Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous art and story and an important book for kids and adults.