Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore - William Joyce

Title: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Author: William Joyce
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 52 pages
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Started: August 30, 2012
Finished: August 30, 2012

From the inside cover:

Morris Lessmore loved words.

He loved stories.

He loved books.

He loved books.

But every story has its upsets.

Everything in Morris Lessmore's life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds. But the power of story will save the day.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big book nerd. Bookworm, bibliophile, literary geek, you name it. I especially love stories about books and libraries. This picture book is the ultimate book about being a book lover, the transformative power books have over people's lives, and how our individual stories play a role in the bigger picture. There's a lot of deeper symbolism here as well, it would make for a wonderful discussion piece with slightly older children, or even to start little kids on the road to critical thinking.

The story is simple yet profound, and incredibly beautiful. The illustrations are gorgeous, from the 'lifeless' sepia scenes to the brilliant colours of the library and the countryside. My own geeky moment was highlighted at the scene with Morris repairing one of the books complete with a stethoscope and  the first thought in my head was, "he's doing book surgery!" (what I call fixing the books my students end up destroying).

There's also an Oscar-winning animated short film of the same name (I found the full version easily on youtube if anyone is interested in watching it), and it would be great to show kids in conjunction with the book, especially if any teachers want to integrate it into a media studies teaching moment.

Get this. Now. It doesn't matter if you have young children or older kids, or no kids at all, if you know a reader of any age, they will love this book. Heck, I'd say that even people who aren't big readers will still love this story, I think it's destined to become one of those universal stories that is special to everyone. I know this will be a treasured book in our family's personal library.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the illustrator's style, there's a lot of bright, bold colours and I like the 'old-timey' atmosphere that the pictures evoke.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tomo - Holly Thompson

Title: Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction-An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories
Author: Holly Thompson (Editor)
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press, 2012 (Paperback)
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Science-Fiction
Started: August 18, 2012
Finished: August 23, 2012

From the back of the book:

One year after the March 2011 Japan earthquake, this collection brings teens closer to Japan and contributes to long-term relief efforts.

Tomo (which means "friend" in Japanese) features thirty-six stories-including ten in translation and two graphic narratives-by authors and artists from around the world, all of whom share a deep connection to Japan.

Here are entertaining tales of family, mystery, war, love, ghosts, magic, science-fiction, and history that will propel you to Japan past and present, to countryside and to city, and to Japanese communities around the world. This is a Japan fresh and different but still familiar: you are as likely to befriend a ninja in these pages as you are a young student riding the trains and texting classmates on a cellphone.

I was a Japanese major in university and grew to love this particular publisher (Stone Bridge Press) since they tend to put out a lot of excellent Japan-centric material, from dictionaries and flash cards to novels. These days I'm out of the loop where Japan-related materials are concerned since my focus has shifted from Japanese stuff to YA and children's literature, but when I saw this listed late last year I knew I had to read it.

Tomo is a great concept: an anthology of Japan-centric short stories where the proceeds benefit recovery efforts in the aftermath of last year's earthquake. Short stories, especially a nice variety of genres as those in this book, are a great way to get kids interested in fiction, plus I find they're great for readers with a smaller attention span or just less patience for things to really get going like in full-length novels. The stories are broken up by broad themes: Shocks and Tremors (stories directly relating to earthquake experiences), Friends and Enemies (stories about Japanese experiences in WWII), Ghosts and Spirits (supernatural stories), and various others. I loved the manga-style graphic pieces, they were a nice touch and a great nod to Japanese artistic culture. I had several favourites across the themes, there's something for everyone to enjoy here.

This anthology is a wonderful way to introduce readers to Japanese subjects and themes in literature. There are several here that would be ideal to use in a classroom setting. There's a glossary at the back for Japanese terms that pop up, but it might be proactive to explain to readers about Japan's somewhat xenophobic attitudes (the theme of biracial and foreign characters being ostracized occurs in many of the stories).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the yellowy-green background with the red-orange title font and kanji, as well as the silhouettes of the kids along the bottom of the book.