As a follow-up to this post, I wanted to mention a few other books we read as go-alongs to A Pair of Red Clogs and Grandfather’s Journey. Both of these books are set in Japan, and I am attempting to introduce the Five in a Row (volume one) books to my girls geographically. Using Stephanie’s list and my own library’s catalog, I found a few winners to read along with the primary titles.
The Long Silk Strand: A Grandmother’s Legacy to Her Granddaughter by Laura E. Williams has both the look and feel of a folktale. The cut-paper illustrations by Grayce Bochak are gorgeous and really enhance the tone of the story. This is the very sweet story of a girl named Yasuyo who lives with her family, including her grandmother. Grandmother begins creating a ball of silk thread by tying pieces of thread together, and with each piece of thread she ties, she tells Yasuyo a story from her life. After many nights of work, Grandmother is seemingly too tired and weak to finish the ball of yarn. As Yasuyo helps her, Grandmother tells Yasuyo that this last piece of yarn “is for tonight, when I tell you I love you.” When Yasuyo wakes up the next morning, she learns that Grandmother has died in the night. In her grief Yasuyo, goes out into the garden where she finds a long silk strand hanging down from . . . nothing. She climbs this silk thread above the clouds until she finds her grandmother. She longs to stay with Grandmother, but as she and Grandmother look down from “heaven” (?), she realizes that her family would miss her were she to stay. She returns home, but now she has the beginning of her own silk strand to one day share with her own grandchildren.
I’ve learned that at least at my library, folktales abound when it comes to books about Japan for children. We read Dawn by Molly Bang, which is an adaptation of “The Crane’s Wife,” and even though I myself found it a little bizarre, Lulu in particular seemed to really like it. Dawn is the story of a shipbuilder who rescues and nurses back to health an injured Canadian goose. After some time, a young woman appears at his home looking for work as a sailmaker. He hires her, and her sails are so fine and tough, they cause his boats to “almost fly.” The man and the woman marry and she gives birth to a daughter, whom they name Dawn. The man builds a special boat for his family, and the woman outfits the boat with sails which really are her masterpiece, so light, fine, and strong they are. The fame of this boat is noised abroad, and a man comes to their home and insists that he must have a boat with sails like that. The woman says she can only make such sails once, but her husband cannot let the idea go. Despite the fact that she says making such sails again could possibly kill her, she gives in with the stipulation that her husband cannot come into the room while she’s working. He agrees, and she begins her task. As the deadline for the sails looms closer, the husband begins to grow anxious over whether or not his wife will finish in time. Finally, the man comes for his boat, and the woman is still working at her loom. Her husband finally throws open the door to her room to hurry her along, and what he sees there is something he tells his daughter he will see until he dies. Of course, his wife is transformed into that Canadian goose he rescued, and she is giving her own feathers for the making of her perfect sails. The story ends with the goose being rescued by a flock of her own, and finally, with Dawn sailing off to look for her mother. Dawn is a rather longish picture book with and mixture of color and black and white illustrations and with the text done in calligraphy.
I am giving uncharacterstically long summaries of these books in order to provide the background for what transpired within my own brain as I was reading to my girls. I had actually checked out a number of other books set in Japan, or based on Japanese folktales, or something about Japan, but with the exception of The Boy of the Three-Year Nap and the others I mentioned in this post, we didn’t read them. Why? I just began to feel a little uncomfortable sharing these books with my little girls, ages 5 and 3. No, there was nothing in them that was inappropriate for their maturity levels, really. However, at the stage they’re in developmentally in terms of spiritual matters, I began to wonder if I was doing more harm than good by introducing them already to alternative religious views. Unlike much of the modern world (it seems–I know that’s not true, but bear with me), I do pray that my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour will be passed along to my children. I am perfectly okay with them learning about other religions, and indeed I intend to teach them about other religions, but I’m not sure that this is the right time. I also realize that folktales, fairytales, and the like are very important and I want them to be a part of our educational background, but I’m a little unsure now when to draw the line and when to decree “full speed ahead!”
Something happened one night as Louise was perched on the end of the buggy (that’s shopping cart for those of you who aren’t Southerners 😉 ) at Wal-Mart that really shed more light on this conflict in my own heart. Out of the blue, she asked me, “Who are those other gods?” or something to that effect. She was referencing what I had explained to her when we read The Boy of the Three-Year Nap and I had to do some fancy footwork to explain what I ujigama is. This made me realize, if I didn’t before, how much they take to heart ‘most everything I tell them.
I know this isn’t a popular stance, and I am perfectly okay with that. However, you Christian parents out there, share with me–how old were your children (or how old will they be) when you begin to explain the varieties of religion to them? Let the discussion begin!