Embark on a literary journey to Japan with these captivating children’s books, translated into English. Discover tales of friendship, adventure, and Japanese culture that will enchant young readers.
Delve into the enchanting world of Japanese children’s literature with this curated collection of stories translated into English. These tales, brimming with cultural nuances and captivating narratives, will transport young readers to a land of cherry blossoms, fantastical creatures, and enduring friendships.
Which is the best Japanese children’s book in English?
The best Japanese children’s book in English is the “Guri and Gura Rieko Nakagawa and Translated By Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara“. Guri and Gura is not only a fun and engaging story but also teaches valuable lessons about friendship, resourcefulness, and the beauty of the natural world. It encourages children to be curious and explore their surroundings with a sense of wonder.
The book’s enduring popularity is a testament to its ability to capture the imaginations of children and instill in them a lifelong love of reading.
Best Japanese Children’s Books in English: Summary
|Best Japanese Children Books in English||Author||Reading Level|
|Guri and Gura||Rieko Nakagawa||Age 4-8|
|Gracie Meets a Ghost||Keiko Sena||Age 4-8|
|Everyone Poops||Taro Gomi||Age 0-3|
|Hi, Butterfly!||Taro Gomi||Preschool and up|
|You Look Yummy!||Tatsuya Miyanishi||Age 4-10|
|The Secret of the Blue Glass||Tomiko Inui||Age 8+|
|It Might Be An Apple||Shinsuke Yoshitake||Preschool – Age 10|
|Little Daruma and Little Tengu: A Japanese Children’s Tale||Satoshi Kako||Age 4-8|
|The 14 Forest Mice and the Harvest Moon Watch||Kazuo Iwamura||Age 4-8|
Best Japanese Children’s Books in English
Guri and Gura by Rieko Nakagawa Translated By Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara
Guri and Gura- the best Japanese children book in English, started off as a solo book, turned into an eight-part series of two little field mice prancing around and being adventurous.
In this book, the mice happen to find a massive egg that they then use to make a huge sponge cake.
The air around them carried the aroma of the freshly baked cake and drew many new friends from the forest towards them. Now who doesn’t like a fluffy treat? It’s one of the most popular books in Japanese.
This book teaches the readers about the concepts of friendship and cooperation that come from sharing. This book was so popular among the kids that the publishers created a fully illustrated CD version for more engagement.
Guri and Gura is one of the best Japanese children’s books in English of all time.
Japanese title: ぐりとぐら
Reading level: Age 4–8
Gracie Meets a Ghost by Keiko Sena Translated by Mariko Gharbi
Little Gracie is one of the best Japanese children books in English where little Gracie started wearing glasses recently because her eyesight became a little weak.
One day he headed to the forest for a stroll, but she lost her glasses! She tried really hard to look for them but all was in vain.
Before you know it, a ghost comes out of nowhere and tries to scare her. But Gracie didn’t even flinch. Flustered, the ghost makes a conversation and offers to help her because he REALLY wanted to scare her.
The story unfolds engagingly, and allows the reader to be amused, scared, anticipating all at once. Bonus points to Sena because it normalizes and helps children get over their fear of wearing spectacles.
Japanese title: めがねうさぎ
Reading level: Age 4–8
Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi Translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum
People didn’t need an introduction to the concept of pooping, but in 1977, Taro Gami decided to create a hilarious and fun introduction to help people laugh it off. Everyone Poops is one of the best Japanese children book in English of all times.
Every new parent has ‘number 2’ issues with their infants, so why not give these parents something to talk about?
This book has always been a crowd pleaser and also one of the best Japanese children’s books in English, so the publishers introduced a hard cover copy.
Honestly, as attractive as it is to babies, it’s even more amusing to us adults. It gets me every time. Definitely one of the best Japanese children books in English.
Japanese title: みんなうんち
Reading level: Age 0–3
Hi, Butterfly! by Taro Gomi Translated by Kiiroi no wa chocho
Another masterpiece by Taro Gami- the best Japanese children books in English. He is Japan’s most sought after illustrator, simply because her style, illustrations and stories are jovial and there is humour that everyone can laugh at, kids and adults.
It is quite endearing. This book is a little boy who chases a butterfly through the streets, nook and crannies and even in his own home, cruising through the furniture and jumping on tables.
His adventure brought him joy and some unexpected findings! Little kids enjoy the sparse text and the flashy yellow net that hovers in urgency over the protagonist’s head.
Definitely, one of the best Japanese children books in English that your child will own.
Japanese title: きいろいのは ちょうちょ
Reading level: Preschool and up
Blackie, the Crayon by Miwa Nakaya Translated Mia Lynn Perry
Oh, the joy of opening a brand new box of crayons! All the coloured crayons began to ostracize blackie, the black crayon and didn’t let him colour the page. It is one of the best Japanese children books in English.
Now, hold on, it is culturally a simple Japanese story, but it might be a trigger to some of the Western countries.
So reconsider if you think the book is a bit wild for you. Nonetheless, the other crayons ruined the picture and didn’t know what to do.
It was Blackie, with the assistance of a clutch pencil that saved the day! This book teaches lessons of patience, inclusivity, creativity and selfishness and is one of the best Japanese children books.
Japanese title: くれよんのくろくん
Reading level: Age 4–8
Related: Check out these Japanese cartoons that will make you nostalgic about your childhood!
You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi Translated by Mariko Shii Gharbi
Daddies, if you are reading this, you should be the one reading this to your child. Who else can be better at narrating a story of fatherly love between two creatures. This is a japanese novels for intermediate kids.
It so happens that a baby Ankylosaurus was being born when a volcano was erupting in the forest. At the same moment a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus was passing by. Anky thought it was his father and screamed for help.
The Tyrannosaurus couldn’t show tyranny to his own kind and began to raise the little one. It’s my personal favourite and also one of the best Japanese children books in English.
This story is a testament to saying that it doesn’t take a biological family to feel like you are family and that you are loved. This story became huge and turned into a 12 part series, animated film and has fans all over the world.
Japanese title: おまえうまそうだな
Reading level: Age 4–10
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
There are some Little People that live on the top floor at the Moriyama Family house. Every generation takes it upon themselves to take responsibility and keep good care of the Little People. They feed them every day.
This time, it’s Yuri’s time. He has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass to feed the Little People. Yuri does her best everyday, until one day, World War II begins and the older men in her family all go to fight.
Yuri is all alone. The Little People do their best to comfort her and she does her best to feed them. The milk is in short supply. This is one of the best Japanese children books in English.
What really brings the struggle and togetherness to life is Ginny Tapley Takemori’s wonderful translation that grabs every nuance and every emotion generously.
Japanese title: 青いガラスの秘密
Reading level: 8+
It Might Be An Apple by Shinsuke Yoshitake Translated by Thames & Hudson
The little boy in this story is looking at an object that appears to be an apple, but he is unsure and thinks that it just might not be an apple. This story narrates a child’s thought process and his inventive perception towards a seemingly common spectacle.
He is unconvinced and refuses to believe an object is something just because somebody told him so. It is definitely one of the best Japanese children books in English for kids!
The child wonders. Wonders whether it is a star, or an alien object. His mind raises questions about its quietness during the sleep and ponders about what scares the ‘apple’.
The spiralling imagination of the kid encourages imagination and the behaviour of questioning and observation in any reader of the book. Yes, adults too and even they will find it to be one of the best Japanese children books in English!
Japanese title: りんごかもしれない
Reading level: Preschool to Age 10
Related: Check out the best Japanese cartoon movies to enjoy on weekends!
Little Daruma and Little Tengu: A Japanese Children’s Tale by Satoshi Kako Translated by Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara
Using the well known Japanese icon, Daruma, a symbol of good luck, Satoshi portrayed quirky tales of Daruma’s interactions with his many friends.
This Daruma book has about 4 books in the series, each telling a story with a different friend. In this book, Daruma and Tengu are simply talking.
When Daruma uses his imagination and availability of resources around him to imitate everything about Tengu.
Druma gets really jealous ofTengu’s nose and wants something exactly like it. But we all know imitating a nose can be hard. What do you think Daruma did?
Funny story: In the book, Daruma says he wants to change the hana. Now hana can mean flower or a nose. Since this pun can be simply evitable, I thought it is best to mention for our non-Japanese speakers!
It is really important for you to know the pun to get the plot of the book. This is seriously one of the best Japanese children books in English, I’ve come across!
Japanese title: だるまちゃんとてんぐちゃん
Reading level: Age 4–8
The 14 Forest Mice and the Harvest Moon Watch by Kazuo Iwamura Translated by MaryLee Knowlton
This book offers an insight into the annual Japanese tradition of the family getting together to watch the first moon of autumn.
The book illustrates a family of rather jumpy mice and how they encounter various creatures from the forest such as the dragonflies, inchworms, tree frogs and birds on their way to seeing the moon.
The original book of The 14 Forest Mice was published in 1983 and is one of the best Japanese children books in English of all times.
Japanese title: ひきのおつきみ
Reading level: Age 4–8
Reading For Fun
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best Japanese children books in English. This list combines values, entertainment, fun quips and heartwarming relationships. These indeed are some of the best Japanese children books in English.
- All-time favourite cute Japanese cartoon characters
- Check out my reviews on the best Japanese novels
- My review on the best crime mystery novels by Japanese authors
- My fav Japanese female authors
Guri and Gura
Best Japanese Children's Books in English: Summary
Author: Rieko Nakagawa
- Engaging, imaginative story for young readers
- Vibrant, detailed illustrations
- Positive messages about friendship, resourcefulness, and environmental care
- Encourages curiosity and exploration
- May be too simple for older children
- May lack cultural relevance for non-Japanese children
- Not as educational as some other children's books