Feb 29, 2012

February Reading Roundup

Happy Leap Day!  Are you doing something daring today? I'm already married so I think proposing is out, I want to do something daring today. My husband thinks we should have fugu (puffer fish) for dinner. I'm not convinced- I want daring, not stupid!

 This was a big month, as it was the first month I hosted the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism. Despite a few time zone glitches, I think it went well. I feel like every month our little bilingual family comes closer for a bit, even though we are all over the world and speaking many many languages.  It was really fun, actually, and I hope to do it again!

On the good news front, I am 29/29 days on my read aloud challenge. This has been a great month. My kids are good at asking in the morning if it is a busy day, and reminding me to read if it is!

Since July I have been doing the Canadian Reading Challenge #5. I didn't read as much this month as last, with 4 Canadian picture books (Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, Birthday Suit, Franklin in the Dark, and Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight) and only 1 adult book.  More next month I hope!

Next is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012. I am at 4/20 books marked off already, having read Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, and Knockin' on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates this month.

I knocked off my first book for the Reading the World Challenge! I hit the Caribbean with Birthday Suit, which made me long for warmer weather.

The Read to Me Picture Book Challenge is pretty hard to keep track of, but between here and Goodreads I think I have been able to count most of what we have read!
This month we read Valentine's Day, Pinkalicious Pink of Hearts, Bosley Sees the World, Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, Press Here, Birthday Suit, The Snow Day, Knockin' on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates, Franklin in the Dark, and Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight to make 20/120.

How was your reading this month? Are you doing any challenges? February is a short month so it's easy to fall behind.

Feb 28, 2012

The Letter Opener

The Letter Opener (CAN, US, INT)

Written by Kyo Maclear

Published by: Harper Perennial

Published in: 2007

In The Letter Opener, Naiko works in the Undeliverable Mail Office, sifting through both objects belonging to people across Canada that have not reached their intended destination, and sifting through the memories of those around her and those who have left her. The myriad of objects she encounters all trigger memories for her and people who have affected her - not just things but guardians of the past.

There are so many parallels in this story- her coworker Andrei joins Naiko in sorting through belongings, just as his grandmother was assigned to do in Birkenau. Separation from belongings is a special sort of inhumanity seen in the Japanese internment camps in Canada, in the Holocaust, in Eastern Europe for Jews who survived, and for those forced to flee from behind the Iron Curtain.

Naiko is an old-fashioned name. Its bearers were usually born in the Taisho era, so they were of the same age as Naiko's mother would have been. Normally the name Naiko is expressed in katakana rather than having a kanji or hiragana as is common for women's names now. But if it had a kanji it would probably be 内 which is read nai or uchi and means inside, very befitting for an introspective character who provides insights into so many universal experiences.

At first I was upset that I hadn't read this the moment it was released.  However I think that it is more poignant to have read it this year, as the Arab Spring parallels the uprisings in Prague and Romania chronicled in this story set in 1989. Last year's tsunami and the work still going on trying to reunite people with their belongings has given me a sense of how important belongings truly are. I imagine the quilt Naiko has been able to pass to her mother's friend, a remnant of belongings stolen from her aunt and uncle by the government in WW2, to be a link with people she loved and will never see again. I think of the work being done in Tohoku right now, scrubbing Butsudans of mud and fixing family photos and then trying so hard to find out where the owners are, if they are.

Maclear is also the author of Spork, the book I read last year that I enjoyed the most. The trademark of Maclear's work, whether for adults or for children, is the sense that every single word is perfect, that there is no better word that could replace it.  The writing is absolutely beautiful. She makes me want to be a better writer, as if just enjoying and learning from the presentation of her craft is not enough, I need to take her inspiration and do something with it. Alas, all I really have is my poor blog.

This is the 28th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Feb 27, 2012

Short Story Monday: Love Right on the Yesterday

Until recently, I would say that about 4 in 5 of the stories I've read set in Japan have been clunkers.
 Part of this is just me as one of the expats in Japan who engages in that terrible oneupmanship that involves comparing numbers of kanji learned and thinking that we all know Japan more than the next expat. When Heroes began the internet was awash in people picking apart the Japanese characters' accents and vocab. Does this happen in other countries?

The other problem is that there are people who have important stories that need to be told but they have spent their adult lives in a non-English speaking world and seem to have lost their ability to write in English. I'm not sure how some of these get published, other than those that are self-published. I get antsy sometimes and start reaching for my red pen when reading the worst of these. Everyone needs an editor when they publish, and some need more than one.

But something in 2012 has gone very right, and so far everything I have read on Japan has been awesome. The writing is great. The Japan facts are right on. Plus I haven't felt like anyone is using Japan as a gimmick because it is weird.

I include in this the short story I read for this Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set, in this list of winners. Love Right on the Yesterday is a coming of age story written by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga for the Tomo Anthology of young adult stories related to Japan, which is to be released next week as the first anniversary of the 3.11 disasters nears.

Love Right on the Yesterday is a story about a teen and her passion and how it affects her relationship with her parents. Yumi is a teen who loves singing and her idol, Rie Ando, and wants to push that love to the next level by becoming the next Rie Ando. She puts all her effort into this dream, and although her parents seem to thwart her at every turn, they relent when she gets her big break.

Tokunaga's characters are all sympathetic. How can you not feel for the daughter who just wants to do what she loves, the mother who wants her child safe, or the overworked father? Because of this, although you want to cheer when Yumi gets permission to start her idol career,  there is a niggling doubt of worry set in your mind by Yumi's mom, that this could be a disaster.

Tokunaga is a long-time resident of Japan, and her attention to detail is excellent.  Just the names of the characters are enough to show the generations to which they belong. She also chronicles the life of a pop star in the way it truly is in Japan.  Yumi might think that this is all about her singing and fashion, but we can see that it is her youth and naiveté which are really the product. Her singing voice is decent, but it's the number of stuffed animals she owns that will delight young girls and otaku alike.

Love Right on the Yesterday is a delightful introduction to a book of short stories which has high aims. Holly Thompson selected at least one fantastic story for her anthology, and I can't wait until March when I find out if they are all as good. I have a feeling my luck will hold.

Feb 26, 2012

Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight

Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Ruth Ohi

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: January 19, 2012

We've read Chicken, Pig, Cow, the first in the series, and this is a particular favourite for my kids, especially my daughter.  So the newest book in the series was highly anticipated and not only by me.

Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight did not disappoint. Despite not having read the other books in the series between the first and this one, we are able to jump right into the story. Chicken, Pig, Cow, and Dog still exhibit the same distinct personalities as in the first book.

Chicken, Pig, and Cow are playing amongst a block city when one rambunctious member of the trio bowls down Chicken's masterpiece. Just like my own children, doing something wrong puts Pig on the defensive, and he gets as grumpy as Chicken. They play the blame game before Pig puts himself in timeout. When he returns he makes up with Chicken, and they all, even Dog, put things to rights.

I like how realistic the fight was- certainly this occurs more often in my house than someone apologizing right away. Pig also shows that it is okay to remove yourself from a situation if emotions are running high, instead of standing and squabbling forever. My kids all had their own ideas for how Chicken and Pig should settle their argument, here's hoping they use these themselves soon!

I love the block Chicken they all made at the end. Ohi is a master of textures and of showing deep feeling on faces drawn with only a few brush strokes. That's what will keep her books on our "must-buy" list.

This is the 27th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Feb 23, 2012

February Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism

Welcome to the February Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism! This is my first time hosting, and I am so excited to share all the fantastic posts I have received!

Are you new to the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism?  This is an event for those who blog about multilingualism issues that recurs monthly. It is coordinated by the lovely Letizia at Bilingue per Gioco.  Please get in touch with her if you want to be on the mailing list or if you'd like to volunteer to host.

Erik at Kid Book Ratings offers up a bilingual book I know my daughter would love. Dora's Opposites introduces a few Spanish words and the concept of opposites, which is great for preschoolers. Check out all of the bilingual books he has reviewed on his site.

More books are offered up by Tamara at Non-Native Bilingualism in Fun.Bilingual.Literary.Life.  You might be aware that books are a passion of mine, and she has almost convinced me to rush out and buy all the books she mentioned. But I don't think my long-forgotten high school German will do them justice.  I will buy her husband's book when his story is published though!

Kate at German in the Afternoon touches on how important it is to incorporate culture with our language lessons, and she starts with my favourite, food! In Eating Our Way Through German Cuisine, she talks about all the lecker (which even sounds like a word that means lip-smacking good!) dishes she plans to make and gives us a recipe for the Swiss dish Rösti. It's now on my weekend menu, how about yours?

HiraganaMama hits close to my home in her post Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth The Costs? I'm sure all of us would say yes just by being invested enough to participate in the Carnival, but there is a lot of time and effort and even money that goes into our multilingual dreams for our kids. Do you agree with her assessment?

At Our Non-Native Bilingual Adventure, Nic celebrates an anniversary in One Year On- Oh How Far We Have Come.  Please join me in offering her congratulations! I hope this is only the first of many years to come!

At Gato and Canard, Annabelle spends time with a family who isn't using their second language with their child and wonders what the reason for that could be, in Suppressed Languages

At BabelKid, Jan engages in a language showdown with a trilingual youngster in Not Mixing Languages - Extreme Edition. Who's your money on?

Reb at Uh Oh SpaghettiOs writes about the differences in language acquisition between her two kids this month in Bilingual Siblings: A Different Story. I certainly found this to be the case with my two! Are your kids more similar than different?

Lulu at Cherry Blossom Adventures talks about how they don't follow a prescribed method for raising their 2 sons bilingually in No Method, they just do what works for them. That works for me!

Tracey at Native Tongues ponders the benefits of bilingual nursery school, and wonders about sourcing minority language materials in Bilingual Nursery or Not, That Would Be the Question.

Maria at Busy as a Bee in Paris shows that raising bilingual children, even if they don't live with you, can succeed despite other people's intentions in Why I Ended the English/Spanish Immersion with my Daycare Children. I'd like to give her coworkers a piece of my mind!

Tatjana at PebbleMeddle talks about the language choices she makes and the support she wants from others in Why Do I Switch from Serbian to English and Why I Need Non-Serbian People Around Me to Continue to Speak Serbian To My Son. I think we all need support from our communities- do you get enough?

Elizabeth at La Mother Tongue proves that the apple doesn't fall far from the language nerd tree in Musings of a Language Nerdo Mami (and I cannot be along in wanting links to Mickey Mouse Club in Portuguese, can I?).

Amanda at The Educator's Spin On It gets her kids to act out a famous Russian story in Bilingual Babies- Acting Out A Story "Repka".  This seems like a great activity! This story is in many cultures now, is there a version in yours?

I posted about what I am doing to help my son become literate in both his languages, by giving him household vocabulary in Environmental Print Part II.

I hope you all enjoy visiting these posts and if you are like me you will start trawling through their archives!  I hope you all comment on each others' posts as well, I find the comments is where we build our little bilingual community.

March's Carnival will be hosted by PebbleMeddle.  If you would like to be a host, please contact Letizia at her page.

Feb 22, 2012

What Are You Reading Wednesday?

We can't let hump day go by without you all convincing me to buy something new, can we?

I am reading Peeps by Scott Westerfeld. I read his Uglies series last year, so far I'm enjoying it but not as much as the previous series. I'm always like that, I get so attached to characters!

 My son is reading this magazine called Terebi-kun (Little TV). It's not at all the kind I like. Basically, it's a magazine dedicated to fighting tv characters. Blegh. The Japanese version of Power Rangers changes every year at this time. Last week it was pirate Gokaijer and from Sunday it will be Gobusters. My son gets so mad at me when I call them Ghostbusters! I guess I better rent him the Ghostbusters movie so he gets a little English in there.

Domba is interested too. He got this mag for his birthday yesterday, and they spent the evening laying on their tummies on the living room rug with this open in front of them while Spinky reads it out loud. Why oh why do they have to bond over this?

As a bit of blog business, I am taking part in Playing by the Book's Edible Book Festival. Better put my nonexistant  kyaraben skills to work!  I am still undecided as to what to make. I'm looking for something that is suitable for those with no artistic skill, that involves something yummy, like chocolate. And suggestions? Or do you have an idea you want to do yourself?  Definitely take part! There are international prizes!!!

What are you reading this week?

Feb 21, 2012

Franklin in the Dark 25th Anniversary Edition (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Paulette Bourgeois

Illustrated by: Brenda Clark

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: February 1, 2011

I won this book during a monthly roundup for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge, hosted by The Book Mine Set. It soon became a household favourite.

We have a number of Franklin books, including Franklin and the Thunderstorm which was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog. But we'd never read the one that started it all!

Franklin has many skills, including the ability to button buttons and count forwards and backwards. The problem is that even though Franklin is a turtle who is supposed to enjoy the comfort of his shell, he is afraid of the dark!

But Franklin wasn't going to just stay afraid. Pulling his shell behind him, and wearing a rainbow shirt almost all of us 80s children also had, he visits other animals for help. A duck offers him water wings, and a polar bear offers him a snowsuit. But none of these help.

What does help is knowing he is afraid but pushing on forward anyway. Franklin finds courage inside himself, and the reader finds a very special meaning and a very endearing character.

The 25th anniversary edition has some extras, including letters from the illustrator and author, a summary of Franklin's personality and adventures, and pictures of all the Franklin goods that have been produced. My kids are particularly enamoured of a brown backpack and lunchbox set with Franklin's visage.

It's easy to see why Franklin became a classic, he is absolutely adorable as well as being plucky. I love this little vignette, I'm not sure if this is new for the 25th anniversary edition or not. My daughter wants that turtle doll for her birthday!

This is the 26th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Feb 20, 2012

Knockin' On Wood: Peg Leg Bates

Knockin' On Wood, Starring Peg Leg Bates (CAN, JP, USA, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Lynne Barasch

Published by: Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Published on: February 25, 2005

My daughter loves to dance. She sings to herself to dance, she dances whenever she hears music, and sometimes she dances to a tune I know she only hears in her head. She loves to dance to Baby Rotation by AKB48, one of the most horrifying examples of J-Pop and inappropriate sexualization of young girls in this country, which I wouldn't listen to for anybody but her. I want to get her into classes when she's older, but all the classes I have found seem to be during the day, and since I work we are automatically ineligible.

I've been looking for books about dancing for her, most of which come from the fantastic blog Picture Books and Pirouettes. Personally I have an interest in tap, which I have never seen in Japan, but which I like because you make your own music. So I set out to find a tap book and got this one.

This is a picture book biography of Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates (1907 - 1998). Clayton was born to a sharecropper but would do anything to get out and dance. He took a job the local cotton seed mill when he was twelve and soon lost his left leg in an accident. This didn't stop him dancing though, he recovered and went on to be better than the two-legged tap dancers.

That's doesn't mean Peg Leg, as he was now known, would get his happy ending from his talent and drive. Because when he was at the height of his popularity segregation still abounded in the US. After performing to a sold-out theatre he would have to leave to have a meal in the black restaurants. But Bates was not one to take anything, even the loss of a leg, lying down, and he eventually opened up his own Peg Leg Bates Country Club where he performed and welcomed guests no matter their colour.

The illustrations in this biography show great depth in the backgrounds, which gives kids a feel for the early 20th century, on poor farms or in vaudeville theatres. The weak point is that the faces of the characters have the same expression at all times.

This is food for a lot of conversation. My son remembered reading Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged a couple of weeks ago,  and asked why Peg Leg didn't just leave and go to Desmond's hometown. It was an interesting conversation and we touched on a lot of issues, and I think he has figured out that I don't know everything now as I don't know where there would have been less racism at that time. We also talked about Bates' mothers faith and how her "Lord" is different from the gods he has been introduced to by Buddhism and Shinto.

I was curious to see Peg Leg's dancing after this, and found this video. He's 60 in his last performance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Peg Leg Bates is truly inspiring. He got up and danced no matter the obstacle, and he brought smiles to millions.

It's time for me to stop making excuses. In this day and age, with music everywhere, and Wii games and Youtube videos that will teach you to dance, my daughter can do anything she wants even without lessons, and I will support her to do that.

This post is part of Nonfiction Monday, a weekly event in the kidlitosphere, hosted this week by Lori Calabrese.

Feb 19, 2012

The Snow Day

 The Snow Day (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Komako Sakai

Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books

Published on: Jan 1, 2009

I have been saving this book for weeks! I thought that there would be snow by now. Last year there were 4 days with snow that stayed on the ground, but this year, nada. When I picked this up in January at my local bookshop I hid it from my kids hoping to have something to read to them on the inevitable snow day. You see, when it snows so much it sticks on the ground (like in October in Canada) people don't even think of driving and school is cancelled.  As much as I like to make fun, we had our own snow days in Canada, and I don't want to be on the road with a bunch of people with summer tires and no winter driving experience!

Today there were flakes of snow, and I think this might be our last snow of the year. There was not enough to do much other than make the light look pretty, which means no snow angels but also no shoveling!

Still, we had a lazy day at home that included board games, hot cocoa, and curling up in front of the fan heater with this book.

A snow day keeps a kindergarten student home in his apartment with his mother. No matter the excitements she plans, nothing takes away the yearning of this little bunny to go outside when it stops snowing. Even a trip to snowy the balcony cannot cure the bunny's case of cabin fever. But eventually the snow stops and the bunny gets to step into the night and enjoy his freedom for a moment.

Sakai's illustrations are adorable and show some real love between the mother and child. Funny how she captures the urban Japanese lifestyle so well even without much time our and about in the city!

I personally love this little vignette- in Canada we'd be curled up in front of the fire but here in Japan it's a fan heater just like this one. Mama Rabbit is sitting properly on her knees in seiza but little Bunny has his legs whatever way is comfy. No sofa-sitting either, that takes you too far away from the heat!

It seems that this book is translated from the original Japanese book called ゆきがやんだら (Yuki ga yandara, When it Stops Snowing). I'll be looking for that in my local library.

This has been a relatively warm winter, have you had a snow day? Do you have memories of snow days as a child?

Feb 18, 2012

Environmental Print Part II

Last month I talked about my search for environmental print in our neighbourhood for my son to read. I was a little surprised when it actually turned out that there was more English around than hiragana, the first Japanese syllabary kids in Japan learn in school.

I've decided to take things into my own hands. I got a pen and a pack of sticky labels and went to work.  Half an hour later I had a hundred labels stuck all over items in our house.
I tried to keep the hiragana words a little separate from the English words just so he can work on one at a time. Also because it is just plain easier to read hiragana. If you know the name of the character, you know how to read, no letters with 5 different readings!

When possible I put the Japanese word on the opposite side of the English word.

Also, I neglected to realize that my eye level is not my son's eye level. Since I did this at night I took a tape measure up to his futon, checked his eye level, and then redid about 12 of my stickers.  Thank goodness for pealable labels!

Spinky was really interested when he woke up the next morning, it's kind of like a literacy Easter Egg hunt. He likes finding and reading them, and to make another game out of it sometimes I set him tasks- like find a word with g  or d, or two words with e. The first time we did that he took them all down! Now he just has to tell me that it is the toilet door or the egg in the fridge.

I'd say that in the week we've had this up he has learned about half the 50 words I put up in English, and about 3/4 of the Japanese words. I add these words into his daily writing practice and if he can read it without sounding it out I think he knows the word.

I have purposely avoided saying anything about the Japanese, but he hasn't asked me any questions about it either. I'm not sure if that's because the hiragana is self-explanatory or if it's because he associates me with English by now.  He has had some English questions (why are there two o's in door?) that have been hard for me to answer though!

I really recommend this environmental print activity for anyone with an emerging reader. We did it in two languages, but I think that it would be fine for monolingual families or just to do in the heritage language for multilingual families.

I wonder if there are any other countries in which the first syllabary children learn is hard to find in which this would be a good activity?

See the first post on Environmental Print here.

*This post is for February's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, which I am hosting! Please comment here or email me if you want to participate, and definitely check back on Feb. 23 for the best blog posts about bilingualism this month!

Feb 17, 2012

Birthday Suit

Birthday Suit (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Olive Senior

Paintings by: Eugenie Fernandes

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: January 19, 2012

Ages: 3+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

I have a nudist toddler. I am sure you know a nudist toddler. They seem to be everywhere. Their numbers explode in Japan's hot summer, and they can be seen in almost any weather in parks around the country with water installations.

Who can blame them?

Johnny is happier in his birthday suit splashing through Caribbean waves than anything else.  His mother, however, has a goal to get him in clothes, and his father helps guide him in that direction. He shows him the fun of clothes, even when they are on the wrong parts.

Senior is a renowned poet and her skills have been put to excellent use creating pages of text that is just plain fun to read aloud.

Johnny's jellyfish squirming/ slippery worming/jump-about jostling/ writhing and tossing/ find him free, with a POP!

Fernandes' illustrations carry an amazing sense of movement, from the waves of the ocean and the life with which it teems to the laundry swaying in the wind.Her intricate backgrounds take this from a beach story that could take place anywhere in the world to something specific to the Caribbean. It is especially amazing that she could illustrate a book about nudity without either showing off the front bits of the little boy or delving into the slapstick comedy used by Austin Powers.

I especially like the sun looking down from the top of each page- it makes me feel that this friendly sun is the narrator for the book.

This book should make it onto the bookshelves of all homes with a kindred nudist spirit.

This is the first book I read for the Reading the World Challenge, and it is set in the Caribbean.

This is the 25th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Feb 16, 2012

Press Here

Press Here (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by Herve Tullet

Published by: Chronicle Books

Published on: March 30, 2011

Ages: 2+

I thought I had learned my lesson from Ginny Weasley's mistake in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As we are told in that book, "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain."

I guess this book doesn't actually think for itself. But it told me what to do. And I did it.

It wasn't just me though. My kids did it too. Wonder of wonders, so did my husband. Then we did it again.

There's just something irresistible about this charming book that consists of only white pages, primary-coloured dots, and instructions.

I think that this book would be the perfect book for English as a Foreign Language Teachers. If my friends in ELT have no book but one, I hope this is it. Easy enough for beginners, engaging enough for even the most advanced adults, this book would be a perfect conversation starter.

Feb 15, 2012

What Are You Reading Wednesday?

Last week's WAYRW was a blessing and a curse. So many great books.  Which of course means I bought so many great books.  Don't tell my husband!

I am still reading The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear. I am on the last chapter, but trying to draw it out before it ends. I do the same thing with a good meal, rush into it and then savour the end.

My kids each got a new book yesterday for International Book Giving Day. My son got Mama Panya's Pancakes. My daughter got another Michael Rosen, Little Rabbit Foo Foo, thanks to a comment on last week's WAYRW by Polly from The Little Wooden Horse.

I have to share this as well. I've posted before about how excited I am for the release of the picture book Virginia Wolf. Now the trailer is out and I am even more excited! Only 14 more sleeps!

What are you reading? What are your littles reading?

Feb 14, 2012

Happy International Book Giving Day!

Oh and Valentine's Day too!

Last week I posted about my plans for International Book Giving Day. I've almost completed them. I gave books to my kids, gave Sora and the Cloud to my son's kindergarten, made a donation to The Book Bus, and bought some used Japanese books to place in doctor's waiting rooms. I haven't actually gotten those books into waiting rooms as the doctor I called told me wandering into a waiting room at the height of flu season was a bit silly. So that will get done later.

Instead of getting my husband and colleagues books, I warmed them up to the idea by presenting them with book chocolates.
 This is Kaguyahime, the protagonist of a Japanese folk tale called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
 I gave my kids their first Valentines! Not chocolate, but a big hit! Maybe next year I'll shoot for handmade.  Maybe!

Okay, probably not.
A couple of weeks ago we took the kids to a big department store with a huge Valentine's chocolate display. They each got 500 yen and wandered through picking out chocolates for each other.  There were hundreds of chocolates, but they chose the exact same ones!

Hope you have a fabulous day full of love and reading (or love of reading!).

Feb 13, 2012

Short Story Monday: Georgia Coffee Star

For Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set, I read Georgia Coffee Star, written by Kerry Clare. Clare blogs at Pickle Me This, definitely a blog worth subscribing to.

Georgia Coffee Star is the story of a couple on their way home from backpacking through Asia, staying in Tokyo on their last night. They have spent a bit too much time together and it has taken a toll on their relationship.

Then a typhoon hits, surprising them, but not enough to comfort each other. Even a sign falling and crashing into their window doesn't shock them into each other's arms.

Clare is deft at describing the complacency this couple has fallen into, and their relationship rings true. Even in this short format Clare is able to show two character voices and both of their views on the relationship and each other.

Expats in Japan are notoriously hard on English fiction set here, and I am no different. But this is the second time this year that I have had the pleasure of reading something set in Japan that I don't want to tear apart (after Sora and the Cloud). I quite enjoyed the descriptions of the typhoon I didn't have to experience. I too was caught unawares by a typhoon soon after arrival and it was quite surreal.

This is one of the best short stories I've read in the last year, no wonder it won the UofT Alumni writing contest.

Feb 9, 2012

International Book Giving Day - February 14th!

Next week, February 14th, is International Book Giving Day!

The goal of international book giving day is to get books, whether new, used, or borrowed, into as many hands as possible.

Sounds awesome, right?

Here's how you can get involved!

a) Give a book to a friend or relative.
b) Donate old books.
c) Leave a book in a waiting room.

How easy is that? There are plenty of used bookstores at which you can buy inexpensive books that will be loved by the recipient.

Want more information?  Check out the Facebook page, the blog, or Twitter.

This is how I am going to participate:

I am going to tell everyone I know about it.
I am going to give books to all the men I have obligations to give to on Valentine's Day (this makes the sexism almost palatable).
I am going to give a copy of Sora and the Cloud to my son's kindergarten. 
I am going to donate to an international book charity (look at this link of many book charities).
I am going to buy a Japanese children's book at a used bookstore and leave it in my pediatrician's office.

How are you going to participate in International Book Giving Day?

Feb 8, 2012

What are you reading Wednesday?

Oh it's been a while since I've done one of these! I missed it, I love hearing about what everyone else is reading, so please let me know what you are delving into.

I am reading The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear, while I am waiting excitedly for her next children's book, Virginia Wolf, to be published.

I just finished reading Magic Treehouse #6, Afternoon on the Amazon to my kids and now we are onto #7 starting tonight. My kids love acting out Jack and Annie, it's so fun. The interrupted sentences are still driving me nuts though!

My daughter is asking for Pink of Hearts everyday, she loves Pinkalicious.

But the big news is Spinky is reading to us! We have the first set of BOB books, recommended to me by Jacqui at Blooming in Japan (she also has an Etsy store and sells the best bags for kids in the world, of which we have two). He did not take to them the first time I introduced them, but I put them away and recently took them out and he loves showing off. I like it too!

What are you reading? What are your kids into?

Feb 7, 2012

Bosley Sees the World

Bosley Sees the World/Bosley Ve el Mundo

Written by: Timothy Johnson

Translated by: Orlando Soto

Illustrated by: Ozzy Esha

Available for purchase at Kickstarter

I am a huge fan of bilingual books! Not just bilingual Japanese-English books, like Sora and the Cloud, which reflect the languages of our family, but books of other language pairs as well. I think multilingualism should be promoted the world over, and picture books are one of the best ways to do this.

The author of this book, Timothy Johnson, apparently feels the same way.  Like me, Japan inspired him to delve into bilingual books, but he did something productive and opened The Language Bear bilingual bookstore, and has now written his first book and had it published as a dual language book in English and Spanish.

Bosley is a bear who just wants to get out of his cave and explore the world. He dons his driving cap, says goodbye to his mother, and explores tall trees, big forests, and even bigger mountains before returning home for a nap.

Each page has matching English and Spanish text, and the vocabulary words introduced in a glossary in the back of the book are highlighted on the page, which makes it easy for second language learners as well as beginning readers to pick these words out. I think this book would be good for second graders to practice their reading skills.  I can't speak to the authenticity of the Spanish, but my kiddos enjoyed the sight of me trying to read it out (and failing!).

The digital illustrations are much in the style of a modern television cartoon, and I think they would appeal to a younger audience. My kids were distracted by the shadows, which could be improved by matching the shape of the objects rather than just being round. They really liked the detailed white birds Bosley encountered.

Do you know of any bilingual picture books?

A PDF version of Bosley and the Bear was provided to me for review by the author; however, the opinions presented here are mine.

Feb 6, 2012

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by Jody Nyasha Warner

Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki

Published by Groundwood Books

February is Black History Month, so I looked for a relevant picture book published in Canada, halfheartedly, thinking there wouldn't be much. That wasn't my only mistaken preconception turned upside down by this book.

Viola Desmond, a small business owner in Nova Scotia in the 1940s, decides to watch a movie while waiting for her broken-down car to be fixed. She prefers a seat close to the screen, but unbeknownst to her, this movie theatre is segregated, and as a black woman she has to sit in the balcony section. After standing her ground, she is arrested and fined, and fights this horrific rule in court, making her Canada's Rosa Parks.

Rudnicki's illustrations are vibrant and full of colour and make what is happening to Desmond all too real. Warner's writing is folksy, as the narrator addresses the reader directly, like an oral story passed down by a beloved aunt. It makes this true event in Canadian history pretty accessible to the younger reader.

I think my son, at 4, might be a little too young, which I expected as the book is aimed for age 5 and up.  Not for the racism, as he is unfortunately well-versed on how skin colour determines your treatment, but he wasn't sure what court is or how that would get redress for the discrimination suffered by Desmond. I think that this will be very handy in the future as we study Canadian history, however.

I was really shocked at this story. I cannot believe that Canada had segregation into the 1940s. I also can't believe I knew nothing about this.  I thought segregation of black people was a US problem.  I also know that segregation goes on even now in Japan, but I thought that Canada was, I don't know, more enlightened or something?  I know about the Underground Railway, but I am so disappointed that even once these black people came to Canada after risking life and limb they were still treated like this. It's not like I didn't learn about other human rights violations in Canadian history, like Japanese-Canadian internment camps, residential schools for First Nations children, and Canada's Chinese tax. Why didn't I know about this?

I decided to do more research spurred on by the notes at the end of the book and found the Black History Canada website, and I am especially enamoured of their timeline. I will definitely be using this to research more and integrate it into my future afterschooling of social studies for my kids.

I guess that I am proof that Black History Month is very necessary, even for non-Americans.

This blog post was posted for Nonfiction Monday, this week hosted by Capstone Connect.

This is the 24th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Feb 5, 2012

Pinkalicious: Pink of Hearts

Pinkalicious: Pink of Hearts (CAN, JP, US, INT)

by Victoria Kann

Published by HarperFestival

My daughter loves Pinkalicious. I'm not sure if it's just the name, or the pigtails (my daughter's goal in life is to grow hair long enough for pigtails). Or maybe it's just this plucky little girl who doesn't care what the world thinks of her.

This is just the latest in the line of Pinkalicious books. It has all the standards we've come to expect from Pinkalicious; pink, friendship, supportive parents and an adorable little brother, and expectations turned upside down. Pinkalicious has to make a valentine card for her best friend and give it to her at school, and is initially disappointed that she doesn't receive one as fancy.  It does however show that a poem is a heartwarming gift.

This book was a huge hit with my kids. It taught the same things as the book we read yesterday, but with the character they love, and there was no mention of Japan to throw them off. I liked this book because it shows that heartwarming is just as good as fancy, and it introduces the word poem. I think my kids are familiar with verse and rhyming but they don't know the word "poem" (until today!). I hope to create some kid poems with them in the future.

There were a lot of bonuses with this book. I wouldn't specifically buy a book for the bonuses, but I am really glad these were included. There are a lot of Valentine cards included, as well as a poster. My kids have never seen Valentine cards so I think they learned as much from that as from the book itself.

Do you have a Valentine's book you like?

Feb 4, 2012

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by Anne Rockwell

Pictures by Lizzy Rockwell

Published by HarperCollins

I love most Japanese cultural celebrations, but I hate Valentine's Day with a passion. I have so many great memories of making Valentine's cards and passing them out to all my classmates, and receiving Valentine's cards in a homemade heart-shaped post box at my desk. My mom always made chocolate fondue on Valentine's Day too.

The fondue I can do in Japan, but the cards don't really work. See, Valentine's Day is about obligation and sexism.

Girls give chocolate to boys on Valentine's Day, which really really bothers me. This isn't just a school thing either, it happens in homes and companies all over the country. Technically boys give back to the girls a month later on White Day in March but that doesn't always happen, and even if it does it's still sexist! It's not just me who feels uncomfortable, but we all keep doing it anyway.

So it's important to me to teach my kids about what the Canadian version of Valentine's Day is. I want them to know it's about giving cards to everyone in your class, even if you don't really like them. I want them to know how to make a paper postbox. I want them to both be excited to give and receive on Valentine's Day, not be boxed into one side or the other due to their gender.

This book does a pretty good job of showing kids making different kinds of Valentine's cards. It also introduces US money and stamps, which my kids are both interested in. Each child also shares their memories of friendship with their friend who has moved to another country, and it's nice to see that V-Day for kids is about friendship.

However, the fact that their friend is from Japan kind of ruined it for me. There was no mention of Japanese Valentine's Day customs, just an American-style letter from Michiko. If there wasn't going to be any mention of the Japanese practice, why not have the friend be from a different state, or from Canada, where the customs are the same?

Hopefully I can find another book on Valentine's Day to introduce my customs to my kids.

What do you do for Valentine's Day?

Feb 2, 2012

Doesn't cross borders

Happy Groundhog Day!

Ever tried to explain Groundhog Day to someone who doesn't already know about it?

My son thinks it's ridiculous. 

"So they just watch the groundhog?  They don't even play with him?"

Poor guy, I guess this cultural celebration is a bust in our family!

Feb 1, 2012


Not Carnaval, I'm afraid, but almost as exciting, with lots of visitors from around the world, but missing a big fat white snowman with a red tuque and belt. Plus you save on airfare and hotel fees as you can participate from your own warm home!

Multilingual Mama posted the January Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, and it's spectacular.  Definitely check out all the amazing posts, and comment please!

I'll be hosting the February Carnival - my first time! I want to make it awesome, and you can help!  I would love for you to post.  If you don't have anything to post about bilingualism, what about a bilingual book? Please email me if you want more info, or to submit something!

Mark Feb. 23 on your calendar now, that's the big day!