Book Review: Crow Bakery 乌鸦面包店 (Set of 5)

Author/Illustrator: 加古里子 Satoshi Kako
Translated by: 猿渡静子
Country of original publication: Japan
Language: Simplified Chinese
~ Pages per book: 32
~ Lines per page: 2 – 8 (but they’re short)
~ Number of books in series: 5
Pinyin: no
Audio available: Yes, Luka compatible & Ximalaya
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes, in both Chinese and English
Recommended age for the story: 5 – 12
Difficulty in reading: ~1000 characters of knowledge needed
Audience: 5 to 12 years old

What is the Crow Bakery series?

This series has become a new favourite our place! The story centres around the humble beginnings of a mom-and-pop bakery business, opened by two crows in the Spring Forest. When the bakers give birth to four healthy baby chicks (all of different colours!), they care for their babies with lots of love, which comes at cost to their business. Often the bread gets burnt and customers start disappearing.

This set of 5 books follows the progression of the bakery – followed by various other enterprises around the forest – and how the family go about their daily life, through ups and downs. As an adult, I’m also intrigued to follow the story and find out what happens next to this hard-working and ingenious set of birds. At one stage, I was wishing my daughter would read them faster!! It was such an enchanting story. For a foodie family, these are an especially cute set, as there are lots of opportunities to view different bread, pastry, veggie, fruit and noodle creations.

We really love books translated from Japanese in our house – there’s something about the pictures and the stories which are always so unique and endearing, generally with valuable lessons subtly contained. The Crow Bakery book set is no different. The author is indeed a master storyteller. We bought it without blinking an eye, because it had been recommended by a few wonderful bilingual bloggers including Angie at GrowingHearts123. I should have known, since Linxin at My Story Treasury always has amazing books in her collection.

The first book (乌鸦面包店 Crow Bakery) was written in 1973 (but it doesn’t feel at all dated), and the remainder were not published until 40 years later (2013) when the author was a grand old 87. His readers had been urging him to write a sequel, so he finally got around to it, apparently.

The author says he chose to write about crows because there is a Japanese tradition that they bring bad luck, however he wanted to share that these creatures are also very clever and complex, and that we should care more about them and not simply judge based on a baseless superstition.

The booksets are great inspiration for extended creative play too.

Why we think it’s really great….

  • Teaches business concepts, in an enchanting way: A really nice aspect of these books is how it touches entrepreneurial and economic concepts. I have never come across anything even remotely similar to this. Apparently, the author really wanted to educate children on the importance of being resourceful, financially literate, and finding strength in unity, and thus, these themes weave through the narrative. So there’s example of the crows deciding to change pricing and product strategies (such as reducing price to increase sales, or drawing smiley faces on their wares to make them more attractive, and doing customer segmentation by their different buying habits and needs). The stories cover profit from the core, and then branching out into related niche markets (brand extension into pastry, tempura, fruits, veggies, etc). There’s also little nuggets about advertising (word of mouth or better signage? how to advertise their new business to the whole forest?) and responding to customer feedback (how to capture the feedback that the customer’s tell them? why do more customers like buckwheat noodles than the other kinds?), capital investment to improve the business (different payment systems for the crows’ wares, better product displays), and the importance of teamwork (especially within a family business, passed down through the generations). It’s like a mini-MBA syllabus wrapped up into a children’s enchanting story!
  • Appropriate reading level for ~ P1/P2 child to read independently (or younger with an adult help): A really great thing is all the books are readable by a child who knows ~1000 characters, which is a rare find. (For other similar level Chinese books, listed by complexity of characters, please see my earlier post on Chinese bridging books).
  • Narration: it’s also narrated on Luka and Ximalaya (although we haven’t needed to use this backup).
  • It shows growing up and stages of life: in the series, the initial book has the crows as babies, and then the next they are ten year old children helping in a shop, then 20-years and 40-years old with their own flourishing businesses.
  • It’s really relevant to now: Despite being written in the 70s, this book is so timely given the current COVID epidemic where parents are struggling to run businesses/work from home, and raise young children; other businesses are facing closure risks, and social stability is a real challenge. These young crows turn crisis into an opportunity, and I hope that all of us can bring this resilience into our own lives and families.
  • Use of colour:  According to the author, when the first book was originally published in 1973, all the crow babies were black coloured (as most crows naturally are).  However after this Japanese author had lived through another forty years his life, and visited different and varied countries, specially he sites Pakistan, he decided to make every crow a different colour, and celebrate the diversity of animals and people on this planet.  In the more recent books, crows of different colours also marry each other. I like it when an author is humble enough to update something to better reflect an improved appreciation of a situation.

We are certainly looking forward to discovering more books by this talent author!

Titles in the Series

There are five books in the set:

乌鸦面包店 Crow Bakery
乌鸦糕点店 Crow Pastry Shop
乌鸦天妇罗店 Crow Tempura Shop
乌鸦蔬果店 Crow Fruit and Veggie Shop
乌鸦荞麦面店 Crow Soba Noodle Shop

The set also comes with a parents’ guide. The guide is written fully in Chinese, so it’s not a huge help to me, however I did have a go using our Youdao pen to translate it, and picked up some interesting background about the author and other books he has written. I really quite enjoyed this guide too, which comes included with the set.

Crow Bakery Parents’ Guide: it contains background about each story and some helpful teaching points (best for adults who can read Chinese!)

Where to borrow or buy in Singapore?

Thankfully, this book is available in Chinese (and English version) through National Library Board. You can also buy it in Singapore from great children’s Chinese bookstores, including My Story Treasury, which is where we bought our set from.

Luka Compatible?

Yes, all five books can be read on Luka, in Chinese. If you haven’t heard of Luka yet, you really must! No, I don’t earn any commission or have business interests in Luka, but as a non-Chinese heritage parent trying to raise bilingual children, I am smitten with it (and so are my kids). Luka Reading Robot is a clever – and super cute – robot which will read physical picture books aloud to your family. This adorable owl-shaped reading companion can read aloud over 50,000 Chinese books, which is great for families like ours where neither parent speaks Chinese.

If you’re looking for other similar Luka compatible books, see my blog post with a Full list of Luka Compatible Books, sorted by age grouping, which my family has enjoyed.

Photos of the Crow Bakery book sets

Below are a few more snaps from the various Crow Bakery books – it’s enchanting right?

What are other similar books to Crow Bakery?

  • Books by the same author: We will certainly be on the lookout for other books by the Satoshi Kako. Do you have any favourites to recommend to us? There are several translated into Chinese, including Tadpole 101 and The Power of the Earth 加古里子 地球的力量科学绘本 (set of 10). These are next on our reading list. These are written in Japanese, English, and Chinese among other languages.
  • Books at a similar level of Chinese reading: For other similar level Chinese books, listed by complexity of characters, please see my earlier post on Chinese bridging books. In particular, I would suggest 11 Cats or Frog and Toad.
  • Children’s books about bird family adventures: If your child is a real bird lover, I would also recommend the Les P’tites Poules不一样的卡梅拉, which is originally a French series and has been translated into both English and Chinese. We also enjoy Marching penguins set 企鹅机动队套书, which is originally Japanese too.
  • Children’s pictures books of Japanese origin: There are lots of great ones. Other books translated into Simplified Chinese which we have enjoyed a lot are 100 Storey House, and Tyrannosaurus series (and for slightly older children, Butt Detective 屁屁偵探).

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