I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend

I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend

4.3 3
by Wendy Henrichs, Yoshiko Jaeggi

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ceramic cats with one upraised paw, said to bring good luck and prosperity, are fixtures in Japanese storefronts. In her debut, Henrichs retells the traditional story of the cat's origin, in which a lordly stray befriends a monk in a temple, the monk shares his meager provisions with the cat, and the cat's beckoning gesture saves the life of a samurai warrior whose grateful reward relieves the temple's poverty. Henrichs allows the cat to narrate, a device that can feel clunky ("Without warning, I ran out of the temple and into the mighty storm, startling my master"), but does better when explaining unfamiliar elements ("In Japan, it is believed that when a cat washes its face, a guest will arrive"). Jaeggi (Monsoon Afternoon) lavishes care on the watercolor illustrations, in which everyday features of Japanese life—altar statuary, ragged-edged paper umbrellas, and bamboo fencing—add historical and architectural interest. She paints them in subdued, wintry whites and blues, with lively pink cherry blossoms signaling spring as the story moves toward its happy ending. Ages 5–9. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Janice DeLong
The legend upon which this tale is based originated more than 350 years ago, yet it is still reflected in a contemporary Japanese icon. Multilayered, it is a story of compassion, safety in the time of need, and friendship between man and beast. A homeless Japanese bobtail wins the affection of a poor monk and finds shelter in his deteriorating temple. The holy man names the little stray, Tama, after the river flowing by his childhood home. Both priest and beast feel responsible for the welfare of the other because of their mutual devotion. One day, during a fierce storm, Tama runs out into the wild weather and meets a stranger that forever changes the fortunes of the loving master, and gives legendary status to the selfless cat. Even to this day, Tama is honored in the millions of statues of the welcoming cat, with the one raised paw. Breathtaking illustrations create a perfect partner for this ancient tale. Libraries, classrooms, and home shelves may wish to hold this informative book so beautifully depicting the sacrificial element evident in the Buddhist religion. Reviewer: Janice DeLong
Children's Literature - Leona Illig
Many youngsters have seen the traditional “lucky cat” figurines in storefronts and Japanese restaurants: the cat with its paw bobbing up and down in greeting. This book tells the story behind the cat. According to legend, a hungry, homeless cat, Tama, is taken in and befriended by a kind, selfless monk. His temple is rundown, but they live together in harmony as the monk tries to help people around him. During a storm, Tama manages to lead a samurai warrior out of danger. The samurai, in turn, decides to make the temple his family’s place of honor. The days of hardship for the monk, temple, and cat are over. Told in first person by Tama, the story is rich with traditional Japanese symbolism. The page layouts are unusual and eye-catching, and the illustrations themselves are detailed and lovely. The only question concerning the pictures could be the depiction of the cat: in the text, the cat is described as being black and orange, but this is not reflected in the illustrations. At the end of the book is an “Author’s Note” explaining the origin of the story with a photograph of the recognizable cat. Children with a fondness for cats, legends, or Japanese culture will enjoy this enchanting tale of kindness, compassion, and, of course, luck. Reviewer: Leona Illig; Ages 4 to 6.
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2—Evocative watercolor illustrations capture ancient Japan in this picture-book retelling of the lucky-cat legend. Cat Tama narrates how she came to live with a poor monk in his rundown temple and her habit of sitting with her right paw upheld in the traditional Japanese greeting, "Come to me." Food is scarce, but the monk and feline live contentedly. One spring day during a raging storm, the animal dashes out to the temple gate. There she meets a traveling warlord, and through her beckoning gesture saves his life and changes the temple's fortune. An author's note explains the origin of the story and includes photos of beckoning cat figurines and the temple where the legendary Tama lived. The story's tone is formal but not stilted, as when the cat says, "I smiled at him with my pale green eyes, for I was not hurt." The artist studied in Osaka and her traditional training comes through, blending formal composition with light comic touches, such as Tama mimicking the monk's lotus pose. The images alternate between full-page paintings and panels reminiscent of Japanese screen paintings. With its compelling story and stunning art, this is a worthy addition.—Suzanne Myers Harold, Multnomah County Library System, Portland, OR

Product Details

Peachtree Publ
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.60(w) x 10.30(h) x 0.40(d)
AD830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

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I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Shanella More than 1 year ago
In many Asian restaurants around my city (and probably yours) you will find the Lucky Cat, a figurine of a cat with it's paw raised in a wave. I've always wondered what it was about and my friends would always say that it brings luck. I am Tama, Lucky Cat, tells the tale of the Lucky Cat. It is beautifully illustrated and the story itself is sweet and charming. It is based on the Maneki Neko, and illustrates one of the many stories of origin of the sculpture. It is a great way to understand the legend (or at least one of the many legends) behind the familiar icon. This is a very quick read for parents and children to read together. I would recommend it for all children, especially as a tool for broadening cultural boundaries.
KidLitWriter More than 1 year ago
I Am Tama, Lucky Cat is based on a Japanese legend and it reads like a fable. Tama arrives at a temple looking for food and shelter. What she finds is a poor monk willing to share the few things he has. Tama feels like a lucky cat for having found this master and his broken temple. They share everything and Tama helps by keeping their small food supply free from mice and warming her master with her fur coat. The monk feels blessed, having been found by a rare black and orange colored Japanese Bobcat. During a storm, Tama inexplicably runs out of their beat up shelter. The place needed a major overhaul. The monk calls her back but Tama sits at the gate of the temple and washes her face. According to Japanese lore, a cat washing her face is foreshadowing the arrival of visitors. Soon, a samurai warrior, riding a white, steed arrives at the temple looking for shelter. Upon seeing the shape of the temple, the warrior decides to take shelter under one of the blooming cherry trees. Soon he sees Tama with her right paw up in her sign of welcome and the warrior leaves the tree to see her. As he gets to the temple gate, a lightning bolt hits the tree he had staken shelter under. The warrior believes Tama to be a lucky cat; she saved his live and the life of his horse. Forever grateful the warrior fixes the temple bringing it back to its former glory. He makes sure the monk and Tama never want for another thing. The warrior also brings in new people to worship at the temple. Tama is truly a lucky cat for the warrior and for the monk and his temple. The cat with its right paw held up is a common symbol in Japan. Many Japanese businesses will have such a cat figurine to beckon customers inside. The legend of the Beckoning Cat, called Maneki Neko in Japanese, is more than a legend. In Japan, there is a place called The Beckoning Cat Temple, which bears a gravestone and a shrine to the lucky cat. Also buried there is the warlord who was the real warrior in the story. The illustrations have an oriental look and feel. The portrait of the lightning striking is magnificent. It looks more like a museum piece than an illustration for a children's book. That page alone is worth getting the book. This is a well-written story from the cat's point of view. It is a fast read and could easily become your child's favorite nighttime story. Note: received from netgalley, courtesy of the publisher
LivingPeacefully More than 1 year ago
Wendy Henrichs has elegantly captured one of the possible origins of Maneki Neko, the Japanese waving cat, in I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend. This poignant tale, told with a light lyrical prose and combined with Yoshiko Jaeggi's beautiful watercolors, creates a lovely picture book to enjoy with children. While I've often seen Japanese waving cats, I've never realized the signifigance behind the story. Children and parents alike will appreciate that even someone small can make a great difference. Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided by Peachtree Publishers.