by Kiyohiko Azuma; translated by Amy Forsyth
published by Yen Press; $10.99 US
A new Yotsuba&! book is always a pleasure to be savored. Although sometimes, I don’t have the patience — instead, I dive in and wallow in its portrayal of childlike imagination.
The first story here, in which Yotsuba discovers how to make a simple telephone out of paper cups and string, is a perfect example of the appeal of the series. It features her odd mix of knowledge about the world — she knows how to use a cellphone, but she gets confused about when to put the cup to her ear or her mouth — as well as how much she believes whatever people tell her, a quality exploited by the oldest neighbor sister when Asagi starts convincing her that there’s interference on the line. The kids go on to elaborate on what they’ve learned in creative and fun ways.
It’s funny and entertaining and very well cartooned. Yotsuba is so much like a little kid in her body language and attitudes. The story wouldn’t work without that approach by Azuma. By focusing on simple everyday events — Yotsuba goes bike riding or helps to bake a cake (which also involves dancing, for some reason) or runs an errand to the neighborhood store by herself — the stories stay approachable and friendly in their simplicity. Yet a lot happens in them. When she’s curious about where milk comes from, her dad and tall friend Jumbo decide to take her to a ranch. Unfortunately, she wakes up sick that day and then throws a fit when they try to tell her she needs to stay home. Also in the story is a staring contest and speculation on milk flavors and cow colors, so many goofy ideas in one place.
Dad’s a great match for Yotsuba, demonstrating a similar disregard for logic and normal rules of behavior. He clearly cares for her, but he doesn’t lie to her the way most parents do. And he often takes the most expedient route, as when he lets Yotsuba stay in bed but watch TV by simply dragging her in her bed roll into the TV room. My favorite panel of art in the book, though, is when she falls asleep hanging off the edge of a small table, limbs askew and sprawled out with fatigue.
By the end of the book, Yotsuba has finally made it to the ranch to see cows. Unfortunately, she’s accompanied by an annoying friend of her father’s. She still directs the adults in her particular view of the world, one I’m very glad she shares with us.