An animal tale from the “Hans Christian Andersen of Japan” is now published in an English edition.
A lot of information about Japanese culture and custom is imparted in the course of this telling, which may appear rather strange to American eyes and ears. Gon is a fox who makes mischief. He empties the fishing basket of Hyoju and bites the head off the eel Hyoju had caught. Later, he finds the villagers making preparations for an event and discovers it is a funeral for Hyoju’s mother. Gon the fox thinks she must have desired the eel on her deathbed, so he resolves to make it up to Hyoju. Unfortunately, he does so by stealing sardines and gathering chestnuts and mushrooms and leaving them for Hyoju. The sardine seller gets angry with Hyoju, thinking he stole the fish, and a friend tells him the chestnuts and mushrooms must have come from God. Angered that Hyoju thanks God instead of him, Gon sneaks back to Hyoju’s house, where Hyoju recognizes him as the eel thief and shoots him. The story ends there. The sounds and sights of the natural world—bird song, water glistening on grass, the temple gong, a clover stuck to Hyoju’s cheek “as if it were a large mole”—form the texture of the tale. Mita’s beautiful and delicate original watercolors offer readers’ eyes large and lovely resting places as they make their ways through this long tale.
The startling and violent ending may make it difficult to find an audience, but it is a valuable introduction to a non-Western storytelling aesthetic. (Picture book. 7-10)