Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crow Boy

Crow Boy
Taro Yashima
The Viking Press, 1955

It seems the Picture Puffin series is doing a fine job keeping classics like this in print for cheap. Many times when I find an old book, I look it up and those guys still have it available in paperback. A Caldecott Honor Book, Crow Boy starts out a little strange. When we first meet Chibi, the pictures are mildly scary, and you can see why the other children in class think this kid is weird. As the story pans out, the incredible spirit the boy possesses becomes clear, and you feel bad for being a little like the boy's tormentors -- unjustly judging a book by its cover.

As is often the case in life, only a great teacher can break a shy boy out of his shell. When his class sees all the wonderful bird calls the boy can summon, they understand that Chibi is not at all what he appears.

At the end, to imitate a crow on an old tree, Chibi made very special sounds deep down in his throat, "KAUUWWATT! KAUUWWATT!"
Now everybody could imagine exactly the far and lonely place where Chibi lived with his family.
Then Mr. Isobe explained how Chibi had learned those calls -- leaving his home for school at dawn, and arriving home at sunset.
Every one of us cried, thinking how much we had been wrong to Chibi all those years.

This tale is the ultimate redemption for the class joke and a life lesson for the mournful bullies. The chalk drawings are sparse but lively, and the story is so nuanced, it is hard not to get swept up. I mean, in his isolation, Chibi finds interest in things like the topography of his desk top or the details of the patch on a shirt. Who wouldn't love this kid!?!

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Heidi said...

I read this book every year to my 2nd graders (and always get choked up!). It takes the kids a while to get past the illustrations, but the message of the books always resonates with them and opens the door to great conversation. I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes it!

Burgin Streetman said...

I find that if a kid's books is really great, it almost always chokes me up! :) Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I first read this book when I was in fourth grade, in 1968-69. I kept rereading it, and it has stayed with me all these years. I have been "obsessively" looking for it, incorrectly remembering the title as Bird Boy. It's funny: I remembered the picture on the cover, but I forgot the exact title!

After years of unsuccessfully searching for this book, I finally found it by looking on eBay last night. This is truly an answer to a decades-long prayer. I didn't realize, or even imagine, that this book was still in print! I'm ordering it today.

Burgin Streetman said...

finding that illusive memory is the best. congrats!

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