Alison James

The Drums of Noto Hanto

Villagers in Japan use wild masks and taiko drumming to frighten away invading samurai.

From PW:

Strikingly handsome cut-paper illustrations, reminiscent of David Wisniewski’s work, light up the pages of this dramatic picture book, based on a historical incident in ancient Japan. From the opening image of a drum that protrudes onto the spread as theatrically as the nearby isles erupting from the Sea of Japan, this tale will grab readers’ attention. The villagers of Noto Hanto mark each change of season with the playing of the drums. But when a covetous warlord threatens to invade the town, the drums take on a new role. As samurai warriors approach, the villagers join forces to scare off their attackers with bonfires, monster masks fashioned from bark and seaweed, and drums that “boomed like thunder DON kada DON kada DON DON DON!” James (Sing for a Gentle Rain) parades a series of verbal images as colorful as they are powerful (e.g., the village “points upward like a thumb into the Sea of Japan”), and her skillful use of onomatopoeia conveys the differing timbres and types of drums. The text exudes a palpable energy that will spark inspired read-aloud sessions. Tsukushi’s artwork matches the intensity of the prose with fluidity of line and complexity of composition. A samurai battleship sails against a blood-red sky, masked villagers dance wildly by firelight and drummers sit in a circle concentric with the edge of the globe and the drum as they beat for their livesAthe vividness of the spreads is nothing short of hypnotic. Wit triumphs over will in this splendid picture book.



Wishing that she could fly just like the spinning silver-blue eucalyptus leaves near her home, Kiria, with the help of her friend Mica, finds a cocoon and concocts a mysterious potion that enables them to fly in this lively story with audio featuring the whimsical, enchanting, full-color paintings of award-winning illustrator Demi.

From SLJ:

James explores a child’s yearnings to fly through Kiria, a young girl who catches a leaf that has a long cocoon on its underside and knows that it can lend her the magic she needs. Her resourceful friend Mica offers sensible advice and the two concoct a potion and “flying words.” Time is suspended in four wordless pages of Demi magic as the friends soar hand in hand across the sky over trees and town…. James has created a fantasy with moments of grace and promise, which Demi has realized so beautifully in the illustrations. Delicate line drawings harmonize with resplendent watercolors. There are touches of extravagant whimsy and moments of mystery. Her touch is sure and fine, golden threads illuminating the images, spots of gold lighting up the pages, vivid color giving a sense of the possible, of impending, if fleeting, magic.


Looking forward to celebrating her thirteenth birthday at her grandfather's home on the island of Gotland in Sweden, Runa comes face to face with the rites of her Viking ancestors.

From Kirkus:

Just before Runa arrives at her Swedish grandfather (“Morfar’s”) home, she survives two life-threatening accidents- -a traffic mishap back in the US and a freak fall from the boat on the way to Gotland; once there, there’s another in the old church tower, plus the unnerving discovery that, over the centuries, several girls in her family (including Morfar’s sister) died accidentally on their 13th birthdays–on Midsummer’s Day, as Runa’s will be in a few days. Runa’s fear that she’ll be the next victim is intensified by visions of her Viking ancestors, revealing the terrible outcome of a mother’s failure to return her child’s love–a cruel sacrifice doomed to reenactment unless Runa can break the chain. The fantasy element here is unusually imaginative, drawing on the myths of Baldur and Iphigenia as well as Judeo-Christian tradition to explore the idea of sacrifice (or the scapegoat) and mounting to a startling climax. Meanwhile, James creates several likable, realistic characters, including Runa’s two young Swedish friends and three adults. Breaking genre tradition, Runa confides in them all, to different degrees; unfortunately, their supportive responses are unevenly realized–nice, normal folk, their anxious sympathy and concerned advice sit uneasily with the heroism Runa summons to face the terror of what may be her impending death. Easy blends of fantasy and reality are rare–Susan Cooper and E. Nesbit come to mind. …A vivid and compelling tale.


Alison has translated over 150 picture books, primarily from German for North South Books.
She has worked with publishers in the US, Sweden, Japan and Taiwan.