Jun 29, 2011

A new challenge for a new year of Canada!

It's almost Canada Day, and mostly I have been thinking about what to make, food and craftwise, to make it feel festive. Also I've been thinking about arguments against my husband and kids lighting fireworks in our yard to celebrate. It's nice he wants to celebrate my country's existence, and yes it kind of reminds me of the beautiful fireworks in Canada on our national day, but fireworks are frightening. Add preschoolers into the mix and all you get is me hiding inside looking up our insurance policies.

I have found one other way to celebrate. I am going to participate in a Canadian reading challenge this year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012). I will read 13 Canadian books during this year.

I have been reading a lot lately. Partly this is because I read almost nothing from when Spinky was born until Domba was a year old. It's also partly because I have more time now, as I lay beside the kids until they sleep, and I have a Kindle with a booklight cover so I am able to read without disturbing them. I spent so many years studying Japanese that now I feel like I want something a little bit easier by reading in my own language. It's also because I know that the best way to get my kids to be interested in reading is to model good reading habits and fill their home with books.

But what I haven't been reading is Canadian authors. Okay, I have been reading Canadian kids' authors, but not for me. It's hard to come across Canadian books here in rural Japan, and even if I have, I don't know they are Canadian because there isn't a giant flag on them like there was when I worked at Coles Bookstore during university. I read so much lovely Canlit when I was a student, and my favourite young adult books are all Canadian, that it is a shame I've gotten out of the habit.

So I will make a Canada Day resolution to read at least 13 Canadian books this year. Hopefully it will not make me more homesick.

I'm going to start by participating in the Under The Midnight Sun Readathon. This is my first readathon since elementary school, and I'm excited. Unfortunately the man will be out at a wedding on Saturday so I have to look after the kids too (darn, a whole day with kids and probably no rain!), but maybe I can squeeze in something to read to them.

Do you want to participate in the Canadian Reading Challenge #5? Check out this fantastic blog.

Jun 28, 2011

A Hair Story

Domba has her father's colouring and passes for a full Japanese, generally. The big difference is that she has much much less hair than the other girls she goes to school with. In Canada this wouldn't raise an eyebrow but even when she's wearing a pink dress people ask if she's a boy just because her hair is not full and long like almost all the girls of her age bracket.

I'm kind of happy with this because it means less of a chance of me hurting her while doing her hair. But she wants to have all sorts of pretty things in her hair, wants ponytails and pigtails and bandeaus and clips and bows and scrunchies. I indulge her sometimes, but her hair texture is just as fine as mine and that means nothing stays in for long. Just long enough to hold a preschoolers attention!

It's no wonder then that Domba loves our newest Robert Munsch acquisition, Stephanie's Ponytail. It has all the hallmarks of a Munsch book, a strong but relatable child as the protagonist, perfect spacing between pages, and especially words that just beg to be read out loud in a silly voice. The picture with all the kids with shaved heads cracks up both of my kids everytime we see it.

The story is about a fashion-forward girl who wants to be independent and stand out at school. Remind you of anyone? Sounds just like Stephanie Kaye to me!!! No wonder I love this story too.

Jun 27, 2011

Road Trip!

We went on a road trip yesterday, to Costco and to cheer for our favourite soccer team. We logged quite a few hours in the car. The kids are amazingly well behaved in the car. Now anyway!

When Spinky was little and I commuted for an hour each way to work I would have to sing the entire time. I am a terrible terrible singer, truly. I like singing, but for an hour constantly without a break is not okay. It was completely exhausting. If I paused to even drink he would start wailing so loudly that I swear other cars on the highway could hear him. For months he was stuck on Sharon, Lois, and Bram's Elephant Song (aka Skinamarink). Nothing else would do. I tried letting him listen to the tape (yes, I'm a technosurf, thank you very much!) but that didn't work. I tried taping myself singing and asked a tech-head to loop it, but that didn't work either. He always knew.

I eventually started to hate that song and even after he moved onto something else hearing it come up on the iPod's random list would give me the shakes, some sort of ptsd I think. Domba's never even heard it. I just looked it up on Youtube and it's a lovely song but I just don't think I can sing it again quite yet. The other songs on the album I have (Elephant Show Record) are great fun though, hope I get over this soon.

So in the car we didn't listen to that song at all, but we stayed with the safer Dora the Explorer Party Favorites
and some Raffi of course (Singable Songs Collection). My kids love soccer fan songs, and 2-year-old Domba can sing with the best of them. So it's hard to compete using English songs. I'm sorry but "You'll Never Walk Alone" would put anyone to sleep! Down By the Bay and Wheels on The Bus give me a fighting chance though!

I seem to have stopped listening to adult music when they are around. Maybe because most of my mix CDs have some songs that I don't want to hear from my kids' mouth, like Right Said Fred's only hit and almost anything from George Michael or Samantha Fox. I guess I'll have to start making some new mixies, because I can't let my kids get too much bigger without knowing the pure pleasure of singing My Sharona or Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of your lungs in an enclosed space.

What do you listen to in the car?

Jun 20, 2011

A book for rainy season

Rainy season started earlier than I've ever experienced this year. It's been going on and on and on and still no end in sight. The last couple of weeks had rain that was just torrential, and even rain jackets, rubber boots, and umbrellas can't keep my littles from getting soaking wet. Thank goodness for our dryer, because nothing is drying on the line.

My memories of rain in Canada are that they mostly came at night, and in the summer there was almost always lightning and thunder. Here in southern Japan though, there is rarely any lightning, but it's been common over the past few weeks. The word in Japanese, kaminari, commonly means both lightning and thunder, so it's hard for Domba and Spinky to grasp that these are two different events in English. This book helps.

For various reasons, including being four, remembering previous seasons, and the horrible events of 3/11, Spinky has been having some weather-related nerves lately. Not fear, but definitely some worries. Franklin is somewhat of a nervous character, but always seems to, ahem, come out of his shell by the end of the book, so it provides a growing nudge to Spinky as well.

The book he's reading in that picture is Franklin and the Thunderstorm from Paulette Bourgeous. It's a sweet story about a nervous little turtle who ventures out to his friend Fox's house in inclement weather. We got a lot of ideas from this book, including playing flashlight tag, checking out the shapes in the clouds, and building a treehouse, which he did with cardboard in the living room. Franklin has also inspired Spinky to want to learn to tie his own shoes, but unfortunately he doesn't own any shoes with shoelaces!

Did you know Franklin is Canadian? We also have the Thanksgiving book and I had no idea from that book that Franklin is a Canuck. This one seems extremely Canadian though, with the beaver hanging out to play! I especially like the sod house that the Fox family lives in, a historic housing staple on the Prairies from which I hail. It reminds me of the sod houses at the Ukranian Heritage Village, like the one below (photo credit goes to Mpirie on Wikipedia). I hope to take Domba and Spinky here one day!

Jun 16, 2011

A Giveaway from a Bloggy Mentor

One of the blogs that most inspires me is Playing By The Book. I love the books she chooses and I love how she incorporates the book into play. I love how much she reads and how much she plays.

Playing By The Book is giving away a book called Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen. There's even an interview with the author and a peek into her notebook. Go check it out!

Jun 13, 2011

A Thomas Surprise Adventure

This is a consistent favourite of my daughter. It's called Thomas the Tank Engine's Hidden Surprises. She really likes the lift-and-peek flaps. They're tiny so there are lots on each page.

My friend, who used to live here near me but moved back to Canada in 2008 sent it for Spinky after Domba was born. Her son A is a couple years older than Spinky and introduced him to the wonders of Thomas. Spinky was only 1 when they returned so I don't think that he remembers A at all, but we always talk about A and his lovely mother when we read this book. It's nice for me to remember my friend as well. She's one of those people that everyone wants to be like, so friendly and pleasant and the best hostess and always has her head right on her shoulders. Just thinking about her makes me feel like being a more calm person.

I have read this probably 50 times this year, and until I read the English description today I did not notice at all that there was a dolphin in the book. I think it's the aquatic jumper who we all thought was a shark. We have enjoyed snapping the flap down on Domba's fingers as she yells "aaah shark" so I don't think I'll tell them it's supposed to be a dolphin. My poor children, lied to by their mother.

Jun 9, 2011

How the pigs defeat the wolf

Spinky has been choosing the Three Little Pigs quite often lately. I think he likes the voices I do. Of course, the sober, sensible little pig has my regular voice. ;)

I also think part of why he likes it is because the pigs stay safe after their houses blow down. Like all of us living in Japan, he has been quite affected by the 3/11 tsunami. He wonders if a wolf could blow our house down. I don't think so! That's why we bought a Canadian house- and if he did get through he'd have to get through a lot of itchy insulation.

I like this book because it gives us a chance to talk about "what if." Where should we go if our house blows down? How do we stop it happening? Where do wolves live? There's not much "stranger danger" in Japan, especially not this part. I'm happy about that mostly but we do talk about letting strange wolves into the house after reading this book.

Spinky likes the PBS Kids tv show "SuperWhy" quite a bit, and this is one of the vignettes on the Superwhy DVD we own. Some of Superwhy is too advanced for Domba, but she gets into this one because she knows the story from me reading it, and because it stars the AlphaPig and she is into the alphabet lately.

Jun 6, 2011

Canadian Picture Books

One of the biggest challenges I have is not only teaching my kids English but teaching them my culture as well. Books are a great way to do that, and I know so many great Canadian books for tweens, from Martyn Godfrey's Ms. Teeny Wonderful series to Eric Wilson's Code Red at the Supermall. It'll be years before my kids are ready for that though!

When I started I only knew one Canadian picture book, the iconic Hockey Sweater (CAN, JP, US) by Roch Carrier. Great start but I needed more! Here are some of my finds, all kid-tested and approved. I will be updating this as the blog goes on, keep checking back for more!

The Hockey Sweater is for me, the most quintessentially Canadian picture book there is. You have hockey, catalogue shopping, two languages, a not-so-friendly team rivalry, and lots of snow. It even has the now-defunct but a huge influence on me Eaton's department store. I walked through Eaton's everyday in high school while changing buses, and I'd forgotten about it until I read this book. Love this book so much.

Spork by Kyo Maclear (CAN, JP, US)

Mattland (CDN, JP, US) by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert

Drumheller Dinosaur Dance
, by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Bill Slavin and Esperanca Melo. (US/CAN/JP)

The Fire Station
by Robert Munsch (JP, CN, US)

Red is Best (CN, JP, US)

Our Bilingual Journey

The one thing that keeps me up at night is thinking about my kids' language acquisition. They are both very strong in Japanese, but just by virtue of their environment, their English is not as strong. I know nothing really about the theories of bilingualism, just that it's good for their brains and for them to know both their families and their cultures.

I am not an expert, just a mom trying to do the best by her kids. How about you?