Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Grateful Crane

Are you tired of reading children's books about the beautiful, but poor, unambitious girl who's only goal in life is to marry a handsome prince? You know the Disney stories where in the end the girl always gets her guy and everyone lives happily ever after? I don't necessarily see anything wrong with these types of narratives although it does get a bit stale after awhile. And honestly, once you've heard one story, haven't you heard them all? Well here's a short story that I think you and your child will enjoy.

The Grateful Crane

     Once, in old Japan, a young woodcutter lived alone in a little cottage. One winter day he found a crane struggling in a snare and set it free. Late that night a beautiful woman knocked on his door; she was lost in the snowstorm, and he gladly gave  her shelter. She stayed for several days, and some time later they were married. They were happy, but very poor.
     The wife saw an old loom in the back room and said she would weave something they could sell. But before she began, she made her husband promise not to peek while she worked. For three days and three nights he heard the creaking and tapping of the loom, but he did not peek. On the fourth morning, the wife, pale and unsteady on her feet, handed him a fold of the most beautiful cloth he had ever seen. He took it to town and sold it to a rich merchant for a handful of gold coins. The two lived in peace and happiness until they were poor again.
     So the wife made another fold of cloth more beautiful than the one before. The husband sold it for a bagful of gold coins. They were rich. But the woodcutter wanted to be richer, and he asked the wife to weave yet one more piece of cloth. She shook her head, but he pleaded with her until she agreed wearily. Again, she asked him not to look and disappeared into the back room.
     On the fourth night, he was overcome with curiosity and peeked. He saw a crane at work, plucking its gleaming feathers and feeding them to the loom. He cried out, and at once the bird became his wife again.
     "I am the crane whose life you saved," she said. "Ever grateful, I changed into a woman and became your wife. But now that you have broken your promise, I can no longer be a woman."
     She turned back into a great bird and flew away.
Allen Say includes the Japanese folktale, The Grateful Crane, at the beginning of The Boy in the Garden so readers will understand where Jiro's imagination comes from. Jiro is the little boy in the story.

Say is very talented in offering up glimpses of what its like to be a child in a grown-up world. Very cleverly we see a young boy who mistakes a statue of a crane for the real thing; embarrassed he runs away escaping into his own imagination -- or at least we are led to believe it's his imagination.

The illustrations are impeccable, soft and done with precision. These pages are works of art and again, appeal to adult and child.

If you're looking for a story that has heart, creativity and a good sense of humor, then you're in for a real treat. The Boy in the Garden is delightful.

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