cover image Kamishibai Man

Kamishibai Man

Allen Say, . . Houghton/Lorraine, $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-618-47954-2

Caldecott-winner Say (Grandfather's Journey ) has often written about children adrift between the cultures of East and West. Here, he imagines an old man straddling past and present. The kamishibai man of pre-war Japan brought to neighborhood children cliff-hanger tales, storyboard paintings and homemade sweets. Say's retired kamishibai man—lean and spare, with a face full of kindness—decides one day to return to his old route, familiar landmarks of the city having disappeared under a blanket of asphalt. This time, he tells a new story: his own. "Ah, yes, I can see you now, all your bright faces," he remembers, "clasping coins in your little hands... Patience, everyone! You'll get your sweets." When television arrived, he recalls, his once-eager listeners disappeared, too. "One day a little girl poked her head out the window and shushed me." As he talks, and passersby realize who he is, a great crowd gathers around him—"We grew up with your stories!" "Tell us 'Little One Inch' again!" Say's gift is to multiply themes without struggling under their weight. Aging, cultural change, the way humans seem to lose warmth with technological advances—he gestures toward all of these while keeping the lens tightly focused on the kamishibai man. Readers who worry that Say may be thinking about the fate of his own career should be reassured; his artistry and power of invention are as strong as ever, and so will be his readers' enthusiasm. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)