From the monthly archives: May 2011

ばけばけ町のべろろんまつり
Spooky Town’s Slurpy Festival
作/絵:たごもりのりこ(Tagomori Noriko)
Level 2 絵本, 32 pages, 350 words (est.) ★★★★★
Hardcover

If I was in charge of buying books for a high school or college extensive reading library, I’d get this one and the other two in the series, because everyone would be fighting over the chance to read them! For one thing, the wacky setting is much more fun than stories about happy bears baking cake, and for another thing, it really feels like something you’d never read in English. The human boy Ken and his tiger friend Torako get dressed up in yukata for the Slurpy Festival, a summer Japanese festival held in Spooky Town, a village of monsters and ghosts. There they meet a Jizō statue, Anguri Jizō, who leaves his shrine to join them in playing games, eating enchanted food and dancing. I won’t lie, the illustrations in this book would have terrified me when I was a kid, what with the three-eyed bunny and bakebakeyaki (like takoyaki, but with, shall we say, a side effect) but I think that’s precisely what older readers would enjoy! Its very weirdness helps make it feel less childish and more exotic. I would like to find more books like this one that are distinctively Japanese; it really helps you feel like you’re discovering something through your language studies that’s hidden from all those poor suckers that just speak English.

Difficulty
It’s a level 2 book with no kanji and spaces between words, and there are many pictures that help the reader understand what’s going on, but it’s a little more difficult than most level 2 books at this level because of the playful, conversational language. For example, in the sample text, there are words like いろんな(いろいろな)and でてる(でている)that might be difficult for a student who isn’t used to casual speech. It’s also filled with onomatopoeias; I would have had a better time on my first readthrough if I had known that べろろん meant something like “slurp” and あんぐり meant a gaping or wide open mouth, and more perceptive readers than me might be able to get this sort of thing from the pictures and context. So this book might be good for someone who has been reading long enough to be able to skip over unknown things and still enjoy the text.

Reading Tutor rates it as “normal,” mostly because of the non-standard, conversational language and onomatopoeias. It has no kanji.

Sample text (two pages of text)
「わあっ! いろんな おみせがでてるぞ」
あんぐりじぞうも ついてきちゃった!
「いちねんぶん あそばなくっちゃ、ぺろり!」
まずは ひとまわり。
「ねぇねぇ、しっぽつりだって」
「やってみる?」
だれが じょうずに つれるかなぁ?

How to get it
To get it from Kinokuniya at the time I write this, you would have to special order it for ¥1,300 (about $16 at the time of this writing) plus tax and shipping. (However, another one of the books is in store, if you don’t want to deal with special ordering.) It’s on Amazon too, for ¥1,365, or less if used; as always, don’t forget the high cost of shipping if you’re outside Japan. It’s also on YesAsia for $23.99. You can also look it up on WorldCat to see if it’s at a nearby library. (I got it from the Seattle library.)

Don’t forget to check out the other books in the series, “Moving to Spooky Town” and “The Spooky Town Burglar.”

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 6 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 6 book:

Level 6: Easy unabridged books for adolescent native readers from twelve to fifteen years old. These books still include furigana; and there are few pictures. The content is more complex. Some specialized vocabulary items appear.

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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

Placeholder post.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 5 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 5 book:

Level 5: Beginning at this level, material is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the lower levels. Level 5 books usually have more than 100 pages and fewer illustrations. Some kanji have furigana, but not all of them. Stories are fully developed and more detailed. Japanese native readers would be ten to thirteen 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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

心を育てる偉人のお話 光をかかげた人たち 3
Luminaries: Stories of Great People to Nurture The Heart #3
作:西本 鶏介(にしもと けいすけ, Nishimoto Keisuke)
絵:狩野 富貴子(かりの ふきこ, Karino Fukiko)
Level 5 本, 199 pages, 16,300 words (est.)

I was proud to finish this book, as it’s the longest one I’ve read so far. It contains 29 stories from the lives of inventors, politicians, authors and so on (both Japanese people and people from other countries), along with some basic biographical information about each of them. Its weakness was that it was slightly on the preachy side; even though most of the stories were interesting in and of themselves there was something about the presentation that became tedious, and it took me longer to get through it than it should have because I wasn’t motivated to finish. As far as its good points went, there were 29 short stories in all, I thought that the writing style was clear and easy to follow (important for such a long book) and they did a good job defining words that the reader might not know.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 4 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; 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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

とらねこにゃんのラブレター
The Tiger Cat’s Love Letter
作:上崎 美恵子(こうざき みえこ, Kōzaki Mieko)
絵:村井 香葉(むらい かよ, Murai Kayo)
Level 4 本, 95 pages, 4,000 words (est.)

To Miharu’s great surprise, one day a stray cat asks her to write a love letter for him. It seems that people in this world aren’t impressed by talking cats; for example, the letter is inevitably found and Miharu’s classmates think she wrote it to someone, and I just kept thinking “Hey, produce the talking cat as evidence and that should shut everyone up” but no dice, apparently. Instead, things just kept getting worse…

絵で見る日本の歴史
An Illustrated History of Japan
作/絵:西村繁男(にしむらしげお, Nishimura Shigeo)
Level 4 絵本, 80 pages, 900 words

Currently writing a longer review of this book; will link to it when I’m done.


中国の歴史1 戦国の兵法家
Chinese History #1: The Tacticians of the Warring States Period
シナリオ:武上 純希(たけがみ じゅんき, Takegami Junki)
作画:西村 緋祿司(にしむら ひろし, Nishimura Hiroshi)
Level 4 漫画, 128 pages, 2,500 words (est.)

This first book in a series of educational manga about Chinese history illustrates the life of Sun Bin; it uses a lot of hard kanji and direct quotes from his writings, but balances out the difficulty by including footnotes and a cat and mouse duo who provide commentary and ask questions.

はれときどきぶた
Fair, Then Partly Piggy (official title)
作/絵:矢玉 四郎(やだま しろう, Yadama Shirō)
Level 4 本, 79 pages, 3,000 words (est.)

Encouraged by his third-grade teacher, Noriyasu starts to keep a diary: she tells him he doesn’t have to show it to anyone, so he can write about his life openly, but when he does so, he’s shocked to discover his mom reading it. He determines to surprise his mom without writing untrue things by making up events for “Tomorrow’s Diary,” but every night he writes something, it comes true the next day… This was recommended to me by someone on lang-8, and I really enjoyed it for Noriyasu’s thought processes and the peek into his family’s life.

ピピッとひらめくとんち話
Tales of Sparkling Wit
作:木暮 正夫(こぐれ まさお, Kogure Masao)
絵:原 ゆたか(はら ゆたか, Hara Yutaka)
Level 4 本, 95 pages, 4,000 words (est.)

I’m writing a longer review of this one, so I’ll link to it when it’s done.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 3 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 3 book:

Level 3: Kana and kanji are mixed, but the book is mainly written in hiragana. Furigana is provided for any kanji in the text. The content is not only fiction, but may also contain facts or accounts of some natural phenomena. Pictures are the main feature of the book. Japanese native readers would be six to ten 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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

ピザパイくんたすけてよ
Help Us, Mr. Pizza!
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

The ghost Acchi lives in a restaurant; at first he’s content just to sample the food, but after a while he learns to cook. Once word gets out that the restaurant is haunted, however, no one comes to it anymore. Acchi feels responsible… how can he turn things around and make people want to visit?

エビフライをおいかけろ
Chase the Fried Shrimp!
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

So it seems there is a whole series about this cooking ghost Acchi, and Nikkei Bunko has a lot of them. In this installment, Acchi is aiming to pass a prestigious test, but he and his friends have to solve some riddles to even know what it is he’ll be required to cook.

忍たま乱太郎 ありったけ・これったけの段
Rantarō the Ninja Boy: The Arittake Mushroom and the Korettake Mushroom
原作:尼子騒兵衛(あまこそうべえ, Amako Sōbē)
文:田波靖男(たなみやすお, Tanami Yasuo)
絵:亜細亜堂(あじあどう, Ajiadō)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

Hey, if you’re sick of happy bunnies and kindergarteners, maybe some ninja children might be up your alley? It seems that this is a book adaptation of an anime that was based off of a manga. Maybe that makes it more legit to the book purchasers of the world? 有りっ丈 apparently means “everything one has” (as in to give it all you’ve got”) and 茸 (たけ)is “mushroom,” so I guess the title is something of a play on that.

おひめさまがっこうへいく
The Princess Goes To School
作:まだらめ 三保(まだらめ みほ, Madarame Miho)
絵:国井 節(くにい せつ, Kunii Setsu)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

I read one of this series early on — it was, I think, the very first Level 3 book I read without a single peek at a dictionary, and in order to keep from the temptation of looking words up I had to draw a bath and stay in it until the book was quite over and the water was quite cold. Revisiting the series with this book and the next one on the list was a pleasure, since books like these have become significantly easier since then. In any case, I find this princess charming, and I’ll explain why in the next entry. But yes, in this installment the princess attends school, and what a school it is.

おひめさま ケーキをつくる
The Princess Makes A Cake
作:まだらめ 三保(まだらめ みほ, Madarame Miho)
絵:国井 節(くにい せつ, Kunii Setsu)
Level 3 本, 85 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

When I wrote the mini-review of the first book in this series I read, I wrote that it might be a good series to explore if you have a high tolerance for princesses. Well, I do indeed have a high tolerance for princesses, as you might have noticed if you’ve seen my paperdoll blog, so I picked up the two that were at Nikkei Bunko. This series has a twisted, childish logic that makes it more fun to read than many other books at this level, which run the risk of becoming slightly earnest. These books aren’t earnest, just goal-oriented: the Princess has a problem, so she solves it and hey presto, no more problem! (At least for the time being.) There’s no second-guessing herself, self-reflection or common sense to get in the way: she just does what she wants to do, and what she wants to do is generally pretty loony. She’s rather an admirable little character in that regard.

きいろいばけつ
The Yellow Bucket
作:森山 京(もりやま みやこ, Moriyama Miyako)
絵:土田 義晴(つちだ よしはる, Tsuchida Yoshiharu)
Level 3 本, 75 pages, 1,000 words (est.)

A young fox comes across a bucket, seemingly abandoned. He’d like it for himself, but doesn’t want to just take it, so he and his friends decide that if no one comes for it in a week, it would be all right to claim it.

いたずらまじょ子の王女さまになりたいな
The Impish Little Witch: If Only I Could Be A Princess
作:藤真知子(ふじまちこ, Fuji Machiko)
絵:ゆーちみえこ(Yūchi Mieko)
Level 3 本, 102 pages, 2,200 words (est.)

A decidedly cute little book about a girl named Arisa, a witch (the Majoko of the title) and their interactions with royalty. It’s divided into three stories, and the first and last stories are nice enough, but it was the second story I liked best, where the two girls meet all sorts of, shall we say, defective princesses. If you have problems remembering the kanji or word 胃 (stomach), it would probably be etched in your memory by the episode with the princess who loved food so much she had had surgery to install a second stomach and tried to steal the stomachs of the two girls for future use.

世界の童話29:日本の絵話
Fairy Tales from Around the World #29: Japanese Illustrated Stories
Level 3 絵本, 103 pages, 3,600 words (est.)

A collection of Japanese stories written and illustrated by different authors and artists; some of the illustrations are gorgeous (such as the ones for the first story, The Girl With A Bowl On Her Head) and it’s a shame you can’t even see the front cover on Amazon. Also, all of the stories are memorable. I don’t know how widespread they are, but I had only read one of them before, “The Split-Tongue Sparrow.”

へんしん!スグナクマン
Insta-Tears Man, Transform!
作:川北 亮司(かわきた りょうじ, Kawakita Ryōji)
絵:藤本 四郎(ふじもと しろう, Fujimoto Shirō)
Level 3 本, 85 pages, 2,500 words (est.)

Yoshio is a first grader who’s getting bullied every day; the other kids call him “Insta-Tears Man” because he cries three times a day. His parents don’t have much in the way of advice for him besides “You’ve got to buck up!” and even his friend from preschool considers him babyish. But he does solve the problem in, let’s say, a way that probably wouldn’t be used if this was a textbook for respectable adults. It’s interesting to me that there’s a subtle class element in this book: Yoshio’s mom works at a pachinko place and his dad is a taxi driver, and the first one of these jobs is something he specifically gets teased for.

おおかみなんてだーいすき
I Love You, Big Bad Wolf!
作/絵:木村裕一(きむらゆういち, Kimura Yūichi)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,200 words (est.)

A bunny moves into a lovely little house on a hilltop; this makes her a target for the neighborhood wolf. But somehow he can’t find an opportunity to eat her, as she keeps him busy with helping her with housework, eating her cooking and even comforting her when she’s down.

きつねのスーパーマーケット
The Fox’s Supermarket
作:小沢正(おざわただし, Ozawa Tadashi)
絵:西川おさむ(にしかわおさむ, Nishikawa Osamu)
Level 3 本, 72 pages, 1,600 words (est.)

While waiting for her mom to finish shopping, Michiko notices a fox pushing a cart full of boxes; following him, she finds her way to the Fox’s Supermarket and gets a personal tour of all the wonderful gadgets there. This is the kind of level 3 book I like best: it’s got a fun story (well, there’s not all that much to the actual story, but it’s great to follow along with the tour of the store because the stuff on sale is so fantastic) and it’s also has a lot of great examples of polite salesman speech.

スパゲッティがたべたいよう
I Want Spaghetti!
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

I’m reading all these books about Acchi the cooking ghost, but I’m reading them quite out of order, apparently; I would guess this is the first in the series, back from his days as a fearsome monster.

フルーツポンチはいできあがり
Your Fruit Salad Is Done!
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Acchi helps the mouse Chi make fruit salad for his twin brother Ki, who’s sick; the touching scene makes. Acchi wish that he had a little brother, too. If you read the Japanese title you might think I’m quite mistaken in translating it as “fruit salad” — but what he makes really is more like an American fruit salad than our fruit punch.

カレーライスはこわいぞ
Curry Rice is Pretty Darn Scary!
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Acchi the ghost is so thoroughly domesticated by now that a pair of mischevious mice have started sneaking into his room while he sleeps, tickling him and treating his tummy like a taiko drum. His friends come to the conclusion that it’s because he doesn’t look scary due to his habit of only eating sweets. So it’s time for a diet of super-spicy curry rice to regain some of that scariness…

ぼくのおなかがしろいわけ
The Reason My Belly Is White
作/絵:熊田 勇(くまだ いさむ, Kumada Isamu)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,000 words (est.)

Tam oversleeps and breaks a promise to his friends; in the process of trying to make it up to them, he gets stuck up a tree. Very basic for a level 3 book, but cute.

おばけのコッチ ピ ピ ピ
Kocchi the Ghost: *whistle* *whistle* *whistle*
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Apparently there are even more of these ghosts! Socchi will show up soon, so now’s as good a time as any to point out that あっち, そっち and こっち mean “way over there,” “over there” and “over here” respectively. I imagine that Acchi picked up his name from people saying things like “Look over there, a ghost!” or “Go away, ghost!” But the rest of them, maybe it’s just a cute name by now? In any case, in this installment we meet Kocchi, a ghost who works in a barbershop. A ghost in a barbershop is all kinds of useful – for example, he can make himself invisible and hold down squalling children while they get their hair cut.

おばけのアッチ ねんねんねんね
Nighty-Night, Acchi the Ghost
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

This year, too, Acchi has to spend Christmas all alone, as all of his friends are going to be with their families, and rather uncharacteristically none of them get the hint that he’s going to be lonely. So he decides to party with Santa instead, and he designs a bunch of foods intended to force Santa to eat long enough to stay with him, such as spaghetti made from a single strand that’s long enough to wrap around the earth.

おばけのアッチ スーパーマーケットのまき
Acchi the Ghost and the Supermarket
作:角野栄子(かどのえいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木洋子(ささきようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 86 pages, 2,100 words (est.)

Acchi and his friends want to play hide and seek, but Bon, the stray cat, insists on going to the new supermarket. However, a greedy ghost and two mice can’t help but cause trouble in a place filled with so many great things…

こまったさんのシチュー
Miss Oh-No’s Stew
作:寺村輝夫(てらむらてるお)
絵:岡本颯子(おかもとさつこ)
Level 3 本, 73 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

Komatta-san runs a flower shop, and one day, an order for tulips leads her on a whimsical journey with a young boy from Nigeria, who cooks her Nigerian stews. The only part I really enjoyed was the afterword about the author’s travels, which adds about 450 words, and also the fact that okra, which I would have guessed would be written in katakana, was in hiragana: おくら.

こまったさんのカレーライス
Miss Oh-No’s Curry Rice
作:寺村輝夫(てらむらてるお, Teramura Teruo)
絵:岡本颯子(おかもと さつこ, Okamoto Satsuko)
Level 3 本, 73 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

Another quirky, silly book about Miss Oh-no and her culinary hallucinations. Once again the best part is the author’s note (which adds about 450 words), where he talks about curry he’s eaten in various locales. If he wrote a kid’s book about eating curry in Africa I’d totally read it but the actual story, although cute, is pretty weak sauce — although good practice for cooking-related words and fantastic imagery.

わかったさんのアイスクリーム
Miss Got-It’s Ice Cream
作:寺村輝夫(てらむらてるお, Teramura Teruo)
絵:永井郁子(ながいいくこ, Nagai Ikuko)
Level 3 本, 79 pages, 2,300 words (est.)

Miss Got-it suffers a whimsical hallucination about gathering ingredients and making ice cream. I generally prefer less fantastic books, but it can be nice to test your faith in your own ability to comprehend strange language using this sort of nonsense material.

しんこころにのこる 1ねんせいのよみもの
New Stories for First Graders That Remain In Your Heart
監修:長崎 源之助(ながさき げんのすけ, Nagasaki Gennosuke)
Level 3 本, 119 pages, 5,300 words (est.)

I’m intending to write a longer post about this book, and I’ll link to it when it’s done.

おばけのアッチ こどもプールのまき
Acchi the Ghost: The Kid’s Pool
作:角野 栄子(かどの えいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木 洋子(ささき ようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Faced with the reality of a crowded public pool, Acchi the ghost and his stray cat friend Bon fantasize about an awesome water park for kids.

おばけのソッチ ぞびぞびぞー
Socchi the Ghost: *screech* *screech*
作:角野 栄子(かどの えいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木 洋子(ささき ようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Socchi loves to sing but needs, shall we say, some practice to win an upcoming singing contest, so she infiltrates a first grade music class for pointers.

バスにのってはじめてのおつかい
My First Time Taking The Bus On An Errand
作:としま かをり(Toshima Kaori)
絵:岡本 美子(おかもと よしこ, Okamoto Yoshiko)
Level 3 本, 94 pages, 1,600 words (est.)

This book’s title is deceptively bland — it’s actually a moving, mildly supernatural tale about a second-grader named Yui who takes the bus to her grandmother’s house all by herself for the first time, to bring her grandmother some of her favorite kinako mochi. (I went a good four-fifths of the book thinking that was kinoko mochi, and thinking that was a very specific sort of favorite food to have.) On the way there, she meets a strangely-dressed girl with bobbed hair, who’s carrying a treasure of her own… It’s one of the better level 3 books I’ve read.

おばけのコッチ あかちゃんのまき
Kocchi the Ghost: The Baby Book
作:角野 栄子(かどの えいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木 洋子(ささき ようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1400 words (est.)

Kocchi, who lives at a barbershop, is enlisted to babysit one of his clients from the previous day. But acting like a mother is harder than he thinks…

おばけのソッチ 1年生のまき
Socchi the Ghost: First Grade
作:角野 栄子(かどの えいこ, Kadono Eiko)
絵:佐々木 洋子(ささき ようこ, Sasaki Yōko)
Level 3 本, 78 pages, 1400 words (est.)

Socchi, after her adventures with the first grade music class, longs to be able to attend school herself; unsurprisingly, there are a number of obstacles in the way.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 2 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 2 book:

Level 2: Mainly hiragana and katakana text. If there are kanji, furigana is given for each kanji. The text is longer but still contains a lot of pictures to aid student comprehension. Japanese native readers would be five to eight 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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

100万回生きたねこ
The Cat with a Million Lives
作/絵:佐野 洋子(さの ようこ, Sano Yōko)
Level 2 絵本, 31 pages, 750 words (est.) ★★★★★ Hardcover

This book was recommended to me by a couple of people on lang-8, and quite a few people using 読書メーター (Reading Meter) have read it, so you could consider it one of those thoughtful, classic picture books that appeals to adults, and would therefore be a good book for an extensive reading collection. The cat of the title has lived a million lives, and been mourned by a million owners; he’s never cried once.

いっすんぼうし
The One-Inch Boy
作:長谷川 彰(はせがわ あきら, Hasegawa Akira)
絵:金山 通弘(かなやま みちひろ, Kanayama Michihiro)
Level 2 絵本, 48 pages, 600 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

I don’t know why I felt the need to revisit this story — I guess I’m just a sucker for fairy tales. So-so pictures for this one, but more details compared to the version I read before.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 1 books available from Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library operated by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 1 book:

Level 1: Hiragana and katakana only. The text is very short, and has one-word sentences, phrases, and some complete sentences. There are plenty of visual aids to help convey meaning. Japanese native readers would be three to six 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 or YesAsia.com and compare prices and shipping costs. They may also be available at a library near you or be available through inter-library loan; you can look them up at WorldCat.org. 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.

あいうえおえほん
A – I – U – E – O Picture Book
絵:冬野 いちこ(ふゆの いちこ, Fuyuno Ichiko)
監修:今井和子(いまい かずお, Imai Kazuo)
Level 1 絵本, 40 pages, 500 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

I’m tutoring a friend of mine in Japanese, and since extensive reading is kind of my thing, there will probably be a lot of level 1 books listed in the next few months, as I scope out beginner reading material. It is more difficult to find suitable books than you might expect – I suspect I’ll have a lot to say about this in the future! This one has simple, colorful pictures, a couple of words that start with each hiragana and some related words.

 

As I’ve noted on my paper doll blog, no matter how hard I try to moderate myself, I really just have two settings when it comes to hobbies and projects: white-hot intensity and complete indifference. I can try to say “I’ll spend two hours drawing, two hours studying Japanese and one hour reading this book in English” and I can keep that up for, oh, five days. Actually, I get better at balancing things as I get older — it is not too often anymore that the housework completely goes to hell while I work on something — but the fact is that I’m just happier if I’m totally obsessing over one thing.

I write all this in hopes of explaining why I haven’t read a new Japanese book, or indeed an English one, in well over a week. There’s a video game series which I adore called Metal Max; I actually translated the SNES remake of the first one, Metal Max Returns, for Aeon Genesis a while back, and Metal Max 2, well on its way to being translated but in need of a lot of work, has been hovering in my consciousness recently. I bought Metal Max 3 when it came out for the DS in the summer of 2010 and played a good forty hours in, so when I wanted to play it again I decided to just restart. The difference between what I understand now and what I understood then is pretty astounding, and I credit it to extensive reading because that’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now. Besides just general improvement in reading speed and comprehension, the big difference I’ve noticed is that I’m much more able to pick out the important parts of something I don’t understand very well, instead of just getting frustrated and skipping everything.

In any case, that’s what I’ve been doing instead of reading my normal fare. The ReadMOD players have a mechanism for counting games in their extensive reading tallies, but I don’t have the first idea how many screens I’ve looked at, and in any case Metal Max 3 is really well above my fluent reading level; there are many words I don’t know, both in terms of technical jargon and rough language. (I can understand that someone wants to kill me, and I can understand the context in which they wish to kill me, but the actual words they use to deliver their message are often a little incomprehensible to someone who still spends her time reading books about friendly bears baking cakes.)

This nearly magical improvement is very encouraging to me: if these are the kind of results I see at 100,000 words, I can only imagine how it’ll be at 250,000 words, 500,000 words, a full million. Of course, for that to ever happen I have to stop screwing around with video games that are way above my level and get back to business.

Happily, I found a resource which will make the process of getting back to business much easier! I am still feeling like I would prefer level 3 and 4 books to level 5 books, but in my experience with the three libraries where I find Japanese books, those level 3 and 4 books are rare little beasties compared to the amount of level 2 and level 5/6 books. Even at the central Seattle library I’m finding fewer and fewer of those 3/4 books, and I wind up bringing home level 5 books or level 2 books that are a little more advanced than most picture books. I had just started thinking about buying more books or scouting out the other libraries in the Seattle system when I learned about Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library that’s part of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. I went on a field trip the very next day and seriously. oh. my. God. There’s easily five times more kids’ books there than there are at the central Seattle library, and it looks like there are enough level 3/4 books to keep me happy for some time. You’re limited in the number of books you can check out; the sign-up sheet says “five” but the guy there said “Oh, you can check out more” and I picked out another five — not wishing to push my luck just yet. I really like the idea of finding one book you like that’s at the right level then reading others in that same series, but most of the time when I get books out of the library I only find that they’re part of a series when I look them up later, meaning I have a great lead on what I might want to buy at some point but that I can’t just skip from book to book. However, this place has a lot of collections of children’s literature, illustrated reference books, series of books fairy tales and so on; it looks like it was put together with an eye toward being educational for the kids who take Japanese language classes at the JCCCW, but it also has the side effect of making it easier for extensive readers to pick out new books.

So if you are at all close to Seattle, I highly recommend that you make some time to visit Nikkei Bunko! I’m going to add the books I’ve read since my last update, then get started reading some of my new treasures.

 

I’m up to 128,486 words, but I haven’t had time to update all the books I’ve read, so I haven’t formally posted the new total yet. I usually try to update everything on Saturday, but I’ve been busy lately — so busy, actually, that I haven’t read very much at all this week. I did, however, make it to 100 books! (I must admit, the last three or four were all level 2 books — I wanted to hit the milestone soon.)

I signed up for 読書メーター after noticing it on lordsilent’s Twitter feed. Here I am, feel free to add me as a friend. It’s a cool service! I’ll write more about it later.

 

So at a certain point, I ran out of level 3 and 4 books from the Tacoma library; there were a lot of level 2 books left, but I thought “I am so sick of picture books that I could just pick them all up and throw them clear across the room.” That’s when I got my Seattle library card and read about two dozen level 3 and 4 books. After that, I felt like I could go back to the picture books — I did vow to read every last one, after all, and I thought I’d just like to get them out of the way. (You’ll note I’m not vowing to read all the children’s books in the Seattle library.)

When I started reading in Tacoma and keeping track of the words, reading one in a day every couple of days was a good pace, and my total word count increased by two hundred here and three hundred there. Now, it takes less time to read a level 2 book than it does to make the Amazon link and think of something to write about it. The surprising thing is that I don’t know exactly what changed. Level 2 books used to be harder to read, but not that much harder; they had more unknown words, but not that many. It feels more like my eyes are changing than anything else. I keep thinking of something one of my friends who does extensive reading once said: that language comprehension is just pattern recognition. At that time, I was trying out extensive reading, but just couldn’t put down the blankety-blank dictionary and trust myself to actually read. But now, the easier patterns are starting to settle in place.

Now, I’m picking up books and thinking “This looks interesting and within my fluent reading level,” then running them by my classification system and thinking “Hm… Long… Lots of words… Not many pictures… Less furigana… Wow, this is a level 5 book!” The one I just finished, “Suzu and Rin’s Secret Recipe!” was perhaps just at the border of my ability, but still within my fluent reading level. I even took a stab at a level 6 book, and although I put it back down after a little bit, I was able to glean some very interesting facts about お歯黒. This fascinates me: it’s not as if I’ve been working on grammar (I know, I meant to, but I was right in predicting that it would be the first thing I’d jettison if I got in the least distracted by any other shiny thing), and the only other Japanese-related activity I’ve been doing since I started extensive reading back in Ann Arbor has been writing diaries on lang-8; I know my experiences with that helped me read much faster than I did when I started writing diaries in October, as comments and messages that once took me all day to decode became much more manageable after about four months of frequent writing — but even still, when I started extensive reading I had already been using lang-8 for several months, and I still found level 3 books extremely intimidating. I mostly stuck to level 2, relying a lot on the pictures to be sure I understood what I was reading, and I had to really train myself to stop using the dictionary all the time. And now here I am, with a new attitude of “Level 5? Sure, that’s doable!”

I really do think my rather rapid progression has a lot to do with the many vocabulary words that passed through my mind as I played dozens of video games; I went through this cycle with every game where I first looked up all the words that I didn’t know and made dutiful little vocabulary lists out of them, then got impatient and skimmed all the text, then got hopelessly lost and annoyed at having missed too much detail and started over with another game. It was a fun method of vocabulary building, but in terms of actual results it was slipshod and frustrating; I can’t recommend it. Still, I think that many of these words are already in my head somewhere, they just didn’t get reinforced until now. As I read, many of these half-remembered words came back to me, and that in turn made me better able to fill in a lot of the blanks left over by completely unknown words, as well as makes it easier to remember the word the next time it comes up. That’s just my own perception of my situation, though.

It makes me wonder, maybe I should do some extensive reading in French next? I’m often surprised by how much French I retain — it is really unfair that even now French is still easier for me to skim than Japanese, although I understand Japanese much better. (Reading Japanese feels like switching to another mode; written French looks so similar to English, in contrast, that it doesn’t cause the same feeling.) In practice, my French is so rusty and muddled up with Japanese that I can’t claim to know the language, but it’s still in my head somewhere. I bet I’d do pretty well if I spent an hour a day reading French… Well, it’s a thought, anyways. (As much of a thought as studying Japanese grammar is.)

By the way, I hit 100,000 words! The book that put me over the top was, coincindentally, the picture book I dislike the most because the illustrations are so creepy. Now I’m at 117,746 words, and I suppose the next meaningful number will be 250,000 words, or 25% of my goal. I also got my patio all set up; we moved in at the end of summer and haven’t had anything out there except for a bird feeder all this time, but now I have a little herb garden, hanging flowers and a pair of comfortable chairs. This is where I sit and read now, wrapped up in a blanket usually (because it’s still a little cold here). Having a nice spot like this does wonders for my concentration!