Summer reading for kids

by Ken Cooney

How many of you Weekender readers think the lovable character Miffy is British? Japanese? That being said (or read), you would probably guess neither. But if not British or Japanese, then where is this cute little bunny from? The Netherlands!

That’s right; Miffy’s original name is Nijntje, meaning little rabbit in Dutch. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce her name be-cause I haven’t the faintest idea, but it does lead me to believe that her name was changed for us English readers to Miffy for a reason!

Created in 1955, by Dutchman Dick Bruna, Miffy has continually garnered international appeal with her cute and simple looks, something of a trademark for all of Dick Bruna’s art. You could consider him a minimalist artist. Here in Japan, Miffy is extremely popular, as she fits in so well with her cuteness as well as with her resemblance to Hello Kitty. She is seen in many stores, sold as dolls, seen on posters, working at Lawson convenience stores, and of course, in her original and best form, in a book (there’s about 30 altogether)!

Miffy books are very special because they have a running theme that Dick Bruna adheres to: Miffy books have one full page of art, opposite a page with four lines of words. The second and fourth lines usually rhyme, making the book a collection of fun little poems with a picture to match. These books are perfect to read to little children, or for having them try to read to you.

See below a simple picture of Miffy and her friends, yet Miffy is the only one with a red dress on, the others wearing blue and looking exactly the same as Miffy and each other. The story starts with Miffy making her way to school and continues with her doing some simple arithmetic, singing in choir, building blocks, dancing, drawing a picture, and finally having a book read to the class by their teacher. Although she is four years old in many stories, she celebrated her 50th anniversary a couple of years ago, making her 52-years-old! And for you Miffy connoisseurs, if you go to Dick Bruno’s hometown of Utrecht, Netherlands, you’ll be able to experience a little square named after her, the Nijntjepleintje and a little museum solely fof Miffy!

The themes in all of Miffy’s books are quite simple, yet have struck a chord with so many people around the world, especially here in Japan. Why? Perhaps, simplicity is truly best, at least in the world of children’s books!