Sunny Seki, author-illustrator,
Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll: The Adventures of a Blind Japanese Girl Who Saves Her Village
Age: 5 and up
Sunny Seki’s latest children’s book is set 200 years ago in the village of Takasaki, 90 miles from Tokyo, just after a devastating volcanic eruption of nearby (and still active) Mt. Asama. Yuko-chan, Seki’s spunky little fictional heroine, is a blind orphan, cared for by the monks at Daruma Temple there.
Yuko-chan’s intelligence, compassion and complete lack of self-pity are evident early in the story. She knows all about how Daruma (Bodhidharma to westerners) brought the Buddha’s teaching to China. Daruma was famous for continuing to meditate even after his arms and legs became numb. He exhorted followers, “If you fall seven times, you must pick yourself up eight times! You need strong faith, and the belief that you can accomplish your goals!”
The indomitable Yuko-chan, inspired by Daruma’s words, helps deliver food to bereft villagers who have lost their homes and farms. One day, she notices that her tea gourd always returns to upright after being dropped, and she likens it to Daruma, never giving up. She gets the villagers to begin painting gourds with Daruma’s famously fierce face. The Daruma dolls quickly gain popularity. Her ingenious idea provides a new livelihood for the community.
Takasaki is in fact famous today for its Daruma dolls. Visitors purchase the dolls with the eyes blank. They paint in one eye when they make a wish or vow and add the other when their goal is achieved. Actually an old tradition with a murky history, the eye painting has been criticized in recent years by Japanese organizations for the blind. Perhaps their protest inspired Seki’s story; it’s poetically appropriate that his vision-impaired little girl would resolve a village crisis with goal-inspiring, blank-eyed Daruma dolls.
Award-winning author-illustrator Sunny Seki brings the feisty and adorable Yuko-chan vividly to life in word and image. He captures the simple beauties of nature and the rustic built environment of the time as well. A Japanese translation follows the English text on each page, with hiragana (phonetic) symbols printed in superscript so novice Japanese readers can more easily follow the story. The back matter gives additional information about Daruma and the Daruma doll tradition. Tuttle’s expert design and high production quality further enhance the experience of Yuko-chan and the Daruma Doll. Its impact will deepen with repeated reading.