Aug 30, 2011


When I was young, the coolest place to be was the empty lot across a busy road from our subdivision. There were mound and mounds of dirt and nothing else. I couldn't wait to be allowed to go by myself. Finally, when I was 9, my parents let me take my brother. We went with our very 80s BMX bikes. The scariest part was on the road in there was a house that belonged to a biker which had pitbulls on chains around the whole house, with only a foot between them. L'il bro rode the mounds up and down and jumped off of them, but I was too scared to do any tricks so I mostly just laid down and stared at the sky and pretended that the mounds were castles in Europe and the boys BMXing around me were knights charging their enemies. We went there often, and then in September we moved and had to find a new empty lot to make our own.

Boring summer days are the best.

These memories were dredged up when I read Mattland (CDN, JP, US) to my kids. We all loved it.

Matt has moved. Again. He has no friends, and the only place he can find to play is an empty lot. Not to be deterred, he conquers the lot and makes it his own Mattland. He makes rivers and towns and everything in between. By doing this he also makes a friend, and inspires some adults to get involved as well. Not bad for a kid with a little creativity trying to stave off boredom in a new place, eh.

This book isn't wordy. Its minimalist prose really suits the subject matter. However, we do want more adventures of Matt!

Mattland is an award winner (Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award 2009) and it is easy to see why. This is truly a great book, from pictures to words to the reaction from my kids.

Mattland is a collaboration between two Canadian authors, Albertan Hazel Hutchins and Ontarian Gail Herbert. Hutchins is a well-known author whose works span the children's genres, from picture books to teen fiction. We have two of her other books, Together and A Second is a Hiccup, both of which are big hits. I can't wait to add to our library. I don't know if Herbert has authored any more books but I hope so!

The evocative illustrations are a product of Dusan Petricic. He is a prolific illustrator, and my wish list is filled with books he has illustrated, from Rude Ramsay and the Roarding Radishes (by Canadian icon Margaret Atwood!) to Bone, Button, Borscht. I read Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang eons ago, and can't wait to share this series with my kidlets.

This was my
This is my 7th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Aug 29, 2011

August 2011 Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

There's a wonderful group of parents out in the blog world who are doing an amazing job of raising their kids bilingually. Some are minority speakers like me, trying to keep their language alive for their kids. Others are supporting their spouse's minority language. Others are raising their kids in non-native languages.

I know how hard they work at this. Bilingualism is not osmosis. And these parents not only put in that work, they take the time to blog about it too!

I have been reading the Blogging Carnival on Biligualism for a while, but this is the first time I have participated.

Tye over at Tongue Tales is our generous host this month. Definitely pop by the Carnival and check out these amazing bloggers!

Aug 28, 2011

Top Ten Expat Canadian Books

Over on The Book Mine Set, John has asked Canadian Book Challenge participants to come up with a list of books for their province or territory. I made one for Alberta, but to be honest, I identify more with expat Canadians than with those in Canada, for obvious reasons. So I took it upon myself to make a list of the top Expat Canadian books, featuring expat Canadians, not necessarily written by expat Canadians.

Here it is!

10. Curious Little World - Rex Bartlett (St. Helena Island) (CDN, US)
9. The Water In Between, A Journey at Sea - Kevin Patterson (Ocean and Tahiti) (CDN, JP, US)
8. I am a Japanese Writer - Dany LaFerriere (Japan) (CDN, JP, US)
7. Wonderful Use for Fire - Hayden Gabriel (UK and Hawaii) (CDN, JP, US)
6. Sumo Santa - David Howard Berrade (Japan) (CDN)
5. Deadly Slipper - Michelle Wan (France) (CDN)
4. Last Time I Saw Jane - Kate Pullinger (UK) (CDN, JP, US)
3. Beyond the Sky and Earth - Jamie Zeppa (Bhutan) (CDN, JP, US)
2. Moche Warrior - Lyn Hamilton (Peru) (CDN, JP, US)
1. Hokkaido Highway Blues (apparently now renamed Hitching Rides with Buddha) - Will Ferguson (Japan) (CDN, JP, US)

It's a little Japan-heavy. Sorry about that, this really reflects where my interests lie (and what I can buy in this corner of Japan!).

Do you have any other suggestions for expat Canadian fiction?

Aug 26, 2011

Book or Movie first?

I have a strong policy of reading a book before I see the movie version. I think this is mostly because I don't want the book, which I am bound to like better, to be spoiled. Or maybe because I want to make my own mind up about what The characters and sets would look like without Hollywood's interference.

I thought I would keep this policy for my kids as well. I dreamt of reading Harry Potter to them and then watching the movies and picking through inconsistencies.

But it turns out my kids don't want to wait. Best laid plans and all...

A lovely friend sent the kids some books and we have loved delving into them. One of the books is a Chronicles of Narnia workbook, and my son is fascinated with the lion, the shields, the train, everything! He wants to watch the movie, and I happen to have a DVD, while my book is being loaned out.

So it looks like Friday night will be spent with popcorn in front of the tv watching The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. On one hand I'm sad my rule is out the window and on the other I am very hopeful that my kids will love Narnia as much as I do.

Do you watch movies or read the books first? Or does it not matter, as long as they are good?

Aug 17, 2011

100 Most Awesome Things on the Planet

This is the first review I've published of a book I didn't love. I hate to do it!

We recently read the 100 Most Awesome Things on The Planet. (CDN, JP, US)

After living in Japan so long I am usually happy with anything in English. I read the back of imported cereal boxes with fascination. I've probably read half of Danielle Steele's books and haven't hated them. I have pretty low standards.

But there was just something about this book that I didn't like. I guess part of that is that I have a different (possibly very 80s!) connotation of what awesome means.

This just seemed so sensationalist. (What was I expecting? The title should have been a giveaway). They rank cars and military weapons and manmade wonders and nature using little happy/shocked faces. That drove me nuts. Who are these people to decide to rank Machu Picchu lower than a cool car?

Of course, the thing that I disliked the most was because I took it so personally. A couple of the highest ranked awesome things are tsunamis and earthquakes (complete with a picture of Kobe). I guess it's too soon after 3/11 for me to deal with that. I guess that yes, earthquakes are awesome. Powerful, destructive. And tsunamis are all that and rare. So it fits the description, but I can't see any good about them. Great white sharks are awesome and have a place in the ecosystem that makes them a force for good. I can't say the same for these two killers.

My son really enjoyed the pictures. They are very well done. It's definitely a good concept, and it seems to be something boys are interested in.

Aug 15, 2011

Biculturalism and Being True To Yourself

The last three days have been Obon, a summer holiday dedicated to remembering one's ancestors. My husband's grandparents died two years ago, and although we never did anything for it before we do now.

In Japanese society it is sometimes hard to draw a line between religion and cultural practices. I have no problem with secular cultural practices, but as an atheist I don't want to participate in religious activities. When it comes to things in my own country I have a good idea of what is secular and what is not. For example, I love secular Christmas, from trees to decorations to cards to lights and Santa. But I don't go to church services or sing happy birthday to Jesus.

When it comes to Obon it's a little trickier. On the first night we burn joss sticks to guide the ancestors back to the altar. The altar is obviously religious but burning joss sticks? I don't know. I participate in it, anyway, but probably because I am the only one who can light a decent fire in my family. My mother-in-law doesn't have a car so I drove her to clean the grave and to the Budhhist temple where she participated in a ceremony. I did cleaning and sat in the back of the hall for the ceremony but didn't pray, just bowed my head so I wouldn't stick out (ha! I stick out no matter what!). They deliver a box with burning incense and ashes to place on it (3 times) before praying. My mother in law made my son do that part and asked him to pray to his great-grandma for something. I wanted to opt out of that part but she made a big deal about them bringing the box to me and I did the ashes thing then put my hands together as if I was praying. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

I don't mind if my kids are interested in religion and ask questions about it. I think it is important to learn about all religions before choosing one or choosing not to believe at all. However, I would prefer that it come from them. I wish that my son has had the choice to copy his grandmother's actions or not (I wish I had had a choice!). He already knows about praying because the school takes him once a year to a big Shinto shrine. That's fine, I've just explained that my view is that it is okay to wish for things but you have to work toward them instead of waiting for someone else to drop it in your lap.

It wasn't a very comfortable time for me at all, actually, when all I wanted to do was make sure my mother-in-law didn't have to ride her scooter in the rain. I was asked for my name to be put on mailing lists and to buy a newspaper subscription. It's easier to say no to strangers than to my husband's mother, however!

I'm not sure what this has to do about bicultural parenting. I guess it's just something that we have to play by ear, setting boundaries that make us comfortable. I am well aware that my kids will learn different things from each member of the family, and although I am okay with that I want them to have the choice to practice as they see fit.

Where do you draw the line between what you are comfortable with and your host country's culture?

Aug 9, 2011

Drumheller Dinosaur Dance

I moved schools a few times when I was a kid. It always seemed like I changed schools at just the wrong time, and always missed the science field trip. I've never been to Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Drumheller, the Badlands, or even the Royal Tyrell Museum.

And now I feel mad about it! Drumheller looks so cool, what with dinosaurs skeletons getting up and about and making music and dancing to their prehistoric rhythms every night!

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

Spinky loved this book. It had dinosaurs, night-darkened illustrations, bones, and rhymes, all of which he loves.

Domba loved this book for the music and dancing. She made her own dinosaur dance, if dinos danced in diapers. She liked the dinosaurs' drums, which look to be similar to those of ancient first nations' culture, but are very similar to the wrapping of skin found in Japanese wadaiko.

I loved it too. How can you not love a picture book that has the word transmogrify?

This is my 6th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Aug 8, 2011

Short Story Monday- Madame Poirier's Dog

I read Madame Poirier's Dog by Kathleen Winter for my first Short Story Monday. It is part of Walrus Magazine's Summer Reading Issue 2011.

My favourite line was "The air in here — it is as if we are walking to the cafeteria and the bingo room in a warm vapour of piss. " So you've been to Japan in summer then, Ms. Winter!

An older woman is in an old folk's home and dreading an old acquaintance who is going to be barging in to her life. In this way it sort of recalls Water for Elephants, but this is where the comparison ends.

Although her son Armand is the apple of her eye, almost everyone else in this story suffers the old lady's disdain; her other sons, Armand's wife, her old neighbour who likes the dog a little too much and her husband who was apparently a few peaches light of a basket.

The old lady tells a couple of stories. One about Armand's old boss who knew the ratio for ripping his customers off without complaint, and another about Madam Poirier's dog. This dog was so precious it had a chastity belt, but her canine courter was handy enough to get around it. The dog story was funny, the one about the cheating fruit seller was not.

Perhaps my disdain for the old lady comes from the fact that I am more likely to be like the daughter-in-law she despises, always asking questions, than the old lady herself.

The story was interesting even if I didn't sympathize with the main character.

Aug 6, 2011

The Art of Nagging

My kids don't always speak to me in English. No, let me rephrase that. My kids hardly ever speak to me in English. They know I speak Japanese, even though I only speak English to them in the house and have done so since they were born. They understand everything I say in English, but what they have to say is in Japanese.

I wonder what other bilingual parents do to get their kids to speak in their language at home?

Usually, in real life, when I talk to people about this, they say to just stop answering when my kids speak in Japanese. I know that's probably the fastest way to get results, but I just can't do it that way. One of the things I love about my kids is that we talk about everything, and I don't want to give them the message that I don't care about what they are saying.

So I try a couple of other approaches. First is the gentle reminder. "English, please." Then there's the misunderstanding. "You ate what for lunch?" Then there's the one I use most often with my daughter, repeating her sentence back to her in English (because her vocabulary is smaller in English). I also use the silly, overly dramatic way. I pretend my heart is broken because they won't speak in English and fall on the floor writhing, or something else. There's always the ever popular exasperation. "Why won't you speak English with meeeeeeeee?" Last is, as I call it, the "Dale McGowan way" of questioning them on something I know they know the real answer for.

For example, today my son said "Mite, Mukku mitai na inu ga sanpo shiteiru." (Look, a dog like Grandma's is taking a walk.) So I said, in English, "oh, really, a dinosaur? A dinosaur is taking a walk?" First they dissolved into giggles, then he said the whole sentence in English just so his dense mama would really get it. It works. The sillier the better.

These are all what I do when the kids speak Japanese. But when they speak English I always try to use praise. It's hard to know when to fit it in though, I don't want to interrupt the flow of conversation, but I do want to make sure I like what I am hearing.

The problem, of course, is that I usually end up with exasperation at least once a day. Mostly because I am so sensitive to it. For some reason not speaking my native language is a personal affront in the way leaving sharks on the floor is not.

I know there are other options out there, like reward systems, that I just haven't tried. I'm not against bribery as a parenting tactic, I just haven't used it for English. Yet!

What tactics do you use to get your kids to speak your language?

Aug 3, 2011

Canadian Kindle Books

I joined the 5th Canadian Book Challenge 2 days before it began. The first event on deck was the Under the Midnight Sun Readathon. I joined and then thought- I don't know if I have any adult Canadian books! What shall I do?

My nearest bookshop with English books is only about an hour away, but there is no guarantee a Canadian book would be on sale. In fact, I knew hardly any Canadian books. Amazon Japan's shipping is quick when something is in stock, but not quick enough to make it before the readathon began at 12noon. Lucky I have my Kindle, right?

Wrong! The books I knew that were Canadian that I wanted to read were either not available on Kindle or not for my region. It took me a few hours of looking up Canadian books until I found and settled on The Birth House by Ami McKay and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Still, the time I spent searching for Canadian books on Kindle was time I could have been reading! I wondered why there was no list of Canadian books available on Kindle. So I made one!

Here is my Canadian Kindle bookstore on This is by no means exhaustive so please let me know of any you find that I haven't listed!

Full disclosure: If you buy something from this store I should get a small percentage. Thanks for helping to support my Canadian book addiction and getting English books for my kids.

Aug 1, 2011

Top Ten Alberta Books

John at The Book Mine Set has asked participants in the 5th Canadian Book Challenge to list their top ten books from the province or territory where they live.

I'll do mine for Alberta, where my heart is.

10. Plan B is Total Panic - Martyn Godfrey

9. Drumheller Dinosaur Dance

8. The Roaring Girl - Greg Hollingshead

7. Wings of Fate - TM Hobbs*

6. Why I Hate Canadians - Will Ferguson

5. Temptations of Big Bear - Rudy Wiebe

4. Dance Me Outside - WP Kinsella

3. Here She Is, Ms. Teeny Wonderful - Martyn Godfrey

2. Garneau Block - Todd Babiak

1. Obasan - Joy Kagawa

*indicates books I've yet to read, but basing their placement in these lists based on my wanting to read them and the positive reviews I've read.

Numbers 3, 7, and 10 are Young Adult Fiction, and Number 9 is a children's picture book. Half of these are humorous books. I wouldn't say that I normally tend toward those types of books, but maybe these are the types of books good Albertan authors tend to publish?

Have you read any of these? What are your top 10 books from your favourite province or territory?

The Fire Station

A couple of weeks before school ended, my son had a visit from the fire fighters close to our house. They did a fire safety demonstration and everyone got to climb on the truck. All those bells and whistles and buttons really piqued his interest. He was a fireman for Halloween last year, and has been wearing the hat around the house as he rescues his sister from increasingly dangerous situations.

The Fire Station (JP, CN, US) is the perfect book for both of them right now.

Sheila and Michael get so dirty they need a fire hose to wash off. Both of my kids can relate to this! They get to ride on the fire engine when the alarm sounds off while they are they. This turns into the Munschian adventure of a lifetime!

Robert Munsch can always elicit a giggle from my kids. His words can brighten up even the grumpiest of kids (or moms). This book is not an exception to the rule!

The Fire Station, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, is the 5th book I've read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.