Books were always close to me, even before I could read.
– Sumika Saito
A Little Blue is a children’s picture book originally designed for reluctant readers but it has proven to have a much wider appeal. Its creation was a labour of love which began in 2006 as a paper toward a Diploma in Children’s Literature. The module was ‘Write and Illustrate a Children’s Picture Book’. At the time I was living in a small cottage on the Coast Road, just north of Fox River. Moving from a fast-paced life, working in the film industry in Auckland, to the West Coast was like stepping back in time. I discovered a world of natural wonder.
It was easy to fall in love with the unique environment and wanted to share this discovery with children through a story. The location was the West Coast, the characters were fictional. The illustrations had to tell a large part of the story so it was important that I illustrated the story myself.
I submitted a proposal to several publishers with no success, and it sat on the shelf for many years.
In 2020 I self-published A Little Blue. The first print run of 1300 books sold out in four months; a second print run arrived in February 2021.
Then, in January 2021 received an email from Sumika Saito, 27 years old and visiting from Japan, working and travelling in New Zealand. She was at The Wilderness Gallery in Hokitika and had just read A Little Blue. She was deeply moved by the story and wanted to translate the story into Japanese so Japanese children could read it. Sumika visited me in Charleston in the South Island, where I was living at the time. The house, at the mouth of the Waitakere/Nile River, happened to be next to a colony of kororā / little blue penguins.
Sumika stayed for several days, and met the penguins. We discussed the story and some of the subtleties in
the text that wouldn’t translate so well. We discussed how she’d bring this to a Japanese audience and why she was passionate about it.
Our Japanese book designer is Hiroe Kerr.
Excerpts in English and Japanese
A small blue penguin speaks across oceans: translator’s note
Books were always close to me, even before I could read. I remember my parents reading picture books every night to me. As I grew up, books and I got closer and closer. They gave me tips to live, helped me to understand things, even my own feelings, or sometimes, a whole new world that I’d never even imagined. I always wanted to do something that would allow me to stay close to those stories.
A Little Blue is one of those books. When I found this book at WILDERNESS GALLERY in Hokitika two years ago, it offered the next step in my life. As soon as I finished reading the story, I knew what to do next. I walked up to the cashier with A Little Blue in my hand and on the same day I emailed Jeanette, the author.
While I was reading the story, I was Simmy. I was living 10,000km away from home, I kept encountering this new world, feeling lonely or loved, happy or sad, and missing home. In the meantime, I could not stop exploring this beautiful country.
Meeting strangers can be awkward, although meeting Jeanette was not. It was so natural. She invited me into her house then we started talking about the story, penguins and life. I told her that I want Japanese kids to meet the penguins, Simmy, and New Zealand. I wanted them to be interested in life outside of Japan as well as inside. This can give courage to those people, kids or adults, who are struggling or trying to fit in somewhere far away from home. Even though we did not know much about publishing overseas, we started our journey anyway.