Saturday, December 8, 2007

A witch, a cat, and a bowl of snoring clams

Once upon a time, there lived a witch. She used to be mean and feisty, but now that she’s older, she’s mellowed a little bit. In fact, she’s become one miserable witch. She lives alone with her cat, Toraji, and one night she brings home some shijimi clams to put in their miso soup for dinner. When she places them in a bowl of water to soak, she notices that they are asleep and even snoring a little bit. It occurs to her that perhaps it might be cruel to eat the cute little clams, but Toraji soon sets her straight: “They’re just clams. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them.” She thinks of how delicious the miso soup with clams will be, and she has to agree.

But when she goes to throw the clams into the boiling water, she looks into the bowl: the clams are still sleeping, still snoring, and still moving contentedly. It is "a little upsetting." Maybe they could wait until tomorrow night, she thinks. After all, there’s nothing wrong with miso soup without shijimi clams, right? Toraji is clearly annoyed.

The following night, the same thing happens – plain miso soup again. And then, in the middle of the night. Toraji comes into the bedroom to complain that the shijimi clams have woken him up. And sure enough, when the witch goes into the kitchen, the clams are wide awake and talking. These clams are far away from home, and they are very homesick! What are a poor witch and her cat to do?

I read this picture book to my daughters (7 & 9 years old), and we all enjoyed it. The story was fresh and original, and the clams were so darned cute! It was easy to see why the old witch – and even her cat – come to find them so endearing. The Japanese setting, a refreshing change from that of most picture books, is understated yet adds a certain sense of the exotic to the story. Whimsical yet simple black-and-white ink drawings complement the text nicely - I particularly enjoyed the hilarious expressions on the cat’s face. I highly recommend this sweet story of determination, ingenuity and friendship.

Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2006)

Other blog reviews: Here and There Japan

6 comments:

  1. Sounds very original and endearing!

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  2. Yes - that is exactly what I enjoyed about it! It was one of those rare picture books where you couldn't see exactly where it was going from the first page. Plus I just loved those little clams!

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  3. Who could eat cute snoring clams?

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  4. That's what I want to know! (Although the next time I am served clams, I might not be so pleased with this story...)

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  5. This sounds absolutely delightful!

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  6. This is a Japanese children's author I've not heard of. I'm going to look for it in our vast school library, though. Have you ever read Allan Say's Tree of Cranes? I read that every year to my class at this time, and it inspired me to make my first origami Christmas tree at home.

    Anyway, shall I add you to the Japanese Literature Challenge now? :)

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