cover image The Two Bullies

The Two Bullies

Junko Morimoto. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-517-80061-4

Imbued with a Japanese sensibility, Morimoto's artwork is a model of balance, her spare, uncluttered backdrops and clean sweep of brushwork creating a strong visual presence in this subtly humorous picture book. Ni-ou, the self-proclaimed ""strongest fellow in Japan,"" sets out to challenge his Chinese counterpart, Dokkoi. Ni-ou travels across the sea and settles in to wait for him, but after being told that what sounds like an earthquake is actually the returning Dokkoi's footsteps, he experiences a sudden change of heart and hightails it back to Japan. Flinging an anchor out across the sea, Dokkoi snags his erstwhile challenger's boat. Ni-ou files through the chain with a knife conveniently given him by a priest, but Dokkoi thinks Ni-ou has ripped it apart; and the two bellicose blusterers go home immensely relieved to have avoided a showdown. The text acts as a foil for the droll watercolors, as when readers are told matter-of-factly that Ni-ou ""climbed out of [Dokkoi's] bathroom window,"" but see that in fact he's torn an enormous hole in the side of Dokkoi's house in his eagerness to flee. Set against a parchment-brown background, the artwork combines traditional stylized Japanese elements with a contemporary tweaking of perspectives. The outsize Ni-ou and Dokkoi are feisty caricatures of belligerence, and their story is not just entertaining but also a lively commentary on the true nature of bullies. Ages 3-7. (July)