cover image Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake

Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake

Ann Tompert. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $13 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-517-59272-4

Like San Souci and Johnson (see above review of The Snow Wife ), Tompert and Demi retell a Japanese folktale. There, however, the similarities end. The story, about a childless couple so poor they can't afford a rice cake (symbol of good luck) for the New Year, is simpler and its lessons more pronounced. Although there's a supernatural element at work, Tompert emphasizes aspects of daily life in Old Japan: religious practices, the hustle-bustle of the marketplace, arduous treks through the snow. The presentation is also more consciously cross-cultural. The text, for example, incorporates Japanese characters; a vertically printed key translating the characters used on each page appears in the margin. Demi, meanwhile, adapts her trademark style to recall Asian art. Her pen-and-ink drawings and paintings float across backgrounds of handmade papers; flattened perspectives and stylized compositions nod at scroll paintings. An author's note elaborates on specific themes (e.g., the importance of rice; a particular Buddhist deity); an illustrator's note explains that the Buddhist law of ten chi jin (placement of Heaven, Earth and Man) has been followed in this book. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)