The Little One by Kiyo Tanaka

The Little One by Kiyo Tanaka,  translated by David Boyd. Enchanted Lion Books, c2018, 2021. 9781592703586

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  What a weird, wonderful, and touching book this is! A small girl holding a school satchel walks through a Japanese street and spots a tiny black creature with bold slanting eyes. Apparently she’s the only one who can see the baby-sized walking blob and follows it, first to a secret garden and then into a traditional Japanese house. After enjoying tea, the creature invites her to venture inside a closet, which leads to a magical dark attic, filled with glowing fairy lights, a swing, and a tree to climb. After all that activity, the girl and the little one climb a soft, furry mountain and fall asleep. “I had a dream about my mom”, the narrator tells us as we see them snuggled together on the back of an enormous, fanciful, cat-like creature. The girl and the little one leave the house and the girl runs toward a man, exclaiming, “Oh! Hi Daddy!” as they walk home together. 

The illustrations and tone of the book strongly suggest a debt to Edward Gorey, with their delicate black-and-white copperplate etchings and the bizarre little one. But what at first seems odd and even vaguely threatening gradually becomes warm and friendly. The girl’s mother is missing and although the book provides no answers as to the where, when, or how of her disappearance, the resolution is comforting. This is an open ended story, with lots of room for children to fill in their own interpretations. Adults who object to the child following a stranger or venturing into dark spaces need to get with the (metaphorical) program.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Consider yourself forewarned: it won’t be for everyone.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This might be a good conversation starter for families experiencing loss or grief. 

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books or possibly in a parenting section

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 24, 2021

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