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Part 6 Children's Literature in the 21st Century: Picture Books

How many picture books come to your mind when you hear ‘picture books of the 21st century?’ The 1960s and 70s were a golden age for picture books in Japan. Many of the titles published in these two decades are still read today, such as Guri to Gura [Guri and Gura] (1963) and Inai inai ba [Peek-a-boo] (1967). There might be many people who do not know well of the new picture books which are published between 1,000 and 1,500 titles every year.

At the beginning of this century, there were two small trends in the picture book market. The first one was ‘picture book trend among adults,’ and the second one was ‘storytelling with picture books’ targeting not only for the household but also towards groups of people. Behind the trend is the fact that book reading activities, which have started from the National Year of Reading for Children in Japan (2000), have spread nation-wide. These activities widened the readership for picture books, but it also affected the tendency towards publication.

This part looks at picture books published between 2001 and 2013 ―time of great social upheaval― from three perspectives. Classic picture books loved over the past several decades definitely have their charms, but the culture of picture books is also one which acts as a barometer of the mood and society at the time it was published. Take notice of the new expressions and trends in ‘picture books of the 21st century’ which are given from today’s adults to children living in the present moment.

1. Picture Book Creation Beyond Borders — Reimported Picture Books and Co-Publishing

In the 2000s, the number of aspiring picture book authors grew as a result of the picture book trend, and an increasing number of Japanese authors explored the possibility of publishing abroad. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy was a central stage for such efforts. After winning the awards at the contests famous for opening the gate to a picture book author career, Japanese authors will gain the attention from overseas publishers which leads to their overseas debut, and their books will be introduced to Japan. This phenomenon is called ‘reimported picture books,’ and has spread widely in Japan.

Japanese and overseas publishers which share a broad philosophy started to co-publish their books. For the Nitsu/chu/kan heiwa ehon [Picture book for peace from Japan, China and Korea] project, authors and publishers from the three countries cooperate in the creation of picture books with a theme of peace and co-publishing them in their respective languages.

Bookmaking author Katsumi Komagata creates unique picture books that appeal to all five senses and have co-published with publishers in France and Mexico.

Thumbnail of Boku wa kamereon [Chameleon’s colors]

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6-1-1Boku wa kamereon [Chameleon’s colors]
Written and illustrated by Chisato Tashiro
Nord Sud Japan 2003
(A Michael Neugebauer book)
Call No. Y17-N04-H188
A picture book illustrating troubles caused by the chameleon Carlo in a jungle with powerful colors. Eight language editions, including Japanese and English, went on sale at the same time in seven countries in 2003. A revised and reprinted edition has been published from Granmama-sha in 2010.

6-1-2Carlo Chamäleon
Chisato Tashiro
Michael Neugebauer Verlag 2004
Call No. Y18-B402
German edition of Boku wa kamereon [Chameleon’s colors]. Second edition.

6-1-3Camaleò
Written and illustrated by Chisato Tashiro/Translated by Luigina Battistutta
Nord-Sud 2003
Call No. Y18-B205
Italian edition of Boku wa kamereon [Chameleon’s colors].

6-1-4Je suis...
Written and illustrated by Taro Miura
La Joie de lire [2004]
(Collection les versatiles)
Call No. Y18-B938
A picture book which enables to find various personalities within oneself having fun. This French edition was published by a Swiss publisher in 2004.

Thumbnail of Boku wa ... [I am...]

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6-1-5Boku wa ... [I am...]
Written and illustrated by Taro Miura
Bronze Publishing 2005
Call No. Y17-N05-H947
Japanese edition of “Je suis…,” published in 2005.

6-1-6Moving blocks
Written and illustrated by Yusuke Yonezu
Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd. 2011
Call No. Y18-B932
When turning a page with a hole of this pop-up book, the building blocks change into different vehicles. This is the English edition published in April 2011.

Thumbnail of Norimono tsumiki [Moving blocks]

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6-1-7Norimono tsumiki [Moving blocks]
Written and illustrated by Yusuke Yonezu
Kodansha 2011
Call No. Y17-N11-J697
This is the Japanese edition of “Moving blocks,” which was published after the English, French, German and other language editions.

6-1-8Puss & boots
Written and illustrated by Ayano Imai/Translated by Sayako Uchida/Adapted by Kate Westerlund
Minedition/Michael Neugebauer 2009
Call No. Y18-B730
This book is the rearranged version of the folktale Nagagutsu wo haita neko [Puss and boots] which is delicately illustrated.

Thumbnail of <i>Kutsuya no neko</i> [Puss & boots]

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6-1-9Kutsuya no neko [Puss & boots]
Written and illustrated by Ayano Imai
BL Shuppan 2010
Call No. Y17-N11-J50
The Japanese version of "Puss & boots," which was published after the English version (2009).

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6-1-10Little tree = Petit arbre
Written and illustrated by Katsumi Komagata
One stroke 2008
Call No. Y17-N13-L913
The condition of a small tree, growing and changing its figure along the seasons, is illustrated in three-dimension. Written in three languages, Japanese, French, and English, and was jointly published with the French publisher Trois Ours in Japan.

Thumbnail of Heiwatte donna koto? [What is peace?]

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6-1-11Heiwatte donna koto? [What is peace?]
Written and illustrated by Keiko Hamada
DOSHINSHA PUBLISHING 2011
(Nitsu/chu/kan heiwa ehon [Picture book for peace from Japan, China and Korea])
Call No. Y17-N11-J589
A Japanese author explains what is ‘peace’ is, in simple words.

Thumbnail of Kyogeki ga kieta hi: Chinhoaiho, 1937 [The day when the Peking opera disappeared: Qinhuai River, 1937]

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6-1-12Kyogeki ga kieta hi: Chinhoaiho, 1937 [The day when the Peking opera disappeared: Qinhuai River, 1937]
Written and illustrated by Yao Hong/Originally drafted by Yao Yuein/Translated by Yumiko Naka
DOSHINSHA PUBLISHING 2011
(Nitsu/chu/kan heiwa ehon [Picture book for peace from Japan, China and Korea])
Call No. Y18-N11-J188
Written by a Chinese author. Through the interaction and separation of a young girl and a Peking opera performer, the author depicts how war takes away cultures from the people.

Thumbnail of Hibusochitai ni haru ga kuruto [When the spring comes in the DMZ]

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6-1-13Hibusochitai ni haru ga kuruto [When the spring comes in the DMZ]
Written and illustrated by Lee Ukbae/Translated by Kiyomi Otake
DOSHINSHA PUBLISHING 2011
(Nitsu/chu/kan heiwa ehon [Picture book for peace from Japan, China and Korea])
Call No. Y18-N11-J189
Written by a Korean author. The hopes for peace and four seasons of the demilitarized zone lying across the Korean peninsula is illustrated.

2. The Spread of Picture books for Babies — Various Approaches

With low birth rates and the continuing trend of nuclear families, reading to children has taken on a new importance as means to deepen parent-child communication. The monthly picture book magazine Kodomo no tomo 0.1.2. [Children's companion 0.1.2.] (1995–) was a forerunner in a new quest to determine what kind of expressions would affect the senses of babies between the ages of ten months and two years.

In 2001, the NPO Bookstart Japan1 began delivering books to every baby, and many publishers started publishing picture books for babies. More than 200 picture books for babies are currently published each year,2 encompassing a rich variety of expressional methods –from the realistic to the abstract, from pictorial identification books to nonsense picture books. Shuntaro Tanikawa's Akachan kara ehon [Shuntaro Tanikawa starter picture book for babies] series (2003–) conducts an adventurous experiment in each book, such as combining the artwork of contemporary artists with pre-verbal utterances.

  1. 1: Active in 899 of the 1741 local authorities in Japan (cities, towns, etc.) as of November 30, 2014.
  2. 2: According to a Bookstart Japan survey.
Thumbnail of Korokoro nyan [Rolling kittens]

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6-1-14Korokoro nyan [Rolling kittens]
Written and illustrated by Shinta Cho
Fukuinkan Shoten 2011
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N11-J512
A surrealism nonsense picture book, said to be the last work by the author. The 0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book] series first appeared in monthly picture book magazine Kodomo no tomo 0.1.2. [Children's companion 0.1.2.].

Thumbnail of Barunkun [Bal, the car]

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6-1-15Barunkun [Bal, the car]
Written by Makoto Komori
Fukuinkan Shoten 2003
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N03-H142
The main character is a car with a shining face, illustrated with a delicate touch.

Thumbnail of Okii chiisai [Big and small]

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6-1-16Okii chiisai [Big and small]
Written and illustrated by Sadamasa Motonaga
Fukuinkan Shoten 2011
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N11-J980
A conceptual picture book on abstract arts by a contemporary artist who passed away in 2011.

Thumbnail of Hashiruno daisuki[Animals run]

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6-1-17Hashiruno daisuki [Animals run]
Written and illustrated by Shizuko Wakayama
Fukuinkan Shoten 2003
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N03-H144
One after another, various animals run across the book, from right to left. Children can enjoy turning the pages.

Thumbnail of Ame kana! [Rainy and sunny]

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6-1-18Ame kana! [Rainy and sunny]
Written and illustrated by U.G.Sato
Fukuinkan Shoten 2009
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N09-J719
A picture book illustrated by an author known for tromp l'oeil which makes children into a playful mood.

Thumbnail of Totte kudasai [Please pick it for me]

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6-1-19Totte kudasai [Please pick it for me]
Written and illustrated by Nobuo Fukuchi
Fukuinkan Shoten 2003
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N03-H244
The woodblock print illustration with a warm touch and the repetitive phrases gives the babies comfort.

Thumbnail of Mojaranko [Mojaranko -three caterpillars]

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6-1-20Mojaranko [Mojaranko -three caterpillars]
Written by Eriko Kishida/Illustrated by Kazuho Furuya
Fukuinkan Shoten 2011
(0.1.2. Ehon [0.1.2. picture book])
Call No. Y17-N11-J183
The poet and an artist known for his gentle plant drawings illustrates the mysterious characters with humor. A picture book that expresses the joy of living.

Thumbnail of Mari [The ball]

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6-1-21Mari [The ball]
Written by Shuntaro Tanikawa/Illustrated by Gen Hirose
Crayonhouse 2003
Call No. Y17-N03-H342
Only onomatopoeic sounds are used in the text. A "ball" moves and changes its shape with the sounds. The thick outlines and vivid colors attract babies' eyes. A book from the Shuntaro Tanigawa's Akachan kara ehon [Starter picture books for babies] series.

Thumbnail of Popape Popipappu

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6-1-22Popape Popipappu
Illustrated by Kenjiro Okazaki/Written by Shuntaro Tanikawa
Crayonhouse 2004
Call No. Y17-N04-H1229
Infants react to the semi-voiced sound and syllabic nasals. An artistic picture book for babies where the semi-voiced sound and letters blend together in an avant-garde drawing. A book from the Akachan kara ehon [Starter picture books for babies] series.

Thumbnail of A! [Oh!]

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6-1-23A! [Oh!]
Written by Hirotaka Nakagawa/Illustrated by Ryohei Yanagihara
Kin-no-Hoshi Sha 2008
(Hajimete no ehon taimu [The first time with picture book])
Call No. Y17-N08-J1056
A vehicle picture book. "Ah!” a baby discovers a vehicle far away. In the next page, a vehicle appears infront. By turning the page again, the sound of the vehicle appears. A pleasant triple time rhythm.

Thumbnail of Kuttsuita [Stick together]

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6-1-24Kuttsuita [Stick together]
Written and illustrated by Taro Miura
KOGUMA Publishing 2005
Call No. Y17-N06-H205
Animals stick together as the pages are turned. At the end, the parents and the baby stick together. A picture book that makes a caregiver to press their cheek to the child.

Thumbnail of Maru sankaku zo [Circle triangle elephant]

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6-1-25Maru sankaku zo [Circle triangle elephant]
Written and illustrated by Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuchi
BUNKEIDO 2008
Call No. Y17-N08-J661
A vertically long book with the binding on the right. Three objects are stacked up per page and there are three words on each page as well. A book to enjoy instability and a sense of difference with a baby.

Thumbnail of Koppuchan [Cups]

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6-1-26Koppuchan [Cups]
Written by Hirotaka Nakagawa/Illustrated by 100% Orange
Bronze Publishing 2003
Call No. Y17-N03-H798
A book from a series featuring objects that are prominent in a baby's life. The cups with expressive faces, vertical texts, and the white spaces have a strong impact.

3. Picture books after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake–A New Form of Hope

The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 and the resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster greatly affected the Japanese authors creating children’s books. They pondered how their works should hand down the fear of the disaster to children and how they can stand side by side with the children affected by the disaster. They wondered what kind of hope they could show to readers through picture books. Many authors continue to confront their own worlds of expression while exploring various approaches.

Many different types of picture books have been published since the disaster, works that realistically depict the disaster, works that attempt to encourage cheerfully, works that stand together with the reader on the deep sense of loss, works that share the sense of anxiety and hesitation, works that shed light on the invaluable everyday life, works that reconsider the power of nature and give a warning to the modern society.

The March 2011 disaster also evoked a change in the way readers read picture books. We are now standing at a crossroad in which a new way of expressing hope is attempting to come to life.

Thumbnail of Hashire, ue e!: Tsunami tendenko [Run up!: Protect yourself from tsunami]

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6-1-27Hashire, ue e!: Tsunami tendenko [Run up!: Protect yourself from tsunami]
Written by Kazu Sashida/Illustrated by Hideo Ito
POPLAR Publishing 2013
(Popurasha no ehon [POPLAR Publishing's picture book] 17)
Call No. Y1-N13-L95
"Tendenko" means "each person should escape separately" in an Iwate dialect. A true story of elementary and middle school students who survived the huge tsunami by repetitively training for evacuation on a regular basis.

Thumbnail of Ramenchan [Miss Ramen ]

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6-1-28Ramenchan [Miss Ramen]
Written and illustrated by Yoshifumi Hasegawa
Ehonkan Publishers 2011
Call No. Y17-N12-J428
Ramenchan (Miss Ramen) made children smile by telling funny jokes. The author’s handmade picture book which was read to cheer up the children of Ishinomaki, was later published.

Thumbnail of Oyogu hito [Swimming man]

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6-1-29Oyogu hito [Swimming man]
Written and illustrated by Shuhei Hasegawa
Kaiho Shuppan Sha 2013
(Eru kurabu [Eru club])
Call No. Y17-N13-L344
People who want to go home, and people who have no choice but to evacuate from home. The author does not tell much in words, but quietly depicts the reality of ‘3.11’ (The Great East Japan Earthquake) which he cannot tell the children about everything he wants.

Thumbnail of Hanamizuki no michi [The alley of flowering dogwoods]

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6-1-30Hanamizuki no michi [The alley of flowering dogwoods]
Written by Mikiko Asanuma/Illustrated by Ken Kuroi
Kin-no-Hoshi Sha 2013
Call No. Y17-N13-L461
A mother who lost her son for the tsunami, stood up from sorrow to create a picture book, with their wishes to "protect their favorite town" and "never to repeat the tragedy again."

Thumbnail of Asa ni natta node mado wo akemasuyo [It's morning, so I'll open the window]

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6-1-31Asa ni natta node mado wo akemasuyo [It's morning, so I'll open the window]
Written and illustrated by Ryoji Arai
Kaiseisha 2011
Call No. Y17-N12-J14
When we open the window, we find the same scenery. The author who lives feeling "everyday is an ordinary day" depicts the preciousness of ordinary life.

Thumbnail of Koko ni iru [I’m here]

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6-1-32Koko ni iru [I’m here]
Poems written by Yoshihiko Funazaki/Illustrated by Keiko Ajito
POPLAR Publishing 2011
Call No. KC482-J374
A picture book with monochrome illustrations, speaking in quiet words to everyone who has lost someone special.

Thumbnail of Hi no hanashi [The story of fire]

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6-1-33Hi no hanashi [The story of fire]
Written and illustrated by Seitaro Kuroda
Sekifusha 2011
Call No. Y17-N12-J526
The fire god gave fire to human beings who are weaker than other animals, and made human beings promise not to use fire to kill each other... A story written from the perspective of the fire god, appealed to use ‘fire’ correctly.

Thumbnail of Sagashite imasu [I have been searching for...]

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6-1-34Sagashite imasu [I have been searching for...]
Written by Arthur Binard/Photographs by Tadashi Okakura
DOSHINSHA PUBLISHING 2012
Call No. Y1-N12-J287
A photograph picture book of fourteen items which know about Hiroshima's 'Pikadon' (The atomic bomb) speaks to today's reader. A lunch box is looking for 'Itadakimasu' (expression used before commencing a meal) and the kettle is looking for 'real flames,' as well as "I have been searching for..." the ordinary days and precious people we have lost.

Thumbnail of Meganekun no yume [Dream of a boy called eye glasses]

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6-1-35Meganekun no yume [Dream of a boy called eye glasses]
Written and illustrated by Hiroshi Ito
Kodansha 2012
(Kodansha no sosaku ehon [Kodansha's original picture book])
Call No. Y17-N12-J1022
Meganekun (Eyeglasses boy) cannot remember the dream he saw. He was invited to breakfast and walks by his neighbors, and when he listens to stories of their dreams... A picture book of dreams that guides readers to memories of happiness.

Thumbnail of Shinsekai e [To the new world]

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6-1-36Shinsekai e [To the new world]
Written and illustrated by Hiroshi Abe
Kaiseisha 2012
Call No. Y17-N12-J1070
A story about the barnacle geese's journey of 3,000 kilometers. It is a ‘new world’ for young birds, but also a ‘land of promise’ handed from the ancient times. Birds continue flying through the second page to the last page.

Thumbnail of Ojiisan to yamagara: Sangatsu juichinichi no atode [Old man and varied tit: After March, 11]

6-1-37Ojiisan to yamagara: Sangatsu juichinichi no atode [Old man and varied tit: After March, 11]
Written and illustrated by Mamoru Suzuki
Shogakukan 2013
Call No. Y17-N13-L239
Every year, an old man continued to watch the fledging of chicks. After the nuclear plant accident, things changed as the old man had worried. The author is also a bird nest researcher.