Feb 19, 2022
[Column] Community values appear in the early childhood section of bookstores

Monthly column in Asahi Newspaper Hokkaido version
February 19, 2022. Noyuri Mima

 I recently visited several bookstores in Berkeley, on the west coast of the US, where I currently live. I can sometimes find books I didn’t expect compared to stores on the net. Also, I can see what kind of books are popular in the area.

 I found a bookshelf called “Early Concept” in the toddler book section. There are picture books about animals, numbers, and letters. Among them, I found the “My First 100 Words” series. The themes include science, technology, engineering, mathematics, art, biology, astronomy, and even thermodynamics.

 There’s also “Baby Loves Political Science: Justice!,” “Climate Change for Babies,” and “Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer.” In the middle school to high school students section, I was surprised at the variety of biography books.

 I looked up biography books on the net to see how they are doing in Japan these days. I was again surprised to find a lot of manga biography series. The people are still the same as in the past, great world people and warlords. Among the newer ones, people whose portraits were on bills and Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple as one of the inventors.

 This situation reminded me of a book by Minako Saito, a literary critic, titled “The One Red Spot Doctrine.” She pointed out in Japanese biographies; the women are always Madame Curie, Nightingale, and Helen Keller. These people are with “Madame” in her name, a person caring for others, and a person worked hard despite her disabilities.

 On the other hand, the bookstores I visited this time lined up were women who changed the world. For example, the first Hispanic judge to serve the US Supreme Court, the woman helped change an unfair rule that African Americans could not sit by Caucasians on the bus, and so on. There were also stories about recent young people such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yusufzai and environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

 When I told my American friend that there are different books for children in Japan and the US, she said it was probably because of Berkeley that these books were available. Berkeley is located close to Silicon Valley and had the historical movements to recognize the rights of free speech and LGBTQ+. The culture, history and values make social change possible.

 Looking back, can we see the local character in bookstores in Japan, in Hokkaido, or in elsewhere? What kind of books are available for children, and how are they selected and displayed at the stores? Children’s books seem to show the values of society and the local community.