Asia – Japanese
Kimmel, Eric A. 2002.
Three Samurai cats: A story from Japan. Illustrated
by Mordicai Gerstein. New York: Holiday
(out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from Amazon.com).
Summary: A Daimyo, a powerful Japanese lord, tries to get rid of a pesky rat who is taking over his castle. The
rat defeats two young, strong Samurai cats, but he is finally defeated by an old, decrepit Samurai cat that uses wisdom rather
Type: beast tale
Characters: The characters
are stereotypes – they do not have any depth. The rat is one of the most memorable characters, with his evil cunning
and greed. Gerstein has depicted the rat with cartoon-like, exaggerated humor. A
reviewer in Booklist writes that the” buffoonish, wildly wicked ‘barbarous rat’… is more comic foil
than villain” (Booklist, 2002). The other memorable character is the old, broken down cat, who is a patient Roshi (Zen
Setting: One learns
from the title that the story takes place in Japan, and the
reader is introduced to Japanese words and costumes. The opening sentence, “There
was once a daimyo…” implies that the story took place long ago. Readers learn from the author’s note that
a Daimyo is a feudal lord and that the Samurai were “the knights of medieval Japan”
Plot: This is a unique twist on the good versus evil plot, where the “good” is different from
what readers might expect. The plot features the usual three events. The evil rat is silly enough to make
Theme: The main theme is that one can best defeat enemies by using patience, “stillness,” and wisdom
rather than force. In his notes, Kimmel writes that this is a Zen tale similar to the ones Zen masters used “…to
surprise their disciples out of conventional patterns of thinking” (unpaged).
Generally, I enjoyed this well-written tale with strong dialogue. I also found myself laughing at Gerstein’s humorous
illustrations, especially when the bold rat is being a bully. However, at the end of the story, Kimmel recapitulates the main
message rather than allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. I would have preferred a more subtle moral.
Illustrations: Rats are not my favorite, and I started to
skip this story. However, the rat and all the other humor led to my enjoyment of this tale. Gerstein’s “pen and
ink with oil paint” illustrations are comical and could easily be part of a comic book or graphic novel (unpaged). His
illustrations contain plenty of action – we see one samurai doing fancy sword tricks and the rat being engulfed by a
gigantic rice ball. This book may be best suited for one-on-one or small group sharing. Large groups may have difficulty seeing
six double-page spreads that depict several small scenes