Kamishibai Man

by Allen Say

Caldecott Award winner Allen Say's book is a remembrance of a time in Japan when Kamishibai men were important in children's lives and a commemoration of the power of these memories.

Autographed book: $20.00

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Kamishibai Man by Allen Say (A Review)

In the afterword to this heart-warming story, we learn that kamishibai, a traveling 'paper theater', was a well-loved form of entertainment for children in Japan, mainly from the 1930s to the 1950s, when television superceded it. Allen Say introduces kamishibai as being very much tied up with his own childhood and he brings it to life here for the present younger generation with this story of an old man who has a sudden urge to take his kamishibai back to town after many years. Children play an important part in the story and young readers will empathize with them-especially the small boy who is not part of the crowd.

The Kamishibai Man of this story is called simply Jiichan, meaning Grandpa: he belongs to all children who will listen to his stories. His wife is Baachan, Grandma; and she too has an important role, albeit behind the scenes: she makes the sweets that Jiichan hands out to his audience. As the book unfolds, the story shifts almost imperceptibly from the present to the past and his reminiscences of kamishibai themselves become the theater's storyboards. He takes us, his readers, with him as his audience and lulls us with these reminiscences - until we are jolted back into the present by the shouts from the audience in the story-an audience not of children but of adults reglimpsing their lost childhood. The suggestive inclusion of two children hanging out of a window is evocative of the hope of a revival of kamishibai for a new generation. Indeed, the book explores how things we love but take for granted in our childhood become precious in later years; and the importance of handing down our cultural heritage to future generations. Jiichan returns home at the end of the day, a day which has been caught on film and broadcast via the very medium that brought about the demise of kamishibai. Thus, another theme of the book is how innovation and change can appear threatening but through time and adjustment there is room for all. Everything comes full circle and Jiichan will go back to the city the very next day to tell his stories.

Say's illustrations convey the gentle, timeless quality of Jiichan's home; the looming menace of the (to him) unrecognizable city; and the nostalgic glow of the kamishibai. He conveys the shifts in the story through visual changes in tones: you can almost feel the warmth of sunshine and hear the babble of children's voices-and we realize through the illustrations rather than the text that Jiichan is a young man again. Details emerge with each rereading. Indeed, this is one of those special children's books, which can be read again and again, and that adults will never tire of reading as a bedtime story. The only problem will be looking for a 'real' kamishibai man.

Marjorie Coughlan, June 2006
PaperTigers Reader




Kamishibai for Kids ~ Cathedral Station ~ PO Box 629 ~ New York, NY 10025
Tel: 212-663-2471 ~ kamishi@kamishibai.com