Following on from my last post, I thought I’d share some of my favourite Japanese and Korean picture books with you. There’s no particular theme here – this isn’t a list of famous books, or prize-winning books, or even books that I particularly feel would work well in English-language markets – it’s just a selection of picture books that have caught my eye, and my heart.
Neok Jeom Ban (‘Half-Past Four’)
A lovely lovely Korean picture book about a little girl living in a village which has only one clock. Sent by her mother to find out what the time is, she gets distracted on the way home and ends up getting back after sunset, whereupon she proudly announces ‘it’s half-past four!’. I love the illustrations of this one – the little girl, while not exactly realistically drawn, is nevertheless so realistically child-like (click the link and scroll down – I love the picture of her squatting down to examine the ants), and her world is so beautifully evoked.
A glorious selection of Japanese ‘things to spot’ books. Each page is a magical, intricate scene modeled in fimo clay. I adored this kind of thing as a child, and would have spent hours poring over every page. Even now I find myself extremely drawn to them, and when I see copies in bookshops or at book fairs it’s very, very hard to leave them behind (though I only own two in the series so far).
Akiko Hayashi is basically Japan’s Shirley Hughes. The cover above is for Asae to Chiisai Imouto (‘Asae and Her Little Sister’), which deals with elder-sibling anxieties in a sweet and reassuring way.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ
Views of spring coming to the extraordinary accidental nature reserve that is the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, seen through the eyes (binoculars) of an old man who misses his home in the North. It isn’t your typical picture book – besides the unusual (for non-Korean readers) subject matter, it’s eighty pages long – but, like many of Sakyejul’s books, it’s really beautifully done. You can see some pictures of the inside pages here.
Another from Sakyejul. Remember those ‘unfamiliar folktales’ I mentioned in the last post? Well, this is one of my favourites, both for the irreverent nature of the content and for the attractive, richly-coloured illustrations (sorry I could only find a tiny cover image!). I’ve seen that rich colour palette in a number of Korean picture books (look at these beauties) and it never fails to attract me.
Ame no hi no ensoku (‘Rainy-Day School Trip’)
A really simple Japanese story about riding in the bus on a school trip. I love the cutout pages and the different landscapes the bus drives through, and the surprise at the end really made me smile.
Next time I’ll introduce you to my favourite Japanese picture book of all time, which sadly is pretty much untranslatable for any other market (also some bits of it are in Classical Japanese) but I love it anyway and I want to share it with people.