Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beautiful Retelling 'The Crane Girl' Interweaves Haiku Through Storytelling To Reveal Characters Thoughts & Feelings

The Crane Girl illustration by Lin Wang
We have to admit, one review and a glimpse of the cover and we were sold on this book. That was quickly followed by an overwhelming number of five star reviews and even more gorgeous illustrations peeks inside, along with phrases like "the perfect folktale retelling", and then we read this:
from the darkness
an animal's sudden cry -
its fear, and mine

Yasuhiro dropped his armload of firewood to follow the sound across the sharp buckwheat stubble of the Landlord's field. He almost stepped on the crane, nearly invisible where it lay in the snow. A trap held one foot, but the crane looked unharmed. As Yasuhiro knelt, the bird closed its eyes and shuddered.

cold hard trap -
he sets me free
with warm hands
(Opening Lines from The Crane Girl by Curtis Manley)
Whoa. We're hooked.

The watercolor illustrations by artist Lin Wang, are lyrical, magical and well, stunning! Everything you want in a picture book, as far as the art goes, but there are even more wonderful layers woven into this updated retelling of the Japanese fairy tale, The Crane Wife, to bring different dimensions to the storytelling as well.

Not only is the prose the perfect storytelling tone for a classic fairy tale (and wonderful for reading aloud), but as you might have guessed from the opening excerpt above, throughout the story, haikus appear, illuminating various characters thoughts and feelings of the scene described or illustrated, as well as helping to reflect the cultural setting of the tale. It's wonderfully unique, sensitively done, and perfect for introducing children to magical retellings that incorporate beautiful and captivating storytelling, lush images and, harder to impart, snatches of poetry that express simply and succinctly the inner lives of those involved along the way.
“from the darkness / an animal’s sudden cry— / its fear, and mine …”
(Click to see full size)
We already want more stories told this way!

Writer, Curtis Manley, actually used a few variations of The Crane Wife to adapt his story and added his own variation as well.
In a closing note, the author writes: "In the West, only two versions [of this story] are known well. In The Crane Wife (Tsuru Nyobo), a young man rescues a crane and then gives shelter to a mysterious young woman. They fall in love and get married, but when she begins weaving wonderful cloth, his greed and curiosity drive her away. In the version known as The Grateful Crane (Tsuru no Ongaeshi, literally “the crane’s return of a favor”), an old, childless couple gives shelter to a young woman, but again the crane leaves when her identity is discovered." He goes on to say that, in other versions, various animals take the place of the crane. The closing author’s note also includes more information on Japanese poetic forms. (SevenImpossibleThings)
“When the bird stood up, it was as tall as Yasuhiro.
He stroked the soft feathers on its long neck with his fingertips, and the bird
gently pressed the red top of its head against Yasuhiro’s face. …”

(Click to see full size)
We found an interview at DeborahKalbBooks with the author in which he talks about what drew him to this tale in the first place, and why he adapted it the way he did:
Q: Why did you decide to adapt this Japanese folk tale, and how did you change it from the original?
A: Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading many different folktales and legends from around the world, but have been especially drawn to those from the Pacific Northwest and from Japan.
When I heard The Decemberists’ album The Crane Wife in 2006, I was reminded of how much I liked that specific Japanese folktale. It involves a man who rescues and sets free an injured crane; soon after that, a beautiful woman knocks on the door asking to stay. Eventually they marry.
When his new wife mysteriously weaves fabric that he sells for a good price in the market, the man’s greed for more causes the woman to leave forever.
My change was to have not an adult but a young boy rescue the crane, and it is a young girl who appears at the door seeking shelter. The boy’s father is the one who becomes greedy, not the boy, and so in the end the boy and girl are able to remain together.
My adaptation retains all the traditional elements of the plot, but involves main characters close to the reader’s age—and it ends on a more positive note.
We admit we were skeptical at first of this 'new happier ending', since in our mind, although the Crane Wife eventually leaves, and it is sad, it's also a good example of a woman's self-emancipation, that is, freedom from being dictated to and controlled by her partner and by greed, eventually causing her harm. The shift in character ages - and responsibilities - in Manley's retelling, however, make for a version children are more likely to relate to, and from what we can tell, the boy has some choices - different choices - of his own to make, giving a different spin to the usual 'animal bride' fairy tales - one that feels appropriate for a modern audience but also fits with the traditional, pre-industrial feel of the tale. The best part? Even with the 'twist' it stays true to the story of The Crane Wife!

Another excerpt from the same interview continues below:
...When I was just beginning work on The Crane Girl, I knew I wanted to include haiku along with references to certain foods, crops, and customs. Using the haiku to reveal the thoughts of the characters then came naturally—at least, that’s how I remember it now.
“The next night someone knocked on the door. Yasuhiro opened it and
found a girl standing there, pale and shivering, tears frozen on her cheeks. …”

(Click to see full size)
Q: What do you think the illustrations, by Lin Wang, add to the book?
A: Folktales, like epic poems and Shakespeare’s plays, retain their relevance and power even if retold in new settings. Nonetheless, setting The Crane Girl in pre-industrial Japan kept it closer to the roots of the original folktales—and the itinerant storytellers who performed them.
Lin’s images bring that setting to life in the specificity of detail in the house, village, and clothing—and the in the crane’s plumage and features.
But at the same time the beauty and luminosity of the illustrations also give the reader hints at the magic that underlies the story—magic that the boy and his father are mostly unaware of until the end.
The cover and interior illustrations are so gorgeous that I hope no one is let down by the words and poems of my text!
To give you a better idea of how the book is laid out and the story told, we're including some reviews below:
“The polished, full-color illustrations … complement the lyrical text. Interspersed, color-coded haiku reveal the characters’ unspoken thoughts… More from this team would be a welcome addition to folk-tale collections.” Kirkus (starred review) 
“Snatches of haiku add depth to this story based on traditional Japanese folktales. … Exquisite watercolor illustrations accompany the text. … This well-crafted tale offers [readers] an introduction to traditional Japanese culture and folklore…” School Library Journal
Fairy tale bonus of the day:
You can read an interview with the author, Curtis Manley HERE, about how he loves, writes and gives advice about poetry, as well as his process for writing The Crane Girl.
You can also read an interview with artist Lin Wang HERE and see a lot more of her amazing and beautiful watercolor illustrations.