Aug 31, 2012

Crazy About Soccer

Crazy About Soccer (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Loris Lesynski

Illustrated by: Gerry Rasmussen

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: September 1, 2012

Ages: 7+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

I used to be a devoted ice hockey fan. No sport was as awesome. What can you say to sway a girl who grew up watching Wayne Gretzky and Pavel Bure, some of the best athletes in any sport?

Along the way I've become a soccer convert, however. Partly it's because my kids love it and my husband loves it, partly because the cheering for soccer in Japan is so inclusive and coordinated and so much fun, and partly because of the egalitarian nature of the sport. You don't need parents with enough free time to schlep you and your hundreds of dollars worth of stuff to a 5am rink opening. All you need is a ball, if that. Lesynski captures this perfectly in Soccer Simply Everywhere:

Anything can be a net
Anything can be a ball
Anyone can play the game
Anywhere at all.

How can you not love something so simple?

We love that Lesynski adds so much information here, from history to geography. She even adds in the location of soccer books in a Dewey library (796.334 if you are wondering!). The poems are easy to remember and perfect for little active kids (especially but not only boys) who would normally be difficult to pin down and share poetry with.

Rasmussen's illustrations mesh really well with the lighthearted poems Lesynski gives us. The illustration of weightlifting toes gave my kids a serious case of the giggles.

This book would suit beginning soccer players to the most obsessed aficionados (ie, my son and daughter, respectively). Nothing will go over anyone's head but there's new info about soccer players from Beckham to Ronaldhino. We had fun measuring out knees to 21 degrees and figuring out if our legs really do keep up to our arms.

As the mother of soccer players in a very hot climate, I am very appreciative that this book reminds my kids to Drink some water Now! No waiting!/ You might be evaporating!

My goalkeeping son was especially happy with this little gem:
We asked all the coaches,
The coaches agreed,
What goalkeepers need

This is my first contribution to Poetry Friday, held today at Poetry for Children.

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

Aug 29, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

School starts for us next week and I am starting to feel the pressure. What happened to all those days I was going to spend on the beach with book in hand?

I do feel a sense of accomplishment for having finished reading The Hobbit. It's something I wanted to do for years but never got around to it. The hobbits and their elevensies were my favourite part of the Lord of the Rings movie. I was happy to have signed up with The Savvy Reader to #readthehobbit.

 But I didn't love it. It was kind of fun but I do not understand the hype. It kind of annoyed me how Gandalf kept disappearing, then there would be a problem, then he would reappear again. How very convenient! But I still love Bilbo Baggins.

My kids have been having fun with Thomas the Tank Engine's It's Great to be an Engine this week. It's one of those books with buttons that play music. Sometimes these can be annoying (music! buttons! never stopping!) but I think it is good as my daughter is learning to follow along with the text to push the button at the right time. Gotta love something that develops pre-reading skills!

What are you and your family reading this week?

Aug 28, 2012

Maggie's Chopsticks

Maggie's Chopsticks (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Alan Woo

 Illustrated by: Isabelle Malenfant

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: July 30, 2012

Ages: 3+

To be honest, the only reason I was so excited about this book I included it on my second list of most anticipated picture books of 2012 was because of the chopsticks. It is so rare to find this object which plays such a huge part in our life in Asia in Canadian picture books. Or so I thought! Very soon after I published this list there I read The Stone Hatchlings, which was not only adorable but also included chopsticks very innocuously as materials for a nest. So there are at least two Canadian picture books that include these pieces of cutlery out there!

Maggie is trying so hard to master the use of her chopsticks. She just doesn't seem to be able to do it the same way as everyone else. Her grandmother's chopsticks are old, her brother's grip strong, and her sister's graceful. Maggie can't mimic the others, and she feels discouraged from their words. But Father is there to cheer her on, and with his encouragement she is able to find her own way.

The way the chopsticks mimic their holders is one of the best things about this book. Woo's metaphors give us snapshots of the characters in Maggie's life and how they treat her.

Isabelle Malenfant's illustrations are an excellent match for Woo's text. I love how her characters are so expressive with the eyes rather than just their mouths. This is a very Asian aesthetic, and I've heard teachers tell children that it is most polite to keep your mouth neutral and express yourself with your eyes (see, Tyre isn't the first to smize!). Of course I love the rosy cheeks, that's my weakness. Malengant's use of rich complementary colours makes this book a joy to flip through. I hope more of the books she has illustrated make their way into English. I'm especially interested in Le Monstre Qui Faisait Tic-Tac, and I think my son would love it.

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

Aug 27, 2012

Short Story Monday: The $30,000 Bequest

For this week's Short Story Monday, hosted by John at The Book Mine Set, I read a short story from Mark Twain, The $30, 000 Bequest.

This story, set in the 1920s, is about a sensible middle class couple out west who receive word that they will be the recipients of $30 000 upon the death of a distant relative. These romantics stop building castles in the sky and paying attention to their children and start paying attention only to the stocks in which they virtually invest their imaginary money.

This tale is not exactly surprising to anyone who has read O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. It does give a glimpse into a different time, however. It's amazing how similar things actually are. Their imaginaries stocks include that in coal, oil, land, and transport. All they need next are some tech stocks and you have a modern portfolio.

The other striking similarity is how this couple ignores their children and friends for the sake of dreaming about their future windfall. Sounds like someone addicted to gambling or even the internet today -  too busy thinking about their perfect future to appreciate their wonderful present.

On that note I am off to get in some kid cuddles. Stay safe my Kyushu and Louisiana friends who are battling typhoons/hurricanes today.

Aug 26, 2012

Life is About Losing Everything

Life is About Losing Everything (CAN, US)

Written by: Lynn Crosbie

Published by: House of Anansi

Published on: April 5, 2012

Ages: Adult

This book is nuts. I mean that in the best way possible. Crosbie, who is best known as a pop culture writer for the Globe and Mail, gives us a a funny and at times heartbreaking look at her real and fantasy life over the better part of a recent decade. Or maybe it's more apt to say for Crosbie the worst part of a recent decade.

This collection of short stories seems disjointed because at first it seems like you are following along with the same person, but then you are unsure of whether the narrator is the same but with different surrounding players, or if you are into Crosbie's fantasy world. If you normally can be found reading heavily plotted books this can be disconcerting and takes some getting used to. But it is so much more real this way, I think. It's like you ran into Lynn at a party and you are both a little tipsy and you ask her what's been going on in her life over the seven years since you saw her last. She gives you more honesty than you are expecting, and one story rolls into another that reminds her of something else and because you're both a bit out of it you aren't really sure where in the world zombie Sylvia Plath comes into the conversation but there it is, and the way she is describing it is riveting.

This all makes it sound as if this is a funny memoir but although there are some very amusing parts there are sad, gruesome, cringeworthy, and even desperate parts interwoven, but all are candid to the point of graphic at points. If I were at this fictional party with Lynn I'm sure at some point I would grab here and ask if there isn't anything she likes about herself?

What she likes, is her dog Francis. I'm not sure if she likes anything else in her life at the time of this book though, not the drugs she does or the people she is involved with. But somehow she is able to see all of this with a sardonic wit that makes you wonder if she is trying to laugh through the pain.

It does feel disjointed, but it is that attitude, the idea that life sucks so let's meet it with dry humour, is the thread that ties her Don Ho fantasies to her times of mourning. It's effective and that's what makes it surpass a simple party story, other than her lovely and poetic turn of phrase.

An exchange with a bullying neighbour early on in the book is a pretty good example of how Crosbie approaches the rest of the book.

"The next morning, I found a little azalea outside my door with a note. It said, God never gives us more than we can bear.
I turned it over in my hands, wondering at how people so often surprise you.
I knocked on her door, and when she answered, I smashed the plant in her face.
He just did! I said."

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

Aug 21, 2012

Tea Shop English

I have literally been waiting years to do this activity with my kids.  Years.

Three whole years ago, when my oldest child was just two years old, Jojoebi of A Bit of This and a Bit of That posted a café that she opened in her house with her son and his friend. I knew right then that I wanted to do this. Not sure if it is for me or for my kids though!! It's like that cool amusement park called Kidzania where kids get to role-play all different kinds of jobs. So much fun!

So this year when we had an unexpected vacation and no plans, I knew that somehow I would sneak in some fun, some English, and some role play. I told my son about the café idea and he was not really that enthusiastic. See, our friend T has an honest to goodness French café and Spinky thinks that means the world does not need another café. Okay, I can roll with that.

When pressed for what kind of shop he wanted to open, my son said he wanted to open a hairdressing salon. Cool! My kids were both into this idea and decided that I would be the customer rather than the worker. We set up a little station, including a big bowl for washing hair, my son wrote up a price list, and we made a gigantic accessory station that included a dinosaur with double-sided tape. Oh well, anything for an English activity, right?

Maybe not anything. As soon as I had my hair washed Spinky was into the kitchen while Domba was towelling my hair off. I could hear some drawers opening and then he was back into our little shop with a triumphant gleam in his eye, brandishing my meat scissors, and asking me how short to cut my hair. I was up in a flash because this was a little too real! I am not letting my son cut the hair I've been growing out for 2 years!!

Back to the drawing board.

I don't think that Spinky really though he would get away with this because he wasn't very upset about not being able to cut my hair, but also not too interested in the activity after he realized that we would not be using sharp objects to change my looks. So he came up with the idea of a tea shop called "Teacup" that would serve tea, onigiri (rice balls), and cookies. I am not sure what the difference between this and a café is, but I'm into this idea as no sharp objects seem to be involved.

Welcome to Teacup

The long and the short of it is that Spinky and Domba opened a tea shop, and were totally okay with my English only rule for a short time. They loved it, actually, as they forced all their customers, from the neighbours' kids to my mother-in-law to order in English. They love to boss people around. In Teacup the customer is not always right!

We played tea shop every day over our holidays, they were really into it. So was I! This was probably the best English lesson ever. Not only did I get my kids to use English with each other and non-English speakers, get my son to write something unaided in English, get them to practice using fake Canadian money, and have them volunteer to do it on their own, I got tea and cookies out of the deal.
Teacup menu, featuring rice balls, tea, and ice cream

This rocks.

So here, for my post for August's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism hosted by Best 4 Future, is my suggestion for a heritage language activity that combines spoken and written language with math, is to role play a shop. Especially a shop with cookies.

Aug 20, 2012

Northern Kids

Northern Kids (CAN, JP, US, INT)
Part of the Courageous Kids series

Written by: Linda Goyette

Published by: Brindle and Glass Publishing Ltd.

Published on: October 1, 2010

Ages: 9+

Provided by the published in exchange for an honest review.

To what extent are kids effected by their natural environment? There are things that every kid has in common, but culture differs for each child and their shared history and even the weather effects that. Linda Goyette set out to see how a child's environment and history changed their present in a number of locations around Canada in the Courageous Kids series.

Northern Kids is one book in this series, now available as ebooks. The book features 24 stories of children from the late 19th century to the present day. Looking at events in history through the eyes of the children who truly lived them gives a child reader a connection to the people who formed their present culture.

Goyette's research skills are superb, and it shows. You can tell she has a journalist's background because not only does she bring immediacy to all of the first-person stories, she is also capable of dividing the supplementary and contextual information from the emotions of the first-person accounts by adding her own framing article after the short nonfiction story, which is very effective.

The story "Letter to My Mother and Father" was a particular favourite of mine. Just a short few decades ago, a young Inuit teen, Davidie Pisurayak Kootook, wrote a letter to his mother and father in Inukitut, after surviving a plane crash with only the pilot in the northern bush. He sacrificed himself so the pilot with broken legs could survive the weeks before help arrived. Courage was also shown by kids in a number of other stories including Ella Day and her family in Fire and a chief's son confronting a newfangled invention in The Photograph, as well as a young boy's pet dog in The Swimmer.

My own kids are younger than the audience this is aimed at, but the stories are short and understandable, so they enjoyed a few, especially Up In My Bunk Bed about traditional beadwork, and Too'Oh Zrii and the Bear, about a confrontation with a bear and oral storytelling, and of course the story about dog mushing. They also really enjoyed the archival photographs Goyette included.

One of the best things about this book from a parent's perspective, especially as I will be using books like this to afterschool my children in Canadian social studies, is the supplemental materials provided for teachers by Brindle and Glass at the Courageous Kids website. I will be using these materials over the next few years! This book covered a lot of very difficult subject matter, including disease, starvation, and some of the worst mistakes in Canada's history such as the residential schools and the reprehensible way Canada is still treating the schools and people of Attawapiskat. The guide prepared helps non-professionals like me cover these issues with my children.

The other books in the series are Kidmonton, Rocky Mountain Kids, Island Kids, and the latest, Vancouver Kids. I chose this one just to continue in yesterday's theme of reading about cool and/or scary things to cool yourself down in a hot summer.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at the Jean Little Library.

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

Aug 19, 2012

Don't Want to Go to Bed?

Nenai Ko Dare Da? [ねないこだれだ?(JP, US)/ Don't Want to Go to Bed? (7-11 Japan)]

Written and Illustrated by: Keiko Sena

Translated by: Peter Howlett and  Richard Macnamara

Published: 1969 (translation 2004)

Published by: RIC Shuppan Hanbai Inc.

Ages: 2+

It's the last day of my summer vacation, and it was the hottest so far too. In these hot days around Obon (when Japanese people great their ancestors whose spirits come to visit), we try to do as much as we can to cool down. Two traditional ways are to talk about things that are cold (like with the book Red Is Best) , and talk about things that are scary enough to cause shivering (like ghosts!).

The picture book display at the library is all about ghosts now. It looks a lot like Halloween, actually. This is one of the most famous, as it was published in 1969 so all the parents my age remember it and buy it for their own kids. It's a simple story designed for the preschool set.

Basically,  it's time for bed and the kid in the book is still awake. So this book is there to scare the kid to sleep. The child is asked who else is awake at this time? Owls and thieves and ghosts, of course! So if you don't want to be whisked off to Ghostworld you better go to sleep!

If you don't go to sleep you will turn out to be a thief
I think that there is a tendency to frighten small children into good behaviour in Japan more than there is in Canada at least. I've heard parents tell their kids that Obake (ghosts) will come if they don't stay on the sidewalk or stop another undesirable behaviour.

Not that this is only found in Japan. When my brother and I were particularly bad my parents threatened to have Igor Vicious come and babysit for us. That was scary!!!

Kidnapped and taken to Ghostworld
I think the difference is in not scaring kids to sleep. When I had bad dreams or thought there was something under the bed my parents came to comfort me, my dad brought a flashlight to check and show me there was nothing, and sometimes a hammer to smash the bad guy away if found. I was never told the monster under the bed would get me unless I went to sleep right away! I am not really sure if this technique works or not, I don't think it would have on me when I was a kid.

The book is easy to read and the characters are pretty cute for preschoolers. The translation is great too, and Howlett (Little Daruma and Little Tengu) and Macnamara are both very experienced Japanese - English kidslit translators. It would be such a great little book if it wasn't for the express purpose of scaring the pants off a kid!

My son read this to me, he's the one who likes ghosts. My daughter was engaged elsewhere at the time because I know she would be scared by this. Even though he likes ghosts, he's had me hold his hand to sleep for the last few nights since he read this.

I'd really like to read more by this author that isn't scary!

Aug 18, 2012

Binky Under Pressure

Binky Under Pressure (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Ashley Spires

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2011


Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

Binky's the space cat is back for his 3rd adventure. He successfully negotiated the obstacles in Binky the Space Cat and Binky to the Rescue. Now he has a new challenge- another space travelling cat has invaded his space station. Gracie is not just a colleague, however, she's his boss, coming to evaluate his performance. Will he pass her tests and continue as a space cat?

Ashley Spires (Larf) is known for her quirky characters, and Binky is no exception. He has the finest qualities of a domesticated feline, a healthy interest in laying around and eating. But when push comes to shove he can protect his space station (home) from the most vicious of aliens (bugs).  He kind of reminds me of Bilbo Baggins, with his attachment to the comforts of life but amazing potential for courage when put to the test.

This, like Laundry Day, would be an ideal introduction to the comic book genre for kids. The panels are laid out in a very understandable manner, even the dream sequence, and the word content would be easily grasped by a grade 2 reader. Binky is adorable and this edition especially would be relatable for kids in grade 1 or 2 who have just been introduced to tests.

My kids really enjoyed this as a read-aloud book. Parts are laugh-out-loud funny as Spires' books normally are. They liked that Binky's head is shaped like a rocket, which I hadn't even noticed. That is the kind of thing that really resonates with the elementary and under crowd.

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

Aug 15, 2012

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

Hello beautiful readers! I am writing to you from the middle of my summer vacation. We unexpectedly have 9 days off in a row and it is beautiful. BBQ and kiddy pool in the backyard today, fruit picking tomorrow. It's so nice to just be.

I've been neglecting posting but not reading. I am doing the #readthehobbit challenge. Can you believe I have never read The Hobbit before? The Savvy Reader challenged a number of Canlit afficionados on Twitter to read it this summer and we are doing the first half this week. You should sign up too!

We went to an exhibition about Kagakui Hiroshi, the picture book author/illustrator who was behind Ofuton Kaketara. We saw a few of his new books and my son is really enjoying reading them to his sister. Natsu no Otozure (なつのおとずれ) is very seasonal for us, about a bunch of summer figures (an electric fan, watermelon, and shaved ice among others). It's very cute.

This little guy was on the stairs to the exhibition. He is Daruma-san, Kagakui's most famous character. Isn't he adorable?
What are you reading? Have you ever read The Hobbit?

Aug 8, 2012

Once upon a Home upon a Home

Once upon a Home upon a Home (JP) (Tsumiki no Ie -  Japanese title)

Written by: Kenya Hirata

Illustrated by: Kunio Kato

Translated by: Arthur Binard

Published: November, 2011

Ages: 4+

An old widower lives in the last house in a village that is being overtaken by water. When the water rises, he has to build a new house on top of the old houses, making a tall tower of memories. While he is building, he drops his tools. He dons a scuba suit to dive down to gather his tools. As he passes through each old home he remembers all the events of his life, and we see a bustling town.

This is an amazing look at how time passes, but it goes backwards as the widower dredges up old memories. It's bittersweet but not so much that it would be upsetting for a child.

It was hard for my 3-year old to understand that time was going backward, and I think this is one of those books adults enjoy more than children. My kids did like it, despite the backwards-time issue. They loved seeing fish move into the old houses. Spinky thinks it's like when he gave his baby toys to a friend's newborn, which was a pretty accurate metaphor I think!

This story actually comes from a short film called La Maison en Petits Cubes (JP:  Tsumiki no Ie) directed by Kunio Kato (the illustrator of this book). There are a few differences to this story, made probably to be more palatable to children. In the short film the widower drops his pipe but not many parents like to buy picture books about smoking!

Here is the video:

La Maison en Petits Cubes

What are you reading? Wednesday

It's the hot days of summer now and reading on the porch with a drink in hand is the perfect way to spend a day.

I just opened the latest in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series, Time Untime. I am not sure if I like it yet or not. I like that there are old characters I like and that there is a new mythology (in addition to Greek mythology) and of course the ending of time is pretty timely (harhar) with the Mayan predictions of 2012 and all. I'm just not interested in the characters yet.

My son is going to camp tomorrow with his classmates for the first time (overnight). They are even cooking their own supper (curry & rice). He is so excited! I just wish his sister was going with him to give my husband and I a kid-free night for the first time in years (no teen babysitters in Japan). Ha!

To get ready he is reading Franklin Goes to Day Camp to his sister. Hope it lives up to his expectations!

What are you reading this week?

Aug 7, 2012

Sweet Talk

Sweet Talk (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Julie Garwood

Published by: Dutton Adult (Penguin)

Published on: August 7, 2012

Ages: Adult novel

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley.

In the 12th century, Highland Laird Alec Kincaid dealt with intrigue and court politics of two countries before settling down with his wife in The Bride. Now, centuries later, his descendants are back, keeping the United States safe.

Grayson Kincaid, cousin of Sam Kincaid (Sizzle) is an FBI officer who seems to channel Bruce Wayne. He is helping on a case when Olivia McKenzie slugs the man interviewing her for a job. He gets involved and they fall for each other.

There is a lot of stuff going on in the background, however. Lawyer Olivia is estranged from her immediate family and is trying to put her scheming father in prison. She has a new family in her friends, The Pips, with whom she underwent serious medical treatment for an unnamed disease as a child. Grayson does not exactly have a clear schedule either, as beyond his Bruce Wayne role he is also raising his young nephew.

These issues of course make it more realistic than your typical "virgin with family who doesn't notice her absence falls into hero's house and is stuck there until they fall in love" scenario that we all know and love from other romance novels.

The best thing about this book is the humour. Olivia and her friends are high-spirited and their hijinks are amusing to them and the hospital staff. She has a sense of humour about her job as well. When she meets an overbearing FBI agent who threatens her with his position, she scares him back just as much by announcing she is I.R.S. Don't we all wish we had a card in our pockets that good for the overbearing boors in our lives?

This book is formulaic, of course, and we all know how it ends. That's half the pleasure; a great beach read that will make you laugh. I was very happy to get reacquainted with Julie Garwood.

Aug 6, 2012

Short Story Monday: Overdue Loans

 It's been a while since I did anything for Short Story Monday, the meme hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. I decided to go with a traditional Olympic theme and go for something set in Greece.

Overdue Loans, written by Petros Markaris and translated from Greek by Karen Emmerich,
is a very contemporary story, however. The protagonist is a police detective who is hampered from doing anything due to the protests that have shut Athens down; the young people, the pensioners, the public workers striking.

The plot is scant, but the message is clear: Greece has fallen but still has further to go. This is not a happy or hopeful story.  When the detective describes what happens to his wife it is as if he is describing the state of the Greek economy. "Kyria Lykomitrou came upstairs so that she and Andriani could calm one another down, but instead they got one another even more worked up, until in the end they both just fell to pieces."

The part I liked best is that the detective calms down by reading the dictionary. Not just an dictionary, but a 15-volume Dimitrakos' Dictionary. I would love to see a copy! In Japan I think the equivalent would be Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English dictionary, otherwise known as the Green Bible. So much fun to flip through or read in order! I was sure it was just me who loved to flip through a dictionary to calm my brain before bed. So glad there is another nutter like me out there, even if only fictional!

Aug 5, 2012

Duck! Rabbit!

Duck! Rabbit! (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Illustrated by: Tom Lichtenheld

Published by: Chronicle Books

Published on: March 11, 2009

Ages: 3+

This book is by no means deep. There are no philosophical questions to answer here. But it is fantastic.

The basic premise is on the cover - what you see is what you get. An optical illusion makes this little dude appear like a different type of animal depending on your point of view. Two viewers try to figure this out, and we the readers get to play along too.

My daughter was on the duck side, and my son thought it was a rabbit. It's interesting to note that they each sat on the side that corresponded to the mouth of that animal in my lap.

We are big fans of other books that the author and illustrator have produced, like Lichtenheld's Shark vs. Train and Krouse Rosenthal's Plant a Kiss. Their books, no matter who they collaborate with, always have sweetness and humour, and are easy for beginning readers to read. Big winners in the K-2 set!

This one was a hit with adults too! I had a few friends (my own age!) over on Sunday night and when the kids brought this book out they had fun discussing whether this was a Duck or a Rabbit. Considering none of these people are native English speakers, I'd say that's a pretty successful book. I think it would be great for English conversation classes.

Aug 1, 2012

What are you reading? Wednesday

It's a pretty miserable day in our house today. I have a stomach bug and there is a typhoon raging outside. Luckily we all have books for comfort.

I am trying to read a comfort book right now, an ARC of Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood.  She is a great romance novelist, and I used to love her historical romances. This one is a contemporary but still her familiar writing.

My kids are still engrossed in My First Atlas of The World. Hours of sticker geography fun in that one.

What are you and your loved ones reading this week?