common one, I had a hard time believing that they would invest so much time in waiting for an old man to die.  However, I realized that this novel offers young readers a glimpse into a subject some authors choose to avoid.  The story helps to answer some of the endless questions on the topic by exploring the old man's life and his eventual death.  By the end, the boys have changed their perception of death and made it more personal through their friendship with him.  Universal details help endear this story to young, American readers.  The friends participate in swimming and piano lessons.  They have nicknames, such as Beanpole and Pudge, and they read Jack and the Beanstalk and The Little House on the Prairie.  Mixing these details among Japanese culture helps make the story more accessible to American audiences, while maintaining the story's original setting.    

Reference List:
Edwards, Carol A.  n.d.  School library journal: The friends review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).


  Satomi Ichikawa

Bibliographic Citation:
Ichikawa, Satomi.  2003.  My pig Amarillo.  New York: Philomel Books.  ISBN 0399237682.

Pablito is so excited when his grandpa brings home a tiny pig for him.  He names him, Amarillo, after the pig's yellow skin.  One day Amarillo goes missing and Pablito's heart is broken.  His grandfather suggests that he make a kite and send a message to his pig on All Saints' Day, a Guatemalan tradition.


    Though she was born in Japan and has lived in Paris for over thirty years, Ichikawa has traveled extensively to other countries.  She reflects these various parts of the world in her stories, as with My Pig Amarillo.  Set in a Guatemalan village, she first establishes the setting with her main character's name, Pablito.  He chooses to name his pig, Amarillo, which "means 'yellow' in [his] language" (Ichikawa 3).  Ichikawa writes in a very eloquent and straight-forward manner.  However, she hardly discusses Pablito's relationship with his pet before he losses him.  The story takes a sudden and jarring turn that may confuse readers.  When Amarillo goes missing, Pablito's grandpa tells him that Amarillo may have had an accident and died.  Though his words are very abrupt, he follows them by saying, "But if this is the case, he is in peace with the angels in the sky.  He must be happy up there." (Ichikawa 17)  Grandpa goes on to explain to Pablito about the Guatemalan celebration of All Saints' Day.  They attach messages to kites and send them to the sky.  This way they are able to remember and communicate with those they have lost (Ichikawa 20).  On All Saints' Day, everyone gathers in the cemetery and flies their messages into the sky.  Ichikawa uses an old Guatemalan custom to help comfort Pablito about his loss.

    In addition to Ichikawa's words, she has utilized her watercolor illustrations to establish the Guatemalan culture.  She uses washes of rich, bold colors for the characters' clothing, along with warm brown tones for their skin.  Pablito and his grandpa are depicted wearing bright red and white striped pants, along with hats (Ichikawa 1).  Their brown skin betrays their Latin heritage.  Pablito's mother and sister are shown with long, dark hair in braids.  They are wearing brightly colored dresses with long, flowing skirts (Ichikawa 9).  They sit weaving vibrant fabric with thick stripes.  When Pablito runs to his father, he is shown driving a bus topped with overflowing bundles of vegetables and grains (Ichikawa 10). 

    Not only does Ichikawa portray the characters' culture in their skin tones and clothing, but in their daily lives as well.  At the supper table, readers can see a wood-burning stove in the background and a clothesline (Ichikawa 11-12).  When Pablito's grandpa hands him the wooden pig, he stands on a porch next to a pile of freshly picked corn (Ichikawa 16).  These elements betray the rural and agricultural background of Pablito's family.  "Ichikawa's watercolors also balance the vibrant hues and patterns of the characters' clothing with the muted tones of the mountainous Guatemalan landscape.  Pablito's envrionment brims with intriguing elements." (Publishers Weekly 2003) 

    Ichikawa also uses her drawings to reflect the mood and tone of the narrative.  When Pablito sits dejectedly at the dinner table, he is surrounded by a hazy, deep gray background to match his somber mood (Ichikawa 11-12).  As he cries into his pillow, the light from the candle barely reaches his feet before being swallowed up by a deep blue night (Ichikawa 13-14).  Ichikawa also lightens the shades of her colors as Grandpa explains the beauty of All Saints' Day to Pablito.  Filling the pages with a white background, she uses pale blues and purples to represent the wind reaching up to the sky and corresponding to Grandpa's words about sending a message with a kite (Ichikawa 19-20).       

    I was a little disturbed by the abrupt turn the story took when "Grandpa says if [they] can't find Amarillo, he could have had an accident and may have died."  One critic said, "The matter-of-fact introduction of the animal's death may be slightly jarring to young children in what appears to be a story about a lost pet, and the ending, showing a cloud that looks like a pig, is somewhat contrived." (Loch-Wouters 2003)  However, despite any discomfort with the author's frankness about death, the cultural background and universal theme make this book a valuable one for young readers.  "The pacing of text and pictures, the sense of movement, and the use of space, line, and color are perfect on every page." (Kirkus) 

Story Extension:
You can have the children may their own kites and write messages on them to their loved ones.

Reference List:
Kirkus Reviews.  n.d.  My pig Amarillo review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).

Loch-Wouters, Marge.  2003.  School library journal: My pig Amarillo review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  2003.  My pig Amarillo review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).


  Catharina Valckx

Bibliographic Citation:
Valckx, Catharina.  2005.  Lizette's green sock.  New York: Clarion Books.  ISBN 0618452982.


    Lizette finds a green sock, but decides she needs to find the other half of the pair when two tomcats tease her.  She looks high and low for the second sock.  Devastated she cannot find it, Lizette returns home only to have her friend Bert cheer her up.  He finds a use for a single sock that leaves Lizette laughing and content.


    In the picture book, Lizette's Green Sock, Catharina Valckx tells the story of a young duck who stumbles upon a single green sock.  Valckx presents her tale in a very straight-forward and concise manner.  Lizette "hasn't gone far when she finds a sock.  A pretty green sock." (Valckx 4)  Her direct style tends to interrupt the narrative flow, making some sentences sound stilted.  Also, the plot does not always follow a logical progression.  When Lizette comes upon Tim and Tom, "who love to tease her," she stops to show them the green sock knowing they will mock her for it (Valckx 6).  Lizette then climbs the tallest tree to look for the second sock when she spies a pond.  After searching only one spot, she gives up and returns home.  One critic said, "With its meandering plot, the book doesn't offer much takeaway for young readers (although children who can't be parted from a special article of clothing will identify with Lizette's devotion to her sock)." (Publisher Weekly 2005)       

    Originally published in France under the title, La Chaussette verte de Lisette, Valckx's English version features the same characters but with new names (  Bébert has been shorted to the Bert, while the cats, Matou and Matoche have been renamed Tim and Tom.  The names have been Americanized and made easier to pronounce.  Without the original names, the story does not retain hardly any of its cultural charm.  The illustrations do not belie any specific country setting or culture either.  The only tiny clue as to Valckx origins is the kerchief tied around Lizette and her mother's heads. 

    Valckx also uses her illustrations to convey the humor and emotion of the story.  "Adept at understatement, the illustrator uses spare backgrounds and strong outlines to convey a mood in minimum strokes: dejected shoulders, a wilted flower, a coquettish kerchief on Mama speak volumes." (Lukehart 2005)  As Lizette trudges home with her head down in defeat, the flowers beside her wilt in sympathy (Valckx 12).  When Lizette sits and waits for her sock to dry, a single sharp line as an eyebrow betrays her anger (Valckx 15).

    Valckx relies on the drawings to relay the humor.  After outrunning Lizette and Bert, one cat hunches over and hangs his tongue out as he regains his breath (Valckx 23).  When the cats are confronted, they lie but their eyes can be seen gazing over at the second sock drowning in the pond (Valckx 24).  The best joke of the book is on the final page.  Valckx writes, "But happiest of all is the fish.  Because now he has not only a black comb and a huge watering can, he also had a splendid sleeping bag." (32-33)  The illustration depicts the fish sleeping inside the missing green sock. 

    I found this book to be charming and humorous.  Despite problems with narrative flow and the changing of names, the book offers young readers a story they can relate to about a beloved object and about friendship.  The illustrations are simple, but convey much of the emotion and humor within the book.  The bold lines and soft splashes of color will grip the reader's attention.  In spite of having animals as the main characters, children will be able to identify with Lizette and Bert as they are teased and bullied by the two cats. 

Story Extension:
You can have the children come up with their own unique uses for a single green sock!

Reference List:  2006.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).

Lukehart, Wendy.  2005.  School library journal: Lizette's green sock review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  2005.  Lizette's green sock review.  (Accessed April 16, 2006).

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