Crow Boy, written and illustrated by Taro Yashima
published in 1955 by Viking Penguin
Crow Boy is an extraordinary book, lodged firmly in my heart since I read it many years ago. It is a profoundly touching story with two characters — teacher and student — who will long linger in the memory of all who read it.
Chibi is a little schoolboy in Japan, a small, oddly-behaved boy who keeps himself at a distance from the other children, preoccupied throughout the day by silently taking in the world around him, seemingly lost in his own, impenetrable thoughts.
No one really knows him. He walks a long distance to school from an apparently impoverished home. Over the years he has become merely an object of ridicule for the other children, as he is simply so strange.
However, when Mr. Isobe, the new teacher, comes to the school, he takes a deep interest in Chibi. He discovers Chibi’s amazing knowledge of the natural world, his artistic ability, and one astonishing talent no one else knows about. When Mr. Isobe encourages Chibi to share his unusual gift at the end-of-year talent show, the eyes of others are opened to the unique riches Chibi offers.
Maybe this plot sounds tired and commonplace in this era of hundreds of anti-bullying books. Trust me. It is not at all commonplace. Written in 1955, its honesty and beauty are almost raw, and not at all contrived. Taro Yashima won a Caldecott Honor for his powerful illustrations which capture not only a striking, Japanese sense, but also the intensity with which Chibi experiences his world.
Highly recommended for ages 5 and up.
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
published in 2014 by First Second
Julia lives in a big old house. A cattywampus house, with a jiggety bit here and a slight slump there. It rests upon the back of a tortoise — yes, a tortoise — who, at the outset of our story, has trudged his way to a new spot near the sea, lugging Julia’s house with him.
Nothing unusual there.
Julia happily settles in with a fire, a mug of tea, and a good book, but after a few serene minutes she discovers something: It’s too quiet. So she whips up a welcoming sign to hang outside her door. “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures” it proclaims, and WOW! before you can say zippety-doo-da, a horde of the most peculiar creatures shows up in need of hospitality!
Julia is happy to pamper each creature, but the sheer number of lost creatures quickly becomes unmanageable. Find out how resourceful Julia is, and how happily her home for these forlorn oddballs runs, when you read this charming book.
Hatke’s watercolor illustrations are lively and friendly. The combination of panels that move the story right along and full-stop, take-your-time pages, will suck you in from the title page onwards. His quirky, shaggy, monsters are bumbling and endearing and Julia herself is a brisk force of nature! Great fun for ages 2 and up.
The Storm Whale, written and illustrated by Benji Davies
published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company
In quite a different house by the sea, a ramshackle cottage on a sandy beach, a little boy named Noi lives with his dad and six cats.
Noi’s dad is a fisherman, and Noi is left alone to occupy himself during each long day of fishing. He is quite a tiny figure, puttering about on the windswept shoreline, investigating.
One day, after a big storm, Noi discovers something tremendous. A little whale has washed ashore! Noi is savvy and plucky and understands he must save this poor fellow. He lugs him home and installs him in the tub. There, Noi gladly spends the day enjoying the companionship of the whale.
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