This is an incomplete list of all the Level 4 books available from the Tacoma Public Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 4 book:

Level 4: Full texts with kanji and kana. Most kanji have furigana. The content is much richer and the length of a story could go over several volumes, but ample pictures help the readers. Most film comics are at this level. Japanese native readers would be eight to twelve years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

鉄のキリンの海わたり
The Iron Giraffe’s Sea Crossing
作:あさば みゆき
絵:石崎 正次(いしさき しょうじ)
Level 4 絵本, 32 pages, 1,100 words (est.)

This story of a crane (the “iron giraffe” of the title) who rescues a little boy from kidnappers and sacrifices himself to bring him back home is a bit of a tearjerker, but I guess everyone’s happy in the end. Becoming a living coral reef is probably less exciting than working in a port, but it is probably just as interesting a way to live — I like to think, at any rate, otherwise I may have trouble sleeping. This one apparently won a children’s book award sponsored by Nissan.

メル友からのメッセージ
Messages from My E-Mail Friend
作:増原 亜紀子(ますはら あきこ, Masuhara Akiko)
絵:内藤 あけみ(ないとう あけみ, Naitō Akemi)
Level 4 本, 62 pages, 2,900 words (est.)

A fourth grader, recently transferred to a new school, has trouble making friends and withdraws to an online bulletin board, where she lies about how great her life is. But when she reads a post by another transfer student who’s only recently been able to make friends, she drops the act and asks for help. They become e-mail friends, and realize they live close enough to each other to meet, but as it turns out, they had a previous connection… Part of it is told in first-person prose, but much of it is told through e-mails between the two girls. It’s the 11th winner of the Firefly Award (ホタル賞), a prize for books with an anti-bullying theme.
It’s hard to say what level this one is; I wouldn’t call the pictures “ample,” but it’s not extremely long or complex. There’s small illustrations every couple of pages that take up maybe a third of the page; it’s nothing like a manga. One caveat: it does have a maddening cliffhanger for an ending.

ぼくはにんじゃのあやし丸
I’m Ayashi-maru, the Ninja
作:広瀬寿子(ひろせ ひさこ, Hirose Hisako)
絵:梶山俊夫(かじやま としお, Kajiyama Toshio)
Level 4 本, 83 pages, 2,800 words (est.)

Kai’s grandpa has an important secret to pass on to him: although Kai’s lost his memories of the past, they’re both ninjas who arrived in the present day through a mysterious cave while trying to save a princess from a burning, beseiged castle. (“Grandpa can’t really tell the difference between reality and those novels he used to write anymore,” Kai’s aunt mentions. “Has he said anything strange to you?” “No,” Kai responds; after all, he thinks, there’s nothing strange about ninjas.)

It started out simply, but around the middle, when Grandpa is talking about the old days, there’s a lot of vocabulary that both Kai and I were having trouble with. Kai asked for definitions, but somewhere along the line his grandpa started getting grumpy at having to explain words like 不甲斐ない, 寸前 and 疲労困憊 and just started glaring until Kai was quiet again — ninjas are not very patient when asked to serve as living dictionaries, apparently. I went back and looked them all up after finishing the book the first time, and that part made much more sense.

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