Eiko Kadono Named to Andersen Award Shortlist

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Japanese author Eiko Kadono has been named to the shortlist for the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award (“little Nobel”) in Writing. She is the author of Kiki’s Delivery Service, basis of the well-known animated film by Studio Ghibli.

Born in Tokyo in 1935, Kadono has written and translated prolifically for children of multiple generations.

The International Board on Books for Young People notes, “When she was ten, Eiko Kadono was evacuated to northern Japan during the Pacific War. These memories formed the basis of one of her best-known stories, Rasuto ran (Last Run, 2011) and the experience of war as a child is at the root of her commitment to peace and happiness. She studied American literature and then travelled extensively in Europe as well as in North and South America and began writing. She has published nearly 250 original works—picture books, books for pre-schoolers, fantasy and young-adult—and translated into Japanese more than 100 works by foreign authors including Raymond Briggs and Dick Bruna. Her best-known works include Zubon senchosan no hanashi (Tales of an Old Sea Captain, 1981) and Odorobo Burabura-shi (Grand Thief Burabura, 1981), both of which won prizes in Japan. In 1985 she published the first of six volumes of Majo no takkyubin (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1985) that won the Noma and Shogakukan Prizes and was selected for the IBBY Honour List in 1986. Eiko Kadono has also been a champion of reading and books for children and has been recognised for her contributions to children’s literature with the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2000, and the Order of the Rising Sun—Gold Rays with Rosette in 2014.”

This video shows the 2018 Andersen Award shortlistees, including Kadono, and gives a glimpse of their workspaces. It also shows the Andersen jury at work.

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono has been published in English by Annick Press, translated by Lynne E. Riggs.


An Unexpected Music: The Beast Player

Review by Alexander O. Smith, Kamakura

Fans of Nahoko Uehashi have had a long wait for another book in English translation from the internationally acclaimed fantasy author since the publication of the second volume of the Moribito series in 2009. The Beast Player is not a continuation of that, but the first English entry in an entirely new story that already spans four volumes in Japanese. Available as of March 1st from Pushkin Press, The Beast Player collects the first two volumes of the series with translation into English courtesy of Cathy Hirano, who also translated the Moribito books.

Right: Nahoko Uehashi (Goodreads)

The Beast Player follows the story of Elin, the green-eyed daughter of a “beast doctor” who looks after the Toda—massive, scaled creatures ridden into battle by the Toda warriors. Elin and her mother’s eyes mark them as members of a secretive tribe of wanderers called the Ahlyo, though her mother renounced her tribal affiliations to live amongst the Toda Stewards.

In the first half of the book, we learn how Elin comes to leave her home and settle into a new life under the care of Joeun, a lapsed academic who has taken up beekeeping. We are also introduced to some of the other major players in the world: the Yojeh, an empress who acts as the political and spiritual leader of the land, and the Aluhan, a duke who commands armies faithful to the Yojeh to protect their borders. The second half follows Elin as she rises through the ranks of students at Kazalumu, a sanctuary where they care for Royal Beasts—fantastical creatures that look something like giant wolves with wings.

Along the way, we occasionally step into the viewpoint of other characters, such as Ialu, one of a cohort of bodyguards who serve the Yojeh for life (a life often cut short by an assassin’s arrow—not all is well in the Yojeh’s realm), and Esalu, the headmistress at the sanctuary. Those with difficulty keeping the large cast of characters straight will be happy to hear there is a list at the beginning of the book that includes a family tree for the Yojeh’s royal family.

Uehashi’s story is an intriguing blend of many elements that will be familiar to fans of contemporary western fantasy—a strong female lead, a school for gifted students, the challenges of taming fantastical creatures—and other details that will feel more specifically Japanese, like meals of steamed rice and miso, and an emperor considered by many of her subjects to be divine.

One of the cornerstones of fantasy is worldbuilding, and here The Beast Player does not disappoint. Perhaps taking cues from her earlier work as an anthropologist, Uehashi lays out the tribal affiliations and politics of her world with clarity and depth. Class plays a large role in the story as well, with details such as dress and occupation following the internal logic of a carefully crafted fictional society. This enables the main narrative thread following Elin’s attempts at inter-species communication with the Royal Beasts via playing a hand-made harp to function as a kind of allegory for communication across barriers of class and race.

Language is an aspect of fantasy worldbuilding that can either be treated as an afterthought or, as is the case in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, an integral part of the story. In The Beast Player, we learn early on that the name for Elin’s people, the Ahlyo, is a bastardization of their true name, “Ao-Loh,” meaning “Guardians of the Oath.” The oath, we are told, was sworn by their people to never repeat a terrible mistake made long in the past. This is the first glimpse we are given of a secret history that is frequently hinted at throughout the story, the knowledge of which ultimately comes to play a role in informing our heroine’s actions.

Somewhat challenging is the terminology in the book. In the opening, many aspects of caring for the Toda are described with capitalized words: the Ponds, the Chambers, the Law. There are also words in an indeterminate language, such as the tokujisui medicine administered to the Toda, and political terms—the Chief Steward, the Aluhan—that can be a bit confusing at first. Here again, I turned back to the list of characters at the beginning to keep everything straight.

Thankfully, the prose is more than strong enough to carry the reader through those initial speed bumps. Hirano is a gifted stylist, and the combination of her deft word choice with Uehashi’s evocative images keeps the story flowing while bringing us moments of lyrical beauty.

In a market glutted with streamlined page-turners that take more hints from Hollywood than the classics of fantasy, The Beast Player, with its leisurely paced, meandering storytelling, can feel at times like a throwback. And yet, opening a doorway to different takes on familiar genres is exactly the aim of Pushkin Children’s Books. Given the alternative of shelves laden with dystopian Hunger Games clones I’m glad that Pushkin and Hirano opened that door and let The Beast Player, like its titular character, make an unexpected music of its own.

Right: Cathy Hirano (Skye Hohmann for BookBlast®)

All About the Freeman Book Awards

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), the Committee on Teaching about Asia (CTA) of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), and Asia for Educators (AFE) at Columbia University, the annual Freeman Book Awards “recognize quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of East and Southeast Asia.”

When her translation of the novel Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan from Chinese won the 2017 young adult/middle school literature award, Helen Wang wished to know more and asked David Jacobson, whose Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko received a 2016 honorable mention in the children’s literature category. Here is David’s response, which also appears at Chinese Books for Young Readers.


David: Thanks, Helen, for this opportunity. To be frank, I didn’t know much about the Freeman Book Awards either, when my publisher applied for consideration. That was in the winter of 2016, and we had just learned that a new Asia-related prize would be added to the slew of children’s book awards announced at the American Library Association’s annual mid-winter meeting. So, of course we applied…

In April, we received word that Are You an Echo?  had received an honorable mention, so I did a little sleuthing online to find out more about the awards. In so doing, I discovered that the University of Washington’s East Asia Resource Room was about to hold a National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) seminar using my book as one of its teaching materials. So I contacted them and offered to introduce the book and answer questions, if they desired. They did, and I ended up teaching a seminar to about 25 elementary and secondary school teachers.

The NCTA aims to make a “permanent place for East Asia in K-12 classrooms in the United States.” 


Which brings me to what I find so striking about my experience with the Freeman Award: the immediate connection it has helped me create with teachers who care about introducing Asia to their students. Besides the seminar last spring, NCTA also invited me to participate in two sessions at its upcoming summer institute (one about Echo and the other about the database of translated children’s books in Chinese, Japanese and Korean that we published here), and possibly an online webinar in the fall.

That, it turns out, is the essence of NCTA’s mission: to make a “permanent place for East Asia in K-12 classrooms in the United States,” according to Mary Hammond Bernson, who is both NCTA co-founder as well as the director of the East Asia Resource Center at UW, one of the seven national coordinating sites that make up NCTA.

Founded in 1988, NCTA’s principal vehicle for aiding teachers has been its teacher seminars; some 22,000 educators have participated to date. But a few years ago, it discovered that other organizations were recognizing and promoting international children’s books with prizes such as the South Asian Book Awards, but there were none for East and Southeast Asia.

So it started the Freeman Book Awards. Unlike other prizes such as the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the APALA Children’s Book Awards (which are limited to those who are Asian or of Asian descent), the Freeman awards do not consider Asian-American focused topics.

“We are simply hoping to promote literature, as opposed to text books, that will interest K-12 students,” says Roberta Martin, a senior researcher at Columbia and also a co-founder of NCTA (Columbia is another of the national coordinating sites).

The awards are named for the Freeman family, whose foundation (the Freeman Foundation) funds both NCTA and the book prizes. For a colorful history of the Freeman family’s 100-year-long association with Asia, see this interview of Houghton Freeman.

The Freeman Book Awards are offered in two categories, children’s and young adult literature. Submission guidelines and instructions can be found here. This year’s deadline for books published in 2018 is August 31.

Winners and Honorable Mentions 2017 

Children’s Literature

  • Winner: The Crane Girl by Curtis Manley, illustr. by Lin Wang (Shen’s Books) – Fiction, set in Japan
  • Honorable Mention: An’s Seed by Zaozao Wang, illustr. by Li Huang, tr. Helen Wang (Candied Plums; Bilingual edition) – Fiction, set in China
  • Honorable Mention: Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet by Sanae Ishida (Little Bigfoot) – Fiction, set in Japan
  • Honorable Mention: My First Book of Vietnamese Words by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc (Tuttle Publishing; Bilingual edition) – Fiction, set in Vietnam

Young Adult/Middle School Literature

  • Winner: Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, illustr. by Meilo So, tr. Helen Wang (Candlewick Press) – Fiction, set in China
  • Honorable Mention: Hotaka: Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones by John Heffernan, edited by Lyn White (Allen & Unwin) – Fiction, set in Japan
  • Honorable Mention: Ten: A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – Fiction, set in Malaysia
  • Honorable Mention: The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang (Simon & Schuster; Aladdin) – Fiction, set in China

Young Adult/High School Literature

  • Winner: The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball by Doris Jones Yang (Spark Press) – Fiction, set in Japan and the U.S.
  • Honorable Mention: Want by Cindy Pon (Simon & Schuster; Simon Pulse) – Fiction, set in Taiwan
  • Honorable Mention: Tanabata Wishby Sara Fujimura (Wishes Enterprises, LLC) – Fiction, set in Japan

 Winners and Honorable Mentions 2016

Children’s Literature

  • Winner: My Night in the Planetarium by Innosanto Nagara (Seven Stories Press) – Non-Fiction, set in Indonesia
  • Honorable Mention: Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by Misuzu Kaneko (Chin Music Press) – Non-Fiction, set in Japan

Young Adult/Middle School Literature

  • Winner: Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) – Fiction, set in Japan
  • Winner: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) – Fiction, set in Japan
  • Honorable Mention: Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth by Holly Thompson (Henry Holt BYR/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group) – Fiction, set in Japan

Young Adult/High School Literature

  • Winner: Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland (Amulet, an imprint of ABRAMS) – Non-Fiction, set in North Korea
  • Honorable Mention: Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group) – Non-Fiction, set in Japan

Don’t Know What “Ippai Attena” Means? You Will.

By Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

Rudorufu to Ippai Attena by Hiroshi Saito is a cute chapter book about a little black cat who finds himself lost in the big city, after inadvertently boarding a long-haul truck. He befriends a tough stray who knows a few tricks—including how to read human language. Can Rudolf use what he learns to find a way home?

Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda as Rudolf and Ippai Attena, it’s put out in English by Kodansha in their Eigo Bunko line (which hardcore Haruki Murakami fans might be aware of, as it was the only way to read his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in English [translated by Alfred Birnbaum] until the 2015 version translated by Ted Goossen). Since Rudolf is a book published in Japan for young English learners, complete with a vocab list in the back, you might wonder how the translators approached it.

At a talk Iwabuchi and Enda gave recently in Tokyo, they said their goal was for English-speaking elementary-schoolers to be able to understand and relate to the story. As such, one of their focuses, besides navigating cultural things like torii and fish varieties, was making street-smart Ippai Attena sound like he could handle a fight without veering into words children shouldn’t use. Iwabuchi described English bad words as similar to Japanese keigo, in that there are various registers and situational uses. When she said this, I immediately thought of how kono yarō can operate on so many levels of English insults, from “Ya little booger” to “You bastard” (and surely beyond).

Speaking of “Ippai Attena,” though, if you’re wondering how this unconventional name made it through as-is, the main rationale was that the title is equally mysterious in Japanese (I won’t spoil what it means here). The translators do work an explanation into the text. While there may have been smoother options, the book’s very clear setting in Japan includes a few other references to the Japanese language, so the rōmaji doesn’t feel entirely misplaced.

As it turns out, the name joke was only one of many the translators had to cope with, including that most brutal pun, sake/salmon. And Ippai Attena’s trademark threat got an amusing localization to make it more evocative for English readers who may not know Doraemon.

Overall, the book’s themes of getting your education and using knowledge to accomplish your goals are good, but I especially like Ippai Attena’s nurturing side; for instance, where he says, “When you talk tough and sound nasty, your mind starts thinking it’s tough and that it’s acceptable to be mean,” I hope readers pause and consider the idea.

Novel by Andersen Laureate to Launch in English

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Happy Year of the Dog! SCBWI Japan translator member Cathy Hirano has translated The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi, winner of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing (“little Nobel”) in 2014. This novel will launch in English in March 2018 in the UK, and subsequently in the US.

UK publisher Pushkin Children’s describes The Beast Player as a fantasy novel for ages 10 and up, in which heroine Elin must prevent beloved beasts from being used as tools of war.

Uehashi’s prior publications in English are the YA novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, which won the Batchelder Award and a Batchelder Honor, respectively, in the US. A resource list about the Moribito books, Uehashi, and Hirano appears hereThe Beast Player is available for preorder globally in paperback and ebook.


Creative Exchange in Tokyo on Dec. 17

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

Creative Exchange and Year-End Bonenkai Lunch

Time: Sunday, December 17, 2017, 9:45 a.m.–11:45 a.m. (Creative Exchange), 12:00 – 1:30 pm (Lunch)

Place: Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Audiovisual Room B, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (by the United Nations University; map) followed by Un Café, Tokyo Cosmos Aoyama Bldg. B2, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (www.uncafe-tokyo.com)

Fee: 500 yen SCBWI members/800 yen nonmembers (Creative Exchange); order individually at Un Café (Lunch—1,000-1,500 yen)

RSVP:  Reservations required. Please state in your email: 1. Creative Exchange only, Lunch only (as space allows), or Both Creative Exchange and Lunch; 2. if you would like to reserve a critique slot and in what category. To reserve, email japan (at) scbwi.org by Tuesday, December 12, 2017Reserve early—space is limited!

This event will be in English for writers and translators; English and Japanese for illustrators.

Join us for an SCBWI Japan Creative Exchange followed by a casual lunch at Un Café restaurant (in the same building).

Sign up in advance to bring your children’s or YA work-in-progress to share with the group for constructive feedback at the Creative Exchange. SCBWI Japan Creative Exchanges are open to published and pre-published writers, illustrators, and translators of children’s and young adult literature. SCBWI members will have priority for the critique slots.

What to prepare for the Creative Exchange:

For MG and YA Fiction: Send up to 2,000 words of a story or chapter, per instructions received after making your reservation.

For Picture Books: Illustrators: bring 1–5 copies of a dummy or story board; Writers: send a picture book manuscript (recommended no more than 600 words) per instructions received after making your reservation.

For Translations: (Japanese to English picture book, MG or YA) Send up to 2,000 words of a story or chapter, per instructions received after making your reservation.

Attendees without manuscripts, dummies or storyboards are welcome to participate!


Japanese Children’s Books Today with Yumiko Sakuma on Nov. 11

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

Japanese Children’s Books Today with JBBY President Yumiko Sakuma

Time: Saturday, November 11, 2017, 6:30-8 p.m.

Place:  Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Conference Room 2, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (by the United Nations University) map

Fee:  800 yen SCBWI members; 1,000 yen nonmembers

Reservations required. To reserve, email japan (at) scbwi.org by Thursday, November 9.

Note: This event will be in Japanese with English interpretation provided.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Translator, editor, Japanese children’s literature critic, and current president of the Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY), Yumiko Sakuma will present the history and current state of children’s book publishing in Japan. She will explain the aims of JBBY and discuss the latest issue of the English-language JBBY booklet Japanese Children’s Books, which showcases Japanese children’s books for enhancing international understanding. Sakuma will also describe recent trends in children’s books in Japan and offer recommendations of favorite new titles.

Yumiko Sakuma was born in Tokyo and worked as an editor before becoming a freelance editor, translator and Japanese children’s literature critic. She taught children’s literature at Aoyama Gakuin Women’s College, has translated more than 230 children’s books into Japanese, and has garnered many awards, including the Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Award. She also researches African literature and is the current director of the Japan Africa Children’s Books ProjectHer own website バオバブのブログ (Baobab Blog) provides valuable information about Japanese children’s titles. Yumiko Sakuma is the President of the Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY), and her essay「翻訳ってなんだ」 (“What Exactly Is Translation?”) is available in English translated by Deborah Iwabuchi in this post“Pianyan, Little Keys, and Yumiko Sakuma.”