Written and Illustrated by Taro Yashima
Viking Penguin, 1955
Awards: Caldecott Honor
On the first day of our village school in Japan, there was a boy missing.
What makes this book so dangerous? It ‘denigrates white American culture and promotes racial separation.’
The missing boy is actually hiding under the school floor. They call him Chibi (which means small) and he is afraid of the teacher and the other children. He keeps his distance from everyone else and pays attention to the world around him to avoid looking at everyone else. Although the other children are cruel to him, he comes to class every day. In sixth grade, a new teacher arrives at the school. The new teacher, Mr. Isobe, finds that Chibi knows all about plants and art and he hangs Chibi’s artwork on the wall. At the end of the year, Chibi gets up to perform at the talent show and Mr. Isobe announces that he will be imitating voices of crows. At first, the others laugh, but then Chibi perfectly duplicates crows in many different situations and Mr. Isobe explains that he learned them by coming such a long distance to school every day for six years. The children feel bad for the way they’ve treated Chibi. On graduation day, Chibi is honored for perfect attendance. After graduation, Chibi sometimes returns to the village to sell coal and the grown-up children call him Crow Boy, which makes him smile.
Author/illustrator Taro Yashima had a very interesting life, leaving his native Japan to study art in the United States in 1939 and working as an artist with the American Office of Strategic Services after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (His son, Mako Iwamatsu, was an Academy Award nominated actor.) Crow Boy brought Mr. Yashima the first of three Caldecott Honors that he earned for his picture books. The story here is all about bullying and it perfectly illustrates the way that children feel when they are ostracized by others. We learn more about him as the book progresses and we see the difference it makes when one person takes the time to get to know him.
The artwork appears to be colored pencil, with some things drawn in greater detail and some with almost just suggestions of shapes. It’s funny to me how I felt like I could see harshness in the faces of his classmates, even when their faces had almost no definition. I think my mind was filling in the details with what the story was telling me in the text. The challenge to this book was made by a school board member in Queens, New York and I don’t understand it at all. Because the book is entirely set in Japan, I can’t see how it casts any aspersions on ‘white American culture’ and it seems to me that it promotes inclusion and understanding rather than promoting any type of segregation. I’m imagining it must have been some kind of misunderstanding somewhere along the line. In any case, the challenge was not upheld and the book is still sharing its lesson with kids 60 years later. I really liked this book and its glimpse into how tolerance and understanding are important in every culture and time period.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there is always so much more to people than you would guess from your first glimpse, which is why you should never rush to judgment.