This time, they would be going to Japanese schools for the first time, and there would be many cultural differences to get used to- like the fact that Japanese elementary kids all wear hats and a special kind of backpack, walk to school on their own, eat with chopsticks, take turns serving lunch (usually fish, rice, and vegetables) to each other at lunchtime, and regularly help clean their classrooms and schools.
Books are our family’s most precious resource, so when it came time for me to think of ways to prepare them for this huge change in their lives, of course, I sought out a picture book!
There are some great books out there. [amazonify]0618494847::text::::I Live in Tokyo[/amazonify] by Mari Takabayashi is written from the perspective of a little Japanese girl and goes through the seasons and holidays of the year. It’s a great introduction to authentic holiday traditions and has captivating illustrations which are fascinating to children encountering Japan for the first time.
I also wanted a book which would address daily life and my children’s feelings of displacement as they settled into their new country. [amazonify]0807578223::text::::The Way We Do It In Japan[/amazonify] by Geneva Cobb Iijima is a wonderful find. It’s the story of a little boy, Gregory, who moves with his family to Japan and has to learn how to adapt to Japanese ways as the new kid at school. It’s sprinkled with tidbits about life in Japan readers learn about how Japanese children take their shoes off inside the house, sleep on futons on the floor, don’t have much furniture if they are living in a traditional Japanese home, and take hot Japanese-style baths every night. We read this book countless times both before and after our move.
Even now, over three years later, our kids love to revisit the book and reflect on the many ways they’ve had experiences like Gregory’s, gotten past them, and thrived. While The Way We Do it In Japan is about living in Japan, it’s also ideal for children who are just visiting Japan because of its authentic, slice-of-life feel.
For children who are interested in a book which reflects beloved Japanese values such as loyalty and patience, one story which tugs at the heartstrings of many Japanese children is the tale of Hachiko, a real-life dog who met her master at the train station every evening to accompany him home, and continued to go and wait there for him even after he died unexpectedly at work one day. Decades later, Hachiko is now immortalized as a statue at one of Tokyo’s busiest stations, and the story of Hachiko is known to all who live here.
Our children were entranced by [amazonify]0547237553::text::::Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog [/amazonify] by Pamela S. Turner because of the beautiful simple drawings, the many cultural references, and of course, the story of a faithful dog – something which transcends culture in its universal appeal to everyone. The lesson my children took away from this book was that even though we are all very different people living in different countries and cultures, at heart we all experience and are touched by stories of love and loss.
Christine is a mother of four, crafter, journalist, and author. She wrote The Diaper-Free Baby(HarperCollins, 2007), a book about elimination communication, and a book and craft kit, Origami Suncatchers (Sterling, 2011). She’s now writing a book about global parenting practices to be published by Avery, a Penguin Books imprint, in 2013. Visit her at her blog. (Bio updated 2/28/2011)
What do you think about this new subject matter for A Traveler’s Library? Shall we continue to present books from a Children’s Section from time to time?