by Kiyohiko Azuma
published by Yen Press; $12 US
A new volume of Yotsuba&! is always a thing to be celebrated! Enjoy its simple pleasures, just as little girl Yotsuba does in all of her daily life.
Yotsuba&! Book 12 was particularly interesting to me because at one point, the teen neighbor girls take her trick-or-treating. I’ve been working a project with a Japanese team, and over Halloween, I asked if they celebrate it. They said no, not really, but the kids thought it was fun to wear costumes. That beginning level of acceptance is on view here, as the characters have figured out asking for candy but not where the holiday came from. Plus, Yotsuba is absolutely adorable as a pumpkin!
Having Yotsuba learn about something that the reader knows more about than any of the characters is a fun change. Normally, she’s introduced to something that her dad or the other characters are quite familiar with, and the pleasure comes in seeing her discovery, worked through a child’s filter and sometimes coming out quite funny. I’ve been told that this series is actually aimed at young men, a way of showing them the appeal of eventually having a child by portraying her wonder at the world, and I can believe it. Reading about Yotsuba has the charm of child-raising and the entertainment of her perspective, making memories without any of the problems.
Kiyohiko Azuma’s skilled storytelling and expressive characters make the stories of Yotsuba’s discovery and wonder possible. The book opens with a sequence where the child, playing outside, looks up and sees a V of geese flying overhead. It’s mostly wordless, but successive closeups on the detailed birds and the increasingly wide-eyed Yotsuba convey the magic of a particular moment. It’s nothing special, in terms of life overall, but it’s something to be noted and captured.
Chapters in this volume cover Yotsuba learning to tie a bow, painting furniture, shopping for groceries, buying a bike helmet, and going camping, where she tries a hammock and cooks curry. There are so many entertaining moments and adorable sequences in this book that I want to stop every few pages to show other people. Look, isn’t that cute! Aw, poor girl, she doesn’t understand yet. Wow, that’s a different way to look at things. Yotsuba’s expressions are so open that it’s hilarious when she tries to be mean, during trick-or-treat, or is afraid, when she’s stained with paint and thinks it’ll never come off, or is gleefully happy, when she’s gotten Halloween treats.
It’s amusing when other people, such as the guy at the bike shop, play along with her drama. But sometimes, you just have to give up, as when a friend starts trying to tell her how to read a clock, and it doesn’t make any sense. Childrearing requires patience and knowing which battles to pick. Yotsuba&! is all of the best parts, teaching us to enjoy life’s little moments while in them.