Oct 29, 2011

Shadow in Hawthorne Bay

One of my favourite books from tweenhood (is that a word?) is Janet Lunn's The Root Cellar (CAN, JP, US). It's about a 12-year-old orphan who travels back in time to make her first real friends and witness the end of the Civil War in the US. I have read it at least a dozen times, and I have loved it each time. I think that I read Double Spell (CAN, JP, US) in the library and then wanted more so I ordered The Root Cellar by Scholastic Book Club. I miss that monthly catalogue.

I was so happy to find a copy of this book, Shadow In Hawthorn Bay (CAN, JP, US), also by Janet Lunn, which seemed to be of similar paranormal subject matter. It's in a different time period, and no time traveling, unfortunately (I love time travel). Despite that, it's a good read. It's an award winner too, as a children's and young adult book!

I was a little shocked to be thrown into the paranormal on the first page. Mairi has "two sights" and this isn't hidden. I think part of why I like time travel is that it takes a bit to get into the oddities, so first you can think of those characters as somewhat like you and then they fall into 15th century Scotland. There is no holding back here, though. Mairi can hear voices from across the sea, see auras, tell the future, and do a bit of healing. That being said, her determination and her fumbling around her new neighbours as she moves to Canada from Scotland make her endearing. It takes a bit of time to warm up to Mairi but she is quite loveable for all her faults with people.

Janet Lunn is extremely knowledgeable about historical Ontario and it shows. I am also reading The Queen's Dollmaker and it is interesting to compare the two. Lunn knows it all but parcels the facts out organically, while Christine Trent seems determined to stick everything she knows in and it doesn't always seem natural. I can see why my 13 year-old self loved Lunn's work.

I think any of these books would make a great YA read for Halloween. They're not scary, but some of them are spooky. Some of the covers are seriously creepy as well.

Now I have to source a copy of The Hollow Tree!

This was my 12th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge

Oct 28, 2011

A Language Explosion

For the last three weeks, I hear almost no Japanese in my house. This was because my parents were visiting, and the kids knew that they would have to speak English or not be understood.

This has never happened before in our house. When we went to Hawaii in February Domba was still barely talking, and what she did say was mostly in Japanese. Of course in Hawaii so many people speak Japanese, and so even the Americans there would speak to her in Japanese, and there were many Japanese people around. The grandparents and her uncle and aunt spoke to her in English and she still answered in Japanese, or with signs. Spinky did pretty good answering but most of what he came up with was still in Japanese, and he needed quite a few reminders to speak in English.

This visit, however, it seems that everything went right. First, I have been talking it up. We have been counting down to the visit since March. I have been reminding the kids ever so gently (maybe!) that they need to practice their English so their grandparents can understand them when they come to stay. It worked enough that General Spinky could be found telling his sister off for speaking Japanese when I left the room occasionally and he was in his bossy mood. But I wasn't sure that it would actually transfer over to results.

But, BAM! My parents arrived and it was like a lightbulb went off. That language their mama is always speaking? Useful. You can actually use it to get through to people. People they love!

I don't think I hear a word of Japanese out of my son's mouth all three weeks. Even when we went to practice for his Sports Day (the BIG EVENT of every kindergarten), and it was just me and him practicing a dance with all the other moms and kids, he spoke to me, in English, in front of his friends. This is a first! Luckily there was a fist pump in the dance so I didn't look like an idiot when I celebrated.

Then there was Domba. In September, Domba was a chatty little thing. However, outside of a couple of songs (like her mashup of Twinkle Twinkle and Baa Baa Black Sheep) the English vocab she actually used was very small. I could count her words on my digits (if I took off my socks) the number of English words she actually knew. But that kind of exploded when my parents arrived.

Here's the thing. I'm scared to death that this won't continue. I need to understand why this happened and recreate that now that my parents are far away.

In Domba's case, I think a lot had to do with her being out of daycare. Spinky kept going to kindy and we met him afterwards, but Domba was at home with my parents and I all day. There was no escape from English. The words she had been hearing and understanding for so long actually became necessary on the couple of days I had to work and she stayed with my parents. Sink or swim, baby Domba.

Spinky, however, was really enjoying the attention. No matter what, there was someone around to listen to his silly stories and protest when he cheated at soccer. (No, I don't think the score is You-474, Granda-0). Mama might be washing dishes but someone will feed his ego. He loved it.

Unfortunately Domba isn't going to be quitting daycare anytime soon. And Spinky will not have my undivided attention all day everyday. But what I can do is put more effort into recreating that. Usually it's Mr. Medea who is out playing soccer but I will make more of an effort with that. I will sneak down to the daycare at lunch sometimes for a bit of mama-daughter girl talk time. And I'm going to make sure they remember how awesome it was to have their grandparents here and communicate with them. I've already framed some pictures.

How do you recreate the ideal situation for your heritage language?

Oct 25, 2011

More Benefits of Bilingualism

Or, what I want to avoid. I would like it if my children were able to avoid making unfortunate word choices such as this one in their future jobs.

Little Prick rabbit donut pin cushions.


Oct 18, 2011


I'm not blogging very much lately! Sorry, we have visitors and are pleasantly immersed in fun. Also, my visitors have taken over reading duties to my children so I don't have much in the way of kids' book news. As the grandparents have taken over many of my duties, I do have time to read!

I finally read Vimy (CA, JP, US) by Pierre Berton, which I brought when I moved to Japan last millenium, thinking I would have a lot of time sitting in my apartment to read. I did, but I was more interested in my new country than my former one at that time (oh how the tides change!). Now that a club I follow online is reading Vimy I realized t was time to bring it out of its box and actually read it. Now I am wondering what took me so long.

Vimy is not for the faint of heart. It goes into detail of how bloody and brutal it was for our young men, under Arthur Currie and Julian Byng, on the front lines on the 4 days from Easter Monday 1917, in miserable weather conditions, as they successfully pushed to capture Vimy Ridge from the Germans under Ludwig von Falkenhausen. This was a feat that the Allies from much stronger military traditions could not accomplish in the previous parts of the war, and it seems that the Canadians' creativity was partly responsible for this win, a turning point not only in the way but also in Canadian nationhood.

What I like about Berton's work is that although it reads like a well-written novel, with a cast of characters that are achingly human, he does not ignore his own knowledge on how this fits into our history. Berton is a well-respected writer precisely because he is Berton, and that shines through in his non-fiction books as well as his newspaper articles and tv shows, and his voice shines through here.

I had read another of Berton's histories, The Last Spike (CN, JP, US), while I was in university. I wasn't displeased with it, but remember thinking that it didn't quite live up to the excitement of the Russian history books I was reading concurrently for my course, and was less dramatic as well! Now that I'm no longer that obsessed with Russian history I'd like to re-read The Last Spike and I think my opinion will have improved.

This was my 11th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge

Oct 6, 2011

Book Awards

Tuesday was a big day in Canadian fiction. The Giller Prize Short List was announced and so were the winners of the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. I was really rooting for Spork for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, but that was taken home by I Know Here (CAN, JP, US) by Laurel Croza and Matt James. I have to buy that now!

This month there is a children's book award nomination process that is open to bloggers. Have you heard of the Cybils? They are children and adult literary awards given by bloggers! The first round of nominations is taking place right now, until Oct. 15. Then the famous bloggers go through and choose the short list of all that are nominated. It's pretty interesting to watch the process.

I nominated Dogs Don't Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (CAN, JP, US) by Sarah Tsiang and Qin Leng. Sound familiar? Qin Leng is the illustrator of the short story I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Down at The Beach, which my kids and I love.

I'm hoping it's not the only Canadian book on the list, but so far I haven't spied any others (they may be in stealth mode).

Do you have a children's book or YA fiction book you love that was published in the last year? Go nominate it!

Oct 5, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

It's a rainy Wednesday here, which I'm happy about because it will wash away the ash still in the yard. I'm not feeling well though, so I wish I could stay inside with a fire in the non-existant fireplace and read all day.

I'm reading the new Rick Riordan book, Son of Neptune (CAN, JP, US), the second in the Heroes of Olympus series.

My kids are reading Pinkalicious and the Pink Pumpkin (CAN, JP, US).

I am still trying to get through Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari (CAN, JP, US). It's not that it's hard or anything, it's just that my listening time is very limited so it's 10 minute bursts here and there.

What are you and/or your kids reading today?

Oct 4, 2011

Chicken, Pig, Cow

Japan follows the same animal calendar as the Chinese, with the difference being that the Japanese New Year starts on Jan. 1. Many people have small displays of animals that represent the year. I give my mom a small display animal every year, and I always try to find the cutest ones. I like the squat fat ones that look like they would be squishy. If I could actually find squishy ones that would be better, but beggars can't be choosers and all that!

We read Chicken, Pig, Cow by Ruth Ohi (CAN, JP, US), and I was reminded of my mom's collection. Ohi's characters are also members of the Eastern zodiac, so I can totally see them bouncing over to my mom's house and hanging with her collection now that they have conquered their own home.

This book is apparently the start of the series, and I can see how these 3 characters became so beloved multiple sequels were necessitated. Chicken, Pig, and Cow are not only adorable, they each have a distinct personality. These three are brave enough to go on an adventure outside of the barn their child has made with popsicle sticks, and meet a new friend in the process.

This is the 10th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Oct 3, 2011

Short Story Monday: Watermelon Boats

Two of the people I love most in the world are in China right now, so I decided to read a Chinese short story for Short Story Monday hosted at The Book Mine Set.

I read Watermelon Boats by Su Tong, translated by Eric Abrahamsen.

This story seems to be a simple one about a tragedy that strikes when farmers row their wares down the river to sell them in a city. It turns out, however, that this short story is thematically very rich. These few pages are chock-a-block with characters and action, but it is easy to keep up.

The main theme seems to be friction between groups of people, whether urban and rural, client and vendor, lazy and active, or the different classes, everyone seems to be in conflict with everyone else. It touches on quite a few touchy subjects as well, from capital punishment, young offenders, filial relationships (especially in the Confucianist strain), vigilantism, workplace relations, and others. I am amazed at how much the author packs in.

That doesn't mean it's heavy reading, by any means. It's not a happy story, but each character is sympathetic in his or her turn. On one hand we sympathize with the watermelon buyer and mother of the murderer, and on the other with the mob who is enraged to find the woman who raised the boy who killed their beloved friend or brother to be laying in bed eating crackers when none of them have beds of that calibre.

I didn't think I recognized the name of the author, but it turns out he is the man who wrote the book Wives and Concubines which was adapted into the amazing film Raise the Red Lantern (CAN, US). He has a few other books available in English, and I am very interested in reading them, especially The Boat To Redemption (CAN, JP, US), which was the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize winner, and seems to be thematically similar to this lovely short work.