May 31, 2012

Soccer Game!

Soccer Game! (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Grace Maccarone

Illustrated by:  Meredith Johnson

Published by: Cartwheel Books

Published: 1994

Ages: 5+

When kids start to read, they want to use those skills right away, but they can get so easily overwhelmed by books that have too many words they can't sound out or even just too many words. When introducing my son to easy readers, we started with Big Egg, which was a very easy read. There were only a couple of words he couldn't recognize at the time.

This book is slightly more difficult, adding in a few more phonetic sounds like ck. However I think that as long as the child has learned the rule of the silent e then this book would be easy to read, with only a couple of words on each page.

It's nice to see a diverse cast of kids, both boys and girls playing together. In Japan sports other than swimming are commonly segregated. My son's soccer club has about 60 kids in it but only 1 girl.

If you are looking for a first book for your sports-minded emerging reader, this should be it.

What was the first book you read by yourself?

May 30, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

In keeping with the soccer week theme, I am reading Anthony Cartwright's Heartland, about race in the UK after 9/11, with the Japan/Korea World Cup in the background. Since I was here for that World Cup it is a bit surreal to read about it from a perspective halfway across the world. No matter how much time I spend in the UK or reading their papers, I still don't understand the England-Argentina rivalry, perhaps because I don't really remember the Falklands. But I don't really understand a lot of prejudice either. This goes beyond a rivalry, which I could get behind, and that is disturbing.

Does anybody know any other fiction books about soccer (okay, football, I doubt there are many in Canada or the US!) for adults?

My daughter still loves her lift-the-flap books so she keeps getting out her Little People Farm book. This book is huge, she can still barely lift it!

Spinky really likes Scaredy Squirrel lately - and built his own first aid kit just like Scaredy. I think there's a Christmas one coming out this year, he'll enjoy that!

What are you and your family reading this week?

May 29, 2012

Soccer Week: Goal!

Goal! (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated by: A G Ford

Published by: Candlewick Press

Published on: April 13, 2010

Ages: 6+

In a shantytown of South Africa, Ajani receives a real regulation-size soccer ball for his reading skills, and shares it with his friends. Their fast-paced and jocular game is interrupted by some bullies -  but the friends manage to deal with them and keep their ball for future games.

The verse is rhythmic and captures the action and movement of the boys and the ball. As decriptive as it is, its real value is in the message of hope.  Ajani says "I follow the ball to end of the alley/I follow the ball to the end of the world." The reader truly gets the sense that these boys can do anything.

The vivid illustrations capture the poverty and lack of safety that permeates the world of these soccer players, and somehow make the various shades of brown of a dry slum look not like something to be pitied, but a place that is real. Ford captures both the expressions of the determined youngsters and the movements of their bodies with incredible clarity. 

As different as this world is, with water brought from wells and the necessity of lookouts while these boys play, and event the fact that they call this game football, it was the similarities to our lives that drew in my son and I. The big blue sky that goes on forever reminded me of Big Sky Alberta. The dry sand and dirt on which the boys play resembles my son's soccer field so much more than the generous grass in the other soccer stories we're reading this week. But it is the determination of these boys to give themselves an outlet for their passion, no matter the obstacle, that reminded me most of my son.

This exquisite book has so much that it will interest for many years to come; geography, economics, sports, friendship, self-confidence, ingenuity, and even how to deal with danger without locking oneself inside away from it. This is probably the best sports-related book we've ever read.

 This book is the third I have read for the Read the World Challenge.

May 28, 2012

Nonfiction Monday Roundup for May 28, 2012

Welcome to the Nonfiction Monday Roundup!

Nonfiction Monday is the brainchild of Anastasia Suen. Bloggers across the kidlitosphere celebrate Nonfiction Monday by writing about nonfiction books for kids on Monday.

Join Nonfiction Monday!
We invite you to join us!
o Write about a nonfiction book for kids on a Monday on your blog.
o Copy the Nonfiction Monday button to use in your blog post.
o Link your post to the weekly Nonfiction Monday Round-up! (Please use the permalink to your post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)
Since I am in Asia, there is a major time difference and I am likely to be asleep while you are wanting to add your contribution or check out others, I apologize in advance for being slow to add links to the post. Please check the comments for the latest Nonfiction Monday Participants!

If you are unable to comment (although I think anyone can comment), please feel free to email me and I will add your post asap.

Please check out the following Nonfiction Monday posts, and please comment. I know how much I love hearing from our nonfiction kidlit community, and I hope everyone else does too.

Over at Wendie's Wanderings, Wendie Old is excited to discover that her biography for young readers, To Fly, The Story of the Wright Brothers, is one of the recommended books on the new national Common Core standards booklist!

Robin at Book Muse celebrates the beginning of summer by exploring life under the sea with Jason Chin's Coral Reefs.

Polly at The Little Wooden Horse is going to whet your appetite for cake with Let's Bake Cake! Hope she sends some my way!

Jeff Barger at NC Teacher Stuff takes us on a trip to Italy with Orani: My Father's Village to celebrate family. Do you have your own Orani?

Anastasia Suen introduces her sing and read book Johnny Appleseed at Nonfiction Book Blast.

It's Soccer Week at Perogies & Gyoza and I have a very thorough and fun book that gives all the info about soccer a kid could every want, The Everything Kids' Soccer Book.

Shelf-Employed delves into a new Scholastic title, My Body.

Jennifer at the Jean Little Library has a book for teens on babysitting, called Don't Sit on the Baby. I'd like to hand it out to all my neighbours as a hint!

Today Simply Science features a book called About Hummingbirds.

The Swimmer Writer has a book for the nocturnal set called A Place for Bats.

Tammy at Apple with Many Seeds introduces a book about historical cold cases that have been solved thanks to modern scientific techniques, called Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science.

Soccer Week: The Everything Kids' Soccer Book

The Everything Kids' Soccer Book (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Deborah W. Crisfield

Published by: Adams Media

Published on: March 18, 2009

Ages: 9+

Yesterday, for the first day of Soccer Week at Perogies & Gyoza, I introduced a basic fictional easy reader about a player's first time playing soccer. This book is basically that book's polar opposite. It is a very substantial, very thorough look at everything in soccer, from the history to the techniques.

The nine chapters of this book take us through the history of the game and the body we use for it, to the different positions, a number of techniques, and rules for play. In addition to the information covered in the body of the chapters, there are jokes, puzzles, tips, and facts, which make this a really fun book for kids who want to learn more in-depth about soccer, or soccer fanatics who want to learn more about reading in English.

My son likes the tips (an easy word for an early reader to spot on the page!) and jokes the best. His favourite riddle from the book is:
Q: Why do soccer players have terrible manners?
A : Because they're always dribbling!

My personal fave is the Fun Fact! I learned that "The first record of a women's game was one played in Scotland in the 1600s. This was a game between married women and unmarried women. The married women won." Lots of those little tidbits to keep a read-aloud parent interested!

For me what really set this apart from other nonfiction soccer books is that there is a whole chapter on goalkeeping for a goalkeeper called "In The Net." My son and husband both play keeper and it is my experience that despite the importance of this position, there are very few resources specifically for keepers. There are lots of scoring clinics around here but there hasn't been a goalkeeper clinic since my son started playing. Occasionally he plays paired with an older keeper and he absolutely laps up the information he is passed. Aside from providing him with materials in English to pique his interest in reading English, I want to be able to provide him with knowledge he wants for his interests. It was a real pleasure to read through this chapter in the book (he especially likes the part that says you can't blame the keeper because they are only the last line of defense!)

My little keeper in action
The illustrations, by Kurt Dolber, really help facilitate understanding of difficult techniques. The give-and-go pass is so easy to understand by checking out his illustration. The black & white illustrations are timeless and the excellent rendering of the body make the moves easy for kids to emulate.
This book basically has everything a kid could want to know about soccer. If there is one thing I could nitpick about this book, it is that it is very United States-centric. The first page talks about the sport "in this country", and there is an appendix that lists National Hall of Famers without mentioning which country it's for! This probably won't be noticed in the US, but it is for those of us who read the book outside the US. But it does not in any way detract from what an amazing resource this is.

This book review is posted for Nonfiction Monday, which is hosted today by yours truly. Please pop up a post to find a roundup of nonfiction children's books for this week!

May 27, 2012

Soccer Week: Let's Play Soccer (DK Readers)

Let's Play Soccer (DK Readers) (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Patricia Murphy

Published by: DK Children

Published on: March 3 2008

Ages: 6+

Welcome to Soccer Week at Perogies & Gyoza! My son is playing in his first soccer tournament, in a neighbouring prefecture later this week, which means we are living and breathing soccer. We're even eating soccer-ball shaped onigiri! I want to share this with you as well, so from today until June 2 I'll be all about soccer!

This beginning reader is a short fiction book about a  little boy named Erik's first day at soccer practice. Coach Smith introduces the players to three rules "play your best, play fair, and play without using your hands or arms - unless you are the goalie!" The kids are run through an entire practice, from warm-up and stretching to skills and a practice game.

Each page introduces new vocabulary such as shin guards, whistles, and muscles, using inset pictures. This makes it easy for kids to figure out the words even if the spelling is irregular from the context.

I bought the Kindle edition, which is great for getting a little bit of English reading practice in even on practice days. I just pull out my Kindle or iPhone and prod my son to read while he's waiting for the other team to play. The problem is there are blank pages between the actual doublespread pages which doubles the size of the book. It's not hard to flip twice through but a little confusing for beginning readers. I hope this Kindle edition is fixed.

Tomorrow I'll have another soccer book, as well as Nonfiction Monday!

May 24, 2012

Slither, Slide, What's Outside?

Slither, Slide, What's Outside? (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Nora Hilb, Simon Shapiro, and Sheryl Shapiro

Illustrated by: Nora Hilb

Published on: January 19, 2012

Published by: Annick Press

Ages: 3+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

I mentioned that next week is Soccer Week at Perogies & Gyoza, my first official theme week. But now that I look at Monday's book (Plant a Little Seed) and Slither, Slide, What's Outside?, I think this might be my first unnofficial theme week! Both have seasons (although this one has all four) and a healthy dose of nature.

Slither, Slide, What's Outside? also has adorable children. What sets it apart though is that each two-page spread has a photography of nature on the left side, and an illustration of an activity for that season with a corresponding verse on the right. From wriggling like a worm to leaping like a frog, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities for preschoolers to connect with nature. We've already tried making a star shape and checking the wind with pinwheels! I love books with activities, like The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea and this definitely fits into this category.

I also love kids with rosy cheeks in illustrations. These adorable kidlets have that, as well as having a retro 80s kind of look about them that I like. I'm not sure what that is from, the hair maybe? Whatever it is, it works.

What worked for my kids is the humour. They liked the fact that the bear might eat the dad and would like to act that out. I should have warned my husband before he got attacked by two little bears who bared their little teeth. Ooops. Well maybe that will teach him to skip storytime!

This is the 43rd book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

May 23, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

I'm still reading Natsuo Kirino's Real World. I am enjoying it, but slowly.

My kids lost their copy of the Magic Treehouse: Midnight on the Moon, but recently I found it. Good timing too, with all the talk about Monday's eclipse.

We are also delving into soccer books as I have decided to make next week a soccer theme on Perogies & Gyoza. Any recommended soccer books for me?

What are you reading this week?

May 21, 2012

Plant a Little Seed

Plant a Little Seed (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Bonnie Christensen

Published by: Roaring Brook Press

Published on: May 8, 2012

Ages: 3+

My mother-in-law has asked us repeatedly to put our names on the deed to her home. It's all kind of morbid, really, but it's not that she wants to pass down her house. That's guaranteed to us whether our names are on or not (and whether we want it or not!), since my husband is the chonan (oldest son). No, she wants to pass on the free plot of land in front of her house. She has no yard, just a 70cm space in front of her house in which she stores her watering cans and hose. But she has a small garden plot that is lent to her rent-free by the power company that owns the land. In Japanese cities that sort of land is precious, more important to her than her home.

I am not sure that the kids who participate in the urban gardening project in Plant a Little Seed see the land as quite that precious, but they do come to see both their effort and their products as precious when they raise a crop of goodies on their small plot. These two friends, along with their dog, rabbits, and moms, plant and mark seeds, then water and weed them, and after what seems to be an interminable wait, they harvest their bounty and have a feast. It is moving when they realize that their efforts have paid off and give thanks for both that and future growing seasons.

The bold drawings seem reminiscent of block carvings, and the heavy borders provide a textured and appealing feel. Christensen portrays so many emotions through the illustrations, and the boredom of waiting for a long-off harvest is convincingly done. There is so much detail in here, from the rabbit family to a raccoon hiding, to all the different parts of the plants over their life cycles.

I like that the plant cycle is shown from beginning to end, as this is one of the parts of our afterschooling curriculum for this year.  It's also interesting to note how different a garden in North America is from in Japan- not a daikon in sight in this book! The end pages include extra information on the back of seed packages, a very cute way to showcase supplemental data. This is a bold introduction to urban nature for kindergarteners, which fascinated my kids while they were learning.

This book review is posted for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by fellow Canadian Apples with Many Seeds.

I will be the host next week here at Perogies & Gyoza, see you then!

May 20, 2012

Find Your Child's Motivation to Write in the Heritage Language

This weekend my son handed me my first unprompted English note. He wrote it on his own, without anyone asking him too. He thought of every word, decided the spelling himself, and wrote it all down on the back of a piece of origami paper, and handed it to me.

I am so proud.

I also want to bottle up whatever it was that made him do that. Wouldn't that be awesome? It would help parents all over the world, struggling to find their kids' motivation.

My son's first unprodded note in English
Apparently all it took to give him the motivation was to make him mad!

Looking at my collection of letters to the editor, I know exactly where he gets this trait! Finally something of mine in his personality. He's not just a carbon copy of his daddy.

He did something and I made him come inside to have a "talk". Well, he was steaming mad. He went up to his room and did not want to talk. So he wrote this note (Don't Come In, Don't I Said Mom - with a few extra letters just in case!) and slipped it to me so I would know he meant business.

Poor guy though, it didn't work as intended, he still got the talk, plus extra hugs for the note he wrote me. But he wrote it. Now he knows how to get mom's attention!

The thing is, I can't make him angry enough to write all the time. I need to find other ways to prompt him.

When we went on a little trip earlier in May, Stompy, Domba, and I all drew pictures and wrote stories about the trip (okay, I wrote what Domba dictated). That was pretty fun. I'm going to keep that activity up from now on. But I still want the kids to want to read and write on their own. Part of it is they need to get more skills, that's where the practicing comes in. Once they are both a little better and can write exactly what they want to say without adding extra letters just in case (which I have to say is pretty darn cute!) then I think they will have a little more idea of how useful writing is.

I think that the best things about my son writing this note to me, in addition to the literacy skills he is building, is that he can get out his emotions, and the reaction is immediate. All the other writing activities we have done have had the payoff so very late (6 weeks later for a letter from Santa, 3 weeks for his postcard to arrive in Canada) that it's hard for a young child to not get frustrated. It's this immediacy, if not the emotion, that I will seek to recreate, by getting him to write notes to English-speaking friends around here, and by letting him use my phone to write text messages to his grandparents and possibly other friends his age who have access to phones and are interested in trading messages.

But I think that what I have been missing all along is role-modeling. I read, read, read to my kids. But how often do they see me pick up a pen and write? Not often. I write Christmas cards and New Year's cards, but almost everything else I type on the computer and on my cell phone, including my grocery lists.

I am going to change that, starting today. I will handwrite my grocery list, and have Spinky read it out to me when we go together. I will handwrite notes on books I review, instead of typing directly into Blogger. And this week when he goes on a field trip he is going to find a note in his bento box.

What do you do to motivate your kids to write? What is your own motivation for writing?

May 19, 2012

The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Megan Crewe

Published by: Disney Hyperion

Published on:  January 24, 2012

Itchy skin, cough, headache that leads to hallucinations... sounds like hay fever season. But in Crewe's carefully crafted world it is the start of an epidemic. This epidemic is deadly- and since it takes place on an Atlantic island off of Nova Scotia, there is the question of whether it can be contained or not.  There are other questions too, about how one deals with the plague in the 21st century, whether people band together or if it's every hoodlum for himself, and how to deal with your own life when everything gets turned upside down.

Crewe's protagonist, Kaelyn, is a mixed-race teen who has returned to the island after some time in the big city of Toronto. This book contains her letters to her former best friend who has left the island to pursue his dance dreams in New York. Both of these points work effectively. Although Kaelyn is making a fresh start, she is also able to provide background on the people and places she grew up with. The letters give Kaelyn a way to record things immediately but intimately - which you wouldn't find if she was just writing to record the weird happenings for posterity. We also become invested in the character of her best friend without him actually appearing.

Kaelyn's relationships change when the plague arrives, and she bonds with people she never thought she would. It's a YA novel so there is some romance and a little teenage angst but in general it is more about how Kaelyn's character and relationships evolve as the virus evolves.

I'm not sure really what category this fits in, it's not really science fiction and it's not not post apocalyptic. Is there an apocalyptic category? Most of the books I enjoy most define categorization, like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. It would appeal to both fans of YA fiction like Divergent and even horror books like Stephen Kind's The Stand.

I enjoy Megan Crewe's writing, which I knew beforehand from following her blog. This is a bit frightening after the Walkerton water scandal, which is real life but there is even more prevaricating on the part of the authorities. Do we really know how we could deal with a plague if it hit? I hope I never have to find out, but I thoroughly enjoyed Crewe's version of the possibility of something like this happening.

This is the 42nd book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

May 16, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

In Japan, after Golden Week, the humidity starts rolling in and the weather changes and people feel sluggish. I do, anyway. It's called Gogatsubyo (May sickness) and my whole family is feeling it. We are having early nights and not much reading is getting done, especially compared to Golden Week (days off!!)

Part of this might be that I picked up Natsuo Kirino's Real World. It's not that it's bad or that I am uninterested, but that it requires more concentration than I can give it at the moment. I might put it away for when my brain is a little less fuzzy. (if). Something this nicely written deserves more than I can give it right now. I need something with a bit more action. Suggestions?

My kids are into Froggy Plays Soccer at the moment. They like it, but to be honest I am not a fan. There's a rhyming sequence that just doesn't do it for me. But it is teaching my daughter to not touch the ball with her hands so who am I to complain?

What are you reading? Have you got a case of May sluggishness?

May 15, 2012

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Ammi-Joan Paquette

Illustrated by: Marie LeTourneau

Published on: May 15, 2012

Published by: Tanglewood Press

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

Beach season in Japan is short. I don't get this at all, I think if you are near a beach any day could be a beach day! (How can you tell I am from somewhere landlocked?) Now there are seasons where the jellyfish run rampant, and where we live there is ash to deal with as well, but the beach season is a little short (middle of July to end of August). Also, most people are on the beach from 10am to 4pm, which to someone as transparent as I, are the exact times I should not be anywhere near the sun!  Consequently, we tend to go to the beach when no one else is there. During the daytime in May to June, and early in the morning during beach season.

It's so lovely to show up at a beach with no one else there, it feels like a new world you are exploring.

That's what this book does well, makes you feel like you are exploring a whole new world above, below, and around the sea.

This is written like nonfiction picture book, with emphasis on descriptive phrases and new vocabulary, like curling eddies, tide pool, and long craggy finger. Photos accompany the introduction of beach life, like sand dollars, Queen Anne's Lace, and abalone shells. Also, like my favourite nonfiction books, this has activities the reader can experience for himself, in this case sand mermaids (the summer equivalent of snow angels).

The pages are a mix of mermaid illustrations on photographs of beach scenes, ala Little Einsteins. Normally this is not my favourite style, but in this case it works to differentiate real from not real in the nonfiction style.

This spurred my kids and I to have a chat about how descriptive the words for many beach items are. Look at sand dollar- the English word dredges up a very cool image, but the Japanese (tako no makura, タコのマクラ) is even more imaginative (it means octopus pillow). I wonder why?

This is a fun book with adorable mermaids as your guide to the wonders of the beach! It makes me excited for the weekend so we can explore our own beaches, armed with the right vocab and a mission (finding Japanese mermaids!).

May 14, 2012

Space (Insiders)

Space Insiders (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Alan Dyer

Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Published on: July 24, 2007

Ages: 8+

Next Monday morning, May 21, there will be a solar eclipse that is supposed to be visible from China, Japan, and western North America (on the afternoon of May 20). Our area is one of the places with the best view, depending on weather, so people are getting really excited. You can buy special eclipse glasses everywhere, even at the convenience store. Of course this close to rainy season there is no gurantee, but we hope to watch the eclipse before we go to school/work.

I wanted my kids to understand about the eclipse, but also get a good grounding in where this event stands in the universe. I bought this book mostly for the solar eclipse info, and it includes a succinct definition of that event (the moon passing between the sun and the earth). It's a pretty good basic primer of other things related to space, from the planets to spacesuits to gravity. It's aimed at upper elementary school students, so my kids are a bit too young to understand everything, but they enjoyed me reading it and the pictures. My son especially like the illustration of the inside of a spacesuit.

The author of this book is Alan Dyer, who comes from the same part of Canada as I do, and who has a really engaging style. I've seen him in the Canadian media before but didn't realize he had an asteroid named after him- now that's the big time!

I can see already that this is a book we are going to be flipping open a lot even after next Monday's annular eclipse. It's a great first book about astronomy and space.

Are you going to watch the next annular solar eclipse?

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Ms. Yingling Reads. I will host on Monday, May 28th, please participate whether you are a children's lit blogger or not!

This is the 41st book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

May 13, 2012

Because Your Mommy Loves You

Because Your Mommy Loves You (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Andrew Clements

Illustrated by: R.W. Alley

Published by: Clarion Books

Published on: April 3, 2012

Ages: 4+

Hope you are having a great Mother's Day, whether you are a mother or not. I spent this Mother's Day like I have the last three, washing the family grave. Sometimes I hate this job, it's stinky and hard and my mother-in-law and my kids talk about superstitious things like ghosts and heaven and other things I don't believe in (not that anyone ever asks my opinion). But othertimes, when the weather is warm but cloudy and the weeds aren't too high and we talk about all the good times we've had with my husband's late grandmother. That gets me thinking about my grandmothers, and my mother. It makes me appreciate how easy I've had it (as much as being a full-time working mom in Japan is a statistical anomaly, I am not moving my children to another continent in the middle of a war or running a household 3 hours by horse from the nearest grocery store), and also how much I have been taught by these women I have been privileged to have in my life.

I can remember times when I didn't think it was a privilege though! Hours spent canning weren't fun then but I have skills now that few of my contemporaries have. The gifts the mothers in my life gave me weren't easy to obtain but I know they gave them because they love me.

That certainly fits in with the theme of this book, which is that giving your child independence and new experiences is a wonderful way to show your love. I know that I am sometimes guilty of taking over for my kids when they want to help and it's taking too much time, so this was a good reminder.

Unlike Fancy Nancy's book, this isn't about Mother's Day per se, but it is a celebration of the relationship between mother and child. This particular mother takes her child on a camping trip, but there is more cuddling than coddling going on. You can see the pride in the child's eyes when he accomplishes something new.

Clements and Alley also brought us Because Your Daddy Loves You in 2005. It's not a rehash of the same story, but it has the same endearing qualities; a loving look at nature, detailed backgrounds including animals, a loving parent-child relationship, and expressive faces.

This would be a great book to read before a first camping trip. For us, hiking up to the graveyard, bringing our cleaning supplies and buckets, is probably as close as it gets because "camping" in Japan usually means staying in a cottage that's bigger than our house and with a better natural bath. Today I remembered this book and didn't offer to carry the brooms or buckets for my kids and they did a good job. Which was great because then I could reward them with cuddles- and let's be honest, that's the real reason I had kids.

May 9, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

To enter my giveaway for Children's Book Week, go down to this post.

I was sad to hear of famed children's illustrator Maurice Sendak's passing yesterday. Just by coincidence we read Little Bear last night. I read the hard parts and my son reads what he can. My daughter turns the pages. Thank you Maurice, for giving us plenty of memories like that. Enjoy the Wild Rumpus.

I'm back to reading time travel romances. I have the newest Lynn Kurland, All For You, on my Kindle. I like it because all the previous time travelers she has written about show up as well. Literary critic's darling? No way. But I'm very happy with it.

By the by, the fab blog Gato & Canard does a weekly feature called Multilingualism in my Family, and this week she's featuring an interview with me! Please check it out.

What are you reading this week? What is your favourite Sendak book?

May 8, 2012

Fancy Nancy's Marvelous Mother's Day Brunch

Fancy Nancy's Marvelous Mother's Day Brunch (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Jane O'Connor

Illustrated by: Robin Preiss Glasser

Published by: HarperFestival

Published on: April 11, 2011

Ages: 3+

This is the second-most read book in our house, right behind Going on a Bear Hunt. I am not sure why, but I cannot count the number of times I have read it to my kids in the last year.

Fancy Nancy and her little sister JoJo are getting a surprise brunch, as well as cards and flowers, ready for their mom on Mother's Day. Everything is spiffed up in typical Fancy Nancy style. Daddy does his part too, making waffles!

Sometimes Nancy is a little whiny and pretentious, but not in this book. In this book she is whimsical and generous.

I love that her gifts are fancy, but homemade and with heart. I'm sure you all know that I bought this book to brainwash my kids into giving me what I want for mother's day- a lie-in, meals made for me, and homemade cards. This is not really Japanese style, so I am passing it off as Canadian cultural study rather than just selfishness.

This book has all the good Fancy Nancy parts- organic vocabulary lessons as Nancy shows off her big words, a close relationship between siblings, and glitter. It's also a lift-the-flap book which fascinates my kids still. The look inside the refrigerator is very cool too, it's so different than ours. My son has often asked where Nancy's family keeps their miso, inside the fridge or cupboard? Ha!

One of the best things, however, is the card. This is perfect for beginning readers and writers, and I will be taking advantage of the second main letter-writing event of the year for my son (after letters to Santa!)

This is a great Mother's Day book, and also a great book for everyday, as it is one of the best Fancy Nancy books there is.

May 7, 2012

Aoki (Children's Book Week Giveaway - Closed)

This Giveaway is now closed. Thanks for participating!

Happy Children's Book Week! What a great thing to celebrate. I have had so much fun recently exploring children's literature, there is so much amazing stuff being produced lately.

One of those amazing books is called Aoki, by Annelore Parot (CAN, JP, US, INT). Originally published in France in 2010, it was published in English by Chronicle Books along with companion books Yumi, Amigos, and Kimono.

This picture book is aimed at young children but could easily do double duty as a coffee table book. The texture is fantastic. The cover features a pleather print kokeshi (wooden bridal gift doll) and that is just the start. My daughter loved the flaps to lift and adorable bentos. My son loved the fold-out Shinkansen (marked Kyoto on one side and Tokyo on the other!).

The design is modern and magnificent. If only Japan was really this beautiful!

This isn't just beautiful, it's educational! There are kanji characters woven in through the text and the background. It has a lot of geographic information as well, and even the famous Asahi Beer Building, normally known as the Golden Turd, makes an appearance during a taxi ride.

I have only one complaint, and that is that there is an oven in the kitchen of one of the kitchens, and that's not at all common! Of course there are crazy people like me who have regular-sized ovens so I guess it gets a pass.

Would you like a copy of Aoki? I'm giving one away as part of the Children's Book Week Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader Not A Writer, KidLitFrenzy,  Classic Children's Books, and Mymcbooks. My giveaway is open internationally to every country to which Japan Post will ship, and will close at midnight on May 13th. If the winner does not respond within 3 days to my email I reserve the right to choose another winner. You have three different chances to enter!

Check out the other sites involved in this Giveaway Hop before entering using Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 6, 2012

Franklin Rides a Bike

Franklin Rides a Bike (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Paulette Bourgeois

Illustrated by: Brenda Clark

Published by: Kids Can Press
Ages: 4+

My son has been wanting to take his training wheels off for about 6 months. His original goal was to do it while grandad was visiting so grandad could teach him like he taught me. But we were busy riding our bikes all over creation and never had a free afternoon for teaching. Since then he keeps talking about is but everytime the time comes he'd get busy with soccer (aka the sport that is taking over our lives).

We mutually decided Golden Week was the time. Then last weekend when we got out the wrench it started to rain, and ash, and who wants to be outside in that? He looked so disappointed though, so we went to the computer and looked for a book about learning to ride a bike. He picked out his old friend Franklin and we downloaded it for Kindle and started reading it right away on the computer. No waiting or anything? I think he was a little dumbfounded by that, and a little afraid his favourite delivery driver (who often has pockets full of jelly beans) might not be delivering books to our house anymore! No chance of that. ;) We'll always order paper books as well.

Franklin Rides a Bike features the friendly Franklin in a new adventure. This time all his friends have already taken their training wheels off, and Franklin wants to join them. He is, however, still Franklin, and as envious he is of his friends, he is too apprehensive to work on it and wants to be able to do it automatically without practice.

This is probably the Franklin book I like the most just for the sentiment. I like the message that you need to put effort in to get results, and that people all have different experiences and we shouldn't be envious of them. Spinky thought it was sweet that Franklin could ride off with his friends. I'm also happy that Franklin and his friends were all wearing helmets, that doesn't really happen here and I'm glad Spinky noticed as now he knows he is not all alone. He did wonder why a turtle who has a shell also needed a helmet though!

Spinky hasn't quite mastered riding his bike without training wheels, but we had a fun afternoon of practice. Here's hoping it clicks for him soon!

This is the 40th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

May 5, 2012

The Maladjusted

 The Maladjusted

Written by: Derek Hayes

Published by: Thistledown Press

Published on: September 15, 2011

Provided by the author for review

I went to a school that was arts-focused, but I don't really have any artistic talent so I always chose drama over fine arts or musical theatre. Most of my fellow students took it very seriously, wanting desperately to become the next big actor, and a couple of them have had some stage success and one of my tenth grade classmates had a stint on a US comedy show. But I was kind of a pretentious git and preferred Greek soliloquies to anything from the 20th century. I knew I wasn't going to be an actor, but I really wanted to work on my speech and breath control for when I became a politician. Thank goodness I gave up on that dream!

One of my teachers was a very well-respected stage actor who came from the same city as the author of this book, in Ontario. He often made us do Q&A sessions in character. Sometimes it was a character from a play but most often he made us make characters up. I had a hard time doing this, so his advice to me was to watch the weirdos. Just people watch and look for the mannerisms and stories of the oddballs I encountered, because they are the most interesting. He was right, they are. Perfect people aren't as intriguing.

It's intriguing then to read Derek Hayes' short story collection, The Maladjusted, which features 16 short stories about the oddballs we encounter in life. Each story is told through a different character's voice, and I am impressed that he can keep them all separate and so very unique.

The fascinating thing is that you are not sure in each story who is the maladjusted one, the narrator or someone he encounters. In Inertia I am now fairly certain it is the roommate, but in the next one, My Horoscope, the roommate who was the oddball turns out to be the normal one in the room.

Not all of these characters are sympathetic, but some are,  like Marla from A Good Decision, who is sorting through the relationships in the staff room as well as in her personal life. Others are unsympathetic but you are happy they get what's coming to them, like Brian in An Empty Tank of Gas.

Brian is an English teacher in Turkey, and he reminds me of so many specimens I have run across in  Japan. He fancies himself a lothario, and decided to relocate to a country whose women he believes are "sultry, nicely tarted up, not cynical or suspicious, but sweet." He is a man whose previous relationship consisted of a single woman who didn't finish junior high, and therefore he decided to write off an entire continent of women. It's satisfying when his two-timing is exposed in the middle of class and his roomie's girlfriend starts ordering him around. Women of the World: 2, Charisma Man: 0.

Hayes has an eye for character, and manages to convincingly draw completely different personalities for every single one of his players. I hope that this debut book is just a small sample of what's to come.

This is the 39th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

May 4, 2012

Grandpa Green

 Grandpa Green (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Lane Smith

Published by: Roaring Brook Press

Published on: August 30, 2011

Today is Greenery Day in Japan. I have no idea how we are supposed to celebrate this. It's not a traditional holiday, it used to just be known as the bridging holiday between Constitution Memorial Day (thank you USA for writing the constitution and giving us a holiday in the nicest weather of the year). So I have decided on my own that a review of a book including the word Green is the way I am celebrating (also by going on a road trip to Ikea which is a few hours away, this is a scheduled post).

This is somewhat about nature, or at least the control of it, as Grandpa Green uses topiary memoirs to pass on his experiences to his grandson. A path through the garden shows us Grandpa's life from his time as a squalling baby to his army days and his marriage. But it also gives us and his grandson into a present that is plagued with forgetfulness.

I was in Japan by the time my grandmother fell victim to dementia. She had such clear visions of some episodes of her life, however, and those were the ones she focused on. It's funny, but even though I only visited her a few times then, I learned much more about her past when she had dementia than when she didn't. When she was more mentally spry we talked more about books and movies and music and travel and the future, I didn't know much about her past until she had trouble remembering her present. This lovely book brought back a lot of memories of my beloved grandmother and for that only it gets two thumbs up from me.

My kids enjoyed it just as much, however. Smith is an award-winning artist (two Caldecott honors!) and this book shows the reason why. The verdant lushness of the tree memories is striking against the pencil sketches of the boy and his grandfather, showing young readers the nature of dementia in a much better way than a bunch of words could.

This is a wonderful book to read aloud between generations. This got me thinking about what I would include in my memory garden. What would you include in yours?

May 3, 2012


Larf (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and illustrated by: Ashley Spires

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: April 1, 2012

Ages: 3+

Larf is a sasquatch. Larf is a huge, hairy sasquatch. He lives in the backwoods, with his bunny Eric, doing what he loves. But he thinks he is the only sasquatch... until he hears about a sasquatch coming to the nearby city of Hundrefitz. Larf is excited to meet another of his kind and he sets out on a journey to the city. But he has to keep this under wraps and employees a number of disguises along the way (including looking like a character in The Hangover, with his bunny in a front carrier), and mostly gets mistaken for Aunt Mildred. Larf's undercover journey is adorably hilarious.

My kids laughed all the way through this book. The dialogue is catchy, but the illustrations add another layer of both detail and humour. But the key for me here is that *I* feel like Larf. A gigantic foreign woman living in the countryside of Asia, I could probably be mistaken for Larf or Aunt Mildred. Meeting another of my kind is a dream, and yes, I dress up too! But just like Larf, I can never blend in completely with the locals. I identified with Larf all the way through, and this book reminded me that I need to keep my sense of humour just like Larf.

I like that Larf's message is not that life is about fitting in by being the same, but about finding one's place in the world and being open to friendship. I think that my kids got that part, if not the same message about the similarities between Larf and myself.

This would be a great book for kids who feel a little different, and for everyone else it definitely works to showcase the value of empathy. Spires has another hilarious book on her hands that will be a hit with the kindergarten set.

This is the 38th book I have read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge

May 2, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

The middle of Golden Week in Japan - we should be outside barbequing and playing ball and slathering on the sunscreen. Instead it's raining and I have to work. Which means it is a good time for me to have received two awesome new books on my Kindle! Yesterday I received the final book in Rick Riordan's Egyptian mythology trilogy, The Serpent's Shadow. He's the guy behind Percy Jackson, so this is kind of like that, but with flying griffins and the sun god, Ra. Of course the other book I received is also 10 different kinds of awesome. It's Insurgent, the sequel to last summer's Divergent. It's highly addictive, and another book perfect for Hunger Games fans. Thank goodness I have 4 days off to ignore my children and read.

My son is reading his BOB books. I am really happy about this. When I first bought them he was uninterested. Now he likes them because they are easy! So cool to see how much he has learned in just six short months. Time to "level up!" as they say in Japanese- and order the next set.

Domba is asking for Curious George Goes to the Beach. I know what she wants to do with her holiday!

What are your Golden Week plans if you have some? Are you outside reading or inside reading, and what?

May 1, 2012

Millie's Marvellous Hat

Millie's Marvellous Hat (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Satoshi Kitamura

Published by: Andersen Press

Published on: September 1, 2009

Ages: 3+

Millie is shopping in a fine millinery, as you do, when she spots the perfect hat. She wants to buy it but has no money. The brilliant shopkeeper offers Millie a hatbox as empty as her purse. She fills that hatbox with her imagination.

Millie's imagination is a gift- she not only creates her own hat, but beautiful ones for everyone around her. Kitamura's illustrations are as detailed as a Richard Scarry work. It's amazing how he can differentiate between Millie's imagination and that of everyone else.

What makes this book rise above is that the adults are accepting and get in on the imaginary action. Every adult needs a little imagination, and a child like Millie is the perfect catalyst for that.

My kids had so much fun discovering all of the new hats as Millie explored her wildest daydreams. Unsurprisingly my daughter loved the cake hat, while my son was quite taken with the fountain hat. Personally, I loved the hand-lettering!

If you like this book you might be interested in other books that will move you to let your imagination soar, like Sora and the Cloud or Laundry Day.