Rikumo Book Club: Picture Book Favorites

Yuma, pictured reading with Bam from "Bam and Kero"

Yuma, pictured reading with Bam from "Bam and Kero"

Every child carries two passports: one issued by their country of citizenship, the other to the land of make-believe.  Books are planes, trains, and cars to our imaginations, where anything is possible.  Kids undertake some of those creative journeys by themselves, but often they follow tour guides to certain dreamscapes.  

If you grew up in Japan, it's likely you have some favorites already from the books, board games, toys and TV shows of your youth.  Here are three picture book series that Japanese kids have enjoyed for years, some of which currently star in our own Rikumo Kid Book Club. 

Guri and Gura are two field mice siblings who love to "cook and eat, eat and cook."  Ever since their introduction in 1963, the dynamic duo has become widely known throughout Japan and are regularly referenced in everything from animated films to music.  Their world is charming and colorful, with a sparse style like other early 1960s illustrations. Guri and Gura's short, cute adventures still bring smiles to everyone from young children to adults alike.  This series is great for children who love talking animal stories and sing-song rhymes.

Our next series has also been a classic since the 1960s.  Little Daruma follows the adventures of a talking, strong-willed Daruma statue and his family.  Daruma dolls are common folk toys in Japan and play a prominent role in Japanese Buddhist mythology because making a wish with one of them is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.  In his water-colored adventures Little Daruma often interacts with other folk characters like long-nosed tengu goblins and mythical gods.  In the 21st century, Little Daruma also became an animated series and began delighting a new generation.

Yuka Shimada's "Bam and Kero" series is an immensely popular picture book series starring two unlikely friends: a responsible dog named Bam and a small, mischievous frog named Kero.  Bam and Kero live together in a small rural house, where impulsive Kero causes trouble and calm Bam often ends up cleaning up his messes.  Shimada's books became a surprise hit in 1997 and have captured a wide following in Japan ever since.  Her quirky humor and personality-driven characters have changed the way readers perceive "cute" picture books.