Having worked in Japan for years, Nick Ashley and Aishah Levine have seen how the country’s approach to learning English can misfire.
“People think learning the language is the key to being global, but when it comes down to doing business, they are very shy. They don’t want to give you their opinion,” says Levine. “Even though they have great ideas and better products — certainly better service — it is difficult for them to sell things to (non-Japanese) in business. It has nothing to do with English. It’s an approach to business and relationships that’s a little less self-assertive.”
This approach to learning a language weighed heavy on her mind after having children of her own, as she wanted her kids to be confident expressing their opinions. Levine, who runs the popular Bilingual Baby YouTube channel, developed a method meant to cultivate independent thinking and skills for self-expression called the Teaser Question (TQ) Method.
“I wanted to communicate this new way of teaching children at home, but I didn’t know what the best way to do it would be,” Levine says. “Well, owning children’s books is something parents have in common. We all use them. What if I introduced it via a children’s book?”
The end result is “My Moon, Your Moon,” a self-published book released in June that’s half bedtime story and half instructional manual on Levine’s TQ Method, written in both English and Japanese. It’s a proper introduction to the method, which revolves around the premise that “the parent and child need to communicate as equals.” Levine provides questions adults can ask their children as a springboard to having conversations, and even continue throughout the day (as she does with her children).
“One thing (Japanese parents) have told me is that in Japan, reading time is actually a time for being quiet, to help them learn concentration and let them get lost in their imagination,” she says, pointing out many leading Japanese educators argue reading should be a noncommunicative experience. This information stunned Levine, who thought an active dialogue between children and parents was a better approach.
In “My Moon, Your Moon,” each page features multiple questions, ranging from “why do you think the main character is happy” to “what’s your favorite toy?”
“Parents are encouraged to ask their children one teaser question for each of the six pages and carry a conversation with their child,” Levine writes in the book. “There are no correct answers. That is the essential point.” These prompts serve as a jumping off point for deeper conversations.
The story, primarily written by Ashley and illustrated by Yoshiko Sugita, follows a girl named Emily who adores the moon and wants to play with it all by herself, despite making other lunar-loving kids sad in the process.
“The character actually has the same name as my daughter, who also loves the moon,” says Ashley. “Maybe it’s because of the book ‘Goodnight Moon’ or just because she can always see (the moon) outside. She was in the terrible twos at the time — everything was ‘mine,’ she didn’t want to share.”
Ashley had always wanted to write a children’s story, and had actually created picture books both as a hobby and while working as a teacher in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, during his first few years in Japan. Levine knew Ashley would be a good fit when she proposed the idea last summer. The two had known one another for years after working in the same advertising agency.
The illustrator Sugita, based in New York, came to the project by recommendation. “I’ve been doing oil paintings for over 20 years, so (this book) wasn’t quite the same,” Sugita says with a laugh. “Five years ago, I made a postcard featuring a girl, and a lot of people liked that. Someone said I should do a picture book.”
The actual creative process of putting together “My Moon, Your Moon” went relatively smoothly. The challenge came when figuring out how to publish the book. “From the beginning, I didn’t want to work with a publisher,” Levine says. “I knew for a fact they’d be like, ‘Ah, TQ Method? Ask your children questions?’” She didn’t want to compromise on highlighting her teaching approach, and was worried they’d just settle for a bilingual book without additional context. “I would have been tempted, but I didn’t want to do it.”
Instead, Ashley and Levine decided to publish it independently, with Levine taking on the costs and even creating a logo to put on the back (“BB Publishing,” a nod to her YouTube channel). There were hurdles to overcome, such as finding a cooperative printing company. And the entire process ended up a bit pricier than expected — and more time consuming — but eventually, the team behind “My Moon, Your Moon” were happy with the results.
The first run of copies was sold out quickly on Levine’s YouTube channel, but Levine says figuring out what to do next has been tricky. She and Ashley are open to having a publisher handle their creation in the future, or potentially share the data online via a PDF or other file (Levine has already made a video featuring the entirety of the book).
“I’m amazed just how much work there is,” Ashley says of the process Levine went through to get the book created. “She can get it done.”
Levine eventually wants to publish something much longer, authored on her own, geared toward parents focused just on the TQ Method — “the hard part wasn’t writing out the method, but limiting it to only six pages in Japanese,” she says. For now, she hopes that “My Moon, Your Moon” can introduce the core concepts of her approach to Japanese parents.
For more information, visit Aishah Levine’s YouTube channel, Bilingual Baby.