Today is as good a day as any to start a book blog. In fact, it's really a perfect day to do it. My friend sent me a book I had been obsessing about from the UK, and I was able to pick up the original in the local Japanese language bookstore. It's a perfect book to kick off this book blog, because it is all about explicitly defining things that would otherwise define themselves.
A young boy comes home from school and finds an apple on the table. At least, he thinks it's an apple but it might be a fish rolled up to look like an apple, it could be half apple / half orange, or nothing but peel within peel. The apple might have feelings, the apple might have friends and relatives somewhere. The apple might be planning something. The apple could be from outer space and be home to tiny little apple aliens that can only be seen with a magnifying glass. There is no way to know for sure. This one apple is food for the little boy's wildest imagination, and each page brings fresh possibilities, ripe with deep thought and complete with diagrams and labels that explain the boy's thinking.
Explaining thinking is a skill that we insist children must develop in all subject areas at school. Math, science and language arts all demand a level of critical thinking and transparent thought processes that were not a part of traditional teacher-centered education in years past. Gone are the days when rows of correct answers on a worksheet are enough. Now children are asked to make their thinking visible, and for good reason. By making thinking visible we are opening our thought processes to a dialogue with others (peers, teachers, parents) and by doing that we are keeping our thinking alive and moving forward. We are also honoring an ancient truth found in constructivist theories of education, that all knowledge is built on the foundation of existing knowledge. By making our thinking visible, we share things we already think we know and wonder how our theories might live up to reality. There are no wrong answers - just theories that need to be tested. This book is all about that process.
It Might Be an Apple asks the reader to think outside the box on a very simple topic, and the simple line drawings and diagrams featuring mainly grays, yellows and pale pink colors make sure that the many red apples and applesque ideas pop from the page. It would be great as a parent to child read aloud, an exploration with a teacher and a class (maybe 1st or 2nd grade?), or an individual quiet reading project for an older child with an abundance of curiosity.
A note about the Japanese book which likely proved a challenge for the translator: there is a page of "friends and relatives" of the apple that is laid out like the Japanese hiragana alphabet. The page before names just five of those friends: Rango, Ringo, Rungo, Rengo and Rongo, each shaped differently and each representing ら (ra) り (ri) る (ru) れ (re) and ろ (ro) from the Japanese alphabet. These five characters appear again on the next page laid out with each and every letter of the Japanese hiragana alphabet, with the shapes and colors of the different apple friends being suggestive of the name (extra points to the friend Ungo who looks like unko : poo). The alphabet effect and many of the suggestive shapes are lost in the English translation, but instead attention has been paid to make sure names in each row will rhyme. An amusing effect can be noticed from the page before, where the names do not rhyme or resemble what they are supposed to be. If the reader is really on their toes they will notice those five friends appear together in a column on the next page. I am really sad, however that in the English translation they changed the name Ringo (which means apple in Japanese) to Jingo. It does rhyme with the other friends in that row (Bingo and Wingo), but leaving this one as Ringo would have been a nice light bulb moment for any children who have any knowledge of Japanese, since this particular friend is the only one on the page that is shaped like a regular apple.
I have so much more to say about this book and about Japanese picture books in general, but I don't want my first blog posting to be overly long. I really appreciated this book as a reminder to make my thinking visible about this blog. I didn't want this blog to be like other book blogs that concentrate on a particular marketplace. I will review old books, new books, books published in the USA and books published in other countries. I am Australian and have lived half of my life in Japan, so that's a good start. I now live in the USA and look after a bunch of multilingual/international picture books in my professional life, which is what gave me the idea for this very eclectic collection of thoughts. If you'd like to make your own thinking visible, please do so in the comments or contact me directly. It might be fun to think about these and other interesting picture books together. :)
Author: Shinsuke Yoshitake
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson Ltd, UK (April 6, 2015)
Language: English (Translated from Japanese, originally published under the title Ringo kamoshirenai in 2013)
ISBN: 978-0500650486 (Japanese original ISBN: 978-4893095626)