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なぜ?どうして?社会のお話
Why? How? Stories about Society
監修 (Editor):橋本五郎(はしもと ごろう, Hashimoto Gorō)
Level 5 本, 176 pages, 9,500 words (est.) ★★★★★
Softcover

This book is part of a popular series of books that are divided by grade level. There’s short stories, biographies, science facts, stories about animals and so on. (A lot of them are listed on the page I made for short story collections divided by grade level.) This particular book isn’t recommended for any particular grade, although I personally would peg it at about 3rd grade level. It’s divided into 37 short essays that answer questions such as “What does the Prime Minister do?,” “What are stocks?” and “Why do we study English?” It also has a short story at the end of each chapter.

I think this is a great book for extensive readers because it deals with adult subjects in a basic way. Textbooks for adult learners being what they are, most learners probably have encountered many of the words used before in their formal studies, such as 株式会社 (joint-stock company), 国際連合 (the United Nations), or 保険証 (insurance card). However, if you’re doing extensive reading and starting with simple books, these kinds of words don’t usually come up. So although it’s not an easy book, it’s very likely that a beginning reader can enjoy it as well, and it will help to reinforce some of those more complex words that the reader has probably seen at least once or twice in a textbook. The format means that if you don’t understand one story, you can just skip ahead to the next one, and there are a lot of pictures to help the reader understand some of the more complex ideas. (I am not sure that I myself fully understood stocks until I saw the concept illustrated with a little tiger selling stocks to a bunny, a kappa and a hamster.)

It’s also nice because its content dovetails with that of one of the best sites for intermediate readers, NHK News Web Easy, which puts up five articles every weekday from NHK News that have been rewritten in simpler language. Many of the words that are explained in this book frequently appear in several news stories, such as 世界遺産 (World Heritage) and 遺伝子組み換え (genetically modified). I think that the writing is slightly more complex than the average News Web Easy story, but if you’re in the habit of reading them, or want to be, this is an excellent supplement.

Difficulty
According to Hitosugi and Day’s classification system, I’d give it a 5. There’s a good deal of text, but it’s not too small, and there are just enough pictures to help the reader understand what’s going on. All kanji have furigana, and I think that for a 3rd-grade level book it’s pretty heavy on the kanji, which is nice for those of us who like a lot of kanji in our reading material.

Sample text
Happily, there is a preview of this book up on Google Books. I don’t think any of the essays are entirely available, but there is enough content that you should be able to tell if it’s a good fit for you.

How to get it
Please refer to my post about buying books online for advice. (It is a little out of date at this point, though! I’ll work on it.)
It’s at Kinokuniya, YesAsia, and of course there’s always Amazon (watch the shipping and handling fees) and honto as well. I paid $15.60 for it at Kinokuniya, which was a bit expensive, but I think it was worth it.

You can see if it’s at a library close to you with worldcat.