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From The Asian Reporter, V18, #40 (October 7, 2008), page 17.
A day of peace and quiet
Tree of Cranes
By Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin, 1991
Hardcover, 32 pages, $17.95
By Josephine Bridges
When I was not yet old enough to wear long pants, Mama always worried that I might drown in a neighborís pond. Time and again she warned me not to play there, but I never listened because the pond was filled with carp of bright colors." Itís winter the last time Allen Sayís narrator visits the pond. The fish "never came out from under the rocks, and all I caught was a bad chill." This is the beginning of Tree of Cranes and also of a very strange, very good day.
When the boy returns home, his mother is folding cranes ó "Maybe even two thousand Ö" she muses ó and this is the first clue that something is up. Our narrator has to sit in a hot bath for "ten whole minutes and not one second less," then eat rice gruel, which "only sick people" eat. But life starts to get a little more interesting when he hears a noise coming from the garden, where itís snowing and his mother is digging a hole.
Tree of Cranes has the feel of a good mystery, though itís only suspenseful, never scary. Why has Mama dug up the little pine she and her husband planted when their son was born? Why is she hanging silver cranes on the tree? And whatís this "warm place called Ca-li-for-ni-a" she talks about?
If you want to know, youíll have to read Tree of Cranes. While youíre at it, take some time to look very carefully at Allen Sayís beautiful watercolor paintings. Start with the shiny crane on the title page, casting a pastel shadow like a tiny rainbow. Look at the rooms in the house where this family lives. Would you like to live in rooms like these? What about the clothes the boy and his mother wear; do they look comfortable to you? Notice the shadows on the luminous new snow, the footprints our narrator makes there.
"And like the snowman we made," the boy tells us at the end of the story, "many years have melted away now. But I will always remember that day of peace and quiet." He tells us one more thing, too, something special about that day, but youíll find that out for yourself.