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Book Review: Tsubame Kōkū

So you’ve got an upcoming flight with your roughly 2-year-old child and you’re looking for a picture book that will help them understand what’s about to happen. As surprising as this may be in our age of ubiquitous air travel, your options are pretty limited.1 Into this semi-void steps the Japanese picture book Tsubame Kōkū by Keiji Motoyasu.2

Tsubame Kōkū tells the story of the frog family who are going on a trip to a southern island. The conceit of the book is that small animals live in a human-like civilisation where air transportation is provided by birds. The book follows the frogs from the check-in counter at the departure airport to the luggage carousel at the destination airport. Along the way they pass through customs, wait in the departure lounge, board, take off, have a meal, sleep, land and wait for their luggage. Motoyasu worked at an airport while making the book and the story covers every major element of an airplane journey.

Motoyasu’s illustrations are vibrant and colourful, and the use of anthropomorphised animals draws in young children in a way a more clinical picture book might not. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of wit in the pictures to keep parents amused and interested.

The book is only available in Japanese—which is a shame for English-speaking readers—but, honestly, anyone who has been on a plane before will be able to guess at what’s going on. I very much hope it gets an English translation but if you don’t mind the Japanese (or better yet, can understand it!), I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s available on Amazon Japan. ✺

  1. There’s a nice list of some of the other books available here. That list is framed as being for special needs children, but they look like books that any young child could read (albeit a bit dry in some cases).

  2. Tsubame is the Japanese word for the swallow bird and Tsubame Kōkū translates as ‘Swallow Airlines’.