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Asian Pacific American Lit. #1

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Say, Allen. Tree of Cranes. Boston, Houghton Mifflen Company, 1991. ISBN: 0-395-52024-X.

 

Tree of Cranes is the nostalgic story of a child in Japan who experiences his first Christmas.  As he returns from the pond, his mother greets him with a scorn and sends him to take a hot bath and to bed, while she works on making many cranes.  Later, she brings a tree to his room, and together they decorate it with the cranes and candles.  While doing this, she explains to him the meaning of Christmas and the Christmas trees in California.

In an interview the author was asked if he was this child.  He explained, “Yes that is me as a little boy, but now I don't celebrate Christmas like that. I didn't celebrate like that as a little boy. When peace descended on Japan, my mother did try to have a tree every year, but that was about it.”  This statement makes it very clear that this way of celebration was his mother’s way of celebrating a western tradition; he himself has other ways or other traditions to celebrate. 

The illustrations portray real life characters that reflect thoughts and emotions.  Although the story may not elaborate on some specific feelings, the reader is able to understand them just by looking at the facial expressions of the characters. 

The setting automatically transports the reader to Japan.  The illustrations exhibit a traditional Japanese home with clean lines and almost no furniture.  It shows the traditional way in which meals are taken in Japan.  People sit on something soft on the floor with their needs folded back and they use chopsticks instead of fork and spoon.  The meal presented is a dimple one composed of rice gruel, sour plum, and yellow radishes.  All of these items are traditional to Japan.  Children of other cultures will be fascinated to see the difference in the meal taken by the boy and what they are used top eating at home.  The teacher can use this part of the story to elaborate of the different kinds of foods preferred by different people.

Horn Book Review declared the book as, “Serving as a bridge between American and Japanese cultures, .  . understated and pristine, Tree of Cranes is the achievement of a master in his prime, one of the best picture books of this or any other year."

In deed it shows how certain traditions of one culture are embraced by other cultures.  In this case, the little boy’s mother spent her childhood in California, and she adopted the celebration of Christmas because it brings peace and love to the world.

 

Reference:

Horn Book Review. At http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=595429. Retreived on July 17, 2005.

 

Allen Say Interview Transcript. At http://www2.scholastic.com/teachers/authorsandbooks/authorstudies/authorhome.jhtml. Retreived on July 17, 2005