A young Japanese boy disobeys his mother’s
wishes and visits the neighbor’s pond, hoping to see the brightly colored carp that swim there. Getting a bit wet he knows he is going to be in trouble but hopes his mother will overlook his disobedience
and simply be happy to see him. When he arrives home his mother does not greet
him but two slices of his favorite tea cake are waiting on a plate and she is in the living room quietly folding paper cranes.
The boy understands his mother is upset with him
by her actions. He must take a hot bath and she makes him rice gruel which only
sick people eat. Even worse, he is sent to bed all afternoon. When he peeks out the window he sees his mother digging up the little pine tree planted in his honor when
he was born. This tree symbolically insures a long life like the tree. Mother carries the tree into the house and proceeds to explain her oddly reflective behavior.
mother was born and lived in a country far away in a place called California. She continues that on this particular day, people all across America decorate trees with
winking lights and globes of silver and gold. Boxes are placed under the tree
to give to loved ones.
Together the two quietly hang paper cranes on
the tree with sewing thread and candles are lit. The boy wishes for a samurai
kite and asks his mother what she wants. Her answer is that she would like
peace and quiet and a promise that he will not go near the pond again. When the
boy wakes up, he finds his kite under the tree, snow on the ground and a memory to savor, his first Christmas!
Beautifully illustrated watercolors use spare lines to depict a Japanese home in its simplicity and serenity. The geometric architecture and open airy spaces within the home, doors that slide
open and close, the wooden structure filled with water for the boy’s bath, the clothing, shoes, sleeping mat, hairstyles,
food and utensils are authentic depictions of life in Japan. There is a quiet love between the boy and his mother
reflected in this text and illustration. The paper cranes are clues to this culture. According to Japanese legend,
the crane lives for a thousand years. In Japanese, Chinese and Korean tradition, cranes stand for peace and long life
Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan but moved to America when he was 12 (Allen
Say). This is a wonderful, autobiographical book which serves as a bridge between
Japanese and American culture. Say displays sensitivity to the differences and
similarities between east and west weaving the two cultures together to create this story.
The most interesting aspect of the story is how the reader learns about American Christmas through the eyes of a Japanese
boy living in Japan.