I'm not sure when I became the consultant for friends who'd ask "Do you have any recommendations for ____" but honestly, it's feeding my ego: this pretended children's librarian authority. As it were, Lindsay is doing "origami week" with her little ones and asked if I had any books to recommend that reflected Japanese culture. Here are my picks:
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima is the first that comes to mind. It's a super tale about a boy being different... but valuable. Japanese culture is written all over this book. We've used this book as a spine to build an entire Japanese unit on once.
Right after that, I thought of Yoko's Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells. Not only does this actually show the delights of origami, it's a sweet story about grandparents and a grandchild staying connected, no matter the countries (or states, in Lindsay's case) between them.
Then there's the classic Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say. It's a fascinating and beautiful story of the plight of an immigrant and would be appropriate for older children as well as younger. Allen Say has a number of other beautiful books relating to Japanese culture as well.
Little Oh by Laura Krauss Melmed might be a perfect fit too. In this one, an origami doll comes to life and goes through all sorts of adventures before parental love wins. I also happen to love the illustrator Jim LaMarche who has done art in many other books I adore.
One on my shelf is The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson. A tale of cleverness, compassion and love. And it shows traditional Japanese culture on every page.
Then, I saw this book on Amazon.com, Fold Me a Poem by Kristine George. I've not had a chance to review it yet, but it looks absolutely lovely and perfect for a week of origami or Japanese culture study...
Of course I wouldn't let this opportunity to go by without also putting in a plug for the wonderful, essential Children Just Like Me book. Anybody who does any kind of social studies work with children ought to have a copy. My children love to compare and contrast their own lives to those of children all over the world and this book makes that information very visual and accessible to them.
So there's that. There are many more books based in Japan out there, but these are the main ones I know of that are great books, lovely and worthwhile... which after-all should be exactly what we strive for now, shouldn't it?