Monday, June 20, 2011

The Bear and the Wildcat

The Bear and the Wildcat
Written by Kazumi Yumoto and illustrated by Komako Sakai

One morning, Bear was crying.
           His best friend, a little bird, was dead.

It is a powerful beginning to a powerful story.  The Bear and the Wildcat moved me to tears. I admit that now I am a mother it takes very little to make my eyes water (TV adverts of sick and starving children, and themes of loss will do it most times), but this is an extraordinary book. Every detail is so perfectly crafted and constructed, it deserves a place on every bookshelf - not as a read-to-the kids-before-bed book, but as a take-out-occasionally-when-the mood-suits book. It has an old-worldy feel about it, as if it was produced many years ago and is something that has been treasured by a family for generations. I am quite sure you will find nothing else like it.

Spread from The Bear and the Wildcat. Illustration by Komako Sakai

This incredible book tells the story of Bear as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his best friend. He makes a little box for the bird, stains it with berry juice and lines it with petals, carrying it everywhere, unable to let go. His friends urge him to move on and 'forget about him', but Bear is not ready to do so.

Then one day Bear meets a mysterious wildcat who shows an empathy and quiet understanding that no one else has before. He too carries a precious box with him - a violin. 'Let me play a song for you and your little friend', he says.

Detail from The Bear and the Wildcat. Illustration by Komako Sakai

In this touching moment, the memories come flooding back to Bear, and he reflects on his time with little bird.  In doing so he is able to find his way forward.

Spread from The Bear and the Wildcat. Illustration by Komako Sakai

Here begins a new life for Bear; one deepened by his experience of grief, his memories, and his new friendship. His new life promises adventure, and is full of exciting possibilties that Bear had never considered before. I do not want to describe this sequence in detail because it is so beautifully done in words and pictures, that I couldn't possibly do it justice.

The Bear and the Wildcat is mesmerising. It is so brilliant in every detail, that it is impossible to imagine it could have been done any other way. The illustrations are exquisite and capture the mood absolutely. They are quietly emotive in a sophisticated way - giving enough to the reader to draw them in without drama. The layout of the pages appears to be carefully considered, some with lots of text, some with little, some with only pictures, and some are even left blank. The illustrations vary in impact too with some bleeding out to the edges engulfing the whole page, and some smaller like tiny snippets of memory. The illustrative style gives the story a magical quality as if the reader is looking through something to another world. These considerations all work together to create a lovely pacing that allows the reader contemplation, maximising the reader's empathy.

In picture-book form it is easy to assume this is a children's book. It is that and, with the guidance of a parent or councillor, would make excellent material for a child who is grieving or has experienced loss. But it is so well put together that it can be appreciated by adults too, and the message of hope and new beginnings is surely valuable to all. The illustrations are so masterful that they alone make it a worthy purchase, and in hardback form with high quality production, it is money well spent. I am utterly captivated by this book. It is going high on my bookshelf away from grubby little hands, and I hope it will be treasured by my daughter when she is older, and then by her children too.

About the Author - Kazumi Yumoto

Kazumi Yumoto was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1959. She studied music composition at Tokyo College and during this time wrote opera libretti and plays for radio and television. Her books, mostly novels for older children, have won numerous international awards.

About the Illustrator - Komako Sakai

After graduating from Tokyo National university of Fine Arts and Music, Komako Sakai worked at a kimono textile design company. She is one of the most popular children's author/illustrators in Japan.

This translated version of The Bear and the Wildcat is published by Gecko Press in New Zealand.
IBSN 978-1-877467-70-7
For ages 4 to infinity
181 x 236 mm 
48 pages, Hardback. 

A huge thanks to Gecko Press for allowing Kitty as a Picture Kids' Design Blog permission to review this book.

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