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Tree of Cranes

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  452 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
As a young Japanese boy recovers from a bad chill, his mother busily folds origami paper into delicate silver cranes in preparation for the boy's very first Christmas.
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published October 28th 1991 by HMH Books for Young Readers
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Favorite Christmas Picture Books
42nd out of 324 books — 131 voters
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Multicultural Children's Lit
38th out of 365 books — 77 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dec 27, 2010 ABC rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent Christmas book. My son really enjoyed it.

We live in Japan and it does not depict modern Japan, though. My son understands this because he sees all the Christmas decorations here. But Americans kids need to be told that this story in this book is from many decades ago. Nowadays, Japanese moms do not wear kimono around the house and never decorate Christmas trees with origami cranes. Little boys nowadays are for more likely to ask for a Wii than for a kite.

Warning: At the end
Tree of Cranes is a great book for helping my kindergarten students step out of their common understandings of Christmas and see the holiday from a new perspective. Set in Japan, we were able to have discussions about elements of traditional Japanese architecture (including tatami mats; futons; narrow, deep bathtubs; and showering right on the bathroom floor), as well as the wearing of kimonos and the traditional Japanese art of origami, but more importantly, we were able to engage in a conversa ...more
Xiaohui Yang
Feb 08, 2013 Xiaohui Yang rated it it was amazing
Say drew this book from the memory of his first Christmas in Japan. It is another piece of Say’s autobiographical books, which he is famous for. From the first illustration of the carp pond, which was actually a big goldfish hatchery next to his old childhood house, I was once again amazed at Say’s exquisite skills as an illustrator. Every detail was exactly caught by Say’s painting brush: the reflections on water, the ripples made by little Say, the color change of water surface, etc. The scatt ...more
Madison Danek
This book is a great book to teach the lesson of giving and the real meaning of Christmas. The little boy’s mother realizes his Christmas is extremely important and wants to make it special for him even though he cannot celebrate it normally. She brings him a tree from outside, and then takes the time to make and give him all of the origami paper cranes. Teaching the reader about the true meaning of Christmas; giving to others without expecting something in return. I really enjoy this book and ...more
Jul 22, 2016 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Mama brings from her birth home in California the concept of the decorated tree, of family, of the joy of giving, and the hope for goodwill & peace on earth. Considering that Say was born in 1937, and that this seems to be a memoir, I can easily empathize with Mama's desperation... perhaps this took place just after Pearl Harbor....

No baggage of Santa Claus or Christ, but a focus on the universals that so many of us on this small crowded planet wish we could share with one another. Beautifu
Feb 02, 2013 Dolly rated it liked it
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
This is a sweet, but poignant tale about a mother's almost-desperate need to bring a bit of Christmas to her son. The story is enlightening and shows a bit of the contrast between two cultures. The illustrations are just as good as we've come to expect from Allen Say, and we enjoyed reading this book together. We will certainly look for more of his books at our local library.
Feb 08, 2010 Melanie rated it it was amazing
Say is my favorite author/illustrator for all things Japanese. My husband served a mission in Japan, so he always enjoys this type of story. In this tale, the little boy disobeys his mother and end up catching a cold. When he gets home he is sent straight to bed, but is mother is preoccupied and he can’t understand her strange behavior. Finally she gathers origami cranes, candles and a little tree and tells him a story he will never forget.
My kids were head over heels for this book - maybe because of the Christmas connection.

It's not *quite* as good as Grandfather's Journey to me (hence 4 stars rather than 5) but they do flow together nicely and the kids totally picked up on the connections (the mama here is the daughter there).

They've asked me to buy more Allen Say books for the classroom. :)
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Dec 29, 2009 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
Shelves: children, christmas
Say tells the story of his first Christmas, when he was a boy in Japan. Serious. Thoughtful. Ages 6-10.
Sep 26, 2010 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Allen Say is a master watercolorist. This quiet book shows us the magic of family and love in another culture. 1027 words, book level 2.6, lower grades.
Sep 26, 2015 Josiah rated it it was ok
The celebration of holidays is a big part of any culture, defining how one comes to think of each special day on the calendar throughout the year, so it stands to reason that vast differences in the way holidays are observed would be one of the hard parts of living away in a foreign country. For those residing in Japan of a certain era, the idea of Christmas would have been a strange one, perhaps even to children with a mother who grew up in the United States celebrating Christmas before moving ...more
Blair Brown
Mar 29, 2016 Blair Brown rated it it was amazing
My copy of Allen Say's "Tree of Cranes" is 24 years old and was bought for reading aloud to my seven-year-old son. I was struck by the beautiful mother-son relationship and had to have it. I know now of Mr. Say's fame and literary success writing about his Japanese-American heritage. This particular story tells about a boy who loves to watch the colorful carp in the garden pond, but knows, all the while, that his trips to the pond frighten his mother. When he returns from his latest trip cold an ...more
Ashten Wolff
The little boy learned about a different culture, our culture and what Christmas is to us.
Jul 12, 2013 Barbara rated it really liked it
In this beautifully written and illustrated book set in Japan, a young boy catches a cold while looking for fish in his neighbor's pond. His mother takes care of him when he comes back inside, but she is distracted and preoccupied. After folding several origami cranes and digging up a small tree from the family's yard, she tells him about some of the Christmas traditions in her homeland, the United States, where many families celebrate Christmas. As is the case for so many of Allen Say's books, ...more
Kaitlin Burke
Mar 26, 2015 Kaitlin Burke rated it really liked it
Allen Say's Tree of Cranes is a magnificent children's book. It allows young students to see what it is like on Christmas through another's perspective. The plot of this story was great and the Japanese culture was not the only culture throughout it. In this story the young boy disobeys his mother and goes out and catches a cold while fishing in a neighbors pond. His mother takes care of him, but is distracted making origami cranes and getting a Christmas tree together. She then tells him of the ...more
Annie Carbutt
Jul 21, 2015 Annie Carbutt rated it it was amazing
When a young Japanese boy comes home with a cold one day because he disobeyed his mother, he expects her to be upset with him. But when his mother instead shares with him the beauty of Christmas, he is in awe. This book has some of the most beautiful watercolor illustrations I have ever seen. The pallet is cool and serene with vibrant accents of red and yellow. The pictures are centered on square pages of glossy white paper and framed in white. This gives a feeling of distance (because the boy i ...more
Jessica Maynard
Oct 24, 2012 Jessica Maynard rated it really liked it
This is a good book to read at Christmas. In this book, a young boy in Japan catches a cold ans has to spend time in his room. His mother goes to the garden and digs up the pine tree that she planted when he was born. The mother places the tree in his room and decorates it with origami cranes that she made. The mother explains why she is decorating a tree and informs her son about the American traditions. She tells him about California and growing up. This book represents the young boys first 'C ...more
Dec 03, 2013 Nyna rated it liked it
This happens to be a very interesting cross-cultural book. All the while the boy is in trouble, the pictures do not seem to give any indication to the American background of his mother. I had no idea what was going on until the very end. It is quite the confusing book, and nothing a reader expects to happen, will happen (unless you’re a very abstract reader, perhaps). The pictures, while very life-like, have a strange color and “drawnness” to them. By that, I mean that they still seem incapable ...more
May 02, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it
A young boy disobeys his mother and goes to play near a pond. When he returns home, his mother is clearly upset and sends the boy to take a warm bath. When the boy gets out of bed, he finds his mother folding paper cranes and decorating a pine tree. She shares with him a holiday tradition that she learned growing up in Japan.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that address some universal Christmas themes: peace, generosity, and kindness.

Teaching ideas:
Making inferences - The mother never say
Jennifer Ha
Sep 24, 2014 Jennifer Ha rated it it was amazing
Allen Say is one of my favorite Children's books authors now. I love love love this book! I have only read two of his books (counting this one), but they were both meaningful and deep. After reading this general fiction book, I felt a feeling of passion and truth coming from the author. Tree of Cranes had a great plot and it also included culture other than Japanese. The characters were very realistic; I feel that younger children would enjoy this book because they can relate to the young boy be ...more
Rosa Cline
Jan 01, 2015 Rosa Cline rated it really liked it
Shelves: kids, christmas
This is a very touching story of a Japanese celebrating his first Christmas. As he remembers being very small and being outside doing something his mother has repeatedly telling him not to do; so he thinks he is in trouble when he comes in because his mother is sad. He doesn't understand until after he goes to bed and his mother comes in and tells him that the reason she was sad was because she was remembering a holiday she used to celebrate when she lived in California in America. She had went ...more
Amy Rae
Nov 05, 2014 Amy Rae rated it liked it
First off, the illustrations for this book are phenomenal. It's hard to go wrong with Say's work, but these feel above and beyond lovely to me. The story is nice, too--quiet and gentle, clearly told from the vantage point of years on.

I really wish there was an end note to go with this one, though, or perhaps just another line or two of explanation from the narrator's mother. I want to know so much more about her than I got--why she came to Japan from America especially. I have my guesses, certai
Judi Paradis
Feb 14, 2010 Judi Paradis rated it it was amazing
A really interesting Christmas book. A Japanese boy comes home from school chilled from playing in a forbidden pond. His mother sends him to his room to recover (and to think about how he should behave). While he is there, she begins decorating a tree with beautiful origami cranes. Finally he emerges and she tells him about a day she remembers from when she lived in the U.S. when everyone is kind to one another, people decorate trees to make them even more beautiful, and gifts are given to loved ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Jenny rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-to-the-kids
This is the story of a little boy in Japan who disobeyed his mother and caught a cold. Then she acted strangely towards him all day and he didn't know why. In the end she told him it was Christmas-a day for making wishes-in the country she'd come from (America). She wished he'd not disobey her again.
I don't know about this one. It was sweet, but maybe just too abstract. The simple writing did give a Japanese feel to the story. My 6 and 3-year-old certainly didn't get what the point was. I did s
Jill Wolf
Mar 26, 2016 Jill Wolf rated it it was ok
Shelves: multicultural
Multicultural #9
This book is about a little boy who never experienced a Christmas before because it is not part of their religion or culture. When the little boy gets sick after going near a pond that he wasn't supposed to, the mom decides to do something special for the boy. She explains that she is not from the place that they live and that she came from California. She explains to the boy what Christmas is and he has his first Christmas ever. This book shows how traditions can change, especi
The Brothers
Mar 06, 2016 The Brothers rated it really liked it
Shelves: christmas, japan
An engaging story of a little Japanese boy who disobeys his mother and plays around his neighbors pond even though he's been warned he would drown if he fell in. His mother doesn't scold him, but sends him to wash and rest because of the cold he caught while playing at the pond. Instead, she does some things the boy finds really odd. Turns out his mother is from California and is preparing to celebrate the boy's first Christmas like they used to where she came from.

Beautiful illustrations.
Keely Wells
Sep 30, 2013 Keely Wells rated it liked it
Tree of Cranes by Allen Say is a story about a little boy in Japan who learns about American Christmas tradition. He gets into trouble with his mother and is sent straight to bed. This would be a great book to read to young students because they can get a good culture view on other cultures. Kids would also love this book because it is about Christmas time and having your family around a tree and reading a story so it can bring children a lot of memories. This book was very colorful and lively a ...more
Cate Mueller
Tree of Cranes is a great book to show young readers the culture of Christmas in a new perspective, set in Japan. Allen Say wrote this book based on his experience of his first Christmas in Japan. This book is about a young Japanese boy who is slowly getting better from a bad chill. The young boy’s mother folds origami paper and creates delicate silver cranes for the young’s boys first Christmas in Japan.

Sep 28, 2011 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: holiday-books
This was an exceptional book. It really brought up the issue of cultural education from another point of view, that of a Japanese mother teaching her son about an American custom, namely celebrating Christmas. It was a good book and I'd be open to sharing it with an audience of children as a means of opening a discussion of cultural differences and mutual respect. Also it's an unusual point of view for a Christmas story, one that would interest children.
Natalie Quinn
Feb 29, 2012 Natalie Quinn rated it it was amazing
Tree of Cranes is a beautiful book! This would be great book for teachers to read around Christmas time. In this story the Japanese mother tells her son about the American tradition of Christmas. It shows students what life is like for a young Japanese boy and also gives some insight to what traditions Japanese children experience. It would be a great conversation starter to talk about how different cultures are different, and the same.
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Allen Say is one of the most beloved artists working today. He is the recipient of the Caldecott Medal for GRANDFATHER'S JOURNEY, and also won a Caldecott Honor and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for THE BOY OF THE THREE-YEAR NAP (written by Dianne Snyder). Many of Allen’s stories are derived from his own experiences as a child. His other books include THE BICYCLE MAN, TEA WITH MILK, and TREE OF ...more
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