Oct 13, 2014

Any Questions?

Any Questions?

Written and Illustrated by: Marie-Louise Gay

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: October 13, 2014

Ages: 6+

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

Who wouldn't want an author visit? Especially from an author as fun as the one behind Stella and Sam?

But there are billions of us and only one Marie-Louise Gay.

No problem! Gay has brought an author visit to us in this book.

She takes us through her creative process, from a blank page waiting to be filled with beautiful artwork and lyrical prose.

She adds jokes into the art, so it seems even more intimate than an author visit.

She takes us into the area of writer's block, and we see how her mind wanders, right into a fantastic story about a giant.

This is an amazing book for giving a behind the scenes look at a famous writer, but also for giving young writers an idea of the process. This isn't just for those who want to publish their own books, but also for students struggling to write essays or built stories for school. If the award-winning brain behind Stella & Sam needs to edit her work and let her mind wander, then maybe so does a grade 2 student trying to write an ode to his pet on Valentine's Day. This is an excellent book for early elementary students.

Sep 17, 2014

Haze (Blog Tour)


Written by: Paula Weston

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: September 9, 2014

Ages: New Adult

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

Gaby and Rafa are back!!! Last year I fell in love with the Rephaim and Pan Beach residents introduced in Paula Weston's Shadows.  That tale was packed with action and building a fascinating world where the children of fallen angels fight to keep humans safe from demons. The best thing about the book is it was only the first. Now Haze is here to continue this story.

Gaby's journey to unravel the web of deceit and false memories she has fallen into continues. The last memory she has of her brother Jude was of him dying in a car crash. But if the car crash wasn't real for her, maybe it wasn't for him either. In that case, where is her twin??

Luckily, Gaby has the mysterious and attractive Rafa to help her follow Jude's trail and introduce her to the other Rephaim, which might be the most difficult part- she steps right into a world fraught with tension and division and she doesn't know who is her friend and who is her enemy from her past life. How do you work beside others to kill demons when you can't even trust them?

Gaby is lucky that she has her best friend from Pan Beach, Maggie, and she knows Maggie is true. Sadly, she knows Maggie has also been dragged into this demon war mess, and has to make sure Maggie is protected too.

Gaby is such a great central character. Her disconnect between her current self and what people tell her about her past self, and especially her past morals, makes her vulnerable despite her physical strength, and without ever veering into whiny. Will she ever develop back into the Gabe who dated the arrogant Daniel? I hope not, I like to see her with Rafa, despite the fact that Rafa won't tell Gaby what was up with them before she landed in Pan Beach.

One of the fun things the fabulous author, Paula Weston, did for the bloggers on the tour was to tell us which character matched our personality the most! I was afraid I would end up being Daniel, we both have a tendency to know what is best for everyone who is not ourselves. But I was so happy to find out that I am most like Micah!

The easy going guitar playing half-angel was Gabe's best friend in the Sanctuary. He, Jude, Rafa, and Gabe were inseparable before Jude and Gabe disappeared. When Gaby comes back he is quick to reacquaint her with the other Rephaim, and tries to play peacemaker between the Sanctuary Rephaim and Rebel Rephaim. Micah is a stand-up guy and I hope to see more of him in Shimmer and Burn.

This book ends on a cliffhanger, and I cannot wait to see how it is resolved. Shimmer comes out next autumn and I hope the time passes quickly before I am back in Gaby's world.

Visit the other stops on the Haze tour today!

Summer at MissFictional’s World of YA Books
Jillian at Centre of the Universe
Crystal at WinterHaven Books
Lisa at Turning Pages

Don't forget to check out the home of the Blog Tour at Tundra Press to see what other fabulous places Haze is visiting this week, where there will be giveaways, interviews, and more!

Sep 9, 2014

The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta

The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta 

Written by: Fatima Sharafeddine

Illustrated by: Intelaq Mohamed Ali

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: May 13, 2014

Ages: 5+

This picture book biography introduces a 14th century traveler and a very different view of the world.

Can you imagine going somewhere without a map? Never mind something that tells you exactly where to turn on your mobile device. Ibn Battuta didn't have a travel website to go on when he departed, he had to rely on his wits and what other travellers told him.

This Moroccan adventurer started off from Tangier and made new friends in countries like Iraq, Egypt, and India. He even made it all the way to China. He was a resourceful man who used many different modes of transportation, from camel riding to ships on the ocean.

The reason why Ibn Battuta's name is still known so many centuries later is that he wrote down his impressions on seeing all these places and meeting so many people. Writing things down and sharing them with people not only entertained and enlightened his readers but also guaranteed his place in history.

This is a great book to be tied into a journal-writing activity for early elementary students, or to tie into geography lessons. 

This review is for Nonfiction Monday. Pop by the Nonfiction Monday page and check out other great reviews of children's nonfiction.

Jul 9, 2014

Julia, Child

Julia, Child

Words by: Kyo Maclear

Pictures by: Julie Morstad

Published by: Tundra Books

Published on: July 9, 2014

Ages: 4+

What do you make when you add a love of cooking to a bowl full of friendship and bake with the talent of two of Canada's most loved children's book artisans?

Julia, Child.

Kyo Maclear is the author of two the children's books I love most, Spork and Virginia Wolf. As in these amazing books, her writing in Julia, Child speaks to those of all ages. As in Virginia Wolf, Maclear imagines an episode in the childhood of a famous women. Julia and her friend Simka love butter and baking and French food and wish they could spread their joy to others.

Those who have joy and those who need some are easily differentiated in Morstad's (How To) delightful gouache and ink illustrations. Julie and Simka are adorable, but it's truly the little touches like recipe cards with helpful cooking hints or recipes changed to add more butter that show Morstad's true mastery.

I do love extras in books, and the introduction wrapped as an invitation on the first page, as well as the book description on the cover flaps all add to the joy of reading. Any book which mixes a swooshy rainbow and crying lumberjack has to be formulated to bring smiles to the readers' faces.

Like Julia and Simka, Maclear and Morstad are generous with their talent and sharing this book is sure to bring joy to others.

Jun 29, 2014

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Written by: Christine Baldacchino

Illustrated by: Isabelle Malenfant

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: May 13, 2014

Ages: 4+

Morris Mickelwhite, son of Moira and roommate of Moo the cat, is a character. He's creative and strong and unique. When he hits a snag he takes a moment out then dusts himself off and comes back up again.

Morris loves to play dress up in a tangerine dress, and I'm sure you can imagine the comments he gets from school mates. These comments about something he love give him a stomachache. Taking time off to regroup with his mother, his cat, and his imagination gives him the confidence to go into school and blaze his own path.

I have read a lot of "issue" books and it just doesn't work if the quality isn't there. In this case the storytelling, the character building, and the artwork are well beyond what you would expect of a normal picture book. Baldacchino uses great use of onomatopoeia to bring  interest to younger readers as well as older readers who will enjoy the story and characters.

Morris isn't the only the star character. Malenfant uses the same deft hand for the moving expressions on Morris' face as she does to bring the tangerine dress to life. Make no mistake, this dress will be as fascinating to most readers as to Morris. Malenfant's charcoal, watercolour and pastel illustrations draw your eye to that dress and make you realize just why he has such a yearning for it.

This is more than just an issue book. Yes, it breaks gender stereotypes and gives a great role model for going your own way, but the reason you'll re-read it is because of the stunning artwork and the way the words work perfectly together.

Jun 28, 2014

Just So Stories Volume II

Just So Stories Volume II

Written by: Rudyard Kipling

Illustrated by: Ian Wallace

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: October 1, 2013

Ages: 8+

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

The second volume of Rudyard Kipling's classic stories provides an excellent companion to Just So Stories, Volume I.

Like the first volume, Kipling's classic stories are married with Wallace's stunning art.

My kids, currently learning Japanese characters which includes the history of these pictorial characters, were especially fascinated by How the Alphabet Was Made, the continuation to How the First Letter Was Written. My kids haven't been exposed to a story like this about the roman alphabet, so it was especially exciting. Since O is similar to the shape of the mouth to make the sound and S looks like a snake these are easy to figure out but the A for the mouth of a carp fish is pretty ingenious., as is the beaver tail for the letter B. It helps that the character of Taffy is engaging as well as being creative.

Kipling has a heavy respect for nature and its creatures, and this comes through in Wallace's paintings. From the ocean to the crabs and butterflies, all the natural components is fused with life and movement, and Wallace's style is classical enough to meld with the old style of Kipling's stories.

Jun 12, 2014

Kicking a Ball

Kicking a Ball

Written by: Allan Ahlberg

Illustrated by: Sebasten Braun

Published by:  Puffin Books

Published on: May 1, 2014

Ages: 3+

The World Cup starts today! Despite the controversies, we are so excited in our house! Soccer is our game and we are all rooting for Japan and a variety of secondary countries. May the best team win!

The bloated capitalism of the FIFA organization and the very important concerns of the Brazilian peoples haven't been enough to put us off. The reason is, like this book, very simple. Two teams and a ball are just very exciting.

That joy is captured perfectly in Ahlberg's verse. The wee boy in this book just loves the time he spends with his inanimate object, the way he can manipulate it, and the joy it brings.

Props certainly need to be given to the internationalness of this book. Besides the delightful map illustrations, Ahlberg brings mention to many of the countries in which soccer is played, from Nepal to Bengal. It's lovely to see a book for kids about this game that doesn't focus on any one country.

Pick this up for the kicking or poetry lover in your life.

Jun 1, 2014

Soccer Star

Soccer Star

Written by: Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated by: Renato Alarcao

Published by: Candlewick Press

Published on: April 8, 2014

Ages: 5+

It's June and that means World Cup month! The most popular event in the world starts in two short weeks. If your house is anything like mine, World Cup mania has already started and conversations about Japan's hope for the Cup and whether Luis Suarez will actually be healed from his knee injury before Uruguay's first game are dinner table topics. Or maybe not!

Soccer Star is the perfect book for a kid who is interested in soccer or geography, or someone who loves a feel-good sports story about hard work and dedication.

Paulo is the protagonist of this story, and this Brazilian boy loves soccer so much he thinks about it during his job on a fishing boat. The realities of life for most Brazilians are not glossed over here, as all the boys on his team work instead of go to school so they can just eke out a living. Paulo learns from his sister Maria who still goes to school.

Despite his harsh reality, Paulo dreams big. He dreams of being a huge soccer star, big enough to be known as just one name ala Pele! Then he can support his hard-working mother and sister, and play soccer on beautiful pitches for a living.

Javaherbin is also the author of Goal! which was in the same vein as this book, released at the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Her rhythmic text captures the imagination of readers while adding in the realities of life in the host countries and a message of never giving up hope are inspirational to young readers, soccer players and non-players alike. Soccer Star and Goal both inspired social studies units in our after schooling regimen and they were very well received. It's hard to say enough good things about these books.

May 31, 2014

Norman, Speak

Norman, Speak

Written by: Caroline Adderson

Illustrated by: Qin Leng

Published by:  Groundwood Books

Published on: May 13 2014

Ages: 4+

When you welcome someone into your life, and communication doesn't go as planned, what do you do? Do you just stop there? Do you investigate the differences? Do you do what you can to communicate with your new friend?

In Norman, Speak! a family welcomes a new furry member but they have trouble communicating with their canine friend. Instead of accepting a lower level of communication, they do what they can to work on the dog's level, which means a lot of effort in this case.

There's so much to love about Norman, Speak! The story is delightful, a really good family message about not giving up on someone you love, and working together as a family with a goal. Then there's Qin Leng's adorable illustrations. Like the people, the dog is expressive and you feel like you really get to know each person.

My two big weaknesses are rosy-cheeked people in artwork and bilingual books. This one is both, with a great story to boot, so it's no wonder it's one of my favourites of 2014.

Apr 15, 2014



Written by: Mike Mullin

Published by: Tanglewood Press

Published on: April 15, 2014

Ages: Young Adult

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

The third, concluding book in the apocalyptic Ashfall series is Sunrise. The title is happier than either of the first two books, Ashfall and Ashen Winter. It alludes to hope, the theme of this book.

Mullin is a master at writing action scenes. There are plenty of those in this book, but also a lot of interaction between the characters we have grown to love in the trilogy. It's the perfect mesh.

In other post-apocalyptic books, we usually get a government gone wrong and people pushing back against them (ala Hunger Games). But I am always most interested in how people get that government. What are the choices that lead them that way?

Alex and Darla have experienced the government's hospitality after the Yellowstone super volcano blew, as well as that of the government's subcontractors. They realize that they are on their own- and they make steps toward being self-sufficient. Alex is able to lead while still being true to Darla and his own young self.

Sunrise is my favourite in this trilogy, which is saying a lot as I really enjoyed Ashfall. The only bad thing is saying goodbye to a trio of books I have enjoyed so much.

Apr 12, 2014

101 Things To Do With Baby

101 Things To Do With Baby

Written and Illustrated by: Jan Ormerod

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: April 15, 2014

Ages: 1+

How fun can a pre-verbal baby be to a big sister or brother? Not even old enough to fight with!

In this updated version of the classic 101 Things to Do with Baby from late Australian author Jan Ormerod, we go through a whole day of fun with a new sibling. Both ankle-biting and head-banging are included.

It's easy to see why this is a classic. It's so simple and rings true for me and for many others who have had babies in their lives I'm sure. The couch with everything thrown haphazardly (and half-drunk tea!) on it while you ignore it and read with your older child is like a picture of my own house!

The nice thing about the updated book is that it has updated safety info - the baby is in a rear-facing carseat. But the adorable noses and a big sister who obviously loves her brother to distraction are still there. This great 30th anniversary edition of the book would make an ideal gift for a new parent or new older sibling.

Apr 6, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing

The Most Magnificent Thing

Written and Illustrated by: Ashley Spires

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: April 1, 2014

Ages: 4+

There are some picture book authors that seem to have a knack for writing books with which people of all ages can identify. Dr. Seuss, Robert Munsch, and Ashley Spires are all authors loved by kids and adults alike.

Spires' book Larf was a great book for capturing how I feel as an adult- as a foreigner in Japan. Small Saul was on a similar vein, with a great message about being true to yourself. Now this book is another that will be perfect on my work desk.

An ordinary girl and her canine assistant get to work making the most magnificent thing. But things don't go as planned and she starts to get frustrated.

"Her hands feel too BIG to work, and her brain is too full of all the not-right things."

I feel like that at work all the time.

She and her assistant have a great message for the reader about perseverance and taking a breather when it all becomes too much.

But this isn't just for adults. My kids loved this little girl and her wise, furry sidekick. Her expressions  are adorable and all the things she makes are cool.

Maybe this will inspire other people to make their own magnificent things. I hope it means Spires is inspired to make more magnificent books.

Mar 3, 2014

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard

Written and Illustrated by: Annette Leblanc Cate

Published by: Candlewick Press

Published on: March 12, 2014

Ages: 4+

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

On February 14, the winners of the annual Cybils awards for children's literature were announced. I was lucky enough to be on the nonfiction panel and we chose Look Up! as the best nonfiction book of 2013.

Look Up! isn't just a title, it's an invitation to a whole new avian world. Annette Cate gives a plethora of information about birds, how to find them, and what to look for, as well as sketching tips useful to the burgeoning bird watcher.

The detailed information provided by Cate is only improved by the engaging narrator, who adds flair and humour. Look Up! A Guide to Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard is sure to convert plenty of new bird-watchers. It is Cate's unbridled passion which really makes this book.

This post was for Nonfiction Monday, hosted at the Nonfiction Monday blog.

Mar 2, 2014

Out The Window

Out The Window

Written and Illustrated by: Cybèle Young

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: February 25, 2014

Ages: 0+

Provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

This adorable board book is like two completely different books in one- parallel literary worlds, if you like, but for the youngest of us.

An adorable animal loses his ball out the window- and then the adventure starts! The ball takes him to colourful places outside of the scope of his small area. This is perfect for littles who are starting to realize there is more to the world than their little play area. 

Governor General’s Award winner Young is able to make a few simple phrases into a big adventure, and just by changing the font the meaning can completely change. This double story, of what goes on both inside and outside the window, would be great fun for any toddler.

Jan 21, 2014

Montessori Inspired Activities for Pre-Schoolers


 Welcome to the Japan stop on the Montessori Inspired world book tour!

Montessori Inspired Activities for Pre-Schoolers

Written by: Jo Ebisujima

Published by: jojoebi designs

Published on: January 8, 2014

As a fellow blogging mom in Japan, I have been following Jo Ebisujima for years. Her book is the best of her great ideas kid activities.

The title of her book makes it sound like the activities are only for young kids, but my 6-year old enjoys them as much as my 4-year old! These activities are Montessori inspired and Jo gives a bit of background on the method and how she got involved with it in the introduction, but I think one of the best things about this book is how adaptable they are. You don't have to be a hardcore Montessori mom, you don't have to have lots of time on your hands, and you don't have to live next to a well-stocked craft store to use these activities with your kids. I am a full-time working mom living in the sticks of southern Japan and there wasn't a single activity in this book we weren't able to prepare for, and I can't say that about any other activity book or magazine I've bought for my kids, so this gets a two thumbs up from mama!

From a bilingual parenting point of view, there are two activities covered in the book that are really great for practicing the minority language, whatever that language is (see- totally adaptable to any situation!)

One is the Mystery Bag activity. We used a drawtring bag from the hundred yen store and place a couple of objects in the bag without the target kid seeing. That kid has to reach her hand in and describe it (we make sure that there is a minority language only rule, and boo if the majority language is used!) until the other kid(s) can figure out what is in the bag.

The other activity that really worked well for us was the Mini Cafe! We have used this many times and you can read about our experience here, as my son calls this his Tea Shop activity. There are so many variations on the Mini Cafe, but kids love it no matter what they are serving. It is a sneaky way to get your kids to try out new skills like serving and food prep, while using their written and oral language skills!

There are so many other activities to try out in this book as well. Check out what the other Book Tour participants love about this book by visiting their pages.

Jan 12, 2014

Time and Time Again

Time and Time Again (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: John Settle

Published by: iUniverse

Published on: February 6, 2012

Ages: 10+

Provided by the author for review. All thoughts are my own.

Adam's dad has what must be one of the coolest jobs ever in fiction - he's a taxi driver for Chronos Travel, and ferries people between time periods in this futuristic middle grade novel.

Adam is visiting his dad at work when another driver's daughter comes to him for help. When Adam gives it, he is drawn into a sinister plot with far-reaching ramifications. Luckily, he has two good friends, outgoing Roslyn and wise Don, to help get him out of the fix.

The post-fossil fuel world has some major differences from ours- there are no airplanes, for instance, but people have the same worries and there are fringe causes just like in ours. The nature of teens doesn't seem to have been affected at all though!

Adam and his friends have a tight bond and this is one of the most interesting parts of the book. I definitely feel like Chronos Taxi could lead to some very interesting plots in the future and past, and it would be great if these three had another shot at time travel in a future book.

Jan 1, 2014

The Year of the Horse

17654208The Year of the Horse (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Oliver Chin

Illustrated by: Jennifer Wood

Published by: Immedium

Published on: December 31, 2013

Ages: 4+

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

Happy New Year! Welcome to the year of the horse. This is my year (by the Japanese calendar). Please don't figure out how old I am. ;)

The Japanese zodiac is mostly the same as the Chinese one, but the new year in Japan starts on January 1 rather than following the old calendar. Which means those of us born in January/February are often a different zodiac animal depending on whether we are using the Chinese or Japanese zodiac. I'm a horse in Japan but a snake according to the Chinese zodiac.

This is the first book in the Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series that I have seen, but there are other including the Year of the Dragon, Rabbit, Tiger, Ox, and Rat. These stories aren't specifically about new year celebrations, but about the animals from the year.

The Year of the Horse stars Hannah the horse and Tom, the artist's student, who are both finding their way in the world. They end up going on a big journey, and along the way they meet up with the various other zodiac animals while learning the value of teamwork.

My kids both really liked the cartoon-like illustrations and it really helps that the plotting is quick and Wood's illustrations are great at conveying movement.

It's so fantastic to find books related to the New Year as we celebrate it here in Japan, so I definitely recommend this to English speakers in Japan as well as other people with kids!