I’ve started having ‘theme’ months when it comes to reading with a focus on countries around the world.
Really, it’s just an excuse to get the kids excited to go to restaurants that I want to eat in.
This month we went to Japan with these books:
by Susan Lendroth with pictures by Priscilla Burris
Oh how we all love Natsumi.
This little firecracker of a girl just can’t quite find a hobby that fits with her energetic nature. She always stands out with her noise and rambunctious nature.
Everyone in her family has a hobby to showcase at the annual village festival (Obon festival – a festival to honour the spirits of the dead). Her grandmother arranges the flowers, her father is in charge of the tea ceremony and her mother will dance the Bon Odori (a fan dance to welcome the dead spirits). But she isn’t gentle with the flowers, she gets matcha on her dad’s glasses and she gets quite rowdy with her fan.
Only her grandfather sees where her spirit fits perfectly: taiko drumming.
This book is very much loved in our house – not only does Alice look like/act like Natsumi, but George loves anything to do with drums. Fantastic read!
by Chieri Segaki with pictures by Stéphane Jorisch
I bought this books years ago for my niece and it’s always been in my mind for my own kids. I was so excited to share it with them!
It’s Suki’s first day of school and she insists on wearing her blue cotton kimono that her obāchan (grandmother) gave her. Her sister’s think she should wear something ‘cool’ but Suki doesn’t care about cool.
She loves the kimono because it reminds her of her obāchan and the summer festival they went to (another book about the Obon festival). Suki had the best day with her grandmother: they slurped bowls of slippery sōmen noodles, had shaved ice and red bean sauce, and watched taiko drummers. Suki even learned the fan dance alongside her obāchan which she shows to her class.
Suki shows to us that you should always follow your heart and not worry what others might think. This is such a sweet story about a precious relationship, culture and staying true to who you are.
by Roxane Marie Galliez with illustrations by Seng Soun Ratanavanh
This is a visually stunning book – the pictures are works of art!
It’s time for Miyuki to go to bed. But like most children, she finds many things to do before she will go to bed. She must water her vegetables, collect snails, prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen and cover the cat. Her patient grandfather grants her all these demands until both are so tired they finally fall asleep.
I love this book because it’s unique, beautiful and Miyuki’s imagination is so powerful.
by Marie Takabayashi
This is a book about a little girl named Mimiko and her little brother who live in Tokyo. She takes us through each month of the year and what that month brings to her family.
It’s both fiction and non-fiction. The readers get to see what everyday life looks like for the average Japanese child. My kids are dying to sit on the floor to eat dinner – just like Mimiko does at her grandparent’s house.
by Robert Paul Weston with pictures by Misa Saburi
Sakura is a little girl who loves the spring. This is perfect because her name means cherry blossoms. She loves to sit under a giant cherry tree with her Obaachan when the blossoms are pink and bright.
One day she must move to America with her parents and leaves her Obaachan behind. She feels so sad and lonely in this new place and misses her grandmother. But a little boy, Luke, shows her the stars and the moon through his telescope to cheer her up. They become friends and it’s his friendship that helps Sakura through the most painful part of her life.
by Sanae Ishida
Do you have a reader who loves ninja’s? I do! So this book is epically popular with him. And it gets extra bonus points because the ninja is girl named Kunoichi (koo-no-ee-chee)!
Kunoichi lives on a secret island, in a super secret village with her ninja family (including her ninja pet bunny) and she goes to a very special all-girls ninja school.
Unfortunately, the lessons are challenging for Kunoichi who is having a hard time with her ninja tasks. One day she meets Chibi Samurai – a little boy who goes to the Samurai Dojo Institute who is also having a hard time with his lessons. Together they shugyo (this means train like crazy) together and become an awesome ninja and samurai.
This book is especially fun because Ishida adds lots of fun Japanese tidbits you get to learn!
by Rosemary Wells
I LOVE this book for the stunning illustrations that have gold gilding and look like origami paper.
Yoko is a little cat who loved to feed the cranes at the end of the garden with her Obbaasan. Her Ojiisan taught her to make her beloved cranes out of paper.
One day, Yoko must move to America with her parents (ummm, sound familiar?) and misses her grandparents very much. She wants to send her Obaasan a birthday gift but has no money so instead makes three cranes of different colours to send to Japan.
After reading this book, your children will want to make origami animals. So you will. And when it comes time to make the crane you may, or may not, get so freaking frustrated at all the folds and instructions that your crane resembles a screwed up piece of paper.
Or was that just me?
by Etsuko Watanabe
Similar to I Live in Tokyo, this book is about a young girl, Yumi and her family their life in Tokyo. With great intricate illustrations, we truly see what a Japanese kitchen looks like (a pantry in the floor!?), what Yumi’s school looks like (the students help clean the school!), and a traditional public bath (I seriously could have used this information before I went to Japan).
With all these books you will truly feel like a Japanese expert. Here are some other things we did to implement this ‘Japan’ month:
- Make origami animals (fun fact: rabbits are the easiest. Cranes are not)
- Go to a Japanese restaurant. We took the kids to Robo Sushi in North York where robots serve you food (of course this idea came from Japan) and for ramen.
- Go to a Japanese grocery story (if you have one where you live). We have J-Town in Markham where we could get Pocky and the BEST mochi at Sasaki Fine Pastry
- Listen to Japanese music (while doing origami – my husband said I was doing Japan overload)
- Go to a Japanese festival (check with the local cultural centre if you have one).
- Watch National Geographic kids go to Japan