Editor's note: A strange, shy boy is isolated from his classmates until a teacher discovers - and rewards - his unique accomplishments
On the first day of our village school in Japan, there was a boy missing. He was found hidden away in the dark space underneath the schoolhouse floor. None of us knew him. He was nicknamed Chibi because he was very small. Chibi means "tiny boy."
This strange boy was afraid of our teacher and could not learn a thing.
He was afraid of the children and could not make friends with them at all.
He was left alone in the study time.
He was left alone in the play time.
He was always at the end of the line, always at the foot of the class, a forlorn little tag-along.
And Chibi found many ways, one after another, to kill time and amuse himself. Just the ceiling was interesting enough for him to watch for hours. The wooden top of his desk was another thing interesting to watch.
A patch of cloth on a boy's shoulder was something to study. Of course the window showed him many things all year round. Even when it was raining the window had surprising things to show him.
On the playground, if he closed his eyes and listened, Chibi could hear many different sounds, near and far.
And Chibi could hold and watch insects and grubs that most of us wouldn't touch or even look at - so that not only the children in our class but the older ones and even the younger ones called him stupid and slowpoke.
But, slowpoke or not, day after day Chibi came trudging to school. He always carried the same lunch, a rice ball wrapped in a radish leaf.
Even when it rained or stormed he still came trudging along, wrapped in a raincoat made from dried zebra grass.
And so, day by day, five years went by, and we were in the sixth grade, the last class in school.
Our new teacher was Mr. Isobe. He was a friendly man with a kind smile.
Mr. Isobe took his class to the hilltop behind the school. He was pleased to learn that Chibi knew all the places where the wild grapes and wild potatoes grew. He was amazed to find how much Chibi knew about all the flowers in our class garden.
He liked Chibi's black-and-white drawings and tacked them up on the wall to be admired. He liked Chibi's own handwriting, which no one but Chibi could read, and he tacked that up on the wall.
And he often spent time talking with Chibi when no one was around.
But when Chibi appeared on the stage at the talent show of that year, no one could believe his eyes. "Who is that?" "What can that stupid do up there?"
Until Mr. Isobe announced that Chibi was going to imitate the voices of crows. "Voices?" "Voices of crows?" "Voices of crows!"
"VOICES OF CROWS."
First he imitated the voices of newly hatched crows.
And he made the mother crow's voice.
Then he imitated the father crow's voice.
He showed how crows cry early in the morning.
He showed how crows cry when the village people have some unhappy accident.
He showed how crows call when they are happy and gay.
Everybody's mind was taken to the far mountainside from which Chibi probably came to the school.
Now everybody could imagine exactly the far and lonely place where Chibi lived with his family.
Then Mr. Isobe explained how Chibi had learned those calls - leaving his home for school at dawn, and arriving home at sunset, every day for six long years.
Every one of us cried, thinking how much we had been wrong to Chibi all those long years.
First published in the United States under the title CROW BOY by Taro Yashima. Copyright Mitsu and Taro Yashima, 1955. Copyright renewed Taro Yashima, 1983. Published by arrangement with Viking Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
Pub Date: 6/17/98