cover image The Magic Purse

The Magic Purse

Yoshiko Uchida. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-50559-1

On his way to the Iseh shrine, a young farmer meets a ghostly maiden who begs him to take a message to her parents in the Red Swamp. Though others attempt to dissuade him from the dangerous journey, he risks the snakes and crocodiles of the swamp because he has a ``kind and gentle heart'' and wants to help the young woman. Although he never sees her again, the red purse she has given him mysteriously fills with money overnight, and he becomes prosperous beyond measure. His friends rejoice at his good fortune, telling him, ``Only a man with a kind heart would have delivered the letter. . . . And only a man of courage would have ventured alone into the Red Swamp. Surely you deserve all the riches that have come your way.'' For the most part, Uchida ( Journey Home ; A Jar of Dreams ) avoids the inherent preachiness of this old Japanese tale, and her elegant retelling is well paced and dotted with lyrical imagery. In a departure from the contemporary flavor of her other books for children ( Who Said Red? ; Rain Talk ), Narahashi clearly evokes Japanese scroll paintings through her boldly outlined, seemingly spontaneous watercolors. Her luminous art sets the mood perfectly for Uchida's magical tale. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)