Sunday, January 28
The Story of Cherry the Pig
by Utako Yamada
Kane/Miller Books 2007
Cherry the Pig loves to bake. One day she makes an apple cake, doting on each step of the process to make the tastiest cake she can. Enjoying a cup of tea while the cake cools she hears from the kitchen "It's incredible!" Dashing in she finds a family of mice nibbling at her cake and shoos them away.
Did they say her cake was incredible? They're right! And with that Cherry the Pig sets about to enter her apple cake in the bake-off at coming the Harvest Festival.
Festival time comes and Cherry is as proud as a pig can be when entering her cake in the contest. Then she once again overhears a conversation, the family of mice again. "Why would she enter that incredibly awful cake in the competition?" Could it be? Had she misheard the mice the first time? Perhaps they were right, and perhaps she was making a fool of herself. But it's too late, the competition has already begun and the judges have begin their announcements.
Sitting in the shade there is little left for Cherry to do but wait until the competition is over and take her cake home. Needless to say she is surprised when the winner of the Golden Whisk is announced and it's for Cherry and her apple cake!
Flush with the praise of all the judges Cherry the Pig is moved to open her own bakery. On her way home she discovers a bag of snacks where the mice had been sitting. Cherry tries them and to her amazement they turn out to be biscuits, very salty and very cheesy biscuits. Cherry then understands everything, that mice with a preference for hard, salty, crusty biscuits would never find a sweet scrumptious apple cake delicious. Once she has opened her bakery and served all her delectable items to others she sets about making one last item, biscuits perfect for discerning mice.
Much of the summary of this story is between the lines. The story and dialog are very direct and easy to understand and charming in an innocent sort of way. The book is deliberately paced is a way that is reminiscent of books several decades older yet still feels fresh. In fact, the entire look of the book speaks to picture books of the past. The four-color illustrations in crayon and spot color, bright and cheery in yellow, green, brown and that peachy-red seem to have been borrowed from 1964. There is a sense of nostalgia, a very palpable link between past and present that makes the book feel timeless without trying. It's a bit of Mary Blair filling in a Golden Books pastry. Quite a concoction.
According to her biography on the Kane Miller website it appears this was Utako Yamada's first book, that she has illustrated other books, and that she has been the proprietor of a tea house (named Karel Capek, which speaks volumes in and of itself) and a dessert shop in Japan. It also says she's illustrated at least 20 other books. If they're anything like this -- and the smattering of translated web pages I was able to hunt down with her work on it -- then I'll look forward to seeing those down the road.
As publishers have been dipping into their archives to revive anniversary editions of older books (Anatole and The Happy Lion, for example) it is nice to see that satisfying books can be made that slide in easily along side these classics. More like this, please; More warm and inviting stories with illustrations that match, and a little less of the cold, harsh workmanlike wanking of books whose titles will not be mentioned here.