Book Review: Chibi, A True Story From Japan

Rating: ★★★★☆

This is the story of Oka-san, a mother duck who hatches ducklings in the Mitsui Office Park in Tokyo, Japan.  This unusual event draws a great deal of local attention, especially when it becomes clear that Oka-san intends to lead her ducklings across an eight-lane avenue into the Emperor’s garden moat.  With some high drama, onlookers and police intervene to stop traffic and conduct the ducks safely across, continuing to watch over them as they settle into their new home.  They become a kind of mascot of the community, and their  fans even launch a search party when a typhoon sweeps some of the ducklings away.  When the Emperor learns of what has happens, he orders a duck house to be built in anticipation of future storms.

The story is lucidly written, with pleasant illustrations that give the reader a glimpse into the city of Tokyo.  The text is sprinkled with Japanese words and honorifics, with a glossary supplied at the back of the book, and additional background information is provided in the appendix.  It’s interesting enough to be read for entertainment, and is especially well suited as a supplement for a study of Japanese geography or culture.

In many ways the story parallels the American classic Make Way For Ducklings, but Chibi, based on true events, has a more journalistic feel.  Older readers may find it interesting to compare the cultural elements and worldview implications inherent in the two stories: the cheerful benevolence of peanut-sharing humans in the American story are fairly different from the almost reverential attitude of the Japanese duck-watchers, who worry about the ducks and even build a shrine when one is killed by the storm.  Whether or not that discussion emerges, this story will probably be best enjoyed by an elementary audience.

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Publication Information: Brenner, Barbara. Chibi: A True Story from Japan. Takaya, Julia. Otani, June (Illustrator). Sandpiper. 1999. ISBN: 0395720885.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Read-Aloud Handbook
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Posted on August 16, 2011

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