Jul 31, 2012

July Reading Roundup

A midsummer roundup is always going to be a little sparse! Too busy sweating to write reviews!

We did okay on this challenge this month. We only missed one day, when my son's car door wouldn't shut and we had to make a long emergency pit stop at the car dealer and the kids fell asleep! That makes 30/31 days on my read aloud challenge this month, which means I gave $5 to Kiva! I loaned to a group of women selling Guiness and other drinks in Ghana.

This month I started the Canadian Book Challenge #6. I read 4 books by Canadians (3 of which were picture books), which means I am on track to match my last year's total (48)!

Next is the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012. In total so far I have read 18/20 books marked off already, with 4 new (How?, The Rescue of Nanoose, The Beetle Book, and My First Atlas of The World) in July. I hosted Nonfiction Monday here at Perogies & Gyoza on July 23rd, and it was great fun!

Yet again I read nothing for the Reading the World Challenge this month. That must change in August.

Trying hard to keep on track for the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge!
This month we read How?, The Stone Hatchlings, The Rescue of Nanoose, Red Knit Cap Girl, The Beetle Book, Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? and My First Atlas of The World to make 71/120, 7 over the last month.

What are you reading this summer? Or are you in the pool too often to get any reading done?

Jul 30, 2012

My First Atlas of the World

My First Atlas of the World (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Published by: Five Mile Press

Published on: August 24, 2009 

The Olympics are such an amazing opportunity to learn, not just about sports but also about geography and culture. It's not just for kids either, it was my first time seeing the flag of the Solomon Islands today! The Opening Ceremonies is an amazing opportunity to see all those flags. I have to admit I prefer national costumes to boring old polos and khakis. We loved the Mexican delegation's entrance, so colourful!

My son has his own Atlas with lots of flags for matching but it is a bit advanced for Domba (age 3). So I ordered this, hoping it wouldn't just be a bunch of words and stats. It isn't!

This is the perfect first Atlas for a preschooler. Few words, but lots of colourful and cute pictures of animals (aquatic and land). It's so easy for even the youngest to start to understand maps, flags, and legends. The enclosed map and stickers are good for literally hours of fun. We added little red circle stickers, and put one on every country we saw come into the stadium during the opening ceremony. 

The book is by no means overwhelming, just 16 pages, but the right size for a little one's first atlas!

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Practically Paradise.

Jul 29, 2012

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Dan Bar-el

Illustrated by: Rae Maté

Published by: Simply Read Books

Published on: May 1, 2011

Ages: 4+

This year there are so many amazing picture books nominated for the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards. Usually they are limited to the nominees for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, but this year there are picture books nominated for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction, Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse (French children's literature award), and even the main award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. It's so exciting that picture books are holding their own! I like to think of these as the best of the best of Canadian picture books. Therefore, this year I am attempting to review all the English language picture books nominated for the CCBC Awards before the award ceremony in the autumn. I have already reviewed Loon, the gorgeous nonfiction picture book nominated for the Norma Fleck Award.

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? is a finalist for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.

Dan Bar-el takes the familiar nursery rhyme about the pussycat and extends it far beyond Buckingham Palace. A girl is entertained by the pet she loves, who re-enacts his travels around the world. The kitty uses rhyme to tell her about the people and animals he encountered in Northern Africa, Europe, and the far north. He doesn't hide his emotions either, and both the girl and the reader understand he has experienced loneliness and almost lost his confidence before coming back.

The retro-style illustrations and the updating of the classic nursery rhyme really appeals to my sense of nostalgia. My kids, however, enjoyed the rhymes and the new and interesting places. Overall, a great read-aloud book that won't bore parents or kids/

This is the fifth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge


Jul 28, 2012

The Tale of Two Nazanins

The Tale of Two Nazanins (CAN, US)

Written by: Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Susan McClelland

Published by: HarperCollins Publishers

Published on: May 22, 2012

Have you ever encountered someone with the same name as you? It happened to me all the time before I was married. This was even before Googling yourself was an option. There was a professor at another university in my major (that was helpful) and even someone in my prefecture in Japan with the same name. There's always a bit of a connection there- like it opens up the possibilities for what you could be, like an alternate you.

But what if the person you encounter with the same name as you is in a horrible situation? What if she is on death row for killing a would-be rapist? What if she is illiterate, impoverished, and virtually unreachable? What would you do?

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the 2003 Canadian Miss World, is introduced to the case of Nazanin (Mahabad) Fatehi. She is a Kurdish girl in Iran who was somewhere in a prison in Tehran, sentenced to death, for protecting her body in a country where women are oppressed and victims of sexual assault are further victimized by the courts and their society. The deck was stacked against Fatehi in the beginning. She is a minority in country that is not accepting of minorities, who didn't speak or write the majority language, whose abusive father was hated by both the community he informed on and the government which had previously paid his wages. She is powerless.

Afishin-Jam has the power of global fame and beauty. She is under no obligation to use those to help a child in danger across the globe, but she does. She starts a petition, she fundraises,  and she serves as a spokesperson to rally people to Fatehi's cause. She and a number of other people really tick off people in Iran's upper echelons. This is not without risk, they put Fatehi and her family, lawyers, and fellow prisoners into a lot of danger to try to save Fatehi's life.

They do it though. Or at least, they get Fatehi out of prison. They get her released since she was a minor when this occurred and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a signatory, proscribes against capital punishment for offenses committed by minors. The fight doesn't end there, though. Afshin-Jam founded Stop Child Executions to work toward eliminating capital punishment for minors in Iran and around the world.

The world building was excellent, and I can see the style that made Susan McLelland's earlier nonfiction work, The Bite of the Mango, such a success. I think it's a rare Canadian reader who knows much about the lives of Kurdish women in rural Iran, but this does not prove an issue in McLelland's capable hands. The atrocities are handled with empathy but never pity, and the characters of the women in Fatehi's communities, from her family to her cellmates, are fleshed out to such a degree that I am very interested in their fates.

I think that this would make an amazing book club book in the same way The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is. There's something about nonfiction books about horrible situations that makes me want the comfort of others who know about it. Plus there are so many questions to be asked and so many issues to discuss, about women and power and immorality in the law and how to deal with situations like this that need to be dealt with. 

This book brings up a lot of feelings of "there but for the grace of a Canadian passport go I". I am sure that Afshin-Jam is feeling very grateful for the sacrifices of her parents that got her one of those passports and a different life. I too am grateful for my forebears and their decisions and sacrifices which gave me a life with so much freedom. Just a simple thing, an accident of nature determining where and to whom people are born and our circumstances are completely different. It's important to me that I fight for what is important to me; literacy, working women in Japan, and for the re-opening of Canadian borders to family members and workers. I feel useless when it comes to saving the lives of children in Iran but I will do what I can where I can. If this book inspires others to do so then in the words of another great activist, "Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world."

This is the fourth book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Jul 25, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

Ah Wednesday. Only two more days to the weekend. I am feeling jealous this week of all of those people who can spend their summers with their kids while mine go to daycare and I work.

Luckily George R.R. Martin created a world so horrifying that it makes me happy that these are my worries and I don't live in Westeros. Everybody gets hurt when people play the game of thrones.

It has drawn me in, it really has. But so horrifying and no one is safe. Medieval Earth was pretty gruesome I think but I hope it was better than this. They didn't have any wights or dragons anyway.

I am finally on Book 5, A Dance with Dragons. I don't know how many years it will be until the next one comes out- and the next and next after that.

My kids, luckily, are keeping my spirits up with a much happier book, Hour of the Olympics (Magic Tree House #16). It's their little introduction to the Olympics before I go a little crazy this weekend. Actually tonight with the first women's soccer game, Canada vs. Japan. Who do I cheer for?????

Are you going Olympics mad? Are you having your own reading Olympics?

Jul 23, 2012

Nonfiction Monday Roundup for July 23, 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, so I will be using a Linky. Please check out all the contributors for the latest Nonfiction Monday!

If you are unable to add your post, please feel free to comment or email me and I will add your post asap.

The Beetle Book

The Beetle Book (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Steve Jenkins

Published by: Houghton Mifflin

Published on: April 3, 2012

Ages 4+

In the book I use for a biliteracy bible, Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family, one of the main points the author makes is you need to match the heritage language materials with your child's likes and the social aspects of his or her majority language.  Beetles are huge in Japan, not just because they are everywhere, which they are, but also because at this time of year they are celebrated. I mean, everyone I know back home in Canada caught frogs when we were young and kept them in jars or Red Rose china teacups until our moms found out and we set them free. But they didn't sell them in drugstores!

They sell whole kits here for your beetle, including the beetle if you live in a city and can't get your own. The entrance to my drugstore has competing space between toilet paper and food gels for these little guys. I was able to avoid this pet for the last five years, except for an unfortunate weekend when we were the designated babysitter for the daycare beetle. It promptly escaped and we were never asked again.

But a couple of weeks ago when there was a short respite from the rain we went to tend to the family grave (complete with machete for the summer weeds!). Spinky soon spotted a beetle climbing on a grave and captured it with his hands. He kept it in his pocket all the way home, despite all of us thinking it would soon escape. My mother-in-law bought him a kit (someday I will get her back for that!) and we had a new family member. Not only is it a beetle, but it is a beetle from a graveyard, so you can imagine how excited I am to have a zombie beetle in my house.

Luckily I remembered this book from previous editions of Nonfiction Monday, so I was able to squeeze some English learning out of this unwelcome guest, and it definitely fulfills Dr. Wang's suggestions of interesting to my child and culturally relevant.

So much information is crammed into this book. There are vibrant paper collage images of beetles, and even a non-beetle lover like myself can be surprised at the diverseness of the beetle family. There are even some nice-looking beetles (including the ladybug!). One-quarter of the earth's living things is a beetle. I guess I should get much more used to them.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by me at Perogies & Gyoza.

Jul 22, 2012

Red Knit Cap Girl

Red Knit Cap Girl (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Naoko Stoop
(Etsy, Facebook, Twitter)

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Published on: June 5, 2012

Ages: 3+

This little mushroom girl is adorable. I have been coveting her, and this book, for months. She is even cuter on the inside of the book than the cover promises.

This is a new twist on the old tale of someone trying to reach the moon. Little Red Knit Cap Girl gathers with her friends Hedgehog, Bunny, Bear, and Squirrel to help pass the moon a message. They start by making newspaper lanterns to attract the moon's attention. Since the author's inspiration for this book was participating in Earth Hour, you can guess how they are able to contact the moon.

After reading this book my children and I took a walk to an unpopulated area to see the stars, and they were quite pleased with how much brighter our friends in the night sky were without manmade competition. Breathtaking, really.

The visual presentation of this book is just as breathtaking. The texture given by painting on top of plywood just gives an extra oomph to already lovely colours. All the characters are as adorable as the title character, without being sickly sweet (I am pretty sure the lack of pastel helps with that!). I love when the publisher invests in a great inside cover and this time there is a double bonus. The inside cover is rich and textured and there is another illustration under the dust jacket which makes me very happy for a hardcover edition.

I've often lamented that the problem with picture books is they are shut away so you can't see the art all the time. Luckily the author also has an Etsy store so you can buy prints featuring Little Red Knit Cap Girl and have her on your walls all the time reminding you to turn off the lights (and looking adorable!). I bought the bicycle print and once I can find a frame large enough, I want the Oak Reading Room print too. Which one would you buy?

Jul 18, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

For the first time in a long time I will not open WAYRW with a comment about the rain. Sorry to have bored you. I'm sure very soon it will be complaints about the heat!

Last week the story I chose for Short Story Monday was called Cicada Holiday. It piqued my interest and I ordered the related book for a great price- only $2.99 on Kindle. It's called Cicada and it's a YA story, not a vampire or dystopian though- aliens! It's a little freaky so far but not so much that I can't read it in the dark. I've never really read an alien story before, so it's new to me!

I parcelled out some magazines to my kids this weekend. Spinky has Chickadee, the Best Buddies issue, and Domba has Chirp, The Night Issue. They are loving them, as usual.

What are you reading this fine Wednesday?

Jul 17, 2012

The Stone Hatchlings

The Stone Hatchlings (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Sarah Tsiang

Illustrated by: Qin Leng

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: June 21, 2012

Ages: 4+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

In 2010, Tsiang and Leng's debut title, A Flock of Shoes, was published to great critical acclaim. This was the delightful story of a little girl named Abby and what happened to her shoes during off-season. In 2011 they teamed up for another fantastic story, Dogs Don't Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (doesn't that sound like a title your kids would eat right up?). The Stone Hatchlings is their 2012 offering, and it is so nice to be back with Abby. With this third offering of amazing quality, they have cemented their reputation as one of Canada's kidlit superduos, up with Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko and Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault.

Abby finds a couple of eggs in her yard. She takes them in and experiments with several different nests until she hits on the right one (a pile of warm clothes). When they hatch, she coddles and raises them, enjoying their songs, until they need more than she can give. That's when Abby decides to give them the gift of unselfishness - the same gift her parents had given her when supporting her belief that these stones were real.

This story isn't just adorable, it is jam-packed with information about a bird's life-cycle which was news to my preschoolers. As much as they love nonfiction books, it is so cool to see the way information enters their brains by osmosis when they think they are just being read a story. It gives m the sense of accomplishment normally reserved for when I am able to hide mushrooms so well in my son's food that he doesn't notice he has consumed what he thinks he hates. How sneaky we adults are!

Tsiang and Leng are masters of the preschool mindset. I could see my kids doing everything their characters do. It's amazing how they can take a child through a certain understandable subset of time, such as a clothing season or the lifecycle of a feathered friend, without overwhelming the kids with dates and measurements.

This book combines the whimsy of Kiki's Delivery Service with the imagination of Millie's Marvellous Hat and the information of a National Geographic book. Yet another winner from this duo. I cannot wait to see what 2013 brings from Sarah Tsiang and Qin Leng.

This is the third book I reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Jul 16, 2012

The Rescue of Nanoose

The Rescue of Nanoose (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Mary Borrowman and Chloe O'Loughlin

Illustrated by: Jacqueline Wang

Published by: TouchWood Editions

Published: 2004

Ages: 9+

Today in Japan it is Marine Day (海の日, umi no hi). The torrential rains which have blanketed our island have moved on, thankfully, so we slathered on the 50SPF and headed out to the beach early this morning. We didn't spy any dolphins before being inundated by other mammals of the two-legged variety.

We saw some pretty bad behaviour on behalf of those two-legged humans as well. Lots of trash on that beach, unfortunately. We read this book on the way home to realize the dangers that come from putting things in the ocean that don't belong there.

In 1994, a humpback whale was caught in the rope that was left behind by a fishing boat. It was so entangled that the whale researchers feared it could not move and needed to be rescued.  Captain Jim of the Gikumi and Captain Mike of the Blue Fjord, whale watching boats that were nearby, came close to the whale to rescue her. Captain Mike jumped in the ocean without so much as a SCUBA tank to try to loosen the rope. Under the watchful eyes of some dolphins, Captain Mike is finally able to cut the rope loose.

It states that this picture book is for 9 and up but my kids had no problem understanding any of it. They liked that the names "Nanoose" and "Gikumi" sound like Japanese words despite no relation at all.

Mostly they were fascinated with the place where this all occurred (and the huge knife used to cut Nanoose free!). Telegraph Cove is a tiny place on the northern side of Vancouver Island, near Port Hardy. The population is only 20! Captain Jim runs Stubbs Island Whale Watching with his wife Mary, who co-authored this book. My children have ordered me to rent a cabin there on our next trip to Canada! It looks like it would be a great vacation.

This was a great book to see that humans have the power to not only mess up the oceans and hurt the animals in it, but also help them. I hope it reminds my children that we need to respect the ocean that is our neighbour.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Practically Paradise. I will be hosting here at Perogies & Gyoza next week, on July 23, 2012.

This is the second book I reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.

Jul 11, 2012

What are you reading Wednesday?

I thought that maybe rainy season was over this week but it looks like there is another week of it still. Depressing- but staying inside reading is a great way to cheer myself up!

I am reading the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night. I am really enjoying it so far, but that's because of the time travel I think! I love seeing who of the 16th century names I know is an otherworldly creature.

Spinky has moved on from dolphins to ants in his National Geographic readers. Domba likes these better, she thinks they are cute. She always loves things that are smaller than her.

What are you and your family reading this week?

Jul 9, 2012

Short Story Monday: Cicada Holiday

Rainy season is almost over and the cicadas are out. They were late last year, probably because the rainy season was unseasonably (har) long. It's weird when you realize something is missing. It's not like there's a set date for them to come out so it was a while before we figured out they weren't around. But last year tensions were pretty high in Japan on the subject of nature. The cicadas being out and serenading us nightly to me is a sign that things are on the up, naturewise, on this archipelago.

I looked for a short story this week that is about cicadas. I came across this one from scifi teen queen Belle Whittington, entitled Cicada Holiday. It's memories of a good Christmas for Blair, about her family and love interest.

Not really what I was looking for, but you know I love cold stories in the summer like a good Japanese girl should (har har).

The story is simple enough, just good memories. The sights, sounds, and smells of a holiday. The feeling of anticipation and sharing things with those you love. The secrets people keep to give each other surprises. It could be anyone's memories. But the intriguing part comes at the end, when we realize Blair's life isn't like this anymore, that it's just a part of the past she needs to hang onto. That's when you are drawn in and want to read more.

It looks like this short story is a bonus for fans of Belle Whittington's Cicada series. There isn't much character development because, I think, it is assumed fans already know Blair and Bug Boy and Andrew. I love when authors do this, and I think it's more common in the YA realm than elsewhere. So nice when we get a teaser of a next novel while waiting, that gives us the anticipation normally reserved for Christmas. I'll be looking for Cicada based on this story, so a great choice of the author to bring in new readers too!

This is my contribution to this week's Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

Jul 7, 2012

Superfluous Letters and the Expat Identity

My son has workbooks to use for reading and writing activities. Usually he relies on me to explain or just figures out what to do based on previous activities. But lately he has been paying a little more attention to the instructions (clearly he does not take after his father!). This means he is learning more organic vocabulary (yay!).

It also means that he has learned the word "color" - a lovely, useful word that is both verb and noun. But to me, as well as my Canuck and Commonwealth comrades, it's spelled wrong. Where's the U?

When I bought workbooks for him and his sister I wasn't thinking about the spelling issue. I was wondering if they would be a complete waste of money, as these were sight unseen off the internet. I was wondering if I was pushing him too much. I was prevaricating over whether or not I am in any way qualified to teach my kids an afterschool programme. I wasn't thinking about spelling.

But now I am worrying. I found a bunch of Canadian workbooks (also off the internet, may be total crap) which should use Canadian spelling, or at least I expect so! Do I order these and dump the old texts, use them simultaneously, or just keep on trucking along with American spellings?

The U probably doesn't seem like much. Just an extraneous letter in the words colour, honour, and behaviour. But that's not where Canadian spelling ends. We also have doughnuts, cheques, discs, and pyjamas. We finalise contracts. When you colour ash, it's grey, not gray. Also, it's the centre of town to which you travelled, to get the beautician to dye your brunette hair to blonde.

It's not always the Brits we ape. We have tires instead of tyres and we plow our canola fields after going to the orthopedic surgeon.

We are our own country, taking from the French, the Brits, and the Americans (and yes, that is an Oxford comma, thank you).

These things might not matter to the rest of the world, but it is important to our identity. It makes us fit the Canadian mould. It's nice that I can figure out who is Canadian on an internet board from their writing style.

It's important to me that my kids understand where they come from. That's the point of this blog, really, for me to get in touch with my Canadianity and pass it on to my kids. Spelling and grammar are definitely a part of that.

But is it worth it? They will have to go to school in Japan and attend English classes with their classmates. The teachers will mark them down for non-American spellings. The books they read in English will mostly have American spellings. Even two of my Harry Potter books are the American editions. It's not as if it is hard to switch between the different spellings of each country, anyway. I can do it for my clients when required, and goodness knows my kids are smarter than I. So why do I need to press them to learn it all now?

I wonder if this happens with other languages. Do Swiss expats have trouble when all they can find are workbooks from Germany for their kids? Or is this just a typically Canadian problem?

I still don't know what to do. I'm going to order a couple of the workbooks just to see what they are like. I'm hoping there is more CanCon than just spellings. Loonies and toonies and kids riding yellow buses on field trips from Medicine Hat to the Badlands. That's the sort of knowledge they'll need when they visit, and also what will give them context for their language studies. But the spelling? I guess I'll have to eenie meenie that, until I catch a beaver by the tail. Unless you can tell me what to do!

Jul 4, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

I finished reading Clash of Kings. I feel like I deserve an award! To celebrate I am reading Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which is equally epic. I think normally I would think it was a depressing read but after the wars and rapes and murders of the Game of Thrones series it seems peaceful!

Spinky got a bunch of new National Geographic readers. Today he is reading about dolphins, so we are going to go to the bay this weekend and see if we can spot any jumping out!

 What are you and your loved ones reading now?

Jul 2, 2012


How? (CAN, JP, USA)

Written by: Catherine Ripley

Illustrated by: Scot Ritchie

Published by: Owlkids Books

Published on: May 15, 2012

Ages:  3+

If you have or have had a preschooler in your life you are familiar with the great questioning time. Which lasts for approximately 4.6 years. It starts with What? and Who? then moves onto Why? and How? Maybe some other parents have all the answers, but I am at a loss sometimes! Wikipedia helps but sometimes it goes over my kids' heads.

Luckily there is this book which helps out on a lot of questions kids bring up. It's pretty good at anticipating questions, just like the previous book "Why?"

The questions come up when Lizzie and Jake's grandma comes to visit. They have lots of questions for their Oma, about dogs and libraries and everything in between! It's written in very accessible English so even my youngest can understand the explanations.

Ritchie also illustrated the earlier Why, and his same detailed explanations provide lots of information for kids, including magnified views when necessary. Kudos to him for including rosy cheeks on some of his subjects, I love that. Possibly I am the only one though!

 This post is for Nonfiction Monday, being hosted this week at BookTalking.

This is the first book I reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge.