Aug 31, 2020

The International Day of the Girl


The International Day of the Girl

Written by: Jessica Dee Humphreys and Rona Ambrose

Illustrated by: Simone Shin

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2020

Ages: 8+

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Since 2012, October 11 has been the International Day of the Girl. 

Humphreys and Ambrose take us around the world to meet 9 fictionalized girls who are empowering themselves and making strides for themselves and their communities. We meet Flora in Brazil, Abuya in Kenya, and Zarah who is from Syria but now lives in a refugee camp. 

Each of these girls comes up with a solution to a problem faced by many girls worldwide, from lack of accessible areas for disabled people like Lilliya in Russia, or Sokanon whose community in northern Canada has been denied the basic right to clean water.

All of these girls are inspirational for their work in their communities, but it is us the reader who needs to take action and ensure that governments and other organizations lift the barriers that girls face all over the world.

The illustrations are amazing and add so much context to the stories. Simone Shin is really great at portraying diverse characters and adding much to the backgrounds in a really nice way.

There is a story about a garden at the beginning and end of the book that is supposed to be a metaphor but my Grade 5 daughter didn't really get it- she wanted to know why if it was a metaphor that we weren't talking about the systems that denied water and care to half of the garden. I'll take that as a win for my daughter in understanding, but the book would be better just talking about the girls themselves.

We are looking forward to celebrating the International Day of the Girl this October, and I hope we can make a mark in our communities the way these girls did.

Aug 24, 2020

This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias


This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias

Written by: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Illustrated by: Drew Shannon

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2020

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is an absolute must-read for middle grade readers and should be for adults as well. The author gives evidence-based reasoning for why stereotypes happen, how they happen even if we don’t want them to happen, what the consequences are, and even how to overcome them.

My kids found the entire book fascinating- great illustrations and really compelling writing. We’ve had a number of conversations about the subjects that it brought up. One of the most fascinating parts is how people know to
say that they aren’t bigots, but those words don’t always show themselves in actions, such as in the “ Ralph's Garage” experiment presented by Kyi. Callers were less likely to help someone whom they perceived to be Black over the
phone. Measuring actual bigotry in this manner is going to be more accurate than just asking someone if they have bigoted thoughts.

Kyi’s book introduced my kids and I to “stereotype threat.” This is when people feel that they may be conforming to stereotypes of their group or a group they are perceived to be members of. It was easy for me to point out
behaviours of my son, who is perceived as a minority in Japan, that may stem from stereotype threat from children and adults with whom he interacts. But what is amazing is that my kids were able to point out some of my behaviours
that may be related to stereotype threat. As a very visible foreign resident of Japan, I am aware that there are more eyes on me than on my Japanese neighbours, and I try very hard not to live up to bad stereotypes. My kids told me I am much stricter about trash division than any of their Japanese friends’ moms, because I have had the unenviable experience of being blamed for someone else’s trash going out on the wrong day or the wrong bin.

These stereotypes, however, have much more serious consequences than neighbours leaving a bag of unwashed fish cans on a doorstep. They lead to systemic racism, eugenics, and even genocide. Kyi makes us understand the
why and how of stereotypes, but also leaves us with some ways to improve things, and examples of people who have spoken up.

This book would make an excellent addition to any curriculum, and I hope it is used widely in schools and the community. It’s the book we need, and I wish I’d had when I was in junior high.

I’m just glad I read it now. 

Aug 17, 2020

50 Maps of the World

50 Maps of the World

Written by: Ben Handicott and Kalya Ryan

Illustrated by: Sol Linero

Published by: Wide Eyed Editions

Published on: September 1, 2020

Ages: 7+

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

We loooove maps in our family. Both my kids learned to iron on paper maps they wanted to frame. My son is a geography enthusiast who can name almost any pro league soccer stadium in the world. This book absolutely calls to us.

The book is laid out well with lots of information on slightly modified maps. It introduces people of note, moments to remember, and spotlights certain areas of each map.

There are so many things to love! Lots of women included in the people of note, so many interesting tidbits. We all have gained new places we want to go when the pandemic is over, like the lava fields of Yatta Plateau in Kenya, or Isla del Sol in Bolivia.

For younger audience members who might be having this read aloud to them there is a search and find legend at the back of the book. I can't imagine any child who isn't going to want to search for Poopoo Land. All of the illustrations are endearing.

We had a couple of issues with the book, however. One is that my kids have struggled with upper and lower case letters, since this doesn't exist in Japanese. Some of the fonts in this book are stylized to mix the upper and lower case letters, on the letters i and l among others, which can confuse beginning or ESL readers. 

Another issue is that I noticed at least one inaccuracy. It says of Fukuoka Castle that "visitors come in droves to see the cherry blossoms from up high in the crumbling turret." In actuality the turret that is pictured is on one of the lower levels of the castle walls, and the cherry blossom views are from the ramparts. Also, nothing about the castle is crumbling, the walls are in amazing condition as well as the buildings that are still there. This is just a little thing, and understandable as I'm sure they couldn't have visited every place on these 50 maps, but it makes us wonder what else may be inaccurate in the book.

The good parts of this book will stick with us for a long time as we dream of traveling, so we give it 4 out of 5 dumplings.

Aug 15, 2020

Raj's Rule (For the Bathroom at School)

Raj's Rule (For the Bathroom at School)

Written by: Lana Button 

Illustrated by: Hatem Aly

Published by: OwlKids Books

Published on: August 15, 2020

Ages: 4+

I got to watch the launch for this book today and it was sooo fun. The author has such great energy, and I was super excited for Raj's book, so I was thrilled that it exceeded my already high expectations.

What do kids love almost universally? Rhyming books and bathroom stuff! This book has both. This is a perfect read-aloud.

Raj likes his bathroom at home and doesn't want to try the one at school, so he makes up his own rules on how to get out of going to the bathroom at school. He gets pretty creative, and is good at sticking to it, until one day the unthinkable happens and he has to face what he dreads. Will it be better that expected? Get a copy to find out!

As Lana mentioned in the fantastic book launch, a lot of kids are going to have some anxieties about returning to schools and daycares after a long time away, and watching Raj take control and then face his fear are going to give some readers confidence, I hope.

I really enjoyed the illustrations as well. The classrooms had lots of diversity, and there's was no big deal made about it. I love it when we normalize all kinds of people. This was my first time to experience a book from Lana Button or from Hatem Aly, and I am going to be on the lookout for more.

Since it's book launch day, you can get a signed copy from A Different Drummer Books in Ontario.

5 out of 5 dumplings

Aug 14, 2020

The Story of Grace

 The Story of Grace

Written by: Donna Masotti

Illustrated by: Karine Makartichan

Published by: Canoe Tree Press

Published on: September 1, 2020

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review was updated on August 31, 2020 to reflect a different and correct version of the book.

This is the wordless story of a little kid whose father struggles with addiction. The addiction is portrayed as a scary monster who takes over her father, but the love he has for her is evident as well. 

Books can be such great supports and learning tools for kids going through scary things. There are books for grief, loneliness, anxiety, and other important themes. Addiction is definitely something kids need support for, and reading a book like this could make them feel less alone.

Using the monster for addiction is excellent and easy to understand. It could even work for mental illness for a parent. But there is a risk to that - that kids don't get extra support after being confronted with something like this that is scary. I would recommend it be read together with someone who can provide trauma-informed support, otherwise it could make a situation more difficult.

4 out of 5 dumplings

Aug 13, 2020

Ojiichan’s Gift

Ojiichan’s Gift

Written and Illustrated by: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Genevieve Simms

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: April 2, 2019

Ages: 4+

Like many kids from immigrant and international families, including my own, Mayumi spends her summers in a different country from her own, with her beloved grandparent.

Mayumi and her grandfather have a special bond, forged over labour in his garden. They have weeded together, pruned together, and raked together, and produced a gorgeous garden where they relax and eat rice ball lunches. Until one day when things change, and Mayumi isn't going to be able to do this with her grandfather (Ojiichan) anymore.

This is an especially applicable story during the pandemic, when many children and even adults have a hard time with big changes, and not being able to do the things they loved anymore, and not being able to meet with loved ones overseas. Mayumi's frustration as she plops down in the middle of the garden with her hand on her face is something I would venture to say all of us have felt at least once this year. 

Genevieve Simms does and excellent job with the illustrations. I have been to many, many Japanese gardens and she really does their beauty justice. The rocks that symbolize a turtle and a mountain are really similar to those I have seen in Japanese gardens in Kyoto and Chiran, Kagoshima.

Mayumi finds a creative way to bring the garden and memories of time with her grandfather into her everyday life. Now it's a challenge for us to do that as well for all the activities and people we are missing. Uegaki's well-crafted story can help us do that.

Jul 1, 2020

I Am Canada: A Celebration

I Am Canada: A Celebration

Written and Illustrated by: Heather Patterson

Illustrated by: Eva Campbell

Published by: North Winds Press

Published on: June 1, 2017

Ages: 4+

Happy Canada Day! 

Today we are celebrating with a very special picture book. Heather Patterson's previously published free verse about the diversity of Canada has been paired with art by some of Canada's best children's illustrators. It is truly a joy to look through and see diversity of landscape, children, and types of art. 

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my love for Qin Leng, Ashley Spires, and Ruth Ohi. Their visions of Canada do not disappoint here either. I love that I can pick out a favorite illustrator's work just by seeing two pages of their work. I can immediately tell Barbara Reid's work with plasticine- we all felt the page after seeing what amazing snow texture she brought to life.

Some illustrators I am unfamiliar with but will be checking out more of their work in future. 

This year's Canada Day was harder than most because I am homesick and don't know when we can get home next, but this book put a smile back on my face. I won't wait until next Canada Day to read it again!

We also read the French version of this book, Le Canada C'est Moi. It was so fun to compare and contrast between the two versions.