The Crane Wife

OK, so this one is a picture book.  But if my goal is really to read everything ever, that ought to include picture books, yes? Plus I’m a sucker for a great illustration.

The Plot: Odds Bodkin gives a traditional retelling of a Japanese fairy tale called The Crane Wife, in which a poor weaver nurses a wounded crane back to health, only to discover that it is really a woman with a magical skill.

The author: Odds Bodkin is a storyteller, author, musician and educator. In addition to The Crane Wife, he has written three other picture books and created many music and storytelling recordings. He plays a variety of instruments and has received various art and storytelling awards.

The illustrator: Gennady Spirin, a Russian native, has illustrated more than 40 children’s books, including stories by both Shakespeare and Madonna. He has been awarded the Best Illustrated Book of the Year award by the New York Times four separate times.

Why It’s Awesome: The illustrations for this book are sumptuous.  Spirin obviously made a meticulous study of Japanese art, and his style matches the words beautifully.  Each character has a distinct expression, even the smallest child in the background. The pictures have both the bright colors of an oil painting and the fine delicacy of a pencil drawing.

Bodkin’s text is written in a clear, lyrical style. The words are simple and obviously aimed at a young audience, but Bodkin doesn’t pander or talk down to them. He avoids spelling out the moral of the story, and as the relationship between the protagonists sours, he leaves it to the reader to realize why, trusting that we will.  This fairy tale is one of the genre’s most heart-breaking, and the book’s last page leaves readers aching.

Why It’s Not Awesome: This is a fairly bare-bones version of the story.  It’s an old tale, and Bodkin is trying to get as close to the original version as he can. Magical occurrences (ie a bird that suddenly turns into a woman) are never explained…whether all of this is a plus or a minus depends largely on the reader.

The Final Judgment: A beautifully written, elegantly illustrated version of an intriguing fairy tale.

Extra Note: For an amazing musical version of the same story, check out The Decemberists’ Crane Wife Cycle.

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