Do you know すみっコぐらし or すみっコ for short? They are cute characters designed by San-X (who also designed the famous リラックマ).
As I love those characters, I decided to read this book, which contains two short stories that feature the すみっコ. It’s a book for children (primary school) but, even if it contains some illustrations, it looks more like a novel than an illustrated book. I bought it mainly to have something easy to read in Japanese, but I must admit that I enjoy reading it for the story, too.
The book has 119 pages, and even if it looks like a novel, there is a lot of blank space between each line, so it is quite short.
The two stories each features a primary school girl who meets the Sumikko when they decide to settle in her room. The first story deals with loneliness and solitude and depicts the difference between being alone because one wants to, and being alone because one is ignored by others. I found a lot of interest in this story.
The second story is about shyness and the difficulty to express one’s feelings.
The characters Sumikko are all more or less negative, being either extremely shy like the cat ねこ or lacking self-confidence like ペンギン？ who is not even sure to be a penguin. The white bear しろくま is so sensitive to the cold that it had to leave its home country, the North Pole. Finally, とんかつ is just the remaining last end of a fried pork cutlet, left over because it contains a lot of fat and almost no meat. In the first story, it hangs around with エビフライのしっぽ, the remaining tail of a fried shrimp, left over, too.
As we can see through these stories, the Sumikko tend to sympathise with people who like to sit in the corner and remain unnoticed or people who suffer from shyness and lack self-confidence.
For Japanese learners
When one learns a language, a natural move is to start reading books for children. Talking from my own experience, I think that books for very young children are not a good choice. They often talk about animals, traditional stories, fairy tales, contain a lot of onomatopoeias and are overall quite difficult to read.
On the contrary, books aiming at primary school children, that is, easy and short novels, are often a good choice. You do have to know a lot of grammar, at least all N4 grammar and most probably N3 grammar, too, but the vocabulary will be reduced, and the furigana may even be written, as it is the case in this book. If you choose a story that deals with everyday life, school, friends, family and so on, you should not be out of your depth.
In this book, the vocabulary is easy, and even if you don’t understand everything, you still can guess what happens and what will happen next. It is definitely a good choice if you are around N3 level and are looking for something substantial but accessible. Contrary to a manga, you will have narrative parts, so it’s a good way to start reading novels.
About this book: すみっコぐらし～ストーリーズ、ひみつのすみっコ生活（ぐらし）はじめました、著：せきちさと、イラスト：サンエックス、出版：小学館、2015