Picture Books that Share Japanese Culture for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


Disclosure: I was sent copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Today I am sharing a couple of books that share fun pieces of Japanese culture. The first book is The Mochi Makers by Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson. It is recommended for ages baby through 8. 

From the Publisher:

A girl and her grandmother spend the day making mochi together in this gentle and joyous “storytelling treat” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) celebrating family, tradition, and the memories that matter most.

Emi and Obaachan are making mochi. It’s a recipe that’s been passed down for generations. Obaachan brought it with her when she first came to America from Japan and now, Emi is about to become her family’s newest mochi maker!

They mix and pound and twist and wrap. The Japanese rice cakes are sticky and chewy, colorful and tasty, and—most importantly—made with love. For Emi and Obaachan, making mochi becomes a way to remember those they’ve lost, make lots of new memories, and have a fun and family-filled day.

From Me:

This book is a sweet story about family traditions. A grandmother is passing down the tradition and recipe for mochi. The grandmother shares she learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother. The grandmother came across the ocean to marry the girl's grandfather. They share special time together to make this traditional food. 

The book provides a story about making mochi and even gives a bit of tutorial and history. At the end of the book there is a mochi recipe as well as information about mochi in the author's note. I haven't tried the recipe yet but it would be a fun activity to go with the book. 

Our second book is Anna's Kokeshi Dolls: A Children's Story Told in English and Japanese by Tracy Gallup. It is recommended for ages 3 to 7 but I would say baby to seven. It is a counting book.

From the Publisher:

One kokeshi, two kokeshi, three kokeshi, four….

Anna is a Japanese-American girl whose grandparents live in Japan. They have been sending her adorable Kokeshi dolls made of painted wood each year for her birthday since she was very small. The dolls, like people, are all different— and beautiful!

In this charming children's book by award-winning author Tracy Gallup, we watch Anna grow up as her Kokeshi collection grows bigger, and we see how these dolls bring Anna and her grandparents closer together as the years pass.

Part counting book, part visual narrative, this beautifully-illustrated bilingual picture book shows how simple objects can serve as a bridge between people and cultures on opposite sides of the globe. It also introduces these beautiful dolls and the ways in which they are formed and painted.

The story is in Japanese and English, with a free audio recording available online.

A note at the end gently explains the history of Kokeshi dolls and why they are made the way they are.

From Me:

This book is a sweet story about Japanese grandparents sharing their culture with their grandchild who lives in America. The words are simple and a bit of a counting book. We see Anna's kokeshi doll collection grow with each birthday and see her get older throughout the book. 

The dolls are beautiful, and the illustrations are very detailed. I love seeing the variety of dolls and how different they can be. They are simply wooden dolls with paint, but each doll has its own characteristics, and they vary so much! The words help express some of the differences in parts of the book. 

At the end of the book there is the note about kokeshi, and there are also the words on the postcards throughout the book both in English and Japanese. With these notes we see the love between Anna and her grandparents. It is a wonderful story about sharing culture, tradition and love with relatives faraway. It is a wonderful book for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month or to talk about family or for a unit about Japan! Be sure to check out this review of a book about another type of Japanese doll. And our other posts about Japanese culture

To go with this book the obvious craft is making a peg doll as a kokeshi doll. I used a peg doll and painted the body gold. Then I used a piece of origami paper for a dress. (The origami paper goes against what a kokeshi doll is but I wanted the detail of the paper and cannot paint such detail.) I glued a wooden bead to the head for the bun. I made a small paper bow out of the origami paper as well. I painted the black hair and used Sharpie thin markers to make the face. You could also have kids use paint.