The Secret of the Blue Glass
By Tomiko Inui
Published by Pushkin Children’s Books
ISBN 978 1 78269 034 4
There had always been something a bit mysterious about Miss MacLachlan, something she kept hidden behind her friendly smile, and all her pupils loved her for it. It made her special. All the youngsters she taught knew that. But it wasn’t until she left Japan that anyone found out the truth about what Miss MacLachlan was hiding.
She had come to Japan in the 1890s to teach in a private girls college, but had chosen not to live in the teacher accommodation the school provided. Instead, she rented rooms in the suburbs of Yokohama, and in her spare time she taught English free of charge to the local children.
Miss MacLachlan wanted to live on her own because of her secret. Now, after living in Japan for over twenty years, Miss M had decided it was time to retire and return home to Great Britain. And, after much thought, she made a decision about the secret she had been hiding all the time she had lived in Japan.
Just before she departed for England, she asked Tatsuo Moriyama, a boy she had known since he was a baby and whom she knew she could trust, to come and see her. Miss MacLachlan picked up a basket from amongst the pile of luggage and handed it to Tatsuo.
In the basket were two Little People, Balbo and Fern Ashe who Miss MacLachlan had been looking after for a very long time. She told Tatsuo that she now wanted him to look after them. All they needed was a secret place to live and a daily glass of milk to drink.
And that is how the Little People came to live on the shelves next to the books in the home of the Moriyama family. Time passes and the responsibility for looking after the Little People passes from one generation of the family to the next. Now it is Yuri Moriyama who serves up the daily milk to the Little People in a special blue crystal goblet.
But outside the Moriyama house, Japan is changing as the country enters the Second World War. The Little People, Balbo, Fern and their two children, Robin and Iris are no longer safe, and Yuri realises that she must take them out of the dangerous city to find a safe haven if they are to survive.
First published in Japan in 1959, The Secret of the Blue Glass is a fascinating and absorbing read that opens up a reader window into another world. The story of the Little People is played out against the privations and horrors that ordinary people face during a time of war. Like the humans in the story, the Little People have to show tremendous courage as they adapt to the terrible changes that suddenly threaten their lives.
This new translation of Tomiko Inui’s classic Japanese novel is quite a find for readers of YA fiction. It is a terrific story of love and courage in the face of change and adversity as well as a gripping fantasy read. A very welcome addition to the bookshelf of young readers looking for something original and totally captivating.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.