Issun-Bōshi, the One-Inch Boy, a Japanese Fairy Tale
My Children’s Alphabet Book
As a background for this story, I have to tell how it all began. If you an old friend, you probably know I’ve written and illustrated a children’s alphabet book using fairy tales and folk tales from around the world as prompts for the letters of the alphabet. Some years ago I started it as a thesis project for my illustration degree. The whole project transformed and morphed many times before I was done. Now I am planning another book series with several more folktales and fairytales from around the world for each letter of the alphabet.
After doing R is for Red Riding Hood and J is for Jack in the Beanstalk, I thought I was going to have trouble finding fairy tales for all 26 letters if I stuck to the typical English and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. And that’s when it hit me to be more global. Why not research fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world? This added to my work but in the end, it became very satisfying. This is similar to Tom Thumb that I heard as a child but with different problems and twists. I love finding that so many stories are universal and told slightly differently all over the world.
Issun-bōshi, the One-inch Boy, A Fairy Tale from Japan
Long ago in Japan, an elderly childless couple lived alone. The old woman wished for a child even in her old age. She began wishing for a child, no matter how small. Eventually, a child was born to them but was only the size of a man’s fingertip. They named to boy Issun-bōshi. Issun is the measure of about 3 centimeters or an inch, and bōshi means son.
The boy realizes he will never grow, so he goes on a trip to seek his fortune. Although he was small he fancied himself a mini samurai. His mother gave him a sewing needle for a sword, a soup bowl for a boat, and chopsticks for oars.
He sailed downriver to the city and finds a job working for a wealthy daimyo (or a feudal lord with great landholdings) whose daughter is a beautiful princess. They did not believe he could do any job but hired him to be a playmate for the princess.
One day the princess was attacked by an oni (or a demon or ogre), who got rid of Issuni-bōshi by swallowing him. However, the oni did not count on the boy’s “sword.” He began stabbing the oni in the mouth and throat with his sewing needle until the Oni spit him out and dropped his magical Uchide’s Mallet (a mallet used to grant wishes) before running away.
As a reward for his bravery, the princess used the power of the mallet to grow him to full size. The princess then married him.
I didn’t want my book to be just one more “A is for Apple” alphabet book and since I love fairy tales, why not use them instead? After deciding that I was told I should use my collage method instead of the usual watercolor illustrations that I had originally desired. The collage took much longer but in the end, it made for a very unique book.
I hope you enjoy my process here showing the start with thumbnail sketches, then value sketch, color composition and finally, the collage. I added more color by using thread and buttons in the illustration. The mouse isn’t really a feature of the story but it helped with portraying the boy’s size.
There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.— Sophia Loren
Published with Lulu
This fairy tale has been shortened to fit into my book along with all the other letters of the alphabet. If you would like to read the full version, you can Google the title and find several versions of Issun Boshi or the One-inch Boy.
My book, The FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World, was self-published last year with Lulu.com because Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) refused to allow illustrations that spanned the central gutter of the page. They demanded at least a half-inch margin around the outside, which I could have done, and a half-inch margin through the center margin, which would destroy the look and cohesiveness of the double-page illustrations. I had to find a different publisher who would allow the illustrations the way I wanted them. KDP obviously does not understand illustrated children’s picture books.
I hope you like my story and my fairy tale alphabet book idea. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.