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Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino
Sora and the Cloud is like the children’s book version of a Murakami novel—a surreal adventure that leaves readers unsure what to make of it when it ends. The illustrations are lovely watercolor and ink on rice paper, adding convincing realistic detail to an imaginative story; it’s also written in English and Japanese, so bilingual parents can read the same story to their child.
The book starts out realistically enough: in the opening pages, Sora is a crawling baby. He learns to climb, walk, and as he gets older he makes his way up a tree. At the top of the tree, he cannot resist climbing onto a cloud, which takes him on an adventure through the sky. Sora and the cloud see skyscrapers, an amusement park, a festival of kites, and an airplane before they fall asleep together. Ironically, after falling asleep on the cloud, Sora dreams of realistic things like splashing in a big puddle or digging in wet sand.
Compared to monsters and villains from a lot of fairytales and other children’s tales, this surreal and beautiful journey would make a lovely bedtime story for any child, helping them drift off to sleep dreaming of fluffy clouds and pastel colors while learning some English and Japanese.
Recommended: 3-8 years.
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Ghosts for Breakfast by Stanley Todd Terasaki
Stanley Todd Terasaki’s Ghosts for Breakfast is a read that Japanese American families may enjoy reading together, but that not every child will be able to appreciate.
The story begins with three old men knocking at the door to tell the young narrator’s family that they have seen ghosts in the neighboring field. This tale, as explained on the book jacket, is based on an experience of the author’s ancestor, and takes place in a Japanese American farming community in the 1920s. The body of the story provides no explanation of the time and place, and the vague setting might not grab or hold the attention of children who are looking for something more relatable. What may engage them is the comic flavor of the three old men, referred to as The Troublesome Triplets, and the scared feeling evoked by the ghosts they describe. The suspense builds as the narrator and his father go out to the neighbor’s field to investigate. (more…)
Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells’s Yoko Writes Her Name, a contemporary fable about linguistic difference, shows what kindergarten might be like for an ELL (English Language Learner) kitten or child. Through this book a child might learn some good lessons about diversity, forgiveness, and acceptance. Little gray tabby Yoko speaks and reads out loud in English, but writes in Japanese, and that is how the whole story and conflict begins.
The first time the teacher asks everyone to write their names, Yoko writes hers in Japanese, and the teacher acknowledges “How beautifully Yoko writes in Japanese,” but two other kittens in kindergarten whisper, “Yoko can’t write. She is only scribbling!” “She won’t graduate from kindergarten!” Things get worse when the teacher invites Yoko to bring a book from home to read to the class and she reads it from right to left, not left to right. “Yoko is only pretending to read!” “She’ll never make it to first grade!” the mean kittens say.
Yoko feels forlorn and dejected until a gray mouse seeks her out and admires her “secret language.” She teaches him how to write out numbers in Japanese, and soon all the little animals want to write their names in Japanese. On parent’s night, Yoko’s mother brings in a big Japanese alphabet and the teacher declares that Japanese will be the class’s second language.
Soon Japanese is everywhere in the classroom, and all the little animals, with the exception of the two mean kittens, learn to write their names in Japanese. On graduation day, the class writes their names in two languages on their diploma, but the two mean kittens hide in the closet, worried they won’t graduate. Yoko finds them and teaches them to write their names in Japanese—just in time to join the graduation march.
While this book makes Japanese seem easier to learn than it might be for a kindergarten teacher and her class, it’s a nice ideal of how such a conflict would be resolved in a fantasy world. The illustrations are adorable, and in the top corners of facing pages the author/illustrator provides a small picture of things like a cup or a dog, and its corresponding page is the Japanese translation. You or your child probably won’t pick up Japanese from this book if you don’t already read and speak it a little, but this is the kind of multicultural text schools and libraries should have to celebrate diversity and inclusion.
Recommendation: Recommended: 3-6 years
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Book Review for How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
A Caucasian USAmerican sailor and Japanese student fall in love after dating for a year but they’ve never eaten together! In a suspenseful, delightful story we learn how they overcame their anxieties over how to eat “Japanese” (with chopsticks) and “Western” (with knife and fork) and got engaged. The narration is sweet and this is a simply told, dynamic story that you and your children will enjoy.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age: 5+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda