Jan 31, 2012

January 2012 Challenges Roundup

This was a busy month. I started my Reading Aloud Everyday In 2012 challenge, kept up with my Canadian reading challenge, and signed up for three new challenges. Three!!! I think I may have gone a little nuts.

(Sidebar: "are you nuts" is my kids' new phrase, guaranteed to get them to giggle. Thanks Magic Treehouse.)

First things first, I am 29/31 days on my read aloud challenge. I missed 2 days due to ill health. The good news is that on the days I thought would be a problem (soccer! when my son sleeps before he gets home)  we have started reading in the morning and on the commute.  This is a good habit.

That means I added $10, $5 for each day, to my Kiva.org account. With my repayments I was able to make a loan to a taxi driver in Palestine.

Since July I have been doing the Canadian Reading Challenge #5. I knocked 4 Canadian books off my TBR list this month, 2 picture books and 2 adult books, including the Giller Prize winner, Half-Blood Blues.

Next is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012. I have 2/20 books marked off already, A Second is a Hiccup, and How a House is Built.

I also signed up for the Reading the World Challenge. This one is going to be great!  7 books in total, all from different countries, 3 from different continents, including one from my area and a book in translation. I'm at 0/7 so far but ordered my book in translation.  I am on the lookout for great books in English from around the world, so please load me up with suggestions.

The Read to Me Picture Book Challenge is one I just couldn't resist.  It is right up my alley, but I have made a goal to read 120 different books out loud to my kids this year. Eeep.

So far I have 5 picture books I reviewed this month, plus the first 5 Magic Treehouse books, and my daughter's favourite book We're Going on a Bear Hunt (how have I not blogged that yet?). I know there are more but I didn't keep track!  I better start writing them down from now on.

Anyway, that makes 10/120, a long way to go but doable I hope! 

Seems like a lot of reading to my kids, but I got some adult ones in too!  I'm lucky that a lot of my books are crossovers, so they work for many challenges.

Are you doing any reading challenges?

Jan 30, 2012

Short Story Monday: The Surprise Visit

For Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set, I read The Surprise Visit by Ray Austin, posted at Commuter Lit.

This is about a surprise visit to a small town by a politician, John Diefenbaker, who was Prime Minister of Canada in the late 1950s.

I thought that Austin captured your average Canadian's apathy toward politicians pretty well.

However, the rest of the story wasn't really to my taste. Names like Crumpacker and Snodcrapper to me belong in a Seuss story. The fact that he changed the name of the town at the end really grated to me. But the part that I was least fond of was that when the narrator asked "Did he think we were a prime example of Canadian simpletons" he could have been talking about the author. I don't really know why someone would write a story about people he has no affection for.  Perhaps I just didn't see that affection.

I don't think Canadian's political apathy comes from stupidity, and that's where the author and I part ways.

Jan 29, 2012

Every Time We Say Goodbye

Every Time We Say Goodbye (CAN, JP, US)

Written by: Jamie Zeppa

Date of Publication: 2011

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Have you ever read a book that just gets under your skin? The kind of book that keeps your mind racing at night, as you think about everything you read, so much to take in and process. After I read The Hunger Games trilogy I needed weeks to decompress. But I can't go weeks without reading.

When I read a book like this I have to turn to a book that is completely different so my thoughts don't impede on my reading material. Usually this means my guilty pleasure, time travel novels.

This time it was Sora and the Cloud that permeated my brain - I know, a picture book! So I decided to go for something I thought would be completely opposite, a Canadian novel about a suburban family.

I thought this would be a light read. I should have stuck with time travel!

I should have known what I was getting into. The first book I read by Jamie Zeppa, her memoir Beyond the Sky and Earth, was what I thought a light read about a teacher in Asia. But it was so much more, a peek into a country foreigners rarely visit, hard truths about oneself and a priviledged upbringing by Bhutanese standards, and a look into an international marriage. I've thought about it often in the decade since I've read it, as I too try to navigate an international marriage. There was so much food for thought in her memoir.

Zeppa's first novel is like Wild Swans for Ontario. A sweeping generational tale, she draws characters so real you'll check up on your Facebook acquaintances to see if they have somehow met her and inspired her.

Everytime We Say Goodbye follows the secrets of the Turner family through 3 generations, from before WW2 to the early 70s. The family centres around hard-working Frank and his harsh wife Vera, the grandparents who were desperate for children but ended up raising everyone else's.

There are no perfect characters in this novel- everyone is battling some sort of demon, whether their own failures or those that others created for them. There are, however, second chances of sorts, not the kind others give to you but the kind you make for yourself. The situations these characters find themselves in are bleak, from a child overdosing on hash brownies to a number of unplanned pregnancies and beyond. But they all have hope that things will get better, whether that's by getting involved with the wrong people or abandoning your own children, their choices are driven by hope.

Teenaged Dawn tries to figure out how people fit in her life. Heartbreakingly, she seems to only have two categories, going or gone. The 70s setting seems to fit really well with this- we seem to be able to keep some people who would probably be gone in the going category thanks to technology. I don't know if that is good or bad.

Zeppa's novel is engaging, and like her memoir, will keep me pondering family, the difference between going and gone, and the role of secrets in a judgmental society for a long time.

When I signed up for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge, this was the kind of book I was hoping to read. A novel of experiences of Canadians, the kind that reminds me of my grandparents canning and going down to creeks in the summer and getting all muddy even in my Sunday best. So glad I had the chance to read this one.

This is the 23rd book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Jan 25, 2012

Sora and the Cloud

I hope you aren't looking for a critical review of this book, because what you are going to get is more gush-fest than critique.

I ordered Sora and the Cloud (CAN, JP, USA), written and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino, translated by Akiko Hoshino, and published by Immedium, solely because I heard it was bilingual Japanese-English. My "oooh shiny" obsession begins with "oooh bilingual."

I have blathered on before about wanting books in English about Japanese cultural celebrations I could read with my kids. I knew I would be getting a little of that in this book as there is a kite festival. What I didn't realize was just how fabulous this book was going to be. I didn't realize that the inside cover flap is so detailed I would stroke it just to see if it really was washi paper. I didn't realize that I would be as excited to re-read this as I was with Harry Potter. I got very lucky.

This Showa-esque picture book takes us into a small boy's dreamscape. The aptly named Sora soars through the sky on his cloud friend Kumo-kun. Toys from his room become objects in the landscapes he sees on his adventure. An adventure we hope continues now that he's introduced his baby sister to his friend, Kumo the cloud.

The watercolour and mixed media illustrations are perfect for both the sky and the dreamscape. I enjoyed the retro feel, which for me evoked both my visions of post-war Japan and the classic toys of my 70s childhood. The facial expressions, from the exasperated mother trying to wash the floor with a child on her back (I've been there!) to Kumo the cloud's aping of the tiger plane are subtle but realistic.

This is my favourite spread in the whole book. Kumo's toys come to life with retro cars and the bugs pre-school boys love. I see something new every time, and my kids and I loved searching for the squirrel here and on all the other pages.

The boy and the cloud are drawn with the same red cheeks as in my beloved Spork. Here though, the red-cheeked boy looks like he's having a long winter nap, curled up in his futon. The red-cheeks to me symbolize winter, and flying kites is indeed a January activity in Japan. But they work just as well in windy spring in English-speaking countries when kids get out their kites.

I put this book to a real test last week when I read it, in Japanese, out loud to a group of 4-6 year old boys who (other than my son) do not speak English. The pictures and the Japanese held their attention for the longest I have ever seen it held. The translation is divine. "Kites swirl and squeal" becomes ぐるぐる きゅるきゅる 飛んでいる。(guruguru gyurugyru tondeiru), just as evocative in Japanese as in English. I had to practice beforehand, knowing that these boys would tell me if I messed up, and I enjoyed every run-through. Somehow Hoshino has hit just the right note of onomatopoeic words, giving a Japanese picture book feel even to the English words.

I loved the illustrations, the writing, and the translation. But the genius in this book is the way it portrays the passage of time. While Sora is growing up he appears 2, 3, even 4 times on the same spread. It goes so fast! But when he's flying with Kumo the cloud, time slows and Sora himself is bigger and appears less often- as any parent can tell you some afternoons with your kids seem interminable! How does that saying go? "The days are long but the years are short."

This is the perfect book for a Japanese-English bilingual family, anyone interested in introducing other cultures to their kids, and both Japanese and English monolingual families. I hope this will become a classic, it has all the hallmarks of an award winner. Don't just believe me, Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times loved it too.

Jan 24, 2012

Environmental Print

In trying to teach my 4-year old son to read in his heritage language, I keep coming back to Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family, which I read last autumn. This book stresses the importance of relevance for keeping kids motivated, and suggests environmental print as a way to keep kids motivated.

Since then I have been collecting environmental print in English at a variety of levels for my kids to use in the future. I have also been keeping a notebook of places where I see English signs that are correct so I can point them out to my kids. I was surprised at how many there are! I do remember a decade or so back when those were the only things I saw, as I blanked out on everything in Japanese I could not read! I wonder if my kids do the same before they can read?

Thank goodness for the internet, I have to say. I remember back in high school German, my teacher would produce laminated menus that she had gotten her friends in Munich to send - they were quite the treasure! Now I can bring anything I want up and print it out. I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to environmental print in English.

The problem isn't finding good English examples. For us the problem is identifying good English vs. bad English. For every correctly spelled "toilet" there is a "Moter Rand" or "No Smorking" sign. Plus, there are so many Japanese words put into the alphabet for stylistic purposes. It's hard for my son to differentiate between these, but I guess only time and practice will take care of that.

We have another problem. In Japanese there are three syllabaries; hiragana, katakana, and kanji (complicated ones known as Chinese characters). Kindergarten kids learn hiragana and then katakana and kanji are introduced in elementary school. My son points out the hiragana he sees, but there is even less of that around than English! Unbelievable! Hiragana is used to join kanji and indicate tenses etc so you see it in books but rarely on signs. The fire hydrant sign above is typical - English above and the kanji only below.

This Mos Burger slogan is another example of environmental print in our neighbourhood. It has English, katakana, and kanji. No hiragana.
So now I am wondering if I should be making an effort to gather and post hiragana environmental print? I am leaning toward no just because I want to concentrate on English during our limited time together. Besides, everyone else seems to learn hiragana without that, right?

See the follow-up to the this post at Environmental Print Part II.

Jan 22, 2012

Scaredy Squirrel

We read Scaredy Squirrel (CAN, JP, US), written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt and published by Kids Can Press (2008).

Scaredy is a squirrel who loves to play the "what if?" game. Scaredy thinks of scary things whatever the situation and therefore sticks in his tree and never ventures out into the world. Until one day when he is forced out! But with the help of an emergency kit and playing dead he is able to confront his fears about the world and change up his day to include exploration of the wider world. This is one of those books that parents of Free Range Kids love, I'm sure.

Scaredy and his giant smile are adorable. It's no wonder then that he is the star of his own cartoon tv show, or that he has his own iOS app.

I've never seen the tv show, but we have the Scaredy SOS iPhone app and it is a hit with the kids.

In the world of Canadian kids publishing, Scaredy Squirrel, Caillou, and Franklin the Turtle are all big names, and all a bit wimpy. I wonder if there is a reason for this or just coincidence!

This is the 22nd book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Jan 16, 2012

How a House is Built

I got How a House is Built (CAN, JP, USA), written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons and published by Holiday House, when we built our house in 2010. Then I packed it to move. It wasn't seen again until I uncovered it when putting our Christmas decorations away.

It's a little late for showing my kids the steps to making our house come to fruition, but a really good resource nonetheless.

The book goes through the process of building a house from the ground (crawl space) up, touching on all the different parts of the process, from plumbing to framing. The colourful pictures make it easy for kids to understand the new vocabulary. What I like is that there are women actually working on the house, which let me tell you, did not happen on our house. It's nice for my kids to be able to see that women can do any job they put their mind to.

Our house is built western style so I really only thought the bath and our tatami mats were different from the book. My kids, however, asked where the solar panels on the roof were!

Gail Gibbons is the queen of the nonfiction picture book, with over 100 titles published and more to come. I can see why, she has an excellent sense for how to convey fact to small children with appropriate vocabulary and interesting pictures. I will definitely keep my eye open for more of her books.

This was my 2nd picture book for Nonfiction Monday for 2012, hosted by The Swimmer Writer this week.

Jan 15, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for 2012

I knew as soon as Kidlit Frenzy announced the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on New Year's Eve that I was in. I have seen a lot of challenges in my last few months of blogging that I would love to do, but without a decent library of English books close they mostly seemed impossible. If I were to win the lottery...

But this one seems great! Both of my kids have enjoyed the nonfiction picture books we have read recently, and I am a big fan too.

But here's the problem- choosing your goal. In an ideal world I'd love to do one every week, on Monday for Nonfiction Monday. But I do not have that much money! Twice a month might be doable, but nonfiction books seem to take longer to ship than other picture books. Many take 3 weeks to a month. So what if I run out of nonfiction picture books?

So I've decided on 20 books for the year. Close to two a month, but gives me a little breathing room!

You wouldn't think deciding this would be so hard, right? I am a little nuts sometimes.

With that, I am going to participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, and I will read 20 nonfiction picture books to my kids in 2012. Are you participating? Do you have any books I must include in my challenge?

Jan 13, 2012

Best Mother Goose Ever

Today is my birthday, and I am celebrating as I usually do by getting all sentimental and stuff.

Oh, and watching Friday the 13th after the kids go to bed.

When I was a little girl we went to the library all the time. We didn't own very many kids books, because we could borrow then anytime. Oh how I miss libraries with English books!

One of the few books we owned was Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever (CAN, JP, US). It is a Golden Book, so the one I had as a kid had the iconic gold and black binding. This was the first book I bought for my son, but this one is yellow on the binding. I can't say that wasn't a disappointment.

The contents are just the same (minus spilled apple juice, ripped pages, and places my brother licked it). 92 pages of familiar and not-so-familiar nursery rhymes. When was the last time you heard this one?

Elsie Marley is grown so fine,
She won't get up to feed the swine,
But lies in bed til eight or nine,
Lazy Elsie Marley

Scarry's signature anthropomorphic figures often tell a big story behind the verse, and my kids love wondering if the animals in one are related to another.

My favourites are all related to pigs. This is the illustration I love the most, the wrinkles on those kissing snouts!

My favourite verse, as well as my kids', is This Little Pig. I made my dad recite it while pulling on my toes until I was ridiculously big. My kids both demand I do it every night as well, so this book gets an awful lot of use.

It's lovely to curl up in bed with my littles just like my dad with me, passing on the exact same verses. I also love that I know how good rhyming is for their language development, despite the archaic grammar it gives them a mental workout that nothing else rivals in the preschool set.

Do you have a favourite book of poems or nursery rhymes suitable for kids?

Jan 12, 2012

Half-Blood Blues

I have to get this out of the way first: there should be a hyphen in the title. There is on the author's site, and on some of the covers, but not everywhere, and not on the copy I bought. This is driving me wacky.


I read the Giller Prize winner, Half Blood Blues (CAN, JP, USA), by Esi Eduyan and published by Thomas Allen.

The book is about a multilingual group of jazz performers, from varying ethnic backgrounds, during the early days of the second world war. It tackles the heedy issues of race vs. ethnicity and people's perceptions while paying attention to the group dynamic of a few people affected by huge events outside of their control. The narrator explores his love for music and balancing that with his jealousy over a woman and his tolerance of a malicious friend. The book jumps time between Vichy Paris, 1992 America and Poland, and pre-war Germany. The time jumps are flawless, and despite knowing what will happen to the majority of characters, you get sucked up into the action and forget that they will not be around soon.

For me, it was the language that made this book. Eduyan makes a clear distinction between the pre-war Jazz age and 1992, and all using the dialect of the same characters. You can just see that Sid, the narrator, has given up the jazz lifestyle and has grown up by the words he uses during which era. The Jazz dialect is rhythmic and parallels the passion these boys put into their music. I love the fact that German-speaking Hiero puts the inflection he learns from the English-speaking bandmembers into his own speech. That rings quite true to me- I know people who hang out at the same bar all the time who sound more and more like each other every day but speak different languages- and they are not even trapped in a club by the advancing Nazi troops!

Reading this book was beautiful until the last 4 pages. Then it became clear that the story we were working up to was not going to be told. I understand why it wasn't told, what the choice of the narrator was not to press for it- but I don't like it. It was frustrating, to say the least. It feels like Paullina Simons' Bronze Horseman trilogy at the end, a beauiful, lyrical book that needs to tell more stories. But this isn't a historical romance and I don't know if Eduyan is planning a sequel. If she did I'd be first in line to buy it, however.

This is the 21st book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Jan 11, 2012

Magic Treehouse (film)

I broke down and took my kids to see the Magic Treehouse film in Japanese. Neither of them have been to a real movie before and I was very worried about whether they were old enough. In fact, I was only going to take Spinky, but Domba begged to go. My husband stayed outside the theatre for the first half an hour just in case she needed to be taken out but all was well, and even my 2-year old was fascinated by this movie.

Who takes their 2-year old to a movie? Oh, me.

The plot of the movie was that Merlin has turned Morgan into a rat, and sent the Magic Treehouse into the woods surrounding Jack and Annie's town. Jack and Annie must journey to different times to collect four medallions to stick into grooves on the front of a book. When that happens, a miracle will occur. The audience knows that the rat called peanuts is actually Morgan, but although Jack and Annie encounter Morgan on their second adventure, they don't realize the rat is her.

When I read the synopsis in Japanese I thought it would be about the first four books (Dinosaurs Before Dawn, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, Pirates Past Noon) and that is what I ordered and read. It was actually the first two and fourth, but the mummy adventure was replaced by Vacation under the Volcano (CAN, JP, USA), which is No. 13 in the Magic Treehouse series.

This is the one book I had wanted to avoid, as we live only a few kilometres from an extremely active Stratovolcano, just like Vesuvius. Actually, my city is twinned with Naples due to the fear of the volcano we have in common. So watching Vesuvius erupt while the citizens of Pompeii, and Jack and Annie, run for their lives, would not have been my pick for a first movie for my kids. It turned out all right, I was more scared than my kids were, and I found the depictions to be pretty accurate (not that I was around then!), more accurate than The Fires of Pompeii when Doctor Who and his companion Donna visited Pompeii on the same day. The preceding earthquakes and lightning striking the volcano were particularly well done.

I am not a big fan of the Japanese anime style. I do not like the small mouths, same noses, and giant eyes. This is just a personal aesthetic preference though, it was well-done and I was able to move past that and enjoy the scenery. Jack and Annie seemed pretty true to their depictions in the books despite Jack getting a giggly girlfriend. I could accept the change of Morgan to a rat (not anywhere as cute as Remi) from a parrot because I think that worked well to tie the story into a single 1.5 hour escapade. It seems like they have purposely made it possible to have a sequel as well, as now Merlin needs to be saved.

My only real problem with the movie is the Shakespeare was misspelled as Shakespear on a book carried by Jack's love interest, which could be fixed in post-editing if they release this abroad with English subtitles.

The big thing for me was that even though we watched the movie in Japanese, my kids could speak about it afterwards with me in English. Reading the books beforehand, even though the volcano adventure wasn't one of them, gave them the vocab to be able to do that. As soon as we got home Spinky made me order the next four as well. Two thumbs up on creating interest in chapter books!

I can't believe I am saying this, but this was actually worth the expense of taking both kids to the movies, it was a great afternoon.

Jan 7, 2012

Chapter Books

My son has finally shown an interest in chapter books! I tried to introduce a couple to him last year, Freckle Juice and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but he just didn't have the patience at that time.

On the last day of kindergarten before winter break, Spinky got a flyer for movies that will be shown, with coupons. Usually I get really irrationally angry when I see these. They give them out to kids who can't read, and my son gets so excited to see Toy Story 3 or Cars 2 or something and then *I'm* the one who has to explain to him that we aren't going to see it because it is in Japanese. Okay, I guess this is my fault, but there is no way I am paying 1800 yen for me and 1000 yen for him (for those of you keeping track at home, that's $36 US) to see a movie that is dubbed away from my native language.

They used to show big movies with subtitles and dubbed so you could choose. Oh those were the days. Then stupid 3D came along and nothing directed at kids is shown subtitled anymore. I hate dubbed movies with a passion.

Okay, that was a little angry tangent. (You should see me, my eyes are all green and my face is red, my husband is laughing when he asked what got me so angry, he's seen me get so angry over this before.)

Anyway, one of the movies on his little flyer was Magic Treehouse. At first I thought this would be a dubbed version to, but the characters looked awfully Japanese anime-like. So I looked it up, and the movie is based on the wildly successful Magic Treehouse books, but it is a Japanese production. Annie is voiced by Mana Ashida, whose voice is everywhere in Japan as the 7-year old singer of Maru Maru Mori Mori, the current earworm here.

I thought that if he was interested in the books maybe we could go to his first movie. So I ordered the first four books, they arrived on Boxing Day, and we've been reading them ever since. Now he wants the next four asap!

Domba, at 2.75, does not have the attention span to listen to me read aloud. She drifts in and out while I'm reading. Spinky usually watches my face on the pages without pictures, but he sometimes closes his eyes too. I too like closing my eyes while someone else is reading aloud, so I can concentrate on imagining what is happening.

I really like the plots of the Magic Treehouse series. I was just slightly too old for them so this is my first experience with them. The chapters seems just short enough to hold a kindergarteners' attention, and the vocabulary choice is good too. We have learned a lot of new words but context helps a lot. The pictures also help, as when in Book # 2 Mary Pope Osbourne introduces the word "precipice." The best thing about the book is that each chapter ends with almost a cliffhanger, so my son really wants to go on for more.

I am not thrilled with some of the sentences, however. So many of them seem to start with and. There are also many places where I would prefer a comma instead of starting a new sentence. I don't know if I am just being an old fuddy-duddy here. It's been a number of decades since I read a beginner's chapter book so maybe this is the style?

I am still not 100% sure if we will see the movie. I'm not even sure how I am justifying this exception to my "English-only" rule. I guess since it's not dubbed, originally in Japanese, and based on English books that it might be okay! We'll see.

What other chapter books are good for beginning readers? Do you have a favourite Magic Treehouse book?

Jan 4, 2012

Most anticipated picture books of 2012

I read the event "Waiting on Wednesday" hosted by Breaking the Spine, which I shouldn't, because it increases my To Be Read list every week. I've never posted because the books I covet don't seem to fit. Where are all the other adults who covet picture books? This year, 2012, there are quite a few books I am waiting impatiently for. Some of these are kids books and some aren't. And every single one of them makes me wish we had an English library within driving distance. These are my must-buy picture books for 2012, do you have any?

February 7, 2012
Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight (CAN, JP, US) by Ruth Ohi and published by Annick Press
We loved the first in the series. I thought of these three friends often as I was doing up my new year's cards. I wish they'd have a dragon friend for this year. ;) This edition looks good, as we are definitely dealing with sibling squabbles at the moment, and I'd be happy to have some beloved characters show my kids how to deal with a squabble productively.

March 1, 2012
Virginia Wolf (CAN, JP, US), written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and published by Kids Can Press
My favourite book I read last year was most definitely Spork, and the amazing team behind that book have gotten together again to produce this book. If that wasn't enough to make me covet it (and of course it is), the characters are Virginia Wolf and Vanessa Bell, based on two of the most amazingly talented sisters of the 20th century.

April 10, 2012
Wanda's Freckles (CAN, JP, USA) by Barbara Azore, illustrated by Georgia Graham, and published by Tundra Books, is coming out in paperback.
I saw this before in hardback when I was visiting Canada, but at that time my son didn't have freckles and I was hoping he wouldn't get my curse. Now he most certainly does, and I want him to know others do too, not just him and I. Wanda is a great character and it will be fun to read, I hope.

May 8, 2012
The French Fry King (CAN, JP, USA) is written and illustrated by Rogé, and published by Tundra Books. Even if the words are terrible, I am already half in love with this dog from the cover alone. Rogé's works are always full of belly laughs and that makes my kids happy.

May 15, 2012
How? (CAN, JP, USA) from Catherine Ripley and Scot Ritchie, and published by Owlkids Books
This is the followup to the great "Why" book which should be required reading for all parents of preschoolers as the author seems to have anticipated every question my son asked in the last year. Hopefully How will have me covered for the next year!

What books scheduled for 2012 are you crushing on?

Jan 2, 2012

A Second is a Hiccup

New Year's is the big family celebration in Japan. It's sort of like the Christmas holidays in Canada. Basically, a lot of sitting around a family member's house, watching the same stuff on tv for decades, eating too much, and children getting spoiled (in Japan, with gifts of cash).

But for little kids, the idea of a new year, indeed, a whole year, is hard to fathom. Heck, it's hard for adults. I've read Stephen Hawking's A Briefer History of Time and I am still clueless.

For this Nonfiction Monday. hosted this week by Nonfiction Detectives, we read A Second is a Minute (CAN, JP, US), written by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, and published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

The beauty of this book is that it breaks down units of time, from seconds up, into things children understand. A second is just like kissing mama or turning around. A year is a new pair of shoes. Although I wish Hutchins had said a new size of shoes, since my soccer-playing nut of a son puts holes in his shoes every 3 months or so! I don't think that's normal.

This is the second book from Hazel Hutchins that I have reviewed, the first being Mattland. The styles are really different, but the quality is the same. Mattland was stark and simple, suiting the setting, whereas the lyrical rhyming in this book is great for kids to understand and remember. I could see it being a chant, like "30 days hath September..."

A Second is A Hiccup is my first experience with Denton, but I really enjoyed her illustrations. The one all of us liked the most was the sprinkler- despite it being close to 0 (I know, all you in Canada are laughing at me now!) and cold, we felt the warmth of that picture right off the page.

This book ends with a look at how our kids grow up so fast. They are fascinated with the process it takes babies like their new cousin to learn to walk, then talk, then get as "big" as they, and Hutchins played right off of that fascination pre-schoolers have. All in all, a lovely book, more heartwarming than a nonfiction picture book usually is!

The reason I ordered this book is that I saw the Japanese version on a display at my local library for New Year's. A Japanese version of a Canadian picture book? Sold! I bought the Japanese version for my nieces and it was cool to compare the books. The Japanese version isn't as lyrical as the original, but it makes excellent use of onomatopoeia to convey the passing of time. A great translation, in my opinion.

This is the 20th book I read for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge.

Jan 1, 2012

My 2012 Challenge

Happy New Year! Like everyone else I know in Japan, I am relieved that 2011 is over, finally. I want to make 2012 our best year yet.

Do you have a resolution?

I have two. Get at least 5 hours of sleep a night, and read aloud to my kids every single day.

I first started this blog as a way to keep myself motivated with pre-afterschooling my kids in English. I wanted to get people's feedback and to push myself to do more, better by my kids. I wanted to give them a taste of my culture, a sense of being Canadian even if they are not in Canada. As the months have moved on I have realized the best thing I can do right now is read out loud to them.

I love it too, curling up with them in pajamas, smelling of shampoo and toothpaste, arguing over who chooses which book that night. Then delving into picture books with beautiful illustrations and words that are fun to say. Then talking with my kids after about what they liked about the book or whether it is ever okay to emulate a Robert Munsch character. It's my favourite part of the day.

But, the thing is, it's hard to carve that time out sometimes. I'm a working mom, my weekday time with my kids is limited. Sometimes I am busy and daddy puts them to bed. Sometimes Spinky is exhausted after 2 hours of soccer practice and falls asleep for the night in the car on the way home. Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

In 2012, I want to make it work everyday. If I know Spinky has soccer, we'll read in the morning or on the commute. If I know work will be busy, I'll record a tape for daddy to play.

And to keep myself on track, I am putting a financial incentive to my goal. Every day that I do not read to my kids, I will put $5 in my kiva.org account to be lent to the world's working poor. I believe in Kiva, so it's a win-win, right? I wanted to give to a children's book charity, but was too lazy to look for one before it became 2012, so next year I guess! (If you know of one that is secular and will take donations from Japan, please tell me!)

If I really suck, that could be $1820. (I've already finished reading today!)

Are you interested in playing along? Please, the more the merrier! Feel free to steal the very shoddy button above for your own blog, comment here, or just do it. You choose your own incentive! Just let me know so I can cheer you on. I hope to have round-up posts every month to see how everyone is doing, but no promises.

Kiva - loans that change lives