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From The Asian Reporter, V18, #26 (July 1, 2008), page 11.
Happy and useful
By Josephine Bridges
Sky Sweeper is an unusual book right from the start: "Young Takeboki needed a job, and the monks in the temple needed a Flower Keeper." Illustrated with a boy holding a broom longer than he is tall and a black-robed monk gesturing toward a garden gate, the first page of this book sets the stage for a quiet, contemplative tale, not something children are likely to run into very often. In its understated way, Sky Sweeper is a revolutionary work.
After Takeboki has been sweeping for two years, his parents think thatís long enough. "There is no future in sweeping," they tell him. It crosses Takebokiís mind that "it might be nice to have a more important-sounding job," but "he knew what he knew: The monks need a temple, the temple needs a garden, and the garden needs a Flower Keeper." These words return to Takeboki again and again when his brother encourages him to go into business and travel and his sister thinks he should get married.
In each instance Takeboki considers the benefits of another way of life, for he thinks of faraway places and how nice it would be to hold hands. But he tells everyone, "Iím happy sweeping." When his neighbors tell him he looks like a beggar, he replies, "Iím rich! Itís autumn again, and I have more gold than I can carry!"
Finally, Takeboki is too old and sick to work. "At first, the monks didnít even realize he was gone." But the litter of sticks and leaves, the snow hiding the paths, and the "fallen blossoms turned to muddy carpets" remind the monks "the Flower Keeper accomplished more than we realized."
To do any job happily and well is success enough, author Phillis Gershator implies, and to do so against the urging of others takes courage, as illustrator Holly Meade notes in her dedication to "all the children who hear a different drummer." Takeboki, by the way, receives an appropriate reward for his efforts, but itís not the kind of reward you can measure in square feet or promotions or net worth.
This is subtle stuff for little ones, but theyíll like the repetition of key phrases and the bright and detailed illustrations, which are full of visual subplots that may well encourage them to create stories of their own: Who is the little girl with the cat? Will the monks notice the single autumn leaf Takeboki allows to remain on the path?
And we grownups can ask ourselves if we are as happy and as useful as Takeboki, if we dare.