A shape-shifting teapot which releases a mischievous tanuki when heated. A fatherless hapa Japanese American boy headed to Japan to stay with his mother’s father whom he barely knows. Two stories, two cultures, two vastly different worlds, all intertwine to create a fantastical adventure in Ryan Inzana‘s surprising, highly original Ichiro.
In a New York City subway, young Ichiro watches his Japanese American mother accosted by street youths with their racist comments of “chink-ee eyes” and “could blind her wit’ dental floss.” She doesn’t engage, merely moving away, assuming (hoping) that Ichiro’s headphones have kept him protected for the time being. Ironically, and sadly, Ichiro is learning a not dissimilar racism from his bitter American grandfather – having lost his son, Ichiro’s father, to war – directed at the diverse immigrants in their post-9/11 neighborhood.
Ichiro is not quite ready to visit his mother’s homeland where she will work and he will be left behind with his Japanese grandfather. In Japan, Ichiro doesn’t quite fit in either, clearly being more American than Japanese … and the local bullies know how to make him feel unwelcome. But his grandfather is patient and gentle, ready with both historical and cultural lessons and insight. Having survived WWII, he also explains a very different view of war and its aftermath to his unaware grandson.
One night, Ichiro ventures out into his grandfather’s backyard where he’s set a trap to catch whoever – or whatever – has been stealing all the ripening fruit. When he startles a hungry tanuki, Ichiro is suddenly pulled into a completely different world … where all hell breaks loose – literally. He’s about to experience a war of his own … good guys, bad guys, and all the other characters in between …
The constant movement Inzana captures in his sweeping art quickly draws readers into his multi-layered story. Moments that might occasionally seem overly didactic to adult readers as Ichiro is forced to outgrow his simplified, childhood view of clear-cut right and wrong will probably go unnoticed by the book’s intended audience of middle grade and high school readers. In spite of the story’s swift pace, young readers will hopefully pause to give serious consideration to the all-encompassing tragedies of war, violence, collateral damage, in addition to everyday acts including bullying.
While Inzana entertains, he also gives warning. “What is the world coming to?” the final panel asks in full technicolor. Surely, with the future always encroaching, our youth will need to answer sooner than later.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult