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1. Poetry Friday ~ PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito

[Time is running out to enter our Tenth Anniversary Draw - the deadline is tomorrow - so if you haven't already, take a look here for the chance to win some fantastic prizes for you or your school or library]

Sally Ito is a poet, editor and translator living in Winnipeg, Canada, where she also teaches Creative Writing; she is currently writer.  Sally was  a book reviewer and contributor to the PaperTigers blog until earlier this year and wrote many of our contributions to Poetry Friday during that time (which is why we decided to post Sally’s selection on a Poetry Friday day!).  So we are delighted to welcome her back with her Top Ten list of favourite books, encountered through her work with PaperTigers.

As a prelude, do listen to Sally reading the title poem from her collection Alert to Glory (Turnstone Press, 2011) in the video below.

My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito

When I joined the Paper Tigers blog contributor team in 2008, the thing I was most excited about was getting to read and review great multicultural books for kids.  What I discovered was a plethora of wonderful books that reflected who I was culturally and who my community was, culturally, as well.  From my short time with PaperTigers, these are my ten picks of multicultural books for kids.  It’s a little Japan-heavy, I realize but I hope you indulge my bias!

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin, 2008) – I found this quirky picture book amazing and it was an inspiration for me when I was teaching to take my creative writing students out into our immediate neighborhood (an historic district called The Exchange) in Winnipeg to see what we could make of our environment in a creative way.

Naomi’s Tree by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2008).  This book is about a cherry tree and a Japanese Canadian girl who grew up with it and was separated from it by the circumstances of the Second World War.  This book was a personal favorite since the author’s history reflects my own family’s in Canada.

Granny’s Giant Bannock by Brenda Isabel Wastasecoot, illustrated by Kimberly McKay-Fleming (Pemmican, 2008).  This is one hilarious book about a Cree-speaking grandmother and her grandson Larf who accidentally bakes a giant bannock by misunderstanding his grandmother’s instructions on how to make the doughy confection from scratch.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano (Scholastic, 2009).  This book is a translation of a popular fantasy series that was also made into a TV series.  The story is set in early imperial Japan and features a woman warrior named Balsa who protects the son of the emperor, Chagum, as he carries within him a spirit from another dimension who must lodge in a human host in order to survive.

The Song of the Cicada by Shizue Ukaji.  This is a Japanese book, yet untranslated into English, that I discovered while living in Japan in 2011.  It’s an Ainu folktale illustrated with textile creations made by Ukaji herself.  It’s the story of a woman who prophesies disaster – namely a tsunami – to her people and what becomes of her as a result.  A timely read for the year I was visiting the country.

The Fox’s Window and Other Stories by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei.  This is a collection of short stories spanning a career of writing by Japanese author Naoko Awa.  Magical, enchanting and absorbing are the words I’d use to describe these stories, which have also been referred to as ‘modern fairytales.’

David’s Trip to Paraguay by Miriam Rudolph.  A bilingual book with German and English text, this story is about a young Mennonite boy named David who travels to Paraguay from Canada in the late 1920s.  Rudolph, an artist, charts the arduous journey with vivid and colorful illustrations of the things David sees on the trip.

Gifts: Poems for Parents edited by Rhea Tregebov (Sumach Press, 2002).  We say we read to our children for their sake, but it’s just as true that we read to feed ourselves, too.  Poetry is a kind of bread for the soul, and this particular treasury of poems by Canadians really fed me as a poet and a parent.

Bifocal by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters.  This is one book I read in part with my son, who later went on to have the book assigned to him for his English class in junior high school.  It’s about two teenagers – Haroon and Jay – who have to negotiate their cultural identities during a tense lockdown situation at their high school.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie.  I started covering graphic novels for PaperTigers a few years ago as I felt this was a developing trend in books for young people.  And this book was one of my favorites!  Aya is about a young woman growing up in Cote D’Ivoire, looking to become a medical student, but whose life is inevitably shaped and influenced by those around her with less lofty goals than her.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Ed at Think Kid, Think – head on over.

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2. Poetry Friday: The Oral Tradition of the Ainu

The Ainu are the indigenous people of northern Japan.  I have been reading about them lately through books like Kayano Shigeru’s The Ainu (Tuttle Publishing, 2004.)  Kayano Shigeru, who died in 2006, was himself an Ainu and worked tirelessly to preserve and disseminate elements of Ainu culture to the world.  The Ainu had an oral tradition of tale-telling and one of their oral tales or songs known as kamuy yukar is translated into English by Kyoko Selden and given here on the website of the Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.  As typical of many oral tales, it is presented as poetry.  As it explains on the website, kamuy yukar are songs of gods and demi-gods.  This particular story is of the wind goddess, Pitatakamuy and her encounter with the demi-god Okikurumi.    It is a revealing tale insofar as it shows how the Ainu relate to their deities — they relate to their gods not just with reverence, awe and respect but they also challenge and chastise the gods for wanton and destructive behaviour!  I remember being surprised by that when I read The Song of the Cicada by Shizue Ukaji, another Ainu writer and storyteller.  The old woman swept away in the typhoon gets angry at the goddess who has caused the terrible typhoon much like the demi-god Okikurumi becomes angry with Pitatakamuy.

The Ainu have a rich oral tradition of poetic tale-telling, but little of it has been translated into English.  However this is slowly changing with the efforts of a variety of scholars and students of the culture.  I’ve discovered a wonderful blog called Project Uepeker: Introducing the Ainu Oral Tradition to the English-Speaking World that is chock full of information about Ainu culture in English.   In fact, it was at this blog that I discovered a new book called Ainu Spirits Singing by Sarah Strong (University of Hawaii Press, 2011) which is a study and translation of Ainu kamuy yukar as originally translated into Japanese by Ainu writer Chiri Yukie.  I hope more developments like this keep happening and that word gets around about the oral storytelling traditions of this indigenous people of northern Japan.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.

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3. Postcard from Japan: The Song of the Cicada — An Ainu Story

I stumbled upon this wonderful picture book (with some timely resonances) at my local picture book library.  The Song of the Cicada by Ainu artist, poet, and storyteller Shizue Ukaji (Fukuinkan Shoten, 2008) tells the story of an old woman who prophesizes  about a tsunami in which the waters of the sea will overflow and meet waters overflowing from the mountaintops to create one gigantic wave that will destroy everything.  Night and day, the old woman sings this song of doom and peril.  One village listens and moves their residences high up; the other village does not and gets swept away.   Among the swept away is the old woman herself, but she is not without some grit and resources.  Calling out to the sea god, she tells him that the fields of the sea will stink of the smell of their deaths unless he does something.  Enraged by this taunt, he sends the woman to a ‘sixth’ hell.  Luckily for her, a protector goddess who is also a weaver has thrust the end of her spindle right down to this hell.  The old woman climbs out onto the earth, emerging as a cicada, thus it is that the book is called Song of the Cicada.

What I found particularly compelling about this picture book aside from its tsunami references, was the beautiful textile work of  Ukaji who illustrated the entire story using old kimono fabrics (known as kofu in Japanese) and colorful embroidery thread to create the various scenes.  Traditional Ainu patterns and motifs are evident in some of the embroidery work. Herself an Ainu born in 1933, Ukaji moved to the capital and worked her way through school.  She subsequently was married and had two children.  It was only until she was in her sixties that she had the wherewithal to enjoy creating stories and artwork about her Ainu heritage.   Song of the Cicada is the second published work of Ukaji.  I hope that this wonderful Ainu artist’s books can be someday translated into English!  For more on Ukaji and Ainu textile artwork, check out this video of a recent exhibit held in Osaka.

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