Picture books are a must-have when it comes to babies, not only as a tool to help calm them down or go to sleep but also as an important part of their cognitive and linguistic development, as well as language acquisition. This was why I wanted to read both English and Japanese picture books to our daughter from before she was even born as research has shown that newborns are receptive to passages of books that were read to them while in the womb. It’s also a great way for babies to become familiarized with both their mother and father’s voice before they are born if both choose to read aloud.
We all have a picture book or two from our childhood that we still remember and have fond memories of so my husband and I already had an idea of some books we wanted to get. We also did some research as to what was currently popular with babies and small children.
Now that Baby A is a year old, I thought I would share some of her favorite Japanese picture books, which are not only popular with her but with other children in Japan as well. These books are simple enough for parents who may not be fluent in Japanese to read to their child or even for beginners to use as a method to study Japanese.
1. じゃあじゃあ びりびり (Jyajya Biribiri)
じゃあじゃあ びりびり is an onomatopoeia, じゃあじゃあ the sound of flowing water and びりびり the sound of paper being torn. As the title suggests, this book is about the different sounds objects and animals make. The images are also colorful and simple so babies not only love hearing all the different onomatopoeia but also looking at the pictures.
2. ノンタン (Nontan)
Nontan is a series of picture books featuring Nontan, a white cat who loves to have fun with his friends. The stories are easy to follow and always teach children life lessons, like to be kind to your friends or not to go outside at night. My husband loved these books as a child and considering their popularity now, decades later, it’s safe to say that the ノンタン series is timeless in Japan.
In Japanese, ぎゅう is the sound made when you hug or hold something (or someone) very tightly. In this book, a child explores all the things he can hold or hug, from his mother’s hands to a giant toy bear. It’s a great way to encourage bonding with your baby through all the hugs, especially at the end.
4. いないいないばぁあそび (Inaiinaibaa Asobi)
いないいないばぁ is the Japanese equivalent of “peek-a-boo” and あそび is to play. My sister-in-law gifted us with this book as her two children loved it when they were babies. The book features various animals that the baby can play peek-a-boo with by turning the flaps, which are hands covering their face. It’s guaranteed to get some giggles, especially if you say ばぁ in a really ridiculous voice.
5. きんぎょが にげた (Kingyoga nigeta)
As the title suggests, this book is about a goldfish (きんぎょ) that has run away (にげた). Now it’s up to the reader to find out where the goldfish has gone. This book is wonderfully illustrated and a fun way for your child to try to find out where the goldfish is hiding on each page. It’s probably not the best book to read to the baby while pregnant with them, though.
6. くっついた (Kuttsuita)
くっついた is a word for when things become stuck together, which is exactly what happens to various animals and people in this book. The book is quite simple with not a lot of text but it’s fun to read and maybe in the end, you and your child will end up くっついた.
7. そらまめくん (Soramamekun)
そらまめくん is a series about a broad bean (そらまめ) named (surprise, surprise!) そらまめくん. These books are quite popular in Japan due to the beautiful illustrations and engaging stories. The text is quite a bit longer than the other books mentioned here but similar to ノンタン, there is always a lesson to be learned at the end. そらまめくんのベッド was one of my husband’s favorites to read to our daughter during my pregnancy.
8. おつきさまこんばんは (Otsukisama Konbanwa)
The title means “Good Evening, Mr. Moon.” The story follows the moon slowly rising in the night sky. It’s a great bedtime book and has high reviews on Amazon Japan, which is one of the reasons we got it. The lovely blue and yellow illustrations also remind me of Halloween, which is a huge plus.
If you’re interested in any of these books, feel free to click on the name or image to be taken to their Amazon Japan page.