By Michele Landsberg
December 27, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Three Strong Women

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Forever-Mountain is the jovial antihero in Three Strong Women, a charming traditional tall tale from Japan. He’s a mighty sumo wrestler on his way to the capital to wrestle before the emperor-huge, bold, and just a little too pleased with himself.

The wrestler’s comeuppance arrives in the form of Maru-me, a cheerful little peasant girl he encounters on the road. Forever-Mountain presumes to tickle her and…whap! Cute little Maru-me locks him in an arm-hold.

Forever-Mountain is mortified. Not only is Maru-me stronger than he, but so is her mother, who comes smiling around the corner carrying her cow. And who is this old lady, stumbling over an oak tree and impatiently ripping it out by its roots? It’s Grandmother.

Forever-Mountain says nothing. He has quietly fainted.

The three strong women kindly take pity on Forever-Mountain and decide to make a really strong man out of him. For three months, they train him. When he finally reaches the capital, he immediately reduces all other wrestlers to blubbering ineptitude. Forever-Mountain is also wiser now. Prize money in hand, he renounces wrestling and retires to become a farmer — and, of course, to marry Maru-Me.

The new illustrations for this favorite old tale echo the style of Japanese landscape painting and are also glowingly good-humored, delicately sustaining the narrative tone of merriment. A

Three Strong Women

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