Jul 30, 2013

Kenta and the Big Wave

Kenta and the Big Wave (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Ruth Ohi

Published by: Annick Press

Published on: July 30, 2013

Ages:  4+

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

The images of huge waves overtaking homes, speeding cars, an entire coastline in March of 2011 cannot be erased from the minds of anyone who saw them in real life or on tv. Young children are even now still processing these images.

Too many things were lost that day, so it may seem that one small ball might not make a difference, when compared to homes, family photos, or other treasures. But I know how attached my son is to his soccer ball, and can only imagine how sad it was for the people of Tohoku to lose each of their treasured posessions.

In Ohi's latest picture book, she introduces us to Kenta, a boy who loses his home and his ball. The home is rebuilt, but his ball is washed out to sea. My kids loved the idea of dolphins guiding this beloved toy across the miles.

After the 3.11 disaster, the word on everyone's lips here in Japan was "kizuna" (絆) which means the ties that bind. This ball provides one such link between a boy in Japan and another on the west coast of North America. This book provides another connection between the generous spirit that is the author and all of the readers.

The illustrations in Kenta are gorgeous. Ohi doesn't shy away from the realities of the hard situation, such as waves sweeeping away homes or children and the elderly living in school gyms, nor even the post-tsunami destruction. As such it might be hard for more sensitive readers. But she tackles these realities with respect and authenticity, and provides a happy ending for children who may still be dealing with the images years later.

Another amazing facet of the book is the parallels it draws between two boys and their lives on two different continents, brought together by a ball and a wise librarian. Comparisons between the shops in their towns, the fields that surround them, and even the mail service, are great for showing kids the similarities and differences between these two areas.

My kids love Ohi's Chicken, Pig, Cow series, which is humourous but also has a similar theme of friendship. It's a testament to Ohi's talent that she is able to do funny and also serious, but keep both on a perfect level for young children to understand.

This is a powerful book, with a meaningful message about how the ties between people. But it is also an emotional book. Tears were shed everytime I read this book. It's up there with Robert Munsch's Love You Forever in its ability to affect hearts. This is my favourite picture book of 2013, and I wish I had a way to ensure it was translated into Japanese and made its way into every school library in Japan. I hope it moves your heart too.

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

Jul 28, 2013

Brush of the Gods

Brush of the Gods (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Lenore Look

Illustrated by: Meilo So

Published by:  Schwartz & Wade Books

Published on: June 25, 2013

Ages: 4+

Wu Daozi was just a boy from a well-off family getting an education from monks during T'ang Dynasty China (7th to 10th centuries). One of the first lessons involved calligraphy, using an inkstone to mix water and powdered ink and a brush to create pictorial characters. Even now, in countries across Asia, the same principles are applied when people learn the art of calligraphy; proper posture, watching the master, and starting from basics (almost always the single-stroke character for the number 1 一).

But Daozi didn't just see numbers, and he didn't just see the four legs of a horse in its character 馬. He saw a whole new way of communicating with people, via highly realistic paintings. He painted so quickly and so lively that the people who gathered to watch him work on murals called him Flying Sleeves.

Flying Sleeves has few surviving murals, but those of his art pieces that survived have shown that his talent was unsurpassed in his time. His influence spanned centuries and spawned legends. All because he was given the chance to handwrite at school. With more and more schools taking handwriting off the agenda, are we losing our chance to find the next Wu Daozi?

Look creates a story of a legendary artist in a time far in the past that is relatable to young kids who are also starting to write. His passion for his art is evident, and the book has a great message about following your dreams wherever they take you.

So's illustrations add another layer to the story, giving information on daily life in ancient China, including food and clothing of rich and poor alike as they watch Flying Sleeves perform. My daughter loved looking at the elaborate T'ang Dynasty headwear. She clearly differentiates between her story and the paintings of Wu's by using colour very effectively.

Jul 27, 2013

Read Me A Story, Stella

Read Me A Story, Stella (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Marie-Louise Gay

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: July 23, 2013

Ages: 4+

Provided by the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

It's been a long four-year wait, but Marie-Louise Gay's Stella and Sam are back in a new book adventure.

This is only the sixth Stella book (in addition to the Treasury), but with 3 other Sam books and a tv show, it feels like Stella has always been here despite the four-year wait. Big-hearted Stella and inquisitive Sam are the same as always, just the way we love them.

This book is almost all dialogue, so it's a fun read-aloud and I get to remember my Stella and Sam voices. This time Stella introduces Sam to a lot of knowledge she gains from books she takes on a picnic.

It feels like a meta book for children's lit lovers. Can you spot the references to The Brothers Grimm, Arnold Lobel or Eric Carle? Just as much fun for a parent reading aloud as for kids who probably have read these books more recently. It just goes to show how important books are in kids' lives even before they begin to read it themselves.

Gay's whimsical watercolours are littered with textrues, from the batik sun umbrella to Sam's Chinese-character strewn hat, and easily pull you into a lazy rural summer afternoon.

This is a fantastic addition to the Stella and Sam series, I only hope it doesn't take 4 more years for the next one.

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

Jul 21, 2013


Tamalitos  Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem (Bilingual Cooking Poems)

Written by: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated by: Domi

Translated by: Elisa Amado

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: August 1, 2013

Book provided by publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

We have just harvested the few corn plants we planted in the backyard. It was really fun to work as a family, planting from seeds, growing in small trays, replanting in the yard, watering and checking progress. Finally, they were big enough for us to eat and they nice brown silk on top! So much fun to rip off the husks, boil them, and slather with butter.

So nice to see that in this book the family experience we had with our corn was also present. The boy and girl making corn tamalitos stuffed with cheese have such an amazingly good time, it's infectious. I've never really thought about how physical cooking is, but this book has made me realize that it is kind of like a dance, with the music provided by whistling kettles, banging pot lids, and general kitchen ruckus. How can you not have fun with a dancing chef? Plus, as you know, I'm a fan in general of stuffed foods.

Corn has a long history, and as a staple of many cultures, and Argueta is able to bring in a lot of that in an engaging way. We got out our globe and looked for the countries mentioned, we looked up tamalitos and masa and all the other ingredients we don't know. Plus we got to compare and contrast to a traditional confection from our part of Japan, akumaki, which is made in a similar way but with a bamboo skin rather than corn husks, with this traditional Salvadoran fare. This is pretty much the perfect social studies lesson!

Argueta originally wrote this in Spanish, and unfortunarely I can't read that part with any sort of authenticity! But the translator, Elisa Amado, has done an amazing job of rendering this verse into playful English that makes you want to eat and dance! Domis colourful watercolour illustrations are bright and cheerful and reflect all the colours of the many different kinds of corn.

This is the most cheerful recipe book I have every read, and we were very happy to see that this is part of a series. The other bilingual cooking poems include Guacamole, Bean Soup and Rice Pudding (I need this, don't you?).

Jul 1, 2013

Four Pictures by Emily Carr

Four Pictures by Emily Carr (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Nicolas Debon

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: July 1, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

I chose this book today because Emily Carr is probably Canada's most famous artist. She captures a way of life in Pacific Canada that was soon changed irrevocably, and her respect for nature and modern methods are still influencing artists today.

This book is laid out as a graphic novel. There are still very few nonfiction historical graphic novel format books in English, but this is the main way kids in Japan read nonfiction in Japan. It's a really good format for encouraging reluctant readers. I think the typical kid to check out a biography of Emily Carr in junior high would probably be a girl interested in Canadian history or powerful women, or artsy kids. But the graphic novel style would appeal to many more.

Another good thing about this format is that there is no real competition between styles here. Picture book biographies about artists can be a minefield; how do you choose how to honour the artist without copying them? Here the panels are a totally different style, while still recognizing what Millie Carr is inspired by to paint.

The book is divided into four parts, so each of Carr's pictures symbolizes a time period and artistic style in her life. The themes of depression, standing out from society, and the meaning of art make this more suitable to junior high students and older than for younger kids. Not only does it introduce Carr and the Group of Seven, it also gives a glimpse into Victorian times and turn-of-the-century Canadian society.

I have mentioned here before that I love it when a publisher prints something on the inside covers of a book. The endpapers of this book are beautiful, a collection of Carr's sketches of Coastal First Nations motifs including the totems for which she is famous on a beautiful red paper. The quality is first-rate, just like the rest of the book.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Ms. Yingling Reads.