I was both thrilled and surprised to find this book of poetry in the box of children’s non-fiction picture books at the library. This exquisite collection which actually has a call number that places it in ‘junior fiction’, contains a selection of Misuzu Kaneko’s wonderful verse interweaved with her life story. The narrative and translation are by David Jacobson, Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi; illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri.
The foreword by Setsuo Yazaki, describes how he came across one of Misuzu’s poems and the search that ensued, spanned 16 years, culminating in the discovery of her works in 1982.
A double page is allocated to each poem, with elegant illustrations spanning both pages. The English version first, then the Japanese words printed on the opposite page.
The poems written in Japanese language are a beauty to see, looking like streamers hanging from the sky.
Misuzu’s poetry is easy to read and understand by children. The verse is bursting with curiosity and wonder. However, behind the simple words of her poems there is an ineffable depth that transcends observations into a deep perception overflowing with care and empathy for all things.
Misuzu’s life story is a sad set of circumstances which tragically leads to her taking her life. I admire the authors of this book who chose to add the dark story in these pages aimed at a junior audience, although it may be uncomfortable for some.
In his foreword, Yazaki tells us that these poems are part of the Japanese curriculum for primary school. With Japanese a popular language taught from prep onwards in primary schools across Queensland, I hope these poems are added to our syllabus too, so our children will be inspired to fathom the feeling of fish left in the sea after a big catch and cultivate in them a happiness and love for everything.
Suggested age: Read aloud to 5+. Read by self 6+. Recommended for a confident reader.