Japanese tale makes a charming children’s book

Professor Tim Myers retells a Japanese folktale of a priest who is visited by a tricky and sly tanuki, or raccoon-dog.

The tale is adroitly told…lovely and entertaining,” wrote the New York Times of Tim Myers’ latest book, Tanuki’s Gift (2003, Marshall Cavendish, $16.95, ages 5 to 8). In this retelling of a Japanese folk tale, a priest is visited by a tanuki, or raccoon-dog, which is a figure in Japanese tales that often is tricky and sly. However, the tanuki in this story teaches the monk and the reader a great lesson about desire and friendship. The beautiful and wry collage-style illustrations by R. G. Roth enhance the tale.

Myers, who teaches in SCU’s Graduate Studies in Education Program, and his wife, Priscilla, who is the director of SCU’s Reading and Learning Center, taught at the American School in Japan, in Tokyo, during the mid-80’s. “It was there I first began learning about Japanese folklore,” says Myers. “I’m a professional storyteller,” he continues, “and I don’t know if I can describe the excitement of suddenly encountering an entirely new folktale tradition… This tradition is incredibly rich. I was enchanted from the start.”

A genuine Japanese folktale inspired Tanuki’s Gift, says Myers, and, he says, “My favorite aspect of this story is the way it allowed me to look at some serious spiritual issues in a very unlikely format.”

“The tale of Tanuki’s Gift is adroitly told… lovely and entertaining.”

“I was captivated by what this folk expression said, by implication, about certain traditional Buddhist ideas,” he explains. “The First Noble Truth says that desire, or dukkha, is the source of all suffering-and this monk in the story has clearly set himself against worldly illusions. But the story goes on to praise desire, particularly in the form of love.”

Myers is the author of another children’s book, Basho and the Fox, and he is a published poet as well. He says he loves writing for kids, even though “it presents unique difficulties…because children, though they of course possess the full range of humanity, are also in many ways almost a different species…The first trick is to get past your own adulthood and actually see them, see the world through their eyes.”

Myers adds that he is glad to be at SCU. “By its very nature, the SCU community has inspired me as a writer,” he says. “Priscilla and I absolutely love it here-for the generally warm and welcoming atmosphere, for the incredibly high quality of the people and programs, for the cultural and intellectual offerings, and not least because it’s a faith community-but in the widest possible sense of that term,” he explains.

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