The Boy of the Three-Year Nap
Taro is a Japanese boy whose penchant for sleeping is the butt of village jokes, much to the chagrin of his poor widowed mother, who works hard to provide them with necessities. Taro cannot be coaxed into working, despite his mother’s pleas, until he falls in love with a rich merchant’s daughter and hatches a scheme to make himself wealthy. The author’s foreword explains that many gods and demons inhabit Japanese folklore, which will help readers understand how Taro, disguised as a local deity, is able to convince the rich neighbor that his daughter must wed the laziest boy in town. Say’s art, with stylized Oriental touches, comically animates the sprightly tale, perfectly matching the abundant wit of Snyder’s adaptation. Ages 4 and Up. (Amazon.com)
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Houghton Mifflin Company
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Review of Boy of the Three Year Nap
Set in a town along the Nagara River, this story is about a lazy boy and his mother. It is a delightful story about how brains and cunning win the day (and the girl and wealth!)
As would be indicated by its being a Caldecott Honor book, the pictures are beautiful and show traditional Japanese dress, homes, temples, scenery, and jobs. Inferences about the Shinto religion are included as (SPOILER ALERT!), the son dresses up as Ujigami, the patron god of the town, threatening to turn the wealthy merchant's daughter into a clay pot if she is not married off immediately to that "napping boy." The man's fear and his immediate actions to implement this plan show the power of the religion. In reviewing this book, I read it outloud to my 10-year old twins over breakfast. They both laughed at the story, finding it charming and delightful.
Like stories of many cultures, everyone lives happily ever after and no one is worse for a trick being played for love. This story could be compared to Cinderella (where a girl's identity is hidden to gain the love of a wealthy, powerful man), to Puss-in-Boots (where the cat's lies allow a poor man to marry a rich woman), etc. In all of these stories, status (and what connotes status and how one attains status) can be deconstructed, helping students see the similarities and differences among cultures.