Crow Boy is one of those books that I've heard about but I did not get a chance to read it until it appeared on the reading list for my children's literature class. Crow Boy quickly became one of my favorite stories- it is very heartwarming and it depicts one boy's struggle for acceptance and his search for someone who can understand him. Crow Boy was written and illustrated by Taro Yashima and first published in 1955. I don't know much about 20th century rural life in Japan, but the story seems to take place in the 1950s.
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On the first day of school, a boy that the other children have never seen before appears in the classroom. They don't know his name and he doesn't talk to them, so they call him Chibi, which means small in Japanese. He is afraid of the other children and of the teacher. His fascination with bugs causes the other children to make fun of him. Because of this, he finds different ways to amuse himself like looking at the ceiling and looking at his desk for hours on end. In one of the most poignant moments in the story, Chibi begins looking at things cross-eyed so that he does not have to see what he does not want to see. A new teacher named Isobe comes to the school in Chibi's final year and works with him to find out what he is really like. Isobe brings out the best in Chibi and puts his drawings on the wall and through Isobe, Chibi demonstrates that he knows about all the plants and trees and bugs around the school. Isobe learns that Chibi lives a long way from the school and must leave his house before sunrise and he does not return home until after sunset. At the talent show, Chibi astounds the children with his crow noises of crows in all stages of maturity and temperament (i.e. young crows, happy crows, crows in the morning, etc) The children feel horrible about the way they treated Chibi for all those years and they begin to cry. They develop a new-found respect for "Crow Boy" as they have dubbed him and as the story ends, Crow Boy is finally happy that others accept him.
The drawings are very realistic and reflect the events of the story so that the reader can experience what Chibi feels. For example, when Chibi begins to cross his eyes so that he does not have to see what he does not want to see, the subsequent pictures actually appear in double vision. When Chibi looks at the ceiling and his desk to amuse himself, there are actually pictures of the ceiling and desk. There are actually pictures of Chibi's drawings and writings when the story says that Isobe put Chibi's work on the wall. This is what really made me love this book- because of these techniques, the reader experiences what Chibi experiences. We can literally see what Chibi sees and even though it is not that difficult to empathize with him because we have all felt like Chibi, having the reader see things through Chibi's eyes is absolutely brilliant.
Crow Boy is must-read book for all children. Even though it takes place in Japan, the story can be applied anywhere. The children did not bother to get to know Crow Boy and they just assumed that he was "stupid" because he did not want to interact with him. The way Yet he had so much to offer and Isobe helped him share his talents with the rest of the children and after this, Crow Boy is finally happy. There are so many lessons that can be learned from reading this book- treating people nicely even if are different, knowing that everyone has a special talent and not teasing people because of the way they act. Almost every child has been in Chibi's position before and they know that being teased is not fun at all. Since the book places such an emphasis on seeing things from Chibi's viewpoint, perhaps this will encourage children to avoid teasing classmates or even stop teasing classmates. It might not be very realistic that children will instantaneously stop teasing others after hearing this story, but since children learn by example, encouraging children to read stories like this might have an eventual effect on their behavior.
In many of my reviews of children's books, I include a paragraph about what I did not like about the book being reviewed. I cannot include such a paragraph here because there isn't anything that I thought could be improved. This is a thoroughly wonderful book for children of all ages.
I highly recommend this book for children ages five and older. The lessons learned are very valuable and all children could benefit from learning how to treat people properly. I cannot express how wonderful this book is but it is a definite must-read.
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