Herding on something overheard


Book review, from Tokyo – 『あわてんぼうウサギ』(Awatenbou usagi, lit. the jumpy hare) retells a familiar story of tale #322 of the Jataka Tales. One among the colourful canon of 547 stories of past incarnations of the Buddha, sometimes human, other times animal, it contains a very pertinent message for us today.

Retold for Japanese children by Motoko Nakagawa and illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren, the book ends with a page introducing The Jataka Tales and the moral of the story. The tale is known by at least two English titles, “The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts” and “The Sound the Hare Heard”.

Mongolian illustrator Baasansuren adorns the animals with delicate shapes reminiscent of henna tattoos and gives all of them an endearing demeanor, adding an air of wisdom for the lion. When the animals take flight, they take our eyes as far as we can see, right across the pages.

As the story goes, a jumpy hare lying under a palm tree hears a loud, terrifying sound, as if the ground was breaking up. Without thinking twice, the jumpy creatre dashes off to the other end of the earth, spreading word of the terrible sound as it ran.

Soon other animals gather to form an impressive herd of beasts that flies across the pages. Only a lion’s mighty roar manages to freeze them in their tracks. Yet the animals remain worried.

When the lion asks who started running, each one points to the next creature in front, and standing right at the fore is the jumpy hare. The hare eventually brings the lion to where it heard the sound, and they find a ripe fruit lying on the ground. Danger averted, truth unveiled, mystery solved.

Beyond simple hearsay, today, if you have a smart device, then you are part of today’s connected world, where we are constantly bombarded by information from our device feeds, friends and family.

We have some time to discern what is fact or fiction, or even fairytale, before being pressured to “react”, share, click, distribute immediately, an ill that comes from the speed of this most advanced form of “communication”.

A falsehood can easily start trending and create conflict and confusion, until some discerning soul distinguishes the truth. Of course, many things are not simply black or white, and gray areas can often be contentious and divisive.

There is obvious danger in following unknowingly, but the real danger is in not knowing whether the leader is also as clueless or perhaps even differently motivated. This picture book serves as a timely reminder of this truth – to see things as they are with our own eyes.

The editor’s note on the Shogakukan website seems to suggest more Jataka Tales coming our way. I personally enjoy the canon and can’t wait to see what they have in store.

Title: 『ジャータカ物語 あわてんぼうウサギ
(Jaataka monogatari  awatenbou usagi, lit. Jataka Tales  The Jumpy Hare)
Retold by Motoko Nakagawa, illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren
Publisher: Tokyo, Shogakukan, 2017

(Edited for brevity and added content on illustrations)

Working magic with greens


Book review, from Toronto to Tokyo – The Fan Brothers’ first picture book collaboration, The Night Gardener, vividly captures a transformation — from bland, dreary outlook to bristling, colourful reality.

On the cover of the multi-award winning book stands an intricately sculpted owl in the light of the moon. A young boy looks up, mesmerized by the creation. This boy is William, and he lives with other children in Grimloch Lane, a street in lined with very ordinary trees and buildings. As dreary as the location sounds, the book starts off with William’s gaze fixated on something outside. The next moment, he is there, outside, staring from a distance in awe at the wise owl that was once just another boring tree. It had appeared out of nowhere in the night.

Every beautifully crafted tree draws William out, along with others in the town. Green makes room for colour, and inertia for momentum. William soon stands among the people living there, who had also come to see the masterpieces. He later finds the gardener who worked his magic in the night, but the stranger leaves, leaving no physical trace of his visit as his creations fall away through the seasons. But by the end, the town comes alive, with an ice cream truck that asks people to “watch for children” as they play outside. William had changed too, snipping away at a bush in the moonlight under a squirrel’s watchful eye.

The pictures in the book contains clues to William’s story. A photo beside him as he looked out the window suggests that he had known his parents. The elusive gardener’s 2-page dragon masterpiece was not the terrifying, fire-breathing kind, but a slender, graceful one that seemed as ready to soar the skies as it were to glide through the oceans. As the skies darkened, oriental laterns would join the dragon in adorning a local festival. The ideas in these pictures piece together a story beyond change, of using art to reach out to bring people together, and most importantly, of watching over every child and helping them find their dreams.

Title: The Night Gardener
by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
Available in hardcover and Enhanced eBook