This week, one of the foxes asked, “What book from your childhood left the biggest impression? Which book would you love to read again?”
We had a similar topic a few years ago, and I discussed how much I loved and emulated the self-reliant characters in The Boxcar Children, which I first heard when my second grade teacher read it to our class. So this time I’m going to share another book that helped me understand a little bit about the culture that my parents and grandparents came from.
I recall money being tight when I was small, but somehow my folks scraped up enough to enroll us in the Scholastic Book Club. Each month we got two hardcover books, based on our ages. One of the first books I received had what I thought was an odd title: Taro and the Tofu. I knew what tofu was because mom and grandma would serve it occasionally. But I’d never known anyone named Taro. My mom explained to me that in Japan, Taro is a very common name, meaning first born son. I was also mystified by the pictures of the houses and the marketplace, so unlike my neighborhood. Mom took out a photo album with pictures of the home her parents lived in, and her school. They looked just like the buildings in the book. She even had a picture of her younger brother, wearing clothes almost identical to Taro’s.
Mom started making dinner as I started to read my new book. Taro and his parents had some of the same speech patterns that my mom and grandma used. And what we call onomatopoeia was frequent, just like what I often heard in my house. As Taro walked home with his bucket of tofu, the water in his bucket went “picha-picha-chop-chop” rather than “slooosh” or some other sound that we usually associate with water. I asked mom why the water in Japan sounds different than it does here. She looked at me and said, “The water isn’t different. Your ears are different.” I guess she told me.
Since that time I’ve read many other children’s books set in Japan. Allen Say’s picture books are wonderful for illustrating Japanese culture. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a tear-jerker, featuring traditions and beliefs held by my ancestors. But Taro and the Tofu was the first book I remember reading that helped me understand some of the things our family did.
I haven’t seen the book in a long time, but I’d like to read it again. I ordered a copy for my grandkids so they can get an idea of what life was like for their great-grandmother.
Can you think of a childhood book that left an impression?