Japanese Children’s Books, Part 1

CONTRIBUTED BY SHANNAN LEWELLEN

“The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss

Our home is filled with books.  Books about bugs and volcanoes, how to books, books on parenting, and in the last few years we have acquired many Japanese books.  When we first came to this island four years ago we were clueless about the local culture, traditions, festivals, etc.  We were unaware of which holidays were celebrated here, we all crowded around the first electronic toilet seat we came across in amazement, and timidly had our first bites of onigiri at a Family Mart.  My youngest always makes the ”beep beep” sound when driving his Tonkas© in reverse and would prefer a dinner of soba and edamame over fast food any day.

Once we were settled in, we quickly made friends with families that had been here longer and could help up learn the ropes of living here. We participated in cultural exchange programs, and in the past year I was fortunate enough to teach at a preschool alongside a few locals that have become dear friends.  We have also discovered many children’s books that have helped us better understand the local culture and daily life.

I am going to review a few that we own and a few that I have checked out from Foster Library.

My favorite book is the first book we purchased: The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima.  This is a story of a young boy named Gregory who moves with his family from San Francisco to Tokyo. The book talks about many things that are different, from deeper tubs in Japan to the backpacks.  Each time the young boy asks about something the dad replies, “That is how we do it in Japan.”  I give this book 5 stars.  It is a cute story that addresses the children’s curiosity and anxiety about moving to a new land.  I think it would be an excellent book for a family that is on their way to Oki and for those already here too!

Books music Our next favorite book is a book my son received from his sensei.  The book came from Tsutaya (I believe the one close to Torii as I wasn’t able to find it at the one out Kadena gate 5).  This is one of the musical children’s books where you push the button and it sings the song for you.  The pages include the lyrics (if you can read the Hiragana) and most importantly the hand motions.  “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Hands” (not toes ) along with many Japanese children’s songs are included.  My sons’ favorites are the onigiri song (he loves onigiri!) and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Hands”.  There is also a version with Hello Kitty on the cover that we bought as a birthday gift.  This book has been a hit with all the kids that have played with it.  My friend also found similar books at Toys R Us.  These books are now our go-to gift for on-island birthday parties.

Books music2

Books color

The next book has fantastic pictures.  It is The Colors of Japan by Holly Littlefield.  This book has beautiful illustrations.  Each color is presented in Japanese along with the kanji symbol and the phonetic pronunciation.  A short story is told of what each color might represent, from the red circle in the center of the Japanese flag to green tea.  I love the artwork in this book, and I love that it has helped my children learn their colors and a bit of history also.

Books colors2

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki is one of our favorite storybooks.  Suki is a little girl who demands to wear her kimono on her first day of first grade, instead of her new clothes like her sisters are wearing. Initially the kids at school snicker and such, but in the end, Suki is able to tell them about her homeland.  My boys especially love the pictures of the koi-no-bori.

Books suki

Stay tuned!  Next Friday, Shannan will share six more of her favorites!  (HERE it is!)

Affiliate links embedded in this post. If you purchase any of these books through these links, Okinawa Hai will earn a few pennies at no additional cost to you. Thanks!

10 COMMENTS

  1. I have the electronic song book; Hello Kitty one . The ISBN # is 978-387-07063-4. My girls just love this book and they have their favorite songs on it that get played over and over and over again 🙂 Hope your children enjoy it as well.

  2. Anyone have an ISBN for the electronic song book? Or any information at all? Amazon (US or Japan) link? I can’t find it and haven’t been on the island for over ten years but it’d be great for my 2 yr old.

  3. Thanks for adding those Jen. I have read Grandfathers Journey. I will have to look for Tree of Cranes. The “First Thousand Words in Japanese” is in next weeks post. I did see it at Kadena bookmart just this past week! There was only one copy though.

  4. Thanks so much for this timely post. We are moving to Oki soon, and as fellow book lovers I was starting to search for excellent kids’ books about Japan. Thanks for the suggestions. I look forward to the next installment.

  5. My daughter loves “Suki’s Kimono” as well. Allen Say is another author that also writes great children’s stories about Japan and Japanese-American cultures. I love his books, “Tree of Cranes” and “Grandfather’s Journey” though he has others. There is also a great story called “Hachiko” about a dog of the same name. If you have a real soft spot for dogs in your heart, it can be a bit of a tear-jerker, but it is good, none the less. Be sure to dig through the base libraries – they do carry a lot of good books for kids about many different cultures.

    I don’t know why the base bookstores (or libraries either, for that matter) don’t carry the Japanese version (they carry the French and/or Italian or something), but there is a series of books from the Usborne publishers called “The First 1000 Words in ______”. I have the Japanese version that I found at a museum just before we moved out here. It has large pictures with labels in both Romaji and Hiragana and there is a website that you can access that has pronunciation help.

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