I am so pleased to start the New Year of Friend Friday with a brand-new friend, David Jacobson, who shares my interest in things Japanese. Are You an Echo?, narrative and translation by David, Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi, illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, (Chin Music Press), is so lovely, that I asked him to tell us a bit more about it. So sit back with a cup of tea to learn more about David and his path to writing for children.
Kirby and I have never met, but we’ve come very close. This past fall, we both attended the Washington State Book Awards ceremony in Seattle, but failed to introduce ourselves.
Our connection, though, starts way before that. Years earlier, I had embarked on an effort to share classic children’s books with my kids via audiobook as I drove them to school and back, a 30-minute trip each way. One of the books I chose was Hattie Big Sky. My kids and I were so enthralled with Hattie, that I sent Kirby fan mail. “What a lovely and touching story!” I wrote to her. “I cried several times, though my kids [then aged 6 and 9] wouldn’t admit to it.”
Little did I know that would be the beginning of my own fascination with children’s literature, as an adult. Two years after I wrote Kirby, in 2014, I submitted a book proposal to Chin Music Press, a Seattle book publisher I had been working for since 2008.
The proposal was to translate the works of a well-known Japanese children’s poet into English. Misuzu Kaneko had been recommended to me by Naomi Sugimoto, a close Japanese friend of more than 30 years, and her father Tatsuo, who was a great fan of Misuzu’s. They gave me an anthology of her work in Japanese and I was totally charmed.
But I was flabbergasted to learn that Misuzu was virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. So I set about trying to rectify that. I brought in Canadian poet and translator Sally Ito, her co-translator Michiko Tsuboi, and artist Toshikado Hajiri to help me. Thus began a sometimes electrifying, sometimes excruciating process of creating the text, translations and illustrations for the book via Skype, phone and email, across multiple time zones and cultures.
Unfortunately, a year or so into the creation of the book, Naomi’s father entered the final stage of lung cancer. I sent Naomi first a copy of the text, and then later, a PDF including illustrations, to make sure Tatsuo would get to see what we had created. I also sent him the text of my not-yet-printed dedication to him and Naomi. He died just two months before we received finished copies of the book.
It was gratifying for him, in his last days, to know he had been acknowledged for his role in the creation of this book, which brought Misuzu’s wonderful poetry to so many children and adults outside Japan.
I am grateful that I was able to give him this one last gift.
Cocoon and Grave
by Misuzu Kaneko
A silkworm enters its cocoon—
that tight, uncomfortable cocoon.
But the silkworm must be happy;
it will become a butterfly
and fly away.
A person enters a grave—
that dark, lonely grave.
But the good person
will grow wings, become an angel
and fly away.
(translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi, 2016)
David Jacobson majored in East Asian Studies at Yale University and received a Japanese government scholarship to study at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. He worked for many years as a journalist in print and broadcast media, his news articles and TV scripts appearing in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, and on NHK and CNN. He has also acted as Japanese translator, most notably for three hour-long documentaries produced by Fujisankei Communications International. Since joining book publisher Chin Music Press in 2008, David has edited or copyedited titles including Yokohama Yankee, The Sun Gods, and Why Ghosts Appear. Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is his first book.