Why should a picture of a misshapen person, eye, heart and ear make you remember Kanji #549 "Listen"? Or one man beating another with a stick, Kanji #400, "Industrious?" For the same reason King Philip Came Over For Good Sax*, I suppose - who knows why and how mnemonics work, but in this cleverly (sometimes, fiendishly so) illustrated volume, Michael Rowley provides memorable mind-helpers for those learning Kanji, or just simply fascinated with the development of this writing system borrowed from the Chinese.
The book aggregates kanji into thematic groups, determined by the radical, or root element, of each kanji, and makes for much easier comprehension than standard elementary Kanji texts. Each kanji is presented with its Japanese and Chinese reading (very, very roughly speaking, similar to the way we have the Germanic "sweat" and Latinate "perspire" to mean the same thing), a brainy icon system for indicating which part of the kanji comes from which other character, and a mnemonic.
Rowley uses bold, strong graphic elements, and those lovable faceless "people-oids" you remember from 1970s government-issued pamphlets to illustrate the meaning, along with those odd quirks of literature - the mnemonic ("Our rice products earn a pile of money" or "the prisoner's hands are bound with thread"). Distinctive, odd, and, yes, MEMORABLE.
This charming book is good for curious teens, the diligent Nihongo-phile, or the dedicate sensei's toolkit.
(p.s. My favorite Kanji is #96, "Snow")
* The classic mnemonic from biology for recalling Linnaean taxonomy: "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species."