***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***
I must admit, before reading Basho’s Haiku Journeys I knew next to nothing about Matsuo Basho, the Japanese poet who lived in the seventeenth century and is credited with inventing the haiku. For those of you unfamiliar with the form, a haiku is a short-form poem most often containing seventeen syllables in three lines, with five in the first line, seven in the second line, and five in the third and last line. Most haiku are about nature and haiku purists insist that only haiku about nature can be considered true haiku, but the form has evolved to include other topics.
For most of his life, Basho lived a comfortable and cosmopolitan life in Edo, which was then the capital city of Japan. He made his living teaching and writing, but there was an unfulfilled longing inside him—to see more, to experience the vibrancy of life more fully. He lived in a hut outside Edo that his students had built for him, and one night it caught fire and burned to the ground.
Most people would feel devastated at the loss of all their earthly possessions, but Basho felt liberated. He wandered into the woods, basking in the elation he felt at his change in fortune. It was then he decided to adopt an itinerant lifestyle, beginning the first of what would become five long journeys. From 1684-1689, Basho would traverse the length of his country and write about the beauty of the natural world in books that would later become classics of Japanese literature.
Ng honors Basho by telling his story in haiku form and the result is nothing short of breathtaking. One of the hallmarks of a good book is that it leaves you wanting more and in that regard Ng has more than succeeded. Cassandra Rockwood Ghanem’s gorgeous hand-painted illustrations add depth and clarity to Basho’s story. This book is a must-purchase for children’s librarians, language arts teachers, and parents and guardians who want their children to be curious and creative citizens of the world.
Basho’s Haiku Journeys is due to be released on October 19th, 2021 by Stone Bridge Press and is now available to preorder wherever books are sold.
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