cover image Today and Today

Today and Today

Kobayashi Issa, , illus. by G. Brian Karas. . Scholastic, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-439-59078-5

Issa's elegant haiku and Karas's poignant illustrations guide readers through the seasons, symbolized by the changing branches of a cherry blossom tree. The translations of 18 works from several of the 18th-century Japanese poet's volumes come together in this collection like delicate beads, tiny moments common to us all. Meanwhile the illustrations follow the lives of a specific fictional family. Although death is never mentioned in the text, the beginning of the book shows an elderly man sitting peacefully on a chair as a father helps his son untangle a kite from the tree ("Just being alive!/ —miraculous to be in/ cherry blossom shadows!"). By winter, that chair is empty and, a few pages later, the family assembles in the cemetery ("Here/ I'm here—/ the snow falling"). In a hopeful spread, a child sits in the once-empty chair beneath flowering branches ("As simple as that—/ spring has finally arrived/ with a pale blue sky"). Small human figures appear against richly textured landscapes, as if underscoring the powerful cycle of nature. The view inside a house through a screened window, golden leaves streaming across the lawn like moonlight, and stars ringed in a midnight blue sky à la Van Gogh—"whispering to each other"—all act as touching backdrops for universal events. Combining various paper textures with both paint and pencil drawings, Karas creates a memorable feast of images that portray both the joy and sorrow of existence. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)