I’m glad to kick off this month with a review because June happens to be my birthday month! Yay! In five days I’ll be a year older in age but ten years younger in beauty. Hah! Kidding aside (no, not really), here’s my treat for you today, dear readers. It’s a retelling of a Japanese folktale written by an author who received the prestigious Chancellor’s Award in creative writing in the University of California at Santa Cruz, and illustrated by a Japanese artist who enjoys riding her motorcycle when she is not illustrating.
Story by: Alan Schroeder
Illustrated by: Yoriko Ito
Published by: Delacorte Press
All book photos taken by me.
While I was going through my shelves for any Asian-themed books that I own, I stumbled upon Alan Schroeder and Yorkio Ito’s Lily and the Wooden Bowl. This copy was originally donated by the Minato Gakuen School to the Chula Vista Public Library. How it ended up in Goodwill is a mystery to this day.
I’ve always been fond of anything Japanese. The mere sight of Lily’s kimono and the paper crane on the cover made me jump for joy. However, the cover of the book did not stop the dirt from settling in over the years, smudging the clear plastic. Timeworn though the book may be, the classic tale of Lily and the Wooden Bowl is preserved.
Hidden Beauty Has Never Been So Literal (In a Good Way)
Set during a time when Japan was known as “The Island of the Dragonfly,” Lily and the Wooden Bowl tells the story of a beautiful maiden named Lily whose grandmother, in hopes of protecting the exquisite beauty of her granddaughter, placed a large bowl on Lily’s head and asked her never to take it off. She also gave her a wooden rice paddle and a white paper crane that, according to grandma, would protect and watch over Lily.
Lily made a living by working in the rice fields. Yamoto, the owner of the rice fields, had asked Lily to work for his household because his wife, Matsu was sick and he needed someone to take care of her and nurse her back to health. Lily gladly accepted the offer in exchange for being treated as their own daughter.
The Goodness of the Heart and the Wicked Ways of the World
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Growing up reading fairy tales around the world and watching telenovelas in the Philippines, I knew too well the wickedness that lurks behind a woman like Matsu. She wasn’t a stepmother, no. But she might as well be.
Yamoto’s wife was a cruel and spiteful woman, with eyes as black as pitch and a smile as cold as the River of Death. Matsu despised lily from the moment she laid eyes upon her.
“Who is this girl,” she demanded, “and why does she wear that ugly bowl upon her head? How dare she draw attention to herself in my household!” And from that moment forward, Matsu swore that she would not rest until she had driven the girl from the house in disgrace.”
Love has always been one of the key themes in fairy tales. Lily’s beauty is not worth mentioning if there would be no attraction involved. This said “attraction” comes in the form of Kumaso, Yamato’s good-hearted, handsome young man, with eyes as merry and lively as two kites dancing in the summer wind. Ah, young love. But will this love between Lily and Kumaso ever blossom, or does their fate lie in the hands of Matsu forever?
Text and Art of Lily and the Wooden Bowl
In the Author’s Note, it was mentioned that certain changes have been made in Schroeder’s adaptation of the classic Japanese tale. The characters didn’t have a name in the original version. Lily lived with parents and not her grandmother. The wooden rice paddle and the paper crane were added for additional twist. Lily and the Wooden Bowl has had so many versions, and you may read about one of them by clicking here.
The story layout of Lily and the Wooden Bowl is similar to Ed Young’s Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, which I reviewed two years ago for our Chinese New Year special in 2011. (Yes, it has been that long!) In some of the pages, the art is divided into three frames and the text is printed on one of the frames, usually the outermost one. I enjoy using the same layout when I create photo collages on my phone. Love, love, love!
One of the notable things about this book is Yoriko Ito’s artistic faculty. In the back jacket flap of the book, it was said that Yoriko Ito was born and raised in Mie, Japan. She received a degree in illustration from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. She is fond of Japanese art and draws inspiration from nature. I love the traditional feel of her illustrations in Lily and the Wooden Bowl. It goes hand in hand with Schroeder’s straightforward narrative.
Schroeder made use of simple and direct language, which makes it “lingually accessible” to readers from a younger age group. Although he added new elements in the story, Schroeder still managed to retain the classic nature of the story. For those of you interested in picture books with multicultural background, as well as fractured tales, Lily and the Wooden Bowl is a perfect addition to your list.
As a birthday month kick-off, here is a short video on Paper Cranes for Japan, a campaign that has become an International Movement to show global support for the victims of the earthquake that shook Japan last March 2011.