Katakawa makes a spirited debut, employing a panoply of visual styles. As she explains in her author’s note, the story is based on “Manju Kowai” (“Scared of Buns”) a classic from rakugo, the Japanese storytelling tradition. Mouse, Snake, Spider, and Fox are just sitting down for tea when Bear imperiously thumps through the forest. At Mouse’s suggestion, the friends decide to “scare Bear,” but they fail miserably (Mouse is a total washout at delivering a commanding “Boo!”). Then Bear reveals the one thing he fears: manju cake, the Japanese bun stuffed with sweet filling. “Don’t even mention it!” Bear says, and as the smaller creatures look on in amazement, he covers his eyes and quakes with fear before skulking off to his cave. The smaller creatures promptly hurl all their manju cakes into the cave (Snake knocks one in with its head, soccer-style) and wait for the inevitable surrender. Bear emerges, patting his belly, smacking his lips, and looking anything but frightened. “It’s scary how much I love manju cake,” he says. Yes, the big guy wins this one, but readers should be tickled by Bear’s willingness to play the fool for the sake of a yummy treat. Ages 4–8. Agent: Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency. (July)
PreS-Gr 1—Based on a form of Japanese storytelling, this visually engaging story loses a bit of logic in translation but retains a lot of appeal. Mouse, Fox, Spider, and Snake are about to feast on delicious manju cakes, when Bear passes by and they decide to scare him. Each animal tries and fails, until Bear reveals that his only fear is manju cakes. The animals throw their cakes into his cave and wait. Eventually, Bear emerges, stating "It's scary how much I love manju cake," leaving the animals to go make new cakes. The reasoning for scaring bear is flimsy at best, and his slick trick may be lost on young readers. Nevertheless, the text is brief and well paced, with a folklorish storytelling style that reads aloud well with nary a wasted word. The mixed-media, mostly full-bleed illustrations are reminiscent of Eric Rohmann's work, with heavy outlines, saturated backgrounds, and expressively faced animals. Bear is enormous and dominates the pages, and spider weaves commentary with her silk. Katakawa makes great use of perspective and movement, encouraging page turns and effectively drawing the eye. Fox and Bear each display some pretty scary toothy snarls, but the rest of the illustrations are in good fun. VERDICT While the story line is slim, the arresting visuals and nicely cadenced text make this an excellent candidate for storytimes. Most libraries will want to add it to their shelves.—Amy Lilien-Harper, Wilton Library, CT
Four friends take turns trying to scare Bear.
Mouse, Fox, Snake, and Spider love manju cake, a Japanese steamed bun with sweet filling. As they're about to enjoy a manju feast, Bear thumps by. Seeing as Bear is the biggest and bravest animal around, the four friends decide to scare him. Fox goes first, baring his sharp teeth, but Bear just flashes his teeth back. Spider, Snake, and Mouse follow with their tricks, but nothing can scare Bear. Finally, Bear says only one thing scares him: manju cakes. While Bear hides in his cave at the very thought, the four friends attempt to scare Bear one last time—but Bear plays the best trick of all. Katakawa's debut picture book is a funny tale of silly scare tactics and tricks. Based on a classic Japanese rakugo tale called "Manju Kowai," Katakawa's telling emphasizes cute animals and a one-line lesson that sharing may be better than scaring. The friendly, cartoon illustrations are bold and lively. Using digital drawing techniques, Katakawa adds movement and depth to the images as well as small details (Snake's spectacles, Mouse's overalls, Spider's web-written dialogue) that add fun and context to the short text.
A fun twist on a tale from Japanese oral storytelling tradition, great for reading aloud. (Picture book. 4-8)
"A fun twist on a tale from Japanese oral storytelling tradition, great for reading aloud."—Kirkus Reviews
"Katakawa makes great use of perspective and movement, encouraging page turns and effectively drawing the eye. . . . the arresting visuals and nicely cadenced text make this an excellent candidate for storytimes." —School Library Journal
"Based on a story called 'Manju Kowai' or 'Scared of Buns,' from the Japanese oral storytelling tradition of rakugo, Katakawa’s picture-book version is entertainingly presented. The forest-set mixed-media illustrations reward close inspection with clever details (e.g., the snake’s teacup is perched on her head—and she wears glasses). Bear is large but deft in his movements; readers will likely appreciate his cunning in earning a tasty treat but will also see the potential for friendship, as the smiling animals all appear to be having fun."—The Horn Book
"This lighthearted tale is a twist on a classic story from the Japanese oral tradition of rakugo, making for a delightful read-aloud. Mixed-media illustrations add energy to the excitement, and the delectable subject may have children demanding a manju cake before the end."—Booklist
"readers should be tickled by Bear’s willingness to play the fool for the sake of a yummy treat."—Publishers Weekly