I love coincidences that happen in the world of books. A few months ago I noticed a book on the shelves that was based on a true story about a dog. Being a big sap when it comes to animal stories, I filed it under "Books I Should Read and Review Because Kids will Like It Even If They Make Me Cry," and went on with my work. Then, I was delighted to hear from author Pamela S. Turner, who, among her other fabulous non-fiction books for children, has written a picture book based on the same dog. To top it all off, Pamela informed me that the award winning director Lasse Hallstrom has made this story into the movie Hachiko: A Dog Story. Prompted by this confluence, I read Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner, pictures by the brilliant illustrator Yan Nascimbene and Hachiko Waits, by Leslea Newman, pictures by Machiyo Kodaira.
Both stories use a fictional character to tell the story of Haciko, the akita dog who was loyal to his death. Hachiko's own story is a simple one. He belonged to Dr. Ueno, a resident of Shibuya who took the train into Tokyo every day to teach at Tokyo Imperial University. Hachi came to live with Dr Ueno when he was three months old. One day, Hachi, which means "eight" in Japanese, Hachi being Dr Ueno's eighth dog, followed him to the train station and watched him leave for work. Hachi returned in the afternoon and was on the platform to greet him as he returned from work. This was the routine for Hachi and Dr Ueno for a little over a year until, on May 21, 1925, Dr Ueno did not return home to Shibuya, having died of a heart attack while at work. For the rest of his life, almost ten years, Hachi waited at the station for the return of his master, disappearing at night. He would not allow himself to be taken in by a new family. His devotion did not go unnoticed. Reporters began to write articles for him and a collection was started to erect a statue in his likeness at the Shibuya train station.
As Pamela S. Turner writes in her The Story Behind the Story at the end of Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog, "Some years ago my family moved o Tokyo, and we rented a home not far from Shibuya Station. Everyone, it seemed, knew that Hachiko's statue was the place to meet at the huge train station. No matter what time of day or night I visited Shibuya, I would always see someone standing near the large bronze dog, with eyes searching the crowd." She sums it up perfectly by saying, "I thought Hachiko's story was lovely, both sad and wonderful, and I wanted to share it." For her picture book, Turner invents the shy young character of Kentaro, who first meets Dr Ueno and Haciko while he waits at the Shibuya Station for his father. Afraid of the trains and Hachi at first, Kentaro soon overcomes his fears and makes fast friends with the akita. When Dr Ueno dies, Kentaro asks if his family can take in Hachi, but Hachi has plans of his own. Kentaro keeps track of Hachi over the years, contributing money to help build his statue, and he is there at the end of Hachi's life as well. Turner tells the moving story of Hachi's life (Hachiko, as he is now called, is a name that was given to him by a newspaper reporter who wrote a story about him before his death and infers honor and respect) simply and movingly in a way that will have meaning for listeners and readers of all ages. The information provided at the end of the story further illuminates aspects of the amazing story and reiterates the significance of Hachiko's life and the legacy that he leaves behind. Yan Nascimbene's magnificent illustrations bring Japan in the 1920s to life in a way that is both gentle and evocative at the same time.
At 92 pages and with a glossary of Japanese words and terms, Leslea Newman's Hachiko Waits has a plot and complexity that is perfect for a read out loud book or as a read alone for a second or third grade level reader. Newman weaves a fictional story around the real life Hachi, Dr Ueno and Mr Yoshikawa that centers on a boy named Yasuo who proves to be as loyal to Hachiko as Hachiko is to his master. Yasuo makes caring for Hachiko, making sure he is fed and has water while he waits at the station, his priority, even missing out on games with his friends to do so. Mr Yoshikawa, the station master who also watches over Hachiko, tells Yasuo that his loyalty to Hachiko will be rewarded. When Hachiko dies, Mr Yoshikawa comforts Yasuo, now a young man attending college, by sharing his belief that, "there is a special train to bring those who have obtained Enlightenment up to Heaven. Every day for the past ten years, Professor Ueno has met this special train to see if his beloved Akita-ken is on it. Day after day he has waited up in heaven, just as Hachiko has waited here on earth. And today, when that special train reaches Heaven and opens its doors, Hachiko will be the first one to step out. Just think how happy he will be to see his master again." And, as Mr Yoshikawa predicted, Hachiko does reward Yasuo in the end. It is in front of Hachiko's statue that Yasuo meets his future wife and, at the end of the story, it is in front of this statue that he proposes to her.
Newman does a wonderful job enriching the simple but poignant story of Hachiko, and the addition of the Japanese words and terms make it all the more enjoyable. Any dog lover will enjoy this book and, being on the shorter side, it is a great book for emerging readers ready for something more complex. Also, having watched the preview for the movie, I highly suggest reading the book first.
Readers who like this book might also enjoy these other homeless dog stories:
A Dog's Life by Ann M Martin, The Good Dog by Avi and Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee. On the more playful side, there is Waggit's Tale, the sequel, Waggit Again by Peter Howe and Sheep! by Valerie Hobbs. Also on the more playful side, Bill Wallace and Dick King-Smith are well known for their dog stories, homeless and otherwise.