From the monthly archives: April 2011

Summary of Extensive Reading in Japanese by Claire Ikumi Hitosugi and Richard R. Day
Reading in a Foreign Language
Volume 16, Number 1, April 2004

Introduction and the nature of extensive reading
This was the first paper that discussed the use of extensive reading in an Asian language class. The authors defined extensive reading by Richard Day and Julian Bamford’s ten principles:

  1. The material should be easy, with understandable grammar and no more than 1-2 difficult words per page
  2. Students should have access to a wide variety of material
  3. Students choose what they want to read and whether or not they want to continue reading a particular book
  4. Students read as much as possible
  5. Reading is for pleasure and information, not 100% comprehension
  6. Reading is its own reward, and there’s no test, although there may be followup activities
  7. Reading speed should be faster, rather than slower, and dictionaries shouldn’t be used
  8. Reading is done individually and silently
  9. Teachers orient and guide their students
  10. Teachers are reading role models, and should read the books themselves

Japanese 102
The Japanese 102 course at the University of Hawai’i is the followup to Japanese 100 / Japanese 101. Each semester, there are 12-15 sections with about 15 students per section, and the sections meet five times a week for sixteen weeks. JPN 102 was chosen because 100/101 teaches hiragana, katakana and enough grammar and vocabulary that the students should be able to start reading low-level books. The extensive reading program was part of one section that had 14 students; it was taught by Hitosugi, and Day was the leading collaborator and mentor for the extensive reading component of the course.

Implementing extensive reading in JPN 102
Because all of the sections had to use the same syllabus, the extensive reading program was added to the section’s existing tasks and did not replace any part of the course. Although the project started three months before classes started, it wasn’t ready in time and was only in place during the last ten weeks of the 16-week class.

Although there are books written specifically for English language learners, Japanese language learners didn’t have that resource, and so students read books written for children whose native language was Japanese. The authors worried that such low-level material would seem insulting to college students, so they explained the project’s expected benefits and the difficulties in finding appropriate material to the section. They collected 266 new and used books and created classification and rating systems to help students select appropriate, interesting reading material. 39 books were level 1 (the easiest), 76 books were level 2, 50 books were level 3, 87 books were level 4, 11 books were level 5 and three books were level 6.

Participating in the program accounted for 10% of the student’s final grade; participation was required so that students would understand the importance of reading and find time for it in their busy schedules, as they might not do if it was just optional. To gain the full 10%, each student had to read 40 books over the 10 week period, with a weekly target of four books per week; there was also extra credit for reading more than 40 books. This was thought to be a challenge, but not impossible because the books were short.

Reading was done outside of class as homework, so that the students could keep up with the other sections during class. However, the students’ reading was incorporated into the class during a 30-minute session once a week, where the students did things like promote their favorite books or act out stories they had read. This was fun for them, but it also linked the reading that had been done individually to the whole class, and it promoted reading, as those who hadn’t done any felt left out.

To measure the impact of the extensive reading program, a three-part reading test and a 22-item survey were created. They were given to students in the extended reading section and a non-extended reading section before the program was introduced, then again at the end of the course.

What the authors learned
Although the authors only expected one or two students to read 40 or more books, four students hit or exceeded the mark. Five students read less than 25 books; the lowest number read was by a student who had a family and a full-time job.

The authors expected the extensive reading group to have made more gains in reading than the section that followed the standard curriculum, and the three-part test shows that to have been the case. (It must be kept in mind that the sample size was too small to be conclusive, and the program was done to aid in learning, not primarily for research.) Both classes improved their scores on part A and did about the same on part B, but students in the extensive reading program gained an average of .88 points (out of a possible 10) on part C, which was the hardest section (taken from the JPN 201 final exam), while the students in the other class did slightly worse than they had the first time around, dropping on average .13 points. In total, the extensive reading class gained an average of 1.08 points on the three-part test, while the regular class gained an average of .37 points.

The questionnaire asked questions such as “I have confidence in my ability to read Japanese” and “So far, I am enjoying Japanese 102”; the students in the extended reading section had a greater increase in positive affective responses than the ones in the regular class. The extensive reading students reported that they didn’t need to use a dictionary as much as the students as the regular class, and that they came to read outside of class and watch Japanese TV more than the non-extensive reading students. Answers to some of the questions indicate that the extensive reading students considered reading more difficult than students in the regular class did; the authors theorize that this may be because the books they read had little connection to the vocabulary or topics found in the textbook. However, even though these students saw reading as a challenge, their attitudes towards it, and towards their Japanese class, improved between the first and second times the questionnaire was administered.

Even though ten weeks is a fairly short period in which to expect significant gains in reading ability, the 14 students read a good deal, improved their scores on the reading test and came to feel positive about the experience. The authors continued the extensive reading program and expanded it to JPN 101 and 202; they’ve found that it appeals to some students but not to others, that it promotes overall reading fluency, and that for some students it triggers an interest in Japanese culture, prompting them to study independently.


  • Given that this was the second semester of a first year class, I’m kind of surprised that there were so many level 4 books, and that the organizers bothered adding anything above level 3 to the library at all. Was this just because the level 4-6 books were donated, because teachers and experts sometimes forget the practical concerns and abilities of beginning students and thought higher-level books might be within their reach, or because the organizers were looking ahead to the future and planning to expand their program? Was it by design that the students would have to read at least one level 2 book to get full credit, or just a coincidence?
  • I would have liked to have known how the students’ reality corresponded to the extensive reading ideal: did they stick mostly to level 1 books so that they could read fluently? Even with the level 1 books, did they ever find more than two difficult words per page? (The study’s given threshold for the number of unknown words per page allowable in extensive reading (1-2) is even lower than the one I personally use (3-4).) Did they push themselves to read higher level books despite probably finding more than two difficult words on each page? Was there any sort of one-upmanship among the students or were they all content to read very low-level books? If there was any sort of feeling of competition, was it beneficial or not? Did they actually read without dictionaries?
  • We know the number of books that each student read, but what level did they primarily read at? My guess is that they mostly read level 1 books and some level 2 books, and didn’t read level 3 and above at all; I base this guess on the fact that they’re first-year students and that one student who only read level 2 books was treated as an exceptional case.
  • Was there any particular difference between the background and performance of the student that only read level 2 books and that of the other students?
  • Question 5 on the questionnaire was “I read Japanese books, comics, newspapers, etc., outside of class,” and the authors found that the extensive reading students came to read much more outside of class than the non-extensive reading students. I wonder if the extensive reading students interpreted this question to mean “outside of class, but as part of the reading homework” or if they read materials beyond the ones provided for the extensive reading program.
  • These last two papers about extensive reading as part of a beginning student’s coursework make me wonder how it would have affected my own progress in Japanese, had it been known to me at the time. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Japanese didn’t really feel like a language to me until I started trying to read authentic material; that material, however, was waaay above my level.

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 6 books available from the Seattle Public Library; 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 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.

Placeholder post.


This is an incomplete list of all the Level 5 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 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 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.

Let’s Go Walking!
作:北 ふうこ(きた ふうこ, Kita Fūko)
絵:岡本 美子(おかもと よしこ, Okamoto Yoshiko)
Level 5 本, 83 pages, 5,600 words (est.)

Takeshi’s family moves to the country to be closer to his grandpa and for the benefit of his asthmatic sister Akane; it’s nothing like their old home and it’s hard to get used to, but the more time he spends there, walking with his sister and grandpa and learning about things like what color cucumber flowers are and how to make bamboo dragonflies, the more he comes to like the country life. I just love these books that are essentially a peek inside a family’s day-to-day life, even if there’s not much plot in the way I’m used to thinking about it.

Suzu and Rin’s Secret Recipe!
作:堀 直子(ほり なおこ, Hori Naoko)
絵:木村 いこ(きむら いこ, Kimura Iko)
Level 5 本, 140 pages, 6,100 words (est.)
Suzu’s dad is so busy with his new restaurant that he has to live there, and Suzu learns that she likes to cook for her mom and two sisters as well as her beloved dog, Rin. Her friend suggests that she enter a cooking contest, and Suzu can’t help but think it would be an opportunity to prove the power of rice to a critic who recently panned her dad’s restaurant for featuring it…


This is an incomplete list of all the Level 4 books available from the Seattle 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.

Lisabet and the Snowy Woods
作:アストリッド・リンドグレーン(Astrid Lindgren)
絵:イロン・ヴィークランド(Ilon Wikland)
Level 4 本, 56 pages, 2,100 words (est.)

Astrid Lindgren also wrote the Pippi Longstocking series which I loved as a kid, so I snapped it up. Lisabet and Alva, her family’s maid, go to buy Christmas presents, and while Lisabet is waiting outside for Alva to buy her present, she gets the idea to ride on the back of a passing sleigh from a boy she knows. But the sleigh goes much further than she expected it would… It’s not nearly as lighthearted as the Pippi Longstocking books, but it’s lyrical and heartwarming. Incidentally, the original title is “Titta, Madicken, det snöar” (translated by one blogger as “Look, Madicken, it’s snowing!”); Madicken is Lisabet’s older sister, and although it’s not as if she has no role in the story, Lisabet’s adventure is the most compelling part, so I rather prefer the Japanese title (for once).

Goodbye, Grandpa!
作:服部 千春(はっとり ちはる, Hattori Chiharu)
絵:鈴木 修一(すずき しゅういち, Suzuki Shūichi)
Level 4 本, 79 pages, 5,000 words (est.)

One night Sayaka’s grandfather, who passed away long before she was born, starts appearing in her bedridden grandmother’s room, and for some reason, she’s the only one who can see him. Worse still, he insists on following her around… This was one of the more complicated books I’ve read since I started this project, and I loved it, I read it in a night. Apparently it won a contest for children’s science fiction books, as well. By the way, this book marked something of a personal triumph for me: it’s the first time one character has used a word, another character has asked for a definition and I didn’t need to have it explained too. (The word in question was ハイカラ.)

Cookie, the Nurse’s Office Dog
作:上条 さなえ(かみじょう さなえ, Kamijō Sanae)
絵:相澤 るつ子(あいざわ るつこ, Aizawa Rutsuko)
Level 4 本, 96 pages, 4,500 words (est.)

When Cookie, a Chihuahua who lives at an animal hospital, bites two people to try to avoid having his ears cleaned and his nails trimmed, his name is mud — and the only reasonable thing to do is to send him to work at a school nurse’s office and hope he changes his wicked ways. I’m a little baffled by the logic there, but it all works out, and it’s a really fun little book. Second one I’ve read that was narrated by a dog — I could probably start a collection. By the way, I didn’t know that the device I only know as the “Cone of Shame” is called an Elizabethan collar in English as well, so I cracked up when I figured out what エリザベスカラー referred to.

The Doggie Detective Agency
作:杉山 亮 (すぎやま あきら) 
絵:廣川 沙映子(ひらかわ さえこ)
Level 4 本, 142 pages, 4,000 words (est.)

I was totally charmed by this book, and since it’s part of a larger series I might give it its own write-up at some point. It’s about a dog trainer named Spitz (that is, スピッツ; his t-shirt says “Spit’s Dog Training” but I choose to view it as an error, because he’s never gonna get the girl with a name like Spit), his next-door neighbor Miss Hanae, and all the dogs he takes care of; together, they fight crime! There’s three separate short stories, with a bit of information about various dog breeds at the end of each one.

ティアラちゃんのアン・ドゥ・トロワ 3
Tiara’s un, deux, trois (3)
作:しめの ゆき(Shimeno Yuki)
絵:小野 恵理(おの えり, Ono Eri)
Level 4 本, 71 pages, 3,000 words (est.)

Tiara is a bunny taking ballet classes; this is a slow-paced book about her interactions with her classmates and their struggles with ballet and friendship. This is the third book in the series, and although the previous books were summarized, it did make the book feel less compelling; if you happen to like ballet and/or cute animals, though, it might be a good one to order and start from the beginning. I’ve got to say, the dancing animal I most wanted to read about was the alligator Simone, who had no speaking lines but appears in some of the illustrations. There’s all these lithe, adorable gazelles, bunnies, lambs and so on, and then you have a grim-looking alligator with little stubby arms and a tutu. I’d read it, wouldn’t you?

森からのてがみ 2
Messages from the Forest #2 (official title)
文:ニコライ・スラトコフ(Nikolai Sladkov)
訳:松谷 さやか(まつや さやか, Matsuya Sayaka)
絵:あべ 弘士(あべ ひろし, Abe Hiroshi)
Level 4 本, 56 pages, 1,800 words (est.)

Nikolai Sladkov was a naturalist writer, so these little stories about animals are a cut above all of the other animal books I’ve been reading: they feel slightly like fables, and there’s none of this “oh, how nice, Usako-chan and Kuma-kun are playing together” business. I class it as a Level 4 book because it uses more kanji, a smaller font and has no spaces between words, but it’s fairly short and split into three stories, and I think it and the other two books in the series would be a good choice for my fantasy extensive reading library that, as of yet, I only carry around in my head.

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 3 books available from the Seattle Public Library; 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 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.

Chikuchiku’s Ghost Safari
作/絵:舟崎 克彦(ふなざき よしひこ, Funazaki Yoshihiko)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 850 words (est.)

The hedgehog Chikuchiku, back from exploring, tells all his animal friends about the places he found… and the ghosts inhabiting them. Or at least, that’s what he thought they were, but some of his friends are a little skeptical. This one had a surprising amount of words I didn’t know for a shortish level 3 book – lots of exploring-related verbs, perhaps.

Lil’ Genji
作:花散里(はなちるさと, Hanachirusato)
絵:西村 緋禄司(にしむら ひろし, Nishimura Hiroshi)
Level 3 絵本, 47 pages, 1,100 words (est.)

The young Hikaru Genji wishes to see if people are still talking about him in a thousand years, so he takes a time-traveling oxcart to present-day Kyoto, where he dances for the crowds, transforms a girl in jeans into a Heian-era princess and turns into a phoenix. (A 鳳凰, technically.) Yeah, seriously. I never thought my interest in The Tale of Genji would lead me here. There’s a song that goes with it, too. (The sheet music is in the back of the book.)

Little Dot
作/絵:堀川 波(ほりかわ なみ, Horikawa Nami)
Level 3 本, 63 pages, 1,000 words (est.)

Little Dot’s birthday is tomorrow! Until then, she spends time with her mom and dad doing chores, then visits her friend Sara and her twin brothers. When she gets bigger, she’s going to do all sorts of wonderful things like drive a car and drink coffee with her dad. I guess this is sort of like a … slice of life book? It’s really charming.

Chocolate City
作/絵:深見 春夫(ふかみ はるお, Fukami Haruo)
Level 3 本, 63 pages, 850 words (est.)

Since the residents of Chocolate City are all made of chocolate, all it takes is a little heat from the hairdryer at the beauty parlor and they can remake their heads into any shape they want. Most people choose to be beautiful or handsome, but some are a little more creative: a carpenter makes his head into a house, a musician makes hers into a violin and among children there’s a fad for animal heads. But some shapes come with unintended side effects…

The Biggest Glutton In My First Grade Class
作:後藤 竜二(ごとう りゅうじ, Gotō Ryūji)
絵:長谷川 知子(はせがわ ともこ, Hasegawa Tomoko)
Level 3本, 71 pages, 1,900 words (est.)

That would be Kurosawa-kun, who begs to be put in charge of overseeing the school lunch for his class. At least, you’d think it would be, given that he’s prone to saying things like “I live for curry rice” — but maybe the title really belongs to someone else, someone no one would suspect? Apparently there’s a whole series of these books, too. I really liked the peek into the first-grade classroom, and the way the teacher interacted with the students.

Kuya the Tail
作:丸井 裕子(まるい ひろこ, Marui Hiroko)
絵:長 新太(ちょう しんた, Chō Shinta)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

A tanuki’s tail is fed up with being attached to such a boring tanuki, who never does anything except go fishing and bites it whenever it complains. But it makes its escape when its owner accidentally shuts the door on it, then it recruits a wolf’s tail so they can live the unattached tail dream lifestyle together. But can the tails of two such different animals get along? しっぽ (shippo) is “tail,” and I wonder if くやしっぽ (kuyashippo) is a pun of some sort — I’ll ask one of my friends and report back.

Big Brother
作:後藤 竜二(ごとう りゅうじ, Gotō Ryūji)
絵:小泉 るみ子(こいずみ るみこ, Koizumi Rumiko)
Level 3 本, 63 pages, 550 words (est.)

Kōsuke’s little sister never calls him “big brother,” just always by his name, and then she goes and gets him in trouble with their mom. So what’s a guy to do but run away from his home? Luckily he’s got a special hideout all prepared… This same author also wrote 1ねん1くみ1ばんくいしんぼう, but this one is much shorter and simpler.

The Demon Mask (Rakugo Picture Book)
作/絵:川端 誠(かわばた まこと, Kawabata Makoto)
Level 3絵本, 24 pages, 700 words (est.)

Books with a lot of dialect are just the worst for someone like me. I go from thinking I’m getting to some level of competency to feeling happy to have figured out that おかん means “Mom.” But if you do like dialect, there’s a whole series of these rakugo picture books, and the illustrations are awfully cute. In this one, a girl working as an apprentice at a big store has a mask that looks just like her mother back home, but someone switches it out with a demon mask as a prank.

The Frog Who Loved To Sing
作/絵:加古 里子(かこ さとし, Kako Satoshi)
Level 3 本, 71 pages, 1,700 words (est.)

Kaeru-kun’s beloved Kaeru-chan is sick, and he can’t make enough money for food and medicine just by singing and playing his guitar on the street, so he finds a string of odd jobs unil he gets himself mixed up with some sort of froggie yakuza group. I may have been a little bored until I got to that part, but all of a sudden I was interested again… There are a lot of books that would be improved with the addition of a froggie yakuza group.

The Carrot-Hating Bunny
作:垣内 磯子(かきうち いそこ Kakiuchi Isoko)
絵:松成 真理子(まつなり まりこ, Matsunari Mariko)
Level 3 本, 101 pages, 3,400 words (est.)

Rather a hefty little book for level 3, and kind of meandering, but quite sweet. A bear wants to find work as a dentist, but somehow the area’s bunnies, squirrels and so on get queasy at the idea of a big bear poking around in their teeth and business is nonexistent. He hears about a bunny called Usako who hates carrots and only eats chocolate, and wants to do her the favor of taking care of her no-doubt horrendous teeth, but none of his plots to get her through the door work at all…

A Day In The Life of Andrew The Guide Dog
作:松井 進(まつい すすむ, Matsui Susumu)
絵:鈴木 びんこ(すずき びんこ, Suzuki Binko)
Level 3 絵本, 27 pages, 2,400 words (est.)

My third book narrated by a dog — I really do need to find more! I didn’t know the ins and outs of how guide dogs work for their owners, so it was educational for me as well. Maybe it’s a little naive, but I was surprised that people with guide dogs can be refused service in Japanese hotels and restaurants.

More Curry Rice, Please!
作/絵:土田 義晴(つちだ よしはる, Tsuchida Yoshiharu)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 900 words (est.)

This was another meandering little level 3 book about cooking lots of curry rice for the other animals working to take in the rice harvest. I’m such a sucker for books about animals cooking, and this book made me want to try to make fried eggplant and tomato curry myself, even though I’m generally relatively indifferent to eggplant.

ひみつたんていワンダーモール とめろ!せきゆパニック
Secret Sleuth Wonder Mole: Stop Right There! Oil Panic
作/絵:はら ひろあき & バースディ (Hara Hiroaki and the members of Birthday)
Level 3 絵本, 80 pages, 2,400 words (est.)

This is another Zorori-style book that’s partly prose and partly presented manga-style; if you liked the Zorori series, these might be worth a try too. There’s a modest set of four in the series, but they have the disadvantage of not being in stock at Kinokuniya at the moment. (They also have the disadvantage of not starring Zorori, but so do a lot of books.) In this one, Mogi (the “wonder mole” of the title) uncovers a plot to control the world’s oil.

The Clown’s Gift
作:おのでら やえ(Onodera Yae)
絵:木村 智美(きむら さとみ, Kimura Satomi)
Level 3 本, 79 pages, 1,800 words (est.)

For his birthday, Takeshi gets a toy clown holding a violin who plays music if you wind him up. As it happens, Takeshi longs to learn how to play the violin, but he’s too ashamed to ask his parents to let him learn something like that because all of his friends are into baseball, soccer and so on. But the toy clown gives him the courage to follow his dream… A very sweet little book, and surprisingly, although it’s got several marks of low-level 3 books (large text, spaces between words, almost no kanji), it has almost no pictures.

The Transfer Student Goldfish
作:阿部 夏丸(あべ なつまる, Abe Natsumaru)
絵:村上 康成(むらかみ やすなり, Murakami Yasunari)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

The loach (for future reference: 泥鰌) Dojio is the outcast of Donut Pond, and he prays that he can make just one friend. Then, a goldfish comes splashing down from the sky… But will she want to be friends with him, or will she prefer all the other fish that make fun of him? I thought I knew where this one was going, and I so didn’t. It’s a little refreshing to read a kids’ book where the moral of the story isn’t “It’s good to fit in and make friends with everyone” but something more like “Seriously, screw all those jerks.”

Come See The “Big House!”
Level 3 本, 63 pages, 1,300 words (est.)
The “Big House” is a retirement home, a cheery and active one in the middle of town with kids coming to visit. Its founder created it because of a story he heard when he was a young boy, told to him by an old man about the time when he was a young boy and found his grandma in a disturbing, bleak retirement home.

I’m Maya Yamada!
作:杉本 深由起(すぎもと みゆき, Sugimoto Miyuki)
絵:長谷川 知子(はせがわ ともこ, Hasegawa Tomoko)
Level 3 本, 48 pages, 1,700 words (est.)

I’m disappointed there’s not a whole series about this little chatterbox kid with the palindrome name (when written with the last name first, that is), because I would totally read them. It’s kind of like the book about the biggest glutton in class (of which there is a series, which I’d rather like to read, illustrated by the same person incidentally) — the inner lives of first graders are really kind of fun.

Throw It All Away!
作:山中 恒(やまなか ひさし, Yamanaka Hisashi)
絵:赤坂 三好(あかさか みよし, Akasaka Miyoshi)
Level 3 本, 48 pages, 1,200 words (est.)

If I didn’t think of this one as “whimsical” I would have to think of it as “portrait of a budding sociopath,” so I choose to go with “whimsical.” Mariko wishes her annoying mom and brother would just go away, along with all of her toys that she’s being forced to clean up; as it happens, she finds a way to get everything she wants.

かいけつゾロリ たべるぜ!大ぐいせんしゅけん
Incredible Zorori: Eat Up! The Speed Eating Championship
作/絵:原 ゆたか(はら ゆたか, Hara Yutaka)
Level 3 絵本, 103 pages, 4,000 words (est.)

Another Zorori book♪ This one seemed more difficult to me than the previous one, though, and definitely more difficult than most level 3 books — lots of words I didn’t know, and more words in general. In any case, if anyone was wondering just how Zorori and the flunkies got as fat as we saw them in “Incredible Zorori: I’m Going To Slim Down! The Great Diet Strategy,” well, now we have an answer: massive amounts of curry, ramen, udon and so on. By the way, how many spicy food items can you identify in this picture? My score is 20/24. (My husband says I frequently make that face when I’m cooking, too. What can I say, I like adding spices to things.)

かいけつゾロリ カレーvs.ちょうのうりょく
Incredible Zorori: Curry vs. ESP
作/絵:原 ゆたか(はら ゆたか, Hara Yutaka)
Level 3 絵本, 107 pages, 4,000 words (est.)

More good times with my favorite trickster fox in the whole world♪ Zorori somehow acquires the ability to bend spoons just by saying “I want to eat curry!” (I’m not sure if there is a reason for this that I missed somehow, or this kind of thing just happens in his world); he joins forces with three kids, each with their own psychic power, in order to find out the secrets of a curry factory that just opened nearby.

The Laughter Ball
作:赤羽じゅんこ(あかはねじゅんこ, Akahane Junko)
絵:岡本順(おかもとじゅん Okamoto Jun)
Level 3 本, 77 pages, 1,300 words (est.)

When Yūya, looking for some equipment for gym class, comes across a bit of graffiti depicting a ninja, she comes to life and gives him the task of collecting people’s laughter for her; she’s spent so much time training that she’s forgotten how to have fun.

Wildcat Kindergarten
作:那須田 淳(なすだ じゅん, Nasuda Jun)
絵:武田 美穂(たけだ みほ, Takeda Miho)
Level 3 本, 79 pages, 1,400 words (est.)

Sakura doesn’t like going to kindergarten, but when her cat tells her about the kindergarten he has to go to, Wildcat Kindergarten, she’s curious about it, so they go together early one morning to learn all the things necessary to make kittens into proper cats.

Don The Hermit Crab Finds A New Shell
作:大島まや(おおしままや, Ōshima Maya)
絵:高部晴市(たかべせいいち, Takabe Seiichi)
Level 3, 77 pages, 1,700 words (est.)

Don’s old shell is getting tiresome, so off he goes to find a new one; he comes across a turtle shell (still occupied by a turtle), a glass bottle, a shell too big for one hermit crab and other possible houses.

The Goldfish Princess
作:とだかずよ(Toda Kazuyo)
絵:おぐまこうじ(Oguma Kōji)
Level 3 本, 64 pages, 2,500 words (est.)

A sweet, curiously disjointed little book about a goldfish who becomes a human girl. It’s a little longer than a lot of my level 3 books, and very cheerful, something like a series of animated shorts in book form ; it merrily skips from episode to episode, and I’m reading along and thinking “Hey, I wanted to know what happened next!”

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 2 books available from the Seattle Public Library; 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 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.

きいろい ことり
The Yellow Bird
作/絵:ディック・ブルーナ(Dick Bruna)
Level 2 絵本, 24 pages, 175 words (est.) ★★★★☆ hardcover

This one is by Dick Bruna, who did the Miffy books, and I do love the Miffy books (although I read them in Ann Arbor, so I haven’t written about them here) so I read this even though there’s no Miffy in it. A little yellow bird visits a farm and hears all about farm life from a friendly dog.

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

This one was awesome, so it got its own review.

“Hermit Crab” Real Estate Agency
作:穂高順也(ほたかじゅんや, Hotaka Jun’ya)
絵:石井聖岳(いしいきよたか, Ishii Kiyotaka)
Level 2 絵本, 32 pages, 550 words (est.) ★★★★★ Hardcover

I pretty much just got this one because I like hermit crabs, but it was awfully cute, and a good example of how the right picture books can be a great foundation for more advanced reading; in this book, the reader learns the word for “real estate agency,” what a real estate agent does and how he or she talks, which is a better start than having to memorize twenty real-estate related words in difficult kanji all at once.

Why did I put “hermit crab” in quotes? Well, hermit crab is usually 宿借り, or “home-renter,” which makes sense if you know how hermit crabs move from shell to shell; this hermit crab is a 宿貸し, or “home-lender” because he’s in the business of finding other animals the perfect home!

Boris and the Blue Umbrella
作/絵:ディック・ブルーナ(Dick Bruna)
Level 2 絵本, 28 pages, 140 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

I’ve mentioned my fondness for Dick Bruna’s books before: they’re on the easy end of level 2, but the sentences are complex enough to save them from level 1, and the Miffy books I came across in Ann Arbor were the first books that really made me understand the idea of extensive reading, so even though I’m beyond them at this point I can’t help but pick them up when I see them. In this book, Boris has various adventures with his blue umbrella.

We Can All Do Level 7!
作:宮川ひろ(みやかわひろ, Miyakawa Hiro)
絵:長谷川知子(はせがわともこ Hasegawa Tomoko)
Level 2 絵本, 40 pages, 700 words (est.) ★★★★☆ Hardcover

Atsuko has decreased use of her left arm and leg because of a childhood illness, so PE class is a challenge for her; when the class has to practice jumping over the vaulting box, she can barely make it over the first levels. (This is not a gadget I was aware of before, as I’m decidedly not a gymnast; it’s an adjustable hurdle, or 跳び箱.) Will she ever be able to pass level 7 along with her classmates? This one, as the word count indicates, is on the higher end of level 2.


This is an incomplete list of all the Level 1 books available from the Seattle Public Library; 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 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, because it’s likely to be less expensive that way. 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.

I haven’t actually read any yet, so this is basically a placeholder.


I made another trip to the library recently, and I was faced with a daunting realization: I’m running out of the level 3 and 4 books that I like. At the rate I’m going they’ll start getting harder soon; I can certainly read harder books, but not as quickly or fluidly as I’d like…

When we moved from Michigan to Washington State, we didn’t initially have a very clear picture of where we would settle down. Seattle? Tacoma? Olympia? Bremerton? Bellingham? I admit it: “quality of the library system” was an important criteria for evaluating potential places to live — would you believe I had a dream that we moved somewhere with no interlibrary loan system — and I scoped out several different libraries even before we moved. (Later, when looking for apartments, “proximity to library” was another important qualification.)

Of course, I was most impressed with the Seattle library system’s Japanese language selection. We ended up moving to Tacoma, but it’s been in the back of my mind ever since that a Seattle library card could be mine for around $80. After all, there are more than 600 Japanese children’s books spread out between the various branches — that puts the 125 children’s books held at the Tacoma library main branch (no direct link, but you can search for JAJ) to shame. I just love any excuse to take the train up to Seattle, so getting there every so often wouldn’t be a problem… I was going back to look at exactly how much a prized Seattle library card would set me back ($85 per year, incidentally) and I saw something that hadn’t registered when I looked at that same page back when I lived in Ann Arbor: the Seattle public library has reciprocal arrangements with various other libraries in the area. Tacoma’s not one of them, but Pierce County is, and as it so happens, Tacoma and Pierce County have their own reciprocal system, where someone living in Tacoma can get a Pierce County card and vice versa.

So the question was this: are library cards transitive? I’ve never before in my life felt the need to have three separate library cards, but that was before I started running out of appropriate books. The day I suspected that this might be possible, I went out and got a Pierce County card — just in case. As it turns out, even though I’m from Tacoma, that Pierce County card and a valid picture ID with my current address qualified me for a Seattle library card after all! I called ahead to ask, then took the train up to Seattle the very next day. I returned home with 26 books♪ I had been to the main library before and had been duly impressed by the rows of Japanese children’s books, but I didn’t truly appreciate their value until I started extensive reading and had to start looking not just for any old book, but for books at a certain level.

If you happen to be in Washington State, take a moment to see if you qualify for a Seattle library card. For an extensive reader, it’s worth the trip. If not, are there any major libraries — public or part of a university or college — in your area with some Japanese books that you might be able to get access to? Hopefully, this may be a possible path to gathering more resources for other extensive readers as well.

Incidentally, the Pierce County library system has enough Japanese books to have made it worthwhile for me to pick up a library card in its own right. My parents live in Pierce County, and when we stayed with them for two weeks after moving while figuring out where we wanted to live, I borrowed my dad’s card to check out a couple of books. (He handed it over, and then, with some embarrassment, handed over a $20 to pay his fine. So that’s where I get it from, I thought. It hasn’t escaped my notice that getting books from three different libraries opens me up to three times the potential library fines…) Actually, a shiny new library in University Place, which is part of the Pierce County system and about 20 minutes away from me, opened in February. Had it been open when we moved to Washington, that might have bumped University Place up a few notches in my potential destination calculations!

By the way, the reason I divide my book reviews not just by level, but by library, is that I hope to be extra useful to other readers in the area and perhaps even to put together an extensive reading group at some point. I should have started that already, but to be honest I’m extremely shy. If you’re in the area and interested in something like that, feel free to e-mail me and maybe that will help me become more motivated!


Summary of Extensive Reading and Language Learning: A Diary Study of a Beginning Learner of Japanese, by Ching Yin Leung
Reading in a Foreign Language
Volume 14, No. 1, April, 2002

This paper is a diary study; the author Ching Yin Leung (referred to in the paper as Wendy), a beginning student of Japanese, analyzes her own journal in which she described her extensive reading experiences and challenges over the course of four months. The author incorporated extensive reading into a self-study program; she spent an hour studying and reading each day, took down notes about the day’s study, then used those notes to write one or two diary entries a week. For the last 11 weeks, she worked with a tutor for half an hour or an hour per week. By the end of the self-study program, she had read 1,260 pages of comics, textbooks and storybooks. Her goal was to answer four research questions:

  • Does extensive reading lead to vocabulary acquisition?
  • Does extensive reading promote reading comprehension?
  • Does extensive reading promote positive attitudes toward reading?
  • What challenges does a beginning foreign language learner face in the extensive reading process and how did the learner deal with these challenges?

Vocabulary acquisition
In weeks 16 and 20 Leung took two separate vocabulary tests to measure her improvement over the month, and the results showed that her vocabulary knowledge improved by 23.5%; she was better able to identify and use words correctly on the second test, and there were fewer words that she didn’t know at all. The improvement was attributed to both the large amount of input provided by extensive reading and the improved understanding of the grammar she had acquired by self-study.

The data from her journal entries and tutoring sessions showed that her extensive reading increased her exposure to words she’d already learned and helped her apply her previous knowledge; for example, she found it easier not to confuse 行く (iku, to go) and 来る (kuru, to come) when she saw them in context multiple times. She also learned things that weren’t in her textbooks, came to be able to understand words from context with the help of pictures and discerned alternate meanings for words she already knew, such as きれい (beautiful / clean) and おそい (slow / late). Even with her extensive reading, she forgot the meanings of some words she had already learned, probably because they weren’t reinforced enough. (This backs up Paul Nation’s characterization of vocabulary learned through extensive reading as “fragile”; it seems that extended reading has the most impact if there is enough material to provide repeated exposure over the long term.)

Reading comprehension
Leung’s journal entries show that her reading comprehension increased over the course of her study: at first decoding hiragana frustrated her, but by the end she was understanding simple stories. Her understanding was built on her textbook studies and tutoring sessions, but it was extensive reading that gave her a chance to practice that material.

Attitudes toward reading
She was excited at first, but the difficulty of finding appropriate reading material made her feel confused and disappointed. Because her first language was Chinese, she was initially frustrated that she could use her L1 skills to get a sense of the content of Japanese texts written for adults in a mix of hiragana and kanji, but couldn’t read simple children’s stories written all in hiragana. Once she was able to find plenty of material at her level, she felt more comfortable, and her confidence grew as her reading skill improved; however, trying to read children’s books that she couldn’t understand negatively impacted her attitude, because it was a jarring reminder of how much she had yet to learn. She found that re-reading was valuable to her, and finding books that she wanted to read or understand better was motivating. She also got in the habit of trying to read Japanese that she encountered in the real world.

Identifying and dealing with challenges
It was difficult to find appropriate materials; books that were too hard discouraged her, and she had to look for new material constantly. Finding time for studying, and self-study itself, was challenging; for the second half of her studies she worked with a tutor, which helped to motivate her. Her L1 affected how she learned Japanese: for example, she was frustrated that she couldn’t map meanings onto hiragana as she could with hanzi/kanji, and she thought that the hiragana “ka” looked like “ga” in Chinese, so she tended to mispronounce “ka” as “ga.” However, as she continued her studies her tolerance of the differences between the two languages grew.

According to Leung, reading can play an important role in helping students acquire vocabulary, become more enthusiastic about their language studies and gain confidence, even when those students are true beginners. Although her self-study and tutoring sessions were important, extensive reading reinforced the things she learned and made her feel like she was successfully reading “in the real world.” The key to a successful extensive reading program is access to plenty of materials that are both interesting and at an appropriate level.


  • Leung studied for an hour a day, but I would have liked to have known how much time she spent reading and how much time she spent formally studying. Also, since I personally keep track of progress by word count, I would be curious as to about how many words she read.
  • I find it interesting that she specifically cited re-reading as something that increased her understanding; nothing that I’ve read about extensive reading (so far, or that I remember) recommends or mentions re-reading as a potential tactic, but in my own experience it’s very helpful. After all, the second time around I already know what’s going to happen so I can often understand parts that didn’t make sense before, and I often look up particularly critical words that I couldn’t understand from context after I’ve finished a book, so I can read with the benefit of knowing them (which often clarifies other words that only partially made sense to me before). Still, I don’t usually re-read a book unless I’ve particularly enjoyed it, because I want to move on to the next new thing. Maybe I should get in the habit of re-reading?
  • I found that this quotation from The language learning benefits of extensive reading by Paul Nation really resonated with me: “Vocabulary learning from extensive reading is very fragile. If the small amount of learning of a word is not soon reinforced by another meeting, then that learning will be lost.” I wonder what the best way to facilitate that meeting is: graded readers with deliberately repeated word usage? Looking up unknown key words later? Or simply more and more reading?
  • Leung’s experiences really mirror the complaints I’ve heard from others who have tried to use extensive reading as part of their Japanese studies: without a healthy supply of appropriate materials, the idea just falls apart. Finding that supply is probably not easy for any true beginner, and probably about impossible for one who doesn’t have library materials, Japanese friends or a Japanese teacher who is conducting an extended reading program.
  • It is easy to see how extensive reading would benefit an intermediate or advanced student of Japanese who already has a reasonably large vocabulary to draw on, but when I started reading this paper, I doubted whether it would be useful for a true beginner (who had, I thought, quite enough to be worrying about without adding authentic books to the mix). I’m pleased to know that it’s much more promising than I expected!
  • I wonder how Leung’s previous experience with learning English affected her experience with learning a third language, and if a beginning language learner without that experience would be able to get the same benefits from extensive reading. For example, did it help her be open to the possibility that one word could mean different things, or that words she thought she knew could be split into two parts (such as when she realized that “kodori” didn’t mean “bird,” but “little bird”)?
  • It seemed from her descriptions of the storybooks she preferred that she was mostly reading level 2 books, even though she was more or less a true beginner at the beginning of her studies, and so I wonder how fluently she was able to read.  We know the number of pages and books she had read by the end, but I would be curious as to the average number of unknown words per page she encountered over the course of her studies. In terms of learning a language more efficiently, would it be better for an adult learner with little or no prior experience with the language to exclusively read the more understandable level 1 books or to try to read the more interesting and rich level 2 books, assuming she or he had equal access to a large number of both?

かいけつゾロリ やせるぜ!ダイエット大さくせん
Incredible Zorori: I’m Going To Slim Down! The Great Diet Strategy
作/絵:原 ゆたか(はら ゆたか, Hara Yutaka)
Level 3 本, 103 pages, 3,000 words (rough estimate; see difficulty section) ★★★★★

When I got this book out from the library it was low on my priority list, because I thought it was some preachy book designed to explain calories and nutrition to kids with the help of cute cartoon animals. After all, there was the title, and the back cover also had a chart showing a list of foods, their calories and how long you’d have to do various exercises to burn them off. Bored now, I thought as I evaluated the cover, but two seconds of flipping through it revealed that it was one of my prized level 2.5 books. I’ve officially classified it as a level 3 book just due to its length and relative complexity, but it has a lot in common with level 2 books: tons of illustrations, big, spaced text written mostly in hiragana, with barely any kanji and furigana even for katakana words. I can finish a book like that in an evening and if I was Queen of the World I’d have a new one every night, so even though it looked lackluster it went right into my bag. If I had taken two minutes and not two seconds, I would have seen that I had judged it quite wrongly: it’s not a nutrition textbook, it’s an adventure story! It turned out to easily be my favorite of the level 2.5 and 3 books I’ve read so far.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s a whole series of books about Zorori, an anti-hero trickster fox, and his two followers, the boars Ishishi and Noshishi. (The word for boar in Japanese, it should be noted, is inoshishi.) At the moment there’s a great Wikipedia page about Zorori that I do hope won’t be bothered by Wikipedia guardians anytime soon. In this book, the trio realize that they’ve gained an awful lot of weight lately and resolve to diet, but first they misinterpret a dozen different diet books, then spend all their money on scams; desperate for cash and diet tips, they take on the job of delivering three weight-loss gadgets to a “Madame Diet” for her daughter’s birthday party. When they run into a giant catfish along the way, those gadgets get put to some decidedly non-traditional uses…

I found it hard to classify this book as either level 2 or 3; I think of it as level 2.5 but I thought that as long as I’m going with this classification system it should be one or the other. It shares in common with other advanced level 2 books large, spaced text, lots of illustrations and almost no kanji, but I think the length and complexity of vocabulary makes it more of a level 3 book in the end. You’ll note that the estimated word count is two or three times higher than those of other advanced level 2 books I’ve read. (Because there are four text sizes, some pages have considerably more text than others; my estimate is that there are about 30 words per page on average, but it’s probably a fairly low guess.) Even though the only kanji used are ones taught in first grade, there were a good number of words that I didn’t know, and at least one pun that I could almost see sailing right over my head. For an extensive reader at an intermediate level or for one who can cope with a whole lot of unknown words this series should offer a lot of value, but don’t be tricked into thinking these books are easy just because they look like they should be.

The format is nice for an extensive reader, too: I’m not really into manga as reading practice material because I’m not really into manga they’re centered on images and dialogue and I like to have all the surrounding words and descriptions a book provides, but this one reads something like a manga-book hybrid. The majority of the book is in prose with illustrations, but some illustrations have a comic-style arrangement, and while part of the dialogue is mixed into the prose lots of it is given in speech bubbles. The result still feels more like a book than a comic to me, but it’s dynamic, playful and easy to follow.

Running the sample text through Reading Tutor, its vocabulary level is rated “normal” and of the five kanji, two are old-JLPT level 3 and three are old-JLPT level 4.

Sample text
Note: All kanji and katakana have furigana in the original.
「ああ、この 町 すべての たくはいびんやさんに ことわられてしまった この しごと、 あなたたちに つとまりますかねえ。」
「しつれいな! この かたを どなたと こころえるだか? けわしい 火山から きょうだいな 「きょうりゅうの たまご」を はこびだした ことの ある ゾロリせんせとは、 この かたで あるだ!」
「それは しつれいいたしました。 じつは はこんでいただきたい ものは、マダム・ダイエットの ひとりむすめ、 スリムおじょうさまの たんじょうびプレゼントなのです。 ただし、こんや 八じまでに、むこうぎしの おやしきの うら口へ、この ボートで こっそりと というのが、じょうけんです。」

How to get it
On, this book (as well as the other Zorori books) is ¥945, or $11.41 at the time of this writing. (That’s before the handling fee of ¥300 – raising the price to $15.03 – and shipping.) Kinokuniya has it for $15.75. Even better, they have a lot of the Zorori books in stock at around the same price; just search for かいけつゾロリ for the full selection.

There’s only one Japanese graded reader out there that I’ve found so far, so I really like the idea of finding a series you like at a level you can read and sticking with it – which is a big part of why this book gets its own review and other books I’ve liked just as much just get a mini-review. I find myself eyeing a link on Kinokuniya’s page where a set of 44 Zorori books can be had for a mere ¥39,600. At the time I write this, that’s $477.93, which is about $277.93 more than I ought to be spending on books all this year. Still, I can’t help but do the math and wonder if $10.86 per book might not be a real bargain… It won’t actually happen, but it’s a pleasing daydream. Even more pleasing is the daydream where I pick up a bunch of used Zorori books cheaply — the low prices for second-hand books on have not escaped my notice — but I don’t think I could swing that without navigating some sort of proxy service or burdening one of my friends… Well, it’s not like I’ve run out of library books yet!