Ellen Baker expands her (New) horizons.

Just like in many other countries, elementary and junior high school textbooks in Japan often feature illustrated characters. This being Japan, though, those characters often incorporate design cues from anime and manga art trends, with the prime example being Ellen Baker.

Ellen-sensei, to use the form of address fans do, burst on to the pop culture scene a few years ago as part of publisher Tokyo Shoseki’s update to its New Horizon English-learning textbook for Japanese schoolkids. The character’s charmingly friendly artwork, couples with an enthusiastic love of baseball, earned her attention and adoration even from those who weren’t using the New Horizon text, including fans who were done with school entirely.

Later, Tokyo Shoseki broadened Ellen-sensei’s role, featuring her in separate texts for subjects such as science and social studies. Now she’s branching out even further and will be a starring character in a non-textbook Japanese-language novel, the cover illustration for which is shown below.

The book follows light novel naming conventions with a lengthy title: New Horizon Youth White Paper Unit 1: Before the Start of the New Semester…, or New Horizon Seishin Hakusho Unit 1: Shingakki ga Hajimaru Mae ni in Japanese (which fans will likely condense to something like “Nyuseihaku” if it takes off). The 224-page novel, written by Kyusaku Honda and illustrated by mononymic artist Kana, is broken into chapters, with the first, “Ellen-sensei’s Dilemma,” described by Tokyo Shoseki with:

“I can’t teach English at school anymore?” As a new semester approaches, Ellen-sensei was grappling with a dilemma…”

Other chapters introduce Daichi Tamura, a Japanese boy whose father runs a restaurant with an international clientele, Sophia Jones, an Australian girl who’s recently moved to Japan due to her mother’s work as a researcher, Shunpei Mikami, a teaching coworker of Ellen’s, and Michiko Daidoji, the school principle.

To reiterate, New Horizon Youth White Paper Unit 1: Before the Start of the New Semester… isn’t a textbook or English-learning teaching aid. It’s a written-in-Japanese novel featuring characters and settings from the New Horizon textbook, which is itself getting a new revision this spring. The novel is part of Tokyo Shoseki’s “New Horizon Project,” in which it aims to expand the New Horizon cast to media for use outside the classroom/study desk.

That’s not to say there isn’t any potential educational benefit to the New Horizon novel, though, as it in a sense it makes the textbook’s conversations a type of additional content for the novel’s characters, and thus more intriguing, and easier to remember, for those who’ve enjoyed reading the novel.

The “Unit 1” part of the title suggests that if all goes well, there’s going to be more than just a single New Horizon, but for now the first one comes out April 22, priced at 1,100 yen (US$7.60) and available online though Amazon Japan here.

Source: PR Times, Tokyo Shoseki
Images: PR Times
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