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Parents when choosing children’s books these days, tend to dismiss folklore books and to opt in favour of books that are deemed to have academic enrichment value. But the beautiful art and narrative of children’s picturebooks, especially of folklore and mythology, play more important roles than we know. These picturebooks stimulate the mind’s eye and imagination when children look at the books during readalouds of the tale.
These books help children to not only follow the narrative of the simple storylines, but also feel the energy of the action and meaning of past lives, identify the most fundamental needs and fears of any society. Folklore and myths suggest the origin of things (e.g. above picture depicts the “Origin of the 12 animal-zodiac”), help bring to life the customs, manners and ways of a vanishing society or people in a forgotten past …
Folklore and mythology picturebooks help children intuitively understand the deep myths and belief-systems of a vanishing or bygone world; engage in out-of-the-box, non-linear thinking…
Art in children’s picturebooks are often of such high quality, they surround the child with diverse and complex textures, and rich colours of a more organic and sensory or tactile ancient primeval world and society (picture above depicts Ne-no-kuni, the Underworld of the ancient Japanese); tease children into feeling the key dark dangers of life and the elements; engage in quest- or puzzle-solving using wit and simple resources…and imbue age-old values such as courage and valour, and kindness.
The picturebooks also help children to experience a semi-historical semi-fictional narrative’s mirth, drama and power. They allow kids to understand the need for the invention of psychopomp, fanfare, magical rituals by kings and sacred leaders for their societies. Because folklore and myths are a deep heritage handed down from generation to generation, childrens folklore picturebooks are hence an important bridge between this generation and generations past.
Last but not least, the children’s folktale picturebooks genre are virtually a child’s first if not early exposure to good art … the simple ink-and-line painting and vibrant colours and textures, often guide and stimulate children to draw and paint well and become little artists too. I surrounded my two children since early childhood with hundreds of picturebooks chosen with care for their lovely art and narrative, and I like to think that both my children have been straight A students in art and have won art awards as a result of hours of perusing the great art of picturebook illustrators.
Below is a small selection of Japanese folklore and mythology picturebooks that fulfil all of the above roles.
Modern myths and lore continue to be created and can be endearing and enduring too.
Heritage folktales often have deep anthropological significance and connections with the land, people and past.
If you’re interested in more resources on Japanese myths and folktales, please see our earlier lists at
Artwork of images by Iso Kenji from “Susanoo’s Sword”