Tarō: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan
by Blue Spruell
Out of the Blue Productions

"Cold as it was, he had thought to hide himself outside and fled the warm confinement of the castle in search of a peaceful place to read—his secret retreat—for stories carried him away, far from the harsh life to which he had been born."

In this blend of fantasy, myth, and history, three standalone Japanese folktales—"Kintarō" ("Golden Boy"), "Urashima Tarō" ("Island Boy"), and "Momotarō" ("Peach Boy")—are skillfully woven into one tale filled with adventure, a multitude of characters (some fictional and some pulled out of history), and magic. Spruell's retelling of Taro, which takes place in feudal Japan, begins when Taro is seven. After the assassination of his parents, he escapes into the wild and is taken in by a witch whose magic makes him unusually strong for his age. Having forgotten his past life, he lives with the witch for a time, thinking of her as his mother. When he saves Lord Tokugawa and is invited into his home, Taro is thrust into a world very different than his life in the woods. His path eventually leads him straight to his parents' killer.

Pinpointing an exact audience for this book is difficult. At first glance, it appears to be dedicated to children or a middle-grade audience, but it becomes too gory at times to fit within that age range. On the flip side, even though the narration follows a young character, the writing is astute and detailed enough for an adult audience to enjoy. Furthermore, though the plot alone is interesting enough in itself, Spruell goes above and beyond, dedicated to giving his readers an accurate reading and understanding of the time period with useful footnotes and a glossary of Japanese terms at the end. Though uncharacteristic of this genre, this inclusion can be quite helpful, especially for anyone new to Japanese folklore. The illustrations also add a nice touch, bringing the characters to life throughout the novel just as much as any words on the page.

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