With a warm welcome at your grandmother’s home in Japan, this picture book firmly places children in the midst of an extended loving family filled with aunties and cousins. Change into your yukata and your wooden sandals and walk together to the bath house. Shed your clothes along with everyone else. Start with washing, washing your hair and back, do a naked dance with your cousins, until finally it is time. Everyone enters the big bath together with a sigh. Wrap in a soft towel afterwards and find a treat of shaved ice while you are waiting for the adults to finish. Walk home at night together again, holding your grandma’s hand.
Based on the author’s childhood visits to Japan in the summer, this book is so filled with warmth and love. The connection formed by bathing together, chatting, playing together and spending relaxing time together is so evident that it need not be stated outright. The writing keeps the focus on the importance of bath houses for families. It also gives stodgy Americans a chance to glimpse other ways of bathing, spending family time and respecting each other’s bodies.
The nakedness in the illustrations of this book will have some adults concerned while others will recognize it as a celebration of different body types as well as a look at Japanese culture in ways that is different from our American views. The pages are filled with sudsy, steamy, bubbly bodies, all naked and lovely.
A bubbly look into Japanese culture and the closeness of a family who may live far apart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Nao grew up not fitting in in the United States, hoping to find a place that felt more like home in Japan. She had visited as a child, but now was going to be attending Japanese cram school. She moved into Himawari House, a house shared with several other students, all attending the school but at different levels. Nao discovers that fitting in isn’t as simple as a shared language, especially when she doesn’t speak it as well as she thought. Two of the girls who also live in the house have left their own countries to study in Japan. They all learn to find a way to connect with both Japanese culture and their own. Whether it is through shared food, watching shows together around a laptop, or reconnecting with family they left behind.
This graphic novel is wonderful. There is so much tangled in the stories of the three girls. Each of the teens is a unique person with specific experiences that led them to come to Japan, whether it was well-planned or almost a whim. They all face difficulties and handle them in their own ways, which tell the reader even more about who they are. Add in a touch of romance and their search for a place to belong becomes painfully personal and amazingly universal at the same time.
The art is phenomenal. From silly nods to manga style to serious moments that shine with a play of light and shadow to character studies that reveal so much in a single image of one of the characters, the illustrations run a full gamut of styles and tones. The language in the book is also fascinating, sharing the English mixed with other languages, changes in linguistic formats and the blank moments that happen when learning a language. It’s all so cleverly done.
A great graphic novel that explores finding a place in the world to belong. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Miho Satake, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa (9781632063038)
When Kazu sees a strange girl leaving his house in the middle of the night wearing a white kimono, he wonders about it. But things are even stranger at school, when he is the only person who seems not to know Akari, the girl who exited his house that night. Everyone else seems to have known her for years and years. When Kazu follows Akari home, he realizes that her mother is invisible! As Kazu explores the history of his Kimyo Temple neighborhood, which doesn’t have a temple, he finds himself angering some of the older people in his community. Putting the pieces together, Kazu discovers that a small Buddha statue from his family’s home has the power to restore dead people to life! After getting to know Akari and her mother from her previous life, Kazu has a new quest, to give Akari the chance to read the ending of an unfinished story from decades ago. It may be the key to keeping Akari alive this time around and also the answer to the questions about Kazu’s own family and community.
Written by one of Japan’s most well-known and prolific children’s and YA fantasy authors, this book is a marvel. Kashiwaba weaves together multiple layers to create a book that is satisfying and full of magic. There is Kazu’s own life, going to school and having friends, going to the beach and enjoying his summer. There is the mystery of Akari with her empty house and invisible mother. There is the story of Kazu’s own family and the missing temple in his neighborhood to explore. Then the story that Akari loved in her previous life is shared on the pages, giving readers a witch-filled and magical story that is full of danger, cold and heroes. The last is to find the author herself and see if they can get the story finished. By that point, the reader is hoping that they can, because you simply must know how it ends!
Beautifully, Kashiwaba changes the style of her writing from Kazu’s story to the fantasy tale embedded in the novel. Kazu’s story is more modern with shorter lines and more exclamations. The lines lengthen in the witch’s story, becoming more storytelling. It’s very cleverly done. The characters are marvelous from Kazu himself at the heart of this unique zombie story to Akari who is learning to live a new life and loving every moment to the friends, parents and newly met people that Kazu meets along the way.
Unique, fascinating and completely wonderful, this Japanese import is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Izumi has never felt that she was either Japanese enough or American enough. She is caught in between. It doesn’t help that her father is an unknown and unnamed person. When one of Izzy’s friends discovers a clue in Izzy’s mother’s room, they soon discover that Izzy is the illegitimate daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan. After Izzy reaches out to him, she is soon whisked off to spend time with him in Japan. But being a princess isn’t what Izumi pictured. Her life is suddenly full of rules to follow, language lessons, etiquette lessons and strict schedules. Even ducking into a bathroom when she lands in Japan creates a schedule crisis and makes the tabloid news. Izumi is surrounded by jealous cousins, a bossy handmaiden, and a hot bodyguard. But finding true love isn’t easy when you are a princess and the world is watching.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as a Japanese remake of the Princess Diaries, but this novel is much more than that. Readers are on a journey to Japan along with Izzy. They will learn about traditions, folk tales, the royal family and more. The settings are beautifully described and Jean brings both Tokyo and Kyoto to full realization with her writing. Izzy’s search for where she belongs is complicated and very personal.
Izzy is a marvelous character. She’s a girl more comfortable in t-shirts, hoodies and leggings than in fitted dresses selected by her handmaiden. Surrounded by a new life, she struggles to figure out where she fits even though she suddenly looks like everyone else around her. As she learns Japanese language and customs, she retains her snarky attitude, much to the dismay of some of her handlers while also learning when to hold her tongue to have the impact she wants.
A fairy tale grounded in Japanese culture and identity with a sequel on the way. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Flatiron Books.
Grandmother’s bowl is precious for their family. Sachiko and family live in Nagasaki. At dinner, grandmother’s bowl is brought out and filled with food, Everyone bows their heads, pressing their hands together and says “itadakimasu.” Soon war comes to Nagasaki with its noises and the lack of food and other supplies. As the war continues and intensifies, the food in grandmother’s bowl changes too, becoming less and less. The family survives air raids, until one gets through. One of Sachiko’s siblings is killed in the blast. Her family leaves Nagasaki on foot, until they reach a hospital. Her brothers are very ill and both die from radiation from the bomb, other members of her family die too. Ice chips are all that help the survivors quench the burning. Two years later, Sachiko and her family return to Nagasaki and in the rubble of their home find grandmother’s bowl, unbroken and not even chipped. Going forward, ice chips are placed in the bowl on the anniversary of the bombing, watched as they melt away.
This picture book version of the award-winning book for older children, Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Journey, allows the story of Sachiko to be shared with elementary-aged children. Stelson manages to pare the story down, writing in poetic lines that capture the horror of war and atomic bombing as well as the wonder of finding anything still intact afterwards. The symbolic nature of the bowl and the ice chips is incredibly moving and repeats in the book so that readers deeply understand the loss and work that must be done.
Kusaka’s illustrations are beautifully spare. She has created touching moments that show the family around their table with the bowl at the center. When the bomb hits, the pages turn from a red burst to blackness. It’s a powerful use of image without words.
A book about war with a strong focus on peace. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
Makio loved spending time with his neighbor, Mr. Hirota in his garden that looked down upon the harbor. He could see his father at work along the shore. Then one day, the tsunami came. It took away Makio’s father and Mr. Hirota’s daughter. Everyone in the village lost someone that day. Silence descended upon the town along with their grief. A noise came that was Mr. Hirota building a phone book in his garden. A phone booth with an old-fashioned phone and no wires connecting it anywhere. Painted white, the booth gave the mourners an opportunity to reconnect with their lost family members, sharing their days from a phone booth on the hill overlooking the harbor.
This picture book is based on a true story of a Japanese man who built a phone booth in his garden to speak with his dead brother, which was then used by thousands of mourners in Osaka to speak to their dead relatives after the tsunami. The tale here is told with a deep grace and empathy that shines on every page. The dramatic impact of the wave both on the land and on the people who live there is shown clearly. The grief afterwards is palpable on the page too.
The illustrations were inspired by Japanese traditional techniques using watercolors, black ink and pencils as well as digital assembly. The resulting images are filled with a powerful mix of light and dark with the black ink giving a dramatic and strong impact.
A beautiful and aching story of loss and community. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Award-winning author Kadohata tells the story of a Japanese-American family forced to return to Japan after World War II because of their Japanese ancestry. After spending years in an internment camp in the United States, twelve-year-old Hanako and her family move to Japan to live with her paternal grandparents. They travel by ship first and then train until they reach the decimated city of Hiroshima, where her grandparents’ farm lies outside. All of Japan is poor and hungry, with black markets and children begging on the streets. Hanako meets her grandparents for the first time, discovering that her grandfather is very like her little brother who is five years old. Her grandmother is stooped over from the hard work in the fields. Hanako must face learning a new language, attending a new school in a different country, and trying to find a way forward for her entire family. It’s a lot of pressure, but Hanako learns steadily to adjust and change.
Kadohata’s novel for children tells the untold story of Japanese Americans forced to repatriate to their country of origin and renounce their American citizenship. It also gives an unflinching look at the aftermath of World War II in Japan, particularly with its setting near Hiroshima. That dark setting is juxtaposed against the warmth and beauty of discovering loving grandparents and building a new relationship. Yet there is a constant sense of loss in the book and a teetering feeling that things may suddenly change at any moment.
As always, Kadohata’s prose is beautiful. She vividly depicts Japanese life during the 1940’s and the unending work of being a tenant farmer. In the midst of all of the sorrow, loss and confusion, she places a loving family who are willing to sacrifice for one another and for brighter futures for the next generation. Through this family, there is intense hope broadcast on the page.
An important and vital book about the horrors of war and its aftermath on individual families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Genevieve Simms (9781771389631)
When Mayumi was born, her grandfather who lived in Japan built her a garden. It was a garden without tulips or flowers. Instead it was a garden of stones of all sizes. Around the edge, the garden had bushes and trees as well as a space for Mayumi to have a meal with her grandfather. As Mayumi grew up, she learned more and more about taking care of her garden alongside her grandfather. But then one summer, her grandfather could not care for his home or the garden anymore. When they arrived, the house was dusty and the garden was overgrown. Her grandfather had to use a wheelchair now. Mayumi is very angry and takes her anger out on the rocks of the garden, trying to topple the largest over. When she is unable to tip it over, she kicks the smaller rocks around. As her anger subsides, she rakes the garden back into order again and has an inspiration of what she can do to help both herself and her grandfather with this transition.
Uegaki was inspired to write this book by her own father who was a traditional Japanese landscaper and gardener. She captures with nicely chosen details the essence of a Japanese rock garden with its order, natural elements and upkeep. She also shows how a garden can create connections between in a long-distance relationship with a grandparent. She manages to have a strong point of view without being didactic at all, instead allowing the reader and Mayumi to experience the results of the garden without extra commentary.
The illustrations by Simms add to the understanding of the Japanese garden. Done in beautiful details, they offer images of the rocks, the moss, the gravel, and all of the elements. Using different perspectives for her images, she shows views from alongside the garden as well as from above. The same is true of the grandfather’s house as views change from outside looking in to the reverse.
A charming look at the connections between grandfather and granddaughter built through a garden. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
In the aftermath of World War II, Osaka remains devastated. Food is scarce with bad harvests and rationing. The luckiest people stand in long lines for bowls of ramen. When Ando sees this, he realizes that something must be done to help people. He decides to dedicate his life to food, first opening a salt business and eventually following his memories of those hungry people to figure out how to make instant ramen. It was a long process of invention, trial and error. Once he created the perfect noodles, he moved on to trying to figure out how to create the broth too. He tried many things and continued to fail until he saw his wife frying tempura and was inspired to fry his noodles first. Eureka!
This nonfiction picture book offers a frank and fascinating look at the process of the invention of instant ramen. From the original inspiration through all of the mistakes and trials to the final result. The book has a great pacing, lingering over the more touching moments of inspiration, zooming through years where Ando had other priorities, and then slowing once again to explore the experimental process of invention.
The illustrations are completely appealing and often have a broad sense of humor included. They have a sense of motion and cinematic approach, particularly while Ando is inventing the ramen. Using panels, the ideas flow quickly and fail just as fast. The result is a cleverly designed book that inspires.
Just as satisfying as a warm bowl of ramen, this is a delicious read. Appropriate for ages 5-8.