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

Friday, November 9th, 2012

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

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

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

My Top Ten Picks by Sally Ito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,
Tomo
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: The Fox’s Window and Other Stories by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei,
The Fox’s Window and Other Stories
University of New Orleans Publishing, 2009.

Ages 9+

The Fox’s Window by Naoko Awa is a collection of ‘modern fairytales.’ Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was born in Tokyo and was an avid reader of European fairytales as a child. She studied at Japan’s Women’s University, where she was influenced by a teacher and translator of Nordic children’s literature, Shizuka Yamamuro. The Fox’s Window is a representative collection of Awa’s work, the edited and translated cumulation of which reflects the translator Toshiya Kamei’s taste.

From the first story, “The Sky-Colored Chair”, I was immediately enchanted by Awa’s imagination. A chair maker and his wife in northern Japan are expecting a child. The chair-maker decides to make a rocking chair and paint it red for the child. Unfortunately, the child is born blind and the chair maker, dismayed, gives up on painting the chair as the child will never experience the world of color. However, one day a mysterious boy shows up and offers the chair maker an opportunity to paint the chair the color of the sky. Soon the daughter, by sitting in the newly painted blue chair, experiences for the first time, the color of the sky. This essentially synaesthetic quality of the narrative wherein a blind child experiences color through sitting on a painted rocking chair won me quickly over to Awa’s highly imaginative and poetic story-telling.

Other such stories in the collection are equally as compelling and enchanting. The title tale, “The Fox’s Window”, left a strong impression on my daughter. In the story, through the Fox’s window – the shape made by putting one’s index fingers and thumbs together to form a diamond – one can see through to an irrecoverable and magical past.

As these stories are ‘modern fairytales,’ they do not necessarily all have happy endings. Some end rather sadly, others abruptly, and still others end atmospherically. In this way, Awa’s tales are rather unforgettable – they leave a deep impression like the way certain paintings do, haunting the reader long after one has finished reading them. This collection takes a reader through a literary, magical journey full of symbols and imagery that tap the deeper parts of the psyche. I was thoroughly captivated by The Fox’s Window and recommend it highly for readers interested in Japanese tales of a slightly untraditional bent, yet still bearing the magical qualities of the country’s best known folk tales.

Sally Ito
July 2011