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Umbrella
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Review of UMBRELLA by Taro Yashima

by Becky Laney

Yashima, Taro. 1977. Umbrella. New York: Puffin Books. ISBN: 0-14-050240-8

Umbrella is a charming story written and illustrated by Taro Yashima. Momo has just celebrated her third birthday. She is anxiously awaiting a chance to use her birthday presents: an umbrella and red rubber boots. Throughout Indian summer, Momo tries every excuse to get her parents to let her use the boots and umbrella: “I need my umbrella. The sunshine bothers my eyes!” (8) or “I certainly need my umbrella today! The wind must bother my eyes!” (10). But her mother tells her again and again, “Let’s keep it for a rainy day.” Well, Momo had to wait for “many, many days”until the rain fell (12). When the rain finally came, Momo was so excited that she “did not stop to wash her face. She even pulled the boots onto her bare feet” (14). Momo finally had the chance to use her boots and umbrella. In addition to telling a story of a preschooler’s impatience and eagerness, the story also tells of a child’s growing independence. With the rain comes an opportunity for Momo to grow and mature. “The street was crowded and noisy, but she whispered to herself, ‘I must walk straight, like a grown-up lady!’” (18). Momo also shows signs of becoming more responsible, “She did not forget her umbrella when her father came to take her home. She used to forget her mittens or her scarf so easily -- but not her umbrella” (24). The story concludes with this memorable note, “It was not only the first day in her life that she used her umbrella, it was also the first day in her life that she walked alone, without holding either her mother’s or her father’s hand” (32).

Umbrella has many wonderful features that make it such a memorable book. Taro Yashima’s illustrations are wonderful. His illustrations are simple, colorful, and perfectly match the tone of the text. For example, on pages eight and nine, the text is describing an extraordinarily bright sunny day. “The sun was brighter than ever . . . she was watching the sunshine in her milk glass” (8). The illustrations are bright yellow, and orange accented with some green, red, and brown. The reader instantly knows just how bright the sun must be simply from how bright the picture is. (The page does stand out in comparison to other pages.) The same holds true for other pages in the book. There is a different look and feel for sun, wind, rain, etc.

Another memorable feature of the book is Taro Yashima’s use of language. As a child, the best part of the book were the “bon polos.” On page twenty and twenty-eight, Taro Yashima paints a word picture of how the rain sounded on Momo’s umbrella. “On the umbrella, raindrops made a wonderful music she had never heard before -- Bon polo bon polo ponpolo pon polo ponpolo pon polo bolo bolo ponpolo bolo bolo ponpolo boto boto ponpolo boto boto ponpolo” (20, 28). (On page twenty-eight, Taro Yashima adds an additional line of text, “all the way home.”) The text is rhythmic, repetitious, and indeed “wonderful music” to a young child’s ears!

Umbrella is a wonderful example of a culturally authentic picture book by an Asian American. Taro Yashima and his wife, Mitsu, immigrated from Japan. Momo is their daughter. The book was dedicated to Momo for her eighth birthday. “Momo is the name of a little girl who was born in New York. The word Momo means “the peach” in Japan where her father and mother used to live” (2). In addition, Taro Yashima depicts several Japanese words/characters throughout the text: spring (2), summer (6), rain (12), and peach (30). The text clearly depicts an Asian American family living within the United States. It is both culturally authentic (no yellow skin) and universally appealing.

Originally published in 1958, Umbrella is still worthy of attention and praise. It was one of my favorite picture books growing up. His illustrations and rhythmic text definitely bring back happy memories of my mother reading books aloud to me! I actually have a tape of my mother reading this book out loud to me with me squealing with joy about the “bon polos”!

Note: The bibliographical information on UMBRELLA is based on my own copy of the book. It was originally published in 1958 not 1977!

JUST FOR FUN...

Here's a poem I wrote as a tribute to my all-time favorite book...

Bon Polo

By Becky Laney

Bon polo
Bon polo
Words that roll off your tongue.
Words that convey the message of youth.
Sitting in my mother's lap.
Arms wrapped tightly round.
I sit and listen one more time
To the words I love to hear:
Bon polo
Bon polo

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