Books on Japan: Japanese Children's Books
Japanese Children's Books
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Finding Little Sister
Yoriko Tsutsui is the author of several beloved Japanese picture books, including Miki's First Errand and Gifts from a Mailbox. The illustrations are sweet and appealing, but modern foreign mothers might find the realism a bit frightening. Little Naomi, who looks about five, is playing outside on the curb when her mother takes off to go to the bank, leaving her alone with her younger sister, Ellie. The mother promises to be back before Ellie wakes up, but she isn't. Naomi tries to amuse her little sister by playing with her in the street. The smaller child wanders away. There are big trucks, a strange, scolding man and other untold dangers. Naomi finally finds her little sister, and the mother appears at the end with a worried look on her face. While this story, first published in Japanese in 1979 - and Miki's First Errand, in which a little girl goes to the corner store by herself for the first time - are meant to show children gaining responsibility, this reader can't help but feel they are inappropriate for twenty-first century children.
Written and Illustrated by Allen Say
Caldecott Award-winning Say's latest offering tells the story of a former kamishibai man who decides to give it one last go. Jiichan hops on his bicycle with his stage, storycards and sweets made by Baachan, and rides through the countryside and into the city. There, he is moved to find that even in this high-tech age, an audience remains for his old stories. Although kamishibai - stories presented with large cards - are still popular at libraries and kindergartens across Japan, parents and children new to Japan may be surprised to learn about the traveling storytellers of the past.
For ages 4-8.
The Falling Flowers
Mayumie, a young Japanese girl and her grandmother set out on an expedition to Tokyo. But where are they going? To the zoo? To a museum? No, they're going to have a look at the cherry blossoms. This gentle story pays tribute to the typically strong relationship between Japanese children and their grandparents, as well as to the time-honored tradition of flower-viewing.
Reed does a good job of introducing the sights and sounds of the city - the crowded trains, the ding of bicycle bells, the neon signs.
Cole's watercolors enhance the text nicely. He provides just enough detail to give viewers a feel for the hubbub of one of the world's largest metropolises without losing focus on Mayumie and her grandmother.
This book would serve as a good introduction to Japanese culture, or a nice preface to an afternoon of cherry-blossom viewing.
For ages 4-7.
Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog
The story of Hachiko is a familiar one to those who live in Japan. The dog went to greet his master, Dr. Ueno, every day at Shibuya station when he got off the train. After the doctor's death in 1925, Hachiko continued to go to the station to wait - for ten years.
His loyalty was commemorated with a bronze statue which now serves as a popular meeting place. Japanese children read about the faithful canine in their textbooks, but Turner has given the story a twist to introduce English readers to Hachiko. She tells the tale, in simple yet elegant prose, from the point of view of a fictional boy named Kentaro.
Nascimbene's watercolor illustrations, evocative of traditional woodblock prints, give a good feel for the period.
Turner follows up with "The Story Behind the Story" so readers can get their facts straight.
This award-winning book should appeal to kids around seven and up.
by Hirotaka Nakagawa illustrated by Yoshifumi Hasegawa
Sumo Boy is a jolly romp through the day of an unlikely superhero. The eponymous protagonist flies through the air in his red loincloth and topknot, ever on the alert to those in distress. He zooms down to rescue a little girl who is being bullied by a pro-wrestler look-alike. Our hero tosses a handful of salt and takes down his adversary with an overarm throw.
When the bout is over, Sumo Boy and the little girl head back to the dojo for some chanko nabe. The simple text and bright, childlike illustrations make this a fun choice for early readers. There's an illustrated glossary of sumo moves at the back for further study.
This book may also help to dispel the Western notion that sumo wrestlers are a bunch of lazy fat guys bouncing bellies against each other in the ring.
For kids around four to seven.
Guri and Gura
by Rieko Nakagawa illustrated by Yuriko Yamawaki
Guri and Gura have been charming Japanese children since 1963. Now the pair cross the Pacific in an English-language version. Guri and Gura are two field mice. In this, the first book, they discover a massive egg in a forest.
They then decide to bake an equally massive sponge cake. Problem: the egg is too large to move. Solution: bring Moses to the party. They drag a pan, batter, etc. out to the forest and cook there.
And eat and eat and eat.
For kids around four to eight.
Cherry Blossoms in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl
by Yaeko Sugama Weldon illustrated by Linda E. Austin
In this brief memoir, mother and daughter duo Weldon and Austin tell of Weldon's upbringing in Japan and her early years in the United States as wife of a former U.S. soldier. Weldon, daughter of a Japanese shoemaker, was born in 1925 and grew up in Saitama, with a view of Mt. Fuji.
In the first half of this book, she tells of her childhood, a time of tea-picking and trickster foxes. She also gives an overview in simple, direct prose of Japanese holidays and traditions, many of which are still observed today. The chapters concerning Weldon's early days are charmingly illustrated by her own drawings.
In the second half of the book, Weldon recounts the war years, during which she saw a friend gunned down during an air raid and was trained in self-defense with a pointed bamboo pole.
After the war, she was employed at the American Officer's Club at Johnson Air Force Base, and then later, became the seamstress for the deformed daughter of an American Army Captain. Weldon's lack of animosity toward the Occupying forces is remarkable.
However, she points out that many young Japanese men were killed in the war, leaving only American servicemen for companionship. Nevertheless, when she decides to marry an American, her mother is not pleased.
The final chapter tells of her beginnings in the United States and of her marriage and the birth or her children.
The authors do not provide much of a narrative arc to draw the reader through the story and I found myself wishing that they had spent more time fleshing out the scenes and characters in this book.
Even the most dramatic events, such as the death by machine gun fire of Weldon's co-worker, get only a paragraph or two, with little reflection. This book does, however, offer a record of the sometimes extraordinary experiences of an ordinary woman in 19th century Japan.
The Inch-High Samurai
translated by Ralph McCarthy illustrated by Shiro Kasamatsu
This is the classic Japanese tale of a plucky little boy who sailed to Kyoto in a teacup. There he has many great adventures, including but not limited to a fight with a demon. The one-inch samurai prevails with a needle and thereby wins the love of an aristocratic Lady.
Shiro Kasamatsu's beautiful illustrations, painted more than 50 years ago, boldly depict the tiny samurai's adventures--and the surprising ending. Ralph F. McCarthy has done a marvelous job in rendering the tale into English. It is witty and modern, while retaining the feel of the period. Excellent. A perfect gift for a child. Or if you are learning Japanese.
The story is bilingual, written in both English and Japanese.
Kintaro, The Nature Boy
translated by Ralph McCarthy illustrated by Suiho Yonai
This ancient tale of Kintaro is one of Japan's most enduring and popular stories. The legend of Kintaro begins with him beign raised in a mountain forest by his beautiful young mother.
His gentle nature and extraordinary physical strength win him the love and respect of all the forest creatures. Eventually, he is recruited by a famous samurai lord, and Kintaro goes on to earn fame and fortune after conquering a band of evil demons.
Suiho Yonai's rich, dramatic drawings have been used for more than 50 years to illustrate this story. Writer and translator Ralph F. McCarthy's playful verse brings this wonderful tale to life for English-speaking children everywhere.
The story is bilingual, written in both English and Japanese.
Singing Shijimi Clams
by Naomi Kojima
In the latest English translation of her work, veteran illustrator/author Kojima (The Chef's Hat, The Flying Grandmother) delivers a whimsical tale of a bad witch gone good.
Just as the witch prepares to toss fresh clams into her miso soup, they start to move. To her cat Toraji's disgust, she can't bring herself to boil them, and ultimately decides to set them free.
Both parents and kids should get a laugh out of the absurd lengths the witch and cat go to in the interest of saving the clams. Kojima's black and white drawings are delightfully detailed, from the green onions sticking out of the witch's shopping basket to the bobbles on her bedroom slippers.
Look for Tokyo Tower in the cityscape.
Ages 4 - 8.
Japanese Nursery Rhymes
by Danielle Wright; illustrated by Helen Acraman
Danielle Wright has collected fifteen Japanese nursery rhymes. Each nursey rhyme is written in the original Japanese, in Roman letters, and comes with an English translation.
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