June 16, 2014

Peach Girl

by Raymond Nakamura
Illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
May 2014

Here is the story that will bring a smile to every reader's face and teach the value of seeking the truth rather than paying attention to rumours.  It's a sweet story about a brave little girl named Momoko who bursts forth from a peach deposited at the door of a childless farming couple, determined to make the world a better place.

Momoko waits only long enough for her new mother to make clothes for her from the peach skin, for her father to construct a helmet and shield from the peach pit, and for peach dumplings to be made to stave off hunger on her journey.  
"Peachy," said Momoko. "Now I'm ready to go."
Her first goal in making the world a better place is to locate an ogre purported to eat small children.  Along the way, Momoko encounters Monkey, then Dog and finally Pheasant, all who tell her where they believe the ogre lives and the horrors of his size, his teeth and his eyes.  Though each is nervous, the promise of dumplings that the animals can see and smell convince them to join her.

Working together to reach the ogre's island castle, the bravado each exhibits dissipates quickly, except for Momoko, whose sureness of purpose and diplomatic inquiries welcome the truth of the ogre.

Based on a traditional Japanese folktale about a peach boy named Momotaro who fights demons, Raymond Nakamura updates the story with a strong female protagonist as an activist, rather than a warrior.  Her no-nonsense attitude and tact are the armaments of her endeavour, ones she embodies rather than carries. 

However, I have to say that her outfit and accessories are rather peachy, and her face inspiring, all courtesy of illustrator Rebecca Bender, art director at Pajama Press.  The realism of Rebecca Bender's artwork is not weighed down with excessive detail, though it is sufficient to engage the readers in a storytelling that could be real, until the ogre shows up, of course.  

Momoko's disregard for rumours and the directness of her engagement with everyone, from her parents to the animals and the ogre, can certainly teach us all a lesson or two.  With fortitude and respect (she never negates the animals' stories of the ogre), and a healthy dose of trust, Momoko is able to make a start on creating a better world.

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