Friday, May 23, 2008

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers: A Book Review

Here’s my review of a picture book--with poetry--that I recommend for reading to children during Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

(Note: Click here to find some book lists and other resources for Asian Pacific Heritage Month.)

Written by Gloria Whelan
Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is a work of historical fiction. In the Author’s Note, Gloria Whelan informs readers that she was inspired to write the book after viewing an exhibition of a series of woodcuts, “The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road,” done by the nineteenth-century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige. She goes on to explain that in the 17th and 18th centuries, “provincial governors of Japan were required to spend half of their time in Kyoto, the home of the emperor and the imperial court, and half of their time in Edo (today’s Tokyo), Japan’s political center, ruled by the shogun.” The road these provincial governors and their families traveled between the two cities stretched for 300 miles over mountains and along the sea.

This picture book is narrated by Yuki, a young girl who must travel to Edo when her father is summoned by the shogun. Yuki is hesitant to leave home. Her teacher is frustrated that she will miss many lessons while she is on the weeks-long journey. Her teacher tells Yuki to write a haiku every day while she is traveling to the distant city.

It is evident from the text that Yuki is a child of privilege. Yuki relates how she packs up “twenty of my favorite umbrellas, fifty of my best kimonos, and all my fans.” Yuki and her mother will be transported to their destination in a palanquin, a wooden box outfitted with silk cushions, carried by six men.

In the palanquin, Yuki and her mother are part of a long procession that includes shouters who tell everyone to lie down and bow as the governor passes, samurai, Yuki’s father, and a long line of carriers burdened under the weight of their cargo.

Yuki writes her first haiku when she reaches the gate of their city:

Once outside the gate
How will I find my way back?
Will home disappear?

The first night, as the party arrives at an inn, Yuki’s mother informs her that their journey will not be over until they have spent the night at 53 inns. At this point Yuki’s thoughts turn to her bed back at home--a bed that “lies empty/just waiting for me.”

The next day, as the travelers reach a river, “a blue ribbon we have to cross,” Yuki writes:

River is busy
making its own journey;
it doesn’t look back

Although Yuki thinks of home, she observes many things along the way to Edo through the opened shutters of her palanquin: the river they have crossed, narrow mountain paths they must traverse, snow-covered trees, wild animals, a village tucked into a mountain valley, fishing boats in the sea, and Mount Fuji. Yuki heeds the words of her honorable teacher. She writes about the things she sees and about what she is thinking in her daily haiku. Readers experience the trip along with Yuki in both the story narration and in the haiku.

When the procession arrives at its final destination, Yuki finds a city filled with people and many houses. She says sayonara to their one thousand carriers, and writes a haiku that shows us that she is not longing to return home any more:

Everywhere I see
something to delight my eyes
I stop looking back

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is a quiet book that takes readers on a journey through historic Japan in text and pictures. Nascimbene’s large one-and-a-half page spreads are spare and elegant and a perfect complement to Whelan’s text. They capture the beauty of the different landscapes, the height of the majestic mountains, and the Japanese architecture, with muted colors. In most close-ups of Yuki, however, we see her wearing brightly colored, patterned kimonos.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers would be a good book to use across the curriculum in a multicultural unit--especially during Asian Pacific Heritage Month. It could also serve as an excellent introduction to or inspiration for a haiku-writing activity in the classroom.
At Blue Rose Girls, I have selected a poem especially for Memorial Day--Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.


Jules at 7-Imp said...

That looks great. Thanks for the review!


Elaine Magliaro said...


The art in the book is really lovely. My friend who owns a children's book shop recommended it to me. She was sure I'd like it because she knows much I love poetry.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

OK I am definitely getting this book! Hiroshige is one of my favorite artists. Thanks for the review.

Elaine Magliaro said...


YUKI AND THE ONE THOUSAND CARRIERS is definitely a picture book that a haiku writer like you should appreciate. Let me know what you think of the book after you read it. I'd like to hear your opinion of Whelan's haiku.