Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene,
Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.
Gloria Whelan’s Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is the charming story of a little girl’s reluctant but cushy trip by palanquin from her Kyoto home to Edo, now Tokyo. Yuki’s father, a high-ranking provincial official, has a thousand serfs to transport his family and their belongings for their half-year stay in the shogunate capital. As she and her little dog, Kita, ride along with her mother in their silk-lined “wooden box,” Yuki can look through the privacy shutters and see, far ahead, her father on horseback, leading their dragon-like procession. Yuki and Kita take breaks to scamper in the grass, and throughout the text Yuki’s haiku commemorate her journey - and her homesickness - as she fulfills her teacher’s request that she keep up her fledgling literary practice.
Rain coaxes flowers
pear blossoms will soon bloom here
I will not see them.
Whelan’s introduction explains that the story is set during the shogunate period, the 17th and 18th centuries, and notes that her inspiration was an exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art by 19th-century Japanese artist Hiroshige Utagawa, also known as Hiroshige Ando or simply Hiroshige. His renowned woodcut print series depicts the 53 stations, or travelers’ inns, along Japan’s ancient Tokaido-sen.
As Yuki’s haiku acknowledge changes in the weather, the topography, and her own moods, Yan Nascimbene’s delicate watercolor illustrations give readers visual images of the scenery, the inns and villages on the route, and the long, long line of carriers walking ahead of her. “The shouters run ahead crying out, ‘Lie down! Lie down, in the dust.’ All must bow to us for Father is the governor of our province.” The artist’s flat washes and outlined shapes suggest something of Hiroshige’s woodcuts. The original art in Yuki won Nascimbe a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators.
Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is the second in Michigan-based Sleeping Bear Press’ Tales of the World series. Whelan, whose poetic Homeless Bird, set in India, won a National Book Award, also wrote the first book in this series, Yantandu, set in Mali. The series promises to add greatly to multicultural literature for children. Yuki, a good read for any child, would be an especially welcome gift for a little girl whose family is moving to faraway Japan.