Howdy howdy howdy folks! So this week I have something a little different for you. Typically when I’m showing off my favorite vintage children’s books, I like to pick the ones that have the most fabulous illustrations. Our book today, while fabulous, has NO illustrations. Instead, it has PUPPETs.
Back in the early 1960s, legendary Japanese stop-motion film animatorÂ Kihachiro Kawamoto started a company called Shiba Productions. In addition to making extraordinary films, he produced a wonderful series of storybooks with his friend Tadasu Izawa. What made them so unique was that the tales were actually “illustrated” with doll-like puppets. In the late 60s Tadasu Izawa and Shigemi Hijikata took over production of the story books.
While most of the books were fairytales, there were a handful that were not. This is one of them. It’s called A Rocket Trip to the Moon,Â and was written by Geraldine Russell in 1970. The amazing “pictures” are of course by Shiba Productions.
It is the story of five daring astronauts and their dog Astro, who (surprise surprise!) take a rocket trip to the moon. I think you’ll love it!
Um….the crew drank chocolate milk shakes from squeeze bottles??? Aw yeah! It’s quite possibly the cutest space ship ever. And what is that, a juke box up there in the control room??? I love this book.
Hurray! Splash-down! Nothing beats a dog in a space suit. The Shiba books are so very charming. This one reminds me of that British TV show in the 60s, Thunderbirds. The other stories feature “puppets” that are a little more childlike, and usually feature a lenticular cover (aka a great scratchy-3D photo!). Here’s a little peek at one that has that sweeter style to it:
You’ll notice that these are called Puppet Storybooks and there is a specific reason for this! In a 2004 interview, creator Kihachiro Kawamoto explained:
“Dolls are children’s toys, or things you dress up and display. Puppets, or marionettes, are things that act. This is a crucial difference. There’s no such thing as doll animation.
When I started, I was making dolls. I started making puppets at around the age of 25. At this age I met Tadasu Iizawa, and we formed a group making puppet storybooks, illustrated books featuring puppets. Even though these were really dolls, I call them puppets because they were actors within the books.”
I love that. These books have become quite collectible and I’m fortunate to have a small stash of them. One of the most popular is The Little Mermaid, from 1966. (Alas, I don’t own that one!)
You can still find them on eBay. If you’re on the hunt, look for Shiba Productions, T.Izawa (as he was the art director behind most of them). There is also a selection of these books published under the name Rose Art Studios. I believe they were a rival studio but I couldn’t find much information on them! I hope you love these little puppets as much as I do….next week we’ll be back to more classic mid-century illustrations, but I think I’ll be showing off some more Puppet books in the not-so-distance future. Now if you’ll excuse me I suddenly have a craving for a chocolate milk shake.