Status: Ongoing (currently 4 volumes)
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Rin loves solo camping, and even though she’s only in high school, she’s already made numerous camping trips on her own. The quiet, the beauty of the scenery, the delicious camp food . . . it’s all quite enchanting. On one camping trip, Rin encounters another student, Nadeshiko, who is about as bubbly and enthusiastic as Rin is calm and collected. Yet the two quickly form a fast–if unusual–friendship, texting back and forth, trading camping advice, and sending pictures of places they’ve gone. Sometimes they even go camping together with Nadeshiko’s outdoor club from school, which is fun too, if a different sort of fun from the camping to which Rin is accustomed.
Laid-Back Camp is a very unusual but charming manga. It’s very chill–the “laid-back” in the title is quite appropriate. There’s a seinen flavor to the story, even though the main characters are all high-school girls. And it’s a very cute, fun story revolving around Rin and Nadeshiko in their separate camping-related endeavors (Rin’s solo camping trips to fabulous locales, Nadeshiko’s goofing around with her school club, shopping trips to camping supply stores, and group camping trips) while also developing the unusual friendship between these two. The other side of this manga is that it is, in fact, a camping manga. Which doesn’t mean you have to like camping or be interested in it to enjoy the story; it’s cute and fun either way. But if you are interested, the manga actually provides a lot of information–comparing camping supplies based on cost and utility, describing various sorts of campsites, even going over camp-friendly recipes. It’s pretty cool, giving lots of info without obnoxiously overriding the story. I’ve really enjoyed reading Laid-Back Camp and look forward to reading future volumes of it.
My rating: 5 of 5
Satsuki, her father, and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.
My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.
Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker
Author/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Little Owl loves flying around the forest during the night and sleeping during the day, but today’s a bit different. Somehow, Little Owl just can’t sleep even though the sun’s come up. Everything seems so different and exciting! There are all sorts of animals and things to see that Little Owl didn’t even know existed. Suddenly, the forest is like a new wonderful world to explore.
I loved Srinivasan’s first Little Owl picture book, Little Owl’s Night, and Little Owl’s Day is the perfect follow up. You get to see the daytime version of Little Owl’s forest, full of all sorts of diurnal creatures and other sights that can only be enjoyed in the sunshine, like rainbows and sun-loving flowers. There are fun tie-ins to the first book as well–like Little Owl’s finally getting to show Bear the moon. The art is superb–a really interesting style. I love that this book keeps the same general style and color themes while at the same time pulling in a much brighter palette to emphasize the difference between the day and night. The writing style is great for a preschool audience (my 1-1/2-year-old niece loves these books), while having a nice flow that’s enjoyable to read aloud–no annoying “see Spot run” sort of stuff. Definitely a recommended read for those with younger children.
Author: Lori Evert
Photographs by: Per Breiehagen
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Once upon a time, a little girl named Anja went to visit her cousins at their mountain farm. The three of them went out into the meadows, reveling in the glories of the new spring, and eventually deciding on a game of hide-and-seek. Only Anja keeps being following by a young goat that’s taken a shine to her, making it impossible for her to hide effectively. Frustrated, Anja wishes that she were so tiny that she’d be able to hide with ease . . . and remarkably, she gets her wish! What follows is a delightful romp, exploring the beauties of the mountains and having fun with all the animals who now seem huge–and able to talk with Anja. For a curious girl like Anja, this is the perfect wish!
The Tiny Wish is an absolute magical treat! I’ve seen any number of picture books that are illustrated with photographs–and that are remarkably dull. I actually tend to avoid this sort of book, usually. But The Tiny Wish is different. For one thing, it’s not just a medium to show off the photographs; there’s a rich, vibrant, imaginative, and thrilling story that will resonate with the hearts of little girls young and old. Anja’s character is charming, and the adventure of exploring the world from such a tiny, up-close perspective is delightful! In addition, the photography and digital editing work on this book is quite stunning. The settings, colors, and design are vivid and striking, and while the photographs are obviously by necessity composite works, they appear absolutely seamless. And just seeing the flowers and animals and such in such up-close detail is really neat, too. Also, I really like the design of the book itself; the way the pictures, type, blank space, and little extra designs are all fit together works really well. Finally, I really love that this is a family project–the mom’s the author, the dad’s the illustrator, and the daughter is the model for Anja–how fun is that? I would definitely recommend The Tiny Wish, especially for reading aloud with little girls who are full of curiosity about the world themselves.
It is said that the falling snowflakes are the tears of the snow maidens. But ask a snow maiden, and you might get a different story altogether. In fact, she might tell you stories similar to the ones a young traveler heard when he spoke to a pale, beautiful woman out in the snowy wilderness . . . you might even hear stories to make you weep yourself.
I love the way in which Shirahime-Syo is both very unique for CLAMP and is yet quintessentially theirs. This is a single volume of manga containing three short stories that almost resemble folk tales. This feeling is enhanced by the art style which is, again, both extremely CLAMP and yet different from their norm, evoking a more traditional Japanese painting style. It’s very beautiful, haunting almost. The style fits the stories perfectly. All three tales are of old Japan (or somewhere that looks similar), out in the wilds during the deep snows, and in each story, there is an initial impression of a man-versus-nature sort of story. Yet somehow in the midst of that, the stories get turned back upon man, showing that we are our own worst problem. The stories are poignant and beautiful, tragically lovely. I’m sure not everyone would enjoy them, but I truly think all readers would benefit from reading Shirahime-Syo at least once; it’s a moving experience.