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Children's LiteraturePoet and traveler, author of many famous haiku poems, Basho (1644-94) is the hero of this literary folk tale featuring traditional Japanese elements like the shape-changing fox. Deceived by the clever fox, Basho trades the use of his cherry tree for three gold coins that turn out to be washed river stones. How both poet and fox learn from this experience involves honor, promises, appreciation of beauty, and the writing of haiku. The characters of both Basho and the tricky fox are vivid and endearing as they end up sharing friendship, understanding, haiku, and cherries. Korean illustrator Han's watercolors capture both Basho's serene wisdom and the slyness of the fox, looking sharp in his red and white yukata. Her spreads are effective, especially one showing a temple courtyard with a lovely play of sunlight and shadow. Although patterned borders evoking Japanese textiles sometimes work very well on two adjoining pages (as in Basho's blue-and-white yukata next to a differently patterned background on the opposite page), other juxtapositions are not so harmonious, breaking the continuity of the story and jarring the eye, however lovely the individual paintings. The book's design could profit from better integration of text and illustrations or a different layout for the pictures. Still, the folktale rhythms and a focus on the beauty of simple things may hold magic for appreciative readers, inspiring further exploration of Basho's life and poetry. 2004, Marshall Cavendish, Ages 8 up.
—Barbara L. Talcroft