Japan in American Books
for Children

THE BOY OF THE THREE-YEAR NAP by Dianne Snyder, illustrated by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1988). Taro is smart but lazy. He won't help his own mother around the house. He sets in motion a plan to have all his wishes fulfilled without working, but his mother has plans for him, too. A Caldecott Honor Book. Ages 4-up.

THE FRIENDS by Kazumi Yumoto, translated by Cathy Hirano (Farrar, 1996). Kiyama and his friends, Kawabe and Yamashita, become fascinated by the subject of death and study an old man in their neighborhood. Ages 12-up.

HiroshimaHIROSHIMA: A NOVELLA by Laurence Yep (Scholastic, 1995). In this chapter book, Yep tells the story of Sachi, caught in the midst of the bombing of her city. The afterword and list of sources make this an especially complete account. Ages 7-up.

I LIVE IN TOKYO by Mari Takabayashi (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). In a clear, child's voice, young readers are treated to an illustrated tour of one of the great cities. Ages 3-up.

LITTLE SISTER by Kara Dalkey (Harcourt, 1996). Set in twelfth century Japan, Mitsuko has grown up the sheltered daughter. But when her family falls victim to raiders, she bravely journeys to the land of the dead. Ages 7-up.

THE LOYAL CAT (a Japanese tale) retold by Lensey Namioka, illustrated by Aki Sogabe (Browndeer, 1995). The Loyal Cat was recognized with a Golden Kite Award by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Ages 5-up.

The Magic FanTHE MAGIC FAN by Keith Baker (Harcourt, 1989). The story of Yoshi, who loves to build, and how he realizes he can rebuild the village, even without the magic fan. A uniquely designed picture book with pages cut like fans. Ages 4-up.

MoonshadowMOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA by Simon Higgins (Little Brown, 2010).  In this historical fantasy based on medieval Japan, the orphan Moonshadow has been raised as a ninja warrior spy by the members of the Grey Light Order to serve the shogun and preserve the peace against fractious warlords. In addition to being a master of stealth and swordsmanship, Moonshadow possesses the "eye of the beast," the ability to see through the eyes of animals.  Now, on his first mission, he must put all his skills to the test as he goes in alone to the the castle of a rebel warlord who wants to overthrow the shogunate... MOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA is a thoroughly fun, action-packed yarn.  Altogether, an engaging story of friendship, honor, and belonging. Ages 10-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

ONE BIRD by Kyoko Mori (Holt, 1995). Set in 1975, Megumi's work caring for birds helps her come to terms with her mother's decision to leave her husband and family. Ages 12-up.

Passage to FreedomPASSAGE TO FREEDOM: THE SUGIHARA STORY by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee, with an afterword by Hiroki Sugihara (Lee & Low, 1997). A fictionalized account about the Japanese consul to Lithuania, who defied the refusals of his government and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees. Told from the point of his son, Hiroki Sugihara, at age five. Non-fiction. Ages 5-up.

SHIZUKO'S DAUGHTER by Kyoki Mori (Holt, 1993). When her mother commits suicide, Yuki struggles against her loneliness and their shared qualities that challenge cultural expectations. Ages 12-up.

Tsubo the Little SnailTSUBU THE LITTLE SNAIL by Carol Ann Williams, illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi (Simon & Schuster, 1995). A retelling of a baby snail given by the Water God to a rice farmer and his wife to raise as their son. The snail goes on to marry a kind-hearted young woman, and they all are rewarded for their patience, respect, and love. Note at the back gives history of the author's relationship to this story. Ages 4-up.

Wabi SabiWABI SABI by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little Brown, 2008). "Wabi Sabi" is the Japanese concept of the beauty of impermanence. In WABI SABI, it's also the name of a cat driven to learn what his name means... Told in haiku and sparse prose, and illustrated in collage, WABI SABI beautifully explores the concept of wabi sabi and is an altogether lovely and elegant picture book. Ages 4-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.