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.

Nov 20, 2011

Letters to Santa

We wrote letters to Santa the other day and finally posted them. For me this is the beginning of the Christmas season. We have to send them this early because as much as I love Canada Post for offering the letters to Santa service, they are very slow.

This is a big deal in our house. The kids have been talking since Halloween about what they are going to ask Santa for and whether or not they will actually be able to tell Santa truthfully that they deserve to be on the nice list.

I think this is a big deal for their literacy as well. I'm sad to say, this is the only English letter they send all year. When I first moved to Japan I sent pages and pages of letters all the time, but now with email and Facebook and Skype there doesn't seem to be any need. Which is quite athletic, actually, as I love the feeling of getting a handwritten letter in the mail and I would love to be the cause of that in others.

The kids do send postcards often in Japanese and get them from their friends and teachers, but this is it for English. I should do something about that.

The kids made a letter card and dictated to me what I was to write. They both remembered to start with Dear so I was quite happy with their progress. Last year Spinky wanted to started with Hey Santa! Spinky even volunteered to write Santa's name and his own. This pleases me to no end. I know he's trying to show off for Santa but I'll take these literacy milestones where I can get them.

The verdict is that both kidlets think that they barely scraped into the nice list, and each has promised to work on being good a lot more.

I know there are people who frown on Santa as lying to their kids but I love how well-behaved mine are. All I need to do at this time of the year is hum "he sees you when you're sleeping." and instant cooperation!

When we went to post the letters, my son told all the postmen why they were there and made them look at his tree drawing on the envelope. They were good sports, but at least one wondered why we were sending it to Canada. I must do more to disabuse Japanese people of the mistaken idea that Santa Claus lives in Finland.

If you want to write to Santa, and get a reply, you can write to:
Santa Claus
North Pole
H0H 0H0

Or you can visit the Canada Post site which has an email option as well.

Nov 19, 2011

I Know Here

I chose to buy I Know Here by Laurel Croza (CAN, JP, US) after it won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book award over Spork. I figured that if it won over the book I loved so much, then it must be a fantastic read.

I Know Here starts with a girl who lives in a place so small that there is only one road with trailers on either side and no grocery store. She knows and loves this little road, the nature that surrounds it, the people who make up her world, and even the pungent animal smells. But her brother has just announced that the construction project her father is working on is almost finished, and they will be moving to the big city of Toronto. A frightening prospect for anyone, but this protagonist is determined to keep a part of this place with her in the move. That's the beauty of this book- the small girl chooses a way to deal with her upsetting circumstance and shows the reader what they too could do in that situation.

The first-person narrative, with concise, emphatic sentences really works for this book. It lends an authenticity to the protagonist's voice, backed up by brilliant illustrations by Matt James. The bright colours and vibrant, exaggerated acrylic paintings look like a very good version of what a child would produce as a tribute to a place she loves.

I can definitely see why this is a multiple award winner. It is one of those rare picture books that is appealing to all ages. It would be fantastic as a going away gift for someone moving to a new place, but is an enjoyable read even without that connection.

This is the 15th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Nov 17, 2011

The Moccasin Telegraph

The Moccasin Telegraph by WP Kinsella (CDN, USA) is the second book of Ermineskin short stories I've read this year.

This book is only Kinsella's third set on the Hobbema reservation, published in 1983. The characters are well-developed and definitely not caricatures, although sometimes the Medicine Woman, Mad Etta, verges into that territory. The humour is less slapstick than in the books focusing on Frank Fencepost, it's more wry and in some stories is barely there.

The theme in this book is disappointing others. From a daughter catching her father stealing her hard-earned money, hunters who get bamboozled by Frankie and lose their car to Silas, to a husband who secretly turns to the old ways despite putting on a front to his wife, or the government who constantly disappoints everyone. The key is to how you deal with disappointing someone or being disappointed, but Kinsella's characters are kept real and sometimes they don't deal at all.

My favourite in the bunch is The Mother's Dance. It begins and ends with the same paragraph about a dance involving babies lifted to the sky. The way it gets to the creating of that dance is thrilling in a way that Kinsella's stories rarely are. The enjoyment of an Ermineskin story is usually in just sitting back and laughing but this plays out like a Grisham novel. The government tries to evict some families based on a tiny deed some of their relatives may have signed decades before. The whole situation is highly unfair but it doesn't look like there's a way out until an overtly acknowledged case of deus ex machina, where a rich Indian woman comes in and magically gets the court to back down. How she does it doesn't matter- what matters is how the people come together to thank her, not with money or gifts she doesn't need, but with a dance.

I have to admit that half the pleasure for me in these Hobbema books is how nostalgic it is for me. Even when I go back to my hometown the stores and the places of the 80s when I grew up are gone. But they're still around in Silas' world, and I remember a lot about my own youth through plot points mentioned by Kinsella.

This is the 14th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Nov 16, 2011

What are you reading Wednesday?

What are you reading?

What are your kids reading?

What are you reading to your kids?

Let me hear 'em!

I'm reading V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton. This is the 4th last in the alphabet mystery series, and the best so far, imho.

I read I Know Here, by Laurel Croza, to my son this evening.

My daughter requested The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. It's a classic, and we all enjoyed it.