Author: Arlene Mosel
Artist: Blair Lent
Genre: Drama / Adventure / Folktale
Year Published: 1972
Year Read: 2013
Content Rating: Ages 5+ (Some Scary Scenes involving Monsters)
I have been reading many folktales from Japan for many years now, but if there was one Japanese folktale that I was pleasantly surprised in liking, it would be “The Funny Little Woman,” retold by Arlene Mosel along with illustrations by Blair Lent and has won the Caldecott Medal. This story is truly fun and fascinating to read for anyone who is a fan of Japanese folktales!
In this story, there was once a little woman who had the habit of laughing at every single thing. One day, she was making her rice dumplings when one of the dumplings fell through a hole in the ground. When the little woman tried to get it, she ended up falling into the hole and into the underground home of the wicked Oni. The Oni wanted the little woman to cook rice for them and even though the little woman cooked for them, she was starting to get homesick and she tried to find ways to get back home.
Arlene Mosel’s retelling of this ancient Japanese story was truly hilarious and intense at the same time as I loved the little woman’s adventures in the Oni world! I really loved the way that Arlene Mosel wrote the little woman as being a truly unique character as she never stops laughing, which is a characteristic I found endearing and she has no fear of the dreaded Oni. I also loved the tension that the Oni had brought to the story as I was seriously sitting on the edge of my seat trying to see if the little woman would be able to escape from the Oni. Blair Lent’s artwork is truly creative as the colorings of the artwork splits up between the little woman’s home above ground and the Oni world underground. I find it surprising that the Oni world is in color while the little woman’s home above ground is in black and white colorings (although earlier on in the book, the little woman’s home above ground was still in color until she fell into the Oni world). I found this transition between the two worlds to be extremely creative as we are able to see effectively how much time the little woman spent in the Oni world while life goes on above the Oni world. I also loved the appearance of the Oni themselves as they look truly frightening as they are shown in blue colorings and have three eyes on their heads and sharp teeth, which shows how threatening they could be to the main protagonist of the story.
Parents should know that the Oni might scare smaller children, especially for the fact that they kidnapped the little woman and forced her to cook for them. Parents might want to use this story as an opportunity to teach their children about the dangers of approaching unknown places alone and how they should deal with these situations.
Overall, “The Funny Little Woman” is a truly fantastic tale about the danger of wondering into strange places that both parents and kids will enjoy for many years! I would recommend this book to children ages five and up since the scenes with the Oni might scare smaller children.