Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré written by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar


As you landed on my website, some of you may have noticed on my header that this is a “resource for teaching Japanese, trilingual family style.” So what does that exactly mean? I’m Japanese, and my husband is Mexican-American. This makes us a trilingual family that speaks English, Japanese, and Spanish. There’s definitely a dominant language, however, and that is English. I myself is the only Japanese speaker in the household or in the extended family living nearby. We speak Spanish mainly with my husband’s grandparents and with other elderly relatives. Neither my husband nor I are super fluent in Spanish, but we try what we can. I grew up learning castellano as most of my teachers were from Spain, and I’m still struggling to learn the verbs and slangs particular to Mexican culture. 

Sometimes I wish I had all the resources to help our daughter be more fluent in Japanese and Spanish. Like entering her in dual-language immersion schools, language programs, flying back to Japan more often… but it all takes money, time, and manpower which we don’t always have. Not like we’ve given up on fluency, but we have come to accept and embrace our own little unique twist to Japanese education. It’s our own “trilingual family style,” in which we use non-Japanese books as supplemental tools to discuss the similarities and differences between Japanese and other cultures around the world. Latinx cultures have some priority due to heritage and accessibility (ease of finding books at libraries, family celebrations, etc.), but we try to show as many different cultures as much as possible with wishes that she’ll grow to be a mindful global citizen.

With this “trilingual family style” in mind, I want to introduce today’s book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré written by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar. Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican to be hired by the New York Public Library, at a time when a large population of Puerto Ricans were migrating to New York in the late 1920s. Pura was a pioneer of Spanish-English bilingual library storytimes, who eventually wrote her own bilingual books because those types of books did not exist at the time. Her story reminded me a lot of It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way (see my post on this book here). Similar to Pura, Gyo Fujikawa was a Japanese-American illustrator who fought to publish her own books that represented characters of various skin colors during the Civil Rights Movement era. I couldn’t help but to think of those two protagonists as alike: They both created types of literatures that didn’t exist before. They broke new grounds for diversity in literature, and made diversity accessible to young audiences and their caregivers. 

Pura’s story was a great doorway into understanding that Gyo’s fight wasn’t fought alone. Gyo had other visionaries in the industry who wanted show the world beyond black and white. There is something comforting and empowering to know that two people, let alone females, of different minority cultures could successfully achieve similar goals in a country that’s foreign to them. These are stories of dreams, hope, and courage that many girls can relate to. Reading these two side by side gave me a chance to discuss with my daughter that you can accomplish anything whether your dreams are halted by war or marriage. It’s a lot for an almost four year old to understand, but I’m sure it will be meaningful in the later years as she grows. Lastly, I must note that these stories of strong women are written by women authors and illustrators. This book is also translated into Spanish. I hope to keep finding inspiring stories like these for my big dreamer. 

Read more about Pura Belpré:

“Pura Belpré Award” by REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library Information and Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking

“Pura Belpré, the First Puerto Rican Librarian in NYC (And My Library Hero)” by Rachel Rosenberg on

“How NYC’s First Puerto Rican Librarian Brought Spanish To The Shelves” by Neda Ulaby on





お話の種をまいて プエルトリコ出身の司書プーラ·ベルプレ

アニカ·アルダムイ·デニス 著、パオラ·エスコバル 絵




Virtual Japanese Storytime by Los Angeles Public Library Little Tokyo Branch


While Spanish and Mandarin library storytimes are common, Japanese storytime at local libraries are still pretty rare. My family lived in the Los Angeles area for six years before moving back to Chicago last summer. We used to visit the Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library often to join their Japanese Storytime as well as check out Japanese children books. In fact, they have an extraordinary collection of Japanese manga, fiction and nonfiction literature, DVDs, as well as magazines. They have also have a great play area for the little one, surrounded by English and Japanese children books.

I’ve been impressed to find that their Japanese Storytime is now offered on their Instagram page @littletokyolapl during Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, and their content is consistent with their usual in-person offerings. There are songs, stories, and crafts, all in Japanese! They are on Instagram Live on Mondays at 10:30am PST. Each programming is posted on their page as an IGTV post afterwards, so you can watch it anytime you like. During their regular hours, the Japanese Storytime was offered on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month at 11am. The library is located in the heart of Little Tokyo, where you’ll find lots of Japanese restaurants, shops, and events. The Little Tokyo Branch also offers Baby and Toddler Storytimes in English, as well as events like music performances and multicultural celebrations throughout the year.

203 S. Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012





It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad


I stumbled upon It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way while researching children’s books that celebrates racial and ethnic diversity. We currently live in what some may call “unprecedented” or “difficult” times, under immense pressure to keep ourselves safe from a pandemic as well as to educate ourselves on how to end recurring discrimination and injustice against Black lives. Yet what is not easy does not mean it cannot be done. Inspired by social media, I decided to think of this unique situation as an opportunity to reevaluate our children’s book collection and invest in books that helps our family discuss about diversity and equality.

Raised as a third-culture kid and now a parent of a Mexican-Japanese child, the topic of racial and ethnic tolerance has a special place in my heart. I have experienced various degrees of discrimination all my life, for looking different and speaking a different language, both in the U.S. and in Japan. Now that my daughter is almost 4 and can understand a lot of words and images, I feel a huge responsibility to ensure that she feels safe in this world and in her skin. Discovering the story of Gyo Fujikawa, I was initially unsure if it may be too difficult for my daughter to understand. But the fact was she was already asking about why people were protesting outside, and being curious of her brown skin. I knew I had to take the leap.

Once I delved into the story with my daughter, I felt confident. I felt relaxed and released from the anxiety of “where do I even begin to talk to a three year old about race?” All I had to do was open a book. Gyo Fujikawa was a successful Japanese-American author and illustrator who wrote more than 50 books for children. She fought to represent children of various skin colors in her work at a time when most publishers denied her efforts. Even as a Nisei, an American-born Japanese, she could not feel that she quite fit in among her classmates at school. When she advanced to professional art school, she had to acclimate to a level and type of education that most girls or Asian American girls did not have access to in the 1920s. Her family spent the years of World War II at an internment camp in Arkansas while she worked in New York. Gyo’s career bloomed in the 1960s and beyond once her effort for representing diversity in her books became acknowledged by her publisher and audience.

I really enjoy that the authors portrayed historical facts as is, with very simple but real depictions of life during and after the war. The drawing of a soldier carrying a gun and overseeing Gyo’s family leave to internment camp shows life under fear. The plain barracks illustrates that the Japanese were forced to live very colorless lives. The portrayal of protestors during the Civl Rights Movement is extremely relevant to the current Black Lives Matter movement and what my daughter has recently been exposed to. And the fact that Gyo, an ethnic minority, also fought to represent babies of color in her book speaks to the fact that the fight for racial and ethnic equality is both public and personal. I also appreciate the fact that this is based on a true story. It’s nice to know that there are English children’s books on Japanese culture and identity that isn’t written through ninja and kunoichi characters.

This book isn’t an “easy read” for a children’s book. There is a lot to observe, explain, and discuss. However, I really value this book for the fact that it challenges us to do so. Contrary to the delicate drawings, the message in this book is powerful and meaningful. A female Nisei protagonist teaches readers not to give up on one’s passion even if you don’t fit in or feel appreciated. The story inspires that art can help in times of struggle, and that art can transcend racial and ethnic divide. I am sure that I will be reading this book to my child for many more years to come. I’d love to take her to the Japanese American National Museum with this book in hand one day.

Read an interview of the authors by the Secret Society of Books here



この記事で紹介する It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way という本は、実在した日系アメリカ人の女性絵本作家のギョウ・フジカワ(藤川堯)が主人公です。1920年代に白人社会で肩狭く育ち、男性社会の芸術学校へ進んだギョウ。のちニューヨークにあるディズニー社で働き始めた頃、カリフォルニアにいる彼女の家族は第二次世界大戦の影響で日本人強制収容所に容れられてしまいます。ギョウは悲しみを乗り越えながらもイラストレーターとして成功を収めていきます。戦後のアフリカ系アメリカ人公民権運動の真っ只中、彼女は子供の絵本を制作する際「色んな肌色をした赤ちゃんを描きたい」と出版社に持ちかけます。何度も断られたのちやっと出版された Babies という本が大ヒットし、その後子供向けの本を合計50作出版するという偉業を成し遂げます。


Nontan: Ohayou by Sachiko Kiyono


It is impossible to discuss Japanese children’s books without introducing the Nontan series written by Sachiko Kiyono. The male cat character debuted in 1976 in Nontan Buranko Ni Nosete, and has since bloomed into three series including the Akachan-Ban Nontan Series (9 volumes, for age 1+), Nontan Asobouyo Series (22 volumes, for age 3+), and Nontan Board Book Series (3 volumes, for age 3+). Just as recognizable as Eric Hill’s Spot series or Sandra Boynton’s board book collection, Nontan books are widely popular books that introduce one to themes like recognizing emotions, bedtime routines, and clean-up time.

Nontan: Ohayou comes from the Akachan-Ban Series (Infant Series). It highlights essential Japanese phrases such as “ohayou” (good morning), “itadakimasu” (thanks for the food), and “arigatou” (thank you) through him spending his day with friends eating and playing together. Though the story is very simple, it is packed with useful phrases that are easy to reinforce throughout the day.

The characters say “gomenne” (I’m sorry) when they bump into each other, which is a simple way to teach an early learner about empathy. My daughter’s favorite was “itaino itaino tondeike!” (pain, pain, go away!): A saying in Japanese culture to “kiss the boo-boo away.” The other nice thing to note about the Nontan books is that Nontan is depicted as a gender-neutral character for the most part. There is not a word in this Nontan: Ohayou book that indicates whether he is a male or female, and this is the same for most of the books in all Nontan series. For this reason, Nontan is an accessible book to all readers regardless of gender.

A lightweight 24 page book of a size no larger than an adult’s palm, it is easy for carrying on outings and travels. Once the child has grown into their toddler years, it readily becomes a tool for discussing food names, shapes, and colors. And when they begin to read hiragana, this book will be a useful resource to practice hiragana reading.

Lastly, and coincidentally, as I write this post on June 19, it is the anniversary of the author’s passing in 2008. Kiyono’s spirit lives on as the Nontan Series continue to grow to this day. You will most likely find this book or any book in the series at a Kinokuniya location or on

To see information on the full Nontan series, click here


赤ちゃん版ノンタン おはよう 
キヨノサチコ 作・絵


ノンタンの本はアメリカの紀伊國屋でも必ずと言っていいほど置いてあります。ロサンゼルスに住んでいたときには、ロサンゼルス市立図書館リトル東京分館でよく借りていました。(この分館についてはまた別の記事で紹介したいと思います)「ノンタン おはよう」ではあいさつや「ありがとう」「ごめんね」「いたいのいたいのとんでけー!」など、毎日の生活で何度も使うフレーズがストーリーに使われています。「ありがとう」「ごめんね」など、子供にはなかなか言ってもらえないフレーズでも「ノンタンはこう言ってたね」と振り返ることが出来ます。又、この本ではノンタンが自分を「ぼく」と名乗らないので、男女問わず馴染めます。ノンタンの本はたくさん持っていますが、ノンタンが自分を「ぼく」を名乗るのはほんのわずかです。私はずっと女の子だと思って読んでいたので、男の子だとわかった時はびっくりしました。

もし子供が英語を習っている環境にいるなら、「おはよう、good morning」「おやすみなさい、good night」など英語に訳しながら読むことも出来ます。赤ちゃん向けのシンプルな内容ですが、幼児になっても色を教えたり、気持ちを理解したりできます。ひらがなが読めるようになったら、自分で声に出して読む練習が出来ます。シリーズで集めれるのも、ノンタンの本の醍醐味の一つ。これから先ノンタンがどう成長するのか楽しみですね。