Cover image for Shibumi and the kitemaker
Shibumi and the kitemaker
Mayer, Mercer, 1943-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Marshall Cavendish, [1999]

Physical Description:
46 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
After seeing the disparity between the conditions of her father's palace and the city beyond its walls, the Emperor's daughter has the royal kitemaker build a huge kite to take her away from it all.
Reading Level:
AD 590 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.9 0.5 2853.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 3.1 3 Quiz: 20199 Guided reading level: O.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC. BK. Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PIC BK Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK Juvenile Fiction Picture Books

On Order



A story told through words, Shibumi and the Kitemaker can only be fully imagined through Mercer Mayer's incomparable illustrations. The fact that it was generated entirely through computer graphics makes it all the more remarkable! "The funny thing for me as an artist is that it never existed outside of my computer until it was printed."

Shibumi and the Kitemaker is a result of the author's lifelong fascination with Japanese culture, beginning at the age of thirteen, when he moved with his family from Arkansas to Hawaii. There Japanese culture blended into island life, and the young Mayer became immersed in it. Watching his artist-mother create beautiful floral collages out of Japanese rice paper. Idolizing Toshiro Mifune in the samurai movies of Akira Kurosawa. As Mayer explains, "Japanese culture holds romance and mystery for me. I respond to its art and history."

Shibumi and the Kitemaker is set in feudal Japan in the kingdom of an emperor who neglects his people. Shibumi, the emperor's beloved daughter, is dismayed by the misery she sees beyond the palace walls. She instructs the royal kitemaker to make her an enormous kite on which she vows to soar "until the city below her is as beautiful as the palace, or the palace is as squalid as the city." Unforeseen circumstances and a strong wind take Shibumi and her ingenious kitemaker far, far away. Eventually, a young samurai funds Shibumi, now fully grown, and brings her back to carry on the struggle her father had begun on her behalf.

Author Notes

Mercer Mayer was born December 30, 1943 in Little Rock Arkansas. While attending school at the Honolulu Museum of Art, Mayer decided to enter the field of children's book illustration. He created a portfolio of sketches and peddled them wherever he could. He moved to New York City in 1964, pursuing further instruction at the Art Students League of New York, where he met an artist named Marianna who became his first wife. He soon created a new portfolio and with these new sketches persuaded editors at Dial Press and Harper & Row to give him some illustration work. Mayer published his first book, A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, at Dial Press in 1967. It was notable for being a completely wordless picture book one that tells its story entirely with pictures. Mayer was one of the first illustrators to be credited for using this format. Five more books in this series were to follow. Mayer joined Golden Publishing, creators of Little Golden Books, in 1976. Through them he has sold his "Little Critter" and "Little Monster" series, which are popular with beginning readers. His title Just Me and My Dad made The New York Times Best Seller List for 2012. In 2015, his title Little Critter: Just a Little Love, also made the list. His holiday book, Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, is also a bestseller.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 2^-4, younger for reading aloud. The story seems too long, but veteran picture-book author and illustrator Mayer makes the protagonist of this original folktale a heroine without forcing her into a strident mold. Idolized by her father the Emperor, generous Shibumi grows up in a richly furnished, walled compound, permanently apart from the people and the city outside. When she chances to see beyond her elegant "prison," she's dismayed: the people are poor and the city is drab. She enlists the aid of an eccentric old kitemaker, who uses his craft to help her fly over the wall so her father will do something about the inequities in his kingdom. The text evokes the cadence and flavor of Mayer's youth in Hawaii and his longtime interest in Japanese culture, which he talks about briefly in an afterword. But it is really the strong, unusual artwork that sets his book apart. Romantic as well as mysterious, it is an intriguing example of computer-generated artwork, which was conceived with several programs, among them, Adobe Illustrator and Painter. The small designs used on the text page are subtle and in keeping with the Japanese flavor of the story, but they have a much different feel than the large illustrations, which are highly textured and sharply etched with black line. At times, these pictures appear almost three-dimensional, with characters seemingly ready to walk off the page and into the reader's world. At other times, they seem oddly disconnected: stairs float disconcertingly above a veranda; faces blur. Yet the whole is fascinating; slick but also quite sensitive and expressive. With this book Mayer joins such artists as Nina Crews and Frank Asch, who have also used the computer to express personal style and story in ways that will draw kids in. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for these artists who choose a mouse instead of a paintbrush, chalk, or colored pencils. --Stephanie Zvirin

Publisher's Weekly Review

After a decade-long absence, Mayer returns to picture books, using computer-generated graphics to illustrate an original tale set in long-ago Japan. When the emperor's daughter, Shibumi, discovers the poverty-stricken world beyond her garden walls, she longs to resolve the inequity. Tying herself to an enormous kite fashioned for her by the royal kite-maker, she takes flight, telling her father that she will not come down until the city below "is as beautiful as the palace, or the palace is as squalid as the city." Wealthy noblemen who wish to preserve the status quo mount an attack, and the kite carries off both Shibumi and the kite-maker. The bereaved emperor spends his years trying to make amends, and in the end a young samurai sets out to find the princess and restore her to her father and the transformed city. Mayer grounds his message in familiar fairy tale elements, and proceeds at a leisurely pace. His computer art approaches the brooding style of his paintings in East of the Sun & West of the Moon (as opposed to his Little Critter books, for example). Compositions using traditional Japanese images, from cherry blossoms and cranes to paper lanterns, lavish kimonos and bonsai trees, are set off against a series of slightly surreal backdrops. Some will associate this art with the souped-up visuals of CD-ROM action games; others will find the mix of elements haunting. All ages. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-3 In a faraway kingdom, Princess Shibumi, the emperor's only daughter, grows up in a walled garden, innocent of the evils of the world. One day, she climbs the high wall and sees squalor and poverty in the city below. Shocked and saddened, Shibumi devises a plan to fight the injustice she knows her father has condoned. She persuades the royal kitemaker to construct a kite large enough to carry her into the sky, where she vows to stay until her father makes the city as beautiful as the palace. Years later, a young samurai embarks on a quest to find the lost princess, bringing the tale to its bittersweet conclusion. The book's artistic style and design resemble Jay Williams's original fantasy set in China, Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like (Macmillan, 1984), illustrated by Mayer. Like that book, the overall artistic sensibility is far more Western than Asian. The art, created by various computer programs, influenced by comic books and the visual look of samurai films, contains both accurate and inaccurate images. The artistic style is massive and full of details, both relevant and irrelevant, where Japanese art is delicate and suggestive. On some pages, the features of the main characters, particularly the old kitemaker, are modeled by line and soft shading, in contrast to the flat background, a style that becomes melodramatic, almost grotesque. While the colors are dark, verging on muddy, and the composition is overly complicated, the story line is good. Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.