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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Tigers Bookshelf, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 73
1. Nadine C. Fabbi on picture books to introduce “the North, the Inuit and Nunavut”

In our current issue of PaperTigers, which focuses on Canadian Aboriginal Children’s Literature, we feature the reprint of an article by Nadine C. Fabbi, Associate Director of the Canadian Studies Center in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, in which she has put together a set of picture books to introduce children to Inuit culture and Northern/Nunavut history:

Elementary school teachers and librarians can successfully introduce children to Inuit culture and Northern/Nunavut history by having them read the ten selected books in this article and then enhancing these stories with additional curriculum and lesson plans. Children’s literature from the North is relatively recent with all but one of the suggested books being published in the 1990s or since 2000. All of the books are excellent in terms of quality (several are awards winners) and engaging for the young reader with beautiful illustrations. Each book also serves as an introduction to Inuit mythology, the history of the Northwest Passage and missionary schools, the importance of the inukshuk, and the vital place of the polar bear in Inuit culture. The entire “selection” makes for an excellent library of the Canadian North for children.

You can read the whole article here. The set includes our current selection for The Tiger’s Bookshelf, Arctic Stories by Michael Kusugak and illustrated by Vladyana Langer Krykorka (Annick, 1998); and I was particularly struck by what Nadine writes about the importance of the polar bear in Inuit culture:

The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale by Lydia Dabcovich (Sandpiper, 1997)Another key part of Inuit life is the role of the polar bear both for survival and in terms of the special attributes given to the animal. Children love to learn about animals and the polar bear is one of the most interesting animals, since it is unique to Northern cultures, to study. Polar bears are the largest of all bears – males can weigh up to 1,600 pounds – but cubs only weigh 1 to 2 pounds or less than that of a human baby. Teaching about the polar bear is also a good way to introduce children to the effects of global warming. The polar bear is one of the most threatened of all species today due to the sensitive northern environment and the melting of the ice floes. Today’s polar bears are a full 15% lighter in weight than they were 20 years ago. There are two beautifully written books that give a wonderful sense of the importance of the polar bear to the Inuit people: The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale (Sandpiper, 1997) by Lydia Dabcovich and The Polar Bear’s Gift (Red Deer Press, 2000) by Jeanne Bushey.

In The Polar Bear Son an elderly Inuk woman finds and raises a polar bear cub who becomes a close companion. When the bear matures he hunts and brings her food but it doesn’t take long for the men of the village to take a hunter’s interest in the bear. To protect her “son,” the woman chases the bear away but every so often will stand on the edge of the village and clap for him to come back and visit her. This is an incredibly touching story, retold from a popular oral tale, and beautifully illustrated by the author. It tells of the sensitive relationship between animal

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2. New PaperTigers Book Reviews

Continuing with our current December/January bimonthly theme of Respect for Religious Diversity, we have added two new book reviews:

The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix (Holiday House, 2009)The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix (Holiday House, 2009);

Let There Be Peace: Prayers from Around the World selected by Jeremy Brooks, illustrated by Jude Daly (Frances Lincoln, 2009)and Let There be Peace: Prayers from Around the World, selected by Jeremy Brooks and illustrated by Jude Daly (Frances Lincoln, 2009), which is also our January Book of the Month.

Both of these are superb books and would be perfect for sharing with children as part of the Social Justice Challenge, whose theme of Religious Freedom for this month happens to coincide with our own – I’ll be posting properly about this demanding and potentially hugely rewarding reading challenge soon…

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3. Books at Bedtime: Cora Cooks Pancit

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant (Shen's Books, 2009)For a lively, happy bedtime story, look no further than Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore and illustrated by Kristi Valiant (Shen’s Books, 2009). Cora has always had to watch her older brother and sisters helping with the “grown-up jobs” in the kitchen but she’s certainly been taking it all in (well, almost!). And when one day she is alone in the kitchen with her mother, her dreams come true! First she gets to choose pancit for that day’s evening meal – and then she gets to really help, as opposed to just licking spoons… Later, with the family gathered round the table to eat, comes Cora’s moment of reckoning:

“Did she do everything right? Would they like it? Would Mama tell about the accident with the noodles?”

Young listeners will be just as anxious as Cora to find out – and the gorgeous illustration on the next page with a delighted Cora standing on her chair, holding the apron she’s still wearing, says it all.

There is so much love wrapped up in the tone of the writing and the glow of the illustrations (both in terms of the use of light and the expressive faces of the characters) that little ones will fall asleep basking in its warmth – and they’ll also have enjoyed a chuckle at the antics of the family dog, whose pile of soft toys seems to get bigger and bigger as the story progresses.

But as well as being a great bedtime story, Cora Cooks Pancit is likely to find its way into the kitchen so that children can use the recipe provided to make pancit themselves (with the help of an adult, of course: this is indeed “proper” cooking). Unsurprisingly, Jama Rattigan has a wonderful post about the book, including several illustration spreads – and thanks to Jama, I have also discovered Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore’s mouth-watering blog Health-full. The book has obviously touched a chord with pancit-lovers of all ages – I enjoyed reading this, this and this.

Also, with our current focus on the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora continuing until the end of the month, head on over to the PaperTigers website for a full review of Cora Cooks Pancit, as well as an interview with Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore by Tarie Sabido.

And if you have enjoyed reading Cora Cooks Pancit or other similarly themed books with your children, do tell us about it!

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4. Worldly Wise…

One way to get closer to a country’s culture is to explore its proverbs and idiom. Being fans already of illustrator Axel Scheffler, we couldn’t resist his Proverbs from Far and Wide (Macmillan, 2001) when I came across it recently.

Scheffler depicts facial expressions with a cartoonist’s eloquence, whether on humans or other animals, and he really comes into his own here in conveying the meaning of each proverb through its accompanying vignette. The people are all shown wearing the traditional costumes of the proverb’s country of origin, which contributes to the global feel of the book; and the universality of humankind is communicated by the gathering of the proverbs into categories like “Friend or Foe?”, “What Happens Next?” or “That’s Not Fair”. Some of the gems included are:

Those who have one foot in the canoe and one in the boat are going to fall in the river - Tuscarora

A hasty man drinks tea with his fork - India

If I peddle salt, it rains; if I peddle flour, the wind blows - Japan

Trust in God, but tie your camel. - Persia

You cannot find a striped squirrel in every fence pole - North America

All in all, this is delightful book for introducing small - and not so small - children to some great expressions from different cultures… And it has got me looking around to see what other similar books there are out there for children. Here are a couple I’ve spotted and would love to know more about - if you know them, do tell us about them:

Tigers, Frogs and Rice Cakes: A Book of Korean Proverbs by Daniel D. Holt, illustrated by Soma Han (Shen’s Books, 1999);

Mi primer libro di dichos / My First Book of Proverbs by Ralfka Gonzales and Ana Ruiz (Children’s Book Press, 1995)

I’ve also come across Many Ideas Open the Way: A Collection of Hmong Proverbs by Randy Snook - it’s out of print now but there are some fun images here, although you don’t get to see the original Hmong as you would in the book…

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5. Poetry Friday: Seeing Emily

Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong is an unusual young adult book because it is written entirely in verse.  Following the life of Emily Wu, a sixteen year old Chinese American living in Richmond, Virginia, the book is set out in poetic episodes of first person narrative.  It begins in the Chinese restaurant of Emily’s parents where she helps out part-time.  The first section titled “Golden Palace” begins with a poem called “Flirting.”  It is clear from this opening that Emily is embarking on a journey of adolescent awakening.  However, it is not just a sexual awakening that Emily experiences but also an awakening to her identity as an Asian American woman.  Typically, feelings of shame — towards her parents’ eating habits, for example — mingle with her protective affection for them.  Similarly, her feelings of ambivalence towards a talented Chinese school mate, Alex Huang, are in direct opposition to the near adulation of  her first boyfriend, Nick, who, she realizes later, cannot see beyond her Asian features to the girl inside.

Emily is also an artist.  Throughout the book, Emily works first on drawings, and then on a mural project for her school.  She chooses a tiger to paint for the mural and uses it as a metaphor for things going on in her personal life:

As I started another tiger sketch
I thought of Nick
and felt the stirrings of heat within,
the quickening of my heartbeat
rhythmic and insistent
as the pounding of drums
echoing through the foliage of
the tiger’s jungle home.

The gift of perceiving reality through metaphor is the poet’s and that is why poetry is a suitable medium for Wong’s characterization of Emily.  The poetic narrative works here to good effect in a way that would appeal to a young adult reader.

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children.

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6. Books at Bedtime: The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice

Last month’s PaperTigers issue featured illustrator Allen Say.  I reviewed one of his picture books Music for Alice for a previous post; this time I would like to take a look at a book of his aimed for a young adult audience, The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice.  In this autobiographical novel, a Japanese boy of thirteen, Kiyoi, decides to apprentice himself to a master cartoonist in Tokyo named Noro Shimpei.  The story is set in post-war Japan when life was difficult, especially for aspiring artists.  Noro Shimpei is an eccentric but generous master; he takes on not only Kiyoi but Tokida, a street-savvy boy from Osaka who has ran away from home to study with him.  The two boys make an odd pair — Kiyoi from a genteel family, Tokida from a rough-and-tumble one — learning from a master who regularly moves studios and has odd teaching techniques.

The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice is a coming-of-age story.  Kiyoi struggles with his secret desire to be an artist — an occupation he knows his family will not approve of, especially his guardian grandmother who is very conscious of the family’s class and status.  Kiyoi also begins to become aware of his sexuality.  When he goes for the first time to a life drawing class featuring a nude model, he remarks wryly:  No matter what Tokida said, staring at a grown, naked woman on a platform wasn’t natural.  It was exciting.  I began to think perhaps I should become a painter so I could have models in my studio.  The thought made my ears hot.

It’s Kiyoi’s tone-of-voice that I particularly liked in this novel.  Mature and reflective, and at the same time playfully aware of a younger, wonder-filled self, Kiyoi is a compelling narrator of his circumstances.  Although Allen Say may be better known as an illustrator, I think he is a fine writer as well.   The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice is a very good read.

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7. Storytime: Photographs in the Mud

This month marks 70 years since the outbreak of the Second World War. The First World War had been described as the war to end all wars - yet just over thirty years later, Hitler’s invasion of Poland triggered a new conflict that would go on to engulf the whole world. Older Brother came home from his first day back at school yesterday and announced that their topic for this term is to be the Second World War. I am relieved that the teaching of history has moved on since I was at school, when all we seemed to do was draw diagrams of battle lines and rote learn significant dates. Now, I am sure, he will learn about these events but also about the cost to human life - and, I hope, he will emerge with an inkling of the horrors of war.

A superb picture book which both provides historical context and reminds us of the human tragedy which accompanies the macchinations of war is Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever (Fremantle Press, 2005). We follow the stories of two soldiers, one Australian, the other Japanese, as they set off for the front in Papua New Guinea. Jack leaves behind a pregnant wife; and Hoshi, his wife and small daughter. Each carries photographs to remind them of home - and the passing of time is emphasised through the illustrations as these photographs change.
There are many casualties on both sides before Jack and Hoshi encounter one another. Both fatally wounded, they turn to the comfort of the photographs that are their only connection with home - and then share them with each other. When they are found the next day, a soldier retrieves the photographs from the mud and tries to separate them but they are stuck together.

Photographs in the Mud is a moving tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War and serves as a sensitive reminder of the human cost, not just for the soldiers themselves but for those left waiting in vain for the return of their loved ones.

The story was inspired by a trip Dianne Wolfer made along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, during which she heard many stories about the fighting there during the Second World War. There are photos from this trip on her website, as well as teachers’ notes to accompany the book.

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8. Poetry Friday: The Young Inferno

Having immersed myself in Dante at university, and while living in Italy after that, I was intrigued by the notion of John Agard’s The Young Inferno (Frances Lincoln, 2008)… How could it be possible to bring a fourteenth century work of poetry, no matter how seminal, to a young, English-speaking audience, when most of them would never have heard of him? Well, Agard has managed to bring this up-to-date parallel to Dante’s Hell very much alive and, judging by Little Brother’s reaction, they will then want to know about the “Old Inferno” too. The poem is ambitious, exciting and relevant - an exhilarating journey!

There are thirteen cantos of varying lengths, divided into tercets plus a single, climactic line at the end. The young narrator’s guide is Aesop, who leads him through the circles of hell, giving introduction and explanations, and telling a couple of his own fables along the way. Agard’s version of Hell contains a mix of modern and ancient inhabitants - some of whom may be a little surprising at first, like Einstein. And I love the ending, where the boy emerges through the floor of a library, of all places, to come face to face with his Beatrice…

Satoshi Kitamura’s black and white illustrations are, as ever, superb - atmospheric, grotesque, witty - they complement Agard’s verse perfectly. My boys have been intrigued and a bit scared by the whole book and Little Brother (definitely put off Mammon!) has learned a lot about urban culture… we were at our Town Feast last week-end and he stood outside the door announcing that he was going to be a bouncer! It’s no surprise that The Young Inferno won
this year’s UK-based Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Award; or that is is being adapted for the stage (I’ll be watching its progress with interest…).

Here’s a taster from the ninth and final circle of hell:

‘…History knows me as Attila the Hun
Who ravaged countless cities in the Blakans.
But deep down, I’m still a family man…’

‘That’s enough,’ my teacher said to Attila.
‘Don’t burden the boy with your excuses.
I know we can’t all be Nelson Mandela.

But whatever your race, your shape or your -ism,
I’ve got news for warmongers and tyrants:
Hell’s Ninth Circle will be your five-star prison.”

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Anastasia Suen over at Picture Book of the Day

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9. Books at Bedtime: The Park Bench

A beautiful read at any time of day, but particularly ideal as a gentle bedtime read and exploration, The Park Bench by wife-and-husband team Fumiko Takeshita and illustrator Mamoru Suzuki (Kane/Miller, 1988) is a gem. Taking the simple focus of a park bench sitting silently under a tree, the finely honed narrative takes readers through the day from dark, early morning to dark, starry night. I have to say it sits silently because there is a magical expectation throughout that if the bench wanted to, it could actually speak. And the stories it could tell, of old people through to tiny babies, not to mention birds and animals! We are given a glimpse of some of them through the gorgeous illustrations, which expand on the simple words. For example,

Friends meet at the park.
The two mothers begin to chat.
They talk on and on.
Chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, until its time to eat.

All the while the white bench listens quietly.

…While the mothers are busy chatting (and there’s a situation many young readers will empathise with!), their two toddler children are keeping themselves occupied, playing on the bench; the jolly park worker is mowing the grass backwards and forwards behind them; and a kitten arrives unnoticed and settles down under the bench. All these narrative threads can be followed in the cartoon sequence on the facing page, though there is no mention of them in the text. Two double-page illustrations of the park offer hundreds of details, as well as scope for comparison, both with each other and with the characters who surround the park bench more directly. The most important of these is the afore-mentioned park worker, who cares for the bench and talks to it - through him, young readers’ affinity with the actual bench is caught and held, as they explore, and perhaps speculate on, the myriad of different lives passing through the park.

The Park Bench is published as a bilingual book, in its original Japanese and English. I can’t read Japanese and read this review from School Library Journal with interest. It made me wish, as ever, that I could have a handle on the original - but I actually like the simplicity of the English (including the fact that the narrative is in the present tense, which persumably does reflect the Japanese) and had already noted the use of very English onomatopeia in Ruth A. Kanagy’s translation…

All in all, I would say that this charming book looks set to have enduring appeal on both sides of the Pacific… and every time it is opened, some new detail will pop out - oh, yes, there’s another one!

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10. Lipograms for the Little Ones

A lipogram is a kind of constrained writing in which a particular letter, or groups of letters, are missing.  Imagine writing a paragraph, for example, excluding the letter ‘e.’   It’s tougher than you think, especially, if you decide to omit vowels — the linguistic glue, as it were — between the consonants.  In A Voweller’s Bestiary, author JonArno Lawson takes a unique stab at the lipogrammatic genre.  He has created an alphabet book of animals based on vowel combinations, rather than on the usual initial letter form.  The lipogram part comes in when he excludes certain vowels from each set.  Sound complicated?  Well, what’s a constraint (and possible consternation!) for the poet in terms of rules can be a delight to the ear and eye of the reader.  And that is how a Voweller’s Bestiary was received by my son, listening to the contorted word music of “Ants and Aardvarks” or “Jaguar, Tarantula, Tangalunga” or “Tortoise, Porpoise, Crocodile.”  Reading poetry can attune your child to the sounds of language and help them appreciate the elasticity of words.

Another poetry book I tried out on my younger child was Rascally Rhymes by Jordan Troutt, illustrated by Sarah Preston-Bloor.  This book, also an alphabet one, takes names and makes ‘rascally rhymes’ with them.  There’s Ian who eats “worms and toads/and rocks and snails/a la mode.” or Gillian who “stomps like a gorillian.”  After we finished reading this book, my daughter and I went through all the names and tried to see if we knew anyone with the same name.  That was fun!  Palimpsest Press, who publishes this book, is now offering a contest on their blog for children to makes rhymes.  Reading this book definitely had an effect on my daughter.  While sorting laundry together the other night, she held up a sock and said “Mom, this sock doesn’t have a rhyme!”

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11. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Buy Books for the Holidays

Sometimes the act of shopping for holiday gifts is more stressful than any act of love should ever be, which is why the Buy Books for the Holidays campaign begun by a group of blogging bibliophiles is so very heartening.

I worked in a bookstore for years and the mood there during the holiday season was truly wonderful. When people buy books as gifts, they consider the recipient in a way that doesn’t happen when they buy the latest electronic gizmo or luxurious status symbol.

Books are a way to show people you love that you have entered their hearts and minds and souls to find what will interest them, touch them, delight and enthrall them–for years perhaps, not only for the passing moment. Perhaps the most effective way of doing this is to give them children’s books–a beautiful new edition of a book that your husband loved when he was a child, an out-of-print book that your mother read and reread as a girl, the anthology of verse that guided the vocation of the poet in your life, a copy of Eloise for your favorite fashionista friend…

Think about it–what better gifts to give than children’s books to everyone you love?

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12. Books at Bedtime: Nim and the War Effort

In her recent interview with PaperTigers, Deborah Ellis talked about the background to her most recent book, Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children. This is a very thought-provoking book for children aged 9+ about the effects on the children left behind of having parents fighting overseas. In a way, these are children whose day-to-day existence is not outwardly affected by conflict and yet on whose lives the consequences of war can and often do have a profound effect.

A book I have read again recently to my children is Milly Lee’s Nim and the War Effort, illustrated by Yangsook Choi (Sunburst/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002). Set in San Francisco during the Second World War, it tells the story of Nim, a little girl who is intent on beating her arch enemy, Garland Stephenson, an unprincipled bully, from winning the school drive to collect old newspapers “for the war effort”. She strikes lucky when she is offered a garage piled high with bundles of newspapers and resourcefully calls the police to help her to get them to the school in time…

Nim’s rather strict upbringing is ostensibly unaffected by the fact that the Second World War is going on – but it pervades her life nevertheless. Her grandfather wears a lapel pin of crossed American and Chinese flags; and she is fully aware of what certain symbols around her mean – like a gold star on a white background in a front window, to show that “the family who lived there had lost someone in the war”. At the same time, their deeper significance is perhaps lost on her. She is too young to understand that the lapel pin is there to protect her family from the prejudice against Americans of Japanese ethnicity at that time; nor what the emotional impact of losing a loved one in a war overseas actually means. However, it is also these details that give the story a depth and a historical validity: and indeed, in an interview with PaperTigers, Milly Lee told us that, apart from slightly changing her rival’s name, this is a true story. Her grandfather received several phone-calls telling him that his grand-daughter was in the back of a police car, which must have caused more than a little concern, but for Milly:

Oh yes, the ride in the police paddy wagon was wonderful, exhilarating, jubilant, a thrill, and probably the best ride I’ve ever had - and I’ve been on many different kinds of rides since then: yak, elephant, dogsled, tundra-buggy, rafts, and camel!

I can just imagine! And I particularly like the ending, where Grandfather reminds Nim to “Be gracious in your moment of triumph” – and she places her last newspaper on Garland’s stack then “looked over her shoulder and flashed Grandfather an impish grin” – feisty!

This is a beautifully crafted story – and a beautifully illustrated one – which not only leaves young listeners cheering that Nim won the day but gives much pause for thought about racial prejudice and bullying.

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13. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: A New Incarnation

We have deeply enjoyed hosting the Tiger’s Choice, the PaperTigers’ online bookgroup, over the past year–it introduced us to a number of interesting books, a group of authors whom we hadn’t read before, and a collection of new friends from around the globe who joined in our discussions.

Nancy Farmer, Uma Krishnaswami, Ken Mochizuki, Minfong Ho, Jane Vejjajiva, Julia Alvarez, John Boyne,  Katia Novet Saint-Lot are all authors whom we plan to return to again and again for reading that expands our cultural horizons. As their body of work increases, the Tiger’s Bookshelf will be there–to read, to praise, to cheer them on.

We will however be doing this in another form rather than through the Tiger’s Choice. As exciting and rewarding as it has been to explore books through this avenue, we have new plans for the Tiger’s Bookshelf that do not include our bookgroup. We thank all of you who have read this portion of our blog, and who have joined in the discussions, and hope that you will continue to be part of the ongoing conversation that will take place on the PaperTigers Blog, and through the Tiger’s Bookshelf!

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14. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: The Pleasure of Giving a Book

Yesterday I received a message of thanks from a friend, whose two-month-old son offered me the pleasure of giving him his very first book. “He didn’t take his eyes off it the whole time I was reading it to him,” his father announced, with pardonable pride– and I felt an immense happiness, knowing that he chose to read it to his son right away, rather than waiting until “he was old enough.”

The book my friend read to his child is not a typical first book for a baby, but it has bright, vibrant, full-page illustrations and short, bouncy verses which make it a first cousin to Mother Goose, that venerable choice for an infant’s introduction to the world of books. It’s the color,the music and cadence of the words, and the closeness and reassurance of being held that makes the experience of reading be a special time for a very new person who can’t yet speak for himself. And as far as understanding goes, who really knows how much–or how little– an infant can comprehend?

Snuggling with your father, hearing his voice directed especially toward you, seeing the glow of colors and the excitement of new shapes as the pages turn, what could be better than that? Nothing, except perhaps for the delight of choosing a book that can help this experience be as good as it can   be–and then hearing about it later from a happy parent.

Reading aloud to children is an act that needs all the encouragement it can get. We may not all be lucky enough to have children we can read to, but we can all give books so that other people can do this–and as early in a child’s life as is possible. When we give books, we give love.

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15. Books at Bedtime: Christmas around the World

We have just broken up from school for the holidays and our thoughts are turned towards Christmas next week. As well as reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together for the first time, which we all greatly enjoyed, we have been reading other stories with a Christmas setting, including two multicultural versions of the Nativity story, the birth of Jesus.

The first is The Road to Bethlehem: A Nativity Story from Ethiopia told by Elizabeth Laird (Collins, 1987). Elizabeth Laird has spent a lot of time in Ethiopia gathering stories from the oral tradition and her writing here certainly asks to be read aloud - not only is the story told simply with plenty of direct speech to bring it alive, but for those children who are familiar with the story from their own traditions, there is likely to be a good deal of intrigued discussion in which the differences are explored, including new characters and miracles.

The illustrations too are full of extra fascinating details - their vibrancy and appeal to young listeners/readers make it hard to take on board that they are taken from 200-year-old Ethiopian manuscripts in the British Library! Laird has added fascinating notes to each picture, which can be dipped into alongside reading the text - one Older Brother was particulary struck by was an episode on the Flight into Egypt showing arrowheads sticking out of the road to stop them: “but Mary took the hand of her Child, and walked through unharmed.”

The second book is one I blogged about last year but didn’t actually manage to share with my boys - however, we have now read together Ian Wallace’s beautifully illustrated version of The Huron Carol (Groundwood, 2006), based on an English translation of the Christmas carol written by a French Jesuit missionary, Father Jean de Brébeuf, for the Huron people in the 1600s. After reading through the first verse together line by line with its double-page-spread illustration, showing the people, landscapes and fauna of its Canadian roots, we have really enjoyed singing the whole carol from the music and words given at the end - in the original Huron, in French and in English. As we have pored over the familiar characters of the story in an unfamilar setting, and the baby Jesus wrapped in fur, surrounded by wolves and beavers, we have explored the reasons that the carol came into being.

We have all enjoyed sharing these books together - and any misgivings I might have had about confusing them with the different versions of what is to them a familiar story have been allayed - on the contrary, I believe their experience of the Christmas story has been enriched by them.

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16. Books at Bedtime: flickers of hope

Michael Morpurgo is one of the greats in contemporary British children’s literature - he is a master craftsman of storytelling who weaves fiction into such convincing historical contexts that you have to pinch yourself to remember the characters came out of his imagination

Two of his recent stories for older children have a wartime setting: but both stories also have roots in the present and a new generation, which bring a perspective of hope and renewal to counterbalance the feelings of despair engendered by these examples of the futility and madness of war. The Best Christmas Present in the World (Egmont, 2004) centres around a letter from Jim Macpherson, an English officer in the First World War, which relates the extraordinary events of the momentary truce and famous football game between the British and the Germans on Christmas Day, 1914. Many years later, at Christmas time, the letter is found in an old, second-hand desk by the narrator. It is marked as “Jim’s last letter, received 25th January 1915. To be buried with me when the time comes.” And so our narrator sets out to find “Dearest Connie” - and gives her the best Christmas present in the world…

Meanwhile, The Mozart Question (Walker Books, 2008) is the story of a world-famous violinist, Paolo Levi, whose parents’ lives were saved in the Second World War through playing the violin in an orchestra at a Nazi concentration camp. Lesley, the story’s narrator, is a young journalist who is sent to Venice to interview Paolo. She pointedly does not ask him the forbidden Mozart question - but the time is right for him to talk about it. He tells her about how he secretly began to play the violin, not realising that there were secrets he did not know about his parents’ past; and how eventually his playing “made music joyful” for his father once more.

Reading these books aloud to older children prompts a lot of questions and discussion. As Morpurgo says in his Author’s Note at the end of The Mozart Question:

It is difficult for us to imagine how dreadful was the suffering that went on in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War [...] It is when you hear the stories of the individuals who lived through it - Anne Frank, Primo Levi - that you begin to understand the horror just a little better…

By presenting these individual, albeit fictional accounts, Morpurgo is helping to ensure that the facts continue to be put before a new generation, that they may learn from them - and, dare I say it, he does so in a way that will probably have much more impact than a history lesson. His prose begs to be read aloud; and both books also have the distinct advantage of being illustrated by Michael Foreman - Morpurgo and Foreman really do make a wonderful team! And when they’ve listened to the stories and talked about them, children will want to go away and read them quietly on their own - again and again.

You can find other reviews of The Mozart Question on 100 Scope Notes, Shelf-Employed and Achukareviews; and one I could really empathise with at Findlay Library Kids.

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17. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: My Chinatown

When a writer and an illustrator blend their gifts to create a picture book, that is a very special kind of magic. When a picture book comes into being because one person has been both author and illustrator, using each of these arts with equal skill,  that goes beyond magic into the realm of miracles.

Kam Mak has created one of those miracles with My Chinatown–a book that is impossible to ignore because of his glowing, colorful paintings that dominate the front and back covers and the vivid images within that he has created with his words.

A small boy scuffs through ”drifts of red paper,” ”a snowfall the color of luck,” missing Hong Kong as he faces New Year in a place that is not yet home. “So many things got left behind,” he says, “a country/a language/a grandmother,” and the simple poetry in this statement aches with loss, expressed in new words that “taste like metal in my mouth.”

The words and paintings follow him through the year as he explores his new surroundings, makes friends, finds familiar sights in a place that slowly becomes familiar as well. When the New Year comes around again, with its “lions in the street outside,” he’s eager to be nearby watching them “shaking their neon manes.”

Although this book was wonderfully reviewed by PaperTigers’ contributor Jessica Roeder when it was first published in the spring of 2002, I was so enchanted by it when I recently found it in a Bangkok library that I had to bring it home with me to write about the treasure that had come into my hands. It’s a book that addresses the joy of childhood, the pain of leaving family members when coming to a new country, the excitement of exploring the unfamiliar and making it your own place. Each page of text has its own painting, and the words combine with Mak’s masterful use of color and light to make this book unforgettable.

Anyone living near a United States post office can own a small piece of Mak’s art for the price of a postage stamp–he has designed a set of  stamps that illustrate the Chinese Zodiac and are released annually, one at a time as the lunar New Year begins. Happy Year of the Ox, everyone!

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18. Books at Bedtime: Joshua and the Two Crabs

Over a year ago now, I blogged about the beautiful poem Outback written by the then eight-year-old Annaliese Porter and published by Magabala Books in Australia, in a stunning edition illustrated by renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft. I recently lent our copy of Outback to a friend to use with her class of eight-year-olds here in the UK, when they were learning about aboriginal art, and it was an eye-opening experience for them to work with a book written by someone their own age.

Now Magabala have done it again - they recently published Joshua and the Two Crabs by Joshua Button, “a young man with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in”.

It’s a delightful story, told with humour, as Joshua chases the two crabs around the beach, telling them,

‘I can see you two!’
‘Well, we can see you too,’ said the crabs.

The three-fold repetition of this satisfying formula perhaps lulls young readers/ listeners into a false sense of this being a wholly imaginary, anthropomorphised tale - so it comes as a bit of a shock when Joshua catches them and then throws them onto the fire to cook for lunch! However, Joshua’s matter-of-fact tone is quite in keeping with the descriptive narrative… I would say the story is a perfect example of a child’s ability to weave fact and fiction together in one breath. We adults sometimes walk a tightrope here. How often have you found yourself in a no-win situation? Either you go along with the imaginings and are berated for saying something which is obviously not true, or you are likewise reproached for throwing in the cold water of fact! Well, Joshua Button seems to have got the blend just right, judging by Little Brother’s reaction.

He was chuckling for a long time that Joshua carried a bucket and spear at the beach - and he loved the pictures - he liked the textures and layering. They are indeed stunning - the colors bring the sea and the creek alive; the crabs are wonderful, as are the vignettes of the waders - and I especially loved Joshua peering down at the crabs in his very goggly goggles!

A while after reading it together, it bcame apparent that Little Brother had been mulling it over:

“Joshua Button does exist.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Do you think this is a true story?
“Yes, I do.”
“But the bit about talking crabs is fiction.”
“Well, it could say that”
“But it’s a story - fundamentally it’s a story, isn’t it?
“Well, it did happen. It’s a story about two crabs.”

…and he is now thinking about writing his own book. In my post yesterday, I quoted Jarrett Krosoczka and the effect on him of a comment from a visiting author to his school - how much more aspirational then to read a book in print that is written by someone your own age! Not only has Joshua Button given children all over the world the opportunity to find out about a a fun family day out in his corner of Australia, he has opened them to the possibility that they could do it too. Thank you, Magabala Books!

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19. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: The Red Balloon Book Club

Some children’s bookstores are legendary–and one of them is Saint Paul, Minnesota’s Red Balloon Book Shop which recently began an instore book group (called Chapter and Verse) that would be worth moving to Minnesota for!

Perhaps the only thing more fun than reading a good book is reading a good book that transcends all age categories–and then talking about it. It has always seemed peculiar that more book groups have not been formed for adults who love children’s literature–we at PaperTigers hosted an online bookgroup, The Tiger’s Choice, during 2008 for just that purpose, but the intimacy of a book group does not translate quite so effectively to cyberspace.

On the other hand, bookstores are the perfect venue for book groups. You know, when you go to a book group at your favorite bookstore, that you will have something in common with the other participants–you all love to read and you all love the same bookstore!

When I was pregnant with my first son in Fairbanks, Alaska, I began to rediscover the delights of a well-written children’s book, and was sure that I was the only adult who still frequented the young readers’ bookshelves of my local library. One evening a friend and I were chatting about what we’d read when Georgianna lowered her voice and confessed, “I read children’s books.” Suddenly we were a two-person book group, happily discussing A Wrinkle in Time and Harriet the Spy.

It’s so wonderful to know that children’s literature readers no longer feel clandestine and have places as congenial as the Red Balloon Bookshop to host their discussions! If you’ve been lucky enough to be a member of this group, please tell us about it–if you have another favorite bookshop that provides this opportunity, do let us know. And to Chapter and Verse at the Red Balloon–we’re on our way!

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20. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Children Reading to Children

Although my mother taught her children to love books with a fierce and covetous passion, it was a rare occasion when she read to us. She was a woman who had five children in nine years, who lived in Alaska with no electricity or running water, who baked everything we ate from scratch and was either cooking  or washing our clothes or doing her best to keep us in a presentable state. She had time for little else.

My father read to us in the winter when the nights were long–Heidi,  The Rose and the Ring, Treasure Island,  my earliest memories are of these books that enthralled me long before I went to school. Then he went blind.

By the time my father was no longer able to read aloud, I was hopelessly ensnared in the tradition. The minute I finished a book that I loved, I would promptly begin reading it aloud to my younger sisters and brother, my captive audience. They were, however, a strongminded group and would certainly have rebelled if necessary, but instead they would frequently ask me to read to them, even after they could read to themselves.

While certainly it is a wonderful thing for parents to read to children, it is also a special act when children read to each other. Marjorie mentions that in a recent comment when she talks about the”special harmony that is engendered” when her oldest son reads aloud to his little brother. Aline tells of a class that she visited and read to where “ a young boy, who normally has trouble focusing, asked me if he could read to the class, instead, and wow!… did he capture their attention! Then they were all lining up to see who would do it next!” And one of my happiest maternal moments was when my oldest son took over our annual Christmas  Eve tradition of reading  aloud A Child’s Christmas in Wales

If parents don’t have time to read aloud, children do. All that’s needed is that they be infected with the joy of reading–then watch out! They will indeed pass that virus on, by reading aloud to everyone who will listen.

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21. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Shopping Mall Library

In large, polluted, hot cities, children and teenagers spend a lot of time in cool, clean shopping malls, roaming the hallways, surrounded by things to buy and fast food. In Bangkok, where shopping malls are large, extravagant consumer palazzos, one of the largest and most frequented of these contains—a library! And not just a library, but a Thai Knowledge Park.

On the eighth floor of Central World Plaza, surrounded by skyscrapers and air that is tarnished by some of the world’s worst traffic, is a place that brings books and the internet and music and movies and the performing arts all together in one huge and alluring space.  Over 30,000 books in Thai and in English are temptingly displayed, and reading areas are imaginative and enticing. A reading wall with window-like alcoves makes an instant refuge for browsers, and a spiral staricase leads to a small, book-lined room that has the feeling of a treehouse, with additional circular alcoves where  young readers can–and do– relax .

Paper and pencils wait at low tables for  young artists to use, and a room with a piano lured a young musician who left his tennis racket and school books on a nearby chair while he made music.  Improvising from classical and jazz elements, without one false note, he filled the room with melody that floated into the library’s reading area like a dream of music. 

Patterned after the world’s “living libraries” , TK Park makes reading and learning as enticing as a visit to a shopping center! Open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week, with a full calendar of events from IT workshops to music recitals to movies to story hours, this is a place that gives more conventional mall entertainment options a run for their money.

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22. Books at Bedtime: Shin-chi’s Canoe

Tonight I read Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave to my daughter.  The story is a follow-up to Campbell’s earlier book Shi-shi-etko which narrates the story of a young aboriginal girl, Shi-shi-etko, as she is separated from her family at the age of six to attend a residential school.  In Shin-chi’s Canoe, Campbell returns to the same family but now it is time for Shi-shi-etko’s brother, Shin-chi to go to the same school with his sister.  Shin-chi is given a little carved canoe as a parting gift from his father and the boat will serve as a reminder during the cold cruel months ahead of a request Shin-chi has made of his father: namely, to build a dugout canoe for him when he returns home at the beginning of summer.

When this book arrived at our house, my daughter was immediately taken by it.  She and her classmates were all building boats to be launched at a nearby creek.  Can I show this book to my teacher?  She asked right away.  But we haven’t read it yet, I said.  We’ll read it tonight, I promise. At bedtime we curled up into bed and read Shin-Chi’s Canoe.  My daughter remained silent through the reading and at the end, she made a comment that struck me.  While I concentrated mostly on the social injustice of the aboriginal residential school experience, my daughter remembered instead the request Shin-chi made of his father, namely, the promise that he would have his own canoe by the end of that first year away at school.  See, his Daddy’s making the canoe just like Shin-chi asked, my daughter said.  Quite frankly, caught up as I was with the bigger social issue presented by the book, I had forgotten that simple request. I was amazed and humbled by my daughter’s observation. Truly, children have their own unique perspective.  That is why reading to them at bedtime can be so hugely rewarding.

Incidentally, November is National American Indian Heritage Month in the United States.  The story of Shin-chi and Shi-shi-etko is a great way to start educating young people about the history of aboriginal childrens lives in North America.

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23. The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Room to Read and the Joy of Literacy

Sometimes the simplest remark can be the most transforming. “Perhaps, sir, you will come back with books,” a Nepalese headmaster said to John Wood, a vacationing Microsoft employee, as they stood in a school library that had twenty books that “were all backpacker cast-offs.” Haunted by the thought of children who might never know the joy of reading, Wood returned home and spent a year gathering children’s books. He went back to the headmaster with 3,000 volumes and a new direction for his life. John Wood decided that bringing books to children who have none was his vocation and Room to Read was born, as he tells readers in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.

Wood put together an organization with staff who share his dream and his passion, aided by a fundraising network of more than 3,000 people. The core programs of Room to Read are the Reading Room which has built 5,600 libraries,  Local Language Publishing which publishes and distributes books written both in English and the local language, the School Room which works with local communities to build schools with 444 in use, the Room to Grow Girls’ Scholarship that enables 4,000 girls to complete their secondary education, and the Computer and Language Room which builds computer and language labs.

Found in India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, South Africa, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, Room to Read is vitalized by donations and volunteers, who have discovered how they can help by going to www.roomtoread.org. All share a common goal—to have built 10,000 libraries by 2010.

Scheduled half-day visits to a Room to Read site are welcome with advance arrangement.

One man, one dream, 3,000 books– one optimistic remark changed a life and consequently thousands of lives are being changed through the power of reading and the joy of literacy, all over the world.

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24. Books at Bedtime: Three British Classics

In the next couple of months we are going to see three theatre productions all based on classic stories – The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Being a purist in these matters, I resolved that we would have to read the books together first…

Having just read the last three chapters of Treasure Island literally today, we will be starting A Christmas Carol this week, so I’ll report back on that one. It’s a story I’ve read several times myself and we’re looking forward to sharing it with our boys; and my mother has given us the audio-book too, read by Miriam Margoyles…

The other two were unknown entities. Of course I knew of them but I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I hadn’t actually read either of these classics before… but at the same time, it’s meant that our discussions of the book have been very much from the same stand-point: what’s going to happen next? Why did they do that? Can we have just one more chapter, pleeeease?

Both books are narrated in the first person. The language at times can be challenging to a modern reader but in both instances, the plot is so exciting and the descriptions so full and vivid that it’s worth the effort. I have to say, when we started The Prisoner of Zenda, I did wonder if I’d made a mistake: the beginning seemed turgid and the wit slightly precious: but the excitement built up so quickly that in fact I was being presented with the book for a book session at all hours, not just bedtime. By having them read aloud to them, children don’t get hung up on the difficult words anyway. We’ve learnt lots about the parts of castles and ships – but that wasn’t what it was all about; that’s just a side-line. What we’ve had are two great stories. Little brother’s “Wicked!” to describe The Prisoner of Zenda might not have been fully understood by Anthony Hope, but he can take it as a complement!

These stories are perhaps not what we would term multicultural but they do all espouse a strong line on tolerance and understanding, and doing what is right. They put across notions of right and wrong without preaching and without over-simplifying any issues involved – Long John Silver and Ben Gunn of Treasure Island are complex characters; Rudolf Rassendyll, the true hero of The Prisoner of Zenda has to make some pretty tough decisions against himself in order to maintain the status quo.

We have more than enjoyed reading these books together and it is not difficult to understand how they have stood the test of time. There are classics in every culture: which classics from your culture are you reading to your children?

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25. The Tiger’s Choice: Heroes by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee

We don’t often think of picture books when we think of book group titles, but this month the Tiger’s Choice offers a picture book. It’s one that is an ideal selection for adults and children to read and discuss together–created by two men, Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee,  who have provided a new defintion of what picture books can be.

Heroes follows their stunning debut, Baseball Saved Us, with a story as powerful and as provocative as that examination of the Japanese internment in the United States during World War Two. This time the story looks at peacetime America, and the difficulty of overcoming the vicious stereotyping that is the collateral damage of war.

One of the most moving and heroic stories from World War Two is the history of the Japanese American men who enlisted in the U.S. Army and formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, fighting in Europe and becoming  “one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. Army history”–even though many of them had family members confined behind barbed wire fences in desolate internment camps. The strength of these soldiers’ patriotism and the bravery of their military exploits makes my hair stand on end when I read about them–and so does this book.

When Donnie plays war with the other kids, he’s always the enemy because, he’s told, “there wasn’t anybody looking like you on our side.” He knows that isn’t true. He’s heard his father and uncle talk about their time  in the Army ; he’s seen their war medals. Yet he’s told, “Real heroes don’t brag” and “You kids should be playing something else besides war.”

But the war games don’t stop–they become more real and more frightening–and Donnie needs help.

Please read this book and add your comments to our final Tiger’s Choice discussion.

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