Sep 30, 2013

Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids

Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Deborah Ellis

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 24, 2013

Ages: 12+

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

Deborah Ellis, the Governor General’s Award winning author, has once again delved into the lives of young people to showcase their true stories. Her nonfiction and fiction books on the children of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war-torn countries have shed light on fascinating regions and the resilient children who reside in them. Ellis brings her signature story-telling style to the indigenous children of North America in her latest offering.

The biggest thread that pulls these stories together is diversity! Ellis introduces kids from the Arctic and those from the Choctaw nation, 9 year olds and 18 year olds, and both urban kids and those who live on rural reserves. These kids deal with the regular pressures you'd expect for teens, from peer pressure to finding themselves and wondering about their futures. But some have more than they should, from hunger and poverty to family violence, and awful treatment from teachers and other adults.

The kids in the foster system have a variety of experiences, some okay, and some awful. But there are more indigenous kids in the foster care system than there should be, for various reasons. There are some major issues with that, and one of them is that kids don't always survive a system which is supposed to support them. Four kids in the Alberta foster system died in the first half of 2011.  Something needs to be done.

On the other end of the spectrum, when kids are treated well by adults, is inspiring. Tingo's story tells about doing genograms, family histories to look for secrets that shouldn't be kept. Tingo and his friends wrote their problems down, burnt them, and offered them up to the Creator. By telling so many kids' stories, I think Ellis is having the same healing effect as Tingo's activity did.

The second theme that threads through these stories is the strength of these kids. It gives me great hope for their futures and the future of North America with these kids speaking out and speaking up. Looks Like Daylight is about hope, and it is an amazingly inspiring book. She treats all of the kids in her book with a great deal of respect, and this makes fascinating reading.

 This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Resh at Stacking Books.

Sep 22, 2013

Book App Review: The Story of Kalkalilh

The Story of Kalkalilh

Produced by: Rival Schools Media Design, and Loud Crow Interactive Inc.

Ages: 4+

Played on: iPad 1

 This book app is the first in a series of Bramble Berry Tales. Lily and Thomas spend the summer in the Rocky Mountains with their grandparents. Mooshum of the Coast Salish people, and Kookum of the Cree people. 

When Lily has trouble sleeping and makes mischief in the middle of the night, Mooshum tells his grandkids a legend from long ago. The tale of Kalkalilh is very similar to a story most of us are familiar with, Hansel and Gretel, but with more agency on the part of the children and their caregiver, which makes it a little less scary I think.

The story is well told, and would do fine as a print picture book, I believe. However, the extras in this go above and beyond. The read aloud option is a fantastic way to introduce children to the proper pronunciation of Salish words. Links to Mooshum's sketchbook are used to introduce the reader to cultural concepts of the Coast Salish people without interrupting the book. The book app itself can be read in English, French, Spanish, or Salish. 

My kids had fun playing with the background images to see which ones could be moved. Their favourites were making Thomas push Lily into bed, and making the laughing skulls giggle. Both of my kids, about the same age as Lily and Thomas, enjoyed this app greatly and have already checked it out on their own a number of times. It's a little above my son's reading level, so he flips between read it to me and read it yourself.

The only downside is that in the adorable animated introduction, the two kids, who are too short for their legs to go over the edge of the seat, are wearing seatbelts but not in carseats. I understand it is cuter this way, but children should be in carseats until they are tall enough (140cm) for the seatbelt to save their lives, and I would rather this set a good example.

As a Canadian reader, it was fantastic to learn more about the Coast Salish language and peoples. I learned about the potlatch in school, but so much of this was new to me as well as my kids. This is a fantastic way for Canadian kids to be introduced to one of the First Nations groups in Canada, as it combines present day with tales of the past. A first rate learning app with a stellar story, I recommend it to all book app fans.

Sep 21, 2013

This is Our House

This is Our House (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Hyewon Yum

Published by:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Published on: July 30, 2013

Ages: 3+

This is a sweet simple story about what makes a family. It makes use of illustrated pictures of the same house on the same urban street to show the passage of seasons and generations, from the cold wintery day a child's grandparents arrived in from Asia to the blooming summer day on which her baby brother is born.

Fine details in the same area, from changing pictures on the wall, to flowers on the bushes and food on the table, help a young reader understand the flow of time through one house. The beautiful soft colours and rosy-cheeked family members make reading through this a number of times a pleasure and not a chore.

This is a superb easy reader with a number of sight words and grade 1 vocabulary words. It was easy for my 6-year old to read through it, as there were also repeating words but with enough differences to add interest when learning new vocabulary (like "autumn").

The most unique aspects of this story are those that happen only in the illustrations. Co-sleeping, co-habiting multi-generation families, and inter-racial families are still rare in North America, and even rarer in storybooks. My kids were thrilled to have a picture book where the kids look like them, so I think this will be as big of a hit in our house as Spork has been.

Part of the Grade 1 curriculum is to look at family trees and how families are made, as well as introduce vocabulary for different relationships. This was a great book for us to spark discussion about what is different between this family and ours. I think it would make a great addition to the Grade 1 libraries at school and home.

Sep 17, 2013

Blog Tour: Shadows

Shadows (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Paula Weston

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: September 10, 2013

Ages: New Adult

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

I am ecstatic to be the Japanese stop on the North American blog tour for Paula Weston's Shadows!

(No, don't consult your atlas, just suspend a little disbelief!)

Since Gaby's twin brother died in a horrible car crash she has been plagued with nightmares. Nightmares about fighting monsters in a nightclub far away from the beach town where she is healing mentally and physically. But what if the nightmare isn't just a dream? When the gorgeous Rafa shows up and his face is right out of her dreams, Gaby starts to question what is real and what isn't.

 That's when it starts to get interesting. Gaby learns about the supernatural world of the Rephaim and the monsters they fight. And fight they do! The action scenes are suspenseful and will have you holding your breath waiting for a resolution.

Weston does a fantastic job mixing the supernatural world with a really realistic small beach town of people who are shocked at what is in their midst. It feels like there is a really strong ensemble cast, and we got to meet a lot of interesting people from the Aussie town and those who are part of the Rephaim. Since this is a series and not just a trilogy I hope that the next books are going to explore Gaby's friends on both sides and get more backstory. The politics of the realm of the Angels contrasts really well to that in the town and I can't wait to see that play out!

What really makes this story for me, though, is the character development of Gaby. It's rough to lose your twin and best friend, but even rougher is that Gaby feels like in ways she is losing herself. The person she thinks she is, or who she has become, is not who others think she is. Rafa challenges her to blend her old self with her new, and Gaby is able to do that pretty convincingly, and without a lot of angst. She likes who she is now, even if she doesn't like the uncertainty of having inauthentic memories. That's what takes it a cut about a regular YA supernatural romance. Gaby and her friends are slightly older than that as well, and they act it. Even Rafa, whose chemistry with Gaby is amazing even if he does have a nasty habit of disappearing without saying anything (I'd like to have a word with him about that!!).

The next book in the Rephaim series, Haze, will be released next September. I cannot wait. More Gaby! More Rafa! More action!

Check out these other fabulous book bloggers who are posting about Shadows today!

Sep 16, 2013

Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage (CAN, JP, US, INT)

By: Stan Rogers and Matt James

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 10, 2013

Ages: 8+

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

I picked this book as one of my Most Anticipated Picture Books of 2013 because I knew it was an adaptation of a classic Canadian folk song that I love.  Besides, look at that gorgeous cover! I want that on my living room wall.

But I didn't realize how much more there is in this book.

The Stan Rogers song, Northwest Passage, is just a jumping off book for a fascinating mystery that is still unsolved today; the mystery of the Franklin Expedition of the 1840s. So many issues that affect Canada past and present, from technology and geography, to relations with the First Nations peoples and the effects of climate change are included in this engaging second layer of story telling. The fact that the Erebus and well-named Terror have still not been found adds extra interest for young people.

The book has two narratives that work together; the song lyrics and the story of the Franklin Expedition. It also has an amazing amount of extra information in the back of the book, including the music for Northwest Passage and a Gallery of Explorers. This would be a fantastic addition to every Canadian elementary school for social studies.

Matt James' amazing illustrations deserve special mention. He seemlessly blends the late 20th century with the 19th. There is potential for a book that mainly takes place in the frozen waters of the Arctic to be a bit boring but none of the illustrations feel repetitive at all. James can do amazing things with just a few shades. The textures of the India ink and acrylic paintings make you feel like you are holding a piece of living art in your hands - while your legs tap the beat of the classic song.

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

 This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by author Anastasia Suen.


Sep 15, 2013

The Voyage

The Voyage (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Veronica Salinas

Illustrated by: Camilla Engman

Translated by: Jeanne Eirheim

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 17, 2013

Ages: 4+

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

"You are who you are" is such a simple message but one that can take a long time to sink in. It's nice of this adorable duck who learns this lesson to want to share with us.

This wee duck is in a strange forest and he can't understand the people he meets. He feels out of sorts until he meets another creature who looks a bit like him who gives him the confidence to keep going and meet new people.

The book really reminded me of how I felt when I first showed up in a tiny town in the Japanese countryside and didn't know the language. But someday, after a lot of work, something just clicked and I started to understand a lot, and I felt really at home. This book would be great for a kid (or adult!) going on a trip to a new country or new immigrants.

The limited palette of mostly browns and greys is really stylish and makes me think of Scandinavia. There are a lot of little details that make these illustrations, like Easter eggs in a video game. Engman has coloured sketches of tiny animals doing cute things on each spread, like the ant going sailing in a lake of tears.

An adorable book great for kids who feel out-of-place.

Sep 14, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Mélanie Watt

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2013

Ages:  4+

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

The leaves are falling and the weather is cooling off. This must mean it's time for Halloween!

You would think that Halloween would be the best or worst holiday for Scaredy Squirrel, depending what side of the fence you fall on. Do you love it when Scaredy flips out because he's scared? Or are you rooting for this loveable Squirrel to get back in his safe tree and never be scared again?

My kids are firm fans of the freak out. So they loved this book.

Scaredy Squirrel's humour has gotten more and more cheeky as time goes on. This book is full of great ideas, but the best ones are where Scaredy is laughing at himself. Take, for example, his ideas for villain costumes; Killer Bee, Shark, Germ. The best is the scare-ometer rating the scariness of each costume. It will come as no surprise that the Germ is the most terrifying.

Usually when I read a book out loud to a group of non-native speaker kids, I don't choose stories that don't have a narrative, just because it is hard for them to follow along. This never happens with Scaredy though, kids laugh and laugh from beginning to end.

Mélanie Watt has another hit on her hands, and I fully expect everyone to see Scaredy Squirrel- faces on the pumpkins of homes with young kids from this year.

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

Sep 9, 2013

Razia's Ray of Hope

Razia's Ray of Hope (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by:  Elizabeth Suneby

Illustrated by: Suana Vereslt

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: September 1, 2013

Ages: 8+

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

The newest book in the innovative CitizenKid series from Kids Can Press deals with the topic of educating girls in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Razia is fascinated by a new building in her village, that turns out to be a rare school for girls. Girls from villages all around are trekking their way to this place near her home, to register and pick up school uniforms. The school is free, provides appropriate uniforms, and has an excellent staff. But now, can Razia and the principal, also named Razia, convince her family that Razia should go too?

The artwork is a unique and fascinating mix of photographs of the school and area in Afghanistan, with illustrations of the villagers and their beautiful outfits. Verselst is able to capture an amazing gleam of hope in young Razia's eyes.

This is a great addition to any elementary social studies class, for comparing your school to one in Afghanistan. Different uniforms (or possibly the idea of uniforms at all), school that it is a struggle to get to or get permission to go to, sex-segregated schools, and even the school building could all spark an interesting discussion. For kids struggling to get back into the groove in a new school year, this beautiful book will provide a different perspective, and Razia's determination to teach herself to read will prove inspirational.

Like the other books in the CitizenKid series, there are lots of worthwhile extras, including lesson ideas. We love the endpapers which take on the design of Razia's stunning headscarf.

Find out more about the Foundation that brought education to young Razia's village: Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation.

 This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by Wendie Old.

Sep 7, 2013

Lily and Taylor

Lily and Taylor (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Elise Moser

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 3, 2013


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

Taylor's sister is murdered, and her life is turned upside down. She moves with her nephew to her grandmother's home, away from the place she called home and her abusive boyfriend.  The big bright spot is that she makes a friend, probably the first real friend she has ever had.

Lily, her new friend, is also her polar opposite. She's outgoing and assertive, and wears a big bright scarf because unlike Taylor she's not afraid to draw attention to herself.

These two girls have something in common- they just want to be loved and protected. Lily is the parent in her family, but really wants to still have a childhood. Taylor's life has been marred by violence from the first, and she has no one who will protect her completely. She keeps her head down, doesn't draw attention, and tries to pacify people so they treat her better.

Their burgeoning friendship, which might just be what they both need most, is threatened when Taylor's old boyfriend shows up. Will Lily and Taylor make it through this challenge unscathed and with their friendship intact?

This book is raw and gritty. There's no hiding the awfulness of poverty or of the cycle of abuse. But Lily's colourful scarf, it shows that there is always hope if you are willing to make a big step outside your comfort zone. It's a really good read for teens, whether those who might identify with either of these two girls, or those who would be will to be empathetic to their journeys.

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

2013 Canadian Children's Book Centre Award Finalists

Today the finalists for the 2013 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards were announced. These are the major cankidlit awards, and there are seven categories including the main TD Canadian Children's Literature Award (English) and Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse (French), as well as the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award,  Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, John Spray Mystery Award, and Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. The winners will be announced at the end of October. You can find the full list of finalists here.

What's really exciting is this year for the first time, there is a Fan Choice Award, picked by kids! My son is really excited, I hope he is able to vote once the online poll starts on Monday September 9.

For the last couple of years, I have tried to review the picture books nominated for these awards, and I will try to do the same again this year, although sometimes it's hard to get all of these books to Japan!

For the first time, books I have reviewed already are on the list. I wonder if this means my taste is improving or that of the jury is! LOL

Virginia Wolf, which was at the top of my list of the best picture books of 2012, has been nominated in two different categories; the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. 

Going Up! Elisha Otis' Trip to the Top, from Monica Kulling, is a finalist for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction. It blends history, science, and a moral about perseverance!

I also recently reviewed the English version of Jane, le renard & moi (Jane, the fox, & me), which is an amazing and authentic look at bullying in schools, nominated for the Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse.

Have you read any of the finalists? Anything left off the list that you think deserves to be here?

Sep 3, 2013

The Best Thing About Kindergarten

The Best Thing About Kindergarten (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Jennifer Lloyd

Illustrated  by: Qin Leng

Published by: Simply Read Books

Published on: June 10, 2013

Ages: 3+

My kids started back to school for their second semester yesterday, but in Canada I expect most kids are starting today after the Labour Day holiday. I can't wait to see my friends' pictures of rosy cheeked kindergarten students on the morning of their big day!

 Kindergarten is a big step. Although in Japan it is a generally 3-year school independent of elementary schools, in Canada kindergarten is the first step in the public school journey. I can't imagine how big kids in Grade 6 look to the littles starting kindergarten!

I'm sure there are some kindy kids who are apprehensive about their new journey, and for them I would recommend this book about the joys of kindergarten.

Lloyd introduces a caring and talented teacher in Ms. Appleby (actually it's Mrs. in the book, the only detractor for me- it should not matter to 5 year olds whether or not their teacher is in a legal state of matrimony or not). She takes her students through the last day of kindergarten, asking them to reflect on their favourite memories. It's Ms. Appleby's favourite thing that makes the book though.

Qin Leng (The Stone Hatchling) is always great at bringing movement into a 2D book, and this suits the chaotic environment of a kindergarten class to a t!

It might seem odd to recommend a book about finishing kindergarten to kids who are just starting- but all kids of this age can identify with the excitement of the classroom and the love of a good teacher.

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

Sep 2, 2013

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers

Published on: May 3, 2010

Ages: 4+

My kids had so much fun reading this book by partners Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Jenkins is always a hit in our household, and his Beetle Book is consulted with regularly.

The authors have so much respect for the animals they feature, and that comes across vividly. Collage illustrations make these animals come alive.

This unique look at animal symbiosis gives a large lesson about nature not existing in a vacuum. There are so many new facts for the adult reader as well as for kids, as we are introduced to animals and ecosystems around the world.

I think my kids liked the plover walking right into a crocodile's mouth best. They were a little grossed out by ants eating nymph excretions though!

This comic book-like nonfiction is very appealing to kids who love animals. What kid doesn't?

 This post is for Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at A Mom's Spare Time.

Sep 1, 2013

Jane, the Fox, and Me

Jane, the Fox, and Me (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Fanny Britt

Illustrated by: Isabelle Arsenault

Translated by: Christine Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 1, 2013

Ages: 11+

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

When you open an Isabelle Arsenault-illustrated book, you expect a few things.
-Gorgeous illustrations
-Hand-lettered text that adds to the illustrations
-Use of colour and grayscale to evoke emotion
-Amazing detail

I was a bit worried that we wouldn't get this in Arsenault's first graphic novel. I should have had more faith. We have all of her signature style, just 3 times more of it!

The titular Jane is from Jane Eyre. Hélène takes her as a heroine. If you are exicted to step into Jane Eyre's world as an escape from your own lonely existence, you know things are bad. They are. Hélène has no friends, is mocked by former friends and classmates, and has really low self-esteem. These issues are too common in teenagehood, I'm afraid. I certainly see myself at times in Hélène.

Hélène is prone to exaggeration, but even I can understand her feelings of frustration during a swimsuit-shopping trip.

Jane Eyre may be an orphan, homely, battered, alone and abandoned, 
but she is not, never has been, and never will be
A Big Fat Sausage.

Things aren't all bad. She has a companionable relationship with her hard-working mother, even if it isn't a Gilmore Girls-type of relationship where Hélène and her mother pour their hearts out to each other. Her mother does what she can to quietly cheer her up. But a homemade beautiful crinoline dress can't help Hélène hold her head up high with all that is going on.

Hélène also has books. Jane Eyre provides her with a much-needed escape, even from a dreaded class field trip.

On the bus, my strategy is to read the whole where there like that's all that matters.

I know I've retreated to that world more than once.

Fanny Britt has created an endearing character in Hélène, one with universal worries whom you can't help but root for. I hope that this is not the last graphic novel Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault produce.

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