"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experience the Power of Imagination with The Boy in the Garden

Say, Allen. 2010. The Boy in the Garden. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children: Boston. ISBN 978-0-547-21410-8

After listening to Mama read him a story about a crane who turns into a woman, Jiro goes with his father to visit Mr. Ozu.  Mr. Ozu has a beautiful garden, in which Jiro spies a crane.  He approaches the crane carefully, so as not to frighten it.  But when he hears the laughter of his father and Mr. Ozu, he realizes the crane is a statue.

Jiro runs away in embarrassment, and he comes across a small cottage.  Thinking it may be the cottage of the woodcutter from Mama's story, Jiro goes in and makes himself at home.  Soon after, a beautiful woman appears, and Jiro believes it is the Crane Woman.  He is thrilled to be part of the story, and he is determined to take care of her.

Unfortunately, it appears to have all been a dream.  Papa wakes Jiro up after finding him asleep in Mr. Ozu's teahouse.  As father and son walk home, they take a moment to observe the bronze crane.

Did Jiro actually enter the story Mama read to him?  Or was it all really a dream?

Allen Say opens his book with "The Story That Mama Read to Jiro."  When he switches to the narrative of Jiro and his father going to visit Mr. Ozu, readers will likely wonder what the connection is between these two stories.  As the tale unfolds, the reader sees that Jiro may have just wandered into Mama's book.  This is certainly an intriguing idea that will grab readers and keep them guessing as to what is really going on.  Many children have often fantasized about becoming a part of their favorite books.

Say's muted watercolor paintings complement the text.  The wonder in Jiro's face is evident on each page.  While he does put on a kimono at the small cottage, Jiro is initially painted wearing pants and a coat (as well as his father).  This helps make him a relatable character to children of any culture.  The kimono comes into play when the legend comes to life.  The most important illustration, however, is the one on the last page of the book.  The reader has just come to the conclusion that Jiro's experiences took place in a dream, but a small bird flying in the distance might lead them to believe maybe it did really happen after all.   

Allen Say has written and illustrated countless picture books and was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1994.  He has a true gift for storytelling.   

From THE HORN BOOK - "A gently unsettling tale of the power of the imagination." 

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Say is at the height of his artistic achievement in this tale of a little boy named Jiro and the powerful impact that a story has on him...This is a beautiful, moving, quietly mysterious read, ripe with possibilities for interpretation and contemplation." 

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Caldecott Medalist Say (Grandfather's Journey), his work always painstaking and poignant, ventures tentatively into the realm of fantasy....Pale colors and expanses of empty space contribute to the feeling of haunted charm. Did Jiro dream? Possibly—or possibly not." 

Visit this website to listen to Allen Say talk about his inspiration for The Boy in the Gardenhttp://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=4794&a=1

Share more of Allen Say's picture books with your students, including his 1994 Caldecott Medal Winner, Grandfather's Journey.  Click on this website to find a list of his books. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/bookwizard/books-by/allen-say#cart/cleanup

Click on this website to find a printable activity for your students to complete. http://www.thewiseowlfactory.com/PDFs/2011/09/TheBoyintheGardenQandA.pdf

Have your students share what story they would like to become a part of and why.

Show your students pictures of real looms and share some videos of what weaving cloth looks like.  This may be an unfamiliar process for them.

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