Dancing Sparrows


This watercolor painting I did was inspired by a Japanese folktale. The story is about an old man married to a less-than-nice woman, and how she maliciously hurts his pet sparrow one day (cuts out its tongue!), causing the sparrow to fly away. When the old man goes in search for the bird, he discovers that the sparrow — despite its tonguelessness — can talk, and has a family in the woods that entertain the old man with food, drink and dancing. There is a moral about greed and cruelty, and the bitter wife gets punished in the end, but what I loved about the story as a little girl was the visual of dancing sparrows wearing kimonos.

I had lunch with a new friend yesterday and we were talking about how so many classic fairy/folk tales are filled with graphicly frightening stories. Modern day stories for kids are so often devoid of conflict with nary a scary or even truly sad element, which is all well and good, but sometimes I wonder if it’s necessary to make them all so Hollywood happy ending-ish? I don’t remember being horrified by the tongue-cutting of the sparrow story (though maybe I should gave been?), but do remember thinking how lovely it would be to discover that your pet could dance and communicate.

I spend a lot of time thinking of the balance between providing protection and awareness for my child. How do I help her cope with disappointment, loss, fear, hurt, danger, etc. etc. without traumatizing or coddling her? I believe stories help a lot.

This reminds me of an exchange I had with K the other day:

K: C’mon Mommy, we’ve gotta go to [friend’s] house ASAP!

Me: Okay, okay, hold your horses…

K: Hey Mama? Did you know that ASAP comes from Aesop’s tales?


14 thoughts on “Dancing Sparrows

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! I do in fact sell prints but usually through special requests. I’m working on getting all my artwork in portfolio format and will make them easier to sell pretty soon!

    1. Thanks Yeka! I used Magnani Acquerello paper (6 x 6 inches) – it’s amazing. The watercolors are extra vibrant when I use this paper.

  1. I love this illustration! The vibrant colors are gorgeous. Thank you for sharing. While I’m not very familiar with the entertainment that’s being made for kids these days, it does seem pretty sanitized. I read a fascinating article awhile back about how American culture idealizes the innocence of childhood and tends to downplay the ethical ambiguity and tough decisions that adults live with. That said, I found the Brave Little Toaster traumatizing as a teenager! There has to be a balance, and I think it’s cool that you’re exploring that with K.

    1. Thanks Morgan! I didn’t know what the Brave Little Toaster was and had to Google it! Now I’m so curious to see it 🙂 I’d love to see your illustrations one day too!

  2. Yes, I think stories help. Maybe because good stories / books leave enough room for the children´s imagination, feelings and interpretations. I grew up with my mom´s old book of fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen. My favorite story was The Little Mermaid and the real story does not end good at all. The prince marries another princess and the little mermaid turns to sea foam in the end. I loved it and it made me sad and cry, but I would read it again and again. I think a loving environment helps children to develop resilience and to protect them from many things. And in this loving environment, again, there is room for a lot.

    1. I loved the original Little Mermaid too, and yes, completely bawled at the end. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Ute – resilience-development is exactly what I meant.

  3. Beautiful illustration Sanae. I see ladies in hats as well as sparrows
    Incidentally I’ve become friendly with the Aus importer of Magnani papers and he’s given me some offcuts. I can’t wait to get the kids doing some nude, summer, back porch art on a 5metre long roll of paper that we picked up free! It’s such beautiful paper and I can barely notice the end of roll fault that made it a giveaway.

  4. Too cute! your daughter’s comment.
    Nice drawing too too–yeah I remember that story from my Japanese classes. It’s nice to have your lovely drawing to accompany the story in my mind.

    1. That’s so cool that you took Japanese classes, Asmita! I grew up reading all the classic folk tales and remember them fondly 🙂

  5. It is so interesting that you bring up the thoughts on fairy tales and happily ever after. i just listened to a podcast about this very thing. It talks about the disney ideas of story telling vs the traditional cautionary tale. It is based on Christian ideas of morality and character development through story telling, but can easily translate for a non judeo christian audience as it is not preachy at all. I recommend taking a listen. it gave me a whole new perspective when it comes to the balance of what I provide for entertainment and learning for my children.


    On a lighter note, I recently found your blog and am enjoying it. I sew for my children, but not yet for myself. You are giving me the courage to (maybe) start on that soon. It’s also a plus that you live in Seattle. Anyone who lives in the pacific nw draws my attention out of pure jealousy over where you get to live. Hoping to join that crowd someday …..

    1. So lovely to have you here, Amber! Thank you for the link – I’ll be listening to this tonight while I sew 🙂 I do hope you’ll sew for yourself…it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever started. And yes, the PNW is awesome! I’m originally a California girl so it took me awhile to get used to the weather, but can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

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