A popular Japanese folk tale in which a crane pays back an obligation by becoming human is retold with an unusual ending and with haiku-sprinkled prose.
In this version, Yasuhiro—a young man who lives with Ryota, his embittered, widowed father—carefully frees an enormous crane from a trap pinning its foot to the snow-covered, “sharp buckwheat stubble of the landlord’s field.” As the crane flies away, Yasuhiro heads for home with firewood he has been gathering. Two nights later a beautiful maiden appears at the door, asking for a place to live in exchange for labor. Ryota accepts her offer, warning her that she must work hard and not be lazy or steal. When Ryota’s own attempts to find manual labor dwindle, the maiden, who calls herself Hiroko, offers to weave silk for him to sell, with the caveat that neither he nor Yasuhiro open the door of the weaving room while she is inside. The polished, full-color illustrations, strongly reminiscent of art by the fairy-tale illustrator Adrienne Segur, complement the lyrical text. Interspersed, color-coded haiku reveal the characters’ unspoken thoughts, adding an excellent dimension with potential for drama-group presentations. Although it’s a bit hard to believe that strapping Yasuhiro does little to bring home the tofu, the story otherwise rings satisfyingly true.
More from this team would be a welcome addition to folk-tale collections. (pronunciation guide, author’s notes) (Picture book/folk tale. 4-10)