This is the second collection of illustrated tales by the author of North of the North Wind. It has four stories and will delight imaginative children everywhere. The tender and touching ‘A Snow Ballerina in a Red Cap’ is set in the haunting marshy landscape that is home to the Japanese crane. The young Izumi learns about the cranes from her grandmother and befriends a baby crane. They grow up together, dance together. When she is older, Izumi goes to the city to become a maiko. Years later she returns to the marsh, is reunited with her old friend and dances with her – but all too briefly. ‘Monty and Mozart’ shows us a dog’s life – from a dog’s viewpoint. It has a little sting in the tail. In ‘Barbed Wire’ a young boy comes to understand what ‘the enemy’ means. The island where he lives is occupied, his school closed down and fenced around with barbed wire. Later it becomes a camp with prisoners. The boy tries to make contact with one – the outcome is ambiguous. ‘My Cinema’ – the magic of the silver screen in an incongruous setting, but real nonetheless to a small boy. These are four beautifully crafted but very different stories, which share their author’s qualities of knowledge, insight and compassion.
The blurb covers the stories in enough detail for me to not need to, which always makes for an interesting spoiler avoiding challenge for the book reviewer. Luckily for you this intrepid reader has managed to do just that whilst sat in a coffee shop surrounded by all those novelists, readers of bestsellers and that token annoying child who causes havoc.
Throughout the book we are treated to all aspects of life, the good, bad and indifferent but above all a message there is the constant message to appreciate what we have when we have it.
A Snow Ballerina in a Red Cap is a story of growing up, loss and nature. It’s sure to illicit many questions from children and despite its melancholy air, it is a strong start to the book. The joys and sadness of time moving on, of nothing staying the same and growing up are all great life lessons and Izumi is a wonderful character who has that incisive logic that children seem to innately possess. A beautiful and touching story.
Monty and Mozart is something different, a life viewed through the eyes of a dog. Like a child, Monty is innocent and has no understanding of the decisions made around him but places his trust and love in his family. This short chronicle about their lives together is perhaps my least favourite of the four but at the same time it has, for me the most emotionally satisfying ending.
Barbed Wire sees a child trying to understand the wider ways of an impenetrable and confusing adult world. The shifting allegiances of history, the ambiguity of ‘the enemy’ and once again the transitory nature of things. The fickleness of wars and the unspoken trust between people in extraordinary situations is an intriguing one, the ending left me thinking about what life held for one of the characters in the aftermath.
The final story My Cinema starts with the return of much sought after entertainment after the war and is a reminder of the wonders and luxury of escapism in the bad times. In these days with so much entertainment vying for our attention, it is hard to imagine a time when things were so different but as the story shows, it is not just the films that play a big part in our imagination but the memories we keep with us associated with such pleasures.
This book is the most serious in the series so far, it has a stronger air of melancholy to it, the stories are more strongly geared to life lessons which is a good thing to ground children for the inevitable changes in life but also sad that as adults we still wish things to remain grounded and safe like when we were young and never quite get out of that habit.
There is a gentle philosophy that is subtle to children but for adults achieves a more poignant juxtaposition, it’s a wonderful book to encourage children to look at different perspectives on life and encourages questions and as ever adults will be truly charmed by the stories and the accompanying illustrations.