In his engaging debut, author Raymond Nakamura puts a feminist bent on the Japanese folk tale Momotaro (Peach Boy).
In Nakamura’s version, a young girl emerges from a giant peach discovered on the doorstep of an elderly couple (who are, notably, a farmer and her husband). Momoko, which translates as “Peach Girl,” is a feisty creature determined to make the world a better place, a mission that involves ridding it of a child-eating ogre. Gently shrugging off her adoptive parents’ concerns for her safety, Momoko embarks on her quest with peach-pit armour for protection, plus a bundle of peach dumplings to eat on the way.
As with the original fable, Momoko encounters a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant who join in her quest. Nearing the ogre’s castle, her companions become frightened, but Momoko’s courage never falters. Her good faith doesn’t waver either, and is rewarded when the ogre turns out to be kind and friendly, inviting Momoko and her friends to have tea beneath the cherry blossoms in his garden.
Rebecca Bender, known for her acclaimed Giraffe and Bird books, provides the delightful illustrations. Her people and animals are gorgeously animated, with fabulous facial expressions. The backgrounds feature beautiful spreads of the Japanese landscape, including mountains and rice fields. Such attention to detail is the highlight of the book.
While the narrative is shallow in spots, readers will appreciate the surprise ending and find the repeated language appealing – Momoko’s “Peachy” catchphrase in particular. Nakamura’s playful twists on gender tropes combined with Bender’s outstanding visuals make this a fun and important book for boys and girls alike.