Puss in the Woods

Originally published in The Star in 2009

I LOVE cats, but even if you’re not partial to flesh-blood-and-fur felines, you may find it hard to resist the charms of Dayan.

He is the creation of Japanese author/illustrator Akiko Ikeda and is the main character in four books translated and published by Dark Horse (best known as a publisher of comics). If you look at Ikeda’s website (www.wachifield.com) it seems that there are more books, including picture books and novels, featuring the cat and his friends. However, they’re in Japanese. The four titles thus far available in English are a little larger than Ladybird books, with the same hard covers, and fully-illustrated with the most charming and interesting watercolours.

Dayan has grey and red-gold stripes, a white stomach and four white feet. He has huge slanted amber eyes – and in fact, Ikeda’s characters are all notable for their large lustrous eyes.

Dayan lives in Wachifield, an imaginary world dominated by woodland and streams, and populated by the usual forest creatures like rabbits, frogs, foxes, otters and squirrels. There is an alligator though – his rather incongruous presence isn’t explained, and that’s one of the things I like about the way Ikeda writes. She doesn’t overtell the story – there’s no exposition at all, and characters and events appear in the books without introduction, but as if Ikeda is telling stories of creatures the reader already knows well. If you want every detail provided for you, then you may not like Ikeda’s style, but I find it very fresh and light. The reader is free to be a co-creator with Ikeda – he may suppose and imagine whatever he wishes when contemplating the world of Wachifield.

The four books in the series are:

Birthday

DAYAN’S BIRTHDAY (ISBN: 978-1595821256)
DAYAN had never heard of birthdays until he came to live in Wachifield and attends his friend, Marcy’s birthday party. Excited at the prospect of his own birthday celebration, Dayan visits a family of witches in order to find out his birth day, month and time. The witches, called Thyme, Ginger and Pickles, figure out exactly when Dayan was born, but when the little cat has a party, he invites everyone in Wachifield except the witches. In retaliation, they take his birthday back and Dayan turns into a kitten!

Thursday

THURSDAY RAINY PARTY (ISBN: 978-1595821263)
DAYAN is caught in a rainstorm and meets a friendly frog who doesn’t understand the concept of the days-of-the-week. Dayan helps his new friend figure out what Wednesday is by drawing symbols on stones. Thursday, it seems, is the designated rainy day – a perfect day for parties. Dayan invites the frog to the next rainy day party at Willie the Mouse’s house, but the next two Thursday’s are dry. When it finally rains on a Thursday, Dayan is surprised to discover the part the frog and his family have played to bring about the happy occassion.

Eurocka

WHITE EUROCKA (ISBN: 978-1595821270)
DAYAN and Jitan, the wisest cat in Wachifield are very excited about the Eurocka Festival – a kind of winter Olympics. When the special day arrives, the two friends make their way to the beach and find the most amazing animals – polar bears and penguins, seals and walruses – have arrived to take part in the games.

Chibikuro

CHIBIKURO PARTY (ISBN: 978-1595821287)
DAYAN is woken up one moonlit night by his own shadow! It’s the night of festival for shadows, the night for the Chibikuro party – the only time shadows can separate from their owners. At the party, Noel, a shadow from Deah Forest is on a mission to lure the other shadows “beyond Sand” where they will be forced into hard labour by the Satan of Death Forest. With Jitan’s help, Dayan gathers the creatures of the Wachified and, to the music of Madame Moon’s hurdy gurdy, the animals and their shadows dance until daybreak joins them together again.The books are like Beatrix Potter’s tales in that they feature animals, but their setting is less realistic – Wachifield is a world where the fantastic and supernatural occur, albeit as though they were completely natural and ordinary. Ikeda’s prose is also less complex and wordy than Potter’s and even children who are just starting to read will feel comfortable reading these tales without an adult to help them. Having said that, parents and teachers shouldn’t deprive themselves of the magical world of Dayan.

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