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Kanji Kaimono

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Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry Of Misuzu Kaneko


Hardcover, 64 pp., for ages 7 and up, including adults!

At most Japanese elementary schools, students read the poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. And after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, Japanese TV networks aired one of her poems as part of a public service announcement. She is an essential part of Japanese culture. Nevertheless, her extremely short life has been a mystery until recently.

This charmingly illustrated book salvages her life from the dustbin of history, introducing Kaneko to the West and giving her her proper due by presenting her poetry in both languages, along with her tragic life story. This important work also captures the way Kaneko’s compassion for the animate and inanimate world knew no bounds.

David Jacobson, who narrates the book beautifully, has written this of Kaneko: "To Misuzu, everything was alive and had its own feelings—plants, rocks, even telephone poles! She felt the loneliness of whale calves orphaned after a hunt. She felt the nighttime chill of cicadas who had shed their old shells. And she felt the tearful sadness of a flower wet with dew."

Her poems for children reveal "a cosmology of kindness," says Montreal-based poet and translator Erin Moure, who calls this work "almost a companion book to St. Exupery’s Little Prince!" Indeed, like The Little Prince, the book is ostensibly for children—but speaks right to the adult heart.

What People Are Saying

“A mystery, a quest, a mother and a child, an earthquake and a discovery: Are You An Echo? folds poetry and history into recent events, resurrecting the work of Misuzu Kaneko and bringing the gentle grace of her poems to a new generation.”
— Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive, finalist for the National Book Award

“This lovingly wrought text brilliantly honors Kaneko’s work and gives readers a welcome opportunity to revel in her unique way of looking at the world."
—Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, Booklist, Starred Review

"Ito and Tsuboi render Misuzu’s plainspoken poems into graceful English (“The fish in the sea—/ no one looks after them;/ they do no harm./ And yet, here I am about to eat one”) and Jacobson provides the tragic biography of an artist whose life blazed and ended early...Hajiri’s warmhearted illustrations of turn-of-the-century Japanese life recall the work of Allan Say; they dwell on the closeness between Misuzu, her mother, and her daughter."
—Publisher's Weekly

"Each brief poem addresses nature, children's observations, or both, in language that will be both accessible to the youngest readers and thought-provoking for adult caregivers. Striking, memorable imagery—a lost hat enjoying a new life as a bird's nest, the mystery of a cicada's molted husk—guarantees fruitful rereadings for readers of all ages."
—Kirkus Reviews

“The poems themselves will appeal to children, while the book as a whole will speak to readers who are interested in Japanese literature and culture, in poetry and translation, and anyone who finds inspiration in poetry’s immortal nature.”
—Kerry Clare, Quill & Quire

"This sensitively crafted picture book offers a glimpse into the life and work of Japanese poet Kaneko (1903–30). Accompanied by colorful, soft illustrations, the first half recounts Kaneko's short life along with a selection of her poems that thematically complement the text. The second half is a larger (also illustrated) collection of her poems in English and Japanese. Young Misuzu is described as a sensitive, inquisitive child; her family encouraged her love of reading and education. When she was 20, her first poems were published and were well received. She would go on to write more than 500 poems. The narrative covers the many challenges Kaneko faced. (She committed suicide at the age of 26.) Framing Kaneko's life story is the account of Setsuo Yazaki, who worked tirelessly to track down and preserve her poetry after it fell into obscurity. Kaneko's brief poems express kinship with the world: sleepy telephone poles, fish, grieving orphaned whale calves, and more. Poems like "The Cicada's Clothes" and "Dewdrop" convey a childlike sense of wonder: "Let's not tell anyone./In the corner of the garden this morning,/a flower shed a tear." Even in translation, her work has an elegant simplicity and clarity. VERDICT This wonderfully illustrated book stresses the positive legacy of Kaneko's tragic life. A recommended purchase for all collections, especially those with an interest in international poetry.
—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

Awards Galore!

2017 NCTE Notable Poetry Book

Freeman Book Awards, honorable mention

Washington State Book Awards, finalist

Booklist Editors’ Choice, Books for Youth 2016

Booklist Top 10 Biographies for Youth and Top 10 Translated Books for Youth: 2017

Favorite Diverse Children’s Books of 2016, Smithsonian Book Dragon

Here's a sample of her poetry:

Big Catch

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
For more on this beloved poet, please visit misuzukaneko.com.

You can also find out a lot more through two blog posts that Eve Kushner wrote about the book from a kanji perspective:

Misuzu Kaneko, David Jacobson, Sally Ito, Michiko Tsuboi
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