Thursday, April 19, 2012
Picture Book: Shibumi and the Kitemaker by Mercer Mayer
Ages 5 and up (Reading Aloud)
Published in 1999 by Marshall Cavendish
In this original fable by Mercer Mayer, Shibumi is a young princess of a "far-away kingdom" sheltered behind garden walls she isn't allowed past. She dreams of the wonders on the other side of the wall. When she overhears some children outside the wall making fun of the princess they've never seen, Shibumi climbs a tree to set them straight, but the squalor and deprivation she sees from that tree shatter all her illusions of a better world beyond the wall. Fearing that her father will punish her for climbing the tree, but driven to change what she sees, she conceives a daring plan (that only a child would think of) that will force her father, the emperor, to make the situation better. Her drastic action gets his attention, and through it, she finally tells him what she wishes to happen. As he starts to implement a plan to fulfill her greatest wish, his councilors, thinking he has lost his mind and not eager to have the status quo changed, engage in a treacherous plot that results in Shibumi fleeing into exile. Despite his broken heart, or maybe because of it, the emperor works for years to implement the needed changes to his land, but is now, many years after Shibumi's departure, besieged in outright war by angry nobles who want things to return to the way they were. A young samurai goes in search of Shibumi, knowing that her father needs her to help him continue what she started.
Mayer's love of Japanese art and culture is evident in every beautiful and meticulous illustration.
This is a book with some heavy themes for young children: inequality of classes, the "haves" vs. "have-nots," and the difference one person can make in a seemingly impossible situation. I appreciated how Mayer allowed Shibumi's "grass-is-greener" attitude to develop into a deep conviction that she needed to be -and believed she could be- an instrument of change. I also appreciated that he didn't show the process as being easy or quick. I expect it's a book my girls will think about for years to come.
My seven and eight year-old daughters loved this fable. My four-year-old at least stayed beside me while we read, sometimes tuning out, but then something would draw her back in.
Sadly, this book is out of print. Our copy was borrowed from the library.