Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi,
Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat
Shen’s Books, 2010.
The story behind the now ubiquitous good-luck symbol of a white beckoning cat, or Maneki Neko, is well known in its native Japan, and Susan Lendroth’s retelling accompanied by Kathryn Otoshi’s atmospheric illustrations is a welcome addition to the versions of the story available in English.
A poor monk welcomes a little white cat into his simple monastery. He shares what he has with her, naming her Tama, which we learn in a glossary at the end means “round, like a ball, coin etc.” Time passes until one day there is a storm with “Buckets and barrels and rivers of water”. Tama’s attempts to wash are ineffectual in the driving rain, but when a passing samurai spots her from his shelter under a pine tree, Tama appears to be beckoning him towards the shrine. Curious, the samurai moves closer. Then, just as he reaches the gate, a flash of lightening strikes the pine tree, setting it alight: the Beckoning Cat has saved his life. In gratitude, the samurai rewards the monk, transforming the simple monastery to Gotokuji Temple, as it is known today. The monk shares his good fortune with the villagers, and Tama lives out her days growing plumper under their admiring eyes.
Lendroth’s writing has a poetic turn of phrase that makes this a very satisfying readaloud. After setting the scene of Tama and the monk’s tranquil day-to-day life, the pace quickens, heightening the dramatic effect of the storm. Both Lendroth and Otoshi clearly love cats and both the narrative and the illustrations show keen observation of and empathy with feline habits. Otoshi intersperses vigorous images following the action of the story with almost meditative depictions of the shrine and its surroundings that evoke silhouettes viewed through Japanese rice paper shoji screens – even, wittily, when the monk had the “shoji screens opened wide to the night air.” Pinks and blues predominate, and shadows and reflections intensify the contrast between the solidly depicted protagonists and their collage-like backdrops.
With its subtheme of the importance of sharing good fortune, as well as seeking it through buying one of the “thousands of cats waving on thousands of shop counters” around the world, Maneki Neko is a particularly appealing retelling of the legend, relevant to young readers everywhere.
By Phoebe Vreeland, The Children’s Book Review
Published: November 6, 2010
Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat
by Susan Lendroth (Author), Kathryn Otoshi (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Shen’s Books (July 19, 2010)
The ceramic statue of Maneki Neko, that plump white and black cat with one raised paw, is a well known symbol of luck and prosperity in Japanese culture. Susan Lendroth’s picture book Maneki Neko tells a tale of the origin of this lucky charm. In beautifully descriptive prose seasoned with a handful of familiar Japanese words, Lendroth takes us to another time and culture.
Kathryn Otoshi’s exquisite illustrations depict feudal Japan and a tiny hilltop monastery where a poor monk takes in a scrawny cat. The two survive on companionship and alms from the village below. One night during a terrible storm, the cat’s beckoning paw guides a samurai to the safety of the monastery and saves his life. In gratitude, the noble samurai transforms the monastery into a well endowed temple. The cat fattens, the tale travels, and a legend is born. Even the villagers benefit as they craft and sell ceramic charms to welcome good fortune.
Otoshi’s beautifully hued drawings are evocative of Japanese wood block prints. Her choice of color to establish a time, a season and place is perfect. Shades of magenta and lavender bring across the serenity of the temple. The lively village scenes are painted in vibrant tints and the violence of the tempest is colored in deep indigos and grays.
Maneki Neko is published by Shen’s Books, a publishing house with a focus on books that celebrate diversity and promote tolerance while introducing children to the cultures of Asia.
Not a cat lover? Check out Lendroth’s other recently released book Calico Dorsey, Mail Dog of the Mining Camps illustrated by the talented Adam Gustavson. Don’t miss Kathryn Otoshi’s deceptively simple award-winning book One—her fine talent has been noted. If you’re already a fan, you’ll be pleased to know Zero has just been released.
Add this book to your collection: Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat
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