Thursday, 15 September 2016

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa & Ju Takabatake, translated by Cathy Hirano (Children's, 5 years +, 10E/10E)

Front cover

Back cover
August 2016, Gecko Press, 104 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Summary from Gecko Press
Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal—Penguin.
Giraffe knows nothing about penguins and his letters are full of questions. What does a penguin look like? Where is a penguin’s neck?

And so the letters begin to fly from horizon to horizon.

Nayu's thoughts
This sounded a sweet tale, and I was more intrigued because it was a Japanese tale (for new readers I love all things Japan, anime, food, culture, all of it!) These can sometimes end sadly, but thankfully this one didn't. It was full of hope, and was about a mix of themes. 

The most obvious theme is friendship. Giraffe is friends with Pelican (who is also bored), and wants to meet other people to break the boredom. Pelican provides Giraffe with the means to do that, through using his skill of flying to get to Penguin (via another animal, which increases the number of friends made within the story). 

Communication is another theme. It's through communicating that Giraffe learns about Penguin, although that isn't as simple as it sounds. I hadn't thought through how hard it would be to imagine someone you haven't seen, especially when you don't know what other creatures look like. Giraffe and Pelican's various versions of Penguin's appearance was fun to watch, they tried to so hard to figure it out using the information Penguin had relayed. Penguin tried to do the same (minus dressing up like Giraffe), and struggled with the limited knowledge that Whale had (although Penguin didn't know Whale had limited knowledge). This theme made me think of children: as an adult I have quite a broad range of life experience and know what most things look like, but for children in particular, who have little life experience figuring out what something looks like when they've never seen it does create lots of questions. This inquisitiveness is vital for exploring the world we live in. 

Another theme is working hard. Pelican works hard to reach the horizon for Giraffe, and discovers new characters who work even harder. The character I'm thinking of has had generations of their family do the same job, which is impressive. Pelican is inspired by this character, so although the letter delivering can be hard, it is full of rewards. This is a good mindset to have for life, as work isn't always easy but it always benefits someone, somewhere, and I feel this is a typically Japanese theme. Helping others to generate a positive community seems to be a core theme from the anime and documentaries I've seen about Japan, and this story certainly encourages that. 

My final point is that I love how the story encourages letter writing. Giraffe experiences the thrill and anticipation of the letter arriving and what the letter contains. While emails are instant and do offer a narrow window of anticipation, there is something about receiving a letter which brings joy to the recipient and the sender. I still send letters because they are personal, can be accompanied with cute stickers/drawings, and are a pleasure to keep, as Giraffe and Penguin discover. I loved the simple yet elegant style of illustration. It made me smile when Giraffe imagined what Penguin would look like, I really liked the little squares by each chapter title which contained a drawing involving an element of what happened in that chapter. I liked what Pelican looked like when he got far from Giraffe as it was the typical way I drew birds when I was younger, and I thought Penguin's friends looked so cute as they prepared for Giraffe's arrival. As you can see from the depth of my review this is a real gem of a read. I'd most definitely  like to read it in Japanese one day, although hopefully there's not too much Kanji as I don't know many. It's got a timeless feel to it, not being dated by technology of any kind. 

Suggested read

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