Sep 30, 2011

Island Maid

I have just finished reading Island Maid: Voices of Outport Women, by Sheilagh O'Leary and Rhonda Pelley. I won this at the Book Mineset blog for the August update to the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

This is not like any book I've ever read before. I fully admit that when I choose books, I tend toward time travel romance historical fiction. I do have a few biographies in my library, but they are always books completely about one person, not just snapshots in many people's lives. To me, anthologies scream budget-conscious university course material. Is that ignorant? Probably. But I have changed my mind!

This does somewhat bring back memories of uni but in a good way. This is like an oral history (herstory?) that I wish I had read in anthropology. The authors went around the outposts of Newfoundland meeting with women elders in small towns and villages. They bring us snapshots from women's lives as well as from their journey.

I am left with such a profound feeling of accomplishment from all of these women. They have worked the land and the sea, birthed children, raised families, entertained and created, built communities, fed and clothed their loved ones and neighbours, and did it without husbands, sometimes forever and sometimes for months. They have lived in harsh conditions and still their power has not waned even into old age. These are the stories of contributions women made to the building of Newfoundland and Labrador before it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949. But it reflects the stories of women all over Canada and even the world.

I read the stories of these women and I understand them, but I see other women as well. I see my grandmother making rasberry wine on the porch like Phyllis O'Leary. I see the fish strung up to dry and it reminds me of the fish lines strung up in winter by my neighbour after her husband comes home from a particularly good catch. I see my mom planting and tending her carrots and peas and potatoes and sewing up clothes just like Flora Whitt. And sometimes I see myself, in the stories of mothers rushing home after their office jobs to tend their houses and in their worries about the economy and ecology.

The photography really makes the book. O'Leary shot all the photos without a flash, just natural light, and this gives the photos a genuine feel that blends with Pelley's text seemlessly.

I love that Pelley and O'Leary were able to capture moments in time and memories of women that are so very representative of their tiny areas and their time last century, but also represent women's work so well.

This was my 9th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Sep 29, 2011

September Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

The Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is up!

This is our second time participating, although I've been reading for about half a year. I love this Carnival, the other participants are so inspiring, and make me feel like I am not alone!

Check them out. Thanks to Jan at BabelKid for hosting this month.

Sep 28, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

The kids are reading Chicken, Pig, Cow by Ruth Ohi.

I'm reading Island Maid, Voices of Outport Women by Sheilagh O'Leary and Rhonda Pelley.

I'm listening to Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari.

What are you reading? What are your kids reading?

Sep 26, 2011

Short Story Monday: Down at the Beach

I don't know if this is quite allowed for the Short Story Monday meme, but I've been reading many more kids books than adult books lately, so I decided to use a favourite kids' short story instead of an adult one this week.

We read Down at the Beach, a short story written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng. This short story is found in Chirp Magazine's June 2010 edition. Uegaki is the author of Suki's Kimono (CAN, JP, US), a book which has long been on my wish list, but I am waiting until my kids get a little older to buy it because it is listed as a grade school book. Leng illustrated A Flock of Shoes (CAN, JP, US), which is also on my wish list and I need to get around to buying (where is that money tree anyhow?) since I have heard great things about it.

Down at the Beach is the story of a day with two siblings, Namiko and Shoji, who are spending a day at the beach. Shoji's not a big fan, so Namiko thinks of stories behind the seemingly innocuous objects they find.

We like this story a lot. My kids like the beach setting and the fact that the kids have names similar to those of their classmates. It's only 4 pages but it feels like it could be a whole picture book with only the addition of more pictures.

What I like is that it's a story about a big sibling who is trying to make her little sibling feel better. I love her imagination, and I love that he gets right into it and starts to make up his own story about a pirate map. This is really topical because there was a girl from a school near here who has just retrieved the message she put in a bottle which washed up in Hawaii (how much do I not love that school message which causes pollution!) and so my kids are totally into messages in bottles now. I like that most of the vocabulary is perfect for younger kids, but there are a few that younger kids most likely don't know, like ragged and barnacle, which are introduced in context so this is a great vocabulary learning exercise.

I don't know if you can get your hands on this back issue, but all Chirp magazines have short stories you can read with or to your kids. Or just enjoy for yourself!

Sep 25, 2011

A Bittersweet Milestone

We went to the library again last week and while Domba and I headed straight for the English books, Spinky had a look around. Usually he takes out an adult book in Japanese, one with lots of pictures, such as a how-to book on sports or a fisherman's almanac (weirdo). But this time he had a look around the children's section. When Domba and I joined him at the table he had a book out and wasn't just looking at the pictures. He was reading out loud!*

My son can read.

I am in a little bit of shock here.

Feeling verklemt. Talk amongst yourselves... (sorry, old SNL reference!)

First off, my son can read!!! Woohoo!! Huge new worlds are going to be opening up to him. I am thrilled! He is such an amazing little guy.

But I am also pretty sad. What kind of terrible mom has no idea that her son can read on her own? How long has he been reading? Why did I not know this?

I'm also sad because he was reading in Japanese. I know in my head that this isn't a competition between Japanese and English. But in my heart...well, my heart doesn't quite get that. It kind of feels like I've been in a race and my side lost. I was hoping that by working on his pre-reading skills for the last year or so that he'd learn to read in English before he went to elementary school in 2 years and then learned to read in Japanese. Looks like my timeline was a little out of whack. I underestimated what he is learning at kindergarten.

I feel afraid. Now that he can read in Japanese, is he going to lose all interest in English? Japanese has always been dominant, but when we curl up on Domba's futon each night to read our books at night, we are in a little English cocoon. This is my favourite part of the day. Is Spinky going to to refuse to stay with us, preferring to huddle under his covers with a flashlight and a Japanese manga?

I do know that this was probably bound to happen. Japanese, despite having more characters in its syllabary than in the English alphabet, is a much easier language to learn to read as a child. There are no long or short vowels. Letters don't have one sound in some words and another sound in another word. The name for a Japanese hiragana character is the same as its reading. It's more logical, and definitely easier for a kindergarten child to grasp all the rules at once. So maybe it wasn't just my efforts that have failed, maybe a little bit of blame can be assigned to the nutjobs who have determined English spelling over the last 500 or 600 years. I'm looking at you, Mr. W. Shakespeare.

I will not lose heart. I won't shut myself in my room and curse the English language and stupid spelling and upper and lower case letters. Maybe Really, I won't.

What I am going to do is be happy for my kid. I am going to help him translate his skills in one language to the other. How? I have no clue whatsoever. But I'll do it somehow! I'm not going to pressure him to read in English all at once, just go slowly. I'm going to keep enjoying our nightly reads, continuing with the BOB Books (CAN, JP, USA), and hope for the best.

Besides, I know that in a couple of years English reading will look easy to Spinky. Or at least in comparison to Japanese kanji it will!

Do you feel that your heritage language is in competition with your community language? Do you or did you have trouble teaching your child to read? Or did all of this go swimmingly for you and you have a secret to share with me? Please let me know!

The book that so fascinated my son is called かあさん まだかな (Kaasan Mada Kana) and is actually a translation for Korean. There is an English version available as well, called Waiting for Mama (CAN, JP, USA) by Tae-Joon Lee and illustrated by Dong-Sung Kim. This is a bilingual version with Korean text as well. It's about a boy in deep winter waiting for his mother at the train station, and his view of the world around him. The illustrations are gorgeous pastel and ink creations, and very evocative of an early 20th century Korea.

Sep 24, 2011


I usually think of podcasts as an on-demand version of talk radio. I never realized there was so much content for kids!

The last couple of days my two have been interested in the Hooked on Phonics podcasts. These are great! The range of levels is perfect for my two, since they are for pre-readers and beginning readers.

We especially love the Peg-Leg Meg story in our house! Go on, check them out!

-- Posted From My iPhone

Sep 23, 2011

Sep 17, 2011

Shark vs. Train

I am the mother of a four-year old boy. Without any intent on my part, in the last year he has become more and more boyish. The boy who used to love hugging his Diego doll and cooking on his play kitchen has become much more likely to be holding dinosaurs, Thomas or cars toys, or jumping out of the bath to chomp on mama's leg in a shark imitation. Let's not forget about the soccer obsession. He still loves Pinkalicious, but sometimes I want to indulge his boyish charm with something that will tickle his fancy.

Shark VS. Train (CAN, JP, US), written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld is the ultimate book for preschool boys. Sharks! And trains! How can you go wrong?

But it's not just the sharks and trains that make it awesome. Nor is it the fact that the kids put away their toys when they are called by their mom (okay, that's pretty awesome.) I love that it is disguised learning. First there was Marco Polo, which is a game I've seen on tv but never actually played until we read this book.

Then my kids learned about omparisons! Not just "who is taller than Sally?" but you actually have to figure out from the pictures who wins and why. This is doing wonders for my littles' vocabulary, as they are racing each other (yay for competition increasing English skills!) to say that the lemonade is going to spill into the ocean or the train is too heavy. It's a participatory book!

Two more cool things beyond the actual book:

1. A trailer for a book that does not involve very bad acting by Fabio wannabes:

2. The publisher has provided downloadable activities. Our fave is the maze, as both kids can do it to varying degrees of success.

Usually when I shop at Amazon, I put books in my basket and keep them for a couple of weeks. Then I have something I need urgently, and end up buying everything in my basket that is available immediately. Those books that take 2-4 weeks, or a couple of months, get put back on my wishlist. This book took 3 weeks to arrive, but it was worth the wait. That's high praise indeed.

Sep 13, 2011


How have I not published anything in September? I am still reading to my kids and reading some for me, but not blogging about it. I'm stuck into a book about raising biliterate kids, which is great. Plus we have been reading this book over and over again.

The book we are loving right now is Spork (CAN, JP, US), written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. This is a delightful tale of a piece of cutlery who feels alone because there is no one else like him. His parents come from different sides of the cutlery drawer and he isn't sure where he belongs. Eventually he finds his place, if not anyone who looks like him.

To an adult, the parallels to a multiracial child are pretty easy to see, but my kids don't seem to notice. What they do notice are the melancholic feelings Spork exhibits, and they can relate, even if they are not sure why.

In southern Japan, multiracial children are rare. They are something to be pointed out, and gushed over, sometimes. Even my two year old is well aware of how her skin colour differs from her brother and mother (post on that to come!). So although neither Spinky nor Domba can put this into the category "race", they understand feeling different. Of course, *I* relate to the spoon. Not many spoons around here!

What I especially like (spoiler alert) is the ending. Spork is feeling out of sorts and goes out and finds a way to be useful. He is indispensable to the messy loud thing (baby). My personal philosophy is when you are feeling off the best way to deal is to do something useful. I get it from my grandmother who always felt better after cleaning (i need a bit of work until I get that far). This is a moral I want my kids to learn from Spork.

Props have to go to the illustrator, Isabelle Arsenault, for the simple but evocative illustrations. I will be looking for more book with her illustrations. Now I'm trying to figure out if I can somehow buy some of the illustrations from the book for art in my house.

Spork is nominated for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award (to be revealed on Oct 4th) and it is my pick for the win (not that I have a vote!).

Ms. Maclear states on her website that "This book was conceived as a celebration of hybridity, an ode to a non-binary world." It succeeds on both counts, as well as being a pure joy to read.

This is the eighth book I've read for the