As Eddie and I begin to think about starting our family, we have been having some interesting discussions late into the night. They go something like this…”So what will our children be?” “Well first and foremost, they will simply be children. After that, quarter Japanese, quarter Chinese, half Caucasian.” “Yeah but if we break down the Asian half, don’t we have to break down the Caucasian half into Swedish and English?” “Don’t we have to specify Singapore Chinese instead of mainland Chinese?” And on it goes in our discussion of identity crisis, multiculturalism, and the joys and perplexities of creating a mixed race family.
I remember early on dreaming of having bilingual babies running around with an adorable mix of Japanese and English bubbling from their sweet mouths. However, I have since then come down to earth and realized that taking care of little ones is the hardest, most self-sacrificing and draining (but also most rewarding!) job any human could take on, and as such, bringing the feat of true bilingualism into the mix might be just too much. All that being said, we do want them to be able to speak at a relatively advanced level of Japanese & maybe go to Japanese Saturday school in order to be able to converse with Eddie’s father and extended family in Osaka. We want them to fully experience the wonderful Grandpa I know he will be to them!!!:D<3
So, I discovered three darling children’s books (via a wonderful blog called Julia’s Bookbag) that incorporate Japanese language and culture while still possessing what I look for in any children’s story: sweetness, magic, and innocence! They truly will sweep you away!
The first has probably become my all-time favorite children’s story: “Sora and the Cloud” by Felicia Hoshino. The entire book is written in both English and Japanese (& as a bonus, the Japanese is incredibly simple so much so that even I, who has a pitiful grasp on the language, can read it). How cool to be able to read a story in two languages?!!?! And even if you don’t know Jpn, I think it would be beneficial for any child to see another language and experience its strangeness, to be awakened to the fact that the world is so much larger and mysterious than they ever thought possible, and to hear that Mom and Dad actually don’t know how to do something!
I adore the simplicity of this story. How the everyday is still so beautiful: baby Sora just laying in his sun-filled crib like any baby does, going to the park with Mama, eating dinner in perfect chaos. Oh and I LOVE the baby-wearing in the story!
This title page is also incredibly pivotal to the story and I love that! It’s like a little mystery and lesson in noticing what we normally skip over!
Anyway, the story goes that Sora discovers this cloud and goes on an incredible adventure.
Without giving too much away, this story is about a child relating their past experiences (even those experiences as a small infant) to the amazing present and likewise relating their present sensorial experiences to their memories. Wow! Could it get any more powerful?! I was, as Sora and the cloud were, “swept away.”
And finally, it has this awesome page at the back that explains what each little Japanese phrase means and has some Japanese cultural references as well. Babies and toddlers will likely opt out from this one, but I think this page will make the book come alive for older children.
The next story is pure fun! “Pot-san’s Tabletop Tales” by Satoshi Kitamura is not so much a delving in Jpn culture/language as it is an embracing of Jpn ‘kawaii’ animation style! It’s just so cute!!>.<
I love that this book reads like a very young children’s story but appears like a chapter book with 4 little story vignettes that explore the worries and fun of making new friends and trying new things!
I feel like this is a great book to read with your baby (yes, with your baby!). The stories are very short and incorporate a lot of dialogue. Baby will be able to hear your inflections and will be joyously stimulated by the bright colors of the illustrations!
The last book on the list is “Kimonos” which is put out by the Kokeshi brand. I found this book to be surprisingly rooted in Jpn culture (family bathing, school uniforms, kimono). If read slowly, it really has some great Jpn language learning moments.
It’s also highly interactive. It’s what I like to call a ‘pointing and peaking’ book; there are many activities that coax children to point things out and many flaps to peak under!
I think these 3 books will make an adorable and teachable addition to our family someday! I’m curious to know, how are you incorporating multiple cultures/heritages/races/countries of origin into your mixed race family? Is this something that is important to you even if your family is not mixed race? Share with me your efforts large and small!! I’d really love to know!<3
xoxo chloe ella