Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gon, The Little Fox - a bookwrap

Today's featured book is a Japanese children's story.  This story is considered the crowning glory of author Niimi Nankichi, who is often referred to as the Hans Christian Andersen of Japan.

Japanese stories do not always have .... "and they lived happily ever after endings", like we in North America are used to.  I must admit after I read the book I was kind of in shock because I was trying to reason how the last page would be processed by young readers if it was having this affect on me. The moral of their stories is often summed up by acknowledging that everybody and everything has to accept his fate, be that good or bad... very interesting concept to wrap your mind around.

 According to Wikipedia :

"Foxes are also seen in Japanese culture as magical and often mischievous animals.  Some folk tales tell stories how foxes change shape to impersonate other beings and objects. Gon, (the little fox in today's story) also mimics humans on occasions, although there seem to be no magical powers involved."


Written by Nankichi Niimi

Illustrated by Genjirou Mita

Ages 5-7

Unwrapping some illustrations for you to peek at...

How others viewed the book...

Gon, The Fox received favorable reviews. Marilyn Taniguchi writing for the School Library Journal described it as a "poignant tale (that) will resonate with older readers, who will empathize with the struggles of a lonely outsider." and suggested "Teachers will also appreciate the glimpse into Japan’s rich culture."

 Kirkus Reviews wrote "A lot of information about Japanese culture and custom is imparted in the course of this telling," and commented "(Illustrator Genjirou) Mita’s beautiful and delicate original watercolors offer readers’ eyes large and lovely resting places as they make their ways through this long tale." concluding "The startling and violent ending may make it difficult to find an audience, but it is a valuable introduction to a non-Western storytelling aesthetic."

JQ Magazine called it "a valuable read for young people".

About the book...

Gon is a little fox who constantly is foraging for food. He makes his home outside a little village where he harasses the villagers by  stealing their food and getting into mischief.  

One  autumn day Gon comes across a man named Hyoju who is down on his hands and knees gathering "a messy mix of roots, leaves, and rotten sticks" from a stream and shoving them inside a bag-like net.  Shining through, at the bottom of the net, are the bellies of a large eel and a minnow.   Hyoju suddenly gets out of water and takes off running upstream for some unknown reason and  this is the perfect chance for Gon, the little fox, to cause some trouble.

Hyoju returns, sees what the fox is up to and starts shouting at the thieving rascal.  The fox has gotten into his net bag and is trying to bite off the head of his coveted eel.  The eel squeaks and coils tightly around Gon's neck.  The fox then takes off quick as lightning unable to shake the eel free and afraid he will be caught by the angered human.  When the fox gets to the alder tree near his hole he completes his dastardly deed of decapitation and deposits the eel on top of some grass leaves outside his hole.  Oh my!

 Ten days later Gon sneaks into the village and discovers the reason why Hyoju wants the eel.  Hyoju's mother is very ill and one of her last requests is to eat the eel. Unfortunately because of Gon's mischief she dies without her last wish being granted leaving her son Hyoju to live all by himself. 

Gon, feeling very guilty, realizes how terrible he has behaved and tries to make it up to Hyoju who is very sad that his mama is gone and he was unable to give her the eel that she wanted... her last appeal to her only son.  

Gon,  whose heart has changed, collects many gifts to bestow upon the grieving human trying to make amends for what his inexcusable conduct. The little fox gathers chestnuts and mushrooms from the forest floor and secretly leaves them for Hyoju to find and enjoy. Hyoju cannot figure out who is blessing him with these very welcome, edible gifts. 

One day Hyoju discovers the stealthy fox has snuck into his home to deliver some chestnuts.  He immediately recognizes him as the thief who stole his mama's eel and out of anger........   no spoilers.  What do you think he did? What would you have done?   So sorry but you will have to get the book to find out if this is a "happily ever after book" or not and if the fate of Gon, the little fox, is justified.  

The illustrations are delicate watercolours and add so much to the text.  Much can be gleaned from the content of the book as there is a lot of information about Japanese culture and customs embedded in the story.  This book will appeal to both and young and the old I am positive and I highly recommend it. 

This book was winner of: 2016 USSB Outstanding International Book

About the author ...

Nankichi Niimi (1913-1943)

Known as the Hans Christian Andersen of Japan, children’s book author Nankichi Niimi started writing in junior high school and published Gon, The Little Fox at the age of 18. Although he passed away at only 29, he had already written a number of children’s books, songs, novels, poems, and plays during his short life. Niimi’s rich, highly imaginative storytelling is filled with both sadness and humor. With their universal themes, like the importance of friendship and living a beautiful life even in difficult times, his stories continue to be loved by many, both young and old. It is suspected he died at the age of 29 of tuberculosis.

About the illustrator...

Genjirou Mita (1918-2000)

Artist and children’s book illustrator Genjirou Mita was a three-time winner of the Sankei Children’s Book Award for his illustrated books. In addition to his work in children’s books, Mita devoted his life to art education and served as the president of the Japan Art Association from 1989 to 1995.

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