Mar 31, 2012

March Roundup

I can't believe tomorrow is April! We are in the midst of cherry blossom season so this is what I saw yesterday. Sometimes I love Japan so much.

Luckily books are portable so we can even take them to picnics in the park!

This didn't go so well this month. I'm only at 29/31 days on my read aloud challenge. My daughter's caregiver changed so that changed our schedule. That's $10 to Kiva! I loaned to a group of women entrepreneurs in Chile.

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 (Virginia WolfCapturing Joy, The World in Your Lunch Box, and Down by Jim Long's Stage) and 2 adult books (Falling Backwards and Stray Love).  More next month I hope!

Next is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012. I have gotten 6/20 books marked off already, with 2 new (Meltdown! and The World in Your Lunch Box) this month.

I got my second book read the Reading the World Challenge! We went to a village in Kenya for some of Mama Panya's Pancakes. This was really good for my kids, a lot of similarities and differences for them to see. My son has a hankering to go to Africa now, if only it were cheaper to get to!

Trying hard to keep on track for the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge!
This month we read Virginia Wolf, Mrs McNosh Hangs up her Wash, Capturing Joy, Tsunami!, The World in Your Lunch Box, Meltdown!, Mama Panya's Pancakes, Ofuton Kaketara, Down by Jim Long's Stage, and Dora's Book of Manners to make 30/120. I seem to be just meeting my quota. I'm a little worried I won't reach my goal now that my son has started taking over some of the read aloud duties.

What did you read in March? Are you doing any challenges?

Mar 30, 2012

Bloggiesta March 30 - April 1 (Updated as I go!)

On Wednesday I posted a little to-do list for my first Bloggiesta.

Then I started blog-hopping. Then I started looking at the Mini-Challenges. Now my To-Do List has grown.

Here is my To Do List:

  • Add a Japanese books page Done! Here it is! Thanks to Charlotte's page minichallenge
  • Update Canadian picture books page Done!
  • Put Cast of Characters on a static page Done! Here it is!
  • Update Review policy Done! Here it is!
  • Acknowledge the people who have created the cool elements on my page Done! Here it is!
  • Update social icons to include Pinterest Done!
  • Change my user name Done! Say hello to Perogyo!
  • Unify the age tags for books Done!
  • Meet other bloggers In Progress!
  • Participate in at least one mini-challenge Done! (3 down, more to go!)
  • Add a cover photo to my Facebook page Done! Here it is! Thanks to Liza's Facebook minichallenge
  • Figure out if I want to use Networked blogs Done! Decided to try instead
  • Line up the header and sidebar Done!
  • Connect with other bloggers on Facebook and Pinterest In Progress!
  • Add my blog to list of book bloggers on Pinterest Done!
  • Make it so my Twitter and maybe Facebook page update automatically Done! Set up using
  • Ask for advice on title font Done!
  • Add the reviews for the books I like best to Amazon, Indigo, Goodreads Done!
  • Clean up sidebar Done!
  • Design a blog button for What Are You Reading Wednesday (if there is time - this is the big one) Done!
  • When it is all spiffed up, back up my blog on Wordpress. Done!

Here is what my blog looked like before I started.

 What's it going to look like on Sunday?

I would love some advice though! What are the pros and cons of moving to Networked blogs? Do you hate my blog post title font? I love how it looks but I think it might annoy people, and some upper case letters are hard to read.

I am practicing my Mr. Linky skills thanks to the mini-challenge at The Book Butcher. Please link me your blog or Bloggiesta post!

Mar 29, 2012

Stray Love

Stray Love (CAN, USA, INT)

Written by: Kyo Maclear

Published by: HarperCollins Canada

Published on: March 20, 2012

I suppose a boy can get used to almost anything, but I know I still carry a residue. It's like an ache that arises in damp weather, a hurting along my spine. From that period in my life comes the habit of circumspection, of avoiding homogenous groups, of being better than most at reading body language, of deducing exits. -Marcel in Stray Love
Here Marcel is speaking of a time when rock-throwing juvenile bullies made his life as a mixed-race boy in a London suburb hellish. But it applies equally to his other experiences of searching for his family and watching the Vietnam war go on around him in Saigon in the 1960s.

Kyo Maclear's second novel (after The Letter Opener) follows Marcel as his temporary guardianship of a pre-teen girl, the daughter of his first love, prompts the recall of memories of his youth. His own guardian, Oliver, was a war correspondent who brought 11-year old Marcel to Saigon at the beginning of the Vietnam War.

Marcel yearns to find his own identity, which can be an arduous journey for those of mixed race even with parents who are present. In the case of Marcel and childhood love Kiyomi, life as what she calls a "moggy" is more difficult because of their unconventional family situations. Marcel tries to put together the pieces of his own puzzle but there are huge gaps left by his birth mother and father.

Maclear weaves a tale in which war and love intertwine, but leaves the reader with a sense of hope. Just when Marcel's memories of racist bullies or violence on the streets of Saigon get to be almost too much, Maclear brings us back to 2001 and the rock that is Iris, Marcel's ward. Funny that an inquisitive, self-possessed preteen can be the rock for a middle-aged man, but she is. Whether because she is the product of a different culture or time or the parenting skills of her mother, Iris is blessed with both inner strength and happier experiences.

The decision to tell the story through the eyes of an artist was inspired. Those little details that Marcel notices of his surroundings to put in his sketches add a level to the narration, and it feels authentic to the character rather than just extra info from the author.

I was thrilled to received this and start reading immediately when it was released on March 20th, thanks to the magic of ebooks. But the farther I got into the book the more I slowed down, wanting to savour every new phrase. It was fantastic luck that two Maclear books, this one and the fantastic picture book, Virginia Wolf, were released in the same month, but I'm afraid the wait for her next masterpiece will be longer.

Maclear manages to personalize the big issues of race, identity, social upheaval, and war by showing us how they affect a young, sensitive boy. The way she weaves a web through time and her writing make this a sublime novel, definitely worthy of recognition by the Governor General and Giller Prize Committee. Also, she gets bonus points because Polish dumplings (i.e. perogies) were served at a London happening in the 60s.

See my interview with author Kyo Maclear here.

This is the 34th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Mar 28, 2012

What Are You Reading Wednesday and Bloggiesta

The cherry blossoms are blooming down here, the weather in the day is warm and beautiful. Perfect day to lay outside with a book in hand. My daughter turned 3 today so she was off on a brand new bike around our culdesac while I read the new book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Lover Reborn. The names are horrific (Bet someone gets named that in a future book!) but it is always an entertaining read. I want to check back in with Zsadist (see what I mean about the cringeworthy names?), John Matthew, and Quay.

My daughter is into Interrupting Chicken this week but does not seem to be taking the hint!

My son wants Sheep in a Jeep, having just learned the sound EE makes.

What are you and your families reading?

In addition, I want to mention that I will be taking part in the Bloggiesta Challenge this weekend running March 30 - April 1 (US Time).  What's the Bloggiesta Challenge? That's a good question, it's my first time taking part so I am not sure yet!

Apparently it involves tweaking your blog and the theme is Bloggiesta Ole which means margaritas and tacos, right? So I will be drinking while working alongside some fabulous bloggers to spiff up my blog!

This isn't the first year but now it’s being hosted by Suey and Danielle, and will include mini-challenges and discussions on Twitter - which is probably where you will find me most.

Here is my To Do List:
  • Add a Japanese books page
  • Update Canadian picture books page
  • Put Cast of Characters on a static page
  • Update Review policy
  • Acknowledge the people who have created the cool elements on my page
  • Update social icons to include Pinterest
  • Change my user name
  • Unify the age tags for books
  • Meet other bloggers
  • Participate in at least one mini-challenge
I am not sure how well this will work, as I am on a different time plane than the other participants, but I will try and see! If you have any hints for what I could do to make my blog more user-friendly or anything you find annoying and want me to change, let me know! I haven't had this blog for even a year yet so I am still learning and want to get a lot better. My style has changed as has my focus but I am still all about books & bilingualism.

Are you participating in Bloggiesta?

Mar 27, 2012

Down by Jim Long's Stage

Down by Jim Long's Stage (CAN, US, INT)

Written by: Al Pittman

Illustrated by: Pam Hall

Published by: Breakwater Books

Published: 1976 (Reissued 2001)

I won this children's verse book in a monthly draw for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge. What a pleasure! Some of these delightful verses have made their way into my craw and haven't come out. For example:

A lobster named Larry
so wanted to marry
Lila the lobster next door.

That when he proposed 
and she turned up her nose, 
he wept all over the floor.

This is Labroador's answer to Mother Goose and it's basically a short fun book that looks at the creatures of the undersea world in a way you probably haven't ever before! Cross-dressing cod and wobbly lumpfish made my kids laugh and laugh.

Pam Hall originally won the Canadian Library Association's Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award for Best Canadian Illustration. Her illustrations do give life and personality to all sorts of creatures including a feuding squid couple and even a human in a dreamscape.

The late author Al Pittman is a playwright and writer from Newfoundland and I will definitely be searching out more from him.

This is the 33rd book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Mar 26, 2012

Ofuton Kaketara (When you get into bed)

おふとん かけたら (Ofuton Kaketara)
English Title: When You Get Into Bed (JP)

Written and Illustrated by: Hiroshi Kagakui

Published by: Bronze Publishing, Inc.

Published: October 2008

This is a favourite book of both my daughter and my niece. It is a little Japanese hardback that shows a number of inanimate objects getting into their futons, ready for bed, including an ice cream cone, an octopus, and a roll of toilet paper.

Toddlers all over Japan love this book, but it is also great for those learning to read Japanese, adults and kids alike. My son reads it to his sister and cousin over and over, and those adorable eyebrows means no one gets tired of it.

It also introduces onomatopoeia, which are so integral to Japanese children's literature and to the language itself. Anybody could understand the rolling action inherent in the word ころころ (korokoro) by looking at that little TP rolling out of bed. I would recommend this to new parents trying to raise bilingual babies overseas, as well as students of Japanese as a foreign language.

When I reviewed the fabulous Sora and the Cloud I talked about how much I love those simple brushstrokes that are so expressive - the single line of these faces and in Sora are so adorable and heartwarming. 

I liked them so much this is what I chose to recreate for the Edible Book Festival hosted by Playing by the Book. Mine was #18, but there are over 70 entries and so fabulous and creative! Please go check out the winners that were announced today!

The cover of the book actually portrays an ice cream cone which we tried first but that did not work so well as it kept melting before I could apply eyebrows and take pictures! So then we tried my beloved gyoza, but it wouldn't have tasted so good with the chocolate and sweet pancake so I had to change it all up! In the end this ended up being thinly sliced fried eggs (kinshi tamago) covered by a savoury pancake (from a watered down version of the recipe in Mama Panya's Pancakes) that encloses a gyoza dumpling with nori seaweed eyebrows and eyes. The seaweed is stuck on with painted-on mayonnaise.

We had so much fun with the Edible Book Contest, I hope to do it again!  Here's hoping the lovely Zoe makes this an annual event!

Mar 25, 2012

Mama Panya's Pancakes

Mama Panya's Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Mary and Rich Chamberlin

Illutstrated by: Julia Cairns

Published by: Barefoot Books

Published on: March 1, 2006

In Janurary my kids and I had a few days at home due to illness. For the first time they watched Sesame Street, which is only on when they are at school and I am at work. It was strange to realize that my kids had never seen a show which was so integral to my youth.  The episode we saw was about Africa and my son, especially, was enthralled.  However, as much as I love Sesame Street, it's not exactly above taking some serious artistic licenses with information. I wanted my kids to have a little more knowledge about Africa than the idea that there are muppets there dancing around with fish on their heads.

That's when I ordered this book. It surpassed my expectations completely. It's very accessible to toddlers with its lyrical prose and dialogue that is fun to read aloud. Even the main character's name, Adika, is a joy for little kids to practice saying.

But on top of that, there is a wealth of information included. There are maps, information on the language Kiswahili and the nation of Kenya, and a recipe for the savoury pancaked Adika's mother makes. My kids loved making these pancakes together and were so surprised when they weren't sweet!

The story is about a generous and gregarious boy who walks with his mother to the market to buy food for dinner. He invited everyone he meets along for his mother's famous pancakes. She frets about how to feed all these people, but they make a pot luck meal with enough left over to smooth over some of the mother's worries for food over the next few days. It's a heart-warming story of generosity and community.

The vibrant illustrations portray a way of life so different to our own. My son loved to point out things that are so different in this book, but especially how much time people spend outside! They shop, cook, eat, relax, and entertain outside. The rich foliage in the back is different to that in our climate. Of course the amazing clothes are quite different to the clothes we wear as well as traditional Japanese dress. My son was fascinated.

Of course, this book does not gloss over the poverty in villages like this either. Money worries are central to Adika's mother's character. I felt how lucky I am not to have this worry.

This is a great book to introduce a lovely lesson about how to treat neighbours, as well as a little bit about a part of Africa, to children.

This book is the second I read for the Read the World Challenge.

Mar 23, 2012

Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Jann Arden

Published by: Knopf Canada

Published on: November 1, 2011

I have to warn you, there is a big problem with this book. It will make you hungry. Now, if you are Canadian and live in Canada, it will be no problem to go to Costco and pick up a giant pack of Dad's Oatmeal cookies or Old Dutch chips. But if you are a Canadian in Japan, you're SOL. Let me tell you too, that the recipes online for Dad's oatmeal cookies will not produce the rock-hard goodness you are expecting. And what a wasted marketing opportunity this was! Why wasn't there a coupon for 50 cents* off a bag of Dad's Oatmeal cookies on the paperback versions of this book?

Other than that though, this is a fantastic read. Jann Arden takes us through the good and bad times of her youth in Alberta and Vancouver. She may not reveal everything, but you get a real sense that she is being as honest as possible, at least with her feelings around an event that left a lasting impression on her. The brutal honesty includes a view of herself during self-destructive periods in her youth, as well as her views of her father's drinking and her older brother's troubles, as he is now serving a life sentence for murder.

What is really clear in this book is that she loves and respects her parents despite their faults. Her song Good Mother has meant a lot to me as when I miss my mommy I tend to play it really loud and get into bed. I love reading about Jann's mom, the good strong hardworking Alberta mom whose crockpot meals are legendary, so much like my own mother.

Parts of it are really funny, though, and those parts really appealed to me. When you see Jann perform live or in interviews or hanging with Rick Mercer you get the feeling that she is such a funny, warm-hearted person, and this really comes through here. She's so real, there's no airbrushing. Even with the dog on train incident that appeared in the news last week, you just totally get her point of view. Who wouldn't be upset at getting asked to leave a train, even if it was your fault? She's just like the people you know, good, bad, and ugly all in one. I want to have a mojito with her. Jann! Call me! Let's go for drinks.  Or just cookies.

The way Jann grew up in rural Alberta was so similar to my upbringing. I can feel the dirt under my toes from playing in fields until 10pm when the sun started to go down. I can smell the pussy willows along the gravel roads into town. I started the Canadian reading challenge and this blog mostly because I wanted to be connected again with my youth and my Canadianess, which I feel pretty disconnected from most days. This book gave me that back, as well as insights into one of my favourite singers ever.

Just in case you were wanting the answer to the question "Who is Insensitive about", it will have to remain about the high school boy who ignored you until she writes her next autobiography.
Edit: or you could try wikipedia, it turns out Anne Loree wrote the song, about a chef at a Calgary restaurant. C'mon Alberta boys, you need to pick up your game. ;)

This is the 32nd book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

*I tried to find the cent key and it turns out my Japanese keyboard doesn't have one. Who knew? Not me for 13 years apparently.

Mar 21, 2012

What Are You Reading Wednesday?

Last week we missed WAYRW because I was the host of Interview Wednesday for the first time. That was fantastic- I love getting to know the people behind the books! However, I missed hearing what everyone's reading.

My daughter is reading Strawberry Shortcake's Easter Surprise over and over again. And again. It might be the glitter she loves so. I think she is going to be disappointed if we don't do a scavenger hunt at Easter this year.  When is it again?

My son is into If You Take a Mouse to School - he is fascinated by the chocolate chip cookies I think!

As for me- I'm knee deep in Kyo Maclear's brand new release for adults, Stray Love. I'll have a review soon I think, but for now, it's marvelous.

Tell me what you are delving into this week!

Mar 20, 2012

Writing names in multiple languages

Happy spring equinox!

This is a day off work in Japan, and sometimes it is nice enough to spend out in the park under the almost blooming cherry blossoms. Not this year though, it's cloudy and grey and cold.

My daughter starts kindergarten on Thursday so I am spending the day adding her name to her uniform and bags (4 homemade, 1 purchased backpack) and all of her tools. Ever wrapped a name label around a chopstick? It's a special kind of talent.

The big question I encounter on these days is which language her name should be written in. I've talked before about how there are 3 different syllabaries in Japanese; kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Technically my kids both have kanji names - but these are too difficult to learn in kindergarten (in my son's case, a kanji selected by my mother-in-law, I'm guessing he'll be in university before he can write it). However, most of my friends write my kids' names in katakana in text messages. At first I was a little put off by this as I thought it was because my kids are not full-Japanese. But then I realized they do that with all the kids whose kanji they don't know.  There are a lot of possibilities and it's considered rude to get the kanji wrong, so you can't go wrong with katakana.

Hiragana is the syllabary that the kids learn in their second and third years of kindergarten (it's a 3-year programme here, from ages 3-6). It's the one my son is learning now. When he started kindy I wrote everything on his stuff in hiragana. At the time his English was stronger than his Japanese and he looks much more caucasian than his sister or many of his mixed-race friends, so I didn't want him to stick out for something as silly as his mother writing his name in English on his stuff.

I've done a 180 on this issue in 2 short years though. This time everything I need to handwrite on labels is going to be written in English.

First, there is no hiding that my son is part-foreign so I think that I was silly in the first place to even think that something like the way his name is written would matter.

Second, I have realized just how hard it is for kids to tell their stuff apart in the first year. At 3 there is almost no kid who can recognize the differences between their name and someone else's. That's why the kindergartens use symbols next to each kids shoe and bag locker. They don't tell us in advance what those symbols are going to be, and they change with each year anyway, so we can't match the symbols on our labels to theirs. I know how often this happens because Spinky came home with someone else's clothes at least once a week during his first year. It happens less now that he can read his name. Of course that doesn't work if he doesn't even look...

I do think that kids can tell the difference between Japanese and English letters at 3, even if they can't figure out what those specific differences are. Babies younger than a year can distinguish between spoken languages. Since my daughter will most likely be the only child with a native English-speaking parent in her grade, she will likely be the only one who has name labels in English, so I hope that she and other kids will be able to identify the clothes on sight. I am hoping this works in her favour and I spend less time calling X-chan's mother to track down her gym uniform.

My other reason for writing things out in English is just to give her a little more exposure to environmental print. I want her to recognize the letters in her name organically. In a place with so little English every little bit helps!

Is your child's name written differently in your majority and minority languages? Which do you choose?

Mar 19, 2012

The World in Your Lunch Box

The World In Your Lunch Box (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Claire Eamer

Illustrated by: Sa Boothroyd

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: February 16, 2012

Ages: 8+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley.

This is a fun read about the history of foods common in North American lunchboxes and supper tables. We all know about the Duke of Sandwich wanting to eat something with his hands so he didn't have to leave the gaming table. But I didn't know about the Bishop who ate his seal-skin boots!

The book goes through a week of lunches and the history behind each ingredient from the spice wars over spices we get at the grocery store now to the science behind pita bread and vanilla pods that only open for a single day. My kids absolutely loved the illustration of the dog's stomach after lunch.

One of the attractions for me is the multicultural aspect. Of course so many of the foods eaten in Canada and the US come from many places across the globe, and just reading about all the places sourced in one meal is a geography class in itself. The crisp-chip name discussion about the different names used in English-speaking countries was fascinating to my kids who think they are called potefurai! Of course the best thing about this book for me was the introduction to my kids of North American food. I noticed there was no mention of intricate kyara-ben (character bento box lunches which are ubiquitous in Japanese kindergartens)!

This is a book that is funny as well as informative, an enjoyable non-fiction book for kids.

I read this book for Nonfiction Monday, which is hosted this week by EMU's Debuts.

This is the 31st book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Mar 18, 2012


Tomo: Friendship through Fiction: An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Edited by: Holly Thompson

Published by: Stone Bridge Press

Published on: March 6, 2012

The 3/11 disasters last year spurred the publication of a number of books, including the 2:46 Quakebook project from Our Man in Abiko and Kibo from the number one English-speaking authority on Japanese cooking, Elizabeth Andoh. But this project, based a collection of young adult short stories, verse, and graphic stories, is the most ambitious. It brings together well-known writers with those who are just starting out, and proceeds are benefiting the Japanese NPO, Hope for Tomorrow, which helps young entrepreneurs in Tohoku. The word tomo means friend in Japanese.

This book spans basically all the major genres of Japanese literature - from ninjas to ghosts to verse to blog posts and everything in between. You would think that a book that does that would be either academic and huge or completely haphazard. But somehow editor Holly Thompson has managed to put together a book that is not only very current but also unified despite the different styles. The threads of hope and bonds (kizuna) weave through the stories and the varying characters, tying them together without any repetition.

This is a young adult book, so naturally the pitter patter of young love is a constant theme and is described adeptly by Thersa Matsuura in The Zodiac Tree and Sarah Ogawa in One. The superstitions of Japan are illuminated well in The Ghost Who Came To Breakfast from Alan Gratz and Yamada-san's Toaster by Kelly Luce. Relationships between teens and their parents are convincingly portrayed in House of Trust by Sachiko Kashiwaba (translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa) and I Hate Harajuku Girls by Katrina Toshiko Grigg-Saito. Somehow, Debbie Ohi is able to pull in all of these elements in her handwritten (graphic?) story, Kodama, and it is extremely accessible due to the format (sketchbook entry).

I love historical fiction so The Bridge to Lillooet from Trevor Kew, about young people in internment camps in WW2 Canada playing baseballe with local Mounties, has whet my appetite for more, as did supernatural mystery Staring at the Haiku, about antique dolls who confound young ghostbloggers, from John Paul Catton.

The writers are good at introducing other parts of Japanese literature into English as well. Louise George Kittaka shows the cheesy puns beloved of old Japanese men and television producers all over this country. Science-fiction story Anton and Kiyohime by Fumio Takano and translated by Hart Larrabee incorporates an exciting nagauta. Mariko Nagai's poem uses the onomatopeia Japanese verse is most famous for as well as being a joy to read out. Also, I was thrilled to read my first Ainu story, transcribed by Yukie Chiri and translated by Deborah Davidson.

Thompson chose to place the disaster-related stories at the beginning of the book and I really appreciate this decision. There is no white-washing of the enormity of this event, but the message I got was that the youth of Japan are going to move beyond it. This collection of stories leaves the reader with an amazing sense of hope for the future of Japan.

I reviewed Love Right on The Yesterday by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga for Short Story Monday last month. I had thought that probably this was the best and that's why it was released early - but it's nigh on impossible trying to pick the best. This is not only a great book commemorating the spirit of the Tohoku people, it is a darn good read, and the English book I would recommend first to anyone who wants to dip their toes into Japanese literature.

Mar 17, 2012

Big Egg

Big Egg (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Molly Coxe

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers

Published in: 1997

Spinky and I have been working on his reading for about 6 months now, slowly but surely. He has read all the Beginning Bob Books but is looking for a little more of a challenge. This is the first real book he read all by himself.

Big Egg features a mother hen tending to her chicks, even though one is almost the same size as her. The sneaky fox tries to convince her the big egg is his, but she rescues the egg just in time!

This is a great first book. It features actual conflict, the pictures give enough context to figure out the words, and it incorporates some rarely seen letters like x and q. This only word that was tough for my son to figure out was "says" because that doesn't fit into the rules he has learned so far.

"Why is it say and says?" asked my son. No real good answer from me, I'm afraid. He'll just have to learn that English is weird. It's so hard because Japanese at this stage is so logical, what you see in hiragana is what you get!

This review is for the I Can Read meme hosted this month by Family Bookshelf.

Mar 14, 2012

Interview Wednesday for March 2012

Interview Wednesday is an event in the Kidlitosphere which, from this month, recurs monthly. Please see the grand poobah, Tina, for more information and a schedule of hosts.

Do you know The 49th Shelf?  They are the revamped version of Canadian Bookshelf and off to a great (re)start! Julie Wilson interviews Joanne Schwartz and Danny Christopher about their Inuit picture book, The Legend of the Fog. Look at those fantastic and unique illustrations!

At KidLitFrenzy, Alyson has an interview with Sue Macy, author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). What a fantastic book! I love micro-histories for adults and even moreso for children. She also has an interview with Ellen Potter, author of The Humming Room. Any interview that includes the word miasma is going to be a dream!

Helen at CanLit for Little Canadians interviews Marina Cohen, author of Chasing the White Witch. I have been crushing on this blog so bad lately, and then there's a fab interview like this?  It's enough to make a Canadian girl reach for her nanaimo bars and get stuck in her archives all night.

The worldwide tour for the release of Oh No George! is in the UK at Playing by the Book today! Zoe interviews author and illustrator Chris Haughton. Fair trade and bold colours, this interview has it all!

Renee at No Water River has a special treat for us. She gives us a poem, a book review, and a video for Dr. Seuss' birthday, as well as an interview with influential kidlit blogger Eric of Happy Birthday Author.

Lisa Ard, author of the Dream Seekers series, has an interview with Rosanne Perry about her new book Second Fiddle at Dream Seeker Adventures.

MsMac has an interview with Cybils' Poetry award winner Paul B. Janezcko at Check It Out.

I can't forget to include me! I have not one, but two fantastic interviews this month.  I fell in love with the picture book Virginia Wolf, and I was so unbelievably lucky to be able to interview its author, Kyo Maclear, and its illustrator, Isabelle Arsenault.

Did you interview someone in the children's literature world in the last month, or even before?  If so, please leave a link in the comments so I can add it to the post.

Next month's Interview Wednesday will be hosted by Teaching Authors on April 11th (second Wednesday of the month).

Mar 13, 2012

Interview with Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator of Virginia Wolf

One of Canada's most loved book illustrators is Isabelle Arsenault, who won the prestigious Governor General's Literary Award in 2005 for children's illustration due to her work on Le coeur de monsieur Gaugin. She is also the illustrator of the wonderful Virginia Wolf. I had the pleasure of asking her a few questions, and I loved reading the answers. Hope you do too!

Perogies & Gyoza: Did you do any research for Virginia Wolf since it is loosely based on real characters?

Isabelle Arsenault: I did visual research focusing on pictures of Virginia Woolf and around her house in order to have references that would help me visualize her life and include elements about it in my images.
As the story had so little to do with the real Virginia Woolf, I didn't feel like I had to read biographies to make the work accurate.  Also, Kyo gave me lots of hints about Virginia's life, that she suggested could be integrated into my images.

Image from Virginia Wolf - copyright Isabelle Arsenault
PG: Could you elaborate on the colours/style you chose to show the different moods of Virginia Wolf?

IA: The story begins while Virginia is not feeling so good... to describe her state of mind, I chose to work with muted tones, mainly grayscale with one or two colors, while the rendering was sketchy.  

When the whole house sank, the colors and style shift to different ones where the shapes look like shadows or silhouettes.  It's a world where everything is dark and negative.  

When Vanessa starts to use her imagination and creativity to enlighten this darkness, she uses color crayons and paint that contrast to the previous atmosphere.  Colors/creativity bring some joy and fun to what seemed boring and faded.  

But this world is in their imagination.  When they woke up the day after, reality is not as perfect as they thought it would be.  This is described as a  mixed of the sketchiness from the beginning and the colors from the end.  It's not as perfect as in Bloomsberry, but it's much better than before.
So basically, colors represent Arts and creativity and what we can do with them.  With just a few colors and a big imagination, we can go a long way.

House sinking from Virginia Wolf - copyright Isabelle Arsenault
PG: Is Bloomsberry based on anything, or your own secret world?
IA: I just tried to picture it as I figured the author would see it herself.  In the text, she mentions that Vanessa painted Bloomsberry "to make it look just the way it sounded".  So that's what I tried to do.  I also took inspiration from a picture I saw on Kyo's blog which showed some blue flowers from her garden.  

PG: You seem to have a very distinct style (rosy cheeks, muted colour palette, judicious use of white space). Did this come about organically or was it a specific choice?

IA: It's a bit of both.  As I said, the styles were distinct from one part to another in order to define the different states of mind Virginia was going through.  So I had to think about the impact of every style before going with it or not.  But on the other hand, it all came naturally.  I like to experiment with techniques and explore the possible visuals for every specific book I'm working on.  I also have a tendency to play with colors and oppose them to grayscale tones in my everyday work.  It's my way of using colors - I'm a bit selective and picky about it I guess.

Image from Virginia Wolf - copyright Isabelle Arsenault

PG: Do you produce art other than that for children's books?  If so, is there a way for people to buy it?

IA: I produce illustrations for children's books and do some other illustration assignments for magazines and newspapers.  In my  free time, I work on a sketchbook where I develop ideas and new projects.  Sometime, these can develop into a creative project of its own, like a silk-screen print series, or a promotional object.  But I don't have right now what I could call a production that people could buy, out of the original artwork pieces from my books.

PG: What books did you love as a kid, and are there any kids books you love as an adult?

IA: I loved books with striking images, either because of their beauty or of their darkness, their scariness.  In either ways, I remember liking the feeling of being impressed by the illustrations of my favorite books.
Colour test for Virginia Wolf - copyright Isabelle Arsenault

PG: Are you multilingual? If so, do you have any tips for parents like me raising multilingual kids on how not to stuff it up?

IA:I have two sons, and they only speak French right now... but sometimes, I read to them books in English.  I think children's book are great for learning a new language.  The illustrations help understanding a story and guessing the meaning of new words.  You can go at your own pace, and repeat parts if needed.  My kids and I especially like books by Mo Willems like Piggie and Elephant, which are simple, repetitive, and fun.

PG: What's next? 

IA: I'm working right now on a children's book that looks a lot like a graphic novel and I'm having lots of fun doing it!  It's for kids aged between 8 and 12 years old and will be published in French at La Pasteque.  I have other great book projects coming up in the next year and hopefully, I'll have another collaboration with inspiring author Kyo Maclear in a near future.
Thanks so much Isabelle for letting me interview you! Can't wait for your next book!


Mar 12, 2012

Short Story Monday: The Wind Beneath My Feet

For Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set, I read a story from the Bata Shoe Museum.

Yes, you read that right. How cool is that? First, there is a museum dedicated to shoes. Second, it shares its collection online, and solicits written pieces from diverse shoe-wearers.  This particular collection is about immigrant women to Canada.

My favourite of The Shoe Project is The Wind Beneath My Feet, by Tanaz Bhatena. It is a story of a journey, not just about immigration, but a journey to find one's own version of womanhood, and the story of expectations of others versus those of oneself. Bhatena does a fantastic job of describing what it is like for a woman to go from one culture in which women are treated a certain way to another culture which is its polar opposite. Not only is the subject interesting for an immigrant to me, Bhatena' use of language is excellent, and I hope to see something published by her in the future.

I identified with the phone calls between Bhatena and home- people in Canada want to hear my Japanese accent too. :)

When I first moved to Japan I had trouble with wardrobe. The slightest bit of cleavage is considered inappropriate here, although most work clothes in Canada (v-neck sweaters!) are made in that style. However, skirts are shorter in this country than any other I've been in, so I admit to getting angry at that double standard! It's hard to shop at home for clothes to be worn in Japan, actually. This gives me an appreciation for Bhatena's wardrobe culture shock.

Go ahead, read them all! Which shoe story is your favourite?

Mar 11, 2012


Tsunami! (CAN, JP, USA, INT)

Written by: Kimiko Kajikawa

Illustrated by: Ed Young

Published by: Philomel

Published: May 2009

We all know what happened in Japan on this day last year. We all know the horror Mother Nature can wreak on humans. We are far from the devastation but there are still marks on our psyche from this tragic event.

I wanted to get a book that could start some controlled conversations with my kids about the events of 3/11. They still act out tsunami and talk about it when playing which is healthy for them, but I am a little afraid that there are kids around them who have lost a relative or who have moved here to escape devastation and that they could hurt by doing this.

I read parts of Meltdown! to them which helped process the nuclear disaster and to help them understand the discussions we are having on energy in Japan right now. The science behind the nuclear process is solid and that is a good book for that. However, I still wanted something suitable for their age range about the earthquake and or tsunami that isn't jarring. This is definitely that book.

In Tsunami!, Ojichan (Old Man) sacrifices his fields and therefore his riches to save his entire village from a tsunami that washes all the buildings and possessions away but does not succeed in taking the people. 

Caldecott winner Ed Young is known for his unique collages, and in this book these mixed media collages work on several fronts. The texture and paper gives a folk art feel that makes this feel like a folk tale. Which it is I think- I've seen variations in Japan as a play and in art as well as in a collection of Lafcadio Hearn stories. The collages also serve to lessen the impact of this event, which makes it appropriate for even kids at a young age. 

I think this is an extremely well-written picture book that can serve as a catalyst for talks about  sacrifice, disaster, and rebuilding. The author has a number of excellent lesson plans related to tsunamis on her website as well.

Mar 10, 2012

Educational Apps for 2-year olds

I know what you are thinking. Why in the world would a 2-year old need an app?  Even 3 years ago I would have thought myself nuts so keep on thinking that!

Tomorrow is my son's big kindergarten concert. The school is big for a non-Tokyo kindy and each kid has three separate parts to play, plus the PTA and teachers each have two. This will be about 4 hours long. My daughter can sit still a long time but 4 hours is pushing her limits. The kids in the kindy will be backstage doing games and origami and colouring and reading books (that's my job!) but the kids in the audience are going to have a rough time.

So we are bringing my iPod and filling it with new apps and old faves.

The newest one we have found is the Bunny Fun: Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes app by Rosemary Wells. Rosemary Wells is most well known as the creator of Max and Ruby, but in our house we think of her as the woman behind Yoko, the Japanese kitty who lives in the US. One of the best things about Rosemary Wells is that she brings many different cultures into her work. This app is no different, as Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes is presented in 4 different languages; English, French, Spanish, and Japanese! Three cheers for a multilingual app.

This app is super simple, it is just a wee bunny who changes clothes and therefore languages. Kids can choose to play the song or read and hear the word for the body part by touching on the screen. Perfect for 2-year olds.

Another new find is an adaptation of the book I loved as a child: The Monster at the End of This Book. Grover takes the child through this book, and Elmo joins him in Another Monster at the End of This Book. These are really fun books, and not only can it be read aloud by these characters, you can tickle them as well.

The old fave is SUPER WHY! from PBS Kids. Both of my kids love this app so much. How can you go wrong with Whyatt and the Super Readers. Choosing a character chooses a path according to the child's ability, from learning the alphabet to assembling sentences. Fairy tales from around the world are used so it adds another element of excitement. My kids love this and so do I. The best app we have ever bought, hands down.

My daughter also loves the Strawberry Shortcake app, which involves sorting fruit by colour. Not a bad app, but I prefer the old pinafore-wearing Strawberry Shortcake!

I've loaded up the iPod with these English activities, packed a pair of earphones with lots of padding, put them in her Meeabee bag with some snacks, and all I can do is cross my fingers that she doesn't wander onto the stage to play with her big brother like last year. Here's hoping!

Mar 8, 2012

Capturing Joy

Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Jo Ellen Bogart

Illustrated by: Mark Lang

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: May 2011

Ages: 6+

Today is International Women's Day. To celebrate, I wanted to find a picture book that celebrated a Japanese or Canadian woman in history. Quite a few Canadian books to choose from, including Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, which I reviewed last month. I did not find anything suitable in Japanese though, so I will be looking more. I chose this book because I love Maud Lewis' folk art.

Capturing Joy is a celebration of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. It starts with Maud in a rural area in Nova Scotia meeting her future husband, but takes the reader back to her childhood of art and illness. Nothing, not even poverty or great physical limitations, stops Maud from expressing herself with bright colours. Although she was never a financial success during her life, her style influenced artists and Canadians for decades, and this continues to this day.

Last year I reviewed the wonderful Big and Small, Room for All, also by Jo Ellen Bogart, and have kept an eye open for books by her since. In both books Bogart is able to take large concepts and simplify them for young folks but keep the subject interesting.

This book alternates between Maud Lewis' gorgeous paintings and illustrator Mark Lang's pencil sketches. Lang's work is a tribute to her but does not parody her work, so important when chronicling an artist. Lewis' bold palette is especially appealing to children.

I was inspired to learn more about the amazing Maud Lewis and her work ethic, so I found out that The National Film Board of Canada has a short documentary about Maud Lewis called Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows, from Diane Beaudry in 1976. Definitely worth watching.

This is the 30th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Mar 7, 2012

What Are You Reading on World Read Aloud Day?

Today is World Read Aloud Day! What will you read aloud, and who will you read to?

Today I read aloud to a few classes at a kindergarten. I read 3 books; Sora and the Cloud, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, and Ofuton Kaketara (Japanese book). They were all hits.

My daughter wants me to read Chirp Magazine's Grandparents Issue. Who am I to say no?

My son, Spinky, chose Where the Wild Things Are. Lovely, classic book.

I needed something lighter after The Letter Opener, so I am reading the very funny Jann Arden's autobiography, Falling Backwards. It's a gas- review to come.

What are you reading this week?

Mar 6, 2012

Interview with Kyo Maclear, author of Virginia Wolf

If you've been reading my blog  lately you know that I am going through a little Kyo Maclear phase! There was her first picture book, Spork, which started the fascination, then her novel, The Letter Opener. This week I finally got my hands on her new picture book, Virginia Wolf, and even it exceeded my high expectations. I was thrilled to be able to conduct an interview with Kyo Maclear, and to share it with you. Grab a cup of tea and read on!

Perogies & Gyoza: This is your second children's book, and second collaboration with
Isabelle Arsenault, after 2010's award-winning Spork.  How did the second project come about?

Kyo Maclear: When I was in highschool a boyfriend gave me a copy of The Waves and I instantly fell in love (with Virginia Woolf… the boyfriend and I were ill-suited.) I have continued to adore and admire Virginia ever since. A few years ago I came across a childhood photo of her playing cricket with her sister Vanessa Bell and it started me thinking about their relationship. Shortly after, I started working on this story. When it was finished I sent it to my wonderful editor, Tara Walker, who shared it with Isabelle. To my delight, Isabelle signed on immediately. 
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell Stephens

PG: My image of a children's book is that an author writes a book, submits it to the publisher, and then the publisher chooses an illustrator who then develops the second part of the story. However for both of your books with Isabelle Arsenault, I get the feeling that it is more collaborative than that. Can you speak to the process of working with your illustrator?

KM: I consider Isabelle a dream collaborator and artistic soulmate but the funny thing is we’ve never met in person. With both Spork and Virginia Wolf, my editor served as the primary go-between. I think I forwarded a few pictorial notes but the rest was up to Isabelle. At some point in the early stages, she sent us a “Mood Board”——a large page filled with character sketches, Bloomsbury period photos, Liberty fabric patterns and palette swatches. It was so beautiful, the first thing I did was frame it and put it on my bedroom wall. On one page, Isabelle had managed to convey the entire emotion and aesthetic of the book. It is incredibly magical to work with an illustrator with such sensitivity and metaphoric intuition. I’ve been so lucky.
Virginia Wolf Moodboard, copyright Isabelle Arsenault

PG: Was there any difference in the way you approached Virginia Wolf, since it is loosely based on real people, compared to a book like Spork which is all from your ideas?

KM: Yes, “loosely based” is the key word here. Of course, there was more preparatory research with Virginia than there was for Spork. For example, I re-read Woolf’s memoir essays (in particular, On Being Ill and Moments of Being.) But then I set what I read aside. I quickly decided that any references to Virginia Woolf’s real life would need to be as light-handed as possible so as not take away from the story: an imagined episode in which one sister tries to help lift the other out of the doldrums. In the end, there are a few true-life details that may satisfy older readers and Woolf-afficionados but they are extraneous to the plot (and will sail over most children’s heads.) If I set myself any goal of fidelity when it came to my source material, it was to be true to Virginia’s love of language.

PG: Virginia Woolf is perhaps most famous for her struggle with mental illness, as well as being an author. You have tackled that in Virginia Wolf, but that's not a very common theme for picture books aimed at children. Did you specifically want to tackle the issue of mental illness or did it come about organically by showing the relationship between
Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf?

KM: I saw the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia as a chance to take both a literal and metaphoric look at depression. As a parent and a former child I know that kids have intense moods and can suffer from lingering sadness. Having said that, I admit I was a bit nervous when I first submitted the story because I knew I was treading on sensitive ground. What amazed me was that no one balked (not the publisher, editor or the illustrator). No one felt the idea was too gloomy for children. (Had I stumbled upon a melancholic pocket of the publishing world?) I have been really heartened by the response so far.* I think people recognize the love and playfulness in the sister relationship and this—along with Isabelle’s exquisite illustrations—helps temper any adult fears of encountering a “difficult subject.”

* I especially liked JuliaDanielson’s Kirkus column.
Black & White Test for Virginia Wolf, copyright Isabelle Arsenault

PG: You have made a trailer for each of your children's books so far. Is this
a necessary part of marketing a children's book today, or just a fun extra?

KM: I love doing trailers. As you may know, writing can be somewhat lonesome. At the risk of becoming socially-inept, I always jump at the opportunity to collaborate, especially with my musician husband. As for the role trailers play in marketing, I think everything helps. (These days, books need a biodiverse ecology to thrive. That means all forms of social media + devoted booksellers + word of mouth, etc.)

PG: What is the difference between writing a children's book and an adult book?

KM: Good question. I think I’d have to say the main difference is economy of language. Believe me, writing shorter is not always easier! I’ve learned so much about distillation through my work for children. The other difference is the place of illustration. In my mind, the best books allow the pictures to do some of the talking. Books where the images are simply parroting the text tend to bore me.

I've become so enamored of visually-driven books that I've found illustration seeping into my adult fiction. My new novel, Stray Love, which will be published this March, features a boy named Marcel who grows up to be an illustrator. The novel includes two gorgeous drawings by Canadian artist Heather Frise.*

*( Kyo Maclear's  new novel is published as Stray Love in Canada and appears in Australia/New Zealand as A Thousand Tiny Truths.)

PG: What books did you love as a kid, and are there any kids books you love as an adult?

KM: I loved The Peanuts, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, anything by Richard Scarry (I loved his encyclopedic detail), Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant (and any story where children know more than big people.) As an adult, I’m a big fan of The Treehorn Trilogy by Florence Heide Parry, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders and Lane Smith, The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer, and for sheer rhythmic readability Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka.

PG: Are you multilingual? If so, do you have any tips for parents like me raising multilingual kids on how not to stuff it up?

KM: I speak Japanese like a four year old——i.e. I can ask for toys and cookies fairly fluently. Japanese was actually my first language but growing up in an English-speaking country and a bicultural home, it quickly fell by the wayside. (The wayside is also cluttered with my highschool French and undergraduate Spanish.) In retrospect, I wish I grew up with two languages moving through my brain on a regular basis. That kind of code-switching seems healthy and miraculous to me.
Bloomsberry from Virginia Wolf, copyright Isabelle Arsenault

PG: What's next? Any more collaborations with Isabelle Arsenault in the future?

KM: There may be another collaboration in the future. In the meantime, I am working with Matte Stephens on my next picture book, which will be out next Spring 2013. I’m very excited about this. The story has a 60s vibe and Matte is very retro and smartly stylish in his palette and approach.

Virginia Wolf is in stores now, and Stray Love, Kyo Maclear's new novel, will be released on March 20. 

My interview with illustrator Isabelle Arsenault can be found here.