There are several excellent, insightful reviews of The Story of Crow Boy, on stage February 18–28, 2016, at Minneapolis’ (MN) In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Links to these reviews are below, and I won’t restate their content here except to reiterate that the work tells the story of the Caldecott Honor (1956) book Crow Boy’s author and illustrator, Taro Yashima (the pen name of Atsushi Iwamatsu).
What I do wish to remark upon in this literary venue is the genesis of this show, a seed planted decades ago through the pages of a picture book into the creative, brilliant, inspired mind and spirit of a teenaged Sandy Spieler (one of the founders of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and its artistic director since 1976). The book eventually brought Spieler to the larger story of its author/illustrator, which she and her amazing collaborators bring to joyful, painful, piercing, and ultimately hopeful life on the stage.
Take heed and take heart, those of you who are makers of books for the young. Your stories matter, these works of first Art you create for children through text and through pictures. Write and draw truth and joy and friendship and power and overcoming and the exquisite natural world and human experience. Your stories burrow and blossom in still-malleable young minds; they are busy nurturing roots of strength and purpose and hope and transformation long after you have turned your own attention toward other tales.97
If you are able to attend the Heart of the Beast show, please know that there are some extremely intense and soul searing segments in the work, documenting portions of this world’s evil history that must be remembered. The staging expands our understanding of atrocities as they affect individuals and families, even though we can’t possibly comprehend the true magnitude of loss and devastation behind those flashes with which we are presented. The show is definitely not for children. (The theatre’s publicity states that the “show is recommended for age 11 and older.”)
The intricate interplay of puppetry, projections, masks, human actors, and music in the show is seamless, inspired and often magical. Small moments such as the book-loving boy puppet Taro snuggling to sleep literally between the covers of a book, and later launching into a brief moment of flight from his perch on the pages will transfix any bibliophile’s heart.
The program notes cite Taro Yashima’s dedication “against all odds, to a tenacious belief in the ability of art to transform the world.” Certainly Art that is made especially for children—and actually for children—does have this capacity, since children are the ones who may be able to ultimately transform this world. Thank you, children’s book makers, for giving them seeds of inspiration and strength through your books.
“At Heart of the Beast, a Children’s Book Grows Up” by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio News
“Crow Boy Takes Flight at Heart of the Beast,” by Graydon Roye, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater Takes Flight with Crow Boy,” by Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press
“HOBT’s Much Anticipated The Story of Crow Boy on Stage Feb 18–28,” press release, Phillips West News
A description of the play from In the Heart of the Beast’s website:
The Story of Crow Boy explores the intriguing life story of Taro Yashima who wrestled with human brutality, racial discrimination, and the ravages of WWII to build work of social conscience, compassionate insight, poetic visual form, and ultimately—of joy. Yashima reminds us what it means to be human, and offers understanding into the complexities of cultural survival. This production draws on his autobiographical and fictional books including the Caldecott Honor Award-winning Crow Boy (1956) about a young boy who learns to sing the “voices of crows” in defiance of his years of being bullied.