At Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2016 in Singapore, Japan featured as Country of Focus. Events included a launch for the picture book Monster Day on Tabletop Hill (above right), written by Japanese author Akiko Sueyoshi*, translated by Cathy Hirano, and illustrated by David Liew. AFCC Publications: ISBN 978-9810993542. Photo by Kua Chee Siong/The Straits Times.
By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore
When an award-winning author, translator and illustrator all come together to create a book, the result can be nothing but special. That’s the first thought that comes to mind while reading Monster Day on Tabletop Hill. Author Akiko Sueyoshi’s latest work, in collaboration with acclaimed translator Cathy Hirano and sculptor-turned-illustrator David Liew, is a lively story about Forky, the little fork boy who lives in a mug-cup shaped house.
Forky is out playing in Sugar Cube Park on Monster Day, when he hears bells clanging, announcing the arrival of the guardians of clean, Grandpa Sweep-Sweep and Granny Wipe-Wipe, who sweep-sweep and wipe-wipe at everything that’s in their path, determined to get Tabletop Hill as clean as can be. It’s a particularly distressing day for carelessly wandering creatures and monsters, who may well be swept away into nothingness, never to return.
While dodging this bustling pair, Forky chances upon a glowing pumpkin in the middle of a field. And out of this pumpkin house comes a delightfully motley crew: little biscuit bats, musical chocolate skeletons and . . . the four Marshomon.
Monsters though they are, Forky isn’t afraid of the Marshomon at all, joining in their dancing and inviting them all out to play in Sugar Cube Park, where they shoot at lollipops till scrumptious ice-cream and juices ooze out.
Their wonderful adventure must end, however, when the ominous bells clang once again and the doors to Pumpkin House begin to close. A pacey and engaging read, Forky’s adventure will keep little readers in thrall from beginning to end.
This book is one more feather in the cap of award-winning children’s author Akiko Sueyoshi, who is no stranger to picture books. Her most popular story, the long-selling Mori no Kakurenbō (Hide-and-Seek in the Forest), was first published in 1978. Since then, she has won several awards for her work, including the Shogakukan Children’s Publication Culture Award in 1999 for Amefuribana Saita (When the Rainflowers Bloomed) and two Newcomer Prizes for Hoshi ni kaetta shōjo (The Girl Who Returned to the Star), as well as the Noma Award for Children’s Literature for Mama no kīroi kozō (Mummy’s Little Yellow Elephant).
Monster on Tabletop Hill is written in prose, in Sueyoshi’s typically concise style and filled with little details that set the mood of the story. The work of Cathy Hirano, translator of the Moribito series with two Batcheldor Awards under her belt, means that both English and Japanese audiences can enjoy this bilingual picture book in the best possible way. Hirano’s contribution to Sueyoshi’s story is subtle but evident; the translation is simple and energetic, faithful to the mood and setting of the original Japanese text.
Bright and quirky illustrations by David Liew—known to fans as Wolfe, the illustrator of the Ellie Belly series written by Eliza Teoh—bring this delightful little story entirely to life. The expressions on Forky’s face, the chocolate skeletons with their instruments and a grinning pumpkin house all add significant depth to the text.
The whole story with its joyful illustrations, written simply but so engagingly, carries with it an air of a fun celebration, where monsters with swirling scarves dance to the beat of drums and lost hats can be the beginning of a friendship. Sadly, the monsters must soon return to their pumpkin lair and we are forced to say goodbye to little Forky. His romp with the Marshomon and the other monsters is over far too soon.
Malavika Nataraj is the author of Suraya’s Gift: The Story Catcher Children and is an aspiring Japanese-to-English translator.
*Editors’ note: It is with great sadness that we report the death of Akiko Sueyoshi (1942–2016), the author of Monster Day on Tabletop Hill. Ms. Sueyoshi passed away due to cancer on May 28, 2016, two days after her final picture book was launched at AFCC. We understand that she was able to view the finished book before her death. News of her passing in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Japanese is here. A description of her life and works in English is here. Her photo at left appears on the website of AFCC, where she spoke in 2013. After a full life in which she gladdened the hearts of countless children, may she rest in peace.