Mar 27, 2013

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

What is on your reader this fine spring morning? Or are you too caught up in cherry blossom viewing to open up a book?

I'm catching up on a short story from a YA series I just finished. The short story is called Raven and it is from the Delirium trilogy, and I am really enjoying learning more about a supporting character.  I was really disappointed with the recently released last book, Requiem, as I need more closure. I loved the first two books in the series as well as the other short stories. I need more Lauren Oliver, more!!

Tomorrow is the ebook release date for Lover at Last, which is one of my guilty pleasures. It's from the Black Dagger Brotherhood and we have been waiting for the story of these two lovers for years, and this is our big chance for a payoff. I am so hoping it lives up to the hype! One of the things I love about this series is that we get so much from other couples as well, and there are problems even though they are together. This makes it as realistic as you can get from crime-fighting bloodsuckers.

My kids are enjoying reading an old classic, Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? Not only is this fun for the kids and nostalgic for me, but it provides so many great social studies and science lessons. My kids have been inspired and want to try making paper this weekend. How can you go wrong with this book?

Have you ever been disappointed with the conclusion to a book series?

Mar 26, 2013

The Dragon Turn

The Dragon Turn (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Shane Peacock

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on:  March 12, 2013

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

The fifth outing of the boy Sherlock Holmes has all the hallmarks of the adult Sherlock Holmes series; twists and turns, deftly placed clues, an ingenious protagonist, and a cast of quirky supporting characters.

In The Dragon Turn, Sherlock and his ambitious friend Irene stumble into a murder investigation when attending a magic show featuring a dragon. Sherlock's interest is initally piqued as he cannot figure out the trick of the dragon which is quite the spectacle. But the opportunity to prove a suspect innocent and show up his police detective nemesis draw him in further.

I haven't read any others in this series, although I have read most of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. I was worried that it would be difficult to jump into the series without having read the previous books, but it wasn't at all. Peacock gives a lot of backstory so even a first time reader has enough to understand the story, but at the same time whets the appetite for more books. I want to go back and read them all now.

I am especially interested in the people who make up Sherlock's world, especially Sigerson Bell with whom he lives, and his ailing father. I think that the romance part will most appeal to the young adult audience to whom this is directed, however.

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

Mar 19, 2013

The Girl of the Wish Garden: A Thumbelina Story

The Girl of the Wish Garden: A Thumbelina Story (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Uma Krishnaswami

Illustrated by: Nasrin Khosravi

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: February 26, 2013

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

Two of the things I like most in a children's book, a positive message and an international influence are combined with lyrical writing and unbelievably gorgeous illustrations in this retelling of a classic fairy tale.

The girl we know as Thumbelina is called Lina in this story, but she is just as tiny as the one we are most familiar with. Because of her size she faces certain obstacles, because as her mother says "many dangers wait upon a girl no bigger than a thumb." She is trapped on a lily pad, crowded by crazybugs, and felt lonely in an autumn forest. But Lina never gave up. She used her gift of song to ask for help from the creatures around her. Help she receives, and later she passes on that gift when she helps a swallow whom everyone else had given up for dead.

Pay it forward is the lesson the reader takes away from this story, but it is truly the way the message is shaped that is the marvel. Krishnaswami's writing is luminous, matched only by the beauty of Khosravi's illustrations. The illustrations were originally used in a 1999 Farsi version of the story, and Krishnaswami used these to guide her to a new version of a fairy tale known around the world.

The colours of the late Iranian illustrator's are vivid and to my uneducated eye seem to have a very Persian influence. So much is packed into each illustration through the sketches and patterns of the backgrouns, as well as the overhead view of many, that I seem to see something new every time we look at the book. It keeps me thinking, and I'm sure "the land of dreams..the garden of wishes where stories are made by the folding of time" will appear in my dreams and sweeten them.

Check out the trailer for this amazing picture book and try not to fall in love with Lina.

Nasrin Khosravi illustrated more than 35 children's books- I hope that more of her art is adapted for English readers in the future.

Mar 18, 2013

Nonfiction Monday Roundup for March 18, 2013

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

Nonfiction Monday will be at BookTalking next week on March 25, 2013, so get your nonfiction reviews ready!

Laura Salas has Here Come the Humpbacks, a beautiful new picture book by April Pulley Sayre chockablock with information about whales! I learned that humpback whale mothers lose 10 tonnes of weight after they give birth. I think I need to go swimming more often!

Jama has a guest post from the creators of Yummy, Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. I can't wait to see the healthy food choices. Did you know Jama is the author of Dumpling Soup? Just by the title of my blog you know I will love that book!

What's in the Garden? reviewed by Jeff Barger is making me wish it was corn on the cob season already!

Ms Yingling features two baseball-themed books, Perfect Game and Miracle Mud, and makes me happy they moved to the miracle mud from spitting tobacco!

Loree Burns interviews author Pamela S. Turner about her upcoming book, The Dolphins of Shark Bay, about dolphins in Australia who use tools- how cool is that?!?

KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month features a post from author, Tanya Lee Stone, where she talks about the Trickle-Up Effect of fascinating nonfiction and her newest book about the first female doctor in the US, Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?

Roberta at Wrapped in Foil features a picture book biography of the inspiring Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, and shares little known facts about his childhood.

Our fearless founder,  Anastasia Suen, shares a picture book about a retired elephant, called When Anju Loved Being an Elephant.

Jeanne Walker Harvey at True Tales with a Cherry on Top also shares the story of an groundbreaking woman, the woman who paved the way for children in libraries, called Miss Moore Thought Otherwise.

Reshama at Stacking Books shares how Claude Monet didn't listen to his critics and just kept painting the way he loved, and we are all better for it.

Jen at the Jean Little Library shares a book about what school kids eat around the world, What's For Lunch. I bet that the cover photo is of a Japanese kyushoku lunch, what other country serves its kids grilled whole fish with the eyeballs staring at you?!?

Janet S introduces a book about conservation featuring frogs, The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle.

Ami and her 6-year old son have a duo of books on basic construction tools, What Does a Level Do? and What Does a Hammer Do? These would be a hit with my kids!

Jen Rothschild introduces a book that includes, space, robots, adventures, and the complexities of a scientific plan in The Mighty Mars Rovers. This would be great for anyone who has been following the saga of Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity's successor.

Heidi at GeoLibrarian asks why she had never heard of these adventurous Women Explorers before she read this book. Hopefully this book by Julie Cummisn will redress this fact.

Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds has a trio of inclusive books; Black Book of Colors, Chuck Close: Face Book, and She Touched the World. How people who are blind see colours has always been fascinating to me, glad there is a book with answers.

Bookends looks at two girls who fooled the world into thinking they'd taken photographs of fairies in The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure.

Sonderbooks has the newest Steve Jenkins' book, My First Day, which focuses on the day of birth of a number of animals. I want to see Robin Page's illustration of a sea otter baby being held by her mother so she doesn't drift out to sea. Awwww

Mar 12, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Ruth Ozeki

Published by: Viking Press

Published on: March 11, 2013

Ages: Adult

Provided by the publisher for review through NetGalley

Ruth Ozeki is one of my favourite writers. I like that in some ways we start from a similar base - a conjoining of Canadian & Japanese pop culture and history, but Ozeki finds ways to challenge me and enlighten me. Of course I know that she is not writing just for me, but like all my favourite books it feels like the author really is speaking to me.

I think that is how Ruth, the protagonist in A Tale for the Time Being, feels when she finds the diary of Nao, a Tokyo schoolgirl who is so troubled she is contemplating suicide. The diary holds Nao's thoughts on her life, her meditations on life itself, and her journey to find out what she can and share what she learns about her inspirational Buddhist nun great-grandmother. This story affects her more than one would ever expect.

I don't know if there is anything I can add to what people already know about Ozeki's brilliance. Her voices for Nao, Ruth, and even Jiko are so very distinct and realistic. But there is so much surrealism that abounds- you are never really sure what Nao is saying is really all the truth but there is always some truth in her Proustian memories.

Just as with her previous novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation, Ozeki manages to blend the lamentable with the laughable. Her infusion of humour makes the horrible things that occur more manageable. Also just as in her previous novels, Ozeki weaves a tale you don't want to end just so you can keep reading her philosophies and delectable phrases.

Ozeki is a zen Buddhist priest, and although you would expect most of the zen philosphies to come from the mouth of the centenarian Buddhist nun, it was actually what Nao had to say about time and the nature of life and death that resembled Buddhism the most. It's about truly living in the moment, taking in everything, not wasting a precious second. Nao thinks her grandmother is doing that, moving so slowly that she savours every moment she has left alive and extending her earthly experience. This is a message I want to take from this book into my life everyday.

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

Mar 11, 2013

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Alicia Potter

Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Published: March 13, 2012

Ages: 4+

The first few weeks of this year I participated in one of the best picture book-related activities around: serving on the Round 2 panel for the CYBILS Nonfiction Picture Book Award.  It was so amazing to have the chance to read the best of 2012's picture books and discuss in depth with other picture book lovers what makes a great nfpb and to get down to the nitty gritty.

Of the 7 amazing books that the Round 1 judges narrowed down for us, we chose Mrs. Harkness and the Panda as the winner. 

The story of a woman going to Asia on her own and then unintentionally staying is obviously close to my heart. Ha!

Seriously though, this is a great story of adventure and perseverance, and I like the discussions it prompts (is it okay to go to another country and take back a living souvenir? Are zoos good for wild animals? etc.). The colours are rich and vibrant and so evocative of China at the turn of the century. The texture of the paper as well as the collage effect is visually enticing.

I loved the scrapbook feel of this book which is not only perfect for recording a travel experience but cluded so much that added so much visual information for young readers: the illustration of the journey on the old map, the authentic Chinese diaries (which also seem to be about a turn-of-the-century exploration), use of another language and the way it is easy to understand the meaning, how absolutely adorable that baby panda was, good bibliography, and the incorporation of a photograph of real Chinese money.

I've read thisa number of times now to not only my children but also our group of bilingual children and the Japanese-ing children for whom I hold a regular storytime. This story never fails to get them talking about, like what it's like to travel by yourself to somewhere no one knows about, whether it would be okay for people to come and take Japanese tanukis or snow monkeys home with them, and even whether the fur coat Mrs. Harkness is wearing in one picture is okay or not.The fact that it spurs so many conversations is possibly the best thing about this amazing book.

Ruth Harkness' 1930s journey to the middle of paved the way for women like me, and that's why her picture book biography is my pick for Women's History Month.

This review is for Nonfiction Mondayhosted this week by Sally's Bookshelf. Please swing by Perogies & Gyoza next week as I will be hosting and I would love to see your contribution!

Mar 10, 2013

He's Finished Kindergarten!!

It's true- but not the Japanese kind. Although my son's Japanese kindergarten graduation is not for a couple of weeks yet, he finished the kindergarten curriculum I assigned to him last week.

That doesn't mean he's getting spring break though, I'm cruel like that. I know that we will lose a lot of study time once elementary soccer starts up and I really have no idea what the rest of our schedule will be like. I am hoping that most of his homework will be done at afterschool club but that may not be the case. So I don't want to waste this time while I have it. We started on his first grade curriculum last week, but I will write more about that in a future post.

I put together the kindergarten curriculum last year, and implemented it from April to March, with a 2-week break in February when we went to the US (and the kids got to use English with people other than me.) I followed the plan but made some changes and additions.

According to the British Columbia kindergarten curriculum he has met all the targets, but getting there sometimes takes work. I especially have trouble with evaluating some parts of his language development, especially those parameters that relate to groupwork. I've actually been quite lucky i that his teacher, despite being busy with 35 kids in his class, is very supportive and is quick to respond when I ask how Spinky is in class.

I had planned to use Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Lessons and then the Big Kindergarten Workbook. I expected to be finished TYCTR about halfway through the year. However both these plans changed.

TYCTR took a lot longer to get through than I had expected. I really tried hard to limit our English time to 20 minutes so there would be no burnout. This meant most lessons after Lesson 50 took place over 2 days. So basically we got through one lesson a week, as the other days we were focussing on other workbooks, social studies, or journalling.

The actual set up of Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Lessons was quite different than I had expected. Instead of there being a teacher's/parent's guide separately in the back of the book, the instructions to the parent were right there in smaller font than the task for the child. I thought it would be confusing but actually it worked quite well. We did however skip the writing parts at the end of each lesson and focused on that in workbooks. My son would be able to read words like "singing" but the writing task would be to write single letters only. I think that the writing should be at a slightly higher level to be more in tune with the reading task.

For workbooks, I found that the Big Kindergarten workbook was very similar to the Big Preschool workbook, which he had completed the year before. It was good but he needed a little more challenge. I had found two Canadian workbooks and we replaced Big with these.

The first is Complete Early Skills for Kindergarten. There is an American and a Canadian version. At the kindergarten level there is not much in the way of spelling differences, but it does introduce money and not only do they do it with dimes and nickels, but those have the Canadian coin images on them. It might not seem like much bu these little things are important to me as a Canadian abroad. This was very similar to the Big workbook but a little more challenging. My daughter is also working her way through the Complete Early Skills for Preschool book.

When he was done that we moved onto the Summer Bridge workbook for Kindergarten to Grade 1. This was my son's favourite of all the books we used. Probably because he already knew the material so he just breezed through them all! But also, I think that the setup was important and really worked for him. On each day there are two lesson pages, a language arts page and a math page. My son thinks math is the reward. :) So he was happy to get through one page of LA then have his reward right there. I think this might possibly be because I don't care whether or not he does the math, he'll learn that in school anyway! If only I could fake this for reverse psychology for English!

Sometimes when there is a target he needs to reach or a grammar point I want him to learn, these workbooks don't cut it. That's when I have turned to Lesson Pathways. This is a free homeschooling and afterschooling resource with hundreds of lesson plans on the web. I plan to use this a lot more for Grade 1!

That's a bit about what we have been doing. I'd love to hear about your afterschooling plans. Have your plans matched reality? What resources do you use?

Mar 7, 2013

Bud the Spud

Bud the Spud (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Stompin' Tom Connors

Illustrated by: Brenda Jones

Published by: Nimbus Publishing

Published on: January 9, 2009

Ages: 3+

Canadians all over the world were saddened today to learn that Canadian folk hero, Stompin' Tom Connors died. His words and twang are the songs of my childhood and every Canadian sports fan can sing the refrain of The Hockey Song. His impact was profound.

One of the first books I ever bought for my kids, before my first was even born, was Bud the Spud. This picture book is basically just the illustrated lyrics of one of Stompin' Tom's most famous songs.

Bud is a truck driver bringing delicious potatoes to Toronto from the red soil island of Prince Edward Island. He passes through a number of towns and speeds along Ontario's biggest highway to the ire of the police officers stationed there.

I'm not sure if we really just love this song because it mentions places we know of. Canadians are far to easy to succumb to the flattery of people just talking about us. But I don't think so. I think it's about a guy trying to do his job, a journey, and pride in our products.

Because it's a folk song it has an amazing rhythm, and I can't read it without pronouncing potatoes as "podadas" in Tom's style. It's a great read aloud for little kids and also an introduction on how vegetables get from the farms to...Toronto.

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

RIP Stompin' Tom. 

Mar 4, 2013

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased (CAN, JP, US, INT) 

Written by: Amy Novesky 

Illustrated by: Yuyi Morales

Published by: Harcourt Children's Books

Published on: March 20, 2012

Ages: 4+ 

The blog has been a little quiet for the last few weeks as we were in Hawaii attending a family wedding. I loved spending time in American bookstores. I made quite a few purchases

 I didn't spend all my time inside reading though. We spent lots of time on the beach and exploring the beautiful environs of Hawaii on two different islands. Plus quite a bit of time in ABC stores. Ha!

 We live in the south and it gets hot here in the summer. I've been on hikes with the leader carrying a machete! But it's not as lush as Oahu or Maui, and certainly not in February!

 I can totally see how Hawaii would be an amazing muse for an artist of Georgia O'Keefe's stature. There is just so much beauty and colour throughout the islands- and it can be so different from one part to another. Verdant greenery leads to stark lava fields jutting out into the ocean, and it seems like there are a tonne of different worlds on each island.

 Georgia O'Keeffe memorialized so many of those beautiful views, and her vibrant colours and distinct style pair perfectly with natural setting of Hawaii. A certain pineapple company realized how great her art would be with this muse and brought her over to Hawaii to paint their product. But art isn't always to order, as this company found out, and O'Keeffe was inspired to paint so much else that the company got a little impatient waiting for her pineapple painting.

The joy of this story is not just the illustrations, where Yuyi Morales does O'Keeffe's art justice, but also the story of a woman who follows her heart and is not only successful but also learns when to bend a little bit.

 It is very interesting when picture book biographies take a part of a famous person's life and focus on that, and O'Keeffe's trip to Hawaii provides the perfect opportunity for the creators of this book to introduce the reader to information about art and botany in a very organic way. The ethical dilemma over art and its patron's privileges will appeal to older readers while younger readers will love the vibrant colours.

The only problem with this book is it makes me hungry for fresh pineapple.

This review is for Nonfiction Mondayhosted this week by Supretentorial.

Mar 3, 2013

Not Your Typical Dragon

Not Your Typical Dragon (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Dan Bar-El

Illustrated by: Tim Bowers

Published by: Viking Juvenile

Published on: Feb. 7, 2012

Ages: 3+

Dan Bar-El (Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been) is back with his twist on yet another familiar story (in this case How To Train Your Dragon- but from the dragon's perspective).

Crispin Blaze is almost 7- and 7 years old is when a dragon gets his fire-breathing power. Crispin is so excited to light his birthday candles with his new power, so he is extremely disappointed when he doesn't breathe fire, but breathes whipped cream instead.

In his quest to be like everyone else, Crispin is extremely relatable- but when he has the support from his newfound knight friend (of course named George) to realize that his own talents are just what others need that he comes into his own. Even if that means breathing out marshmallows and beach balls.

Bowers' illustrations pair well with Bar-El's offbeat humour. Crispin looks like a second-grader, and his emotions are easily understood even when they are shown through his drooping wings.  You will want to give him a hug, and that is much more easily done when you realize he won't burn you up. This would be a great book for the offbeat kid in your life who marches to the beat of her own drummer.

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