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Issun-Bōshi, the One-Inch Boy, a Japanese Fairy Tale

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

I is for Issun-boshi, the One-inch boy, a fairy tale from Japan

I is for Issun-boshi, the One-inch boy, a fairy tale from Japan

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.

Global Fairytales

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.

Value sketch

Value sketch

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.

Rough Color Composition

Rough Color Composition

Collage Illustrations

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.

My published book cover

My published book cover

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.

Finished Illustration in collage

Finished Illustration in collage

Final Thoughts

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.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 04, 2020:

Peggy Woods,

Isn't it cool how many fairy tales from around the world have similar themes. This one-inch boy sounds a lot like Tom Thumb, doesn't he?

Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 03, 2020:

I am absolutely loving these stories from around the world, and getting to view how you illustrate each one.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Liz Westwood,

I'm so glad you approve. This book has been a real challenge and a real joy for me. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

William Kovacic,

I'm so happy you think any child would love it. I do hope so. I gave one to my grandchildren and they haven't said anything about it yet. I hope they like it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

I guess I never grew up, or maybe like Sophia Loren I'm trying to defeat age through my creativity. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Marie Flint,

I am tickled that you get a lot out of my efforts to entertain children. I loved this story too. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

DreamerMeg,

Is the ending new? I thought it an age-old ending typical of many like it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Devika Primić,

I'm so happy you think so. I worked to make them the best I could and entertaining to children. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Bill Holland,

I'm never weary of hearing you say it and maybe someday I'll actually believe it all. I covet your good wishes and reviews though. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

Lorna Lamon

Thanks so much, Lorna. I thought it was similar to Tom Thumb too. It would be interesting to see which story came first. I'm glad you think it will make a good addition to the alphabet book. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Liz Westwood from UK on February 16, 2020:

I really appreciate the way that you are drawing together a collection of stories from all over the world. I have never heard of this one before. Once again your illustrations are great.xx

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on February 16, 2020:

Quite impressive, Denise. The artwork is great, and the idea behind the book is wonderful, too. Any child would love it!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Your illustrations are lovely and the fairy tale is interesting, as in all the articles in this series. Like Marie, I love the Sophia Loren quote.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on February 14, 2020:

I love the quote by Sophia Loren and found the variation of the video story interesting. I rather like the ending in your version.

These are just so fun, Denise, that I make sure to check your posts whenever they come into my email from HubPages.

Blessings, Lady, and keep on!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 14, 2020:

Another fairy story I haven't seen previously. Love the ending on that, where he gets to marry the princess. That's new!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 14, 2020:

Your stories are impressive and illustrations are interesting and so creative.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 14, 2020:

I have grown weary of telling you how talented you are. Are you weary of hearing it? :)

Blessings my friend

bill

Lorna Lamon on February 14, 2020:

I love Japanese tales as they seem to retain a lovely sense of innocence. It does remind me of the story of 'Tom Thumb' however, it is equally charming with a lovely romantic ending. Another wonderful addition to the alphabet book Denise.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 13, 2020:

Eric Dierker,

I love happy endings too. It is the romantic in me. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 13, 2020:

Umesh Chandra Bhatt,

I think so too. I was very amused when I found this story. I had to shorten it because it was much longer in the original with lots of adventures for the boy. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 13, 2020:

Fun tale indeed. I love happy endings. great artwork.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 13, 2020:

It is good that you have started including stories from all over the world and that will enrich the kitty you have. This one is an intetesting fairy tale which would definitely amuse the children as well as grown ups equally.