Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko narrative and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi; illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

Published by Chin Music Press 

Summary:  Born in a Japanese fishing village in 1903, Misuzu Kaneko was fortunate enough to receive more education than most of her female contemporaries.  She worked in her mother’s bookstore and published her poems in magazines.  Then she made the unfortunate decision of marrying one of the bookstore clerks who was abusive, unfaithful, and passed on a devastating disease to Misuzu.  She divorced him, but when he insisted on full custody of their daughter (a right given to fathers only at that time in Japan), Misuzu committed suicide.  The first half of the book tells the story of her life, and the second half is a collection of her poems, written in both Japanese and English.  An author’s note and translators’ note explain the careful work and research that went into creating this book.  64 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  This might be the most moving book I have read in 2016.  Misuzu Kaneko’s life was ultimately tragic, but her poetry reveals a beautiful spirit who saw life and hope in ordinary objects around her.  Her poems are accessible to kids, yet infused with deeper meaning.  The gorgeous illustrations should receive Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  I was unprepared for the shock of reading about Misuzu’s suicide.

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