Children's Literature Alum Brings History into Print

September 14, 2017

Rea Berg

Rea Berg '06MA republishes Mitsumasa Anno's out-of-print books

Rea Berg graduated with a Master’s in Children’s Literature from Simmons in 2006. She is the founder and co-owner of Beautiful Feet Books, providing books to home education and private school markets since 1984. Using literature to foster a love of learning and literacy in young people, Berg has pursued re-publishing historical children’s books that have fallen out of print. Earlier this year she spoke with us about the first U.S. release of Anno’s China by Mitsumasa Anno, originally published in Japan in 2009. 

Could you tell us a little more about the American publication of Anno’s China

In 1983, I founded Beautiful Feet Books, which publishes curriculum for teachers to use literature rather than textbooks for studying history, geography, science, and the humanities. Over 20 years ago I read Mitsumasa Anno's books with my children and remembered our fondness for them, as well as their effectiveness in teaching about literature, architecture, and art. I wanted to use Anno's Spain in a guide for teaching young children about other cultures through picture books, but discovered it was out of print. I contacted Penguin to see about the possibility of bringing that title back into print, but was referred by them to Fukuinkan Publishers in Tokyo, who handle Anno's Journey books. We negotiated a contract to reprint Anno’s Spain in America, during which time they sent me copies of Anno's China and Anno's Denmark.

What drew you to Anno's China and made you want to share the story with an American audience?

I was surprised that no American publisher picked up Anno's China when it was originally published in Japan in 2009. Japan suffered a severe economic recession during that time, and may not have had the resources to get the word out about this remarkable book. Also, the pre-press issues were daunting. Because Anno's China was originally published in Japan, it read from right to left rather than left to right. The entire book had to be reversed for an American audience. That in itself wasn't too problematic, but we also had to reverse Chinese characters in signs and so forth in order for them to read properly in the English edition. Also, a reversed clock no longer reads 4 pm in the afternoon, but reads 8 am and doesn't fit with the scene. Reversing the book was an interesting challenge.

What can you share about the translation process?

I was connected with my translator through a fellow alum while attending the Summer Institute at Simmons in July 2015. Miki Kobayashi had also graduated from the children's literature program, and it seemed another serendipitous connection. Working with Miki has been wonderful. Few people are aware that Anno did fairly comprehensive back matter for each of his books that was never included in the English language editions. Anno's unique voice, his colloquialisms, and his warmth, all come through his writing as effectively as through his art. It has been a joy to include a translation of the original back matter for this edition. Making it read smoothly for an American audience has been challenging, but rewarding. Miki and I generally go through about four or five revisions to get everything right. She is great to work with, and the process has been gratifying for both of us.

How have your studies at Simmons impacted your work?

They gave me such a broad exposure to children's literature that it refined my taste and appreciation. While the children's book publishing industry is just as subject to cultural trends as any other industry that deals with art, I am confident that books that bring truth, beauty, and goodness to children will stand the test of time. Anno's Journey books are based on his belief that, as he states in Anno’s China, "There are differences in people, different styles of housing, social differences, different cultures all over the world. But perhaps what lies at the bottom of the heart of each human being is the same, an inherent value." I believe that when we present beauty to children, they have a very visceral response to it and that response carries through into their adult lives, helping to form who they become. These books contain such a wealth of intellectual stimulation with his subtle representations of figures from literature, scenes from fairy tales and folk tales, scenes from French Impressionists and classic masters, magnificent architecture, and so much more, that they respect the intelligence of the child. That respect is inherent in Anno's work, as he encourages children to explore the wonder of the marvelous world in which we live.

What advice would you give to current students in the Children’s Literature program? 

I would love to see more attention given to the beautiful books of the past. There is a wealth of beautifully written and magnificently illustrated children's books from the past that have sadly fallen out of print. As a researcher constantly looking for the best literature to use to teach children, I am often faced with the frustration that true works of art that are no longer available. I'd love to see many small publishing houses like Beautiful Feet Books spring up to keep these treasures in print. It can be done, and I'd love to see some mentorship programs offered at Simmons to encourage graduates in this direction.

What’s your next project?

In addition to Anno's China, we are under contract with Fukuinkan to bring Anno's Spain, Anno’s Denmark and Anno's Italy into print in America for the first time. These books provide a delightful look into the culture, history, architecture, and art of these countries. In a world where some voices would want to cultivate fear of other countries, customs, and cultures, these Journey books open the minds of children to the beauty and richness of diverse people around the world.  This is an important message to continually cultivate in our children from an early age. Anno does it through the power of beautiful art. To me, that is the best way. 

"All beautiful things encourage a child's sense of wonder—and everything that encourages a child's sense of wonder is beautiful." - Mitsumasa Anno