By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Naoko Stoop. Random House Studio, 2021. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $10.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 4–8.
Well-known children’s book novelist and linguist Donna Jo Napoli had a simple but brilliant idea to introduce the idea of becoming friends with someone when you don’t share the same language. One snowy day, a new girl moves in next door. She speaks Japanese. When the two girls start to play, they introduce their languages to each other. The girls naturally choose words that bounce with onomatopoeia. Seeing a woodpecker, one says, “Peck peck”; the other says, “Kotsu kotsu.” Plumping a snowman, the Japanese-speaking girl says, “Nade nade,” while the girl speaking English says, “Pat pat pat.”
Because Japanese is easy to pronounce, this book will be a joy to read aloud. Naoko Stoop drew from personal experience to make the tender, lovely illustrations, which were crafted with mixed media on plywood, then finished digitally. Stoop moved to Canada from Japan as an adult; she had to struggle to meet people and make new friends, as her entire vocabulary of experience was foreign to the people she was meeting. She has painted snow that is so textured it feels cold on the page, and the simple characters of the two girls are delightfully expressive. In the end, after tea and snack, they make origami masks and discover that laughter is the same in all languages. This book could easily be paired with A Hundred Thousand Welcomes by Mary Lee Donovan and illustrated by Lian Cho.
Alison James is a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting.