cover image Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho

Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho

Dawnine Spivak. Atheneum Books, $18.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80776-3

Worlds away from the typical, adventure-filled road trip, this travelogue traces the virtually eventless wanderings of Basho, Japan's beloved 17th-century haiku master. The story seems informed by a traditional Japanese aesthetic ideal, utterly (perhaps almost unnervingly) simple and attentively sensory. The account of Basho's travels links a crisply imagistic series of his poems and evokes a joyfully austere life, lived in the present moment and in close relation to the natural world. But first-time author Spivak's plain, descriptive narrative seems pedestrian and detached compared to the haiku, as when she tells the reader that ""he heard a frog leap into a pond"" to introduce a famous haiku that rings with the sound itself: ""old and quiet pond/ suddenly a frog plops in--/ a deep water sound."" Demi's customary Asian scenes take the form of porcelain-clear, colored inks brushed on pale fiber-striated paper. A single kanji (such as for ""rain,"" ""moon"" or ""friend"") accompanies each spread, and a map shows where Basho traveled. The book may serve the function of introducing Basho's haiku to new readers, but such poems, solid and perfect as worn river rocks, gain little from the trappings of text and art. Ages 6-9. (Apr.)