Hope Springs Eternal

The garden of children's literature is always in bloom

February 23, 2011

At this writing, the world outside my window resembles a snow globe. Despite lingering wintery conditions, I’m thinking of spring. Not just because I’ve tromped through the snow to see what’s happening to my garden. I’ve also been talking with Keiko Kasza, and although she’s working hard in the cold here and now, it will be a spring day in 2012 when her next book is released.

Kasza is known internationally for books like A Mother for Choco and The Wolf’s Chicken Stew. “The things I’m trying to write about—friends, love, bullying—whatever I’m working on, it’s universal,” she said of the cross-cultural appeal of her stories. The animals whose antics play out across her pages are also a factor in connecting with kids wherever they live.

As someone who immigrated to the United States, she is attuned to the way ideas and idioms translate—or may fail to translate—across cultures. Some of her plots derive from such differences. Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) thrive in southern Indiana where she lives now, but not Japan. The expression “playing possum,” then, led Kasza to library research and ultimately to Don’t Laugh, Joe!

Her only experience of censorship was the product of a clash of values. The ending that makes My Lucky Day funny and clever to American readers was troubling to Chinese authorities, who required that the final two pages be removed when the book was published there. “They didn’t want Piglet to be portrayed as a bad guy,” Kasza explained.

In some ways, it’s not surprising to hear that adult readers might give such serious attention to the implications of her characters’ actions. While the conclusions are uniformly positive, many U.S. reviewers discuss the morals at work in each tale. Reviews routinely point to the value of her stories in encouraging acceptance, appreciation of friends and family, and other ideals.

Kasza’s priorities, though, involve other elements of storytelling. “I’m not trying to teach kids a lesson. That’s not my job. But without a focus, I don’t think a story is good.” The joys of family life and the healing power of imagination are among the themes she uses to shape her narratives. Still, Kasza said, “Character comes first.” Kasza didn’t want to give away the ending of Silly Goose’s Big Story (2012), but what she did say suggests that Silly Goose is himself a big character. She described the book as a circular story—one where friends and the way they play together create a happy ending.

The act of reading a book with children, especially one with appealing characters, fosters both relationships and understanding, she said. “You read a picture book with your child on your lap and the book spread in front of you,” she observed. “Turning the page plays a role. Anticipation of what happens next comes with turning the page.”

If winter lingers longer than you’d like, and you’re waiting to see what spring will bring, add Silly Goose’s Big Story to your list of colorful, cheery things to watch for. It’ll be the spring of 2012 when it finally appears, and even if there should be a late frost, Kasza’s book will surely bring a warm smile to faces near and far.



Discovering the Nature Explorium

Learning in the out-of-doors as part of a library visit