Allen Say's quiet storytelling is simple and understated, but it beautifully conveys the longing in Erika's journey, her disappointment in the first few days, and her joy in finding the right place for herself. His illustrations, though, are what make this book an incredible journey for the reader. The crowded train platform in Tokyo, the festival in the traditional town, the group of little children all amazed to see a foreigner in their schoolyard-- Say captures these snapshots of Japanese life and culture so vividly that you hardly need read the text at all.
In the end, Erika-San is an immigrant story, which is a nice change from the usual coming-to-America immigrant story. And it is a love story between Erika and another teacher named Akira. It is also interesting how Akira worries that Erika may not like him because he is not Japanese enough-- he prefers coffee to tea and does not know anything about the Japanese tea ceremony. These details are wonderful and thoughtful, and like everything else in the book, subtle.
I'm not sure if this book will hold the attention of young readers. They may be interested in the journey and in the pictures, but the romance and the quiet longing may be lost on them. However, it is a finely told stories with even finer illustrations, so Erika-San is sure to resonate with many.
by Allen Say