Posts tagged ‘Japanese’

September 20, 2010

Save the next generation of politicians, ball players, and world citizens by reading real books like this one

I swear, so many picture/board/early readers about baseball end with the short guy hitting a game-winning home run, that my son is going to grow up thinking that that’s just how baseball games end.  But this one goes a lot deeper–a LOT deeper–than most of them, so not only do I love reading it, but my son, who loves any book with pictures of bats and balls in it, loves hearing it.  The great thing about this book is that it has a strong message and an important historical lesson without sounding too preachy.  The illustrations are beautiful, although I do have a slight issue with books that differentiate between the past and the present with the number of colors used.  I mean, seriously, history was NOT actually in black and white.  Or sepia.

Title: Baseball Saved Us
Author: Ken Mochizuki
Genre
: Picture Book, Historical Fiction
Age: 0 – 9

Summary and Review:

The book follows the story of a young Japanese-American boy who struggles to play on a baseball team in America with kids who are often taller than him.  Then he starts to hear a lot of things about “some place far away” called Pearl Harbor and all of the sudden, his school friends hate him and call him awful names.  Before he knows it, his family is shipped off to a “camp” with other Japanese-Americans, forced to leave their homes and most of their belongings behind.

The book describes some of the basic details about camp life and then describes how they decided to start baseball games.  Our young hero gets better with practice and finds his strength by wanting to defy the armed guard in the tower above him, watching his every move on the field.  Later, he returns home and joins another baseball team.  He’s still one of the shortest players, but he’s gotten much better.  Over all, it’s a story of human strength and perseverance in the face of terrible obstacles.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Most people would say you can’t read a story like this to a younger kid–they won’t get it, they won’t sit for all the text, or the issues are too deep.  I say “bullocks”.  Or “bollocks”.  I’m not sure because I’m not British.  At any rate, I don’t believe that.  When I started reading this to my son, he wasn’t even one, but he liked the baseball picture.  I would summarize the text on each page to about one sentence and read the book that way.  (I read a lot of books this way and eventually lengthened the summaries until I was reading the entire text.)  As far as introducing deep issues goes, I believe that kids will understand what they are ready to understand.  By being honest with them from the beginning, we give them a framework in which to analyze the complicated world they eventually must navigate for themselves.

For older kids in grades 3 and up

Even though it’s a picture book, much older kids will relate to this book.  Do you have an elementary student–or even a middle school student–struggling to understand something in history class?  Too often classroom history takes issues like geography, war, and politics and disassociates them from the reality of people living in that time frame.  Ask your kids to read this book and then talk about why the United States created policies and camps like this.  Talk to your kids about what they think about that.  Talk to them about what these camps did to the people living in them.  Then ask them a crucial question–what would they think if something like this happened today?  Helping kids relate characters from history to characters today can help them realize that history isn’t just a list of dates–it’s real people living real lives, with all the love, hatred, heartbreak, and adventure that comes with that.  Then go back to the issue in history with which they were struggling to understand.  Can they picture the people who were going through that?  Can they imagine what kinds of things they were doing and how they would have felt?  If so, chances are they understand their issue a lot better.

September 8, 2010

An enthralling, exciting, fantastical, and very real BRAVE story

Title: Brave Story
Author
: Miyuki Miyabe
Genre
: Fantasy
Age: Older and wiser middle schoolers, Grades 7 and up

Summary and Review:

Wow.  I mean seriously WOW.  This book was a LOT to read.  In a good way.  But also in a deep way.  A dark way.  A profound way.  And a very REAL way.  This book is not for the light at heart.  It’s for students who want their books to represent their world, not sugar-coated, and probably (hopefully) much darker than the one they inhabit.  It’s the kind of book parents want to think their children aren’t ready for and the kind of book that those same children probably need to read.  I loved it, but I admit, I loved it even more in retrospect than while reading.  It is long; it is complex.

The dark moments are far outnumbered by lighter moments, but they are there and they are not likely to be forgotten.  The main character, Wataru, is a young boy whose parents are getting divorced and the boy is going through very real feelings of loss and guilt about that. Simultaneously, he discovers a portal to a fantasy world through which a friend of his–or rather a popular boy who he wishes was a friend–has also traveled.  That fantasy world imitates in many ways his favorite video game, a fact which at first irritated me because it seemed so fake, but which I came to love as a metaphor for him inventing this world as he goes, trying to make sense of the real world back home through challenges and parallels he discovers in this new, fascinating, and imaginative world.

The fantasy world is equipped with everything you want a fantasy world to have: great characters, interesting and very different towns, warring peoples, and complex politics.  Our young hero starts out with very little power or strength but begins to find his own.  The world is full of surprises, challenges, and certainly some scariness.  And somewhat intense parallels to Wataru’s situation at home.

The book certainly touches on deep subjects.  Wataru’s father is leaving his mother for another woman, and while he sees his father as the culprit in a very black and white way at the beginning of the book, he later learns that his father originally left this woman for his mother and starts to wonder what it all means. The conversations are real, something that kids will especially appreciate.  When he and his dad finally sit down to talk about the separation, his dad says “Convictions are important decisions, the kind you can’t go back on.” And Wataru thinks, but doesn’t say “So abandoning me and Mom was an important decision.”  But then he asks his father “So what are your convictions, Dad.  I mean, Mom is really sad, and Grandma’s furious, and all Uncle Lou does is hold his head in his hands and moan.  How can convictions be worth all that?”  In other words, Wataru asks what a lot of kids would want to ask.  The conversation goes further.  Wataru’s dad says that “You only live once/”  and that “If you think you’ve made a mistake, you have to fix what can be fixed.” But Wataru doesn’t know the whole history and doesn’t understand.  He thinks to himself “Dad’s life was a mistake.  So…what does that make me?”  He tries to ask these questions to his father, but just like in real life, they get stuck in a generation gap of understanding.

At one part of the book, his friend wakes him up when his mother has turned on the gas in their apartment in at attempt to kill both herself and him.  This is a parallel story to something that had already happened to this same friend.

I know some people will be turned away by the darker aspects of the book, and others by the unfamiliar cultural setting–the book was translated from the Japanese.  If your child is honestly too young to handle material like this, then that’s probably a good decision.  But most children can handle more than their parents think–and there are many children who would benefit greatly from reading a book like this.  Besides, I firmly believe that children, like anyone, will get out of a book what they are ready to get out of it, and very little more.

But you know that boy in school–there are many of them–who bury their heads in fantasy novels, rarely read a book less than 500 pages, invent complex games or stories of their own, and might even have parents who are divorced?  Please buy him this book.  And get it for a lot of other kids, too.

The book’s English edition won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award in 2008.  The author, born and raised in Tokyo, worked first at law offices and has previously written crime novels, which gives this project some more context.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This is one to read alongside your child.  The darker aspects will have you wanting to engage in a conversation immediately and often–what do you think about this?  Isn’t it awful?  You’ll want to reassure your children that the world isn’t (always) like this, and likely your instinct will be to hope they don’t really relate.  But hold back.  Let them experience it for themselves.  Let them ask you questions.  Let them know you’ve read it, too, and you understand.  But let your kids guide you through this one.  Otherwise you take most of the magic away.

If you like, here are some possible questions to ask when they are done (although, please, put them in your own words, or you will be met with eye-rolling):

What was the importance of Mitsuru’s character?  Why do you think he was portrayed as someone more popular than Wataru, someone Wataru looks up to, but also someone experiencing many of the same things as Wataru?  Mitsuru seems to be a symbol of something.  What?

How does this family deal with divorce?  What have you noticed about any of your friends who are going through this?  Does this make you think about it any differently?

What does Wataru learn about himself?  How does he learn it?  How does the contrasting character of Mitsuru help illuminate what Wataru is learning?

How do you (or your friends) use fantasy to escape or explain your own reality?  (This could be a week-long conversation.)  Help your child understand that when they go online to play a game or social network (especially those kids who social network and try on different personalities, which is definitely the fad now), they are using fantasy worlds in almost the same way as Wataru, even if it’s much less obvious.  See if you can get them to tell you why they and their friends like to do that.  And then you may have solved the mystery of the online generation!

Good luck with that!