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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #11 (March 13, 2007), page 16.
By Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books, 2006
Hardcover, 33 pages, $14.95
By Josephine Bridges
Written with children between the ages of one and five in mind, Emilyís Balloon will win the heart of anyone of any age who loves impeccable illustration and a compelling story that, like life, comes to a close before all the loose ends are nicely tied into little bows.
It all begins simply and auspiciously enough: "One afternoon, Emily got a balloon." The first illustration shows the vendor bending low at the waist to hand the toddler a yellow balloon. Emilyís mother stands behind her daughter, leaning forward, her hands both calm and poised to spring into action if necessary. Komako Sakai conveys the reverent attention all three characters are giving to this moment with the simplest of drawings in the subtlest of colors. No wonder she is a winner of the Japanese Picture Book Prize.
We all know what happens to balloons, and Emilyís is no exception; itís the details of the story that make it fresh. When the balloon clings to the ceiling, where Emily canít reach, her mother ties it to the childís spoon. The picture of Emily, most of her hand in her little mouth as she observes that "It floats, but it doesnít fly away," encompasses the wonder of childhood that the author has had the good sense not to outgrow.
Out in the garden, Emily makes a crown of leaves for the balloon, "and one for herself." In the illustration, the balloon leans toward Emily, tugging on the ballast of its spoon, in one of those perfect instants just before trouble, in the form of a gust of wind, will change everything.
Emilyís Balloon ends neither happily nor sadly, it ends in the middle, with Emilyís mother offering her distraught child the best reassurance she can, and thereís something refreshingly honest about this. Childhood may be wonderful, but it isnít always easy. The illustration of Emily in her star-covered pajamas, standing on her bed, looking out the window and reaching toward her strange new friend is as haunting for the reader as the experience must be for the little girl. "She looked. There it was, nestled in the tree. It looked just like the moon."
Komako Sakai trusts her readers enough to give them whatís necessary and no more, letting them draw from their own experience as they contemplate this simple and profound story that will stay with them a long while after they turn the last page.