Posts Tagged ‘#WorldKidLit Month’

World Kid Lit Month Review: Riku and the Kingdom of White

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

September is #WorldKidLit Month, a time to notice if world literature is reaching kids in the form of translations. Malavika Nataraj shares this review of children’s novel Riku and the Kingdom of White by Randy Taguchi, translated by Raj Mahtani, published by Balestier Press.

On March 11, 2011, the world watched in open-mouthed horror as the most powerful earthquake ever to rock Japan set off a giant wave that lapped up everything in its path: a tsunami that slammed into three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, crippling them and resulting in a catastrophic release of radioactive waste that affected hundreds and thousands of lives.

We all heard and read about the evacuations, the relief operations despatched into the worst hit areas, the scores of people who lost everything—their homes, their families, their possessions. Japan was in a panic; all of the resources it had strived to protect—its waterways, the sea, the very air—had fallen prey to the invisible evil that was seeping into everything, silent and deadly. Radiation. This word reverberated through the nation and beyond. Exports suffered. Share prices dropped. People had little or no electricity. Cartons of uncontaminated food and bottled water were scarcely unboxed before they flew off store shelves. Fear lurked everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were forcibly evacuated, their hometowns deemed too dangerous to inhabit.

Yet many people chose to remain nearby. Technicians, engineers, doctors and fire-fighters stayed behind, risking their own lives and those of their families to help the nation fight the catastrophe. We, the world, heard the reports, read the articles and watched the news. But could we ever fully understand the challenges these people faced, living in a radioactive disaster zone?

In towns that were as close as 40 kilometers to the epicentre of the disaster, many families soldiered on. Children still went to school, teachers still taught, and most residents made themselves as useful as they could. They organized volunteer centres, ran operations to de-contaminate their streets, and closed their windows against the radiation. Despite their challenges, their view of the world remained as upbeat as possible. But the way the rest of Japan viewed the Fukushima residents had changed. People became wary of the evacuees and residents, fearing that they had been ‘contaminated’.

This did not stop volunteers from pouring in. They came from all over Japan, bringing with them food, hope and helping hands. Many were moved by the plight of the children in Fukushima, who had been robbed of a normal childhood so suddenly.

The Fukushima Kids project kicked off in summer 2011, to give Fukushima kids an opportunity to learn and grow amidst nature—something they were no longer able to do in their own hometowns, for fear of exposure to radiation.

Over the summer, spring and winter breaks, hundreds of children were shepherded out of Fukushima to other parts of Japan, where they participated in homestays, enjoyed hands-on activities, played sport, went on treks, spent time with animals, ate healthy food, and generally enjoyed being ‘normal’ kids. This afforded them a chance to relax and refresh, learn new things and be close to nature again. The Fukushima Kids Executive Committee, formed by volunteers, ran the project successfully for five years.

Author Randy Taguchi

Author Randy Taguchi’s charming narrative, Riku and the Kingdom of White, is the result of time she spent as a volunteer in the Fukushima Kids project, working with the families and children of Fukushima. Through her involvement, she had the opportunity to interact with and interview dozens of Fukushima residents, and she was deeply moved by their resilience and strength.

Her story is the simple, yet thought-provoking tale of Riku, a fifth-grader, whose physician father accepts a transfer to Minamisoma, a town near the disaster zone. Having fresh air to breathe and good food to eat were things Riku never had to think about. Until now. And he is definitely not prepared for how much his life is about to change.

When Riku’s classmates in Utsunomiya find out that he is transferring to a school in Fukushima, their reaction is of shock and horror. “He’ll die of the radiation, poor guy,” they say. Riku’s aunt Midori, his mother’s sister who lives in Yokohama, also has nothing but horror stories to share about the fate of the towns near the epicentre of the disaster. But nothing will change his father’s mind, so Riku—whose life, he believes, is not in his control—puts on a brave face and prepares to follow his father. His mother has passed away, and his dad is the only family he has now.

The story, translated into English by Raj Mahtani, is told through Riku’s eyes. Through Riku, Taguchi has us experience a world where children go to school breathing only through masks. Their clothing covers every inch of their skin, and their heads droop like wilted flowers under their hats. Frozen and canned food, sausages, rice from other parts of Japan, carried in the capable arms of volunteers—these are the foods they eat. Tiny cylindrical objects that continuously measure radiation levels, called dosimeters, dangle from their necks as a reminder of their new reality. Taught in classrooms with sealed windows, sweating through the blistering summer months, they need at all costs, to be protected from this invisible evil, radiation. They inhabit a world where no one is allowed to play outside; a place where only the wind pushes the swings in empty parks, and unused bicycles turn to rust in garages.

When Riku arrives at Minamisoma, memories of his Utsunomiya life still fresh in his mind, he is stunned at how empty the town feels, like a town of ghosts. There are no kids about and he sorely misses running around with his best friend Yuta, and riding bikes the way they used to. When Riku finally does meet local children, he feels like an outsider. He is aware that he isn’t a ‘real’ Fukushima kid. At first, he is baffled by the others. Why don’t they play outside? Why do they all look so downcast? But as time passes, he begins to understand too well the magnitude of the disaster, and the impact it has had on the lives of Fukushima’s children.

The children naturally look to adults for answers. How should we live? What should we do? But no answers come, because the adults themselves are confused. They are stressed out and sad. Decontamination of the pavements, soil, and school grounds happens multiple times a day. But no one knows what to do with the radioactive waste. What’s the point of decontaminating the mud, if it is just going to be stuffed into bags, piled up and left here anyway? Riku thinks. The adults are full of contradictions. “We just want you to study without any worries, Sweetie,” says one mother. Riku wonders if that is even possible anymore.

Throughout this book, Riku runs through a gamut of emotions: anger at his father for bringing him to Fukushima, confusion, sadness, and finally, acceptance.

The more time Riku spends in Minamisoma, the more like a ‘Fukushima kid’ he becomes. This is never clearer than when he goes to stay with Aunt Midori during his summer break. His cousins are afraid to come near him in case he is contaminated; his aunt won’t let him touch anything without having a hot bath first. He feels contaminated, like an untouchable, an outcast. He realizes that this is how everyone views children like him—children who are living in the disaster zone. He sees that he can never go back ‘home’ to Utsunomiya or anywhere. He has lost his home forever.

Things begin to look up for Riku when he and four other children get the chance to leave Fukushima during winter break, as part of the Fukushima Kids project. He learns that he will go to Hokkaido, a place that holds the fondest memories for him, because it was there that his family had their last holiday before his mother’s death.

In Hokkaido, he spends time outdoors, crunching through snow in his snowshoes and learning about animals of the forest from his homestay host Mr. Nomura. He has thoughtful conversations with the indomitable Gen-san and with Mr. Nomura’s son Yoichi. In Hokkaido, no one treats him like an outsider or an outcast. He finally feels like a regular kid. Slowly, he begins to heal.

Translator Raj Mahtani

Riku begins to come to terms with the loss of his mother; he battles his loneliness by befriending a mysterious boy in the woods and a mischievous tonchi. He finally returns to Fukushima, more mature and responsible. He begins to see that his life is his own and he can live it with strength and heart. And that being a Fukushima Kid isn’t so bad after all.

Riku and the Kingdom of White is a valuable story of a boy’s spiritual evolution. And translator Raj Mahtani, who has collaborated with Taguchi on her book Fujisan, brings Riku to life for the English reader.

A Yokohama resident, Mahtani has been translating from Japanese to English since the nineties. His other translations include Rieko Saegusa’s Tale Winds, Fumitada Naoe’s Live with Meaning. Die with Passion and Shiho Kishimoto’s I Hear Them Cry.

 

Reviewer and editor’s note: We hope for Balestier Press to issue a second, carefully edited edition of this novel that does justice to its highly compelling content. 

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World Kid Lit Month Review: It Might Be An Apple by Shinsuke Yoshitake

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Shinsuke Yoshitake’s witty and amusing picture books have enjoyed a growing following since his debut title Ringo kamoshirenaiIt Might Be An Apple—appeared in Japan in 2013. Since clinching the Art Award at the 61st Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Awards in 2014, this title has also been published in Chinese, Dutch, French, Korean, Swedish, and English (by Thames & Hudson, 2015).

Left: UK edition of It Might Be An Apple. Right: Shinsuke Yoshitake (Belio.com).

In It Might Be An Apple, Yoshitake turns an entirely mundane non-event on its head: A boy comes home to find an apple sitting on the table. His imagination jumpstarts a mish-mash of stories and plots, about what the apple might contain inside, what it might actually be, or what it could have been and could turn into. (Click on the cover above to see illustrations.) Taking things a step further, the boy wonders if the apple has desires, wishes and feelings, and whether it has a family.

Driven by an imagination that is simply inspired, the boy ponders how the apple ended up on the table, where it might have been before that, and where it might be planning to go. A bit of fear takes hold when the boy suspects that the “apple” was just waiting for a chance to take the boy’s own place in the world, or was deviously put there as kid-bait.

Eventually, hunger pangs rein in the boy’s want-away thoughts, and he gives the apple a mighty bite. He reunites with reality and the apple as it is.

The English translation stays close to the spirit of Yoshitake’s quirky original, retaining the sense of humor while offering a few subtle variations. The fun of shaping the rooms of an apple-house (by eating through its walls) is expressed by a pitch for the best house ever, complete with edible interior! The culture gap of the distant-yet-familiar Japanese ancestor is bridged by a grandma in apple disguise. Finally, a spread with all apple-kinds lined up according to a Japanese kana table, in the original, sports creative renaming in English based on the apples’ shapes and appearances.

Both the original and the translation let us journey into the world of imagination, and show us the plenitude of stories our minds can conjure at a whim.

 

 

Other English translations of Yoshitake’s work include What Happens Next? and Can I Build Another Me? (Thames & Hudson) as well as Still Stuck (Abrams), for which the original Mo nugenai (Bronze Publishing, 2015) won a Special Mention at the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair Bologna Ragazzi Awards. Still Stuck is released in the US today. Happy World Kid Lit Month!

Andrew Wong joined the SCBWI Japan Translation Group listserv in 2015, when in search of a community focused on translated books for children. A business translator by trade, he finds time to introduce Japanese picture books and stories that speak to him on his blog, in hopes that they will one day find a worldwide audience.

World Kid Lit Month Interview: Helen Wang Talks with Cathy Hirano

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

To ring in World Kid Lit Month 2017, SCBWI: The Blog has an interview in which Helen Wang, a master Chinese-to-English kidlit translator, interviews Cathy Hirano, a master Japanese-to-English kidlit translator. The interview features Hirano’s latest publication, a translation of the chapter book Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake. Enjoy!

 

Japan Titles on Book Riot List of 100 for #WorldKidLit Month

by Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Book Riot is a literature blog “dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are.”

We were delighted to see that in a recent posting for #WorldKidLit Month, 100 Great Translated Children’s Books from Around the World, there were several books from Japan, including some translated by members of our group. Two were Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit  (by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano) and Brave Story (by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith), both Batchelder Award winners.

elina-braslina-swimming-and-reading

#WorldKidLit Month image © Elina Braslina

Chelsea Buns in Nagano for #WorldKidLit Month

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

September is #WorldKidLit Month, a time to notice if global stories are reaching kids in the form of translations. My children enjoyed one such story, and met the translator, on a recent trip to Nagano.

img_5948Hart Larrabee with two (hungry) readers of #WorldKidLit

Hart Larrabee has interpreted for the Japanese Olympic team; translated nonfiction about art, design and architecture; and translated Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki for the new book Haiku: Classic Japanese Short Poems. He lives in Obuse, a small town where Issa and the artist Hokusai both created famous works.

But my family visited Obuse to hit a bakery. That’s because a picture book Hart had translated, The Nurse and the Baker by Mika Ichii, got us hungry for Chelsea buns from Obuse Iwasaki, a shop where the buns are made using a recipe from a Canadian nurse.

the-nurse-and-the-bakerThe Nurse and the Baker: The Story of Chelsea Buns in Obuse

In 1932, Canadian missionaries opened a tuberculosis sanatorium in Obuse. In 1935, a nurse named Lilias Powell became head of nursing there. She was known as a stickler for high standards.

04Text and illustrations © Mika Ichii. English translation © Hart Larrabee.

 

Koyata Iwasaki was the fourth-generation head of Obuse Iwasaki, located in the center of town. His great-grandfather had founded the shop in the early 1860s. After World War II, Koyata-san delivered bread to the sanatorium and learned to make Chelsea buns from Miss Powell. He experimented repeatedly to meet her high standards. And a local specialty was born.

The Nurse and the Baker tells this story with a focus on Koyata-san, a fine baker who nonetheless quakes in his boots when summoned by the exacting Miss Powell. He tries (and fails) many times to make her recipe with local ingredients. When he succeeds, she is moved to tears because he has given her a taste of home.

Mika Ichii’s illustrations and story, in Hart’s translation, more than prepared my kids to appreciate the Chelsea buns at Obuse Iwasaki—still arrayed near a photo of Miss Powell, as described in the book. And it was a huge treat to meet the late Koyata-san’s wife, who still works in the store.

Yet the “delicious” part of this story to me as a parent, is that the picture book’s focused telling, joyful climax and crack English have caused my children to return, repeatedly, to a story about trying. They’ve also learned words like “tuberculosis,” “sacrificed” and “specialty,” seen how a business can show gratitude, and absorbed a slice of Japanese/Canadian history.

We owe you, Hart!

img_5957-editedSign for Hart Larrabee’s business, Letter and Spirit Translation, in Obuse. At left is the logo for his wife Sakiko’s business, Takefushi Acupuncture, Moxibustion, and Massage. 

The Nurse and The Baker: The Story of Chelsea Buns in Obuse is a bilingual book published by local press Bunya and order-able from anywhere.