Apr 30, 2012

April 2012 Roundup

April is over and it's Golden Week here to usher in May. The weather is fantastic, but I still have to spend some time spring cleaning and buying a bunch of humidity-fighting things so my house doesn't start to mould in June. You can imagine how thrilling that is so maybe I will get in some avoidance reading this month.

We did okay on this challenge this month, only losing one day to the insanity of starting a new school year. My son gave the welcome speech at my daughter's kindergarten welcoming ceremony, from all the big kids. He was practicing in the morning so we skipped the book and then took him out to dinner for a job well done after school and they both zonked out on the way home! That makes 29/30 days on my read aloud challenge this month.

That means I gave $5 to Kiva! I loaned to a man who wants to get a motorcycle to deliver goods from his family's store. This was my 25th loan on Kiva! Did you know there are some free trial loans available now? If you are interested email me or leave a comment and I will get you one!

Since July I have been doing the Canadian Reading Challenge #5. My reading score this month was truly dismal. I only read 3 Canadian picture books (Have You Ever Seen a Duck in a Raincoat, All By Myself, and The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea) and 1 Canadian middle grade book (The Last Song). That needs to be corrected in May.

Next is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012. I have gotten 8/20 books marked off already, with 2 new (Have You Ever Seen a Duck in a Raincoat, and The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea) this month. I will be hosting Nonfiction Monday here at Perogies & Gyoza on May 28th. Please mark your calendars and get a nonfiction children's book ready to share!

I read nothing for the Reading the World Challenge this month. So disappointing.  The book I thought would work for South America did not. I have ordered a couple for this month.

Trying hard to keep on track for the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge!
This month we read Have You Ever Seen a Duck in a Raincoat, All By Myself, Midnight on the Moon, Madlenka Soccer Star, A Stick is an Excellent Thing, Valentino Finds a Home, The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea, Laundry Day, Little Daruma and Little Tengu, What Color are Burdocks? and A Pet for Petunia to make 41/120. At least I did okay in this challenge.

I have a lot to make up for in May. That will be hard because it is the best weather of the year and I want to stay outside until rainy season comes in June!

Apr 29, 2012

A Pet for Petunia

A Pet for Petunia (CA, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Paul Schmid

Published by: HarperCollins

Published on: January 25, 2011

Ages: 3+

Kids love things just because. Not because they are practical, or fit in with their family, or there is space for them. Just because.

For her birthday, my daughter was convinced she was going to get a sheep. That's what she wanted, not a stuffed sheep, but a real live sheep. I'm afraid this was my fault, I've been reading her Ten Wishing Stars, Sheep in a Jeep and Marvin Wanted More! and other books featuring super-cute sheep. I'm afraid her vision of sheep was a little unrealistic. We brought her to a nearby farm and she saw the sheep. She ran from the sheep. She couldn't even touch the sheep. But in the car on the way home all she talked about was those sheep.

Escaping from scary sheep
Petunia is just like my Domba. But it's not sheep she loves, it's skunks. With a skunk as adorable as the one drawn by Paul Schmid, who wouldn't love it?

As her parents point out, however, skunks stink. Not even this deters little Petunia, and she sets out to find out for herself.

My kids love this book. Any book that includes the word Stink is going to jump the favourites queue anyway, but if you add in the adorableness of Petunia, the skunk, and the porcupine who makes a cameo appearance you have a winner.

I love the limited palette and the control with which Schmid draws expressions. It's never too much, always just right.

Of course, that porcupine now has her own book so we have to order Hugs from Pearl. Oh, how horrible would it be to love hugs but be a porcupine!

Paul Schmid joins our family favourite illustrators like Matthew Forsythe and Isabelle Arsenault in making adorable books we will buy no matter what the subject.

Apr 28, 2012

American Chick in Saudi Arabia

An American Chick in Saudi Arabia (US, B&N)

Written by: Jean Sasson

Published by: Liza Dawson Associates

Published on: April 19, 2012

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

This is a short book, which the author suggests is the first part of a series that will be her biography. It comes in at 80 pages, and this is reflected in the price at Barnes & Noble.

Jean Sasson is known as the author of the best-selling Princess series, about a Saudi Arabian princess and her friends and daughters. The first Princess book made its way around the place I was employed during high school. Conservative women who would cringe at the use of the word feminist were passing it around and talking about the horrible treatment of Saudi women. The entire series was a unique look into life in one of the least understood countries in the world. It certainly affected me as well. The mention that eggplants, soft like a woman's flesh, were the underground symbol of the women's movement prompted my fascination with the fruit, and my kitchen decor for a long time was made up of kitschy eggplants I had collected.

I was very excited for this memoir. Not only am I a fan of Sasson's previous work, but as a female expat in a country very different from my own I wanted very much to hear about how she got along on a day-to-day basis. How did she fit in as a foreign woman? Were her experiences very different from the male expats she worked with and how? How did she deal with shopping, what did she eat, what were her culture shock moments? What was it about Saudi Arabia that turned her 2 years into 12?

Sasson excels when she tells the stories of other women.  She lets us into the lives of a Bedouin saleswoman, a mother who struggles with infertility and her child's health issues while struggling against her two-faced husband, and a wife who tries too hard to please her husband. We are able to see those shades of grey of each woman, and to understand how they deal with their lives under the veil and how they choose to accept their lot in life. Sasson does a great job illuminating their lives, as she does in the Princess series.

But she does not spend very much time on her daily life. The questions I wanted answered were not. I feel that we know her boyfriend at the time, now ex-husband, Peter, better than we know her. Perhaps this is because she spends so much time on other people, but she is more or less vanilla.  I truly hope that in her future memoirs she goes into much more detail, and my questions get answered.

The only detailed memory of hers that she gives us is of dressing up as a Saudi woman and going shopping in the full veil. I have loved dressing up in traditional dress here in Japan and certainly understand the allure. But in Japan the only danger when dressing in a summer yukata is to my ego. By dressing as a Saudi woman with fundamentalist Mutawa around is dangerous. She certainly conveys her fear and uncomfort of that time in great detail.

The pictures add quite a bit to the narration, it would be great if there were more, of Sasson but also of the areas she visited.

"I know that as long as a single woman on earth is veiled against her will, I will always carry the weight of an invisible veil on my own shoulders."

Sasson's passion for giving women of the Middle East more freedom is what defines her in the eyes of her readers. This passion gets in the way of her friendships with women whom it endangers, but it is so easy to understand. Even in Japan I get irked when I see misogyny, and it's hard not to lecture people about it despite that being the worst way to go about things.

Overall this short book doesn't quite live up to its potential. I'd like to see it released in a longer form instead of this shorter book, which seemed a bit rushed and with so many things left unsaid. I'd also like to know why she chose the word "chick" for herself as well as the three women she feature, none of whom act like a "chick". The costumed market walk is great but not enough to fill a whole book. The Kindle version had major problems and was pulled from sale after a single day, unfortunately. I hope the problems get ironed out and the next memoir has more detail.

*Update May 2012: The Kindle version is fixed and up on the site!

Apr 26, 2012

What Color Are Burdocks?

What Color are Burdocks 

Written and Illustrated by: Joel Assogba

Published by: L.I.Daddy Publishing

Published: November 2004

Recently The Japan Times published a letter that talked about a parent's response to a book his children read called にんじんがあかいわけ (The Reason Carrots are Red, by Miyoko Matsutani and Eizo Hirayama) which had racist overtones. He was so incensed he published his own book as a protest.

I was intrigued so I borrowed the offending book from the library and bought a copy of the father's book. 

The Reason Carrots are Red is a simple story about three root veggies who take a hot Japanese bath together. The daikon radish scrubs himself clean and white, the carrot loves it so much he can't come out and gets scalded red, and the burdock doesn't like the heat so he runs out of the path quick without washing. This is an old Japanese folk tale to explain the colours of these three long root veggies. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see how this has a message that is uncomfortably close to racial judgment, and how it would make the father, Joel Assogba, upset.

What would your response be if your child brought home a book like this? Like Assogba, my first reaction might be to call the publisher. When he didn't get the response he wanted, he decided to write his own book as a response, and set up a publishing company to do so.

The book he wrote is called What Color are Burdocks? It features a number of the same vegetables who are given a bath by some children. When the children try to clean up the vegetables they harvest, they think the burdock are still dirty because they are dark. The burdocks tell the children that this is their natural color and then some unknown force agrees with them. Then the veggies hold hands and dance in a circle singing "All the colors in the world are equally beautiful."

This is a wonderful sentiment. The message is great and it's interesting that he just changed the folk tale ending while keeping the beginning. It's so amazing that a father would go to this length to send a message to his children and to others who might read the original book. Books have been a form of protest as long as they are around, and it's great that Assogba has written an alternative story for children of the same target age group as the original children.

The book itself is far from professional. There are capitalization problems and the story is choppy. Even the English title is not something I would choose, and I've spent a few days wondering how it could be improved (What Colors are Burdocks? The Burdock's Color is? - I'm still not sure!). There is a problem with perspective as well, as hands aren't in natural places or the legs are off. All this makes it more endearing, like an elementary student who gives his mother a homemade book for Mother's Day. The homemade aspect, the passion Assogba put in, is its most appealing trait.

I'm also rather fond of the inside cover art, with vegetable people that have very cool earrings.

The question remains, what else should be done when we see books that have inappropriate messages? Personally I like to use them as teaching tools, I don't like to see books banned. A great elementary core curriculum could be made out of the original book. Empathy is taught in Japanese schools as a value to some extent, and if kids are going to read this book, why not use it to make them think about the message that "brown is dirty" sends? It would be great if the publisher had a teacher prepare a recommended lesson they could put on their website and as an insert in the books.

What else should be done?

Apr 25, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wedneday

It's raining, it's pouring, it's the perfect day to snuggle up with a book.

I'm reading Falling Upwards by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga. It was originally released under her pen name, Kelly Sweetwood, but is now released under her name. Even better, this is free for Kindle right now (until April 27) on Amazon US.  It is a cute story, a cold case mystery with a little romance and a little humour. A nice light read, highly recommended. I'm not just saying that because she's a fellow foreign wife, she truly is a very engaging writer.

My daughter is reading A Pet for Petunia. Her brother is into Hey Canada! a book I got for a blog tour I'll be doing soon. It's for older kids and there's a lot of info on each page so it has been keeping him busy for a while! My blog tour date is June 26, mark it on your calendar!

What are you reading this week? Got any hot tips on other free books?

Apr 24, 2012

The Immortal Rules

The Immortal Rules (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Julie Kagawa

Published by: Harlequin Teen

Published on: April 24, 2012

Age: Young Adult

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

Do you remember the episode of Buffy called The Wish, where the vamps rule the roost because Buffy never arrived in Sunnydale? That was my favourite episode of the series, and I wish it was explored more.

That's what appealed to me about this book- in this start to a new vampire series the vamps rule and people are their playthings. But even though it's a vampire book it is nothing like Twilight. There's a little romance but it is more chaste than the unabashed obsession of Twilight.

Alison lives, unregistered, in the Fringe of a vampire city. She has to scavenge to live in this post-apocalyptic world, trying her best to avoid becoming a source of food for the vamps. When she is faced with the most difficult choice of her short life she chooses to become the being she most despises. She wants to live, but on her terms. The problem is that she has to hide who she has become to live on her terms.

I was all set once I saw that the name of the lead character is Alison Sekemoto to hate this book. I'm a name nerd and Sekemoto is not a Japanese name, although Sekimoto is plausible. But in an illiterate world where books are banned (can you imagine the horror?) and where the only person who knows the heroine's real name is her long-dead mother, having an incorrectly spelled last name is extremely fitting.

There are so many moral issues that are brought up in this book, you would think it was a philosophy text instead of a fast-paced, engaging YA book. Would you hide your true self to be with people you liked? Would you do anything, make the ultimate sacrifice to live? These questions will stick in your mind long after you read the last page.

Kagawa is also the author of the Iron Fey series, and her forté is world building. I bought into this world completely. I hate that I have to wait another year or so for the next book. This book is perfect for someone looking for a great YA series after finishing The Hunger Games.

Apr 23, 2012

Short Story Monday: Overtime

Inspired by the fantastic children's book called Laundry Day I read last week, this week for Short Story Monday I read a science fiction story written by Charles Stross, about a place called The Laundry.

Overtime is a little bit Torchwood and a little bit Shopaholic. It's a perfect story for Christmas actually, not the story of warm spring days with laundry hanging on poles in the wind I was hoping for.

A nightwatchman who works in the supernatural bureacracy of Britain finds himself the only person who can save his building from a nasty incarnation of Santa. It's the mundanity of his work in the face of such strange otherworldly obstacles that really sell this story, I think. Just going about his day, finding some dirty photocopies after the office Christmas party and unravelling a time travel mystery and defeating an alien invader. All in a night's work.

Not a bad story but a little hard to follow because you get caught up in the normal things like not calling his girlfriend whose mother is poorly and then bam! there's someone who may or may not be from the past. I have trouble sometimes following sci-fi works which is why I don't read many of them despite being a time travel devotee.

Did you read a short story this week?

Apr 21, 2012

Children's Books on Pinterest

If you are on Pinterest you'll know that it's great for picking up outlandish home decor ideas we'll never use and snarky sayings using great font. But it's also great for finding and sharing books. Picture books are ideal for Pinterest because of the visual factor.

But who should you follow on Pinterest to find the best picture books? These people!

Authors and Illustrators
Barbara Bietz 
Bethany Roberts
Cheryl Rainfield
Debbie Ohi
FT Bradley 
Irene Latham
Jennifer Thermes 
Kate Messner
Katie Davis
Laurie Jacobs
Linda Gerber
Lizann Flatt
Lori Calabrese
Lori Degman 
Mary Kay Carson
Mike Mullin 
Renee LaTulippe
Sandra Mcleod Humphrey
Sarah Albee 
Shelli Johannes-Wells
Story Connection
Tina Coury 
Todd R. Tystad 

Chronicle Books
HarperCollins Canada
HarperCollins Childrens
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
Kids Can Press
Little, Brown and Company
Orca Book Publishers
Random House Kids
Tundra Books

100 Scope Notes 
Alice in Baker Street
Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind
Book Bug
Book Chook

Bibliophilia, Please
Children's War 
Gathering Books
Good Books for Young Souls 
Gotta Book
Great Kid Books
Jean Little Library
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Julia's Book Bag
Kidlit Frenzy
Little Wooden Horse 
Mac Library
Meg Writes!
Me! Perogies & Gyoza
No Time for Flashcards 
Our Time in Juvie
Picture Book a Day
Playing by the Book
Pragmatic Mom 
Reading Rumpus
Reading Tub
Secrets & Sharing Soda
Story Snoops
There's a Book 
Waking Brain Cells
Wands and Worlds
Watch, Connect, Read 
Welcome to my Tweendom 
Yellow Brick Reads

Book Expo America
Children's Book Council
Kirkus Reviews
Picture Book Post 

If your blog or publisher or other favourite kids book-related Pinterest board isn't listed here, please email me or leave a comment and I'll add it!

Edited 4/24:
Thanks so much for all the interest!

I have had a few inquiries on how to use Pinterest and as I am far from an expert I would like to direct people to the most recent Bloggiesta Pinterest minichallenge post.

Also, someone asked about whether or not there are keywords or hashtags used to identify children's books on Pinterest when using the search feature. I don't know of anything, but I think it is a good idea to use a keyword in your description to make it easier to search. How about kidlit like on Twitter?

Apr 20, 2012

Little Daruma and Little Tengu

Little Daruma and Little Tengu: A Japanese Children's Tale (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Satoshi Kako

Translated by: Peter Howlett

The Japanese love their lucky charms. I don't know anyone here show doesn't have a good luck charm or talisman for something. Most of these are omamori, various little cloth packets with lucky phrases sewn on, bought at Shinto shrines. But at Buddhist temples you are more likely to find daruma. These adorably squat, red, round and wooden or papier-mâché, and are sold with either no blacks in their eyes or only the left one filled with black. When you make a wish or goal (like to win an election or to pass an exam) you fill in the first eye and then the second (right) eye when you achieve your goal.

Little Daruma in this story comes with both eyes filled in, but that doesn't stop him from wishing! He wants everything his friend Little Tengu has; geta sandals, leaf fan, funny hat, and even his long nose. Little Daruma covets a lot which is interesting as Buddhism teaches that greed is bad, but desires that spur you to achieve goals are good. That's a fine line, but I don't think that Little Daruma crosses it as these desires that push him towards creativity. Instead of choosing a from a myriad of hats, fans, and shoes offered by his father, he finds creative ways to make the items he wants of Little Tengu's.

Kids do covet things, no matter how much we wish they don't! I guess that's why there are so many commercials targeting kids. This is a great book for getting kids talking about what they envy about other people and to figure out how they can get them. It turns out my son wants more Valentine's Day chocolate from girls in his class, so we brainstormed ways to be nicer to his friends. Nothing like a little roundabout bribery!

What I enjoyed about this most was seeing how they dealt with a Japanese joke that involved punning around the word hana, which means both nose and flower. I think the translator did a great job, just adding in a one sentence explanation the first time the word arose, and let kids figure it out from there.

On the cover Little Daruma and Little Tengu are playing rock, paper, scissors. I think it would be great fun to include the Japanese version of this in a read aloud session of this book.  Japanese people make a fist and say "Saisho gu" (first is the rock) "Jankenpon" and then stick out their chosen hand shape. "Gu" is rock, "choki" is scissors, and "pa" is paper.

This is a great little book that introduces two characters that play a big role in Japanese superstitions. It is part of a series of Little Daruma books that all introduce different Japanese legends. The Japanese version is available here.

Apr 19, 2012

Diego's Buzzing Bee Adventure

Diego's Buzzing Bee Adventure (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Alison Inches

Illustrated by: Ron Zalme

Published by: Simon Spotlight

Published:  February, 2008

Ages: 4+

Diego the animal rescuer and his sidekick Baby Jaguar are off to rescue some buzzing bees. They need to find a new place to put their hive before it starts to rain.

There is nothing unique about this book. It follows the Diego formula to a T. Diego hears an animal in trouble, used Click the Camera to find them, then helps them out. But that is what is so good about this book. The familiarity helps kids understand the context for reading.

There are a variety of words symbolized by small pictures in the text. When you see a picture of three bees, the child is supposed to say the word "buzzing bees" and the parent reads the rest of the sentence.

I read this with my son for a couple of years, doing exactly what we were supposed to. It gave him a good grasp of how to read along left to right with the words, and how each word symbolizes something. It also gave him an idea of how to use context to figure out words he doesn't know.

Like all of Diego's stories and shows, this is not a true bilingual book, but Spanish is in the book often enough for kids to feel a sense of accomplishment when they memorize these phrases.

Yesterday was the first time he read the whole thing on his own though. It was so nice for him to have something so familiar so he could figure out the word from the context even if he couldn't sound it out. I was happy to have a book that featured the letter z so prominently, that's rare!

This post is for the I Can Read! Meme, hosted this month by The Family Bookshelf. This is a great way to learn what books to choose for your emerging reader. Take a look at the site and please volunteer to host a month! Then come back June 13-15 when I play host to this great event!

Apr 18, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

The seasons are changing, it's starting to get hot and humid.

This means our appetites are changing too. No more heavy stews and one-pot dishes. I am poring over Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku (JP, US) looking for more seasonal recipes. Every time I read this I find a new technique. It's almost like an autobiography too, she includes a lot of anecdotes of her life as a rural foreign wife before we were everywhere.

My daughter got her first magazine from kindergarten and she is so excited. Now I know why so many moms do those elaborate bento lunches, these magazines show them to kids like they are normal. Why oh why?!

My son got a postcard, the first postcard he's ever received in English, from a member of Ms. Mac's class. Tiana wrote him a poem for the poem postcard project, all the way from the USA! He was so thrilled, he sounded it all out himself and would not give it up so I could stick it on the fridge. It's in his hand while he's asleep. :) Way to make his week, Ms. Mac, thank you!

What are you reading this week?

Apr 17, 2012

Laundry Day

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Laundry Day (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Maurie J. Manning

Published by: Clarion Books

Published on: April 17, 2012

Ages: 4+

Provided by the publisher for review

When a young shoeshine boy and his cat decide to reunite a beautiful red cloth with its owner, they unknowingly embark on an adventure that promises to ease his loneliness.Who would have thought this simple piece of cloth could be so versatile? It becomes an apron, a blanket, a zipline, a food procurement device, a headscarf, and a marketing tool. This is a testament to the imaginations of children as well as the multitude of ideas that come with a diverse population.

The urban adventure of this young boy and his feline companion are reminiscent of Peter Sis' Madlenka, complete with unique views of the city and welcoming, multilingual neighbours. However, the vibrancy of the illustrations and the meddling of a well-intentioned neighbour push Laundry Day to a higher level.

Manning's previous book, Kitchen Dance, was a tribute to the joie-de-vivre of a passionate family who loved to dance. She has brought the same depth of feeling and sense of movement to Laundry Day, with a great deal of historical flavour as well.

Not a single centimetre of space is wasted in this book. The inside covers are home to colourful illustrations and a glossary of words in a number of languages used on the tenement balconies. This would be ideal as a first comic book for kids; the amount of text is not overwhelming and it is easy to follow the order of the strips.

My kids thought this book was great fun- I think that the sense of movement drawn by Manning was what they were most taken with. It was fun to see their reactions to so many different immigrants as well. For them immigrant means English-speaking and somewhat isolated from other immigrants, but they were quick to figure out that these people had a lot in common with their mama.

Laundry Day is a vibrant addition to Maurie J. Manning's excellent portfolio of books. The intrepid hero's adventure through a diverse neighbourhood shows a young man of excellent moral character who is rewarded for his thoughtfulness. It celebrates diversity, imagination, and honesty in a format that calls for kids to love it.

Apr 16, 2012

Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea


Written by; Helaine Becker

Illustrated by: Willow Dawson

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: April 1, 2012

Ages: 4+

Sunday is Earth Day, and this is a holiday that means a lot more to me now that I live in Japan. The disasters on 3/11 and the constant rumbling of our friendly neighbourhood volcano ensure I never forget just how much power Mother Nature has over our lives.

When I was a kid the big thing I worried about was the cold war. I was worried about the US testing nuclear weapons in Canadian airspace, directly flying over my home. I was worried that the US and USSR would set off their nuclear weapons and mutual destruction would mean Canada, and therefore me and my family, would be dead too.

But my kids don't know the cold war. What they do know is that there are rivers that companies like Chisso Corporation have poisoned and we can't go swimming there no matter how inviting it looks. They know that our food options have been reduced in the past year after 3/11. They know that we have to check our food and water to make sure it's safe. Because of this they worry. They worry about the yummy seaweed and whether radiation will kill it all off. They worry because adults worry, but also because they are just learning to grasp their own place in nature.

This book gave me and my kids 3 important things: knowledge about the ocean's creatures and their resilience, control over how they approach the ocean due to their physical experiments, and hope for the future of the world's oceans.

This book is presented as an environmental and science experiment book for older elementary school kids, but a few of the experiments are appropriate even for my kindergarteners. My kids are fascinated by the forming of ice now that they've seen it before their very eyes. It will be great to bring this book out as my children age and we can do experiments that match their interests and age level.

Like many Canadians of my age group, my first introduction to the idea of conservation was through Raffi's Baby Beluga. I was shocked that the little white whale on the go that I sang about was endangered. I was ecstatic to read that through the efforts of the people of Quebec the belugas in the rivers there have made great progress and are an environmental success story! This wasn't just a great book for my kids, it was for me too.

This review was posted for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by The Nonfiction Detectives.

This is the 37th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge

Apr 15, 2012

Valentino Finds a Home

Valentino Finds a Home (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Andy Whiteside

Illustrated by: Catherine Hnatov

Published by: Star Bright Books

Published: April 15, 2012

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

Valentino is an adorable guinea pig who decides to run away from where he was born in Bolivia because there he could be eaten. After a long strip as a stowaway he finds himself still discriminated against as people think he is a rat and treat him accordingly. His search for a safe home has many obstacles but eventually finds a home and a friend.

The mixed media collage accentuates the difference between the adorable and realistic Valentino and his surroundings and the people and other animals that feature in the story, as they seem to be digitally drawn. As on the cover, many of the backgrounds exhibit interesting textures.

I had hoped to use this book for the Reading the World Challenge, but other than the first page talking about the fact that guinea pigs eaten in Bolivia there was nothing more about South America so I don't think it was appropriate for this challenge. My kids found it interesting that they eat guinea pigs but they weren't shocked or anything. They've eaten rabbit (most Japanese are disgusted by this!) and raw horse (which I am a little skeeved by!) We did have a nice talk about what people eat around the world and how it is only recently that Japanese people ate pork and beef. That necessitated a conversation about whale and how I will make them a packed lunch if it shows up on their school lunch menu!

Apr 14, 2012

2012-13 Afterschooling Plan (Kindergarten Edition)

This week my kids started their kindergarten year, so it's time for me to get my plan in place for their afterschooling as well. I've done a 180 on this issue. I originally thought I'd just fly by the seat of my pants, but last year I read Learning to Read and Write In The Multilingual Family (US) and that convinced of how important it is to have a plan for afterschooling my kids.

My first plan was September to June, going along the Canadian school year.  I don't think that was working for us. First, I discounted summer, which I think will be prime learning time for us, as it was last year. Second I want to closely mirror what they learn in school so I can give them vocabulary and cultural cues about what they are learning in Japanese school. So I recently decided to change my year-long plan to April-March to match their own school year.

My main goal is to have my kids at grade level in Language Arts (ie, English) and social studies. I don't expect us to be moving back to Canada suddenly while they are in school, but I do think there is a good chance they might be in school in Canada eventually, even if it's for post-secondary, and I do not want them to be behind. But I also don't want this to take over our lives. Hopefully I will be able to achieve my goals with a maximum of 20 minutes of afterschool "classes" a day, plus book reading.

The main thing for me is that I found a fantastic guide in the British Columbia kindergarten curriculum which is posted online. In fact, they have curricula for kindergarten to grade 9 on their website, which is a fantastic resource, certainly the best in Canada. I wonder of there are other countries that post their curricula online? Please let me know if you know of any!

I have divided my plan into three sections; one for Domba (first year of preschool), one for Spinky (kindergarten), and one section for things they can do together.

Preschool I Afterschooling Plan
Literacy: Letter recognition including symbols and numbers, rhyming, song & dance, pre-writing skills, holding a writing utensil properly, finish the Big Preschool Workbook, and more

Social studies: Associate marks with countries/places (including but not limited to flags), understand that there are more languages than just Japanese/English, understand that there are countries called Japan and Canada, understand difference between rural/urban, identify areas in neighbourhood, and more

Kindergarten Afterschooling Plan

Literacy: Finish Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, story prediction & analysis, work on proper use of verb tenses, letter/postcard/email writing, understand difference between nonfiction and fiction, syllable counting, use oral language for different purposes (self-maintain, report, reason, predict, project, and imagine) and more

Social studies: Map skills, look for differences and similarities between cultures, memorize address and phone numbers, giving directions, and more

Both Preschool and Kindergarten Afterschooling Plan
Understand life cycle of plants, increase English vocabulary for those words covered in school, work on empathy, origami in English, play through "what if" scenarios,  emergency preparedness (location of fire extinguishers and meeting spot, and stop, drop, and roll), seasonal holidays, make a story together (kamishibai), role play, and more!

I think that most of these could be adapted to whatever one's minority language is, just with different materials.  This is my first full-year plan so it will need adjusting along the way as I figure out what the heck I am doing. But hopefully I will be back here next March with a report, using the prescribed learning outcomes and suggested achievement indicators of the BC kindergarten curriculum to evaluate how my kids are doing.

Are you afterschooling? Do you have a plan? Please share if you do (or don't)! I would welcome any comments on my plan, I am feeling a little overwhelmed and underqualified at the moment.

Apr 12, 2012

Madlenka Soccer Star

Madlenka Soccer Star (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and illustrated by: Peter Sís

Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Published on: September 28, 2010

Ages 4+

My soccer-mad son picked this out at our city's English bookstore, he was so excited to see a book about soccer! In English!

Madlenka's debut book was a critical darling in 2000, receiving accolades from Horn Book, Publisher's Weekly, and the New York Times Book Review. The views of an urban neighbourhood and its varied inhabitants were unique and influential.

Ten years later

What made the original Madlenka so endearing was her interactions with her multilingual neighbours. That doesn't occur in this book, sadly. However, the very unique vantage point of the city block is still a feature of Madlenka Soccer Star. This is a great book to introduce urban landscapes to youngsters, as well as to point out how soccer can truly be played anywhere.

The last few pages have Madlenka on a field but no text so we weren't sure what to make of it. The flags of all FIFA nations do show up on one of these pages though so that was fun to see even without an explanation.

Despite its drawbacks, a child who loves soccer will be interested in this book and the imaginative ball play it may be a catalyst for!

Apr 11, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

The rain came this morning and washed away the cherry blossoms that were remaining. It's always too soon! But that's the appeal of these blossoms, I think, their fragility and how it reminds us of the transience of life. You need to live in the present to enjoy them.

In my present I am mostly reading paperwork! So much for the new kindergarten school year that officially began yesterday. When I don't think my husband is watching I am flipping through Stay Close by Harlan Coben. No Win in this one. :( It's not up to Coben's usual quality either but a billion times better than the Fifty Shades of bad continuity I was reading last week.

My piglets are into There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. My son has recently realized that Japanese can be read both downwards and right to left and left to right and English only read left to right, and he thinks that's boring! He was happy to see the text circling around in this book, making it a little more interesting!

What are you and/or your kids reading this week?

Apr 10, 2012

The Last Song

The Last Song (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Eva Wiseman

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: April 10, 2012

Ages: 12+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

This book describes the experiences of a fictional 15-year old girl who was raised as a Catholic in 15th century, but whose world is rocked when it is revealed to her that she is of Jewish descent. This is the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and it was a lot worse than Monty Python sketches suggest. Isabel's family are conversos, New Christians to the outside world, but she knows nothing but the mass she grew up with.  She is spurred to a search for belonging and researches Judaism, as all she knows of it are the charges put forth by the familiars of the Spanish Inquisition. Of course, for Isabel the biggest motivator is her fascination with the Jewish goldsmith's son, Yonah, typical of a 15-year old girl in any century.

The theme of freedom running though this young adult novel is symbolized in Isabel's pet lark named Anusim (the forced one, a reference to the new Christians such as her family). The beautiful cage Anusim is kept in is not unlike that chosen by her well-to-do physician father - pleasant, but still a cage. Isabel's treatment of her pet is similar to that of the friends and acquaintances of Isabel's family who play parts in their downfall during the Inquisition.

The book opens with Isabel saying things about a slave girl which are shocking to modern sensibilities. As hard as it is to read, people do treat each other badly due to race and social status, and even moreso in the past. This reality lesson is tempered by Isabel's growth, as she realizes that others are prejudiced based on lies and she too is able to face her own misconceptions. As diverse as the population of Spain is at the time, there is a strict social order, and Isabel the slave-owner is caught up in it too. I was reminded of the quote "No one is free until everyone is free."

Wiseman (Kanada, No One Must Know) writes historical fiction for middle-grade readers that focuses on the social ramifications of the treatment of Jews throughout history. Any of these books would be a good choice for students interested in reading ficitonalized account of Jewish social history after reading The Diary of Anne Frank.

This is the 36th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Apr 9, 2012

Short Story Monday: The Tale of Tonyo the Brave

There is a meme around the blogosphere called All Things Asian, and a fellow Canadian book blogger, Zara Alexis, has been participating. She has posted a number of posts this week about the Philippines and its culture and it is making me reminisce about my trips to the Philippines. I loved the food and the people and the ocean and... everything! I want to go back and take my kids!

I can't do that though, so I took a virtual trip via the written word for this week's Short Story Monday.

Today's story is called The Tale of Tonyo the Brave, written by Maria Aleah G. Taboclaon.

This is a story about the supernatural, or the "not-like-ours." It's also a coming-of-age story, about how a little brave boy grows up by realizing he needs to make a sacrifice for the good of the family he loves.

The culture of the Philippines is wrapped up in this story, with a bunch of words I don't know but presume are Tagalog, such as that for the evil shape-shifting manlalayug. What I like best about the story, however, is its timelessness and universality. You don't know if the story takes place yesterday and the manlalayug is going to be next on the tv show Supernatural, or if it took place a hundred years ago. What you do know is the feeling of a younger brother teased by his older siblings who has something to prove.

This was a fun and suspenseful story, I'll be back at Sushi Dog to look for more.

Apr 7, 2012

A Stick Is An Excellent Thing

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Marilyn Singer

Illustrated by: LeUyen Pham

Published by: Clarion Books

Published on: February 28, 2012

Tomorrow is the last day of spring vacation for my kids, the new school year starts on Monday. That means uniforms! I know it's a long weekend for Easter in most English-speaking countries too. What more perfect way to spend it than being bored.

Yes, that's right, being bored. I encourage boredom in my kids. Nothing better than a whole day to fill up with whatever you please; roaming the neighbourhood, picking up snails, riding bikes, getting some sun, mock sword-fighting, or playing tag. So many glorious things to spend your time on!

This is why I love this book. It is not just about the excellence of an inanimate object which is just begging to be imprinted with your imagination, but about celebrating everything kids do. Not to mention those adults who get to act like kids (why yes, I did climb on the monkey bars today!).

The poetry within is divine, perfectly playful and a great match in tone for the message of the book. Reading verse like this over and over is a great way to get it to sink into your mind, and once its sunk in you have those phrase constructions, vocabulary, and rhymes stuck in too. It's learning by stealth, just like jacks teaches you math by stealth  and a stick teaches you everything.  The possibilities are only limited by you.

Our fave is the poem entitled Bubbles which starts:
This bubble I'm blowing,/ This bubble is growing--/ This bubble of ginormous size/ It's as big as a plate / You can watch it inflate
How fun is that?

Pham's illustrations add to the delightful text as they convey both the reality and imaginations of these kids. And these unnamed kids have personalities in the pictures, and you get to know them from one spread to the next. The kids are diverse, in personality and ethnicity, in hairstyle, in clothing, and in what they dream about. There is sure to be a kid who calls out to yours.

Apr 4, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

What are the pages you are flipping through this week?

I started the Fifty Shades of Grey book everyone is talking about...and I am not sure why everyone is talking about it. I mean, it's erotica, but there are better versions at Samhain and Ellora's Cave. This one makes me want to take a red marker to it and paint a very red swath through it. Shouldn't characters be sympathetic?

Of course, I haven't actually put it down and stopped reading...

After a small break my kids are back onto Magic Treehouse. We are reading Midnight on the Moon, it's so different from the previous ones, but they are fascinated!

What are you reading?

Apr 3, 2012

All By Myself!

All By Myself! (Original French Title: Tout Seul!) (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Géraldine Collet

Illustrated by: Coralie Saudo

Translated by: Sarah Quinn

Published by: Owl Kids Books

This glimpse into the secret life of baby chicks is seriously adorable.

A group of chicks is left alone in their well-appointed chicken coop when their mothers go out to fetch some food for them (Bon Grain!) . Their imaginations run wild as they imagine various situations, even a wolf coming to visit them. Wee Anthony seems to be the most scared, while his fellow chicks run the gamut from playful to defiant. But don't worry, their mamas arrive back to feed them.

The strength of this book is in the amazing and unique mixed media pictures. This is where the individual characters of the chicks come out. The chicks themselves look yummy in a citrusy kind of way, and the sketched-on top features kick the adorable up a notch.  The use of colour to indicate forboding is really a nice touch as well.

For beginning readers, the best part is actually the text in the pictures. Words show up in a variety of places, from a blackboard for planning fox-avoidance strategies, to block prints covering the newspaper-strewn floor of the coop. My son loved figuring out these signs just like environmental print.

This would be a great companion book to Owl Babies. (Pssst- did you see the awesome Owl Babies cake made by Polly at The Little Wooden Horse?)

Apr 2, 2012

Have You Ever Seen A Duck in A Raincoat?

Have You Ever Seen A Duck in A Raincoat? (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Etta Kaner

Illustrated by: Jeff Szue

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published: 2009

I don't just read my kids books. I know, this will come as a shock. But sometimes I brave breaking out my croaky off-key voice and sing songs. The #1 song my kids like is Down By The Bay by Raffi. Raffi is the super-awesome Canadian kids singing sensation and environmental crusader who not only entertained me as a kid but keeps kids across the world entertained 30 years later.

This song includes various versions of the question "Have you ever seen a fly wearing a necktie?". The rhyming and the silliness of the questions really capture the attention of listeners. This book takes that question and adds more versions.

The book asks the questions about animals wearing different types of clothes, from a jackrabbit in shorts to a whale in a parka. My soccer fanatic son's favourite is the cheetah wearing cleats. Now he is obsessed with getting traction so he can run like a cheetah!

The answer to these questions is of course "no, that's silly!" It goes on to explain why the animal is equipped by nature to do without these human contraptions.

This book is at the perfect level for my son who is an emerging reader to read the questions. Then we flip the page and I read the explanations for why a lobster doesn't need a helmet, etc. the setup is good, so the kids have a chance to stop giggling at the adorably incongruous pictures before moving on to the facts about why these animals have evolved in the way they have.

Bonus points for including a caribou. There are no caribou in Japan and even I am fuzzy on the distinctions between a caribou, a deer, and a moose. We spent a lot of time looking that up after, and I can't wait to eventually take my kids to the Royal Alberta Museum to see their displays about caribou.

This was a great book, a perfect nonfiction picture book to read with or aloud to the kindergarten set. I'm happy to see that this is a series, and there are more Have You Seen? books.

We read this book for Nonfiction Monday, which is being hosted this week by Rasco from RIF.

This is the 35th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Apr 1, 2012

Bloggiesta Finish Line

Picture me holding up my margarita glass to clink against yours. I'm finished Bloggiesta (except for stalking other participants!). Ole!

I crossed all 21 items off 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 Dlvr.it 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 Dlvr.it
  • 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!
I  participated in five mini-challenges! I added more than a dozen new blogs to my reader. I caught up with some old friends on Twitter, and made some new ones. I got some constructive feedback, and I listened. I had a lot of fun, and served more Mexican food this weekend than probably since my kids were born.

This is the blog button I threw together for my weekly feature, What Are You Reading Wednesday.

I don't think I thought the name through though. Doesn't it need a question mark? If so, where? 
Please drop by on Wednesdays and tell me what you or your kids are reading!

This is what my blog looked like on Thursday.

This is what it looks like now.

Which is better? I am not sold on the social media icons, I think I need to match my colours better, and the bigger ones were easier to see. I would like a Goodreads social icon as well. I guess that just means it's still a work in progress.

How was Bloggiesta for you? I had a lot of fun and I'm pretty happy with both what I accomplished and my plan for what to do in the future. Ole!