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10 Great Kid’s and YA books set in Japan

17th February 2021

10 Great Kids and YA books set in Japan

Here are the TripFiction’s Kid’s Writer in Residence’s recommendations for 10 great Kids and YA books set in Japan:

Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick, illustrated by Chie Kutsuwada (age 12+)

Tsunami Girl is a powerful coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Yuki Hara Jones who gets caught up in the March 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. It’s about a young person trying to work out who they are, and where they fit – and trying to do this whilst surviving the trauma of a triple disaster of colossal scale, told through both prose and manga.

The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery, illustrated by Natsko Seki (age14+/YA)

A Japanese teenager, Mizuki, is worried about her grandfather who is clearly desperately upset about something. He says that he has never got over something that happened in his past and gently Mizuki persuades him to tell her what it is.

We are taken to 1945, Hiroshima, and Mizuki’s grandfather as a teenage boy chatting at home with his friend Hiro. Moments later the horrific nuclear bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. What follows is a searing account of the blinding flash, the harrowing search for family and the devastation both human and physical. There is also the very moving and human story as the two teenage boys with great bravery search for and find Keiko, Hiro’s five-year-old sister. But then Keiko is lost when Mizuki’s grandfather has no option but to leave her in a safe place while he goes for help… Despite a desperate search in the aftermath of the bomb, where he leaves origami folded paper cranes for Keiko with his address on everywhere a survivor could be, he cannot find her… A powerful novel that, despite its harrowing subject matter, has hope at its heart.

Time for Bed, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh (5+)

Like children everywhere, Miyuki’s imagination peaks at bedtime, when she remembers all the things she has to do before she can possibly go to bed: she needs to water the vegetables, gather snails, and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. Her patient grandfather follows along on her adventures, gently encouraging her to go to sleep. In this beautiful story about family, nature, and love, young children and their parents find a welcome companion for their own bedtime journey.

The Way of the Warrior (Young Samurai) by Chris Bradford (9+)

August 1611. Jack Fletcher is shipwrecked off the coast of Japan – his beloved father and the crew lie slaughtered by ninja pirates.

Rescued by the legendary sword master Masamoto Takeshi, Jack’s only hope is to become a samurai warrior. And so his training begins.

But life at the samurai school is a constant fight for survival. Even with his friend Akiko by his side, Jack is singled out by bullies and treated as an outcast.

With courage in his heart and his sword held high, can Jack prove himself and face his deadliest rival yet?

The Secret of the Blue Grass by Tomiko Unui (9+)

A classic story about a magical miniature family’s adventures in wartime Japan

In a dusty library, in the quietest corner of a house in a Tokyo suburb, live the Little People: Fern and Balbo, Robin and Iris. Just a few inches high, sleeping in cigarette boxes and crafting shoes from old book jackets, they need only one thing from their Humans – a nightly glass of milk, served in a sparkling Blue Glass goblet, by a trusted young member of the Human family.

But when the Second World War comes to Japan, bringing a dangerous new kind of patriotism, both Humans and their beloved Little People face a world they could never before have imagined. It will take great love, bravery, and a rather loyal pigeon, to bring their unique families back together once more…

Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic illustrated by Kotaro Chiba

A goblin with no body and a monster with no face. A resourceful samurai and a faithful daughter. A spirit of the moon and a dragon king.
This collection of 15 traditional Japanese folktales transports readers to a time of adventure and enchantment. Drawn from the works of folklorists Lafcadio Hearn and Yei Theodora Ozaki, these tales are by turns terrifying, exhilarating, and poetic.

While I Was Away by Waka T Brown (age 9+)

The Farewell meets Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to 1980s Japan, where she was sent as a child to reconnect to her family’s roots.

When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.

In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.

If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home…and who will Waka be when she finds it?

Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains by Rebel Girls, illustrated by Montse Galbany (age 8+)

From the world of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls comes the historical novel based on the life of Junko Tabei, the first female climber to summit Mount Everest.

Junko is bad at athletics. Really bad. Other students laugh because they think she is small and weak. Then her teacher takes the class on a trip to a mountain. It’s bigger than any Junko’s ever seen, but she is determined to make it to the top. Ganbatte, her teacher tells her. Do your best.

After that first trip, Junko becomes a mountaineer in body and spirit. She climbs snowy mountains, rocky mountains, and even faraway mountains outside of her home country of Japan. She joins clubs and befriends fellow climbers who love the mountains as much as she does. Then, Junko does something that’s never been done before… she becomes the first woman to climb the tallest mountain in the world.

Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains is the story of the first woman to climb Mount Everest. Even more than that, it’s a story about conquering fears, personal growth, and never shying away from a challenge.

This historical fiction chapter book includes additional text on Junko Tabei’s lasting legacy, as well as educational activities designed to strengthen physical skills and conquer fears.

Penguin Highway by Tomihiko Morimi (age 13+/YA)

I may be a fourth grader, but I know more than some adults. After all, I take notes every day, and I read all kinds of books.
But now, there’s penguins in my town! I know it has something to do with that girl at the dentist and her weird powers, so I’m gonna get to the bottom of it…

Soul Lanterns by Kuzki Shaw (age 10+)

The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize–better than most–the urgent need for peace.

Enjoy your Japanese Kids and YA reading!

The TripFiction Kid’s Lit Writer in Residence

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