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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Books: Japanese Transcendence

On and off, we choose a theme and try to read as much as we can (as our interest and time permits) on the subject. These days, I let the kids guide me about what they want to learn about and just go with the flow. Books, plus online resources, make a wonderful combination to encourage the curious minds. 

However, sometimes I come across some wonderful books that urge me to sneak some interest by strategically placing them in the kids' vicinity and bringing up the topic at dinner conversations and such.

Yet other times, we get lucky enough that dear friend(s) send(s) a few hand-picked books, and Nana sends a few gems our way as well, so, an interest is automatically generated.

Here are a few books embodying the much-valued Japanese elegance of finding beauty through simplicity. By no means an exhaustive list, this is just some that we read a while back, some of it the second time over for Og since Ana liked them a few years ago, that I didn't get a chance to share until now.

Wabi Sabi
by Mark Reibstein
art by Ed Young

Wabi Sabi: Finding beauty through simplicity. The book introduces this complex concept at the beginning and then sets out to explain it via a cat's journey through the country to discover the meaning of its name, Wabi Sabi.

The cut paper collage art work is deceptively simple-looking yet elegant and gorgeous. The pages are arranged vertically with a straight telling of the cat's journey. Plus, spare haiku placed next to the illustration complements the illustration and furthers the unfolding of the story.

There's text in Japanese on each page, which though we could not read, was transliterated and translated at the back of the book, which was fun for the 6 yo to read.

The tough part of reading this book was to hold it vertically and behold everything the page offers.

The 6 yo could understand an outcome of the story - of being content where you find yourself, of acceptance and harmony - after some informal chats. But, the book appealed more to me than to her at this time, which am sure will change as years roll by.

(Thanks, R, for giving us this book ages ago!)

[image source:]

Suki's Kimono
by Chieri Uegaki
illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

A beautiful X'mas present from a dear friend R (yep, the same one who gave us Wabi Sabi), Suki's Kimono immediately appealed to the 6 yo, reading it back-to-back a few times right after the first read.

The illustrations are beautiful, bright, cheerful. Suki wants to wear her kimono for her first day of school, the kimono her grandma gave her. Her older sister disapproves - the sisters go to the same school. Suki wears it anyway.

Suki gets to share the beauty of her outfit and her wonderful summer experience at a street festival with her grandma, who incidentally gave her the kimono.

A gentle book with gorgeous watercolors, which inspired us to make a simple craft: Japanese Girls in Kimono, using origami paper, glue, scissors and Popsicle stick.

[craft resources and inspiration: Ningyo tutorial and Asian Art education]

[image source:]

Origami Master
by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
illustrated by Aki Sogabe

Shima, an origami master, lives up in the peaceful mountains, all by himself, enjoying what he does. One day he folds a paper elephant but later he finds one folded with such simplicity and elegance like he has never seen before. This goes on for a couple of days, where his every origami creation is outdone by someone, thus intriguing Master Shima.

He hides and discovers a gentle warbler out-folding him with its melodious notes and simple beauty. He traps the bird and cages it hoping to find out its secret. However, the warbler is miserable and doesn't sing its hoohokekyo...hoohokekyo... any more and refuses to do its wonderful origami.

The master eventually sets it free realizing how much he misses its warbles and knowing how much the bird wants to be free.

The illustrations are gorgeous. With just 2 characters, the a profound story is quite impressive. There are instructions for making an origami bird at the back of the book.

[image source: Author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's website]

The Paper Crane
by Molly Bang

Molly Bang's books are much-loved by kids and respected by adults alike. This book tells the simple story of how a paper crane changes the fortune for the better when a stranger pays for his meal at a wayside restaurant with it.

The illustrations are almost 3-D like with a combination of cut paper collages and paintings. The story, while rather simple and open-ended, had its own elegance that most folk-tales from around the world command.

[Browse Inside: Harper Collins Chidren]
[image source:]

The Funny Little Woman
by Arlene Mosel
illustrations by Blair Lent

Tiki Tiki Tembo led us to this book that was a birthday present for Ana a couple of years ago (thanks, Nana!)

A little old woman, who laughs oddly, is content making dumplings and eking out a living by a river bank. One day, one of her dumplings rolls away. As she chases it down the river she meets some cunning Oni who want enslave her, only so they can be fed on a regular basis. With her cleverness, the woman escapes with the magic paddle and ends up becoming a rich woman.

The Oni did scare the then five-year-old, but they just amuse her now as she realizes they weren't really going to harm her except have her cook for them at all times, even if they looked fearsome.

The illustrations are wonderful, but the text didn't flow with the story as it did with Tiki Tiki Tembo, but still a good read.

[image source:]

Peach Boy and Other Japanese Children's Favorite Stories
by Florence Sakade
illustrated by Yoshisuke Kurosaki

A collection of classic stories from Japan, as the title suggests, the book was much-enjoyed by the kids. Some full-page and smaller illustrations lend color and complement the stories well.

Much like English translations of Indian folktales I grew up reading, the text in this book is from a different era but appealed to the then 6 year old anyway; while a slightly edited simpler text for some of the stories that I read aloud to the 3 year old was well received.

[image source:]

Zen Shorts
by John J Muth

"There is a really big bear in the backyard."

We, (and the three children), are introduced to Stillwater thusly.

Three ancient Zen tales are retold in context to the three children as they visit their neighbor, a giant and wise panda.

The illustrations are wonderfully elegant, breathtakingly beautiful. The tales offer a different perspective, much like The Three Questions (thanks, Nana for that book!) something to think about, for the young and the no-so-young alike.

Author's note shares some basic Zen principles and the sources for the stories Stillwater shares.

[image source:]

Fishing for the Moon and Other Zen Stories

by Lulu Hansen

Nine classic Zen stories are shared in this gorgeous pop-up book which might not appeal to kids as much as it does to adults.

Unlike Zen Shorts which easily engaged the kids, I found this book with the tiny print narrating one short profound-and-succinct story per page to not exercise the same charm, even though it did raise a lot of questions prompting a few discussions.

With no clear-cut answer that I could give them, or that they could arrive at, I am sure this book will grow with the kids and reveal its beauty to them as time goes by.

I loved it (thanks, R!) and think of my dear old friend who sent it for the kids' birthday last year, possibly knowing how much I needed it and would derive from it myself.

[image source:]

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At 12:12 PM, Blogger Sue S said...

I picked up most of these from the library yesterday and the kids are enjoying them! Thanks for the post.

At 5:07 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Sue S:: So glad to hear the kids are enjoying the books!


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