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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan. Written by Rui Umezawa and illustrated by Mikiko Fujita. Groundwood Books, 2015. $18.95 ages 12 and up

"Akana nodded faintly and allowed Samon to lead him by the hand into the hut. Samon directed his weary friend to a cushion and laid a tray of food in front of him. They say Akana covered his face with his sleeve at the sight, as if the smell nauseated him. Samon could not hide his irritation. "I'm sorry if my humble efforts do not please you. However, this was the best I could do."

I thought this would be one of those books where I could read a story when I had time, and just keep returning to it. I was dead wrong! Once started, I continually checked to see how long it would take to read the next one ... then the next ... and finally I was through it. The tales are eerie, and memorable. What fun to share in a classroom where you are considering the short story or folktales themselves! Your readers will surely appreciate the time spent and will see how the old stories have influenced life in Japan today.

There are eight tales told. Each is carefully sourced, and is likely to cause a touch of unease. They deal with topics of deception, trickery, jealousy, hatred, malice, conceit and esteem. They grab attention and engage readers from start to finish, often leaving us with questions for the inherent actions. They are not an easy read; once caught up in the action, they are impossible to put down. They are stories from the author's childhood and, as such, are treated with care in their contemporary retellings.

They are old classic tales, made modern for a new audience. They are often cautionary in tone, but I never felt that they were meant to teach a hard lesson. They are rich with supernatural beings, commanding in the telling and short ... which isn't always a good thing. It is, however, likely that it ups the appeal for many teen readers. For me, they were done too quickly and left me wanting more.
Each tale is accompanied by a pencil illustration that matches the tone of the story and adds a ghostly, meaningful setting. They are detailed and evoke one of the critical scenes from each of the tales shared. 

Whether it is the human element that readers can relate to, or the setting that is so aptly described, every reader will find a favorite ... and perhaps more than one. They will leave those readers wanting to spend time thinking about what they have just read and to pose lingering questions, perhaps even wanting to talk about it with a friend or group of friends. It is a terrific read and definitely worthy of our attention.

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