PaperTigers’ Global Voices feature with award winning author Holly Thompson (USA/Japan)~ Part 3

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Children’s and YA Books in Translation from Japan ~  by Holly Thompson

Part 3 of 3 (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Over the years of raising our children in Japan, I have kept my eyes out for Japanese children’s books translated into English. Sadly, far more titles go from English into Japanese than from Japanese into English. Having peaked in numbers in the 1980s, nowadays few Japanese children’s and young adult books are translated into English each year.

The reasons for so few Japanese books being sold to English-language publishers are layered and complicated ranging from cultural differences and weak English copy or sample translations used for marketing books to foreign publishers, to stagnant picture book markets in English-speaking countries and a lack of interest from markets that are focused intently on books set in their own countries.

Currently, most of the children’s books translated from Japanese into other languages are sold to other countries in Asia—particularly Korea and Taiwan, and more recently, China. The International Library of Children’s Literature in Ueno, Tokyo, held an exhibit in 2010 Children’s Books Going Overseas from Japan and much exhibit information on translated Japanese children’s books appears on their website.

Because our children are bilingual, when they were young we read most Japanese picture books in Japanese, but we searched out English translations of Japanese picture books as gifts for relatives, friends or libraries in the U.S. Some of the Japanese picture books in translation that we loved to give are Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima, The 14 Forest Mice books and others by Kazuo Iwamura, and books illustrated by Akiko Hayashi. Our all-time family favorite Japanese picture book was the widely read Suuho no shiroi uma, published in English as Suho’s White Horse, a Mongolian tale retold by Japanese author Yuzo Otsuka, illustrated by Suekichi Akaba, and translated by Peter Howlett—featured in this PaperTigers post.

R.I.C. Publications has a number of well-known Japanese picture books and some Ainu folktales in translation. Kane/Miller Book Publishers now focuses on books set in the U.S. but used to focus on translations of books from around the world; their catalog has a section on Books from Japan including the hugely successful Minna unchi by Taro Gomi, translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum and published in English as Everyone Poops. And recently Komako Sakai’s books have traveled overseas including Ronpaachan to fuusen published by Chronicle Books as Emily’s Balloon and Yuki ga yandara released as The Snow Day by Arthur A. Levine Books.

But these days very few English-language publishers, even those more multiculturally oriented, publish translations of Japanese picture books, and those titles that are imported are often those with minimum text. When picture books are translated into English, translation often happens “in house” at the English-language publisher, regrettably with no credit to a translator.  Translated text may also differ considerably from the original text. What’s more, some publishers even eliminate cultural references and alter illustrations—such as removal of kanji characters on signs in the background, and other details that would place a book firmly in Japan or Asia.

Over the years, even more than picture books, our family has sought out middle-grade (MG) and young adult (YA) books in translation and read novels by Kazumi Yumoto, such as The Friends, beautifully translated by Cathy Hirano, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono, translated by Lynne E. Riggs. Partly due to the fact that YA is not a well-established book category here, not much Japanese YA fiction has been translated into English until recently. In the last few years, we are seeing a few more MG and YA titles translated from Japanese, and this is of course due in large part to overseas interest in Japanese manga and anime.

Examples of recent Japanese MG or YA titles translated into English include the Moribito books by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano; Brave Story, by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith; J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa; Real World by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Phillip Gabriel; The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa, translated by Chris Pai; and lots of Japanese manga appearing in English—see BookDragon book reviews. Still, I look forward to the day when the YA list of translated titles is much, much longer.

SCBWI Tokyo now has a Translation Group for Japanese to English translators of children’s and YA literature, and this year the group will hold its second Translation Day on June 16, which will feature Alexander O. Smith and translators of stories in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Through this SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group we aim to cultivate translators skilled in the nuances and particulars of children’s literature and hope that the group can be a model for other regions in Asia so that English-language publishers around the world can readily find experienced translators. In the future, perhaps more children’s and YA literature from Asia can appear in English and reach a wider global readership.

Holly Thompson was raised in New England and is a longtime resident of Japan. Her verse novel Orchards(Delacorte/Random House) won the 2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature  and is a YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults title. She recently edited Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (Stone Bridge Press), and her next verse novel The Language Inside (Delacorte/Random House) will be published in 2013. She teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University and serves as the regional advisor of the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website:

SCBWI Tokyo Illustrators Exhibition 2011 ~ Sept 6 – 11, Tokyo, Japan

Monday, August 22nd, 2011


The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents:

SCBWI Tokyo Illustrators Exhibition 2011

Messages from our Hearts to Friends Not Yet Met

Time: Tuesday, September 6 – Sunday, September 11, 2011

Place: Galerie Malle, 4-8-3 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Messages from our Hearts to Friends Not Yet Met is an exhibition by eleven children’s book illustrators who live in Japan and are active internationally. Exhibitors are Akira Hamano, Michael Kloran, Naomi Kojima, John Kolosowski, Midori Mori, Shohei Nishihara, Paul Richardson, Daniel Schallau, Izumi Tanaka, Kazuko Unosawa and Yoko Yoshizawa. Each artist will exhibit several illustrations and works will be available for sale.

For more information contact Holly Thompson, Regional Advisor, SCBWI Tokyo by clicking here.

Postcard from Japan: PaperTigers in Tokyo

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I had the great pleasure this past weekend of going to Tokyo for two PaperTigers related events — one, to give a talk about PaperTigers to the SCBWI Tokyo chapter, and two, to visit the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Exhibit held annually in Japan at the Itabashi Art Museum.

On Friday, July 8 a small but enthusiastic audience of SCBWI members came to my talk at Tokyo’s Women’s Plaza in Shibuya to hear me explain what PaperTigers is all about.  I told everyone how there were three main components to PaperTigers — the blog, the website, and the outreach program.  When my focus turned to the SPT outreach program, I was also able to introduce host Holly Thompson’s particular Outreach contribution, which involved a set of books being donated to the Butterfly School in Cambodia.  That was a great plus!

After our talk, we had a round of Q and A about PaperTigers and I got to see some of the lovely work of illustrators such as Izumi Tanaka, and hear about writer and illustrator Yoko Yoshizawa’s work with the retelling of folktales around the world, using the work of local illustrators.  I met Ruth Gilmore, librarian and church worker, and author of kidsermons— a four book series of children’s sermons.   I was able to meet with Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu, creator of the wonderful website about Japan called Here and There Japan.  And of course, it was quite exciting for all of us to chat about Holly Thompson’s new fundraising project, the Tomo anthology of Japan-related YA fiction, which is now receiving submissions.  Check out the Tomo blog as well as Holly’s own blog and website, Hatbooks.

The following Saturday I went to the Itabashi Art Museum to see the 2010 Bologna Book Fair exhibit.  The Book Fair exhibit tours Japan annually.  In the Tokyo area, the hosting museum is the Itabashi Art Museum which has been hosting the book fair for thirty years.  I was most intrigued by the artwork of the winner of the 2010 International Award for Illustration, Philip Giordano.  His illustrations were for a rather fantastical re-telling of the famous Japanese fairytale — Kaguyahime.  There were many other wonderful illustrations, but I was a bit dismayed by how few there were from the Americas — south and north.  Yet, I was very glad to get a taste of some of the world’s best art for children; it certainly inspired me to think about writing for children in a new way!  I picked up the Illustrator’s Annual and have been enjoying browsing through it. 

As delightful as my Tokyo visit was, it ended rather soberly with tremors from a 7.3 earthquake that hit Tohoku on the morning of July 10.  I was in my cousin’s apartment when things started to sway and shake; I felt slightly nauseated as if I were on a rocking boat.  For Tokyoites and Tohoku residents, this kind of seismic activity has become the norm ever since March 11.  The topic of many of my conversations over the weekend centered around what happened during and after March 11.   Clearly, life has not been the same for many Tokyo area residents, never mind the people of Tohoku.   While the pleasures and wonders of the nation’s capital are many, so are its worries and fears, of which even I had but the briefest of tastes this short but eventful weekend in Tokyo.

Announcing “Tomo, an Anthology of Young Adult Fiction” to be Edited by Author and SCBWI Tokyo Regional Advisor Holly Thompson

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Fresh on the heels of her newly released YA novel-in-verse Orchards, Holly Thompson has embarked on another exciting adventure. She has taken on the job of editor of Tomo, a benefit anthology to support teens affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

Tomo 友, which means friend in Japanese, will be comprised of young adult fiction set in or related to Japan and will be published in print and digital formats by Stone Bridge Press in Spring 2012. The publication of Tomo will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated vast areas of northeastern Japan and resulted in loss of life and livelihood for thousands of people.

Here’s what Holly has to say about the new project:

Why Tomo? As I explain on the Tomo blog, so many teens in Tohoku have lost parents, siblings, relatives, friends, homes, schools, and huge swaths of their cities, towns and villages. Their teen worlds have been upended. Many will suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. Many will need financial support to complete their education.

Proceeds from the sales of the Tomo anthology will go to organizations that assist teens in the quake and tsunami hit areas. Tomo will link writers of young adult fiction with readers worldwide and the teens in Tohoku in need of their support.

Submissions will be accepted until August 15, 2011 and the guidelines can be found here.

Stone Bridge Press, with its focus on books related to Japan and Asia, is a perfect fit for this project. It is a pleasure to be working with the Stone Bridge team again. [N.B. Holly’s book Ash – A Novel was published by Stone Bridge Press in 2001.]

The Tomo blog will feature news about the anthology, interviews with contributors, and information about the teens, locations and organizations that Tomo will support.

I am so excited about this new venture, to be in the editing role for a collection of Japan-related young adult fiction, and to be setting in motion a project that will benefit teens in the quake- and tsunami-affected areas who are coping with layer upon layer of loss. May their days ahead be full of promise… and friends from near and far.

We wish you much success with this new project, Holly, and congratulate you for taking on such an important initiative!

Bologna Book Fair: What's in a name? – Surprises at the SCBWI Booth

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Bologna Book Fair 2010: SCBWI BoothThe last booth Aline, Marjorie and I visited at the 2010 Bologna Book Fair belonged to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and what a way to end the fair!  We had an absolute blast visiting with the SCBWI members, some of whom we had corresponded with via email before but had never met in person: and we were in for a couple of surprises too.  SCBWI members not only share the same passion for children’s literature as we do at PaperTigers but in two cases share the same first name!  Here’s a special shout out about several of the SCBWI members who made us feel so welcome and took the time to share their work with us.

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2010: Marjorie (PaperTigers) and Marjorie van Heerden (SCBWI South Africa) PaperTigers’ Marjorie (in green) with Marjorie van Heerden, co-Regional Advisor SCBWI South Africa.

Marjorie van Heerden has written and/or illustrated more than 100 children’s books and has been published in 33 languages in Africa, Europe, Canada and the USA.  In 2008 Marjorie won the M.E.R Award for best South African illustrated children’s book.

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2010: Corinne (PaperTigers) and Corinne Fenton (SCBWI Australia)PaperTigers’ Corinne (in pink) with Corinne Fenton, Assistant Regional Adviser SCBWI Victoria, Australia.

Corinne Fenton’s classic award-winning picture book Queenie: One Elephant’s Story was followed in 2008 by The Dog on the Tuckerbox (shortlisted in the Younger Readers Category of the Australian Book Industry Awards and named a Notable Book in both the Picture Book and Eve Pownall Information Book categories of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards for 2009). Her latest book Flame Stands Waiting was released in March 2010.

Yoko Yoshizawa, Assistant Regional Advisor SCBWI Tokyo (more…)

SCBWI Tokyo Hosts an Event with Author/Illustrator Naomi Kojima

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

As I mentioned the other day, SCBWI Tokyo recently hosted an event titled Storyboards and Picture Book Dummies for Good Bookmaking with picture book author/illustrator Naomi Kojima. Born in Japan, Naomi spent her childhood years in the U.S. and studied sculpture at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Her first two picture books, Mr. and Mrs. Thief and The Flying Grandmother were published in New York soon after she joined a Massachusetts SCBWI chapter. Since then, her books have been published in the U.S. and Japan, and translated into French, Swedish, and Indonesian. Her other books include The Alphabet Picture Book and Singing Shijimi Clams which my daughter gave rave reviews to when she borrowed it recently from our local library.

Holly Thompson, Regional Advisor for SCBWI Tokyo, was kind enough to send some photos of the event (which was conducted in English and Japanese!) and writes:

Yes, Naomi Kojima gave a wonderful workshop for SCBWI Tokyo! She covered storyboarding and dummy making, and participants were given sample storyboards as well as text to divide and paste into notebooks to create dummies. Kojima shared several of her own storyboards including one for a new story she is currently developing. At the end participants had a chance to share the dummies they had created and to discuss their different approaches to dividing the text for effective page turns. In the second photo we are all holding books by Naomi.

Thank you for your continued interest in SCBWI Tokyo! We would be happy if you would share this with PaperTigers readers.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) September Events

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

With over 22,000 members worldwide in over 70 regions, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is the largest children’s writing organization in the world and acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between all those involved with literature for young people. Twice a year the SCBWI brings together top professionals to share their knowledge at the annual Summer and Winter conferences. Each month regional chapters sponsor or organize events around the globe and often times these events are open to both members and non-members. (Some of the events are included on our PaperTigers’ Calendar of Events but you can click here to see the full list.) If an event catches your eye, contact a Regional Advisor for more information. Whether you are already established in the children’s industry, just starting to enter the world of children’s book writing and illustrating, or simply have a passion for children’s literature, I’m sure you will find a warm welcome.

Here are a few highlights in September:

JAPAN – This past weekend SCBWI Japan hosted Storyboards and Picture Book Dummies for Good Bookmaking with author/illustrator Naomi Kojima. Holly Thompson, Regional Advisor for SCBWI Tokyo, has kindly sent me photos from the event which I will post soon.

AUSTRALIA – Sunday the 20th

Breakfast with the Visiting SPRUNG Children’s Authors. Share coffee and croissants with visiting children’s authors and illustrators then walk up the road to enjoy a range of sessions at the Albany SPRUNG Writers Festival.

KOREA – Thursday the 24th – Sunday the 25th

The 6th Canadian Children’s Book Seminar at the Embassy of Canada located in Jeong-dong, Seoul. A few hundred children’s books from major Canadian publishing companies will be displayed. This event is not sponsored by SCBWI but Jenny Desmond-Walters, Regional Advisor for SCBWI Korea, found out about it and was kind enough to forward the information. If Jenny is able to attend I’m sure she’ll send us some photos. Stay tuned. Thanks Jenny!

PHILIPPINES – Saturday the 26th

Children’s Book Seminar at the University of the Philippines, Visayas (City Campus). Regional Advisor Beaulah Pedregosa Taguiwalo tells me that this event will appeal to anyone published or aspiring to be a children’s book writer or illustrator.

Holly Thompson Takes U.S. Teachers On a Tour To 'The Wakame Gatherers' Locations

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Author Holly Thompson was raised in New England and earned her M.A. in fiction writing from New York University. She has resided for many years in Kamakura, Japan where she teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University and is a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) -Tokyo branch.

Her latest book The Wakame Gatherers, published by Shen’s Books, is the story of a young girl, Nanami, who has two grandmothers – Baachan whom she lives with in Japan, and Gram who lives in Maine. When Gram visits Japan for the first time, Baachan and Nanami take her on a trip to the seashore for the centuries-old Japanese tradition of gathering wakame seaweed. Nanami acts as translator as her two grandmothers discover they have much in common, despite being from two countries that fought each other during a time that both women remember vividly. With bright, beautiful illustrations by Kazumi Wilds, this book captures the warmth and love of a blended Japanese and American family, with its two grandmothers who become close despite their memories of war.

Recently 14 teachers from Colorado traveled to Japan to take part in a three week study tour entitled “Japan Through Children’s Literature”. Holly was asked to host a study session based on The Wakame Gatherers and took the teachers, along with community volunteers, to the sites illustrated in her book. It was a truly memorable event for all involved, with teachers commenting “That was the best day we’ve had on the tour!” “Amazing!” “So great to be able to cook together,” and “This, today, was the true meaning of exchange.”

Click here to read Holly’s description of the day’s events and learn more about wakame!

October 2008 Events

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

(Click on event name for more information)

Canadian Library Month~ Canada

National Reading Group Month~ USA

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read~ ongoing until Oct 4, USA

International Children’s and Youth Literature Festival~ ongoing until Oct 4, Berlin, Germany

3rd Annual Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) Nominations Open~ Oct 1 – 15

National Young Writers’ Festival~ Oct 2-6, Newcastle, Australia

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony~ Oct 3, Boston, MA, USA

21st Yukon International Storytelling Festival~ Oct 3-5, Whitehorse, YK, Canada

2008 Ceremony of Best Books~ Oct 4, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Américas Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature Winners Ceremony~ Oct 4, Washington, D.C., USA

Orange County Children’s Book Festival~ Oct 5, Costa Mesa, CA, USA

Children’s Book Week~ Oct 6-12, United Kingdom

13th Annual New England Conference on Multicultural Education~ Oct 8, Hartford, CT, USA

School Library Journal Webcast: Capturing Struggling Readers and Reluctant Readers~ Oct 8

Book It! Cheltenham’s Children’s Literature Festival~ Oct 10-19, Cheltenham, United Kingdom

18th Monterrey International Book Fair~ Oct 11-19, Monterrey, Mexico

YALSA’s Teen Read Week: Books With Bite @ Your Library~ Oct 12-18, USA

“Multicultural Bites” with authors Mitali Perkins, Coe Booth and An Na (part of ReaderGirlz’s celebration of Teen Read Week)~ Oct 13

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival~ Oct 14-19, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Frankfurt Book Fair~ Oct 15-19, Frankfurt, Germany

55th Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards Ceremony~ Oct 17, New York, NY, USA

IBBY Ireland Conference: Green Gables to Globalization: Crossover, Canada and Children’s Books~ Oct 18, Dublin, Ireland

SCBWI Tokyo Writers’ Day~ Oct 18, Tokyo, Japan

Children’s Literature Council Fall Gala~ Oct 18, Santa Ana, CA, USA

Vancouver International Writers Festival~ Oct 21-26, Vancouver, BC, Canada

The Big Picture Party: Celebrate the Power of Picture Books~ Oct 27, London, United Kingdom

Book Week~ Oct 27-Nov 9, Japan

Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Awards Ceremony~ Oct 30, San Marcos, TX, USA

28th Santiago International Book Fair~ Oct 31-Nov 16, Santiago, Chile