Week-end Book Review: Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Felicia Hoshino, Japanese translation by Akiko Hisa,
Sora and the Cloud
Immedium, 2012.

Bilingual: English/Japanese

Ages: 3-8

Sora and the Cloud is award-winning illustrator Felicia Hoshino’s debut as an author. Featuring Sora, a little boy whose name means “sky,” this very delicate, whisper-like story in English and Japanese is about Sora discovering the world with the help of a fluffy cloud friend. And how appropriate that cloud and sky should come together!

While Sora and Cloud float around town dreaming up adventures, little Sora gets to see many familiar places (some readers will recognize the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Chinatown) and to learn more about his Japanese heritage. “Like a mobile in the breeze, Sora’s sky adventure spins all around him,” until he drifts gently into sleep and back down to earth, where more adventures await. The last page shows Sora and his family relaxing together under a big tree – the image of his little sister looking up to the sky and saying hello to a cloud fittingly pointing to the universality of children’s sense of wonder and boundless imagination.

Fans of Hoshino’s illustration work in A Place Where Sunflowers Grow and Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin will find the watercolors/mixed media in this bilingual treat a treasure trove to pore over and marvel at. The double spread of cute ants busily moving around town, matching Sora’s impression of people as tiny ants when seen from up above, is priceless. It adds a touch of sweet humor to a story that is all warmth, delicacy and gentle embrace.

Sora and the Cloud soars in more ways than one, and is a perfect story to share with very young ones who are starting to look at the world with wonder and amazement.

The short Japanese phrases and cultural references sprinkled throughout the book are translated and explained in the end matter, where we also learn that a portion of the book’s proceeds go to the Japan Earthquake Relief.

Aline Pereira

December 2012

Week-end Book Review: Circus Day in Japan, Written and illustrated by Eleanor B. Coerr, Japanese translation by Yumi Matsunari

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Written and illustrated by Eleanor B. Coerr, Japanese translation by Yumi Matsunari,
Circus Day in Japan
Tuttle Publishing, 2010.

Ages 6-8

When Joji-chan and his sister Koko-chan wake, they cannot contain their excitement. They are going to the circus! They race to light the charcoal fire, dash down to the rice fields to deliver their father’s lunch, and run to catch the train that will bring them to the big city housing the big circus tent. As the brother and sister delight in unfamiliar city sights, including a man dressed like a bull to advertise a local store, and a policeman on a box, directing traffic like a graceful ballerina, readers will delight in equally unfamiliar sights of Japanese culture and childhood. The siblings’ triumphant day peaks when the elephant of Joji-chan’s dreams finally arrives and they are chosen to ride it around the ring above the smiling faces of onlookers.

Originally published in 1953, this new bilingual edition of Circus Day in Japan captures the timelessness of childhood adventures, while introducing vivid details about life in Japan in the 1950s.  Illustration and text work hand in hand to integrate the familiar and the foreign, making Circus Day in Japan a perfect read-aloud for a story time librarian or a social studies teacher. For example, after Joji-chan hurries into the kitchen, where we read that his mother “Mrs. Shima was preparing lunch,” the accompanying illustration reveals what that might be, showing her with an oversize whole fish on the cutting board and a cleaver in hand. Such attention to detail makes the warmly illustrated text a continual nostalgic remembrance of childhood and exploration of Japanese life.

Universally beloved for Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, author and illustrator Eleanor B. Coerr found inspiration for Circus Day in Japan after visiting a local circus during a one-year stay in Japan as a newspaper reporter.  While it lacks the same captivating magic of Sadako, its lengthier text, plus the addition of the Japanese translation by Yumi Matsunari, make this a valuable resource for bilingual classrooms, and in both English and Japanese speaking homes, communities and countries. In addition to subtle cultural lessons, Coerr integrates a more instructive approach in the warm-hued illustrations, sprinkling language lessons composed of images, English and Japanese words, and phonetic pronunciation throughout the text.

Sara Hudson
July 2011