I was sent this beautiful book to review. To be honest, it sat on our bookshelf for awhile because we have experienced a death in the family and unexpected busy-ness recently.
Today I finally had a quiet afternoon to explore “Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko” by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi.
And… WOW. I don’t think I can adequately describe how beautiful this book is. Not only is it a book (full) of poetry, but it’s also a biography, a history lesson, a peek into the life of an incredible woman. We learn about the poet Misuzu Kaneko’s life, little by little, followed by an accompanying poem.The language of the poems are simple enough for children to enjoy yet rich enough for adults to ponder as well (I found my 3rd-grader immersed in this book the other day). The second half of the book includes the original poems in Japanese, as well as the English translation. At times like this, I am so grateful to be bilingual, so I can enjoy both languages!
One of the poems in particular struck a chord with me given our recent circumstances:
COCOON AND GRAVE
A silkworm enters its cocoon–
that tight, uncomfortable cocoon.
But the silkworm must be happy;
it will become a butterfly
and fly away.
A person enters a grave–
that dark, lonely grave.
But the good person
will grow wings, become an angel
and fly away.
Copied from the Misuzu Kaneko website:
Misuzu Kaneko charmed 1920s Japan with the child-like sincerity and empathy of her poetry. But despite her success, she suffered tragedy in her private life and committed suicide at age twenty-seven, after writing 512 short poems. Nearly forgotten for the next fifty years, Misuzu’s work was rediscovered in 1982 and she soon became one of Japan’s best-loved children’s poets. The appearance of her poem “Are You an Echo?” in a public service announcement after the 2011 tsunami achieved instant fame, reminding Japanese of their shared humanity at a time of great national crisis.
The illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri perfectly complement the soft, beautiful words of the book. One could learn a lot about Japanese culture simply by studying the artwork.
I would love to see this book in every school and library. It would perfectly complement any lesson about Japan, Poetry, or the March 11, 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami in Tohoku. I would recommend it to any parent who wants to widen the world view of their children. It is one of those books that you’ll want to read over and over– one time through won’t be enough! I am a self-proclaimed fanatic of children’s picture books– and can honestly say that this one stands out from the others in its beauty and uniqueness. The purity of her poems really struck a chord with me.
Like I mentioned earlier, I wish I had the words to adequately describe this book. Please read the review by Elizabeth Bird in the School Library Journal— she does a much better job putting her thoughts into words.
You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon, HERE. The hardcover version would be perfect for gift-giving (the paper is high-quality and there’s full-color illustrations cover to cover). It is also available on Kindle and Nook, with an Apple version due out soon.
Thank you, Chin Music Press, for this jewel of a book.