Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Features Japan, Including Children’s and YA Literature

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Looking for a strong dose of commentary on Japanese literary works online? Try the special Japan-in-Translation series at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (published throughout May 2018). Organized by David Jacobson, this series offered an entire month of blog posts spanning poetry and prose, manga, light novels, chapter books, picture books, fun with kanji, and onomatopoeia, plus reflections on publishing and reading translated works. Several members of SCBWI Japan contributed.

Here is the full list of posts in the series, including many on children’s literature:

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Cathy Hirano Papers and More, at the Kerlan Collection

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Have you ever wondered where the drafts of a children’s book translation go after publication? Did you know that “typescript, corrected typescript, front matter, correspondence, page proofs and corrected page proofs” for three MG/YA novels translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano, may be found in the Cathy Hirano Papers in the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota?

Lisa Von Drasek, Curator of the Kerlan Collection, spoke to SCBWI Japan on April 14, in an event described here by writer Mari Boyle and translator Andrew Wong. Take a look for more surprises!

Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli Dies

By Sako Ikegami, Kobe

Isao Takahata, co-founder of Japan’s most famous animation company, Studio Ghibli, and director of the poignant film Grave of the Fireflies, passed away last week on April 5, 2018, at the age of 82. Unlike his famous partner, Hayao Miyazawa, Takahata’s works were not as flamboyantly cinematic, yet they were no less memorable or moving, addressing deeply personal themes related to childhood—its struggles and its tender beauty—often reflected upon in retrospect.

Image from Grave of the Fireflies (Toho/The Atlantic)

Grave of the Fireflies is based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka (1930-2015), based in turn on the author’s experience of the World War II bombings in Kobe. Takahata survived a similar bombing at the age of nine in neighboring Okayama prefecture, where he spent his childhood, and drew upon his experience in creating the movie.

Most recently, Takahata’s film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, based on Taketori monogatari, an ancient fairytale written during the Heian era (794-1185) and popularized as a children’s story, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015.

Participants in SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 translated excerpts of Grave of the Fireflies for a workshop with Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator of Nosaka’s The Whale that Fell in Love with a SubmarineGrave of the Fireflies is forthcoming in English translation from Pushkin Press.

Online obituaries for Isao Takahata: NPRIGNSlate, The Atlantic.

Eiko Kadono Wins 2018 Andersen Award

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Japanese author Eiko Kadono has won the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing, a prestigious biennial award often described as the Nobel Prize for children’s literature. The news was announced at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018.

Right: Eiko Kadono (Yomiuri Shimbun)

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) press release says of Kadono:

“There is an ineffable charm, compassion, and élan in the work of this great Japanese author.  Whether in her many marvellous and funny picture books, or her great series of novels about the witch Kiki, or her novel set during World War II about a brave girl who must walk through a terrifying tunnel of trees to get to school, Kadono’s books are always surprising, engaging, and empowering.  And almost always fun. And always life affirming.

“Although Kadono has travelled widely throughout the world, her stories are deeply rooted in Japan and show us a Japan that is filled with all kinds of unexpected people.  Her female characters are singularly self-determining and enterprising; figuring out how to cope with all kinds of complications without suffering too many self-doubts – though some of these do creep in.  As such, they are perfect for this time when we are all seeking girls and women in books who can inspire and delight us with their agency. The language in her picture books is notable for its playfulness and use of onomatopoeia. And of course, the beautiful, but simple language in her novels makes them extremely readable.”

Kadono is the author of Kiki’s Delivery Service, basis of the animated film by Studio Ghibli, among nearly 250 original works for children and more than 100 translations into Japanese.

Kadono is the third Japanese children’s author to win the Andersen, following Michio Mado in 1994 and Nahoko Uehashi in 2014. The 2018 Andersen Award for Illustration has also been given, to Igor Oleynikov of Russia.

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