cover image The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars

The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars

Jean Merrill. Philomel Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21871-2

Delicate, luminous oil paintings illustrate this 12th-century Japanese tale about an unconventional girl. Unlike other gentle flowers of her age, Izumi prefers collecting insects and caterpillars with ``some scruffy-looking boys'' to dressing fashionably and plucking her eyebrows. Her frustrated parents fear no respected suitor will want such a headstrong wife, but Izumi's reputation captures the fancy of both a nobleman and a captain, either of whom may eventually ask for her hand. Merrill's retelling has a slow, almost laborious pace. And though the story is culled from scholarly sources, its abrupt ending and question-raising afterword fail to satisfy. Cooper's glowing portraits of Izumi, with her ``eyebrows like caterpillars,'' breathe life and imagination into the text. The book's becoming design makes the most of his striking artwork, which occupies three-quarters of each spread--text is arranged in vertical columns against the remaining space. Silken Japanese robes, indigenous flora and architecture imbue the paintings with an authentic Eastern flavor. Although Izumi's independence holds much appeal, young readers may be eager for more information about her fate. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)