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Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village, doesn?t join the others at the rice ceremony. Instead he watches from his balcony. He feels something is coming?something he can?t describe. When he sees the monster wave pulling away from the beach, he knows. Tsunami! But the villagers below can?t see the danger. Will Ojiisan risk everything he has to save them? Can he? Illustrated in stunning collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, here is the unforgettable story of how one man?s simple sacrifi ce saved hundreds of lives. An extraordinary celebration of both the power of nature and the power each of us holds within.

32 pages, Hardcover

First published February 5, 2009

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About the author

Kimiko Kajikawa

6 books10 followers
Kimiko's true love of reading and writing began one day at her local library. Kimiko says, "My local librarian asked me if I had ever read Harriet the Spy. She said that it was a great book, and I immediately took it home. I read the entire book that day! I was so disappointed when it ended that I reread it immediately. I had to find a way to keep the spirit of Harriet the Spy alive with me, so I began to keep a journal. And spy on people. I did not follow anyone, but I would try to pick up what people were saying, and I would study their mannerisms. I think Harriet the Spy was the book that got me to write because I really started to look at the world and put down what I saw on paper."

By fifth grade, Kimiko won an essay contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her essay was about Abraham Lincoln and her victory earned her $3. At that moment, Kimiko concluded that, "Writing was a great way to make a living."

Kimiko won another writing contest when she was twelve, and this time she got to spend a day at the Bucks County Courier Times writing her own column. "I loved it. They took me around and introduced me to all the people that put the newspaper together. I felt like somebody special until they ran my photo in the paper. I was horrified that everyone at school would see it. I looked so nerdy!"

In high school, Kimiko was published in Seventeen Magazine. She was also the assistant editor and columnist for her high school newspaper. "At that point," Kimiko says, "I told my parents that I wanted to become a writer. My parents were unhappy with my decision. They told me that I should become a businesswoman instead."

Kimiko's mom is Japanese and her dad is American. Her parents met after World War II. They didn't even speak the same language when they were married.

Her mom was born in Tokyo in 1929. In an essay that Kimiko wrote when she was in eighth grade, she said, "There are no pictures of my mother when she was a child because they were all burned during the war. My mother was eleven years old when World War II started. During the war, she sometimes only had toothpaste to eat. And she would often see burned bodies on the side of the road. All the bodies were black, she would say, except for the teeth."

During the war, Kimiko's mother lost nine relatives in one day during the bombing of Hiroshima. Soon after the war, Kimiko's grandmother died of cancer. The very next day, her aunt fell from a train and died from head injuries. Kimiko says, "My mom's life is filled with tragic stories that she rarely tells."

"In fact, my family has been the inspiration for most of my books. I credit my son, Chris, for starting my career as an author. When he was little, he fell in love with trains. What Chris wanted most in the world was a book with photographs of steam trains for young children. Fortunately, for me, that book didn't exist. After two years of searching, I decided to write and photograph the book that Chris so desperately wanted to read."

According to Kimiko, "Working on my books has helped me make sense of my life and helped me deal with the pain of growing up Eurasian. There were children in my neighborhood who wouldn't play with me when I was a kid. Some of them threw rocks at me and called me, "slanty eyes." Having grown up wishing I looked like most everyone else, I understand how important it is to give children an awareness and appreciation of our external differences and a realization that, underneath it all, we are very much the same. I feel that through teaching children to respect others we give them something even more important: self-respect."

"For several years, I have truly enjoyed reading old Japanese folklore and adapting those stories for an American audience. This is very therapeutic work for me. When I was little, I would go to sleep and wish that I would wake up looking like all the other kids. Now, I take pride in my heritage. Writing books has helped me grow as a person. I

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 160 reviews
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,711 followers
January 26, 2009
The purpose of a picture book? Think carefully now. The answer’s not going to jump up and bite you on the bum. Does it exist primarily to instill a love of literature? A love of art? To teach children to read? Is it an artistic form in and of itself, separate entirely from its practical purposes? Is it made to please adults with children as a secondhand afterthought, or does it please all persons regardless of age? Such questions do not always come up after reading one of these 32-odd page creations. To be perfectly honest, I am rarely challenged when a read a Seuss, a Willems, or a Scarry (sorry, y’all). And then I’ll pick up something that doesn’t follow conventional rules or patterns. Maurice Sendak will have such an effect on my brain. So too, but for entirely different reasons, will Ed Young. No one questions his talent, but not everyone likes his style, in spite of the fact that that very style changes from book to book. He might be downright conventional in My Mei Mei then break out the crazy juice for Wabi Sabi. His tales can be as straightforward as Caldecott winner Lon Po Po or as downright brain twistingly loopy as Beyond the Great Mountains. With Young you never know what you’re going to get next. And next, in this particular case, is Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa. A straightforward story with pictures that are anything but.

When the rice harvest festival is nigh the villagers all gather on the beach at the foot of a mountain to celebrate. Everyone, that is, except for Ojisan and his grandson. The wealthiest man in the village, Ojisan lives simply and humbly on the top of the mountain with his beautiful fields of rice. On the day of the festival, however, something doesn’t feel right to him. An earthquake occurs, but though he’s felt many before this one seems different. And when he looks at the sea he realizes to his horror that the sea is running away from the land. A tsunami is coming, and all those little people down below will be killed if he doesn’t do something. So by setting fire to his precious rice fields, Ojisan lures the villagers up the mountain just in time to escape the vicious, inhuman disaster that is about to occur.

Strange but true fact: After a devastating tsunami wrecks havoc somewhere in the world I will often find several parents asking me for picture books about tsunamis for their children. I’m not entirely certain what impulse is at work here. Scary thing happens ipso facto I shall find a book that will make it not as scary? It doesn’t really matter what the thought process is anyway since we don’t really have any tsunami picture books in my collection. Oh we have hurricane books out the wazoo, sure. Hurricane books are a dime a dozen. But just try to locate a picture book about gigantic waves that crush villages and you are out of luck (ditto on tornadoes, oddly). I can only assume that until now there has been a vague sense in the publishing community that the public is not keen on huge scary natural disasters rendered equally huge and scary on the picture book page. Something must have convinced Philomel that the market was out there. I just hope the kids who live in coastal areas are clear on what they’re getting themselves into when they read this.

Because to be perfectly frank, Ed Young’s art isn’t pulling any punches with this puppy. The cover alone should be enough to convince you of that. Let’s just admire that cover image for a second, shall we? The mixed media really suits it. Mixed media’s such a weird form of art. It all boils down to some artist ripping apart some material and then sticking it onto a flat surface so that it looks like something else entirely. The difficulty in doing this is in making the image look like a three dimensional scene, entirely apart from the three dimensional aspects of the original material itself. No small feat. But for a book about a tsunami, the pairing of mixed media and gigantic destructive waves is ingenious. Little ripped pieces of paper become inanimate victims of a natural disaster. The dwarfing affect is ideal, as is the fact that the rips, snares, and tears all add to the violence of the ocean’s wave. On the cover the crest of the tsunami is constructed out of what looks like the thinnest overlaying of white tissue fibers. You can practically feel the suck of the tide. Brilliant.

Inside the book it’s a whole other ballgame. Some images are self-explanatory and easy to understand. When Ojisan sets fire to his rice fields there is no misunderstanding as to what he is doing (to say nothing of the look of confused anguish on his grandson’s face). Other pictures take more work. Ojisan looking down the mountain at the celebration below shows the villagers as no larger than the tiniest squares of confetti. It takes a minute to decipher but it’s still understandable. Far more difficult is the tsunami’s effect itself. When the sea returns “to its ancient bed” we’ve a confusing shot of water, sky, mountain, and villagers. It takes some time to realize which end is up. That’s the difficulty with this book. Young doesn’t feel hampered in by up or down or left or right. Images are meant to be viewed on their side, looking down a path, or viewed from below up up up. Impatient parents will twist and turn this book, deciding in the end that it isn’t worth their time. Smart ones will turn it into a game with their kids, asking them to interpret the more difficult images on their own. I suspect that the adult who goes with the latter plan might learn a little something about the images each time this happens. It’s worth a shot anyway.

It’s a little unfair that I’ve spent this much time talking about the art in this book and so little time discussing the writing. That’s the price any author pays when they’re paired with a Caldecott medalist, I guess. Now I’ve heard a tale or two about the creation of this book, and whether or not this story is true is probably up for question. The way I hear it, Kajikawa submitting this story years ago to Penguin. And Young considered it for quite some time, but couldn’t quite figure out how to illustrate it. Then a real tsunami, a big tsunami, hit another part of the world and the floodgates (so to speak) opened. He had his style. But it’s Kajikawa’s words that make this as accessible a story as it is. In fact, I found it a real pity that the design of the book had relegated her words to a black bar at the bottom of the page. This tale is precise and to the point. It plays up the natural tension, from Ojisan’s foreshadowing “Something does not feel right” to his frantic attempts to lure the villagers away from their own imminent demise. And the fact that it has something to say about sacrifice and wealth? Doesn’t hurt matters any.

Still deciding whether or not to read or purchase it? Take a look at the only wordless two-page spread in the book. After all the villagers have hurried up the mountain to put out the flaming fields they ask Ojisan why they are there. In answer he merely turns to the sea and says, “Kita!” The next two-page spread is absolutely terrifying. A wave, pure black until its crest, towers above the land. The purple sky above is almost entirely hidden in the midst of the oncoming spray and sea. It is the end of the world as we know it. Nature at its darkest. And depending on your child it will inspire both their dreams and their nightmares. You need to figure out exactly how much of either you feel comfortable informing. Of course, it’s certainly not the most kid-friendly (heck, user-friendly) of Young’s titles. Too artistic? Maybe a little. But it also happens to be a great story and a visual entrancer. If it’s man versus nature you seek, look no further than Tsunami! Like nothing else out there I can name.

Ages 4-8.
Profile Image for Sophia.
17 reviews3 followers
March 22, 2011
This is my read aloud for this week -- for all grade levels, K-5. In light of what has happened in Japan, I want our students to get a sense of understanding of what is happening in the world around them. I choked up several times while reading this book this morning.
Profile Image for 538AM_Steph.
8 reviews
October 8, 2013
"Tsunami!" takes the reader to a rural town in early 20th century Japan during a traditional rice harvest celebration. During the festivities, the town elder senses the severity of one of the earthquakes that causes no alarm to the the villagers who are too preoccupied with the festivities to notice the magnitude of this particular tremor in a land frequently shaken with earthquakes. The elder ignites his rice field, which is the source of his entire year’s income, that triggers the villagers to race up the mountain to help the village elder extinguish the fire, where together they watch in horror as their town is washed away by the sea.

"Tsunami!" was published two years before the devastating March 2011 tsunami that struck northern Japan, but illustrates the community-oriented society of the Japanese that was witnessed by the world after the 2011 natural disaster. This book could tie to the curriculum as a lesson on the science behind an earthquake and tsunami, to the social studies side of the story where a class can discuss the effects natural disasters have on communities, or to the history of the March 2011 tsunami. In addition to the links to curriculum, this book provides a window into the Japanese culture of rice farmers, who surprisingly constitute much of Japan to this day. The illustrations further the cultural experience for the reader as Young utilizes traditional Japanese handmade paper to illustrate what the fields and villages look like in rural Japan and what cultural festivities are performed during harvest.

In addition to painting a picture of life in Japan, Kajikawa inserts a few Japanese words throughout the story, forcing the reader who does not understand Japanese to rely on contextual clues to understand what these words mean. Because translating the depth of what some of these words convey in their native language is difficult, I thought this choice to include the actual Japanese word was very appropriate and could lead to discussion with the class about how words sometimes carry more meaning than a translation can provide.

Even though "Tsunami!" has many positive attributes, perhaps my favorite part of the book is the theme that taking care of your neighbors is more important than any wealth you may have. Overall, I would recommend this book to its intended audience of kindergarten, first, and second graders as well as older elementary students who could do extended projects from it.
January 28, 2013
Tsunami is adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s story “A Living God” is a story about a rice farmer name Ojiisan which mean “grandfather” who lived in a Japanese village by the sea. Ojiisan is the wealthiest person in the village and lived on a high mountain that overlooked the village and the sea. One day during the rice harvest ceremony approached a tsunami that only Ojiisan saw from his mountain top cottage. Oijjsan made the ultimate sacrifice to save all the villagers who were celebrating the rice harvest down by the sea by sacrificing his only means of support and finance.

Tsunami is a wonderful story that teachers can read to their classroom and have discussion on the power of what one person sacrifice can do to change the lives of so many others in the community.

The illustration in the story are done with collage and present to its reader a stunning and vivid image of the effect a natural disaster such as a Tsunami have on our planet.

I would recommend this book to children ages 3 up / Grade K up. For younger children this book is a great read aloud and many opportunities for open ended questions and answers about tsunami. For older students they can research and then describe how a tsunami occurs and where tsunamis take place. The students can then create a time line of major tsunamis in history and discuss how they could prepare for a tsunami.
Tsunami is a good book to use as a teaching tool the next time there is a tsunami that causes destruction somewhere in the world.

Tsunami won the Parent’s Choice Silver Honor 2009.
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,117 reviews103 followers
January 29, 2009
Ojiisan is the wealthiest person in his small village. His wisdom has people walking the crooked track up the mountain to ask for his advice. Ojiisan decides not to go to the rice harvest celebration in the village because something does not feel right to him. So he watches the celebration from high above on the mountain. When the first earthquake comes it doesn't stop the celebration below. Then Ojiisan sees the sea moving away from the shore, he realizes what is happening - tsunami! But how can he warn the villagers celebrating below him?

This simple, strong story about one man's sacrifice to save others in danger is breathtaking. Young's paper illustrations are gripping and fully capture the incredible strength of the disaster and the wonder of survival. Kajikawa's text is short, simple and even more effective for those reasons. There is enough drama to carry the story forward without flowery language.

Highly recommended and timely, this book will not sit still on the shelf. The cover alone will sell it and just wait until people take a peek inside! Wonderful storytelling combined with great illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Profile Image for Esther.
92 reviews
March 10, 2011
Published in 2009 by Philomel
Interest Level: 5th-8th Grade

This was an interesting perspective of a Tsunami and its effect on people. The main characters of the story, the grandfather and grandson, set fire to their grain to save the villagers who are to busy celebrating in a festival to realize that a giant Tsunami wave is coming. I was somewhat confused by the story, since in my understanding a Tsunami is a hurricane, but then I realized that it is a giant tidal wave. The illustrations are in a collage form that makes for quite crowded illustrations that are distracting from the story for me. The story is relegated to a small area at the bottom of the page and the collage illustrations take up the entire two-page spread. I also had a problem with the way the grandfather and grandson were illustrated, since their skin color continued to change throughout the book (they started out brown and went to an orange-red color). I am not sure how culturally authentic this method of illustration or use of color was, but the story seemed to be authentic. I wish there had been more development of culture in the story besides including some Japanese words and a Japanese festival.
Profile Image for Anna.
87 reviews4 followers
November 18, 2013
Tsunami! / Kimiko Kajikawa, Ed Young--Illustrator / 2009
Genre: non-fiction
Format: picture book
Plot Summary: A wealthy man in a Japanese village, who everyone calls Ojiisan, which means grandfather, sets fire to his rice fields to warn the innocent people of an approaching tsunami.
Considerations: suspenseful overtones

Review Citation: School Library Journal, vol 55, issue 1, p76
"Young uses a panoply of papers to create collages that tell the story of a sacrifice that saved hundreds of lives. Patterned and marbled papers, fibrous grass cloth, translucent rice paper and tissue, photographic magazine papers, and even corrugated cardboard are keenly cut, roughly torn, layered, wrinkled, mounted, and manipulated to produce images that range from dead calm to the sea-spittled tumult of a roiling vortex that promises to consume everything in its path. The art reflects the frenzy of the events and is a departure from the more serene, controlled, and balanced work we know of Young."

Selection Source: ALA Notable Children's Books 2010
Recommended age: 5-8
1 review1 follower
January 27, 2009
Tsunami is a beautiful story, scary but human and satisfying.
Profile Image for Linda.
67 reviews5 followers
March 23, 2009
Great story about a sensitive rice farmer who knew what was most important and how to take care of people - based on a true story
Profile Image for Emily.
646 reviews36 followers
August 12, 2015
A gorgeous, darkly illustrated book about sacrifice, and possibly something more about respecting nature and valuing life over livelihood. Layers in meaning and layers in the collage art.
Profile Image for Carla.
32 reviews
August 29, 2021
Long ago in Japan a wise old rice farmer who the villagers refer to as Ojiisan (meaning grandfather) who listens to his instincts to not go to the rice harvest celebration with his family. He and his grandson stayed behind and felt an earthquake and as all became still quickly the celebration continued on. Ojiisan noticed it felt different than past earthquakes he has felt and looks to sea to see it pulling away signalling a tsunami will come. He tells his grandson to light a torch so that he can signal the villagers to safety. He lights his fields aflame thus drawing the villagers to come put out the fire. He does not allow them to put them out as he wants to gather all the villagers. Once all are there, the tsunami comes swallowing the village and the villagers understand why Ojiisan set his fields aflame. He is honoured with a temple and is forever remembered by the village through the retelling of his heroism to future generations.

This story is adapted from The Fire of Rice Sheaves by Lafcadio Hearn, which is based on the true story of Goryo Hamaguchi setting fire to rice straws to guide villagers to safety from the 1854 tsunami in Hiro (present day Hirogawa). The message of the story is of man versus nature and the noble actions of a wise old farmer to save his fellow villagers. Ed Young uses collages of hand-painted papers, fabric and organic material to illustrate the story. As the tension builds in the story the composition of the collage intensifies and becomes more dynamic until calm returns.

This story can be read with a range of school-age children. While the imagery can be intense and the story can be frightening to some audiences, it resolves in a peaceful way. It can provide a great starting point to discuss natural events like earthquakes and tsunamis. The moral message can be understood and dissected with all ages. It is a great book to talk about foreshadowing and the inclusion of Japanese language within a mostly English text.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephanie Cunningham.
51 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2017
This book is about a man named Oijisan. He is the wealthiest man in the village he lives in. One night when he was watching the rice ceremony alone on his balcony, he had a feeling something bad was going to happen. He finally saw a huge wave coming into land from the beach and he knew it was a tsunami. None of the villagers knew it was coming so he had to help. This book has a great lesson on no matter your wealth it is always important to do things to help those around you.
I liked this book because it had a really good lesson behind it. I would use this in a classroom to show students how important it is to put others before yourself and to always help others.
120 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2020
This was very interesting and even though it does directly tackle the concept of diversity, it would be one way of allowing Japanese students to see themselves in the literature that is presented. The story itself was great. Tsunamis are hugely catastrophic and have caused so much destruction over the course of time. It was nice to read a tsunami story that involved selfless sacrifice in order to save the lives of hundreds of people.
520 reviews
May 12, 2018
This picture book, done in collage style, is a beautiful story about the wise Japanese man who has a bad feeling so does not venture down to the village celebrations. Then he sees the sea pulling away from the land. This tells the story of how he saves the villagers from the tsunami. A beautiful book.
Profile Image for Savannah Webster.
113 reviews4 followers
June 1, 2018
A dramatic story about a wealthy rice farmer called Ojiisan "grandfather" who burns his own fields in order to warn the oblivious townspeople about a "monster wave" about to hit their village. The paper collage style in the illustrations by Ed Young are absolutely beautiful. Great story to read when discussing natural disasters, Japanese culture, and going above and beyond in caring for others.
327 reviews
July 26, 2017
The ripped paper collage artwork in this book is stunning. It tells of a tsunami that arrives at a small village. The description of the tsunami arriving, which is slow, allows the characters to develop.
February 25, 2018
I think that this book talks about what is happening in the world. It can be a really exciting book for students and them wanting to read something that is very exciting. It talks about the effects about a tsunami and how the natural disaster affects them.
Profile Image for Marcia.
3,247 reviews15 followers
April 1, 2018
A retelling of an old Japanese story of a village elder who saves the lives of the villagers as a tsunami approaches. A terrific book on many levels, including Ed Young's the gorgeous collage illustrations.
Profile Image for Jodi.
199 reviews11 followers
June 6, 2018
Some of the illustrations were a little abstract for my taste, but the page of the tsunami was breathtaking.
Profile Image for Erin Buhr.
Author 5 books34 followers
July 9, 2018
Powerful story about a man who saves a village from a Tsunami. Beautifully illustrated with torn paper art and simply, but elegantly told.
April 24, 2019
This entire book was adorable, from the illustrations to the actual story. This is a heart warming book that reminds people of what is really important.
Profile Image for Lynn.
3,191 reviews55 followers
August 8, 2019
Wonderful Japanese story of a wealthy villager whose crops are on high ground who recognizes the signs of a tsunami and sets his crops on fire to warn others and save their lives.
Profile Image for Angela Germany.
178 reviews11 followers
January 17, 2020
Such a great book. I read this one over and over with my children. We also love the paper collage artwork.
Profile Image for Sherry.
500 reviews
February 5, 2020
I had a hard time putting down this beautifully illustrated story of how Ojiisan sacrifices his wealth to save his 400 fellow villagers from a tsunami.
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