This holiday season, consider these four books for kids, which in their different ways testify to the power of imagination, from the everyday through the most difficult of circumstances.
Junzo Terada’s book, A Good Home For Max (originally published in Japanese as Tabi’s General Store) is a charming book that helps younger readers (3-5 years old) to see the quiet beauty of an imaginative friendship. It’s a story about a little shopkeeper mouse named Tabi who tries to find a home for his friend, the toy dog Max. Tabi tries several tactics, but none seem to work until one day he finds out that Max is missing. Younger children will like Tabi’s different antics to find Max’s new home. Terada is a graphic designer as well as an illustrator, which is evident from the cheerful patterns on the shop floor to the cursive French labels on the goods in Tabi’s shop, to the “vintage” color scheme (reminiscent of early Little Golden Books like The Tawny Scrawny Lion).
My young daughters also enjoyed the book Juna’s Jar, written by Jane Bahk and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino. With the help of her older brother Minho, Juna uses her empty kimchi jar to go on unexpected adventures and find a friend. Hoshino’s illustrations convey Juna’s inner and outer worlds beautifully, from the range of emotions on Juna’s expressive face to the playful settings of the wondrous adventures that she embarks on during the night. Kids will appreciate how Juna’s able to use her imagination on her quest, as well as the many ways that she’s able to use her empty jar.
Parents who are seeking a book for very young readers about the Japanese American incarceration experience will appreciate the power and beauty of Loriene Honda’s book, The Cat Who Chose To Dream. Jimmy is a cat in a concentration camp, who uses his imagination and dreams in order to process and transcend the emotions and experience of trauma and incarceration. Among camp narratives, it’s remarkable for its emotional transparency, which can connect younger readers to the experience with a minimum of necessary historical context. The book’s illustrations are by camp survivor and artist Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, subject of the documentary The Cats of Mirikitani, who gave his permission for the artwork to be used before his death in 2012. The book’s also helpful in showing young kids different coping techniques for dealing with trauma, such as mindful breathing.
Finally, slightly older readers and Hayao Miyazaki fans can look forward to the English translation of Princess Mononoke: The First Story. Rather than a storybook adaptation of the 1997 movie with a similar name, this book is actually Miyazaki’s stand-alone adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” accompanied by a series of watercolor “concept sketches” that he did in 1980. Many elements from this fantasy book emerged later in his movies, including My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. As with several of his movies, there are themes of parental transformations and abandonments, environmental destruction, spirit possession, and anti-war messages, revolving around a strong central female character and a lovable animal-like companion. Here, Princess Mononoke must use her bravery as well as her imagination to save the day. Readers who enjoy Miyazaki’s movies will enjoy this book, although they should not expect it to follow the plotline of the movie.
These four books show that it’s a good time to be reading multicultural kids’ books, and to support efforts like We Need Diverse Books. Enjoy reading with your kids over vacation!
Children’s Pacific Reader: