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[DiverseKidLit] Tiny Brave Boys with Huge Hearts from Japan and Sweden in “Issun Bôshi” and “Goran’s Great Escape”

Myra here.

Diverse Children’s Books is a brand new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.


We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact Katie at 1logonaut (gmail).

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, 18 June, on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

The most clicked post from our previous #diversekidlit is The Importance of Author’s Notes in Some Picture Books by Charnaie of Here Wee Read. Her post is a reflection of a recent conversation she got into with other book bloggers about the recent released Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated Yuyi Morales. The questions raised by Charnaie and others serve to underscore the importance of author’s notes in helping readers to understand or even interpret a story.


For today’s post, I am featuring these two picturebooks which show two tiny boys with huge hearts and the the expansive capacity of kindness and compassion to make one’s spirit grow which is also in keeping with our current reading theme (see above).


Goran’s Great Escape

Written by: Astrid Lindgren Illustrated by: Marit Törnqvist
Published by: Floris Books, 2011 ISBN: 0863157939 (ISBN13: 9780863157936)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

I confess that I have not really read any of Astrid Lindgren’s books – not her Pippi Longstocking, not her picturebooks. I know about the prestigious award given to children’s book creators, yes, but very little about the person whom the award was named after. And so it is with such pleasant surprise that I chanced upon this title in our library.


I was born and raised in a busy metropolis – as I breathe traffic all around and huge skyscrapers and busy streets dotting whatever landscape is left in an urban environment. While I do visit my parents’ province during the summer when I was a child, the smog and haze (at least in Singapore) seem to be stamped deep into my veins.


This may be one of the reasons why picturebooks such as these with a quiet Sunday lunch in the country, in a farm, in possibly the middle of nowhere, appeal somewhat to the slumbering provincial girl in me; and an enraged bull named Goran who escaped from his barn serving as a unique highlight to this lazy, quiet Sunday:


While everyone seemed virtually clueless trying to figure out how to tame this angry bull, it was a “runny-nosed farm boy” named Karl who offered to scratch Goran between his horns who saved the day.


It was the simplicity of the kind act that turned everything around – with the bull possibly serving even as a visual allegory to the beasts in our lives, and how they can be tamed by a gentle touch and a kind word. The image of the birches above filled my soul.


Issun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy

Written and Illustrated by: Icinori
Published by: Little Gestalten, 2014 ISBN: 3899557182 (ISBN13: 9783899557183)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

While there are a lot of published collections of folktales from around the world (see the series done by Tuttle Publishing generically titled as Singapore Children’s Favorite Stories or Indian Children’s Favorite Stories, Filipino Children’s Favorite Stories among others), there are few stand-alone picturebooks that celebrate the uniqueness of specific cultures while at the same time weaving a gripping narrative.


Just like your classic fairy tale Thumbelina, Issun Bôshi is a one-inch boy whose parents love him dearly. When he was fifteen, he decided to leave home and see the world:

His mother gave him a rice bowl, which he carried on his shoulders, and his father presented him with a beautiful needle, which he wore at his belt. Thus equipped, he was ready to go. And off he went.


I have studied quite a number of folktales from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and India – and there are very clear recurrent threads in the narratives: the clear dichotomy between good and evil, and the quest for self-discovery and finding one’s inner hero against all odds – among others.

I suppose what makes this book even more special is the exquisite art by Iciniro paired with the superb layout and ingenious book design. There seems to be something sharp, fiery, and at the same time so vibrant in the colour scheme that makes one smell Japan (see below):


While naturally the story ended happily and with the usual comeuppance afforded evil doers, Issun Bôshi’s quick wit, vulnerability, and goodness of heart never seemed contrived – but keenly felt and experienced by the reader.


I am beginning to appreciate Little Gestalten books even more and can’t wait to find their other titles in our library.


#DiverseKidLit is Hosted By:

Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact Katie at 1logonaut (gmail).

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[DiverseKidLit] Tiny Brave Boys with Huge Hearts from Japan and Sweden in “Issun Bôshi” and “Goran’s Great Escape”

  1. The illustrations are beautiful! I love how you show us inside of the books!

    I found your description about Thunder Boy Jr. to be interesting. I am going to go to that post because my own post may not agree with it entirely. 🙂 I am curious to hear what others have to say!


  2. Oh, I love those illustrations!!! It’s really interesting when you start noticing themes in fairy tales across cultures, finding those underlying ideas and motives that flow beneath the surface.


  3. Marjorie

    I love your pairing of these two stories! And both with gorgeous though very different illustrations.

    Not sure I agree with you about it being hard to find gripping folk stories published indivisully – i’m going to have to think about that one and see if I’ve just been taking them for granted!


  4. Marjorie

    PS Sorry about the typo – ‘individually’ – it’s late and I’m starting to type like my teen son talks – all slurred 😉


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