Last year at this time we were deep in the middle of a wonderful study of Japan, it's culture, and people. We fell in love with many authors and illustrators of Japanese picture books. Here is one of our favorites that I would like to spotlight, Little Oh by Laura Krauss Melmed.
This is a lovely picture book with beautiful, rich illustrations by Jim LaMarche, and to me the story is a little reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson's Thumbelina, with a twist!
It's a story that begins with a little boy asking his mother to tell him the story of "Little Oh," his sister. She begins by telling him that there once was a woman that folded a little girl out of origami paper and she came alive. There are many adventures of "Little Oh" the best of which brings her back safely home to her mother at the end. I thought it approriate to share Violet's narration of this excellent picture book, as it is beautifully descriptive and re-tells the story with perfection.
By Laura Krauss Melmed
February 25, 2005
One day a mother and her little boy were folding origami paper into animals and flowers. The little boy asked his mother to tell him the story of Little Oh, and so she began.
Once there was a woman who lived all alone in her house. During the day she made tea sets and flower vases and in the evening’s she folded origami into animals. One night the woman folded a little girl out of origami paper and she painted eyes and a nose and a mouth on it. That night she laid it in a lacquer box beside her bed and went to sleep. The next morning when she woke up the little origami girl jumped out of the lacquer box and said, “Good morning mother.” The woman said, “Oh.” And the origami girl said, “Oh must be my name.” And so she became Little Oh. The woman grew so fond of Little Oh that she left her work untouched and played all day with her. One morning there was not anything in the pantry but a handful of rice. Little Oh’s mother said to herself, I will make a tea set and sell it at the market to buy some food. While her mother was making the tea set, Little Oh looked out the window and saw the maple trees dancing and swaying. She asked her mother if she could go outside and dance and sway like the maple trees, but her mother said that the wind might blow her away. So her mother played her flute for her and Little Oh danced. Then Little Oh heard the brook going by swiftly and Little Oh asked her mother if she could skip over the stones like the brook. And Little Oh’s mother said that the water would sweep her away. And so Little Oh told her mother a story. When Little Oh’s mother had packed the tea set and was ready to go to the market with it, Little Oh asked if she could go with her. Her mother said that she could go if she listened and stayed in the basket and did not peek out. Little Oh promised and her mother wrote on the back of Little Oh’s dress: Number 1 Pink Petal Lane, for that was where she lived. Little Oh sat inside one of the teacups in the basket under the blanket. By then Little Oh had forgotten her promise to her mother and peeked out of the basket and saw crickets in their cages, and oranges piled up in pyramids. A dog with the eyes of a hungry wolf saw Little Oh and leaped up to grab her knocking Little Oh’s mother to the ground. Little Oh rolled out of the basket in the teacup and through the market with the dog running after her. Little Oh’s mother ran through the market calling to her daughter, but Little Oh was far away.
Near a river, Little Oh’s teacup got stuck in the mud, and she pushed on it because she could hear the dog behind her, and she landed in the water safely out of the dog’s reach. While she was floating along, Little Oh saw a waterfall ahead of her with big rocks like bony knees sticking up and Little Oh thought, “Oh dear.” When the teacup smashed against one of the rocks and broke into pieces, Little Oh grabbed a piece she could see floating by and drifted to shore. When she was on land, Little Oh heard a sigh. She parted the rushes and there stood a beautiful white crane. Little Oh asked her what was the matter, and the crane told her that her husband had passed away the year before and she was very lonely. Little Oh told her that she missed someone she loved too, and that night the crane and Little Oh shared the cranes nest. The next day the crane said that it was a good day for flying, and Little Oh asked how she would get home, and the crane said that she would take her there. So Little Oh showed her the way. The crane asked her which house it was and Little Oh pointed to a house with a beautiful garden and said that that was the one. Little Oh climbed onto some flower pots and looked in the window but it was not her house. There was a man and a boy sitting at the table writing. Little Oh watched them for several days and slept in a moss bed that she had made. Then one day it started to rain and Little Oh began to shiver, and she said I am a paper child and I can be whatever I want. So she carefully folded herself into a heart and she let herself drift down in front of the door to the house waiting for someone to find her.
When Little Oh was sure she was about to melt away from being so wet, the boy opened the door and picked up the paper heart and he handed it to his father and said that it was a message for him. The father read the back of the heart, which said, “Number 1 Pink Petal Lane.” The father said that it was just around the corner and he took his little boy to school and then went and knocked on Little Oh’s mother’s door. As she opened the door she seemed very sad because of the loss of her origami girl. As he handed her the heart, the heart disappeared and before them stood a real little girl. Little Oh danced into her mother’s arms and said, “It’s me mother.”
The mother said to her little boy that he knew the rest of the story and the little boy said that the man and the woman got married and the crane built her nest on the top of the roof and lived in the garden. They finished up their paper folding and then he went outside to play with Little Oh. The End.
Please view my site for other picture book spotlights in Book Look, as well as our Japan Notebook compliments of Violet posted in the Photo Album. I hope you have enjoyed our picture book spotlight and if you are interested in doing a unit study on Japan, please email me and I'd be happy to share our plans as I have not yet had the chance to post them here.