A children’s book about Japanese poetry that isn’t haiku? Yes, please!
(I have nothing against haiku, but for Western audiences that is usually all one thinks of when hearing the words ‘Japanese poetry,’ so it’s nice to see something different.)
This book is part biography, part anthology of poetry.
The first half of the book answers the question “Who was Misuzu Kaneko?” We are introduced to Setsuo Yazaki, the man who rediscovered her work before it was lost to the public forever. He meets Misuzu’s younger brother who tells him the story of her short life, from childhood to marriage to motherhood and death, and the way poetry affected her throughout. A few of her poems are scattered throughout her biography, to highlight certain parts of her story.
Warning: Misuzu passed away at the age of 26 from suicide. Though this is a children’s book, it does not shy away from the fact she took her own life and this is part of the story. It is handled well and addresses the situation without embellishing or glorifying, but as a parent you may want to read it first to see if your child is ready for it and/or to be prepared for questions they may have.
The second half of this book is a selection of her poetry. Misuzu wrote 512 poems in her short life and this is a small sampling, but the poems chosen for this book are varied in subject and wonderful. The poems are presented in English and Japanese both, with furigana printed next to kanji in the Japanese printing. (If you’re a student of the Japanese language, this might be great reading practice!)
This is one of my favorites from the selection in the book (click for full size):
The art for this book is awesome. It looks a little like the artist is still working on a sketch rather than presenting something perfectly painted/shaded, and I think it adds a lot of charm to the book as a whole. Toshikado Hajiri did an incredible job and I’d love to see more of his work in more books. It’s the sort of art that makes me feel warm and cozy with the book I’m holding. I spent a lot of time just enjoying the details of the illustrations after enjoying the story and poetry.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a wonderful piece of history that most Western people, children and adults alike, will not have learned, and includes beautiful poetry that demonstrates the sort of Japanese mindset in regards to life and nature that I so dearly love.
*Is there a children’s book about poetry, books, or creativity that you want me to check out? Make sure to leave the suggestion in the comments!