Japanese and Korean picture books

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.



Doko? (‘Where?’)
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.



Farting Daughter-in-Law
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.

This entry was posted in Translation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Japanese and Korean picture books

  1. I was wondering about what motivates the translated children’s books which appear in the UK mainstream. Do we find that they are those focused on the “believable” cultural representation of Japan / Korea? Would you consider making a wish list on amazon to help us navigate the kingdom of translation?

    While I’m here I thought I’d share my two faves:


    I love your blog Lydia, it’s wonderful.

    • Lydia says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Emily, and for sharing those picture books. The preview spread for Soramame-kun in particular looks lovely, and I really like the idea as well – I’ll keep an eye out for that one next time!

      I think that actually most of the picture books that get translated from Japanese into English tend to be ones which don’t make any allusion to Japan at all – like these counting/spotting books from Gecko Press http://www.geckopress.co.nz/ProductDetail.aspx?CategoryId=85&ProductId=383 http://www.geckopress.co.nz/ProductDetail.aspx?categoryid=10&productid=61, and the 999 Tadpoles books http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10706900-999-tadpoles. Walker Books’ new-ish Strawberry Moshi series (http://www.walker.co.uk/MoshiMoshiKawaii-Where-Is-Strawberry-Moshi-9781406325843.aspx) does at least mention that it’s *from* Japan, but most of the scenes could be set anywhere, and they’re activity books so there’s no particular plot to follow or unfamiliar concepts to deal with. So I guess the usual motivation is just that the illustrations are appealing (which is fine, of course) and there’s none of that difficult foreign-ness to negotiate.

      I’ve heard this described as the ‘no red buses, please’ problem – publishers are increasingly keen on picture books which don’t display obvious signs of being set in any particular country, so that they can plausibly appear to be set in whichever country the child reader is in, and the child doesn’t have to risk confronting a foreign culture at such a delicate age. I’m not even going to tell you my long list of objections to this idea, because I’m sure you can guess most of them!

      I could definitely have a go at an Amazon list – I’ll let you know when I get around to starting it (though that might not be very soon :/ ). In the meantime, for news about books translated into English from all languages, I can recommend following @TranslatedWorld and @Translatedwcaa (Translated World for Children of All Ages) on Twitter.

      I haven’t mentioned Korean picture books in this comment because I honestly don’t know of any published or distributed in the UK (though I do know of a few published in the US – where they seem to be slightly more open to the idea of picture books from Asia, possibly because of the number of Americans with Asian heritage). If any readers can tell us anything about Korean picture books in English translation, please do leave a comment!

  2. Pingback: I only like book fairs when I am at book fairs. | Lydia Moëd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s