Action and character take a back seat to the art in this tersely retold version of the Japanese “Tom Thumb.”
The story, presented in blocks of small type surrounded by acres of white or monochrome space, minimizes specific cultural or place markers but sticks to the standard plotline. In “a country far away,” a peasant couple sees a wish fulfilled with the birth of a tiny lad who later sets out for adventure. On the way to a city, he meets an ogre who promises to use a magic hammer to give him full height in exchange for a certain “beautiful treasure.” Issun demurs, then goes on to become playmate for a nobleman’s daughter. She, after he rescues her from the ogre and uses the hammer on himself to grow, takes “a different view of Issun Bôshi,” so that “their story is not yet over.” The illustrations are as allusive as this final line—alternating stylized landscapes with scenes of theatrically posed figures clad in a mix of Japanese and Western dress and ending not with a view of the principals but a generic assemblage of items from earlier pictures. Looking like a series of screen or woodblock prints, the dazzling art features broad, opaque layers of high-contrast orange, blue and yellow with combed or rubbed portions to give the flat surfaces shading and texture.
A classic underdog tale frequently outshone by the strong shapes and intense colors that each page turn brings into view. (Picture book/folk tale. 6-8)