Explaining the unexplainable to children with ‘The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome’


Special To The Japan Times

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. A number of books aimed at children and young adults have appeared in the ensuing years based on those tumultuous events. In “The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome,” a bilingual picture book suitable for children in preschool to lower elementary, the old adage remains: truth is stranger than fiction.

The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome, by Lori Dengler and Amya Miller, Illustrated by Amy Uyeki.
46 pages
Humboldt State University Press, Picturebook.

The book relates the real-life voyage of the Kamome, a high school fishing boat that was swept away from the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture by the tsunami and traveled across the Pacific before finally washing up some two years later on the California coast. Efforts to bring the boat back to Japan unite two high schools, two communities and two countries.

As the global public relations director for Rikuzentakata, where some 1,700 people lost their lives in the tsunami, co-author Amya Miller has witnessed firsthand the effect of the disaster on the area’s children. The Japanese translation has been tweaked from Lori Dengler’s original English to show sensitivity to children in Japan.

Throughout the book, powerful full-color illustrations by Japanese-American artist Amy Uyeki depict a decidedly gritty reality. With these, the tale of the Kamome serves as a useful launching pad for discussing the difficult topic of natural disasters with children.

Ultimately, the message is one of hope. Like the classic children’s song says, it really is a small world after all.