Tag Archives: Japanese culture


Written by: Dori Kleber

Illustrated by: G. Brian Karas

For ages: 4-9 years

Language:  English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Culture & Traditions, Social-Emotional Development, Self-Expression.

Summary: Joey loves things that fold.  He is enamored by maps and accordions, and sleeps in a foldout bed.  When Joey learns about origami from his friend Sarah Takimoto’s mother, he decides he MUST become an origami master.  After that, Joey practices on everything that he can get his hands on that will fold, including his sister’s sheet music and the dollar bills in his mother’s wallet.  Finally, his mother puts the kibosh on his incessant folding, and Joey feels defeated.  To raise his spirits, Joey goes next door to Muy Mexicana for some fajitas (fajitas make us feel better too).   Speaking with Mr. Lopez, Joey laments that while he is being patient and practicing everyone else is losing their patience with him.  Mr. Lopez tells Joey that many artists are misunderstood, especially when they are learning.  While Joey is waiting for his fajitas, he folds the table napkin into a pyramid.  Mr. Lopez asks if Joey could make all of the table napkins look fancy and Joey sets to work.  After school Joey goes to Muy Mexicana and practices his origami with the table napkins, each day getting more and more intricate.  Finally, Joey is able to make a crane out of the napkins!  His hard work and patience has paid off, and he is an origami master!

Reflection Questions:

  • What are you a master at?
  • What is something that you had to practice for a long time before you became a master at it?
  • What is a new skill that you would like to learn?
  • How do you think you could learn about it?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • In the back of the book, there is a set of instructions for an origami ladybug!  Try it out, and see if you want to become an origami master like Joey.
  • Origami is popular in Japan.  Learn about the origins of it, and look at some pictures of really ornate and complicated designs.  Is there a specific title a person has that creates these paper masterpieces?  What about some folklore associated with origami?
  • The paper used for origami is special, and usually has decorations on it.  Try making your own paper to make art with.  What is the same and what is different about the paper you made and origami paper?  Where does paper come from?  Who made the first paper?  Take a trip around the world on the internet and learn more about this household staple that most of us use everyday.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

cropped-dori-kleber-1Dori Kleber was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia as the top student in her graduating class. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in North Carolina and South Carolina before returning to her hometown to work in public relations and corporate branding. After more than twenty years as a professional writer, she began writing fiction for children. Her debut book, More-igami, was published by Candlewick Press in 2016. Dori lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two children.

brianG. Brian Karas was born in September 1957 in Milford, CT. In 1979 he graduated from Paier School of Art in Hamden, CT. From 1979 to 1982 he worked at Hallmark Cards as a greeting card artist in the Humorous Department. He has been a freelance artist since 1982 and has written and illustrated many books which have won numerous awards. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.

My First Book of Japanese Words

Written by: Michelle Haney Brown

Illustrated by: Aya Padrón

For ages: 4 years and up

Language: English & Japanese

Topics Covered: Bilingualism, Japanese Culture & Traditions, Literacy, Global Community.

Summary: This alphabetical rhyming book provides multiple languages and a short poem on each page, and is jam packed with information about literacy, culture, and language!  The book explains how some letters that are used in English don’t even exist in the Japanese alphabet, and how the letters are not formed the same way either.  There is an Author’s Preface and pronunciation guide in the beginning, as well as cultural facts about Japan scattered throughout the pages.

The illustrations are absolutely adorable and have a watercolor feel to them.  They do a great job showing life in the unnamed main character’s life, and demonstrate how many kids all over the world live a relatively similar life but there are special parts of Japan that are different than the life of most American kids.

The preface is very detailed and explains the different languages and alphabets being used in the book.  In the book there is English, Kanji, Kana, and Romaji which is a Romanized form of writing in Japanese.  Overall, this is a fabulous book to begin teaching a different language to young children!

Reflection Questions:

  • What letter does you name begin with?  Is that letter in the Japanese word, or is it one of the tricky ones that doesn’t exist?
  • What was unique about the Japanese student’s life that you don’t do?
  • What do you think you do everyday that isn’t pictured in the book?
  • Do you speak any other languages?  What about any of your family members?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Pick your favorite letter in the alphabet and see how many different languages you can use to list all the words you know!  If everyone in the class picks a different letter, you can make a banner to hang around the room with tons of different languages represented.
  • Pick up some more books on Japanese from the library, and keep learning!
  • Depending on the ages of the students and listeners, you can use this as a learning moment and introduce the Japanese Internment that took place in America during WWII.  Artist Ruth Asawa was one of these individuals, as well as actor George Takei.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Both of these humans were pretty hard to track down online!  The information provided was found on Amazon.

michelleMichelle Haney Brown is passionate about promoting intercultural awareness, especially by means of providing insight about the Japanese culture, as compared to the American. Currently, she incorporates cross-cultural lessons and fun into teaching Japanese language and culture.

In preschool, Michelle befriended an elderly German couple in the neighborhood whom no one else could understand. In high school, her best friend was an immigrant from Russia and not the typical student at a Houston suburban (and rather cowboy) high school. Michelle went on to study abroad for a year in a Japanese high school and live with a Japanese family. She fell in love with not only the Japanese culture and language but also with the foil that the whole experience provided to her cultural lenses and way of thinking. In a nutshell, it gave her perspective on her own culture and way of thinking.  Michelle says of her work “If I can bring to life the world for youngsters so that they feel that the world is is friendly, fun, and exciting, I will have accomplished my calling.”

ayaAya is an illustrator inspired by science, nature, and imaginary worlds.
Her work is also influenced by East Asian culture and art — especially that of Korea, where she used to live.

Yayoi Kusama From Here to Infinity

Written by: Sarah Suzuki

Illustrated by: Ellen Weinstein

For ages: 4 & up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Women Artists, Japanese Experience, Self-Expression, POC-Centric Narratives

Summary: Yayoi was born on the island on Honshu, in Japan.  Her family lived in the countryside and owned plant nurseries, but Yayoi longed to be an artist. When she was 28, Yayoi bravely moved to New York City by herself. She didn’t have much money, but she painted and painted and painted. Yayoi was fascinated with making dots into art, and when she had her first art show she was a smashing success! Yayoi began traveling the world and showing her art pieces, sculptures and paintings alike. Eventually, Yayoi returned to Japan and continues to make her dot-art to this day!

This book online, says that the age range is eighth graders and up, which we disagree with. This book also does not address her struggles with mental illness. It’s a beautiful book and a breath of fresh air to learn about famous artists that are women, but the book could have gone more in-depth. In the back, there are photographs of Yayoi Kusama’s art installations and paintings as well as a photo of the artist herself. This is a fairly quick read, great to introduce modern art to the budding young artist in your life!

Reflection Questions:

  • Who is your favorite artist?
  • What do you like the most about their artistic style?
  • Have you ever been to a modern art museum?
  • Have you ever heard of Yayoi Kusama?
  • What do you like about her art?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Look at more photos of Yayoi Kusama’s art. Which piece do you like best? Make an art piece in her dot style-is it easy or hard for you? Why do you think so?
  • Take a visit to your local modern art museum. Is any of Kusama’s artwork there? What are some other artists there that call to you with their artistic style? If there isn’t a museum close to you, find one that offers a virtual tour and explore the artwork digitally!
  • Look at examples of the art projects Kusama did with mirrors. Give your students small mirrors and let them experiment with art based on their reflections!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

sarah suzukiSarah Suzuki is Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art. At MoMA, Ms. Suzuki’s exhibitions include Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War (2015-16); Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection (2015-16); Jean Dubuffet: Soul of the Underground (2014-15); The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters (2014-15); Wait, Later This Will All Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth (2013); Printin’ (2011) with the artist Ellen Gallagher; ‘Ideas Not Theories’: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962 (2010) and Rock Paper Scissors (2010) with Jodi Hauptman; Mind & Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940 to Now (2010); and Wunderkammer: A Century of Curiosities (2008), as well as solo exhibitions of Meiro Koizumi (2013); Yin Xiuzhen (2010); Song Dong (2009); and Gert and Uwe Tobias (2008). Among her publications are 2012’s What is a Print?, as well as contributions to numerous books, catalogues, and journals. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University, she has lectured widely and taught numerous courses on the subject of modern and contemporary art.

ellenweinstein-headshotEllen Weinstein was born and raised in New York City. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute and New York’s High School of Art and Design. Awards include American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts Illustration Annual, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Society of Publication Designers, Society of News Designers and the Art Directors Club. She has judged numerous illustration competitions including Communication Arts Illustration Annual 2016, 2016 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, AOI/World Illustration Awards, Society of Illustrators Annual exhibition, Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship and Society of Illustrators Zankel Scholarship.


Written by: Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by: Priscilla Burris

For ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Self-Expression, Family Acceptance, Asian Families, Culture and Traditions, Self-Esteem, Japanese Culture

Summary: Natsumi is a young Japanese girl that is constantly being told things like “slow down!”, “not so fast!”, and “not so loud!”.  When the community is gearing up for a special holiday, Natsumi wants to try all of the different activities!  She tries dancing, matcha-making, and flower arranging, but none of them are for her.  Luckily, Natsumi’s grandfather has an idea and meets her everyday after school to prepare.  On the night of the event, Natsumi reveals what she’s been working so hard on to her family and community.

This book addresses both cultural and familial acceptance.  Natsumi defies some stereotypes often associated with Asian women, while also finding a place within her community to celebrate an important cultural event.  Having a mentor like her grandfather is an endearing plot point, and helps to solidify the closeness of their family to the reader.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever had someone say the things Natsumi’s family said to her to you?
  • How did it make you feel when these things were said to you?
  • Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit it with an event that was going on around you?
  • What could you say to a friend if they are feeling this way?

Continuing the Conversation: 

  • Think about a community-wide event that takes place where you and your family live.  What different jobs are needed to make the event happen?  Is there something you could volunteer to do with your family or friends?
  • Put on a school-wide talent show, so each student may have the chance to showcase something special about themselves.
  • Books for further reading:
    • Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman
    • George by Alex Gino

About the Author & the Illustrator:

105231Susan Lendroth is fascinated by the past as much as the future so her books alternate between the historic (and upcoming prehistoric) and journeys to other worlds. She combined her daughter’s often over-the-top curiosity and exuberance with her fascination with an all-girl taiko drumming group she saw on a trip to Japan to create Natsumi’s story. She lives in Sierra Madre, California. She is the author of Hey Ho, to Mars We’ll Go!, Old Manhattan Has Some Farms, Calico Dorsey and more.

223621Priscilla Burris has loved creating art from a very young age ~ just about the time she was allowed to hold a pencil. Her neighborhood public library was built right across the street from her home, and that is where her love of children’s books truly began.  She loves creating the clothing, scenery and settings that are needed for each character and story! Developing characters who bring their own personalities and perspectives into a story or image is probably her most favorite part of what she does! It’s a privilege, an honor, and a joy to illustrate books and materials for children, parents and teachers, as well as art for greeting cards, rubber stamps, murals, apparel designs ~ and cake painting, too! It’s exciting to realize that there is always so much to learn and experience in creating art and design.  She loves her job!