A few months ago, a curator at the Honolulu Museum of Art stumbled upon a rare 19th century manual on Japanese art that he didn’t even know existed in the museum archives. Stephen Salel had been searching for materials for an exhibition devoted to female Japanese manga artists. Recognized today as a sub genre of graphic novels, manga as an art form dates to the nineteenth century, and Salel was looking specifically for work created by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866), considered by many experts to be the first female manga artist. If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because she was the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose 1823 woodblock print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa has been reproduced countless times around the world. More at the Fine Books Blog.
Massachusetts has an over two-hundred-year connection with the Rainbow State. Back in the early 1800s, missionaries sailed from Boston to Hawai’i, determined to convert the locals and also to bring the wonders of print to those distant shores. Along with religious fervor, the missionaries also brought a second-hand printing press, kickstarting an impressive outpouring of printed material in Hawai’i. Read all about it on the Fine Books Blog.
I am a Bear, by Jean-François Dumont; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $16.00, 34 pages, ages 4-7.
Hawaii is making news this morning for declaring a state of emergency in order to deal with its surging homeless population, and the story brings up an interesting point: What’s the best way to discuss this with young children? Jean-Francois Dumont’s I am Bear tackles the subject with grace and sensitivity. Winner of the 2004 Prix Saint-Exupery, Dumont explores how societies often dehumanize the homeless by setting a bear right in the middle of a big (Parisian-esque) city. The bear doesn’t know how he arrived on the streets, or what circumstances led him to sleeping under in cardboard boxes, but there he is, like so many of the urban homeless who’ve become faceless and invisible. There’s a lot going on here – compassion, empathy, plenitude in the face of poverty – and yet the author manages to avoid being didactic by keeping the text simple and straightforward. Hope materializes in the welcoming smile of a little girl who looks beyond the dirt and tatters and sees a bear that reminds her of her own beloved playthings. Dumont’s illustrations highlight the duality of urban life and the willing refusal to see the suffering of those right on our doorsteps. This is a book that grows with children as their world becomes larger and they begin to notice people and things around them. While the girl’s compassion is encouraging, it’s not a panacea: The bear remains homeless, but through empathy grows the possibility for change.
As the holidays approach, and with them the usual Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah fare, consider this book as an unexpected, poignant, and relevant alternative to teaching kindness.