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Sally Ito is a poet, editor and translator living in Winnipeg, Canada, where she also teaches Creative Writing; she is currently writer. Sally was a book reviewer and contributor to the PaperTigers blog until earlier this year and wrote many of our contributions to Poetry Friday during that time (which is why we decided to post Sally’s selection on a Poetry Friday day!). So we are delighted to welcome her back with her Top Ten list of favourite books, encountered through her work with PaperTigers.
As a prelude, do listen to Sally reading the title poem from her collection Alert to Glory (Turnstone Press, 2011) in the video below.
My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito
When I joined the Paper Tigers blog contributor team in 2008, the thing I was most excited about was getting to read and review great multicultural books for kids. What I discovered was a plethora of wonderful books that reflected who I was culturally and who my community was, culturally, as well. From my short time with PaperTigers, these are my ten picks of multicultural books for kids. It’s a little Japan-heavy, I realize but I hope you indulge my bias!
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin, 2008) – I found this quirky picture book amazing and it was an inspiration for me when I was teaching to take my creative writing students out into our immediate neighborhood (an historic district called The Exchange) in Winnipeg to see what we could make of our environment in a creative way.
Naomi’s Tree by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2008). This book is about a cherry tree and a Japanese Canadian girl who grew up with it and was separated from it by the circumstances of the Second World War. This book was a personal favorite since the author’s history reflects my own family’s in Canada.
Granny’s Giant Bannock by Brenda Isabel Wastasecoot, illustrated by Kimberly McKay-Fleming (Pemmican, 2008). This is one hilarious book about a Cree-speaking grandmother and her grandson Larf who accidentally bakes a giant bannock by misunderstanding his grandmother’s instructions on how to make the doughy confection from scratch.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano (Scholastic, 2009). This book is a translation of a popular fantasy series that was also made into a TV series. The story is set in early imperial Japan and features a woman warrior named Balsa who protects the son of the emperor, Chagum, as he carries within him a spirit from another dimension who must lodge in a human host in order to survive.
The Song of the Cicada by Shizue Ukaji. This is a Japanese book, yet untranslated into English, that I discovered while living in Japan in 2011. It’s an Ainu folktale illustrated with textile creations made by Ukaji herself. It’s the story of a woman who prophesies disaster – namely a tsunami – to her people and what becomes of her as a result. A timely read for the year I was visiting the country.
The Fox’s Window and Other Stories by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei. This is a collection of short stories spanning a career of writing by Japanese author Naoko Awa. Magical, enchanting and absorbing are the words I’d use to describe these stories, which have also been referred to as ‘modern fairytales.’
David’s Trip to Paraguay by Miriam Rudolph. A bilingual book with German and English text, this story is about a young Mennonite boy named David who travels to Paraguay from Canada in the late 1920s. Rudolph, an artist, charts the arduous journey with vivid and colorful illustrations of the things David sees on the trip.
Gifts: Poems for Parents edited by Rhea Tregebov (Sumach Press, 2002). We say we read to our children for their sake, but it’s just as true that we read to feed ourselves, too. Poetry is a kind of bread for the soul, and this particular treasury of poems by Canadians really fed me as a poet and a parent.
Bifocal by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters. This is one book I read in part with my son, who later went on to have the book assigned to him for his English class in junior high school. It’s about two teenagers – Haroon and Jay – who have to negotiate their cultural identities during a tense lockdown situation at their high school.
Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. I started covering graphic novels for PaperTigers a few years ago as I felt this was a developing trend in books for young people. And this book was one of my favorites! Aya is about a young woman growing up in Cote D’Ivoire, looking to become a medical student, but whose life is inevitably shaped and influenced by those around her with less lofty goals than her.
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For those of you who are avid knitters and love stories, here’s an event for you. A local knitting group in Vancouver — the Yarn Bombers — are raising awareness for the Joy Kogawa Historic House by knitting cherry blossoms to cover the cherry tree in the yard of the house. For more information, check out their post on the event. PaperTigers has also covered Joy’s childrens’ books on the newly revamped PaperTiger’s main website, as well as having an interview with her.Add a Comment
Toronto To Japan is a Toronto-based collective of Canadian artists, musicians, writers, activists and business leaders organizing events to raise relief funds for victims of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. On April 21st, they will be presenting Hope Blossoms, a night of entertainment inspired by the grand tradition of the Japanese variety show. Not only a fundraiser, this is a show of solidarity for the people of Japan. Among those participating are renowned authors Joy Kogawa, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. For more information, click here.Add a Comment
I’ve been away from posting on the blog recently because of a temporary move … to Japan! And now, having settled in a bit, I’m ready and roaring to go (appropriate for a PaperTiger blogger!) from my new location here in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo prefecture. I’ll be in Japan for four months and hope to immerse myself in the wonderful world of childrens’ literature as it is experienced here by readers. Japan has some great childrens’ book writers and illustrators and I’m eager to explore that world with my children as they attend the local elementary and junior high schools here. With Japan being so much in the news, I feel in the unique position of being a reporter-of-sorts, in particular, of any activities related to children and the recent disaster in northern Japan. Days after arriving, I heard about a childrens’ book donation program through Unicef; childrens’ books were being collected to be sent to children in the earthquake and tsunami-hit zones. The program, running for only a short time, was very successful. I was heartened and encouraged to see how the Japanese responded so swiftly to a request for books, knowing full well the transformative powers of story on the lives of children. Even as the basic supplies were being sent out to the victims and survivors, here also was considered necessary, supplies for the hearts and minds of the most vulnerable. Kodomo no tame ni — for the sake of the children — is a Japanese phrase I first encountered in Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan. How apt this phrase is for these times of trial and hardship for northern Japan!Add a Comment
Deborah’s latest novel came out last month: My Name Is Parvana (Groundwood Books, 2012) is the long-awaited sequel to her acclaimed The Breadwinner Trilogy. As well as fiction, Deborah has written non-fiction highlighting global social issues from children’s perspectives, such as war, AIDS and bullying, and giving affected children a voice. You can read PaperTigers’ interviews with Deborah here and here.
Top 10: Books that Open Windows by Deborah Ellis
Jean Little is a wonderful Canadian author of books for young people. She has a special place in my heart because when I was a child, my parents were friends with a friend of Jean’s – Jane Glaves – and I would get Ms. Little’s books for Christmas. One of my favorite Jean Little books is Look Through My Window, where one character talks about looking through someone’s window into who they are and what their lives are like.
The following books are ten I would recommend to anyone interested in seeing what’s inside someone else’s window.
1. From Anna, by Jean Little ~ Novel for young people about a German family who comes to Canada just before the start of World War 2. The youngest, Anna, has struggles with her eyesight, her awkwardness and figuring out where her place is in her family and in this new world.
2. All of a Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor ~ First in a series of books for young readers about a Jewish family in turn of the century Brooklyn. As the girls go about the adventures of their lives – such as earning money to pay for a lost library book – the family celebrates the calendar of holidays. As a Protestant-raised small-town girl, this was my first window into a different religion, and set off a respect and fascination for Judaism that continues to this day.
3. Obasan, by Joy Kogawa ~ Moving telling of a young girl’s experience in a Japanese internment camp in Canada during World War 2.
4. Nobody’s Family is Going to Change, by Louise Fitzhugh ~ Novel for young people about a girl in New York who can’t make her father see her for who she is. She grows to learn about other kids in other families and their struggles.
5. A Dog on Barkham Street and The Bully of Barkham Street, by Mary Stoltz – Look at the same story from two points of view. They taught me how to look for more than one side of the story.
6. Mighty Be Our Powers, by Leymah Gbowee ~ A powerful memoir of a woman who survived the Liberian civil war and won the Nobel Prize for her work to rebuild the country.
7. Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol ~ About homelessness and poverty in America and the power of the education system to hurt or help the children in its care.
8. Shannen and the Dream for a School, by Janet Wilson – part of the Kids’ Power Book series for young activists, this is a profile of Shannen Koostachin and her First Nations community of Attawapiskat as they try to get a safe school built.
9. Bury Me Standing, by Isabel Fonseca ~ A moving, detailed history of the Roma people.
10. Grey is the Color of Hope, by Irina Ratushinskaya ~ Prison diaries of the Soviet poet who spent seven years in the Gulags. One of the few records we have about what that time and place was like for women.
The newest book in the Heather Wells series is just as funny as the last ones. Heather is once again embroiled in a murder at her dorm (or should I say residence hall?) Her boss has been shot through the head. But this time Heather is not going to get involved, except that forces outside her control pull her into the middle of a murder investigation once more. But that is not all that is happening in Heather’s life. Her dad wants her to quit her job and start a children’s TV show and her boyfriend, Tad, has something big to ask her. Yikes! But with wit and aplomb Heather sails through it all. This is my favorite in this series because there is finally some resolution in terms of relationships in Heather’s life. Yeah! These are fluffy and fun and as enjoyable as a tall mocha with whip cream and cinnamon.
On May 8, 2008, The Japan Foundation in Toronto, Canada, hosted the launch of Naomi’s Tree, a picture book about friendship written by Joy Kogawa and illustrated by Ruth Ohi. It was a fascinating event that included a display of the real sketches and final artwork for the book.
We were there with our audio recorder running. We captured Joy Kogawa’s introduction of the book and Ruth Ohi’s explanation of the illustration process and then a demonstration of her technique.
On this edition of Just One More Book!!, excerpts of the book launch event and an interview with Joy Kogawa and Ruth Ohi.
Thank you very much to Ken Bole, President of The Canada Japan Society, for making us aware of this event.Display Comments Add a Comment
The new issue of PaperTigers, focusing on “Music in Children’s Literature,” is now live!
Music is central to the human experience and has been bound up with poetry and storytelling since time immemorial. We have brought together an international array of writers and artists whose lives and work have been touched by music; and whose work, in turn, reaches out across geographical boundaries to touch their audience.
As the final words of the opera Naomi’s Road say, “We’ll always carry with us these three things. Gift of music. Gift of words. Gift of love.”
We hope that you’ll find inspiration for all three of these gifts among our website’s new features, which include interviews with Joy Kogawa and Matt Ottley; gallery features of Lulu Delacre and Satoshi Kitamura’s work; essays by Jorge Luján and Michelle Lord, and more. Through September, we’ll continue to explore, here on the blog, the ways in which music features in children’s and young adult literature, so read the new features and let us know what you think by leaving a comment on this or any of our upcoming music-related posts!Add a Comment