Monday, July 9, 2007

An exciting Japanese folktale

This story is about a clever boy from a small Japanese village who is too small to be of any real help working in the fields. So he is sent to a nearby monastery to become a monk. But all he wants to do is draw cats, which annoys the monks when he keeps drawing instead of focusing on his lessons. They finally give up on him, saying that his passion for drawing makes him better suited to be an artist. An old priest sends him on his way with a bit of cryptic advice, and with that, the boy embarks on an unforgettable adventure.

Most folktales involve a hero who wins through being kind and good. What made this one particularly interesting to me was that the boy is true to his passion, and he listens to (and remembers) advice, and that is what saves him in the end. He survives because of his talent, not through being good or kind. The illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the text – they are Japanese in style, using watercolor, cut paper, and an airbrush. With a few simple strokes, Sogabe captures the emotions of the boy in the story.

Hodges cites the source for her story: it was originally published as a pamphlet in Tokyo by Takejiro Hasegawa, and she adapted it from a 1918 publication of Japanese Fairy Tales by Lafcadio Hearn. A note in the back of the book talks about the history of the story and the life of Lafcadio Hearn, who collected and retold folktales and legends from Japan. The book makes for an exciting read-aloud, with evocative language and pictures that complement the tone and style of the text.


The Boy Who Drew Cats by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Aki Sogabe (Holiday House, 2002)

17 comments:

  1. This sounds wonderful! I love folktales, but I have yet to properly explore those of Japan. Thank you for the wonderful review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd love to read a brief assessment of this story from each of my wonderful students. Please post your review to this page. Write one solid paragraph. Sign with your first name only.
    -- Casey

    ReplyDelete
  3. The young boy continues to follow his dreams despite his family pushing him away to do something worth while. All though after leaving the first temple- he still goes and tries to accommodate his family, but still follows his dreams of drawing cats. He definitely is a clever young boy for still trying to accommodate him self and his family. The boy because he follows his dream as well ends up doing something better for the community.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In his story "The Boy Who Drew Cats", Lafcadio Hearn offers a moral or lesson to the readers or his story. The story tells readers that although someone or something seems unimportant initially, they may end up being important or valued for something never expected. Hearn says "But the youngest child, a little boy, did not seem fit for hard work." Because the family values hard work and labor, they felt the boy would not be useful to their family, so they sent him to be a priest. After some while, the boy discovered he was a talented artist. He used his artistic skills to draw cats in the abandoned temple, which in turn killed the goblin that had haunted the temple. So the boy ended up being very useful in a way he had never expected. Many other people had tried to rid the temple of the goblin, but only the artwork of the boy was powerful enough to do it. "Then he knew that the goblin had been killed by the cats he had drawn...Afterward that boy became a very famous artist. Some of the cats which he drew are still shown to travelers in Japan." The family thought they were sending away a weak little boy who would be a priest for the rest of his life, when he was really strong and more important than anyone could have imagined.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I feel that this story starts out with a simple straight thought, almost making Hearn predictable. The twist comes in at the fifth paragraph, “Avoid large places; -keep to small”, this line maybe too complex for a small child to understand. Unlike the start of the story it does not simply and clearly explain the quote in following paragraphs after the fifth paragraph.
    --Naomi

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. - True meaning can be found in this timeless tale. The moral of the story could be read as though everyone has purpose in the world; no matter how big or small the role, it can become very meaningful and worthwhile. Although the boy is "...weak and small..." (Par. 2), the nameless boy still finds a role suited for him. Also, another point that could be interpreted from the story could be that everyone has his or her own pros and cons. For what the boy lacked in strength he made up for in imagination and "clever thinking." The cats he infinitely drawn were seen as time wasting "in a way" to others, though, they became very useful for something another suggested to the youth.

    --Britney

    ReplyDelete
  8. It is interesting to read a folktale from another culture. Obviously, I have grown up being exposed to American and Western versions. This story, however, holds true to the same main characteristic of any folk tale- it has a moral. When the boy has been asked to leave the temple, he is reminded to “avoid large places at night;-keep to the small.” The boy carries this advice with him through out the rest of his journey to the larger temple. Remembering the advice, also aids in saving his life when he sleeps in a cabinet in the large temple. The stories simple moral is accessible to children, even if though certain ideas are slightly more complex, like keeping to small places, which is another characteristic of folktales. This moral, of remembering others advice, can be applied to any situation, in any culture, proving the similarities in values through out the world as well.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The writing style of the story “The Boy Who Drew Cats” is light and elegant like a tasty tofu. It has a favorable peaceful temple setting as tofu’s white form, with a slight soy-sauces climax elaborates the taste of the story. Even though the story doesn’t have detailed description about the characters and the setting, the atmosphere is well developed through the story. The atmosphere is gradually become intense when the boy stayed at the isolated temple. The most fascinating part of the story is the boy’s drawing cat came alive. I think it came real and protect is master because the boy drew the cats devotedly with love. The story attains to the children of its main theme: listen to elders. The boy saved his life because he remembered the priest’s reminding. Children should listen well to others’ advices to “avoid the dangerous place at night” as the story.

    Jamie

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lafcadio Hearn’s, “the boy who drew cats”, talks about an average family with average lifestyles, and one son who just didn’t fit in. This story to me seems to have more of a spiritual approach. About a meek little kid who was rejected by his family, and was sent to become a priest, but was kicked out due to the fact that he drew cats. But later as he traveled to another church for a second chance, he saves himself as well as the town fro m the wretched goblin, with his cat drawings that supposedly ate the giant rat. This story shows that god has a purpose for everyone in this world. Which makes you think what yours?
    --Jeffrey

    ReplyDelete
  11. The era in which this story was written is the most telling clue to the interpretation of it's meaing. I imagine that during 1898 the profession of art was not highly revered in Japan, priesthood was probably a more honorable position. The youngest boy in Hearn's story is clever and therefore his family decides the best role for him is to become a priest; although all he really wants to do is draw cats. I believe that Hearn wrote this story as an attempt to validate the plight of the artist in Japan. The drawings of cats, which seem to be problematic for the young boy eventually earn him fame and respect, for without the boy's art, the town would have been destroyed.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Our boy grows up doing chores and helping his parents in every way he can. He has this talent of drawing but never gets a chance to let it grow. His cleverness gets him places. He was so clever and his parents noticed this and sent him away to become a priest. The boy develops an obsession with cats. Much like other artists his concentration becomes everything he does. Eventually the priest does not want to deal with this boy drawing cats everywhere and sends the boy on his way. Will he make it as an artist or a priest? The last think the priest said to him was “avoid large places at night;-keep to small” I don’t understand this and neither did our boy, until the end. The priest sends our boy on his way and the boy tries to see if the temple in the next town over will accept him. All the priests from this temple have been frightened away by the goblin. Little does our boy know that the images of cats that he draws on the walls in boredom would come to life and kill the goblin rat that was infesting that temple. His drawings were the result of pressure from his family and religious confusion. In all actuality the drawings are his way of expressing himself. These cats are more than just drawings; they are the boys’ dreams and desires balled up into drawings. They come to life in this temple because the boy is there and they can’t just leave the goblin rat alone. The goblin is evil. That is why the boys drawings are taking life, they are reacting according to the boys subconscious.

    -Bartlett Lentini

    ReplyDelete
  13. This Japanese fairy tale tells a story about a young boy that is too small to be a farmer. His parents decide that he should be a priest. While he is an acolyte, he beings to draw pictures of cats everywhere. The priest decides that the boy is not fit to be a priest. This probably made the boy feel unimportant. The priest says to him "Avoid large places at night; keep to small." This is then used by the boy when he is in the large temple in the next town. The boy draws more cats on a screen the temple; he then remembers what the priest had said and finds a small place to sleep for the night. In the morning the boy discovers that the cats have killed the goblin that had taken over the temple. The lesson that is being told is that even if you are small you are still capable of big things.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This story is, like it sounds from the beginning, a children’s story. Full of fables and lesions, but it is still more interesting then conventional children’s stories that follow time old motifs and the usually characters. No, this one has goblins and paper cats that come to life. The story has qualities that in a way make this fable a good way of introducing Japanese life and culture to the U.S. It talks of home life, and the poverty some farming families encountered, also the roll of children and how they were put to use as soon as possible and those who were not useful around the farm were sent off for some other endive. It also introduces the religious practices of the area, and vocabulary that goes along with it, like acolyte. Lastly we are giving a glimpse into their old founded beliefs of demons and goblins, and some counter form that wins out over the goblin. All these qualities touched on could be part of some common motif that appears in Japanese folk tales, but because it is Japanese that keeps it more interesting, because to America it s new and foreign.

    -Aris

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow - it's been very fun and informative reading everyone's thoughts about this folktale. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    ReplyDelete
  16. :: Derek ::
    There has been a unique establishment of optimism and bravery being portrayed within the story of “The Boy who drew Cats.” The young boy seems so intent in becoming an acolyte that he becomes embodied in doing what he is told rather than taking things into his own hands. The only upside to this extravagant and feeble-minded young boy is his ability to listen very carefully and discreetly. He strikes fear in himself before the fear has actually become apparent in the end of the story. Although the young boy hides himself in a small place, the actuality of staying away from large places at night relatively opened a unique door in this young boys obsession in drawing cats. The inventiveness and stability that his talent provided for himself has become obscured in the fairy tale world of this goblin that haunts the abandoned church. Maybe this goblin represented the inner talent waiting to break out or maybe it was the inability for the boy to cope with change, thus resulting in the gory death of the goblin the night the boy hid away. He was safe within that small place he confided himself to, but it seemed to stand for a more purposeful acknowledgement of self-identity. His inability to cope with the change in his identity and having to step away from what others were forcing him to do had become in itself, too difficult. This fear he captured within the abandoned church was just the motivation and inspiration that he needed to accept. It is possible to think that the young boy was specifically born to draw these cats, which we do not know if they are cute or violent portrayals, and draw them particularly to ward off the fear that was previously envisioned by him and the priests, through the goblin itself. Was this his purpose or was this his vision of a dream that the young boy had already had the night he fell asleep in the church? Maybe this is a story of the mysterious events that transcribe in our lives and how we can find our own identity in the most unusual places. This story screams out individuality and purpose within the catechisms that life has continually provided for us every day. It is not what other tells you to do but rather what you enforce yourself to do and not strike fear in the most common barricades of life.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This folktale is full of life observations and guide to social hierarchy. The main character Young Boy is rejected first from farming and thus his family, he was "very clever,-cleverer than all his brothers and sisters; but he was quite weak and small, and people said he could never grow very big. So his parents thought it would be better for him to become a priest than to become a farmer"(second paragraph). The statement being made is, if you are not physically fit you must be meant to be a priest. One cannot help the way one is born and the author knows this. It is stated more clearly in the fifth paragraph when it is explained that the nature of the boy to draw cats everywhere, disregarding the priest cannot be helped. "He drew them because he could not really help it. He had what is called 'the genius of an artist,'". However it should be asked why it should be accepted to disobey an authority such as a priest and not be punished? Is it then saying if your art is useful then it is accepted or is an artist really worth something?

    ashley

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment!