Dec 21, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

What have you got open at the moment? A Christmas classic?

My kids and I have been reading some good holiday books, including The Bear That Father Christmas Forgot.

I'm into the Iron Fey series, by Julie Kagawa. I devoured the first 5 (3 full books and two bridge books) but the last one is slow going. It's not at all that it's bad, it's not, but the narrator has changed and it's taking me some time to get back into it from that point of view. Also, I want the girl to be with the other guy. I have that problem a lot. It happened with The Hunger Games too, I'm cheering for the guy the girl doesn't want. I also hate when there is a picture of a character on the front. The reason I like books more than movies is that I can imagine these people! I'm probably alone in this however, so many books have characters on the cover.

Not sure what I'll open after this one is done so give me ideas!

Dec 19, 2011

Short Story Monday: Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket

It truly is the most wonderful and rushed time of the year. Like many of you, I am rushed around trying to get everything done to make the most perfect Christmas experience. December is a busy month, and I personally feel like I don't get much time to sit and think.

What if, when traveling to a family member's house for Christmas, you were stuck on a plane or train or bus with perfect strangers? Would you sit and read your Kindle until the battery burned out? Would you plug your ears with music and keep from making eye contact? Or would you make conversation with those around you? Would you do your utmost to band together to give them Christmas joy even with strangers?

I'd probably be the one with my nose buried in a bunch of books, to be honest! But I love that the title character of this LM Montgomery book, Aunt Cyrilla, is not.

I read Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket, by LM Montgomery, for Short Story Monday. When traveling with her niece. Lucy Rose, for Christmas at a relative's, Aunt Cyrilla's train is stopped due to bad weather. A motley cast is stuck with her, including a soldier, a rich woman, a young mother and her kids, and a thin minister. Aunt Cyrilla is prepared for her visit to relatives and is able to provide a Christmas feast despite the unexpected occurrence. They give away what they have to make a happy day for all. And the impromptu concert keeps their spirits high.

This story is a great reminder of why we go to so much trouble to feed and entertain people at Christmas- it is truly a joy to give of yourself to bring others happiness. I'll try not to forget that lesson during the hustle and bustle this season.

Dec 17, 2011

Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know

You know how kids go through a phase where they want to impart every bit of knowledge they have? Even if they only gained that knowledge five seconds previously? My kids are going through that phase. I'm still in that phase, come to think of it (why else would I have a blog dedicated to telling you what to read?)

This tendency can be helpful or can veer over into bossy. This is a hard line to walk, I know! Japanese schools are really good at getting older kids to help younger kids out. As soon as kids go up a grade there are younger ones they need to guide around a new school, or help with a particularly difficult kanji, or to show how to ride a unicycle. I, however, have generally been on the bossy side. Sorry little brother.

Dogs Don't Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (CAN, JP, US) by Sarah Tsiang and illustrated by Qin Leng and published by Annick Press, features an older sibling on the nice side of helpful. I think all that humour helps too.

This is the guide an older sister presents to her new baby brother. She takes him through all the things she knows, right from the start, such as eating, communicating, and managing parents in the middle of the night. She then takes Little Bro up to her own age, and shows him skills such as zippers and caring for their pet that she has just recently gotten the hang of. Big Sis makes it clear where her knowledge comes from, pure trial and error, like when learning to pour a certain amount into a smaller cup.

I have written about Qin Leng's illustrations before, when I featured her short story, Down at the Beach. Her illustrations continue to draw me in (whomp-whomp). I love these tiny faces and joy-infused limbs of her characters.

I love that this book shows the siblings working together, and that the older sibling doesn't seem put off by a new addition at all. This is a message I want my kids to understand- but the most important thing they both learned from it was that no matter how mad their father and I get at them, we still love them.

I loved this book enough that I nominated it for the Cybils in the Fiction Picture Book category. The first round short lists will be announced on Jan. 1, and I really hope this book is on that list!

This is the 19th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Dec 10, 2011

My Name is Elizabeth!

I specifically chose both of my kids' names because they lend themselves to nicknames. My daughter loves her nicknames, and generally introduces herself differently every time. My son, however, only likes his given name, and tolerates being called Spinky. He hates all the other nicknames we give him. This may prove a problem when he's a J-League soccer player and the fans want to make up songs using various nicknames, but until then we'll deal.

Just like Elizabeth's grandad, parents, friends, teachers, and everyone else around her (except her little brother) deal in My Name is Elizabeth! (CAN, JP, USA). This delightful book was written by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, and published by Kids Can Press. It is one of two Canadian picture books appearing on the New York Times' Notable Children's Books list.

Elizabeth is called by a variety of nicknames, it seems the only one silent on the matter is her pet duck. Then one day she decides she is going to stand up and make everyone aware of what she wants them to call her. She does this, however, without being precious or obnoxious, which is a pretty hard thing to do. She gains acceptance from everyone but her brother who just can't pronounce Elizabeth at his age, and she's okay with him trying.

Like another Canadian classic, Red is Best, the lead character is a girl who knows her mind and is able to express that. This is really important to me, especially since Japanese culture doesn't always value this. I want both of my children to be able to speak their mind, and I'm glad these books show them other kids who do too.

The entire book is written using speech bubbles, but there is no other text to distract, such as in manga or in the Magic Schoolbus series. The beauty of this is you get a first-person story, which really suits the character and her story. No one needs to speak for Elizabeth. It's also so nice to see that Elizabeth isn't a girly princess girl. Her room isn't pink, she has a skateboard, she is very relatable.

It's the illustrations my kids love best- and so do I! The palette only consists of 4 colours- blue, orange, black, and white. This makes for illustrations that have that sort of retro but modern feel that hipsters love. So do I. I love it so much I painted my walls that blue (okay, that was last year). But that orange is so gorgeous with it, I am considering switching all the green out of my great room for orange. Just like in this book and the cover of Underground.

This is the 18th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Dec 8, 2011

What are you reading?

This is supposed to come out on Wesnesday but I am a day late and a hundred yen short.

This has been a very stressful week for me. Sometimes I concentrate so much on giving my kids an English and culturally Canadian experience that I am suddenly overwhelmed with the stuff I need to deal with for their childcare. I have so few precious hours with them, I hate to waste it on fixing others' mistakes and worrying. I also hate that comments about being a working mom means my children suffer really hurt me. Not my best week.

But like usual, I have a book to retreat into and help me relax and realize my problems aren't all that bad. At least I am not an 18th century gay man trying to avoid prosecution for buggery while in love with a man whose wife is a time traveller stuck in her own century. Silver lining that is a joy to read!

I'm still reading The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. Almost done, but I am savouring the last few pages just for the pure enjoyment of them.

My kids and I read The Flying Canoe: A Christmas Story, so expect a review on that later this week.

What are you reading? What are you reading aloud?

Dec 5, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Big and Small, Room For All

For Nonfiction Monday, a roundup of posts about nonfiction books for children, hosted this week by Gathering Books, my kids and I read Big and Small, Room for All (CAN, JP, US). This picture book was written by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Gillian Newland, and published by Tundra Books.

One of the staples in my kids' reading rotation is Big, Little by Leslie Patricelli. This is a great book. It has bright colours, illustrations that are so easy for your 18 month old to figure out, and it has rhythm. Which is why I didn't get bored of it the first 197 times I read it. But now...I'm a little over it.

That is why I am so glad we bought this book. It has a similar concept, but so much much more. I am sure I will be able to read this twice as many times and still have things to find in Newland's illustrations.

Big and Small, Room for All, is about perspective. It compares the sizes of things, so that children can figure out how huge the universe is and how tiny microorganisms are. Plus, it has rhythm. Not to mention some great questions. My kids are now obsessed with answering "What is smaller than a flea?" Usually the answer involves crushed up cereal, but hey, they're learning how to sweep right?

So the writing has everything- rhythmic, easy to understand sentences, so the sentence structure creeps into speech very quickly. Things kids know are juxtaposed against those they may not, making it easy for even a toddler to reference with the real world (such as universe vs. sky).

But the illustrations are what make this book. Just scroll up and look at that cover again. How many children's books are drawn with that much background? The finely detailed girl on a branch isn't just there, she's in a field with mountains kilometres in the background. This perspective is life-like and therefore great for kids to learn their place in the world.

This says it is aimed at kids 2-5 and honestly, I didn't think my 2-year old daughter would get it. But she does! I mean, she's not chatting about nebulae but she looks up at the night sky and knows there is more out there. That impressed me.

This is the 17th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Dec 3, 2011

Take your child to a bookstore day

Today is take your child to a bookstore day. I love this day.

We'll go after lunch.

Are you participating? Are you taking yourself to a bookstore? Second best way to spend a day (after reading, of course!),

Nov 30, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

You know how much I love peeking into people's bookshelves! Share!

I'm reading The Scottish Prisoner, by Diana Gabaldon, which I have been waiting for for a long long time.

My daughter has rediscovered The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.

My son will not put down the Volcanoes book from National Geographic. Which is strange because this is the first week in months that our house is not covered in ash.

Only a little over 24 hours left in my giveaway! What are you waiting for? Go enter!

Nov 29, 2011

Akin To Anne

For the most recent update to the 5th Canadian Book Challenge, John at The Book Mine Set asked what our favourite Canadian children's book is. It has taken me 29 days to decide between The Root Cellar (time travel! war! bookish protagonist!) and Akin to Anne. I love them both.

Akin to Anne (CAN, JP, US) by LM Montgomery won out, barely. I was worried that being a short story collection it wasn't really a novel, and that most of the other commenters loved Anne of Green Gables. But it's the book that has had the most impact on my life.

I actually have two copies of this book. One was given to me by my grandparents along with a gold necklace for my 9th birthday. I still remember the feel of the present and the smiles of my grandparents as they looked on sitting at the dining room table in the first house I ever lived in. That was the last birthday I had in that house, and the last one my grandfather was at. He sat across from me and beamed despite the fact that one half of his neck had a baseball-sized protrusion. I thought he had the mumps, but it was a heck of a case of cancer.

That might be why I love this book so much. The hardcover copy they gave me is soft and pink and oh so girly. Not me at all! But it's a gorgeous book and I will have to retrieve it from my parents' basement and put it in my daughter's room to love.

The paperback you see above made it to Japan with me. It has been a constant companion, always there to make me feel happy that I have a family despite the distance, to remind me that friends can make a family too, and that virtue is not only its own reward but also something to smooth communication with even the prickliest of people.

This book is a collection of short stories about orphans and family. Despite the name, Anne Shirley does not make an appearance, although some of her personality traits make it into a few of these characters. These lonely characters find other lonely characters to love and cherish.

I have to warn you though, although this collection is poignant and heartwarming, it borders on twee, which I can imagine might not be everyone's thing. Personally I love a bit of moralizing in my books, and tears shed in joy and sadness are not something I shy from.

In Japan, when we make our thrice-yearly visits to the family grave, I always think of Freda's Adopted Grave, a story about a girl who lives in a town which loves its cemetary. Freda isn't homeless, she lives with someone, but she is lonely and aches for a sense of belonging and someone to truly love. By adopting the grave of a ne'er do well, extending her sense of duty to others to someone no one in the town cares about, she is able to meet someone who will love her.

When I used to work at a DIY store I often encountered grumpy customers- people who were on their fourth trip that day for a project gone wrong, mothers whose toilets were overflowing and had to grab a plunger and rush off to work, and people who just like to treat people badly. Whenever someone was nasty to me I always thought back to Marcella's Reward. This story is about a working poor woman who supports her sick sister by working at a department store and taking guff from what we would call the 1% now. She holds her tongue despite the bad treatment and through that meets a friend of her mother who saves her sister and they make a family.

My favourite of these stories is The Girl Who Drove the Cows. I love the forthright "Anne-ness" of a girl who walks up to another girl and tells her they will be friends. What a great lesson this is! So what if the person says no, you are exactly where you started.

Akin to Anne, a collection of 20 stories of finding family, new or old, is my favourite Canadian children's book.

What's your favourite children's book? Any chance it's Canadian?

This is the 16th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Nov 28, 2011

Short Story Monday: The Magic Terminus

I love time travel as a theme in fiction and film. I think it's because I love history and I love the idea of different possibilities. I loved the tv show Sliders, remember that? Also, I really relate to stories of people venturing into a new land away from their family and friends and time travel fiction has that.

That's why I was happy to come across The Magic Terminus by Alasdair Gray, which I read for Short Story Monday hosted by John at Bookmineset. I thought this was going to be a short story about time travel, but it wasn't really.

Basically, this is a story about a man who likes books and the world he creates in his mind from those books. Who can't relate to that?

However, he goes a little too far, verging on becoming a Meursault-like character. He doesn't seem to have any friends in real life, nothing beyond a rich fantasy life filled with fictional and historical characters. He continually chooses jobs with the least amount of thinking necessary so that nothing gets in the way of his imagination time, going so far as to move into his school office so as not to waste commuting time.

The story alludes to another story, this by HG Wells, called The Door in the Wall, which he calls "superstitious rot" despite being so similar to his own situation. The character in The Door in the Wall is just as obsessed with an imaginary world as the one in The Magic Terminus, and the consequences may prove to be just as fatal.

The theme of reality vs. imagination is one that definitely plays out in the real world. How many of us lose ourselves in our books? Or nowadays, the internet? When is it crossing the line into unhealthy obsession?

Nov 27, 2011

Book Cover I Love

One of the things I miss about paper books is the covers. Most books are pretty generic so keeping them on the Kindle doesn't matter, but every so often I come across a book that I would rather see on my shelf.

Underground by Antanas Sileika (CAN, USA) is one of those books that you will want to add to your bookshelf. Cover side out, like those displays in the bookstore trying to suck you in and buy more than you intended.

This is a story about brotherhood, nationhood, and love in the Lithuanian resistance. I think its cover shows what it is about, and the vintage feel is perfect for the mid-20th century setting.

However, the one thing a Kindle can offer me is a preview of the first chapter of the book, which I can't get over here in Japan (oh for an English library or bookstore!). Problem is, once I read the preview, there is no way I can wait the weeks it takes to ship the book over from Canada or the US to read the rest. Is there? Maybe I'll have to buy it for Kindle and in paperback.

Or maybe I can get a tea towel with this beautiful cover on it. Spoonflower?

Is there a cover you love? Please share, I'm all about the literary eye candy.

Nov 24, 2011

Global Giveaway: Tree of Cranes -Closed

Thanks so much for participating! I was really excited to hold my first giveaway.

The winner is...


I will be contacting you now for your address. Hope you (or your brother!) love this as much as I do.

I am in the Christmas mood, and inspired by Katie's Book Blog, I have decided to hold a giveaway of a brand new copy of my favourite Christmas book. This is my first giveaway so be kind please.

My favourite Christmas book of all time is Tree of Cranes by Allen Say. (CAN, JP, US)

This is a story of a little boy who catches a cold after disobeying his mother. He thinks she is angry at him and that's why she is being distant. But really she just needs time to prepare for the first Christmas he's ever experienced.

Say's writing and illustrations are perfectly matched. He is able to bring out deep emotions in the reader with a subtleness few writers can match. Say's detailed illustrations plop you right into Showa Japan, and the depth sticks in your mind for a long time after you've finished reading.

The Christmas that this mother creates for her child, with handmade decorations and only one gift and a strange-looking tree, is one of the most precious and magical ever. You don't need lots of presents and fancy decorations to make Christmas, you need love.

It's hard not to feel empathetic towards this little boy for being, well, a little boy. You can feel that he is hurt when his mother is being secretive. But I feel so much for that mother. Away from her homeland, she is trying to recreate her childhood customs for her son, and I think she suceeds. I hope to do the same for my kids.

This is a picture book, but is suitable for age 4 to adult.

Do you want to win a copy of The Tree of Cranes?
Here are the rules:

This is an international giveaway, open to those who live in any country to which Japan Post can deliver.

This giveaway closes at midnight on Dec. 1, Japan Time (10am Dec. 1, EST) so that I can send it before Christmas.

To enter, comment below with your email address so I can contact you. You do not need to have a Blogger account to do this.
For a second entry, you can join this page using Google Friend Connector (look left), or already be a GFC friend. You need a Google/Blogger account to do this. Please comment a second time for this entry.

The winner will be chosen on Dec. 1 using After I contact the winner s/he has 3 days to reply with their address or I will choose the next winner.

Nov 23, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

What are you reading today? What are you reading aloud to your kids?

I love peeking into other people's libraries!

I am about to finish Explosive Eighteen, the new Stephanie Plum. It's formulaic, just the way I like it.

My daughter chose Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink to read tonight.

And my son is not asking me to read anything tonight, he is reading to me. (WahoooOooooO!)
He read Mac, Book 4 in the BOB Books first series.

Nov 22, 2011

Canadian Christmas Books

More specifically, Canadian Christmas picture books. Just like with every holiday, I am looking for some picture books to get my 2 and 4 year olds in the mood and up to speed with how I envision Christmas. Which is mostly reading books about Christmas. Ahhhhh, heaven.

Okay, I'll throw in some Christmas cookies, and maybe tourtiere, Cadbury's chocolates, turkey, minty things, and don't forget the eggnog and mulled wine. For my Christmas is all about books and food I guess. My kids love the lights and presents.

But it's the books that give it a little Canadiana. I want their memories of Christmas to be as great as mine, so I'm going to do a little Canadian Christmas shopping so they have some books to unwrap as the month goes on, and maybe a little under the tree.

Other than the first two, I don't have any of these books, I just know that they have a Canadian author, illustrator, publisher, or setting. This is my wishlist, but I thought I'd share it with you too!

Franklin's Christmas Gift (CAN, JP, US) by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark

Franklin's Christmas Sticker Activity Book (CAN, JP, US) by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark

The Flying Canoe: A Christmas Story (CAN, JP, US) written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Daniel San Souci and Justin San Souci

The Thing I Say I Saw Last Night (CAN, JP, US) from Wendy McKernan and Izabela Bzymek

A Chanukah Noel (CAN, JP, US) written by Sharon Jennings and illustrated by Gillian Newland

Baseball Bats for Christmas (CAN, JP, US) written by Michael Kusugak and illustrated by Vladyana Kryorka

Bella's Tree (CAN, JP, US)by Janet Russell

Hannah Bear's Christmas (CAN, JP, US) from Monica Devine and Sea Cassidy

The Mummer's Song (CAN, JP, US) from Bud Davidge

The Huron Carol (CAN, JP, US) by Ian Wallace

A Northern Nativity (CAN, JP, US) by Willian Kurelek

Porcupine in a Pine Tree (CAN, JP, US) by Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmerman

Night Before a Canadian Christmas (CAN, JP, US) by Troy Townsin and Jennifer Harrington

One Christmas in Lunenburg (CAN, JP, US) by Amy Bennet and Don Kilby

Pippin the Christmas Pig (CAN, JP, US) written by Jean Litle and illustrated by Werner Zimmerman

One Hundred Shining Candles (CAN, JP, US) written by Janet Lunn and illustrated by Lindsay Grater

A Coyote Solstice Tale (CAN, JP, US) from Thomas King

Am I missing any? Let me know if there are any Canadian picture books related to Christmas that you know of!

What about your country, does it have any fab picture books related to Christmas?

Nov 21, 2011

Japanese Celebrations

When we celebrate Canadian cultural occasions, I get books on the topic to warm my kids up to the idea. But when it comes to Japanese occasions, I don't really have the option of getting a copy of Franklin Throws Beans (for Setsubun) or something like that. I would love non-fiction picture books in English about these holidays.

However, when looking for something for 7-5-3 which was last week, I found the book Japanese Celebrations (CAN, JP, US) by Betty Reynolds.

This is a great introductory book for children to Japanese celebrations, from Oshogatsu (New Year's) to 7-5-3 and everything in between (including some neither I nor my husband knew about, like Kanbutse, Buddha's Birthday). The illustrations are great, really cute without going overboard (a real possibility in Japan!). This book is aimed at older kids but I think that like mine, those with a background in Japan could understand it from an earlier age as a read-aloud book.

I do have to say, that I was somewhat annoyed at the errors in the Japanese text. The hiragana for monkey and sheep (saru and hitsuji, respectively) were mixed up, and they accidentally translated row (a boat) as fight. I wouldn't use this as a Japanese language introduction for a child. I got this from the library and I don't know if a newer version would have corrections or not.

If you are looking for something in Japanese about Shichi-go-san, I would recommend this adorable book:

Minna No Genki De ShichiGoSan

I submitted this post to Nonfiction Monday, which is being hosted by Books Together this week.