Singing Shijimi Clams is the tale of a witch, old and without her sparks, who brings home some shijimi clams for her dinner. She's taken aback, right before cooking them, to find find the clams snoring away. "Their shells were opened slightly, and their little bodies moved contentedly." Her cat, Toraji, tries to convince the witch that it's ok to boil up the clams because "(t)hey won't feel anything if you put them in quickly." But she can't do it, and witch and cat end up eating miso soup sans clams.
Eventually, the witch and Toraji start talking with the clams, and the clams cry when they learn that they aren't in the ocean anymore. The witch and Toraji have to undertake a major project to take the clams back to the sea. Along the way, the clams sing! "And every day, as the witch listened to the shijimi clams' sweet voices, she too began to feel happier, and less miserable."
I'm not such a fan of message books, and this one bears a relatively strong vegan message. But Singing Shijimi Clams is a lot of fun. The illustrations are deceptively simple, small black and white sketches rather than full page drawings. They convey the grouchy witch's gradual thawing, as she does something good for the clams. The cat is a riot, starting out callous, but by the end admitting "I will miss them when they go." The drawings of the little clams are priceless, with tiny faces, and lines to show movement and emotion.
This book grew on me. I thought that it was ok on the first read, but by the end of the second read I was quite attached to witch, cat, and clams. Because of the lack of color in the illustrations, and the relatively high text ratio, I think that this book will resonate more with kids on the older end of picture book range.
This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on November 12, 2006.