by Jenny Zbrizher
Are You An Echo? by David Jacobson, Misuzu Kaneko; translated from the Japanese by Sally Ito, Michiko Tsuboi; illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri; Chin Music Press, Sept. 2016
Part picture book biography and part translated poetry anthology, this unique children’s book is the product of a translational collaboration between an American author, two translators – one Canadian and one Japanese – and a Japanese illustrator.
The illustrated narrative tells the story of one of Japan’s best-loved children’s poets, Misuzu Kaneko. Born in a Japanese fishing village in 1903, Misuzu was a well-educated young woman who grew up in the family bookshop. At just 20 years old, her poems were accepted for publication in various popular magazines, establishing her as a star children’s poet. However, her personal life was filled with tragedy, and she committed suicide at age 26. Her poetry was largely lost to the world for many decades, until Japanese poet Setsuo Yazaki rediscovered it and published it in its entirety, leading to its widespread dissemination in Japanese schoolbooks, songs, and popular culture.
Are You An Echo? The lost poetry of Misuzu Kaneko represents the first time that Kaneko’s poetry has been translated into English specifically for an audience of children. The narrative is framed by Misuzu‘s biography, nestled within the story of how her poetry was rescued from obscurity and further popularized in the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, when her poem “Are You An Echo?” was broadcast on public television as a call to arms to assist tsunami victims. Her poems are interspaced within the narrative to illustrate key points in her own words, followed by a further selection of poems, side-by-side with the original Japanese text, in the second half of the book.
This is a beautifully crafted and well thought-out book. The biographical portion introduces readers to the fascinating story of Misuzu’s brief life and poetic output, sensitively charting the darker aspects of her biography for young readers. The translations highlight the simple charm and sincerity of Misuzu‘s poems, which brim with empathy for all living things. An author’s and translators’ note in the back provide valuable insight into the collaborative, iterative process of creating the book, touching on the nuances of translating Misuzu’s Japanese poetry into English. Complemented by Toshikado Hajiri’s beautiful illustrations, this is a wholly unique book which introduces readers young and old to the life and poetry of one of Japan’s most celebrated children’s poets.
The publisher, Chin Music Press, has created a website to accompany the book, which includes sample poems, information about the contributors, and resources for librarians and educators: http://misuzukaneko.com/
Publisher’s Weekly feature: Chin Music Press Translates Japanese Children’s Poet for U.S. Market
“This wonderfully illustrated book stresses the positive legacy of Kaneko’s tragic life. A recommended purchase for all collections, especially those with an interest in international poetry.”
“Striking, memorable imagery—a lost hat enjoying a new life as a bird’s nest, the mystery of a cicada’s molted husk—guarantees fruitful rereadings for readers of all ages.“
“This lovingly wrought text brilliantly honors Kaneko’s work and gives readers a welcome opportunity to revel in her unique way of looking at the world.”