Saturday, 13 December 2014

Tsunami!: Lessons and Entertainment All Wrapped Into One!

A Review By: Amelia
When the last major tsunami hit I remember it was big news with the kids I work with. They were just old enough to realize that it was a very serious thing and a very scary thing. Their bedtime routine became a nightmare scene of trying to calm them enough that they’d go to sleep but it was easier said then done. They were old enough to be scared of this natural disaster but not old enough to realize that there wasn’t a giant tidal wave headed for the suburbs of Toronto at that very moment! Did they want to hear facts and statistics about tsunamis? They couldn’t even be bothered to look at the spot on the map that I was pointing to showing where Toronto is compared to the ocean? I figured the only way I’d ever get them to learn anything about them was to haul them to the library and find a picture book. And a picture book, appropriately titled Tsunami!, I found!

Tsunami! is about Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in a seaside Japanese village. One day, during the rice ceremony, Ojiisan feels something coming that he can’t describe. When he sees the ocean running away from the shore he knows for sure what’s coming: a tsunami! But the villagers below can’t see the danger and Ojiisan has to decide to risk his wealth or risk lives! Pretty tense right?

The author of this tense piece of children’s literature is American/Japanese Kimiko Kajikawa. She was teased as a child for being ‘that slanty-eyed girl’ but instead of letting this get her down, she used her unique perspective to write retellings of old Japanese folklore for an American audience to help spread awareness and culturally respect. The piece is illustrated in collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, a Chinese-born American illustrator, who has illustrated over eighty books and written close to twenty of them.

Tsunami! is a picture book illustrated in mixed media. Don’t know what mixed media is? It all comes down to an artist ripping apart materials and then collaging it onto a flat surface so that the many different, small bits all become a complete, large piece of art. Mixed media is great for creating depth within the piece but it can also smoother the three dimensional affect if over done or not done correctly, which, unfortunately is what happens in Tsunami!. It’s very hit or miss within the thirty-two pages with landscape shots being a little lack-luster but close-up shots looking really quite lovely. What was really ingenious about using mixed media was the dwarfing affect of using little ripped pieces of paper to become the victims on the far away beach and the violence of the rips and tears of the materials adds to the violence of the ocean’s wave.

Now, since Tsunami! is a kid’s book it’s got a few lessons tacked into it for the kiddie’s sake.
The hero of the piece, Ojiisan, is the wealthiest man in the village and when he realizes a tsunami is coming–and that he’s the only one that knows it–he burns his rice fields to attract everyone from the beach to the top of his mountain to save their lives. It’s a lesson about sacrifice. It shows that although a sacrifice might be hard on you it could help many other people and that’s what’s important. Considering how ruthlessly greedy kids are (trust me I know, I’m a professional nanny) it’s a lesson they could all stand to learn about a little more in their day-to-day lives!

My final thoughts on Tsunami! are that it’s good. The art is a mixed bag of mixed media but the simple and engaging story is both helpful to relay kid’s fears about scary natural disasters and to teach them that a little sacrifice goes a long way. This book is a story that’s a celebration of both the power of nature and the power each of us holds within.   

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