While I’m lucky enough to get to read the odd book long before it’s available to the wider public, today’s post is somewhat unusual in that it looks at a work that won’t appear in bookshops for a good few months yet. A month or so ago, I was approached by the translator of a Japanese children’s book, set to appear under the Restless Books ‘Yonder’ imprint in July, to see if my little helper Hayley would be interested in trying out a proof. Well, to cut a long story short, we gave it a go, and we’ve spent an interesting few weeks in the company of a kind-hearted schoolboy and a girl who just wants to live a normal life – but why don’t I just let my assistant fill you in on the details?
What’s the name of the book, and who is it by?
The book is called Temple Alley Summer, and it’s written by Sachiko Kashiwaba, with illustrations by Miho Satake (the translation is by Avery Fischer Udagawa).
What’s it about?
It’s about this girl called Akari and this boy called Kazu. Kazu sees Akari outside his house, and when he goes to school, everybody knows Akari – but he doesn’t! He realises that Akari is a ghost and forms a friendship with her.
Did you like it? Why (not)?
Yes, because it was interesting to see the life of Japanese children, and I liked Akari because she’s a ghost!
What was your favourite part?
When Kazu makes friends with Akari.
Was it difficult to read?
Yes, it was a little hard, but my dad read it to me, so it was easy 😉
Would you recommend this book to other boys and girls? Why (not)?
Yes, especially if they like stories about ghosts (but don’t worry – Akari isn’t a scary ghost!).
Hayley, thank you very much 🙂
Temple Alley Summer is an interesting book, even if it’s slightly different to Hayley’s usual fare of wolves and dragons. It’s the tale of an adventurous summer, where a young boy makes a new friendship and discovers an old story, and in the midst of a mystery, the main characters get to know each other better and have lots of fun. I decided this was one was to read aloud to my little helper, and we got through a little each day over about three weeks. Hayley was always attentive during our evening reading sessions, and she definitely seemed to enjoy the experience.
Kazu is a great character and certainly not your typical perfect protagonist. He’s an average kid who tends to act before thinking, meaning his actions are not always as wise as they might be. One of our first encounters with the elementary school student comes when he wakes up at night needing to go to the toilet, and – well, let’s just say ‘don’t do this at home kids’ and leave it there…
A major part of the book is his growing friendship with Akari, the girl with a second chance at life. This is Kazu’s first real girlfriend, and while he initially feels slightly embarrassed in her company, he also shows great empathy. Once he works out what has happened, and realises how happy Akari is about coming back, he does his best to help her, feeling sorry her first life was cut so short. This is especially important as her new life isn’t guaranteed. Not everyone is happy about ghosts walking around, and if anyone gets wind of Akari’s reappearance, this second chance may be over almost before it’s begun…
Another fascinating aspect of Temple Alley Summer is the journey it takes the reader on into Japanese traditions and an examination of life after death, with some great insights into Japanese daily life for Hayley. As well as the descriptions in the early chapters of school life, summer festivals and yukatas, there’s a focus on home altars and temples, and the discussion of death, and the ethics of people getting a second chance at life, is skilfully done (and probably more involved than would be the case in most kids’ books written in English).
The publisher’s website suggests a reading age of ten to thirteen for Temple Alley Summer, but I think the book would have been a little beyond my ten (soon to be eleven) year-old owing to some of the concepts and unfamiliar language. It also has to be said that it doesn’t zip along like many chapter books. In addition to several fairly involved conversations between Kazu and some of the adult characters, there’s a lengthy story within a story, and at times Hayley was left wondering where Kazu and Akari had gone! However, it’s always absorbing, and Kashiwaba rounds things off with a nice resolution to the story.
Overall, I’m very glad we got to spend some quality Daddy and Hayley reading time on this. I’d say that Temple Alley Summer would be perfect for children around the age of twelve who are interested in learning about different cultures. It’s a story of friendship, perseverance and taking second chances – and memories of a long, hot summer 🙂