Archive for the ‘Young Adult Books’ Category

Poetry Friday: Be Not Defeated by the Rain…

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Back in March, Sally highlighted the launch of our current Book of the Month, Tomo, edited by Holly Thompson (Stone Bridge Press, 2012). Carrying the by-line “Friendship through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories”, this is a wonderfully rich book that readers will want to dip into again and again, and all proceeds go to organisations working with young people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.  Our review is coming soon; in the meantime, I wanted to return to the poem that Sally highlighted in her post: “Be not Defeated by the Rain” by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933).

I didn’t know the poem before I read its opening cited at the beginning of Tomo and I wanted to know more about it. I was not only bowled over by the poem itself, but I was also much struck by Holly’s description in her Foreword of how the poem came into her head and repeated itself over and over as she attempted to come to terms with the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year.

The rest of the poem is no less powerful than the opening.  Although I am sadly unable to enjoy the poem in the original, I love the sonority and simplicity of David Sulz‘ translation, quoted in full here:

Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

Tomo has a blog running alongside it, featuring a wealth of interviews etc. with the book’s contributors.  Do read the interview with David Sulz, in which he discusses his translation of the poem and its impact.  He generously gave his translation to the World of Kenji Miyazawa website, who have made it freely available.  You can also read more information about Kenji Miyazawa and his children’s stories and poems, including background to “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” here, and other poems to download here.

Apparently Japanese children used to learn this poem at school, and perhaps they still do.  I think it would be a good poem for children to learn wherever they come from.  I’m certainly going to introduce it to my two…

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Rena J. Traxel at On the Way to Somewhere – and she also has a caption competition, so head on over…

Week-end Book Review: Tomo, Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson,
Stone Bridge Press, 2012.

Ages: 12+

‘Tomo’ means ‘friend’ in Japanese and the purpose of this Anthology of Teen Stories is to offer friendship to Japan following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011: specifically, the book is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives and to “all the young people of Tohuku”.  Author Holly Thompson (The Wakame Gatherers, Orchards) has gathered contributions from creators of prose, poetry and graphic narrative, as well as translators, whose shared connection is Japan.  Their work makes for a remarkable collection.

Many of the contributors’ names such as Alan Gratz, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Debbie Ridpath Ohi,  Shogo Oketani, or Graham Salisbury may already be familiar to readers; others such as Naoko Awa (1943-1993) or Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) will be less so, though famous in Japan.  A great deal of Tomo’s success lies in its blend of expertly translated older stories with contemporary, new writing, and this is true also of the stories’ content.  Many modern Japanese phenomena colour the stories, such as the particular fashion of Harajuku girls (“I Hate Harajuku Girls” by Katrina Toshiko Grigg-Saito) or the Purikura photo sticker booths (“Signs” by Kaitlin Stainbrook), yet these sit easily alongside more traditional stories such as the magical Ainu fable “Where the Silver Droplets Fall”, transcribed and translated into Japanese by Yukie Chiri (1903-1922) and translated into English by Deborah Davidson.  The anthology is all the richer for its varied array of writing, and its success is also in a great part due to the skill of the different translators involved.  The excellent Tomo blog also contains interviews with the contributors and offers readers further insight into Japanese culture.

The thirty-six stories are divided into sections: Shocks and Tremors, Friends and Enemies, Ghosts and Spirits, Powers and Feats, Talents and Curses, Insiders and Outsiders, and Families and Connections.  The opening story, “Lost” by Andrew Fukuda, is the gripping account of a girl regaining consciousness in a hospital bed following the Kobe earthquake in 1995; the other four stories in that opening section, including Tak Toyoshima’s graphic strip “Kazoku”, all have the raw immediacy of being set in the aftermath of the March 11th disaster.

Among the other stories, readers will find stories to suit every mood: thought-provoking tales of conflict, spine-tingling ghost stories (I’m glad all these happen to have fallen to my reading in hours of daylight!), ostracism and friendship, romance, magic and surrealism.  Yearning to belong is a thread running through many stories, and the intensity for those characters seeking their identity is heightened where they are part of a bicultural family.  Nor does the collection flinch from addressing racial prejudice or the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

As with all good short-story anthologies, Tomo needs to be read slowly in order to savour the intense individual flavors of its contents.  Framed by an extract from David Sulz’s translation of Miyazawa’s thought-provoking poem “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” as well as Holly Thompson’s moving Foreword, and a glossary and note on the book’s contributors (a rich mine for future reading), Tomo is a very special book.  While its immediate context is very much rooted in Japanese culture, it offers a glimpse at universal teenage concerns that will increase empathy among readers wherever and whoever they are.

Marjorie Coughlan
July 2012

Proceeds from the publication of Tomo are going to organizations assisting teens in the quake and tsunami hit areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake, 11 March 2011.

Week-End Book Review: Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Zetta Elliott,
Ship of Souls
AmazonEncore, 2011.

Ages 11+

Dimitri’s life almost falls apart when his beloved mother dies. Then the solidity provided by a kind foster-mother is rocked when she takes in a crack-addicted baby who requires all her attention. It seems that D no longer has any emotional attachments, something that will become a necessity later in the story – but friendships can blossom from the most unpromising circumstances. In D’s case, being a ‘math genius’ in the words of a peer means he is asked to tutor the older basket-ball star Hakeem; and to D’s surprise, he also makes friends with Nyla the most popular and independently spirited girl in the school. D learns not to judge a book by its cover – Hakeem struggles with perceptions of him as a Muslim, following 9/11; and Nyla has a complex relationship with her step-mother. All three soon find, however, that despite having very little in common on the surface, they can be friends – and by the end of the book that friendship will have been tested in an increasingly chilling adventure beyond their or the reader’s wildest imagination.

Author Zetta Elliot’s skill is evident in the deft blending of down-to-earth, empathetic realism with a wholly convincing fantasy plot that draws on certain events in the history of New York, including the recent discovery of an old ship during construction work at Ground Zero. Elliot’s explanation for its being there is so much more enthralling than archaeologists’ suggestions that it was used as eighteenth-century landfill. Elliot also draws on an area of American civil war history that reaches out (quite literally!) across the centuries, via a plaque in Prospect Park commemorating American and German soldiers who fought there together. This thrill of the macabre is tempered with a yearning for reconciliation, for which D turns out to be the catalyst. In fact, the adventures that unfold after D takes an injured bird home from the park take not only D himself but also Nyla and Keem on a journey that could potentially destroy them all.

Nyra’s cry at one point of “They’re not going to believe that!” somehow does not apply to the book’s readers, who will be swept along on the tide of events: no mean feat for a work of fantasy, especially one set in a convincingly portrayed contemporary world. All in all, this fast-paced, well-written story will have readers on the edge of their seat, whether they generally profess to enjoying fantasy books or not. Just be prepared to have your spine tingled and to come away enriched.

Marjorie Coughlan
June 2012

Poetry Friday: Celebrating World Poetry Day March 21

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

This past Wednesday, March 21 was World Poetry Day as first proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999.  I spent World Poetry Day attending a reading of local poets in my town of Winnipeg put on by the poetry magazine CV2.  Of course, there were various other events occurring all over the world to celebrate the day and one on-line site that caught my eye was YARN.  For World Poetry Day, seven poems were published on the site on the theme of  “Measuring the World, the Geography of Poetry” inspired by the ancient poet Eratosthenes.  Do check out this great site, especially informative for young adult writers and readers! And congratulations to the poets whose work was selected — an international bunch from far-flung places like Israel, Japan, Argentina and Canada.

This week Poetry Friday is hosted by Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

Poetry Friday: Be Not Defeated by the Rain — Poetry for Tsunami Survivors of 3/11

Friday, March 9th, 2012

March 11 marks the first year anniversary of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan.  One event that will commemorate the disaster as well as raise funds for ongoing work in the area for teenagers particularly,  is the launching of the Tomo anthology (Stonebridge Press) on March 10.   The Tomo anthology was conceived of by writer Holly Thompson of Japan as a fundraiser for teens in the Tohoku region.  An array of writing was assembled and edited by Thompson, the result of which is a beautiful collection of writing aimed at young adults.  Recently, on the Tomo blog, interviews with some of the writers/translators have been appearing and one such translator is David Sulz, who translated the well known Kenji Miyazawa poem Ame no Mikazu (“Be Not Defeated by the Rain.”) A deceptively simple poem, “Be Not Defeated by the Rain,” is a manifesto of sorts, oddly humble and defiant at the same time.  Its message speaks deeply of a man’s singular determination to overcome the vagaries of nature by being the best he can be to others in his community.   I have loved this poem since I first read it, and it seems an appropriate poem for this anniversary.  I’m glad to see it included in this anthology.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Myra at Gathering Books.



Week-end Book Reviews: The Bird King And Other Sketches by Shaun Tan

Sunday, February 26th, 2012


Shaun Tan,
The Bird King and Other Sketches
Templar Publishing (UK), 2011; first published by Windy Hollow Books (Australia), 2010.

Ages 9 +

Shaun Tan’s beautifully produced sketchbook, The Bird King, generously lays bare the creative process of illustration. While not specifically designed for children, Tan’s familiar images are of instant, near-universal appeal, and his explanatory text will be a revelation to young fans, especially aspiring artists.

Tan’s introduction references Klee’s famous description of drawing as “taking a line for a walk.” The colored and black-and-white drawings are divided into sections. Images in which “one little drawing is enough” to suggest a whole story comprise the untold stories section. In book, theatre and film, Tan describes his preliminary sketches as “a constant reminder of what I was ‘getting at’ in the first place” during longer creative processes. In drawings from life, we see “ongoing studies in the relationship of line, form, colour and light” that are crucial to an artist’s lifelong process of learning to see. A final section, notebooks, is culled from small ball point pen sketches, doodles and scribbles, some “an equivalent to daydreaming” that Tan poetically compares to fishing: “casting loose lines into a random sea… catching ideas that might otherwise be hidden beneath the waves.”

The drawings themselves also include little notes, ideas for development, and titles that further decipher the artist’s visual language. One double-page drawing entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” features a dozen of Tan’s creatures marching behind a small boy, bird on his head, palette in hand. The only color on the page is a splash of orange dropping from his brush, repeated on the body of a goldfish, held aloft in a bowl, by a large creature with a diving bell head in which a bird in a beret stands at the wheel. In Tan’s quixotic imagination, the robotic and the humanizing hover in edgy balance.

The production quality of this small hardcover book is excellent. Partially bound in red cloth, with embossed lettering on the front cover, it’s held closed with a red elastic band; a blue ribbon bookmark is sewn into the binding. The back matter includes a list of the drawings in the book (noting materials used and the original purpose of each sketch) and a bibliography of Tan’s published works.

Young artists will learn more from studying the lines Tan takes for a walk than from any number of art classes. Children who already know and love books by the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner will recognize preliminary sketches of work from favorite books. For newcomers, The Bird King is a great introduction to this evocative Australian writer-illustrator.

Charlotte Richardson
February 2012

Week-end Book Review: Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Allen Say,
Drawing from Memory
Scholastic Press, 2011.

Ages 10+

Before even opening Allen Say’s latest book, the play on words of the title, Drawing from Memory, gives the reader a frisson of anticipation, enhanced by the simple cover illustration, a self-portrait of a young Allen Say floating, perhaps, in contemporary consideration of what has now become past. By the time we meet the illustration again in its context of an elated twelve-year-old Say having moved into his own one-room apartment, we are well and truly engrossed. Both before and after that defining moment in Say’s life, drawing is central to his existence. His childhood was not straightforward but Say recounts it with a lightness of touch in both words and pictures that is perfectly attuned to his readership. My favourite is perhaps the juxtaposition of a very small Allen drawing, drawing, drawing. Next along, a small boy walks away from his latest work, as his parents look in anger (father) and horror (mother) at the wall that has been turned into an artist’s canvas. The accompanying text, meanwhile, gives his father’s veto of art as a career for his son. This balance of humor and underlying tensions continues through the book, which ends with Say’s departure for America at the age of fifteen, “ready to start a new life with what I could carry on my back.”

Devotees of Say’s work will find vignettes linking to his previous books: however, the greatest parallels can be drawn with Say’s autobiographical novel The Ink Keeper’s Apprentice, for which Drawing from Memory is an absolutely must-have companion. For here at last is a full portrait of the real Sensei Noro Shinpei, the famous cartoonist to whom Say rather precociously and wholly pivotally apprenticed himself. Included in the narrative are photographs, nuggets of wisdom, and absorbing examples of Shinpei’s work. These include two cartoon characters that were Say and his fellow-apprentice Tokida, getting out of all sorts of scrapes. How wonderful is that! Further background about his later contact with Shinpei, who died in 2002, is given in Say’s moving Afterword.

Throughout the book, Say provides many vivid portraits: as well as his family, Sensei and Tokida, there is his art teacher Miss Goldfish, and her former pupil Orito-san, who taught Say karate as well as drawing from classical sculpture. And through it all is the self-portrait of a young man: his determination to be an artist no matter what, set against a complex family background and the cultural context of post-war Japan.

The story of Say’s childhood is a compelling one. It is fitting that, as an artist, he should tell it through pictures as well as words: and indeed, Say’s skilful combination of illustration and writing renders this account a masterpiece of graphic storytelling.

Marjorie Coughlan
December 2011

Week-end Book Review: Year of the Golden Dragon by B.L.Sauder

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

B. L. Sauder,
Year of the Golden Dragon
Coteau Books for Kids, 2009.

Ages 12-15

The drums have stopped. What does it mean? Master Chen knows. The Black Dragon is angry.

Thousands of years ago a jealous wife of the Emperor of China broke a gift of jade from the powerful Black Dragon. In turn, the angry Black Dragon demanded that all descendents of the Emperor join together at capital’s river to return that gift of jade to him the next time the Year of the Golden Dragon met the millennium – two thousand years later. In this beautiful blend of ancient legend and modern-day metropolis, B.L. Sauder fashions a tale of fantasy, mystery, and family as Chen Hong Mei from China and brothers Ryan and Alexander Wong from Canada, all descendants of the emperor, face, and must fix, the consequences of this ancient legend.

Mysteries have long shaped Ryan, Alex and Hong Mei’s lives – mysteries that converge during the year the millennium meets the Year of the Golden Dragon. Where did Hong Mei’s father go, and why does her mother never speak of him? What really happened during the fire that killed Ryan and Alex’s parents? Why did all their parents so treasure the jade pieces each of them carries and why do so many people now seem determined to steal them? Fans of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series and Blue Balliett’s mysteries will particularly enjoy the mixture of present and past, everyday existence and otherworldly life, and myth and adventure spiced by danger and family secrets.

Ancient magic blends into twenty-first century life as Ryan and Alex travel with their aunt and uncle from Canada to China to celebrate the New Year. But their trip takes an unexpected turn when they discover they must unite with fellow descendant Hong Mei to beat the clock – and ever-present enemies – to unravel and execute the ancient task given to them by the Black Dragon. Together the three find themselves caught up in a fantastical and fantastic series of events centered around three pendants of precious jade, a deadly enemy and a two-thousand-year-old mystery that will change all of their lives forever. Advance readers and reluctant readers alike will enjoy the quick pacing and blend of fantasy and reality in this tale of destiny and adventure.

Sara Hudson
October 2011

Week-end Book Review: Orchards by Holly Thompson

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Holly Thompson,
Delacorte Press, 2011.

Ages 12+

Kana Goldberg is a half-Jewish, half-Japanese American teenager. Because of a classmate’s suicide for which she feels some responsibility – she was amongst a clique of girls that made unkind remarks to the suicide victim – she has been sent off to Japan for the summer to work in her grandparents mikan (or mandarin orange) orchards. While there, she has to negotiate the difficulty of adjusting to life in Japan as an American of mixed Japanese ancestry. Her Japanese family, while sensitive and accommodating, are nonetheless different in their world views. In spending time with them, however, Kana begins to heal and gain perspective on the events that occurred; in so doing, she makes contact with one of the people involved, and that leads to an unexpected ending.

Orchards is Thompson’s debut novel for young adults and is written in verse. In general, I have mixed feelings about the YA verse novel: however, Thompson’s Orchards has a kind of resonant beauty slightly reminiscent of haiku where images from the orchard and the surrounding landscape linger in the mind. Brevity of life, fleeting impressions, contemplative reflections on Nature are often the ‘stuff’ of Japanese poetry and some of that sensibility is conveyed in Orchards. But there is also real teenage drama here, moving the book forward as a story – issues with body image, feelings of estrangement, angst and regret.

Thompson (The Wakame Gatherers) is a longtime resident of Japan who teaches creative writing at Yokohama University. In Orchards, she has sensitively portrayed life in Japan for many a cross-cultural teenager – particularly those who experience life in two vastly different worlds because of their connection to Japan through a parent or relative. I think this is the aspect of Orchards I appreciated the most, having had similar experiences to the protagonist Kana, in visiting my relatives over the years in Japan. There were finely tuned details in Orchards that I found familiar, like hoarding snacks because meals don’t seem quite enough, or comments people make about your appearance or the way you speak. Kana is a character one can readily identify with and have sympathy for.

Orchards is an especially rewarding read for those interested in cross-cultural experiences between Japan and America. It is also a poignant rendering of a young woman’s psyche as she seeks to heal from a traumatic event in her life; this facet of Orchards makes it a story with universal appeal.

Sally Ito
September 2011

Shaun Tan at Seven Stories

Friday, August 26th, 2011

On Wednesday, Older Brother, Little Brother and I had the thrill of hearing this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Shaun Tan speak at Seven Stories in Newcastle, during his whistle-stop visit to the UK. I’ve loved his work since being mesmerised by The Arrival four years ago; and we’ve also had the privilege of featuring Shaun’s work in our PaperTigers Gallery. Shaun’s picture books truly tap into something essential in our existence so that no matter how old you are and whatever your life experience, there is something there for everyone to absorb and distill. His books have had a big impact on the boys too, and it was a real eye-opener for them to meet their creator and hear about the drawn out process and sheer hard work that goes into producing a book. Now we are all desperate to see the Oscar-winning short of The Lost Thing!

Older Brother was most struck by Shaun saying that imperfection was a “very important concept for an artist”; and that he is always aiming for simplicity, because it’s through that apparent simplicity that he can achieve layer upon layer of meaning. Then accompanying the text with unexpected illustrations to create further tensions – but he pointed out that he wouldn’t call his work surreal per se: rather, the unexpected juxtaposition of familiar objects in his work is what is surreal.

Little Brother especially loved the first in Shaun’s series of cartoons depicting a day in his life: Waking to the Sound of a Solitary Cicada – a huge cicada looming in through the open window. He’s still laughing about that (but, as is so often the case with Shaun’s work, for me, the more I think about it, the more the funniness is tempered with a feeling of unease…). Little Brother also came home thinking about the humor and tensions achieved by people/creatures doing extrordinary things as though they are completely normal – like feeding Christmas decorations to a huge, friendly monster-machine aka the Lost Thing. And when Shaun pointed out that, as per the element of the familiar present in all his creations, the Lost Thing is a cross between a dog, a horse and an elephant, yes, you can absolutely see it.

I was bowled over by (more…)