We are very privileged to have Naomi Kojima as our featured storyteller for June/July as part of our bimonthly theme From Asia With Love: A Feast of Asian Literature.
I met Naomi during the AFCC around three years back. She gave me beautiful copies of her books then and I am so excited to finally feature them now here in GatheringBooks. Naomi also shares with us some of her inspiration and creative ideas behind the making of these beautiful books. This is the first of a 3-part interview with Naomi. So do watch out for more.
The Alphabet Picture Book
Story and Illustrations by: Naomi Kojima
Published by: Kaishi-sha, 2003
Book given by author. Book photos taken by me.
I have always had a special affinity with alphabet books – the more quirky and less traditional, the more fascinated I am. In this book, the colours are muted yet they convey such animated vibrance and life as evident in the characters’ playful movements. There is a sense of joy and light in the pages that evoke a sense of quiet wonder. I also love the way that Naomi has put together certain elements together that a child could link together and form thematic associations with, such as C for Country, Clouds, Cricket, Calf, Cow, Chicks, Chicken.
By putting these elements together, it becomes more than just an alphabet book as it encourages the child-reader to perhaps come up with their own little stories or narratives that would meaningfully explain why all these things are together in the picture. The borders of each of the book’s pages also demonstrate painstaking attention to detail and the loving way in which this book was created.
Here are some of Naomi’s thoughts about the book.
Any special reason why you decided to create an alphabet book? What was the inspiration behind it?
The illustrations for The Alphabet Picture Book were originally done for a monthly Japanese children’s magazine, which specialized in early English education. Each month, for one year, I drew two double page spreads for two alphabets. I was delighted when Kaisei-sha offered to publish it as a picture book. But it turned out to be much more complicated than I had imagined. I realized I could not just gather all the illustrations, add a title page, and say, “Okay, it’s done. Here is a picture book”.
The illustrations were designed for a monthly magazine, and I had not conceived them to work as one book. I reassessed the words, and I drew many more illustrations to make the words, design and illustrations work together as one book. It took almost as long as it would to make a new picture book, but I was very happy making it, because I had always wanted to make an alphabet book. When I was a child, one of my favorite books was a picture dictionary. I wanted to make a picture dictionary when I grew up!
What are some of your favorite alphabet books?
The one I cherish is an alphabet dictionary I had as a child, The Golden Dictionary: 1030 WORDS and more than 1500 Pictures in Color. I used to spend hours admiring the pictures, and reading and learning the meanings and definitions. I was so proud of myself, because I thought I knew most of the 1030 words. I still have the book, and I look at it from time to time. The book is my childhood friend.
I like the French picture dictionary Mon Premier Alphabet Larousee, published by Larousse. Talented artists such as Kitty Crowther and Marc Boutavant are the illustrators, and their illustrations are very creative and very funny. Even if you do not read French, you can have a good time and a good laugh looking at the illustrations.
I found this book at the Bologna Book Fair many years ago, and it made me want to do another picture dictionary. Larousee publishes a series called My First Larousee, and they all have wonderful illustrations.
What do you think makes The Alphabet Picture Book different from other alphabet books for very young children?
I made the book for Japanese children learning English, but because the words are in English and in Japanese, the book functions as a Japanese to English, and English to Japanese alphabet book. Anyone, child or adult, can use the book to learn English and Japanese.
When I was illustrating the pictures, I realized that the pictures, besides from describing the words, began to tell their own stories. I chose and made a list of words I would use, and when I started to think of the words and how I could describe them with pictures, little stories started to roll out. Maybe not a whole story, but a scene or a situation. I enjoyed that very much. If you look carefully, the pictures will describe the words, and you can find little stories too.
Many thanks, dear Naomi, for this wonderful gift. I do hope you can find it, dear friends. Lively images bursting with so much joy. It makes one want to re-learn the alphabet all over again.
129 of 150