The Smile Shop – Satoshi Kitamura

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Having saved all his money, a boy visits the busy market to see all the sights and sounds…as well as choose something to buy himself for the very first time! After looking at lots of different options, it’s finally time to select an item. Then, disaster strikes. How can he buy something when he now has no money?

To talk about the book even more, we have a guest post from the author, Satoshi Kitamura, who is going to talk to us all about where the idea of the Smile Shop originated, and how it developed into a story.

The Genesis of The Smile Shop

I was 23 years old when I came to UK the first time. I lived in London for almost 30 years but had to return to Japan permanently in 2009. I loved living in London and had many friends but had to leave for family reasons. My book, The Smile Shop, is in a way, my ʻLondon bookʼ. In it I try to recreate my favourite city where people from all over the world live in harmony. 

The market I used to go to fairly regularly was Borough Market near London Bridge Station. It must be one of the biggest food markets in UK. There are so many interesting stalls. I would find exotic things to eat like a purple coloured tomato or dark green juice, a kind of meadow grass extract. It had such a strong, strange taste that it could have turned me into a sheep or cow. Anyway, my fond memory of the market helped me to create the book. 

In the last fifteen years or so I have been invited to book fairs in Latin America many times. At one point I tried to teach myself Spanish although I never got beyond beginnerʼs level. One day I found the word ʻsonrisaʼ in a dictionary. It means ʻsmileʼ and I liked the sound of it. Panaderia means bakery and verduleria is a green grocer, so, I thought if I put ʻ-riaʼ at the end of sonrisa, it would sound like a shop that sells a smile. . . I thought it could be an idea for a book. So, I wrote a story in my basic Spanish. A boy goes to a market and looks round the stalls and shops. . . then, he sees a sign saying ʻSonrisariaʼ. He goes in the shop and asks a man behind the counter if he can buy a sonrisa. The man replies saying a sonrisa is not something you can buy with money, you can only exchange it. The man smiles and so does the boy. 

I wrote the words and added some simple pencil drawings on small pieces of paper. I must have shown it to a few people but soon forgot about it. 

Some years later my wife saw the sketch and thought it was a very good story and told me that I should develop it into a picture book. So, I made a proper rough sketch, this time in English, and showed it to Scallywag Press. They liked it and gave me the go ahead. 

The story itself is quite simple but the process of producing a book can be very complicated and time consuming. I need to draw hundreds of drawings until I find the right style and details. For example, I drew scores of sketches of the standing boy just to decide on the colours for his scarf and jersey. It takes months to finish a book. 

I tried to make the man at the Smile Shop a little like the late James Berry. I met him a couple of times. He was such an interesting person as well as an excellent poet and the coolest looking man Iʼd ever came across. I tried my best, but probably my character does not look as good as Mr. Berry himself. 

All living organisms communicate with each other; even the simplest organisms do and so do plants in their own ways. Birds exchange songs, dogs get messages through smells. Communication is the essential thing in life. We cannot live without it. We humans use words most of the time, but body language is also very important. Occasionally you can smile in a negative fashion: a sarcastic or contemptuous smile is possible, but that is a one-way smile that you cannot share. When you exchange a genuine smile with other person, it is a show of good will as well as equality. When you share a smile with someone you are both equal. A smile might be the finest asset we possess – like kindness. 

THE SMILE SHOP by Satoshi Kitamura out now in hardback (£12.99, Scallywag Press)

This is a gorgeously written and illustrated book which will inspire kindness within the reader, showing them how a simple smile can change the world around them.

Like the sound of this book? Buy it here:

Emily x

📚 Book gifted by the publisher

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