It’s a cold, wintery New Year’s Day and an elderly couple must sell the wife’s heirloom wedding kimono to buy the rice cakes they need to eat for “good fortune to smile on us”. On his way to market, the old man passes six statues of Jizo, the protector of children. he carefully brushes the snow off them, telling them about the reasons for his journey as he does so. After a series of trading transactions, he finds himself at the end of the day not with the desired rice cakes but five bamboo hats.
He returns home and on his way, again passes the statues. He carefully ties the bamboo hats on the heads of the statues to protect them from the snow; and he ties his own hat under the chin of the sixth statue. Returning empty-handed to his wife, he apologises while telling her all that has happened: she replies that she is proud of him.
Later, after they have gone to bed, they hear a noise outside and discover an enormous rice cake at their door – and in the distance, the six Jizo statues walking away in single file… That New Year the celebrations were unforgettable!
This lovely story, Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake (Crown Publishers, 1993), has been adapted from Japanese folklore by Ann Tompert, and gorgeously illustrated by Demi (who features in our current Gallery – do take a look if you haven’t already, her Q&A is fascinating). It is perfect for this time of year and is a lovely book to share – not just because of the beauty that shines from both the story and the pages of the book, but also because the English narrative incorporates Japanese characters for key words like kimono, rice-cake(s), bamboo hat(s) etc. The key extends down the side of the page and I can vouch for the delight of a small person inserting the correct word at the right moment, while the story is being read to them!
All in all, the book is a delight – Ann Tompert’s narrative is expressive and gentle and Demi has depicted lots of tiny vignettes to explore. Little Brother also loved the way the statues stood very statue-like but could move their eyes to watch the old man, and could smile. We have so much snow here at the moment, too, that this has been our perfect New Year book this year. What about you? What have you been reading with your children (at home, in class or at your library) to welcome in the New Year?