Under the Cherry Blossom Tree: An Old Japanese Tale
Allen Say, author and illustrator
5 – 8 years
Kindergarten to 3rd grade
Originally published as Once Under the Cherry Blossom Tree: An Old Japanese Tale (1974)
eBook published 1997
Available from Amazon in Kindle edition.
When I was a child there was one book I would check out from the library. Over and over, I’d bring home Once Under the Cherry Blossom Tree. And that was back in the day when you’d write your name on the book’s library card. It was mostly my name. I remember sitting at my grandparents kitchen table, reading that book and laughing every time. Then I’d read it to anyone who would listen. I’d talk about all the absurd possibilities this book brought to mind.
Once Under the Cherry Blossom Tree, written and illustrated by Allen Say, is an old Japanese tale shared in joke houses to warm up an audience. In the story, a grumpy landlord sits under a cherry tree eating cherries while he watches everyone else having fun. He swallows a cherry pit and it works its way through his body to his head. Soon, a cherry tree begins to grow out of his head.
Now that alone would be enough fodder for children to work with. I warned people not to eat the pits. I daydreamed about birds nesting in the tree on his head. I wondered about the complications of going through doorways and other daily activities with a huge tree on your head.
The story continues to say that in a moment of frustration with some boys teasing him, the landlord pulled the tree out of his head. It left a hole that filled with water and fish came to live in it. He had to sit upright to keep his bed from getting wet.
This raised all kinds of other possibilities as a child. What if he got a fever and the water boiled? How did he bend over to pick something up?
The story is delightfully absurd, and the ending does not disappoint. I probably read it hundreds of time as a child.
As an adult, I long ago searched for the name and author and found the book was out of print. Off and on, I’d check again. At one point the book was in print again and I sighed for relief, but didn’t jump fast enough because it was soon out of print again. So I was delighted to discover the book is now available in Kindle version, under a revised title of Under the Cherry Blossom Tree: An Old Japanese Tale. When I read it again, it still delighted by childish imagination. It’s worth reading again and again, at any age.
What was your favorite childhood book and why?
I give Under the Cherry Blossom Tree by Allen Say five cups of love.
Retold by Allen Say
There were eggs in every bird’s nest, the air buzzed with honeybees, and cherry trees blossomed all at once. The poor villagers forgot their cares and gathered in the meadow to sing and dance their time away. But their miserly landlord refused to be happy. Mumbling and grumbling, he sat all alone eating a bowl of cherries and glaring at the merry villagers. Then, quite by accident, he swallowed a cherry pit. The pit began to sprout, and soon the landlord was the wonder of the village—a cherry tree was growing out of the top of his head! What happened to the cherry tree and to the wicked landlord is a favorite joke in Japan. Allen Say tells the story with wit and vitality, and his beautiful drawings complement this classic Japanese tale.