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This is an incomplete list of all the Level 1 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 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.

The Breeze Blows Softly
作/絵:長 新太(ちょう しんた, Chō Shinta)
Level 1 絵本, 31 pages, 70 words (est.) ★★★★☆ Hardcover

I observed to Brian after reading this book that one special quality of completely demented picture books is that they help beginning readers learn to trust their emerging senses of grammar. That is to say, I generally think that I know my particles and verb endings and nouns well enough, but were I to read a book without pictures and with very long sentences and big words that was about a cat with huge paws who went around remaking the heads of other animals into gigantic onigiri… well, there’s a chance I would wonder if I was misunderstanding something. This is part of why I believe that even easy books written for babies are as valuable as books written specifically to support adults learning another language: dipping into fantastic language using basic grammar and vocabulary, backed up by pictures, helps the readers confirm that their grammar knowledge can handle any crazy thing an author throws at them. Anyways, yes – this book is about a cat that shapes the heads of elephants, lions, crocodiles and so on into onigiri. Apparently the sound of shaping an onigiri into that perfect rounded triangle shape with one’s tail is ギューッ、ギューッ、ギューッ.

作/絵:ささき ようこ(Sasaki Yoko)
Level 1 絵本, 20 pages, 40 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

It’s good when everyone plays together, don’t be afraid to talk to people, friends are great, blah blah blah, if I wasn’t trying to read all of them even I’d skip some of the level 1 books. Oh well – it probably took me more time to estimate the number of words than it did to read it in the first place.

Read-Aloud Picture Book: The 1-Year Old’s Animal Book
作:今泉 岳雄(いまいずみ たかお, Imaizumi Takeo)
Level 1 絵本, 40 pages, 150 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Softcover

Waaay under my reading level, but what the heck, I am always up for cute pictures of puppies and songs about monkeys. (Like I say, I have no shame. In the pursuit of fluency, everything is useful!) There are suggestions on each page for the parents, such as “Point to each animal and say what it is,” which offer slightly more challenge, adding about 150 more words to the total. Anyways, from here on I’ll always associate 真ん丸 with a kitten rolled into a little ball.

Nezumi-kun and the Letter
作:なかえ よしを(Nakae Yoshio)
絵:上野 紀子(うえの のりこ, Ueno Noriko)
Level 1 絵本, 32 pages, 90 words (est.) ★★★★★ Hardcover

There were a couple of ねずみくん books in the Ann Arbor library, too, so I was happy to see this one, and actually I thought this one was really cute: Nemi-chan sends Nezumi-kun a letter that seems to say “I hate you,” but it turns out that she sent all their other friends strange letters, too, and when they put them all together it becomes an invitation for them all to play together next week. Until then, she and Nezumi-kun go off to play together, and the other friends, feeling left out, write back a letter cut into pieces in the same way, asking her to play with all of them and not just Nezumi-kun. But they forget to mail one of the pieces, changing the whole meaning… Whoops. I think the only word in here I hadn’t seen before was 重たい.

Baby’s First Illustrated Encyclopedia of Food
作/絵:宮本 えつよし(みやも とえつよし)
Level 1 絵本, 18 pages, 300 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

OK, talk about low-hanging fruit, this book hardly even counts… One thing that made this book worth reading, though, is that it included a bit of katakana weirdness I’ve never seen before. Each item of food has its Japanese name written next to it, in katakana or hiragana, then its English name and a katakana representation of the English pronunciation. In a nice touch, the stressed syllables are red and slightly bigger. Avocado, already represented in Japanese by katakana (アボカド) has its pronunciation listed as ェアヴァカドウ. (I can’t help but think you’d get further with アボカド than by trying to draw out ェアヴァカドウ, but it is certainly a good try.) In any case, I can’t recall ever seeing a word, even for pronunciation purposes, that has an ェ at the beginning. Incidentally, my heart goes out to anyone, misled by this book, who goes forth into the English speaking world asking for ウァーラ and expecting to get water in return.

Whose Footprints Are These?
作/絵:ふくだ としお(Fukuda Toshio)
Level 1 絵本, 30 pages, 45 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

Pretty much just what you think it would be. Everyone looks at each other’s footprints, and then they go eat soup. You can see how a steady diet of these kinds of books would set up a child really well for knowing all their verbs and basic grammar a couple of years down the line, but I am glad that the point of extensive reading for adult language learners isn’t to mimic every detail about how children learn to read.

はるちゃんの ぼんぼりぼうし
Haru-chan’s Bobbly Hat
作:とくなが まり(Tokunaga Mari)
絵:とよた かずひこ(Toyota Kazuhiko)
Level 1 絵本, 24 pages, 150 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

Haru-chan’s mom knitted her a hat, and it’s so great that everyone – cows and hedgehogs alike – wants to try it on. I mean, who wouldn’t? It looked like so much fun I was coveting a red hat with a pom-pom on it for a couple of minutes there.

Talk With Your Baby
Level 1 絵本, 18 pages, 30 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

This book operates on two levels: it’s half baby book with text like “Munch, munch, gulp! Are you still hungry?” and half instructions to the parent on how to communicate with basic hand signals, such as clapping your hands together twice to mean “I’m full.” The instructions to the parent probably add about another hundred words, and aren’t at all hard.

My Neighbor Ikan
作:中山 千夏(なかやま ちなつ, Nakayama Chinatsu)
絵:長谷川 義史(はせがわ よしふみ, Hasegawa Yoshifumi)
Level 1 絵本, 30 pages, 140 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

Books with non-standard Japanese drive me batty – it is that whole low ambiguity tolerance thing popping up again – and even though this one is a level 1 picture book, it wasn’t an exception. The イカン of the title means “no,” and it’s used in that sense, but it’s also the name of one of the characters. I have just enough familiarity with Kansai-ben to know that あかん (another character) is “no” too, but I didn’t think to connect it with イカン, and I didn’t really quite understand what the point was. Would I have eventually figured it out if I hadn’t seen the one-line English summary pasted to the dust jacket, or if I wasn’t yet able to read the more advanced afterward? I wonder. It doesn’t help that the art is that trippy-in-a-bad-way that would have freaked me out as a one-year old. Still, if you’re particularly interested in how kids are exposed to dialects you might want to seek this one out.

I’ve Been Born!
作/絵:みうら し〜まる(Miura Simal)
Level 1 絵本, 22 pages, 200 words (est.) ★★★★☆ Hardcover

A baby sea turtle oversleeps and doesn’t hatch with all the others, so he’s got to find his mom… all the other little sea creatures have moms, so where’s his? I keep overusing the word “cute” for all these picture books, but forgive me – the little baby sea turtle paddling through the water followed by a trail of sound effects — ぷくぷくぷくぷくぷくぷくぷくぷくぷくぷく — is cute!

ともともの みてみて ほらね
Tomotomo’s Look, look, over here!
作/絵:きたやま ようこ(Kitayama Yōko)
Level 1 絵本, 22 pages, 36 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

And what are we looking at, one might ask? Animal babies pooping proudly, that’s what. It wouldn’t be a proper collection of Japanese kids’ books without at least one book about using the potty. Rabbit poop sounds like ぽろぽろ; elephant poop like どっかん; mice poop like ぱらぱら. Now you know, and you can’t un-know it, either.

ともともの にこっ あっはっは
Tomotomo’s Smile, ah hah hah
作/絵:きたやま ようこ(Kitayama Yōko)
Level 1 絵本, 22 pages, 40 words (est.) ★★☆☆☆ Hardcover

Getting dressed and ready to leave the house is apparently a very cheerful process for little Tomotomo and his clothes. Things are nice, here in the world of Level 1.

Chocolat Loves To Ski
作:中川 ひろたか(なかがわ ひろたか, Nakagawa Hirotaka)
絵:はた こうしろう(Hata Kōshirō)
Level 1絵本, 24 pages, 60 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

Chocolat and her dog Vanilla hit the slopes in this colorful little book. There are seven of these books about Chocolat; possibly of interest for a level 1 collection.

I Cried
作:中川 ひろたか(なかがわ ひろたか, Nakagawa Hirotaka)
絵:長 新太(ちょう しんた, Chō Shinta)
Level 1 絵本, 32 pages, 90 words (est.) ★★★★★ Hardcover

This was a thought-provoking book, for level 1; the narrator cries all the time (I mean, some days you just can’t win – who wouldn’t cry if a giant dog peed on them?) and noticed that adults don’t cry; will he stop crying when he’s an adult too? Cue the trippy-in-a-good-way art quickly becoming trippy-in-a-disturbing way.

なに みてる?
What Do You See?
作/絵:わたべ くみこ(Watabe Kumiko)
Level 1 絵本, 28 pages, 60 words (est.) ★★★☆☆ Hardcover

The world through the eyes of ants, birds and mothers. The afterword (which adds maybe 100 words?) is heartbreaking.