The Crane Girl

By School Library Journal

Snatches of haiku add depth to this story based on traditional Japanese folktales. One evening, Yasuhiro hears a noise: “from the darkness/an animal’s sudden cry—/its fear and mine.” He follows the sound to a crane caught in a trap and releases it. The grateful crane reappears the next evening in human form. Yasuhiro’s father allows Hiroko to stay with them, but insists that she earn her place through hard work. Hiroko offers to weave cloth on the loom of Yasuhiro’s late mother but only after father and son promise they won’t open the door or look at her while she weaves. She produces a bolt of cloth—“white silk/speckled with black—/tracks of winter birds”—which is sold for a high price at market. Yasuhiro’s father is delighted at first but grows greedy. His demands eventually reveal the secret behind Hiroko’s weaving, and she flees and returns to her original form. The love that has developed between Yasuhiro and Hiroko enables Yasuhiro to become a crane as well: “matching/her wingbeats—/my heart soars.” The story ends with a pair of nesting cranes. An author’s note explains that reciprocity, known as on in Japanese, is at the heart of many traditional tales, along with respect for the natural world. The author’s note also discusses the forms of haiku and facts about the red-crowned crane. Exquisite watercolor illustrations accompany the text. Somber landscapes depicting a harsh wintry land contrast with Hiroko’s scarlet kimono. VERDICT This well-crafted tale offers students an introduction to traditional Japanese culture and folklore and should be a welcome addition in public and school libraries.