Late writer's husband donates 'Miki Mongoose' software to Okinawa schools
By CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2004
NAHA, Okinawa — Miki, the charming star of the Okinawa-born children’s book series “Miki Mongoose,” has set out on a new adventure with a special mission — to help Okinawan children learn English.
William Clemente, a retired Marine officer and husband of the author and illustrator of the book series, the late Kathryn Clemente, recently donated 286 copies of the software “Miki’s Phonics Adventure” to the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education.
The software program helps Japanese children learn English while playing games with guidance from Miki and other characters from the three-book series.
“The future of the world is the children. We must all do what we can to help the children,” William Clemente said during a presentation ceremony held last Monday at the prefectural government office in Naha.
“Miki Mongoose brings all of the children on Okinawa together in unity, peace and understanding of each other,” he said.
Kathryn Clemente created the first Miki book in 1995, after anti-base sentiment on Okinawa rose to a fever pitch in the wake of the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen.
In the first book, “A Great Adventure of Miki Mongoose,” Miki becomes friends with Hiro, a young Habu snake. The author chose a mongoose and a Habu, two antagonistic creatures, as main characters to show how they could become friends by learning to understand each other.
The books, written in both English and Japanese, were dedicated to American and Okinawan children who live on the island.
“May your future bring unity, peace and understanding of one another,” the dedication in the first book states.
At the end of each book, the reader is introduced to Okinawa’s historical sites, such as Shuri Castle, Futenma Shrine and Nakagusuku Castle, and nature and wildlife of Okinawa.
Two years ago, William Clemente, who stayed on Okinawa after his retirement from the service in 1998, learned through a conversation with members of the Okinawa prefecture’s board of education that securing sufficient numbers of native English-speaking teachers was difficult and the schools were in need of Japanese-English textbooks.
Japan is in the midst of preparations to introduce English education, which currently begins in middle school, at the elementary-school level to respond to a rapidly globalizing society.
On Okinawa, the cities of Naha, Urasoe and Ginowan already have started to teach English to all elementary school students, according to an official of the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education’s Compulsory Education Department.
Clemente, now a manager of a computer firm, came up with the Miki Mongoose computer program to help aid English instruction even with the shortage of teachers and textbooks.
“To help support the board in this challenge, we have spent the past two years developing ‘Miki’s Phonics Adventure’ software in native English,” he said, noting that the software is not just educational.
“It is also fun to play,” he said.
The game was displayed on a projector screen during last week’s presentation.
Akira Yamauchi, superintendent of the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, clicked a computer mouse set up by the software’s chief designer, Julian Bryant, and up popped a cartoon character, Alligator/Wani, who spoke his name in English and Japanese.
Yamauchi clicked on an “A” to match the first letter of the name of the character on the screen. Then a fish character who said “Fish/Sakana” appeared, and Yamauchi clicked on an “F.”
After a few moments he declared, “I am almost addicted to this game.” He reluctantly put the mouse aside.
“I am impressed to see that the program is focused on the phonetic aspects of the words, the weakest area for Japanese teachers,” he said, thanking Clemente for his gift to Okinawan children. “I can see that the program was carefully designed.”
Yamauchi, who had known Kathryn Clemente, said the heartwarming stories were possible only because of the author’s “loving thoughts” for Okinawa and children of the two countries.
“The beautifully written stories and illustrations instantly capture the hearts of all readers,” he said. “She deeply touched the heart of each one of us.”
William Clemente answered: “We are part of the community and we want to contribute to make it better.”
Before Kathryn Clemente could finish a fourth book in the Miki Mongoose series, she died of cancer. In 2002, her husband donated 286 copies of each book to prefectural elementary school libraries.
The books are sold at Army and Air Force Exchange Service bookstores on Okinawa as well as such off-base bookstores as Uezu Bookstore, Tsutaya Book Store, Book Box and the Tuttle Bookstore.
The books also can be purchased via Internet at www.mikimongoose.com.