Tasty Baby Belly Buttons

Judy Sierra, Author, Meilo So, Illustrator Alfred A. Knopf $17 (40p) ISBN 978-0-679-89369-1
Despite the implications of its title, Sierra's retelling of a Japanese fairy tale is full of sweetness, and stars an engaging, pint-size heroine. Uriko, born from the middle of a watermelon, has no belly button. Found by a couple who become her adoptive parents, Uriko learns how to cook millet dumplings from her mother, and her father teaches her how to wield a sword. Both skills come in handy when the town is raided by oni, the red- and green-faced giant ogres who kidnap babies in order to feast on their tasty navels. Brave Uriko comes to the infants' rescue with the help of her dog, a monkey and a pheasant she meets along the way. So's (The Beauty of the Beast) irresistible watercolors effectively combine traditional elements of Japanese paintings, such as apple blossoms and verdant landscapes, with modern girl-power. The drawings are delicate yet contain plenty of boisterous, even slapstick action. Sierra (Antarctic Antics) liberally sprinkles the narrative with Japanese words--the oni tromp into town, zushin zushin, and the babies cry, boro boro. Both art and text contain just enough mirth to leaven the scariness of the monsters; when Uriko and her friends fight the oni, the scene seems more comic than violent (e.g., the oni attempt to hit the pheasant as it flies around them and knock each other out instead). In the end, it is the oni who sob, boro boro. Distinctive cultural details coupled with a universal story line make this a solid read-aloud choice. Ages 5-8. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
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