The Crane Girl by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lin Wang (9781885008572)
Released March 15, 2017.
Yasuhiro discovered an injured crane caught in a trap and freed it, the crane pressing its red crest to his cheek before flying away. The next night a girl came to his home where he lived with his father. She asked to stay with them and work for them. His father, Ryota, agreed to let her stay though they aren’t rich and have little to share. The girl, Hiroko, noticed the loom in one of the rooms and was told that it belonged to Yasuhiro’s mother who had died. Hiroko offered to weave silk for them to sell as long as they never opened the door while she was working. They agreed. She soon returned with fine silk that Ryota was able to sell for a nice sum, enough to stop him from having to look for work for awhile. Soon though, he needed more silk and then still more, faster and faster each time. As the demands grew, Hiroko was unable to recover between weavings, making each time take longer and longer. When Ryota finally opened the door, there was Hiroko as a crane, weaving on the loom and using her own feathers. Hiroko finished the weaving and then flew off, but it was up to Yasuhiro to decide what life he was going to choose going forward.
This picture book version is based on several versions of the traditional Japanese crane folktales. One theme in these stories is the concept of a debt that needs to be repaid. This version has a father who plays the impatient villain in the story, allowing real love to blossom and grow between the human boy and the crane girl. The writing here is superb. It is simple enough to be shared aloud well and yet rich enough that the story really comes to life. Manley uses haiku inserted throughout to speak the characters’ deepest feelings that they don’t share aloud in the story. This use of brief poetry embraces the Japanese setting of the tales in another way, enriching them further.
The illustrations are enchanting. They have a light to them, one that shines from the silk the girl creates and emanates from her body and feathers. Done in watercolor, they are filled with fine details, small touches of steam rising from a teapot and snow on shoulders draw readers further in.
A rich retelling of the Japanese crane folktale, this version offers great writing combined with wonderful illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Shen’s Books.