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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Books at Bedtime, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 101
1. Books at Bedtime: What Daddy Reads

Who does the reading to your child at night?  Mommy or Daddy?  And what books do they choose to read?  In our household, it’s mainly me who does the night time reading ritual with my daughter, but on occasion my husband has done the bedtime reading.  Of course, he picks different books than me and for today’s post, I’m featuring a book he’s been working on steadily with my daughter titled To Kill a Queen: An Elizabethan Girl’s Diary 1583-1586 by Valerie Wilding (Scholastic Canada, 2005)  This book is one in a series of Scholastic titles — the My Story collection — of girls living through historical events like the Great Plague, the Blitz, and the Irish Famine.

To Kill a Queen features an Elizabethan girl named Catherine Anne Lumsden, the 12 year old daughter of a former lady-in-waiting on Queen Elizabeth the I, Lady Matilda Lumsden and Sir Nicholas Lumsden, a secret agent in the service of the Queen.  With such a family so close to the Queen, it’s not surprising that they become embroiled in the intrigues of the court of the day, including a plot to kill the Queen.  So what happens to our dear diarist, Catherine?  Well, I don’t know since I’m not the one reading the book to her!  Since my husband is an English professor, specializing in the literature close to the period covering this book, I could see why he selected this title for his choice of a bedtime read.  How does my daughter like the book?  I assume she likes it well enough, but by now, she is quite used to her parents, particularly her mother, foisting interesting and unusual reads on her!  This doesn’t prevent her from voicing her opinions on the matter.  She came home one day wanting us to read the popular The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to her and so when Daddy went shopping recently, he picked up a copy for her to read to her at night.

Who does the bedtime reading in your household?  And what books do you or your spouse choose to read?

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2. Books at Bedtime: Not Just a Witch by Eva Ibbotson

While waiting around for my daughter’s pottery class to finish one Saturday afternoon, I dropped in to one of my favorite used book stores in Winnipeg called Nerman’s.  Their basement is chock full of children’s books and to my delight, I discovered an Eva Ibbotson title, Not Just a Witch (Macmillan, 1989. Illustrated by Alice Englander.)  When I showed it to my daughter, a self-proclaimed Ibbotson fan, she was delighted.

With her characteristic offbeat humor, Ibbotson introduces us to another wacky world of witches and mythical creatures that don’t quite fit the stereotype.  The story begins with two witch friends,  Dora and Heckie who, on their graduation from their witch academy, have a falling out over the fact they have unwittingly chosen the same hat (one with serpents, of course) for their graduation party.  The two part company and the story then follows the adventures of Heckie as she settles in a small town called Wellbridge.

We’re not all the way through the book yet, but my daughter insists upon being read from Not Just a Witch every night and I am enjoying this one as much as I have the other Ibbotson titles I’ve read with her.  (See my other PT posts on Ibbotson here and here.)  Do you have a favorite author whose books you and your child enjoy reading together?  Do tell!


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3. Books at Bedtime: Tales of Court and Castle

I was introduced to the writing of Canadian storyteller, Joan Bodger, through this post on a blog called Pickle Me This by Kerry Clare.   Intrigued by the post, I decided to look up some of Bodger’s titles in our library for our bedtime read, and selected her Tales of Court and Castle, illustrated by Mark Lang (Tundra Books, 2003).  Here was a book that was instantly attractive to me — I’m fond of folk and fairy tales of all kinds — but I wasn’t so sure about how my daughter would take to them.  The tales are very old — medieval, in fact — but told in a storyteller’s voice that is compelling and fresh.  Mark Lang’s illustrations are marvelous.  Appearing before each tale, they illustrate the tale’s most compelling aspect quite vividly.  There’s quite a lovely image of the King and Queen in the tale, “The Warrior Queen,” lying side by side in bed arguing who is the greater of the two, and a very haunting image of Iron John standing in the forest in “Iron John.”  For me, there were a lot of quiet aha moments of “So, that’s where this story came from!” especially in the cases of “Iron John,” the Tristan tales, and “To the Dark Tower” on which a famous Robert Browning poem is based.   For my daughter, these tales were introductions to the magical world of the English tale with their mythical fairy worlds, inhabited by elves and forest spirits, and the like.

Joan Bodger was an interesting woman in and of herself, and her biography is a rich tale of its own.  Canadian writer, Kathryn Kuitenbrower has written a compelling blog post on Bodger and her books here.   Check it out for an in-depth account of a remarkable storyteller.

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4. Books at Bedtime: Take a Closer Look

My daughter likes perusing books with visual puzzles in them, the kind where you have to find hidden creatures or hidden messages.  She mentioned this to me again the other day which made me remember a book we’d bought in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago.  Take a Closer Look: The Big Book of Optical Illusions and Visual Oddities by Keith Kay is a rich compilation of various kinds of optical illusions which you can try and figure out with your child.  For the last week, my daughter and I have been going through a couple of pages every night and have been enjoying ourselves.  Some of the illusions appear on Keith Kay’s website; there are some commonly known ones like the 1915 sketch by W.E. Hill of the old lady/young girl but there were also many I’d never seen before.  At the back of the book, there is also an answer page which is a good thing, because sometimes no matter how hard you look, you sometimes just cannot see the thing supposedly there!  Huh?  I can’t see it Mom, turn to the answer page was an oft repeated refrain.  There’s also a page on shadow puppetry that you can try with your hands on a wall at night  — a good bedtime activity if you have a good lamp on your night stand.   As much as I love reading aloud to my daughter, I do also appreciate these books where you interact with your child in a different way than just reading.  Do you know of any good optical illusion books you’ve shared with your child?  Let me know and I can seek them out for my daughter to enjoy!

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5. Books at Bedtime: The Phantom Tollbooth

Right now for our bedtime reading, my daughter and I are revisiting an old classic — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (illustrated by Jules Feiffer), Yearling Books, 1961.   I encountered this novel when I was in grade five;  it was recommended to me by a friend.  I remembered reading it and loving it.  It’s a witty and clever book by halves, and I don’t think I ‘got’ everything in it at the time I read it, but following the adventures of this idle and bored schoolboy protagonist Milo “who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always”  was compelling.   In reading it now with my daughter, I am enjoying the story again with so much more gusto — this time getting, of course, all the many puns and double entendres throughout the book.  My daughter is less enthusiastic.  As she puts it herself, “I like listening to it because it puts me to sleep.”   (Mind you, this fact alone makes it a worthy bedtime read for the parent!)  But while she dozes off, I often continue reading aloud for the sheer pleasure of the story which speaks to the book’s attractive charm and longevity.

The Phantom Tollbooth celebrated the 50th anniversary of its publication this year.   There’s a Youtube video I watched recently of Norton Juster and Jules Pfeiffer talking about the genesis of the book.   A commemorative annotated edition of the book is now available, and a  documentary film, The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50, is currently being produced, set for release in 2012.   I didn’t discover all this information, until after I’d selected this book for our bedtime reading ritual, so I was quite surprised by the serendipity of my choice and hope that my daughter might remember this book fondly herself when she begins reading to her children in the future.  (If she doesn’t, Grandma certainly will!)




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6. Books at Bedtine: Three Monks, No Water

Author Ting-Xing Ye’s mother used to say, “It’s typical! Three Monks, no water!”  whenever she or her brothers and sisters tried to get out of doing something.  Three Monks, No Water (Annick Press, 1997)is the story behind that enigmatic expression – and since reading it, I can see it becoming a useful phrase in our home!

A young Buddhist monk lived alone at the top of a mountain.  Every day he had to fetch water from the foot of the mountain, using a yoke and two buckets.  That provided him with enough water for his personal needs and to water his small vegetable garden.  One day, he was joined by an older monk.  Their attempts to bring water up the mountain together, stringing a single bucket on a pole carried between them, were not very successful; and each felt it was the other’s task to fetch more water, so neither went.  The vegetables in the garden began to die.  Then a third monk arrived, and the situation worsened.  As each monk refused to give way, or compromise his stance in any way, the outlook became bleaker, and certainly none of them was composed enough to meditate or pray.  Then one day, disaster struck… Would they be able to let go of their antagonism and work together to put things right?

Three Monks, No Water is just the kind of fable that will appeal to young children with a strong sense of right and wrong.  The narrative certainly makes no excuses for the monks’ unreasonable behaviour, but leaves plenty of scope for young listeners to react.  Illustrator Harvey Chan’s background of acrylic on gessoed board gives the illustrations an interesting texture for the colored pencil drawings in soft, muted colors; and I love the monks’ facial expressions.  And on every page, like a heavy watermark, a line of calligraphy conveys the expression of the title.  Plus there’s a specially designed seal inside the front and back cover, with a short explanatory note, and together these add a nice extra touch.

This is a great story for conveying the importance of dialogue and reciprocity, giving as well as expecting and taking – and it can be applied to a directly parallel scenario of three individuals, or on a global level, or anywhere in between…

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7. Books at Bedtime: David’s Trip to Paraguay

David’s Trip to Paraguay: The Land of Amazing Colours by Miriam Rudolph (CMU Press, 2011) is a recently published children’s book that tells the story of young David who recounts a long and arduous journey from a small southern Manitoba farm to the Chaco region of Paraguay in 1927.   A bilingual book — text is in German and in English –  the book is also colorfully illustrated with Rudolph’s vibrant images, cleverly ‘stitched’ as it were, by all the various modes of transport David takes to get to his final destination.  My daughter enjoyed connecting each illustrated page to the previous one by finding the travel image — whether railroad, or boat — unique to both.  In the front of the book, the entire set of travel images are united in a long band showing the journey.

How did David come to take this trip?  In 1927, a group of Mennonites in southern Manitoba, disheartened by the province’s ruling against the presence of German schools in certain immigrant communities like theirs, left Canada for the remote Chaco area in Paraguay.  David’s parents were of these Mennonites.  This long trip left a deep impression on a young boy, and later David would recount his memories of this trip to his grandchildren, one of them, being the author and illustrator of this book, Miriam Rudolph.

My daughter and I enjoyed reading this colorful book together, and maybe, some day she can read it with her Oma in German!

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8. Books at Bedtime: My Hiroshima

Around New Year’s, there was a book table set up at our local Japanese Canadian cultural centre.  On it was a bilingual book I’d never seen before but had heard of called My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto (Picture Puffin Book, 1992).  After flipping through it, I quickly bought it with the intention of giving it to a friend whose mother was a Hiroshima survivor.  I hadn’t really intended to read it to my daughter, but as it was now in the house I decided one evening to give it a go.  My daughter is ten; she already knows about Hiroshima.  We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Japan when she was six — actually on her birthday — of which I wrote about in a piece called “Atomic Birthday” published in anthology of writing called Northern Lights.   Understandably, my daughter was none too pleased with my choice of book that night and she protested somewhat mildly, complaining that she would have nightmares,  but then we talked a bit and recalled together our long ago Hiroshima visit in some arresting detail. As far as bedtime reading adventures went, I didn’t consider this one a particular success.

Several weeks passed when all of a sudden, I got a phone call one morning.  It was my daughter, requesting that I bring My Hiroshima to school right away so she could do a spontaneous oral report on it for her class.  Never one to resist an opportunity to promote a good book, I hurried over to the school with my copy.   At lunch, my daughter came home and told me her report was a success.  I told them Japan started the war, and America ended it with the bomb, and then I read the book to them.   That was a succinct little report in and of itself!   Although this wasn’t the first time my daughter had been inspired to recommend one of our night time reads to our classroom, I was glad she had found this particular book worth sharing.   Of course, My Hiroshima deals with a tragic story — but it is written and illustrated by a survivor who remembers not only a terrible historical event but also the delights of her childhood in the city before its demise.

Making choices for bedtime reads can be a difficult business for parents, but sometimes the results can be surprisingly positive in ways you might not expect!  Do you  have any such experiences to relate?  Do tell.

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9. Books at Bedtime: Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young

This week-end marks one year on from the devastating  Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.  As the efforts continue to rebuild homes, schools – whole towns and their infrastructure, rebuilding lives without  loved ones, friends, colleagues will  take longer. The IBBY Children in Crisis Fund was one of the many organisations that responded to the crisis, delivering books and Bibliotherapy raining, and stories will continue to play their part in the healing process.

The impact of natural disasters can be hard to grasp for grown-ups let alone children, and reading sories together is one way of facilitating discussion.  Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa and stunningly illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel Books, 2009) is a good story to read together to talk with young children about what happened in Japan.  It is based on the true story of Hamaguchi Goryou (1820-1885), as related by writer Lafcadio Hearn in A Living God“, one of the stories in his book Gleanings in Buddha-Fields.

A wealthy landowner is so loved and respected by the people from the nearby village, that they call him Ojiisan, Grandfather.  One day, during the celebrations of the rice harvest, he is the only person who recognises that a tsunami is about to hit and realises that it is up to him to save everybody.  His grandson thinks he has gone mad when his grandfather sets the rice fields alight, but he has a special reason…

In this beautiful retelling by Kimiko Kajikawa, readers are very aware of the dangers involved but have the reassurance of a happy ending.   Ed Young’s powerful collages convey the power of nature and the many different emotions each stage of the story evokes.  And for older readers, Kimiko has excellent resouces and ideas on her website.

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10. Books at Bedtime: For the Love of a Cat

Based on a Buddhist folktale, For the Love of a Cat by Rosalind Wilson (1942–1992) and illustrated by Wen Hsu (Katha, 2010) is a thought-provoking story about acceptance and having the courage to do something you know deep down is right, even if it goes against the status quo. Don’t get me wrong, though – there’s nothing heavy-handed about the story or its retelling here: in fact, it would provide a very gentle, reassuring end to the day, as a bedtime readaloud.

An impoverished artist who lives with his beloved cat Tara arrives at his last meal, a small fish. Realising that it is not enough for both of them, he gives it to Tara then lies down to await death. Instead, some Buddhist monks come knocking at the door and give him the best comission he’s ever had: “a beautiful painting of the Holy One with all the creatures of nature around him.” There’s just one condition – “all the creatures of nature” does not include cats, since they had heard that the Buddha did not like them. The painter begins his work in the temple, but meanwhile Tara becomes very ill and he finds himself in a terrible quandary – to follow orders or his heart…

I was so happy to find this book in the pile I brought back recently from the office in San Francisco – I’ve been a big fan of illustrator Wen Hsu’s since we featured her in our Gallery and I interviewed her a couple of years ago. Her illustrations here are just as gorgeous as you’d expect, with her signature combination of bright colors and paper cut-outs. There’s a wonderful array of faces to take in, as well as plenty of animals for small listeners to find, and Tara the cat is just beautiful. As well as the book cover above, you can get an idea of the artwork from Wen’s photo of all the originals laid out here, on Wen’s blog.

And if the story sounds familiar, it is probably because you know The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth, which won the Newbery Medal in 1930. In that retelling of the story for older readers, the setting is Japan. Depending on the ages of your children, why not read them both; or read For the Love of a Cat now, with its vibrant Indian setting, and make a note to introduce them to Coatsworth’s beautifully written tale in a few years’ time?

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11. Books at Bedtime: Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged

February is Black History Month in Canada so I trundled off to the library to find some good books on the topic.  The librarian showed me a new book they had just received for their collection: Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki (Groundwood Books, 2010)  This book tells a little known story of a black woman, Viola Desmond, in 1946 who refused to move out of her seat on the main floor of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia to the balcony where, as the usher tells her, “your people have to sit.”   Viola, however, does not budge.  Eventually she is arrested by the police, put in jail over night, and fined twenty dollars for her resistance.   Clearly, Viola’s act of defiance  was in reaction to racist treatment, but the people of the time somehow could not articulate this second-class treatment of her as such.  Viola was jailed and fined, ostensibly, for not paying the higher ticket price for sitting on the main floor, even though she offered to pay the extra one cent in tax required for such a privilege.  When the black community of Nova Scotia rallied around Viola to appeal her conviction, the case was thrown out of court on a procedural technicality.  The battle was not won; however, the point was made.

When I read this book to my daughter, the moment the theatre usher says to Viola  “You people have to sit in the upstairs section,”  she sensed something was wrong, but had trouble articulating it.   Finally, she said “It’s racism, isn’t it?”  stumbling a little over the R-word.  She could hardly believe that Viola had to go to jail and be fined twenty dollars (which at the time would have been a significant amount to pay,) for not going upstairs to the balcony.   As obvious as the racist treatment was in the situation, the word ‘racism’ somehow just didn’t seem to come up in the text or in the story — it was like the white elephant in the room.  Racial segregation, did in fact, exist in Nova Scotia, but no one wanted to acknowledge it in this situation but Viola herself, by refusing to budge.  And that was what made her rather singular much like Rosa Parks in the U.S.

This is a story Canadians need to know about themselves.  I’m glad to have read it to my daughter whose eyes were opened to the history and experience of black Canadians in Nova Scotia.

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12. Books at Bedtime: Working for Freedom — The Story of Josiah Henson

In celebration of Black History Month, I have had a chance to read some fine children’s books like Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged, as well as participate in local events like Mondo Clarke! which has been showcasing the works of African Canadian writer, George Elliot Clarke.  It’s been a time of real discovery for me, and I have been enjoying every minute of it!  Today for Books at Bedtime, I’m doing another post on a childrens’ book about Black Canadian history.  Working for Freedom by Rona Arato ( Napoleon Publishing, 2008) is the story of Josiah Henson, a former slave, born in Maryland in about 1789.  Josiah’s family stays together on a Maryland plantation until Josiah is five.  When his father witnesses his wife being attacked by the white overseer, he tears him off of her and throws him to the ground.   For touching a white man, Josiah’s father is punished with a severe whipping of a hundred lashes and has his right ear cut off.  Thereafter, he is sold to a cotton plantation in Alabama.  This is the young Josiah’s introduction to the cruelty and injustice of his lot in life as a slave.  Josiah’s mother, however, imparts him with a gift that would carry him through all the difficult circumstances of his life — the gift of faith.   It is while under the rough ownership of Isaac Riley — a man Josiah describes as “vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment and immoral”  — that Josiah becomes a Christian and begins preaching to other slaves.  After many trials, Josiah eventually leaves the  heartless Riley and escapes to Canada, where he builds a new society for black refugees like himself in a community he helped found in southern Ontario called appropriately enough, Dawn.

Reading this book (based in part on Josiah Henson’s autobiography) to my daughter was an interesting experience.  She was completely fascinated and taken in by the story — but she was also horrified.  This book pulls no punches when describing the cruel and torturous lives of slaves in the southern U.S.   There are illustrations and pictures of slaves being beaten and in bondage.  Hearing Josiah’s story clearly left an impact — occasionally a very troubling one — on my daughter.  Despite this, however, she continued wanting to hear the story night after night.  I too, was engrossed in the tale.  Josiah Henson was a truly inspiring figure and is rightly celebrated as such; Working for Freedom was a book well worth discovering this month!

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13. Books at Bedtime: Suho’s White Horse: A Mongolian Legend

Suho’s White Horse: A Mongolian Legend is the retelling of one of the legends that explains the origins of Mongolia’s national musical instrument, the morin khuur, or horse hair fiddle, which always has a carved horse’s head at the top of its pegbox.

Suho, a young Mongolian shepherd boy, rescues and rears a white foal. A few years later he is persuaded to enter a horse-race with the governor’s daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize. With his beautiful white horse, of course Suho wins the race – but when the governor finds out that Suho is a shepherd he not only goes back on his word, but has his soldiers beat Suho up and steals the horse.

Suho manages to get home and is nursed back to health. Meanwhile, the white horse escapes. Incensed, the governor orders his men to catch the white horse – and if they can’t catch it, to kill it. The white horse does manage to return to Suho but is so badly injured that it dies. Suho is heartbroken but the horse comes to him in a dream and tells him to use different parts of his body to create a musical instrument – and so the morin khuur is born.

This retelling of Suho’s White Horse by Yuzo Otsuka, and translated by Richard McNamara and Peter Howlett (RIC Publications, 2006) is great for reading aloud, with plenty of detail. Both Older Brother and Little Brother became emotionally involved in the story very quickly, reacting to the different stages with outrage, horror and sadness. Hans Christian Andersen Award winner (1980) Suekichi Akaba‘s illustrations are beautiful, conveying the vastness of the steppe as well as the story’s emotive narrative.

And a real bonus with this edition is the accompanying CD that contains a musical retelling of the legend played on the morin khuur itself by “the horse-head fiddle’s finest player” Li Bo (scroll down this page to read an interview with him). We were all captivated by the haunting music and the boys had quite a deep discussion of which bit of music referred to which bit of the story.

I’m excited to have found this recording of Suho’s White Horse on You Tube with Lai Haslo playing the morin khuur and Zhang Lin on the Chinese dulcimer. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have – listen out for the horse galloping.

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14. Books at Bedtime: Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna

An absolutely gorgeous book, Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna (Magabala Books, 2010) makes for a perfect bedtime story – the story itself is short and to the point; the art-work is wonderful with vibrant colors and adorable depictions of the two eponymous animals; and the factual notes at the end are pitched just right for young listeners/readers. I learned a thing or two, too – did you know that a baby echidna is called a puggle?

The story has been handed down through generations of the “Kandiwal mob”, one of the tribes of the Wunambal people in the north-west of Western Australia, and the book’s author Cathy Goonack inherited it from her grandfather. She tells how “Long long ago in the Dreamtime”, naughty Echidna tried to steal Possum’s food: in the ensuing fight, Possum lost the fur from his tail and Echidna fell into ‘the spiky thorns of the pandanus leaf’. So the scaly-tailed possum, which is only found around Wunambal country, got its scaly tail, and the echidna was punished by Wandjina, the Great Spirit, with having to carry the heavy spikes around for ever, no longer able to climb trees but having to grub around for food.

The beautiful illustrations by Marlene, Myron and Katrina Goonack, with support and technical assistance from Janie Andrews, were painted on silk with outlines made using a gutta pen, creating an effective contrast between the colorful foliage and background and the animals. I have always had a soft spot for the improbable-looking echidna and I love the way he is drawn here both with and without his spines.

The simplicity of the story belies its depth of meaning, and with its size being just right for small people to get hold of, it’s just the kind of book that will be in demand again and again, both as a readaloud and for young children to read by themselves. Magabala Books have produced yet another little gem.

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15. Books at Bedtime: The Dragon Prince – A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale

Master story-teller Laurence Yep took his inspiration for his magical version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy-tale from a traditional Chinese tale with a Southern Chinese setting. His The Dragon Prince (HarperCollins, 1997) has some satisfying twists and turns in the narrative and an impressive dragon in the role parallel to the Beast: visually too, thanks to Kam Mak’s powerful illustrations. We just love the noble, enormous, golden dragon, and completely empathised with Beauty/Seven’s inherent trust in the beauty she finds in him, that goes deeper than the fear – even when the Dragon insists, “But you really should be afraid” – yes, Little Brother especially loved that line!

Seven is set apart from her older sisters from the start: while they work in the fields, she does beautiful embroidery, which is then sold at the market, thereby providing the family with the sustenance the rocky ground cannot. The symbolism of this carries the narrative through to its conclusion (it’s a fairy tale so it’s irrelevant to question the point of the other sister’s activities, farming land on which nothing will grow). Three is jealous of Seven – and never more so than when, instead of suffering a terrible fate after agreeing to marry a firece dragon in return for her father’s life, Seven arrives on a visit to her family on a ‘chair of gold and coral’ and with all her maids behind her, descending from the sky in a ‘glittering procession’.

Three therefore tricks Seven and takes her place, preparing the Dragon Prince for a change in his wife’s appearance by saying she’s been ill – which makes for an interesting take on Beauty and the Beast: the Prince “didn’t care. In that short time, Seven had come to mean everything to him, not for her beauty but for her kindness.”

So do they live happily ever after? Well, I highly recommend you get hold of this great story and find out for yourself, and enjoy some cultural nuances along the way. For example, one bit that made me chuckle and served to show the Dragon Prince’s state of mind as he searches deperately for Seven: he buys at a market “without bargaining”!

Gathering Book also featured The Dragon Prince earlier this year, as part of a wonderful series of in-depth posts about Chinese fairy-tales – in case you missed them, here are the other links; they’re definitely worth a read: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (which Little Brother read for our Reading the World Challenge in 2008) and Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China (which I have also featured as a Book at Bedtime in the past)…

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16. Books at Bedtime: Tales heard at Grandmother’s knee (1)

There is something special about grandparents sharing stories with their grandchildren, especially when those stories come from their own lives (though young children can be disconcerting in their definition of the olden days and their grandparents place in them…). Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting books that draw young children into that special bond through stories narrated by grandmothers from around the world.

Whereas many anthologies of traditional stories can be dipped into and individual stories extracted at random, I recommend several bedtimes in a row be spent immersed in Frances Carpenter’s Tales of a Korean Grandmother and Tales of a Chinese Grandmother (both published by Tuttle). Although subtitled as 30 and 32 Traditional Tales respectively, they are much more than that. The stories emerge from the daily lives of the Ling family in China and the Kim family in Korea as the two grandmothers tell their grandchildren stories arising out of events and traditions or objects around them. Black and white vignettes and full-page illustrations are scattered through the books, with Malthe Hasselriis as the named illustrator of Tales of a Chinese Grandmother.

In Korea, we join the Kim family and become friends especially with Ok Cha and her brother Yung Tu; in China we meet Ah Shung and his sister Yu Lang, and the rest of the Ling household. Both grandmothers are deeply loved and respected, and have a wealth of stories to tell and retell – and the time to tell them. Young readers/listeners will be just as interested in the children’s antics as in the stories themselves.

The books were first published some 70 years ago and have lost none of their appeal in the intervening years – indeed, much of their attraction to today’s audience, whether younger children sharing the stories as a readaloud or older children reading the book alone, must be the blend of historical detail combined with the magic and fantasy contained within the stories themselves. Through the device of telling stories within a narrative, today’s readers/listeners are more readily drawn into their cultural contexts and the warmth of the bond between the grandmother and her grandchildren is the thread which brings all these stories together.

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17. Books at Bedtime: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

As one of the books in our PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge (and I’ll be bringing you a full update on that later on in the week), Younger Brother and I have read together Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (Granta Books, 1990). My brother gave a first edition to my boys several years ago but this is the first time we’ve read it – and I see that it is now available in many editions, with a lovely array of book covers, which I can’t resist including here (and see this project book cover/splash page from Art Slug).

But back to the story. We both adored it. I was practically tied down at bedtimes and made to read on. For any child (or adult) who loves words and playing with language and ideas, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Haroun’s father, the Shah of Blah, has lost his story-telling Gift of the Gab because his wife has left him. Haroun, who has become a little jaded with his father’s focus on fiction himself, soon finds himself in possession of Iff, a Water Genie’s Disconnector and spinning into a spiral of adventures. He discovers that stories are physically real and that the balance of human happiness is being threatened because the menacing land of Chup, where it is always night, is poisoning the Sea of Stories, despite all the attempts to keep it clean by the happy land of Gup across the water, where it is always light…

Haroun meets a wonderful array of characters – as well as Iff, there is Butt, the oxymoronically magical mechanical hoopoe depicted on the book’s cover; Bagha and Goopy, two of the plentimaw fishes who swim in the sea (don’t you just love it?!), Mali the Head Floating Gardener, and many more – and of course, there are also the often shadowy baddies, led by the terrifying Khattam-Shud. Despite all the P2C2E, Processes Too Complicated To Explain (I told you you’d love it!), Haroun finds a way to help his new friends, and in so doing restores the balance of happiness to his own life.

Yes, this is definitely one of the most wonderful readalouds we’ve shared. The prose is like poetry – you almost chew the words. We relished the huge, unanswerable questions that the book explores – what is Reality? What is Story? Who is that character, that person… who am I? – as well as the allegories of light and darkness (which make this so relevant to an adult as well as a young audience), environmental responsibility and empathy. And we revelled in each little bit of wordplay, from character names to gleeful patter.

If your child enjoys stories of worlds within worlds, like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or the Harry Potter series, they will love Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

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18. Books at Bedtime: The Book that was Handed Down

I received a scrumptious parcel through the post this week – some gifts and goodies from Corinne and Aline’s time at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore. I’m going to unpack them slowly and with relish here on the blog so that you can enjoy them too.

First up is picture book The Book that was Handed Down, which won the inaugural Hedwig Ama Children’s Book Award, announced at the AFCC. Written by Yixian Quek, illustrated by Grace Duan Ying and designed by Goh Caili, it was published in Singapore by Straits Times Press in 2008. We can certainly be grateful to the Award for raising the profile of this extraordinary book.

On the surface it’s the simple story of a little girl Ping, our narrator, who is pretty disgusted about how she always has to have hand-me-downs… The book is no different: it used to belong to her brother, and certainly carries the imprint of its previous owner. But, of course, this is a book we’re talking about here – not clothes that are grown out of and forgotten. When Ming sees his sister with the book, he remembers how much he loved it and starts reading it aloud. Ping is then captivated in her turn, and together they share the adventures held between the book’s covers.

Complimenting the text perfectly are the illustrations, which cleverly blend the actual “Book that was Handed Down” with a depiction of the narrative. Ping is so serious and earnest and cross at the beginning, you can’t help feeling for her – but, as is so often the case, once she gets beyond superficial appearances, she finds her life is enriched both by the actual story contained within the book, and by the opportunity it affords for her to connect with her brother. The uncluttered effect of the strongly delineated illustrations also belies the number of details that will delight children as they make unspoken connections while listening to the story.

The simplicity of The Book that was Handed Down makes it immediately appealing; its complexity means that it will endure. Now I wonder whom I can hand it down to? I’ll just have to muss it up a bit first…

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19. Books at Bedtime: Azad’s Camel by Erika Pal

The image of little Azad and his camel curled up together fast asleep on the title page of Azad’s Camel by Erika Pal (Frances Lincoln 2009 (UK)/2010 (US)) certainly lends itself to a bedtime story.  The rather jaunty narrative, coupled with the visual impact of cartoon-like characters set against the ochres and browns of the desert landscape, carries young listeners through the story to its happy ending, rather like a fairy tale in which the wicked stepmother is outwitted and the characters we’ve been rooting for all live happily ever after. Except here, Azad is sold by his uncle to a rich sheikh who spots Azad’s handstands on a goalpost and decides he will make a good camel rider. Waking up after his first night in the desert, Azad asks for something to eat, only to be yelled at: “Here, you have to earn your breakfast!”  He is immediately put onto a camel and indeed, his balancing powers come in most useful. But Azad doesn’t like riding camels at full speed, even if he does win lots of races. And one night his camel tells him that he doesn’t like racing either… So the next day, they run in their race, they win it, and then they simply carry on going, on and on until no one chases them any more. They wake up after a cold night in the desert (and there’s some sweet help at hand here) and find themselves surrounded by Bedouin, who give Azad and his camel a loving welcome – they have “found a home at last”.

I don’t usually like to give away the whole story when I’m talking about books but it’s important here to understand that this special story will endear itself to young readers/listeners, despite some harsh realities that provide it with its backbone. As is fitting for the story’s targeted audience (4-8), the emphasis is on one little boy’s quest to find a happy home, and his achievement of that goal thanks to the assistance of a talking camel. However, the illustrations especially root the story in its contemporary setting – an airplane flies overhead, the young riders wear modern riding helmets, and the urban environment is clogged with traffic and highrise buildings. These provide the opening for later discussion with older children of the information given in the afterword: a succinct, hard-hitting outline of the exploitation of children in camel racing in the Gulf States of the Middle East, as well as some hopeful news of how attitudes are changing.

This may be a story in which winning is certainly not everything, but Erika Pal’s perfectly tuned story about Azad and his camel is itself a winner, whatever time of day you choose to read it.

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20. Books at Bedtime: Favorite Dog Stories by James Herriot

It’s back to school time and with all its attendant busyness, our family is considering (perhaps rather foolishly!) of getting a dog.   So lately, we have been researching dogs by consulting various books, looking at websites and generally asking our friends and neighbors for their advice.  One delightful book I discovered in my perusal at the library for dog books was James Herriot’s Favourite Dog Stories, illustrated by Lesley Holmes (McClelland and Stewart , 1995)  In this book, British veterinarian James Herriot regales the reader with stories of dogs he has treated in his countryside practice in Yorkshire.  There’s the story of Tricki Woo, the spoiled Pekingese  who lives with his rather ostentatious owner, Mrs. Pumphrey, or the moving story of Herman, the daschund who suffers from paralysis in his hindquarters owned by a disabled former miner and his wife, and Jake, the greyhound, the beloved companion of itinerant laborer, Roddy.   My daughter listens to these stories with a keen ear in the midst of her bed, covered in stuffed dogs (soon to be replaced by a real one, she readily hopes!)  I’m not sure how our search will go but reading Herriot’s warm stories has certainly  helped increase the anticipation and excitement for this future — gulp! — addition to our household.

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21. Books at Bedtime: Shakespeare’s Storybook

I’ve written a few posts about Shakespeare for PaperTigers and have been much enlightened on how the Bard’s work can be transmitted to children.  I was therefore quite happy to be presented with a copy of Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard by Patrick Ryan and James Mayhew (Barefoot Books, 2001) by my local university’s (University of Manitoba) Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture.  Patrick Ryan, co-author of this book, is this year’s Storyteller-in-Residence at the Centre.

Shakespeare’s Storybook tells the tales that were likely the precursors to the stories of his plays.  As is commonly known, Shakespeare did not ‘invent’ the stories of his plays — they often came from various sources which Shakespeare then ‘played’ with in order to create his own version of the story suitable for the stage.

I launched into a reading of Shakespeare’s Storybook as soon as I got it, and played the CD of the first story “The Devil’s Bet”  to my daughter.  She was immediately hooked.  And why shouldn’t she be?  The first story — the precursor to The Taming of the Shrew — was about a nasty girl named Nora who through an encounter with a gentle but spirited husband and through her own wits, manages to reform herself and rid her household of the Nicky Nicky Nye, a pestilent water devil.   Although my daughter condemned Nora’s nastiness, she did perceive rather sagely that the husband, Jamie, was effectively ‘training’ Nora to be a better woman.  Nothing like a wayward character to get a child interested in a story, that’s for sure!

Equally compelling were some of the other stories like “Ashboy” (Hamlet) and “The Hill of Roses” (Romeo and Juliet.)   My daughter, whose first Shakespeare play was Twelfth Night, was a little disappointed that the story behind that play wasn’t in the book, but she did enjoy the others.  We had an entertaining few bedtime nights of listening to the CDs and going through the book together.  If you enjoy Shakespeare, I’d certainly recommend this book  as an engaging introduction to the master playwright’s work.

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22. Books at Bedtime: When the Cherry Blossoms Fell

Lately for bedtime reading, I have been reading more chapter books to my daughter.  This month we started on a book called When the Cherry Blossoms Fell by Jennifer Maruno (Napoleon and Company, 2009).  The story begins on the eve of soon-to-be nine-year-old Michiko’s birthday.  It is March 1942 in Vancouver, and Michiko awaits the arrival of her father from a business trip — he works as a candy salesman for The Imperial Confectionary Company of Canada — but instead of his return, Michiko’s mother Eiko gets an alarming phone call.  Michiko’s father has been put in jail!

With this vivid opening, the story of Michiko’s family’s trials through the events of 1942 that affected thousands of Japanese Canadians on the west coast begins.  Soon Michiko and her family will have to move, forcibly relocated to the interior of British Columbia.  Slowly it dawns on Michiko, despite her family’s best attempts to shield her, what this event signifies for her as a Canadian of Japanese descent whose country is at war with Japan.

Although my daughter is aware of her cultural background, I don’t generally foist books on her about Japanese Canadian history or culture without her first indicating interest.  This is especially true now that we are entering the realm of chapter books which require a longer commitment of time.  In the case of When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, when I presented it to her, she said rather astutely “Read what it says on the back.”  After hearing the crib on the back page, she felt it was worth the investment of our time at night together reading this book.  And so we began reading When the Cherry Blossoms Fell together.  My daughter is certainly figuring out how to ‘read’ a book in more ways than one these days!

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23. Books at Bedtime: On the Tip of a Pin was…

On the Tip of a Pin was... by Geeta Dharmarajan, illustrated by Ludmilla Chakrabarty (Katha, 2009)On the Tip of a Pin was… by Geeta Dharmarajan (founder and executive director of non-profit organisation Katha) and illustrated by Ludmilla Chakrabarty (Katha, 2009)… what an intriguing, zany title, and an intriguing, zany cover. And indeed, what a book. We ABSOLUTELY LOVE it (And I wish I had scope on this blog to show that via the actual print on the page, like the book does!)!! The story is so exuberant and silly and yet conveys a depth of meaning so profound that readers of all ages will enjoy it – and it certainly becomes a heads-together, collaborative bedtime readaloud. The illustrations seem to spill out of the text in a profusion of color and the various contortions of Worm’s twisting, digging body. Yes, this story revolves around a worm. If you’d asked me before picking up On the Tip of a Pin was… whether I liked stories about worms, I would probably have said that, although not my reading of choice, I would suffer them for the sake of my two boys: but now, well, if all worm stories can be this hilarious and thought-provoking, I’m converted.

In brief, the story stars a long, troublesome, zzzooooooommmming worm, who is considered the bane of the the lives of the people, including 20 children, and the lion, pig, cow and goat who all live on the tip of a pin in the town of Pintipur – until, that is, the worm shows them how to explore the world and indeed space through the wormholes she makes. Worm doesn’t change by the end of the story, despite the children’s best efforts, but their attitudes do. Plenty of more-than-satisfying nonsensical twists lead this tail, no I mean tale, from beginning to end – and then, just when you think you’ve come to the end of the ride, you turn the page and discover there’s more to wormholes than you realised. Budding physicists may already be aware that wormholes are “actually like a ‘shortcut’ through space and time.” Wow! So then you have to read the story all over again, adding that extra layer to the narrative. Wonderful!

Some aspects of this unique book that we love:

~ The way the book opens and the pages are turned from bottom to top.
~ The writing – tiny letters for whispers, squiggle and swirls, expressive fonts etc.
~ Lots of onomatopeia
~ …and wordplay – like when the worm comes back after days away: “Zooooooomeraannng!”
~ Worm seeming to weave her way through the pages.
~ Mind-spinning, nonsensical notions like “the longest lake in the world in the middle of the town that was on the tip of a pin.”
~The visual jokes
~The contrast between full-color pages and plain white backgrounds.
~ The unspecified but definite Indian setting.

Read a full review on the main PaperTigers website as part of our current focus on India, and take a look at these posts from Saffron Tree and Bolo Kids – they loved it too.

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24. Books at Bedtime: Journey to the River Sea

Just a few weeks ago, I did a short post on the recently deceased children’s writer Eva Ibbotson.  I picked up a few of her books at my local library, and became instantly engrossed in one of them, so much so, that it became my bedtime read, rather than my daughter’s!  That book was Journey to the River Sea (Macmillan, 2001).  Set a hundred years ago near the turn of the century, the story features a young orphaned girl, Maia, who is sent on a journey from England to distant relatives, the Carters.  The  Carters live on a rubber plantation on the banks of the Amazon river near the city of Manaus.  Maia is accompanied by a governess, Miss Minton, who must not only educate Maia, but the twin daughters of the Carters, Beatrice and Gwendolyn.

Maia is intrigued by the adventure that lies ahead of her.  She is fascinated in particular by the Amazon River and is eager to experience this new part of world.  She and Miss Minton board the RMS Cardinal and make the journey across the ocean to South America.  While on board, Maia befriends a young boy actor named Clovis, who has been ‘adopted’ by the Goodleys.  The Goodley’s run a theatre troupe and plan to stage Little Lord Fauntleroy at the Manaus Theatre with Clovis as the lead.  Maia promises Clovis that she will do her best to meet up with him once they arrive at the city.

Now, rather then give you any more of the story, I insist you get out the book.  Suffice it to say, the Carters are not quite the family Maia expects and she has many more adventures once she arrives at their house.  I found Journey to the River Sea to be a riveting and captivating read.  The characters are fully developed and dynamic; the jungle and plantation setting marvelously evoked, and the unfolding of the story’s event evenly paced.  I kept thinking to myself what a marvelous movie this would make, but of course, as a story in a book, it is also quite fine as it is.  If you are reading chapter books to your children, I’d certainly recommend this one to keep both mother and child entertained.  Or, as in my case, simply  ‘mother’ entertained!

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25. Books at Bedtime: The books of Sheldon Oberman

This past spring, I participated as a mentor in our local writers guild’s Sheldon Oberman Emerging Writers Mentor Program.  The program was named after Sheldon Oberman, a Winnipeg writer who is well known for his childrens’ books.  Oberman died in 2004 but his legacy lives on in the mentorship program and his wonderful childrens’ books, a few of which I’ll feature in this post.  Although my encounter with Sheldon Oberman was primarily through the legacy of the  mentorship program, my children were familiar with his books, having encountered them at their school.

The White Stone in the Castle Wall illustrated by Les Tait (Tundra Books, 1995) is the story of a poor little boy named John Tommy Fiddich, who with his white stone, considers himself “sometimes lucky, sometimes unlucky.”  Set at turn-of-the-century Toronto, the book is also about the building of one of the city’s most famous landmarks — Casa Loma — and its eccentric owner, Sir Henry Pellat.

The Always Prayer Shawl illustrated by Ted Lewin (Boyds Mills Press, 1994) is about a Jewish boy named Adam.  When Adam is a boy (and it is a time when eggs were got from chickens, heat from chopped wood, and rides in wagons pulled by horses), he receives a special gift from his grandfather — a prayer shawl.  His grandfather, a rabbi, tells him that although “some things change, some don’t.”  He tells him that one of the things that will not change is his name, Adam, and he gives Adam a prayer shawl.  Adam carries that prayer shawl with him all through his long life until many decades later he is able to give it to his grandson, Adam, when he is an old man.

TV Sal and The Game Show from Outer Space illustrated by Craig Terlson (Red Deer College Press, 1993) is about a girl sucked into a TV by TV station aliens.  This delightful story about TV addiction pokes fun at both parent and child.  I especially relate to Sal’s Mom who suggests to her TV watching daughter, “Would you like to do something different, dear?  Come out with us to look at the fog.”   I’m always nagging my children to get outside more.  It is while Sal’s family is out for a walk that Sal finds herself in that alien TV world and can’t get herself out.

Sheldon Oberman’s books are a delight and pleasure to read.  Hope you can find copies in your bookstore and library!

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