Jun 30, 2013

What a Party!

What a Party! (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Ana Maria Machado

Illustrated by: Hélène Moreau

Translated by:  Elisa Amado

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: April 23, 2013

Review copy provided by publisher. All opinions are my own.

This is a long weekend in Canada and I am sure that there are parties going on all over the country to celebrate the birthday of our home and native land. Some of these will be on hills waiting for fireworks, others in parks, and a whole lot will be in backyards of homes and cottages. The pot luck is a Canadian tradition that is still going strong.

We celebrated Canada Day a little bit early, today, and I was very lucky that our experience was much like the one described in What a Party! Everyone brought something, from music to drinks, and we were lucky to have food from a number of different cultures. We might have been celebrating Canada, but the immigrant experience is part of what Canada is about.

It looks like that's what Brazil is about too, according to this book. A child's birthday party starts with an invitation to a friend with a cool sibling, and snowballs from there, so that everyone and their pet ends up bringing a dish from their home country. It's so amazing to see such a diverse cast of kids, parents, and foods all in one book, especially since I recently found out that only around 10% of books published in North America have multicultural content.

If there's a problem with this book, it's that there are so many appetizing pictures and no recipes! The smiles on the faces of the partiers are infectious, and this book will leave you with a smile on your face as well as a hunger in your belly.

This would be a great book for anyone interested in Brazlian culture or to pair with Mama Panya's Pancakes for a primary school discussion on pooling resources in a community.

Jun 29, 2013

Night Sky Wheel Ride

Night Sky Wheel Ride (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Sheree Fitch

Illustrated by: Yayo

Published by: Tradewind Books

Published on: February 1, 2013


The days are long and warm, and summer has come again to the northern hemisphere. Something both Japan and Canada have in common is the summer festival. Nothing like a bunch of artery-clogging street stalls to make you feel like it really is summer.

As a child the midway coming to my city was the most fantastical experience. The tastes, the smells, and the sights were so foreign to me, as was the chance to stay up so late and see all the colours of lights in the sky. I loved the ferris wheel!

Japanese summer festivals are all about the fireworks rather than midway rides. But those colourful explosions as well as the yukatas and jinbei worn out on summer festival days provide just as much colour as a midway.

Somehow Yayo was able to capture the excitement and visual sensations of both the Canadian midway of my youth and the Japanese fireworks festival of my children's. His amazing imagination makes us see so many things in the ferris wheel, from cocoons to bathtubs for mermaids or a druitful apple tree. He manages to capture the fantastical without venturing into weird.

Fitch's poetry is evocative and appropriately challenging for the new reader (See out to sea, sister). The beautiful arrangement of the text gives us an extra layer of imagery as shapes are built into her sentences.

This is an amazing and imaginative read that is perfect for a sultry summer good night read.

This is the forty-third book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge. A new one is starting Monday, sign up soon!

Jun 24, 2013

On the Scale, a Weighty Tale

On the Scale, a Weighty Tale  (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Brian P Cleary 

Illustrated by: Brian Gable

Published by: Millbrook Press

Published:  August 2010

Ages: 4+

I mentioned earlier in June that my son is really interested in math so I am looking for simple math concept books that are also easy for him to read. The Math is Categorical series has these so it hits everything I want for an early reader.

The series includes books on width/length, addition, subtraction, and money. Upcoming titles include ones on fractions and time. All titles include silly cats and easy-to-remember rhymes. 

This book focuses on weights and measures. What I didn't realize (*bangs head against wall*) that despite the Canadian illustrator, this book is about US weights and measures. I feel like a complete dolt for not realizing. I read the book with my kids but opened up a lot of questions that I couldn't answer, such as those about ounces (I know about fluid ounces from baking conversions, so 1fl oz is about 30mL but no idea how many grams!) Plus the ton included in the book is a short ton, so it says it is 2000 pounds, rather than it being a tonne of 1000 kilograms. Ounces and pounds never show up in Japan, and rarely in Canada anymore, so I hadn't planned on teaching these. Oh well, have to be adaptable, right? 

The non-US Imperial rhymes are great even if you are using metric (Weighing things is how we find/ the heaviness of stuff/a soccer ball, grandma's shawl/and bags of pillow fluff) and the concepts are easy to understand with the illustrations. This would be a great book for US residents or expats- but I wish they had a metric version too! I will be checking out other books in this series, maybe skipping length and width as I bet they will focus on inches and yards rather than the metric measures.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Playing By The Book.

Jun 23, 2013

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Cary Fagan

Illustrated by: Milan Pavlovic

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: March 26, 2012

Review copy provided by publisher. All opinions are my own.

Danny is a responsible kid whose life is about to change. His parents are a little more flighty than he is, and have given away his beloved pet and have decided that they will relocate to Banff and New York City, shuffling the kids between them. Danny is not thrilled at this idea, and takes a walk to deal, but by focusing on his predicament and not on where he is going, he falls very fall down into a hole at a construction site.

 This is where a very fantastic adventure starts. You might think being down a very big hole would be distressing, but Danny is fortified with snacks in his backpack, and a new funky poet friend (who is also a mole) keeps him company.

But what happens while Danny is gone? Do his parents grow up? Does his dog come back? Will he be rescued?

Cary Fagan (Oh Fey So?) has an amazing sense of humour that shines through his writing whether a picture book or middle grade reader. A talking mole is just absurd enough to elicit giggles. The adventure will appeal to kids who loved Robert Munsch books and are now moving onto chapter books.

This is the forty-secondt book I have reviewed for the Sixth Canadian Book Challenge

Jun 19, 2013

What Are You Reading? Wednesday

It's been a while since I've done one of these, and I want to know what you are reading now!

I am reading the Women of the Otherworld series by Canadian Kelley Armstrong. I'm on #9 now, Living with the Dead. It's a good, slightly campy series. Just what I need to keep my mind off more serious matters.

This is my least favourite of the series so far, as I think Armstrong is much stronger when writing in first person rather than third (I normally feel the opposite way though!).  It's still a good read though.

My son picked up Magic Treehouse: Dragon of the Red Dawn in Japanese a couple of weeks ago at his school library, so now he is reading the English one to compare, albeit with a lot of help from me. I wonder which one he will enjoy more!

My daugher is enoying Biscuit books, mostly because we pulled out Biscuit Loves Father's Day last week, but also because we now have a dog whose owner is in the hospital. Domba can't read yet but loves to "woof" when Biscuit does. I think she likes the Biscuit Storybook Collection best.

Tell me what you are reading, I need my fix!

Jun 17, 2013

When I Was Eight

When I Was Eight (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Illustrated by: Gabrielle Grimard

Published by: Annick Press, Ltd.

Published on: February 4, 2013

Ages: 6+

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

Yesterday I reviewed Red Kite, Blue Kite, a fiction picture book about a boy's experience in the Cultural Revolution in China. Today's book is nonfiction, but it too tackles a horrible part of history: residential schools in Canada.

Olemaun is an Inuit girl of great resilience who longs to read. She obsesses over the stories brought home from residential school by her older sister Rosie. She convinces her father to let her go to the school too and reluctantly he lets her go. But school is much harsher than she expected. She is stripped of her name, her language, and her hair, but she keeps her self worth.

Her one goal is to read, but first she must learn English, and prove to her sadistic teachers that they should teach her. They give her extra chores, stand her in the corner, and treat her terribly. This all culminates when she is given red socks that stand out and encourage the other kids to call her Fatty Legs. But Olemaun is as stubborn as the sharpening rock she is named after. Does she have the gumption to shut out the offending voices and achieve her goal to read?

When I Was Eight is a younger version of 2010's USBBY Outstanding International Book, Fatty Legs. The story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's time in a residential school is more detailed in the middle grade novel, but this picture book has the same message of the triumph of the individual no matter the circumstances.

Children just learning to read will relate to Olemaun's drive. I hope they are also grateful for the fact that they can learn while living at home, with their own names and languages, and hopefully without abuse. It is so important for Canadian children to learn about the residential school system and the attitudes that allowed this to happen to first nations children, so we don't repeat this with other children.  The Fentons sharing their story gives a voice to the children who can't speak, and the least we can do is listen to their stories.

This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Shelf-Employed.

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

Jun 16, 2013

Red Kite, Blue Kite

Red Kite, Blue Kite (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Ji-li Jiang

Illustrated by: Greg Ruth

Published by: Hyperion Book CH

Published on: January 22, 2013

Ages: 5 +

For Father's Day, I want to introduce a book about a father-child bond that not even Chairman Mao can break.

Red Kite, Blue Kite, one of my most anticipated picture books of 2013, takes place during the Cultural Revolution in China, when chaos reigned and families were broken up when members were sent to labour camps or labour farms or were just disappeared. Tai Shan is separated from his father, but at first it is so close that he can walk home on Sundays to share their favourite activity of kite-flying. But when that isn't possible, Tai Shan flies the kites for both of them so that they would look up at the sky and know the other one was looking too.

The Cultural Revolution is pretty heavy stuff for early elementary school students. But Jiang breaks it down into parts that any child could understand. Missing a parent is something that many children can understand, whether they are separated due to divorce, relocation, or one of the many conflicts going on in the world right now (I'm thinking of the children of the lawyers rounded up in Turkey these past weeks).

Focusing on the good in a situation (or the beauty in an area of pollution) is a very Asian concept, although not particular to Asia. It reminds me of the child-parent bond in the film Life is Beautiful. Two horrible situations, but you still have to live your life and might as well find the good parts- like two kites flying high above human worries.

Ruth's illustrations and affecting use of colour highlight hope, represented by the brightly coloured kites. It's amazing how a colour can be intimidating on the arms of red guards but buoyant when it is a toy controlled by a small boy meeting his father after a week apart.

A great supplementary activity for this book is fashioning a grasshopper. We used bamboo grass but you could use a straw like in this tutorial.

This is a powerful book that highlights an amazing familial bond and the triumph of the human spirit over tragedy.

Jun 10, 2013

Eating Fractions

Eating Fractions (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Photographed by:  Bruce McMillan

Published by: Scholastic

Published: September 1991

Ages: 3+

This is an extremely simple math concept book that introduces fractions and cooking to kindergarten-aged children. My son has been borrowing math concept books from his school library in Japanese, and I found this in English to match his interest.

The premise of this book is simple- two kids eating various foods and figuring out how to share them, by dividing them in halves, thirds, and fourths. There are only a few words on each page- which definitely agrees with my first grader! It is not by any means a book to help kids who are actually learning fractions at school in Grade 2 or 3, just a basic introduction.

The colours are bright and there are a variety of foods, mostly in the dessert category, and they are all vegetarian-friendly. The appendix gives recipes for all as well as ideas on how to involve the kids while cooking so they can see fractions at work (with half teaspoons etc.), which is very helpful.

The book has a mix of basic illustrations and photographs. This is an early 90s book and the photographs are dated. I think that might be a minus for some but I quite enjoyed it, as it reminds me of my childhood (and yes, I had a haircut exactly like one of the two kids!). I really like that the boy is wearing pink. I doubt that would happen in a book produced in this day and age. Sometimes we are not always moving forward.

The other part which might be a minus is that one of the foods, a Wiggle Pear Salad, looks absolutely disgusting. But that makes it hilarious to my kids. So I'll knock another one into the plus column.

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