The three-volume picture book series “Greetings from the World” was published in April 2023!
This time, I was involved in the creation of this picture book series as a supervisor, so I would like to introduce just a few of my thoughts on this and early childhood education.
Why this book series
This picture book series introduces the lives of children in various countries through greetings.
Through the culture and diversity unique to each country, the purpose is to have them feel familiarity and empathy, make friends with children from other countries around them, and give them an opportunity to think about children they have not yet seen around the world.
18 countries were selected considering various conditions such as geographical conditions and the diversity of languages and cultures of each country. Each volume, “Good morning in the world,” “Thank you in the world,” and “Play in the world,” features short stories from six countries.
Although the target audience is 4-5 years old, I personally think that parents who read aloud and people who are interested in various worlds and diversity can also enjoy it.
At the end of the book, information on each country, various languages of the featured countries and “words of supervision” I wrote are listed.
The press release with below sample images was introduced : Meet new friends from around the world! The picture book “Greetings from the World” [3 volumes in total].
How it was made
I will introduce the process since I got involved.
The impetus was my book “How to meet who you want to be: Messages from someone who jumped into the world” (Iwanami Shoten), which was released in August 2022.
July 27th, two weeks before the launch, was the day I left Japan for Africa (Mozambique). I had mixed feeling for not being in Japan on the day of the my first book release, as if I couldn’t hold my own baby on the first day.
After starting to move with various thoughts such as “I wish I could be there,” I received an email from Doshinsha, a publisher known for the picture book “Peekaboo” and picture-story shows “Kamishibai”. It said that they got to know me through the above-mentioned published book. They wanted to ask me to supervise the “Greetings from the World” series as a person who lived on five continents and got involved in education and children.
While traveling from Japan to Mozambique for more than 40 hours taking care of transit and a child who is not yet one year old, I wondered if I could supervise a new picture book series at this timing when a new job starts in Mozambique
However, basically from the moment I saw the email, I was thinking that I would accept it intuitively. This is because from April 2021, when I wrote the above first book, or rather even before that, I had a strong desire to promote diversity and a wide range of learning both inside and outside Japan. Also, I started making picture books for my own children, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to learn.
Immediately after arriving in Mozambique in a staggering state of exhaustion and jet lag, I wrote a reply stating that I would like to accept the offer. Shortly after, the meeting started. We haven’t found a place to live yet, so I had a Zoom meeting on the small veranda of the one-room hotel apartment where we were staying as a family of three. Even though I have just arrived in Mozambique, Africa (other side of planet from Japan), I am keenly aware that it is truly a change in times to be able to connect with Japanese publishers online like this. Likewise, the above-mentioned book was all done online, but according to Iwanami’s editor, there weren’t many cases like that before COVID-19, so at least there is some positive side of pandemic.
(Surprisingly urban view from the veranda of the hotel apartment in Maputo at that time)
After that, we started communicating frequently. In addition to the original task of content confirmation and information gathering, I decided to do a little bit of support such as translation work and story creation (because it was a ship that I was on board, I wanted to do as much as possible).
Through that process, I have felt many times, that the world is wide open.
The scenery I’ve seen and the people I’ve met aren’t everything, but I’ve lived on five continents, worked in over 40 countries, and traveled over 60 countries, which I believe are something. I tried to provide as many inputs as possible like the story, the way of expression, the scenery, etc., and while there were of course differences of opinion with the editorial staff, we worked closely together to complete the project.
Most of the 18 countries featured in this series are either countries I have lived in or have traveled to. Even so, there are many things that I did not know unless I ask the local people. In particular, the details of children (for example, what kind of houses children in a certain city of the country live in, what kind of games they play, etc., are often difficult to understand even if you live in that place). Therefore, in parallel with the editorial side, I contacted friends around the world to ask for information on the country, and ask them to tell me if the story draft was in line with the context. Through this, I keenly felt the value of human connections on the world.
The “words of supervision” at the end of each volume, which is also a specific output as a supervisor, is also a slightly special position. After a series of wonderful pictures, the scene changes completely, using only one page of text. I wanted to write episodes related to each volume as much as possible, but this time, as a supervisor, I was only in a supporting role for the picture book, so this part ended up a few thoughts within the specified range.
I didn’t meet the story teller and the painter (both professionals in their field, and I just discussed online with the story teller once) and the editor in person (upon my return to Japan after completion of the work, I met once). This series of picture books contains pictures of various countries drawn by various people with various thoughts. The impression of the book is also very colorful and pleasantly symbolizes diversity.
At first, I didn’t even know what supervision was. The main role was to check the entire series, write “words of supervision”, and collect information and context of each country from acquaintances. There were also translations and story checks and suggestions that were not originally planned.
In supervising this series, which deals with the culture and diversity of the world, I was particularly careful about sensitive issue, such as the scene that might encourage discrimination and inequality regardless of the fact. Although the space for each country is limited and it is not representative of the country as a whole, if we promote the idea of “housework is done by women” or “it is normal for children to engage in child labor to help their parents” I was also careful not to instill prejudice at an unconscious level by depicting such things in a limited space, even if they were actually happening.
In that regard, let me shift the topic to the strengths and risks of early childhood education.
The strengths and risks of early childhood education
Childhood is also called the human development period, and children grow up absorbing various things like a sponge.
Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning scholar, has demonstrated the importance of investing in early childhood education (non-cognitive skills and academic ability, future annual income improvement), and has had a great impact on educators around the world. In addition to the economic aspect, early childhood education is said to be the best innovation to cultivate soft skills such as creativity (Dr. Mitchell Resnick, founder of Lifelong Kindergarten).
It is said that what a child sees, listens to, and does in such an important early childhood determines what kind of person he/she will become later. The role of the adults around them is very important in stimulating their innate curiosity and allowing them to grow freely. And one of the important tools is picture books.
Since it is such an important period, however, there is a negative risk that early childhood education and home education may sometimes lead to the formation of propaganda, prejudice, and stereotypes, depending on the methods and methods of communication.
There is also a history of picture books being used as propaganda to create an image of pro-war in Japan during the war. The fact that children absorbed information like a sponge that soldiers = cool and war = things to do, is seen as a problem (of course, at that time, it was not a situation in which such things could be said openly).
And there are many examples around the world where early childhood education, including picture books, was used as propaganda (German Nazis, the former Soviet Union, China, etc.).
On the other hand, there are countries in the world that do not have a book culture, let alone a picture book culture. Under such circumstances, the information and stimulation that can be obtained is limited, and children grow up in the surrounding adults and limited media.
And sometimes we unconsciously drop our preconceptions.
For example, as mentioned in the tweet below, if the stereotype that men = blue and women = pink is planted from an early age by adults and friends around them, kids will grow thinking it should be that way.
[ #Diaper that kills diversity]I went to a famous baby store in Japan, and was surprised to see diapers to play in the water.
The #stereotype of “Boy=blue Girl=pink" is planted from childhood
An employee said both had the same function, so I chose different color🌈
— MD Hiro / 岡本啓史💡 (@mdhiroshi) June 6, 2023
After having some doubts about the stereotypes above, I decided to take my daughter to the park.
There, her daughter approached her family, who she didn’t know, but the adults around her said, “Since you’re a girl, you want to sit in a pink chair!” After that, her daughter brought a blue chair and sat there.
She doesn’t care what color she is, but I don’t think she has the stereotypical idea that it’s because she’s a man or because she’s a woman.
Returning the topic to the picture book series. A sample of a picture book arrived when I temporarily returned to Japan.
The first impression is “Huge!”. And when I flipped it open, the real picture book was still impressive. The use of different colors also shows diversity.
Then, I tried an experiment to see what would happen if I put a sample on the table.
As expected, my daughter has arrived. It took her less than 5 seconds to reach the book, as if she had smelled the delicious food. Before you knew it, she naturally picked it up, sat and read, and she may be one of the first child readers (1-year-old child who is younger than the target age of 4-5).
Here’s what the front and back covers look like
I would appreciate it if many children/guardians picked up the book, learned that there are various worlds, and became interested in something
The learning of this time
Through supervising the 3-volume picture book series “Greeting of the world”, I re-learned the importance of promoting diversity in early childhood education and how we live with the support of various people.
Thank you for reading this article. Have a great learning!