Kyu-chan, a mischievous Japanese water creature, is the last kappa because of a changing environment.
Folklore, a 19th-century story, an environmental plea, and a pourquoi story about kappamaki, a popular sushi roll, combine to make a clunky, overcrowded picture book that nevertheless still engages readers, especially those seeking a page-by-page bilingual text. Norihei, an ordinary farm boy, meets Kyu, a kappa away from his river too long, and saves his life by splashing him with water. They become fast friends, but Kyu’s family decides to move away because the “area is getting dangerous.” The humans are affecting the environment with their railroads and electricity, a trend that will cause Kyu’s kind to die out. Before leaving, the kappa gives the boy a magic talisman if ever Norihei needs help with water. Norihei grows up, marries, has a child, and starts a restaurant. When his baby falls into a stream, the grown man calls upon his old friend (looking very aged due to human disregard for clean water) for assistance. Norihei names cucumber-filled sushi rolls after him as a reward. “Cultural Notes” provide background information, along with a joke about kappas evolving into “ninja turtles.” The illustrations, mostly bordered rectangles set against handmade paper, combine elements of Japanese wood-carved prints with cartoonlike faces and great detail, showing both traditional agricultural scenes and industrialization.
Heavy-handed in its environmental message but still enjoyable. (Picture book. 6-8)