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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 7, 2003

Bespectacled Hawai'i mouse shows power of poetry

"Wordsworth the Poet" by Frances H. Kakugawa, illustrated by Scott Goto. Watermark Publishing, $10.95, ages 6-10.

By James Rumford
Special to The Advertiser

 •  Book signings

Noon to 1:30 p.m. today, Waldenbooks, Kahala Mall.

12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Bestsellers, downtown

2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Waldenbooks, Pearlridge Mall

3 to 4 p.m. Sept. 21, Barnes & Noble, Kahala Mall

11 a.m. to noon Sept. 20, Bookends, Kailua

Wordsworth is a mouse who lives in a Hawaiian rain forest. Wordsworth is not like the other mice. He delights in the oddest things: raindrops that look like Christmas lights in the sunlight and dew drops on taro leaves that look like silvery mercury.

The other mice his own age make fun of his quirkiness. His parents worry about him. But Wordsworth doesn't mind. He tries to get the others to see what he sees. When he can't, he writes poetry.

Fortunately, for Wordsworth, a mouse named Emily understands Wordsworth, and the two become fast friends in the face of ridicule and lots of head-shaking on the part of Wordsworth's parents.

As the story progresses, we get a chance to read Wordsworth's poems, written not as an adult would write them, but told in the voice of Wordsworth, the young, budding poet.

In the end, when Emily gets sick, we learn the value of poetry, for she is nursed back to health not with medicine for the body but with medicine for the soul: Wordsworth's poetry.

Thus, the author, Frances Kakugawa, a published poet in her own right, introduces us not only to Wordsworth the mouse, but to the Wordsworths of this world who are impassioned to write.

Their passion is not easy to understand, as Kakugawa tells us in her book:

The other mice "still cannot quite understand why Wordsworth is what he is. They still cannot quite understand how Wordsworth can feel and see so many things. But they no longer worry about him or make fun of him. Now they look at Wordsworth and say, 'He is a poet.' "

Acceptance is the key here, and acceptance is something that Kakugawa knows something about, for she has long used this magical tool to bring out the best in others.

In her book "Teacher, You Look Like a Horse," Kakugawa tells of an incident that happened in her teaching days. Right in the middle of one of her lessons, one of her students ran Wordsworth-mouse-like out into the fog that had just come rolling in outside. Instead of yelling at the boy to come back, she joined him while her class sat quietly doing their workbooks. Together, teacher and errant student grabbed at the fog, trying to feel its breathlike softness.

Recently, Kakugawa used her talent for bringing out the best in others to get those whose parents were suffering from Alzheimer's disease to write poetry. Together — for Kakugawa's mother also had Alzheimer's — they found a way through words to cope with the long, slow loss of their loved ones. The poems Kakugawa and others wrote were collected in an published anthology called "Mosaic Moon."

While Kakugawa's deep understanding of the poetic heart pervades the words of "Wordsworth the Poet," Scott Goto's illustrations, rich with the colors of the forest and Hawai'i nei, present us with a likable mouse, Harry-Potter-bespectacled and full of enthusiasm.

Goto, whose illustrations have graced several Mainland-published books, brilliantly evokes the wonder Wordsworth feels for the world around him by creating a visual poem to complement the poetry in the book. When Kakugawa talks about waves like dancing brides, we see a chorus line of them in their white wedding dresses. When Kakugawa tells us that a rainbow is like a million butterflies holding hands across the sky, Goto sweeps his many-hued brush across the page, giving form to her words.

"Wordsworth the Poet" is a book worth having. But before I finish, I would like to give a nod to the designer, Leo Gonzalez, whose choice of types and page layout add immeasurably to the appeal of this fine little book.

And for you Wordsworths out there, the Hawai'i Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is presenting a writing workshop Oct. 10-11 at the Queen Emma Gardens Teahouse. The guest speaker and workshop leader will be Donna Jo Napoli, an award-winning author of picture books and young-adult novels. The conference fee is $85/$95 per day, or $150/170 for two days, with members paying the lower fee. For more information, call 779-5910.

James Rumford is a Manoa artist, writer and printer; he shares the bi-monthly duty of reviewing children's books with writer Jolie Jean Cotton. Reach him at rumford@hawaii.rr.com.