Two Tengu Tales From Japan, retold by Duncan Ball, illustrated by David Allan let out a scream and jumped to his feet. He had heard of these forest goblins with their red faces and long noses but had never seen one.
’Now what could be so terrible that it would make a young boy cry?’ the tengu asked.

When Kenji’s mother is ill, he seeks help from his wealthy uncle, who refuses to lend them money. But a kindly tengu comes to his aid, giving him magic sandals which produce money when the wearer falls over. The catch is that ever coin leaves the wearer slightly shorter. Kenji is careful, but his greedy uncle soon hears of the magic, and learns the hard way that being greedy is dangerous.

‘Kenji’s Magic Sandals’ is the first of Two Tengu Tales from Japan. In the second story, ‘The Invisible Cloak’, greedy Hikoichi tricks a tengu and steals a coat that makes him invisible. But when the invisibility wears off in a public place, Hikoichi is left exposed and naked.

Two Tengu Tales from Japan are folk tales, retold by Duncan Ball from traditional Japanese folklore. The illustrations, inspired by classic Japanese art bring the mythical, magical tengu and the villages of classic Japan to life.

Suitable for classroom sharing or private reading, Two Tengu Tales from Japan offer an engaging introduction to Japanese folklore.

Two Tengu Tales from Japan, retold by Duncan Ball, illustrated by David Allan
Christmas Press, 2015
ISBN 9780992283865

After Darkness, by Christine Piper

She came so close I could see a mole above her lip. She spat/ A glob landed on the window in front of my face.
‘Bloody Japs!’ she said, shaking her fist.
The train groaned as it moved away. The woman became smaller till she was no more than a pale slip, but I could still see her face. Eyes narrowed, mouth tight – her features twisted with hate.

It is 1942 and Japan has entered the second war against the allies. Tomokazu Ibaraki, who has been working as a doctor in Broome, finds himself a prisoner of war, interned with other Japanese men in remote South Australia. Here he works in the infirmary and lives in close quarters with men of Japanese heritage with a range of backgrounds\, including a group of men who were born in Australia and see themselves as Australian. He finds friends but he is also confronted with the difficulties of a life in confinement, and with the dilemma of which men are actually his friends, and which have darker sides to their natures.

While he deals with his present, Dr Inaraki must also confront his past, a past peppered with personal tragedy and dilemmas created by promises he made. Coming to Australia was supposed to offer a chance for redemption – to leave that life behind and build something new, but events in the internment camp force him to revisit things he would rather forget.

After Darkness, the winner of this year’s Vogel Award, is a haunting debit novel about friendship, loyalty, and the promises. Ibaraki is a man of honour who is believably flawed in his inability to find a way through difficult situations he finds himself in, yet is ultimately a likeable character with whom it is easy to sympathise.

Set amidst the backdrop of World War II, and the years prior, the story offers an insight into historical events with which many readers would be unfamiliar. A haunting read.


After Darkness

After Darkness, by Christine Piper
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319888

Available from good bookstores and online.

The River Sai, by Rebecca Edwards

Fifty winters, ninety winters, one hundred and thirty winters passed, while the stone monks sat and prayed in the snow, waiting for the women who never came. And then a mountain witch came. A yamamba, with ice in her bones and witch-fire crackling in her hair. A cruel yamamba, who ate the strong young men that villagers sent to conquer her, who led stray pilgrims to their deaths on lonely cliffsides, who hated children more than anything in the world.

Twelve year-old Harumi is unhappy when her mother and grandmother decide to leave Tokyo to reopen a family shop in a cold hill town. The shop is full of dusty boxes and cabinets and everywhere she turns, are fragile old things. She discovers a ‘shishi’, an ancient lion-dog and her adventure begins. Harumi is transported to another time. She meets an odd old woman and an enormous bear, who it seems have a mission for her. Thousands of child souls are stuck between this world and the next, being tortured by a demon Harumi’s quest is complex and physically demanding. She encounters dream-eating baku, stone jizo, witches hags and all manner of strange creatures before her journey ends.

The River Sai is a Japanese ghost story, set thousands of years ago. Harumi travels from the ‘now’ world to a very different time. There she is asked by a large bear to undertake a quest at the River Sai which separates the living from the dead. A witch has trapped children’s souls on the bank of the river. Harumi encounters extreme evil but also unexpected friendships as she seeks a way to free the souls. This is an exciting hero quest with a young girl as reluctant heroine. Although the Japanese mythology may be less familiar to readers than perhaps Greek or Roman equivalents, there are plenty of familiar archetypes here. There is a lovely richness to the word images, enhanced by the authors own illustrations throughout. Recommended for upper primary readers.

The River Sai

The River Sai, by Rebecca Edwards
UQP 2007

ISBN: 9780702236112

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.