This multifaceted Japanese tale encompasses elements of ecology, industriousness and mystery. Koji, a wealthy boy, decides early on that a life of labor is not for him. As an equally slothful man, he whittles his fortune down to a house, a mountain and a lake, all of which he plans to sell at first opportunity. But as Koji naps, a magical frog enters his dreams and convinces him to preserve the mountain and lake for the animals. The hero's change of heart in turn encourages an eerily beautiful thank you from a host of grateful amphibians. Hamanaka's fluid retelling guides readers smoothly through the detailed proceedings, providing an air of anticipation and occasional humor. The plot device--animals pleading a case for conservation to a sleeping man--is similar to Lynne Cherry's The Great Kapok Tree , and may spark a comparison of the two titles. Collage and acrylic illustrations, rendered on handmade paper, are liberally adorned with Asian motifs, while the figures' stark black outlines suggest the strokes of Japanese lettering. An entertaining and thought-provoking text blends with intriguing artwork in a noteworthy package. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 6-- When wastrel Koji inherits his family's lands, he starts selling bits and pieces to pay for his life of luxury. With little left, he goes to measure one of the few remaining plots, which contains a lake and a mountain. Here he falls asleep only to be visited by a giant frog who, with loud lamentation, begs Koji not to sell its home. The frog goes on to enumerate the environmental disasters, particularly to frogs, that would ensue. Not sure if this is a dream or reality, Koji is so frightened that he not only holds onto the land, but also sells his worldly goods, pays his debts, and becomes an exemplary, self-supporting farmer. One night soon after, a tattered white screen in his house is magically transformed into a magnificent painting of frogs. This object becomes the talk of the region for years until it fades away right after Koji's death. The ecological relevance of this Japanese folktale is just as strong today as it was centuries ago. The translation is graceful, lyrical, and makes a dramatic read-aloud. Hamanaka's magnificent pictures present a fairy-tale, yet culturally accurate, Japan. Using acrylics, cut-paper, and cloth collages, all on textured mulberry paper, she has created some dazzling effects. Colors are vibrant or subtle, and always well suited to the text. Of special note are the greens and purples, which are deployed with subtlety and great distinction. A marbled paper stream is fascinating, the giant frog gloriously theatrical, and the screen itself is a knockout. Kudos to Hamanaka for translating something new and authentic from the treasure-trove of Japanese folklore and for making this timely tale a masterpiece through her art. --John Philbrook, San Francisco Public Library
Imbued with traditional motifs, yet audaciously modern, even shrewdly unsettling, Hamanaka's double-page collages give an old Japanese folktale new life. Koji, who has grown up rich and spoiled, laughs at the peasants who toil in the fields and thinks nothing of selling off his family's lands to buy what pleases him. Growing weary from measuring his last bit of property, which he's preparing to sell, he falls asleep. He's awakened by a huge green frog. In awe, he listens as the dripping frog delivers a plea to preserve the land. He returns home a wiser man and grants the frog's wish, for which he's rewarded in a wondrous way. Hamanaka's pictures are large and colorful enough to use effectively in a small-group situation, and her retelling is a smooth combination of a favorite picture book theme (good deeds rewarded) and a timely ecological message.