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Japan Go-Alongs and Some Ponderings

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!

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13 Responses

  1. Hey there! We are “rowing” through Japan for the next few weeks too! We are doing Red clogs, Grandfather’s Journey and possibly Grass Sandals (from vol. 4) If you came across any other good Japan activities/crafts/ideas, please share. 🙂 We probably will try origami and haiku as well.

  2. oh -for the other religions – you probably remember we are doing our homeschool studies “around the world” this year too. One of my favorite resources is a book called Window on the World by Daphne Spraggett with Jill Johnstone. This book gives a 2 page spread on most countries. On those 2 pages it tells a bit of what they believe, a little about their culture and my favorite – it gives ways to pray for that country based on their beliefs! You might check it out. 🙂 It has helped me tremendously! Some of the explanations are very simple – “these people do not believe in the One True God, they believe in worshiping statues, etc.” Anyway, hope that helps. 🙂

    • This sounds like a great resouce, Candace! I did find a neat book at the library by Wycliffe Bible translators about people groups that do not have a Bible in their languages. It does not address their beliefs, though.

  3. I haven’t hit that stage yet (and I’m glad) because I’m not sure how I will deal with it yet. “Window on the World” sounds like an AWESOME book! THanks, Candace, for mentioning it. Amy, had you heard of it? If you get it – please review it! =)

  4. Other religions have come up as we’ve studied history, and we’ve talked about how they compare with what we believe. I address the questions the girls ask; it seems to work better for me to meet them where they are, rather than having an agenda of my own.

    The Bible never hides the existence of other idols or beings that claim to be gods. God doesn’t pretend they aren’t there; he distinguishes himself from them. I don’t think we need to worry about children being “old enough” to talk about these things. If we can lay a good groundwork of open dialogue where they can ask their questions and allow us to think along with them, it will serve them well later, when the questions get harder.

    • I like this approach best, Janet. I think I just hadn’t thought too much about it before hand. (Sort of like having to have “the talk” before one is mentally prepared. 😉 )

  5. I’m right there with you on this dilemma. If I remember right, we even checked out the three year nap book and didn’t read it because it was more than I wanted to explain (and I had plenty of other books that would work!) I’m just taking it in little steps as things cross my path. This is one reason why I am questioning ever introducing my girls to the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series that I’ve been reading (YA fiction so it would be a while). On one level, yes, she will need to know some Greek history and mythology. On the other hand, this series specifically seems to flaunt the immorality of the Greek gods and their ruthlessness. Not qualities I want them to aspire to or emulate.

    • I read your review/questions about this series and thought of this dilemma, actually. I’ve also begun pondering this since I hope to take up the classical framework/methodology in earnest next year. I hope as my girls mature it will be easier (?) and more natural to have these conversations.

  6. Hi everybody!

    I’m glad to know I’m not alone! I should’ve mentioned in my post that my girls already are familiar with the Ten Commandments (at least Lulu is, and by association, Louise). The concept of “other gods” is not completely foreign to them, but as the other gods are presented in stories, it suddenly becomes more real–even more real in some ways than it is presented in the Bible. Does that make sense?

  7. Yes!

    I came back because I don’t want to leave the impression that I never worry about this subject. I do! I’ve passed over some stories that made me uncomfortable. There are enough good ones out there that we can be choosy.

    Having the subject of other religions come up in history makes it easier, somehow. We can talk about it there, then when we read stories the girls already have a context for how to think about it a little.

    Just rambling. You have me thinking…

    • Yes, I’m curious to see how this plays out next year. I think Lulu will be ready for history–she’s already interested in so much about the past anyway. I can see that introducing these ideas in context will make it easier–relatively speaking, anyway. 🙂

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