Tag Archives: Japanese picture book

my red balloon + red balloons in children’s books

14738335My Red Balloon by Kazuaki Yamada (2014).


This is a picture book to sit with. It seems simple, but there’s something profound about it. A girl with a red balloon boards a yellow bus. The bus stops for a bear (at a bear-shaped bus sign). And the balloon blows away.

my-red-balloon-one(Click image(s ) to enlarge)

The bus driver follows the balloon but always stops for any animal waiting for a ride along the way. Rabbit, penguin, elephant, and finally, giraffe (who happens to have a crow on her back).









Just when the bus full of creatures is upon the elusive red ballon, here comes the crow with its sharp beak. And POP. No more balloon.



It’s never totally clear who is speaking in this book, but I get the sense it’s often that kind bus driver. At the end, I imagine he’s the one who says, “Cheer up…Look up in the sky!”



Everyone looks to the sun, a giant fiery balloon setting in the sky.



“And we’ll see it again tomorrow.”

That moment with the sun, the other red balloon that never blows away or pops, that moment is breathtaking. And here’s where the profound part comes in. The whole journey, going after that red balloon, led the girl and her animal crew to the red balloon sun. The thing that will be constant every day, the thing that marks every day’s journey. The thing we can’t chase after but will never disappoint.

Yeah, I love this book for that idea.

But also for the expressions on the characters’ faces. The heart-shaped trees. The way each spread could be a perfect painting for a child’s room: colorful, complete, yet mysterious.


Thanks to Minedition for images!




As iconic as that yellow school bus or animals in children’s books is that red balloon.


Most iconic? The one from the French film (then book) of the same name. Who wouldn’t be entranced by a bright red balloon with a spirit of its own amidst all that gray?






My other favorites? 


This lovely cover and one spread inside of Where You Came From by Sara O’Leary, illustrations by Julie Morstad.


“Your father saw a red balloon appear, far off in the sky.

And at the end of the string, there you were, holding on for dear life.”



This one I’m adding to the post after the fact because Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes pointed it out. Thanks Travis!

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010).


Any red balloon references I’ve missed? Please share in the comments!


17072249p.s. I’ve blogged about balloons once before here on This Picture Book Life. Check out Please Bring Balloons + Balloons!










kamishibai man + microscope toy theater in L.A.

kamishibai_man_allen_sayKamishibai Man by Allen Say.


First, we need to know what kamishibai is. “Paper theater” in Japanese, it’s an ancient storytelling practice using storyboards/picture cards. One by one, the storyteller pulls a picture card away to reveal the next moment of the story. (Remind anyone else of reading a picture book at story time?)


Considered a precursor to manga and anime, in some form it dates back to the 12th century. It was most prevalent in the 20th century before the popularity of television.


In the foreword,  Allen Say remembers:


“Every afternoon, the kamishibai man came on a bicycle that had a big wooden box mounted on the back seat. The box had drawers full of candies and a stage at the top. We bought candies and listened to the man’s stories.”


Allen Say’s character, Kamishibai Man, is one of those.


Like most of Say’s work there’s a feeling of nostalgia in this book. A fond look back at the past along with a pang of sadness for what’s now gone. As always, Say teaches us history and culture along with how to be kind.




The book focuses on an old man who used to tell Kamishibai stories. One day, he decides to return to the city again after all this time, but it’s not how it used to be. There are no more trees and lots of shops and buildings.



Say seamlessly transitions from the present day to the past, the man growing young again and telling stories to children from his bicycle stage years ago.


kamishibai-man-4When we look up again from his tale, we’re back to today and there’s a crowd of people around Kamishibai Man, grownups who are the very same children who used to buy his wife’s candies and listen to his stories.



They’re thrilled to see him again!







I was fortunate enough to catch a kamishibai-style performance in Los Angeles over the weekend. And if you live in the area, there’s one more this weekend as well!

Microscope Toy Theater takes on this tradition of “paper theater” with Yulya Dukhovny performing “Star in a Glass Jar” at Automata (that’s one of my very favorite theaters in L.A. and known for experimental puppetry).

The show is a beauty to behold. Gentle, patient, gorgeous, and even funny. It’s a Christmas story of a girl—and her sweet, wise dog—who lives in the far North and who needs something for her holiday tree. She sends a letter: “to whom it may concern.”

That letter ends up in a fishing village in Japan, in the hands of a little boy.

The performance was mesmerizing as each new paper that slid from the theater frame revealed another one, just as captivating as the last.




For tickets and info about performances November 15h and 16th, click here.