Kuma-Kuma Chan by Kazue Takahashi

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Beloved Japanese Children’s Book
Makes Its English Debut

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi
(Museyon Press, 2014; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”

Kuma-Kuma-Chan-cvr.jpgJapanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.

Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.

Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.

Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.

A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.

Visit  Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.

Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.

May you always have fun and do well.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Great Christmas Books for Kids – A Holiday Roundup

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Kids Christmas Books Roundup –
Reviewers Rita Zobayan and MaryAnne Locher
Share Some of This Season’s Kidlit Faves

Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish'Twas-Nochebuena-cvr.jpg written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Sara Palacios (Viking/Penguin, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

While Christmas is celebrated all around the world, different cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating. ‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish is a new spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

A Latino family is preparing to host relatives and friends on Christmas Eve. They are busy making tamales stuffed with pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese). When ready, they participate in posadas (the reenactment of the Nativity) where families stroll from house to house, asking for shelter. Once back home, the family drinks warm mugs of chocolaty champurrado (a thick hot chocolate drink) and play loteria (a game similar to bingo). Then, it’s time for Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) before the celebration continues with more food and a delicious dessert called bu~nuelos (a sweet fritter covered with cinnamon). It’s a wonderful night of family and festivities.

The artwork is bright and inviting. Little details, such as colorful banners and the town’s architecture, give a feel for the setting. I found the facial expressions, including that of the family cat and dog, to be especially engaging.

The rhyming text makes the book easy to read, even for non-Spanish speakers. With satisfied bellies and sleepy eyes, we head to the sala for one last surprise. Giggling and cheering, we dash for the tree, where regalos are waiting for you and for me! A glossary of 47 Spanish terms is included, as is an author’s note about the origin of this story.

With diverse literature in high demand, ‘Twas Nochebuena provides fun insight into a cultural celebration of Christmas Eve. Feliz Navidad! – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of Round is a Tortilla, also by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.

 

Maisys-Christmas-Tree-cvr.jpgIf you’re looking for a sweet board book to tuck in a special little person’s stocking this Christmas, Maisy’s Christmas Tree, (Candlewick Press, 2014; $6.99, Ages 2-5) is the perfect pick. Written by Lucy Cousins, the ever-popular Maisy is decorating her Christmas tree with her friends. Cyril the squirrel, Tallulah the chicken, and Charlie the crocodile are all helping out in their own special way, stringing lights, hanging candy canes, and wrapping presents. Eddie the elephant is in charge of the tree topper: an angel who looks exactly like Maisy!

Maisys-Christmas-Tree-int.jpg

Interior image from Maisy’s Christmas Tree by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Bright primary and secondary colors with a bit of silver sparkle make this a visually appealing book. Its small size and Christmas tree shape make it easy for little hands to hold and help turn pages. Even a toddler full of Christmas anticipation will sit through this book of under fifty words which gently builds to a grand finale. Maisy and friends sing carols around her beautiful tree then shout, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” – MaryAnne Locher

Link to review of Peck, Peck, Peck, also by Lucy Cousins.

 

Everything-About-Christmas-cvr.jpgEverything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book written by Diane Muldrow (Golden Books, 2014; $9.99, Ages 4 and up)

Little Golden Books are endearing. I’m not sure if it’s the vintage-style art work or the sense of innocence that seems to emanate from the words and pictures of a bygone era, but there’s no denying the “aww” that goes along with the series. So, it’s no surprise that Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow draws in both young and old. Compiled from the art of a variety of LGB, this is a guide to keeping your sanity during one of the happiest yet busiest times of the year.

“Christmas is coming!” waves a happy Santa. But, what about all that baking, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, and the rounds of social obligations…when you could be taking a nap. Then there’s the snarled holiday traffic…and the scary holiday crowds! The excess! The expense! Then comes the weight gain. Yes, Christmas certainly comes with stresses and obligations. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and consumerism. However, don’t spend all your time preparing…It’s a time for traditions, a time for giving the very best of yourself…a time to reach out to someone who’d otherwise be alone. For one night in a manger, under a star, a night witnessed by both shepherds and kings, when gifts were given to a waiting world…and the gift of hope for a peaceable kingdom.

While younger children might not understand the message about keeping the crazy out of Christmas, they will almost certainly enjoy the illustrations and message of love and family. Filled with LGB favorites, such as the Poky Little Puppy and Richard Scarry’s artwork (among many talented others), the book harkens to the wonder and nostalgia of childhood. This is something that LGB does so well. Adults are transported back to their childhoods (and perhaps will remember reading LGB as youngsters), and children will adore the sense of warmth that the illustrations create.

Everything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book is a new Christmas favorite in our household, and once you read it, you’ll see why. – Rita Zobayan

Link to review of We Planted a Tree, also by Diane Muldrow.

 

 

 

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A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka – Review & Interview

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A Girl Called Fearless
by Catherine Linka

(St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
Review and Interview by Ronna Mandel

Review:

Fearless-cvr.jpgAvie Reveare is an average teen in a not so average world. Like most teens, she loves music, hanging out with her friends, and is especially close with her best friend Dayla, and a childhood pal, Yates, whom she may or may not be falling for (also typical of a teen).

The time is now and Avie is living a well-off life in Pasadena, California. However, this being dystopian fiction, author Linka has had to create a believable America unlike our present one. This one is still reeling from the aftermath of Scarpanol, a synthetic hormone that was used in beef and ended up killing fifty million women ten years earlier. The end result – young girls are a protected commodity, contracted for marriage often by the highest bidder.

Females have been losing their rights since the Scarpanol tragedy and the Paternalist movement, which threatens to control them entirely, is causing many teenaged girls to flee to Canada. When Avie’s father accepts a marriage contract offer for his daughter from Jes Hawkins, a massively rich Paternalist running for governor and one of the sleaziest characters I’ve seen in print recently, she realizes she too must make a run for the border. Readers soon learn that escaping the clutches of a wealthy, well-connected wannabe politician, is a lot easier in theory than in reality. Avie, with the help of Yates, is forced to go underground, but in doing will she rise to the occasion, get involved in a cause she’s tried to avoid or succumb to the emotional and physical consequences of escaping her forthcoming marriage?

With A Girl Called Fearless, Linka’s created a page turner for teens that will pull them into her world immediately and keep them reading because they’ll care about Avie and what happens to her; the urgency of her situation tenable. Teen vernacular is captured perfectly, and Linka’s use of song lyrics and the anger behind them is also employed successfully in the storyline.

“Better Learn My Name”
By Survival Instincts

I’ve got a hundred names,
But it all comes out the same
I’m someone’s prize possession
Not a person. An obsession

Is it the end of the world as Avie knows it or can something good come from all the malice boiling just below the surface of everyday dystopian life? I recommend getting this YA novel as a gift this holiday season for that teen who might otherwise be attached to a cell phone for the next two weeks.

Q & A With Catherine Linka:

What is your book about?

A Girl Called Fearless and its sequel, A Girl Undone, are about Avie, a junior at a girl’s school in Pasadena who comes home from school one day and finds that her dad has “Contracted” her to marry a man twice her age who she’s never met. The book is set in Los Angeles today, but assumes that ten years ago, synthetic hormones in beef killed most adult women in the US, so teenage girls have become the most valuable and protected commodity in the country. Avie must choose whether to get married or run for freedom in Canada.

We’ve seen a lot of strong girl characters like Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. How does Avie compare?

I wanted to write about a girl who’s not a superhero style character. Avie’s a typical teenage girl suddenly thrust into a situation that tests her to the max. She doesn’t think of herself as “Fearless” even though her friend Yates likes to call her that. I felt it was important to show young readers that many of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we are pushed to our absolute limits. At the end of book one, Avie says, “I am fearless,” because she has survived.

Authors tend to put themselves into their characters. How are you and Avie related?

Well, I’m obviously not a sixteen-year-old girl, but Avie and I share a strong sense of what is fair and just. Avie’s been insulated from what is happening in the world around her, until she is Contracted to marry a man who is running for Governor of California. As she starts to see how the Paternalist politicians are manipulating men’s and women’s lives, she feels she has to act somehow. She can’t sit back and do nothing. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing, either.

What has surprised you about the reaction to A Girl Called Fearless?

One thing I never anticipated was getting emails from readers as young as eleven and as old as eighty-five. Younger readers seem to enjoy the story’s action and adventure, while older readers see the historic and political parallels between Avie’s America and the real world. And I never expected guys to read the book or enjoy it. Never! I’ve also been surprised that both grandmas and teens have thanked me for showing Avie choosing to wait instead of having sex.

We heard there’s a possible TV series?

Yes, the books have been optioned and a series is in development. It’s fascinating–and a tiny bit scary– to see how a book is taken from the page to the screen, because the author has very little control. But the lead screenwriters are geniuses, so my fingers are crossed things will come out well.

What was your biggest challenge when writing the first novel- was it creating a believable epidemic, believable characters or something else altogether?

The biggest challenge was initially the book felt like two books–before Avie leaves Los Angeles and after. I united the halves by making the businessman that Avie is Contracted to marry into a candidate for Governor of California from the Paternalist Party. This strengthened the political theme and heightened the stakes.

You sure seemed to have had fun writing the role of Avie’s skeevy intended, Jes Hawkins – was he one of the easiest to write?

I adore writing villains. They can have big, bold personalities, and it’s much easier to create a villain who possesses positive character traits than it is to write a hero and give him enough flaws to make him believable.

In addition to Avie and Yates, there are so many interesting characters in your novel – her teacher, Ms. A, a priest, Father Gabe, her gynecologist, Mrs. Prandip and her underground connection Maggie. For me though, my particular favorites were those living in the rebel enclave of Salvation. Were you inspired by anyone or anything in real life when you conceived of this community?

When I wrote Salvation, I wanted to give voice to a part of America that values self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, religion, and freedom from government control. I was inspired by stories of frontier settlers, but I also read books and blogs written by survivalists who wanted to be off the grid.

Without a plot spoiler, can you give us a tease about what we can expect in the sequel, A Girl Undone?

Avie faces some tough decisions. At the end of A Girl Called Fearless, she makes a promise, but keeping that promise puts her life at risk. The first book was about Avie discovering her inner strength. A Girl Undone is about choosing between what is best for her and what’s best for the country.

Despite the publishing industry saying that they’ve moved on to other genres, dystopian themed stories remain extremely popular with teens.  To what to you attribute this? What’s the appeal?

I think the publishing industry gets bored with genres faster than readers do, but that said, I believe “dystopian” stories are popular because they are high stakes action/adventure stories. In many ways, they are monster stories where the monster is government or technology out of control.

How do you differentiate sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian fiction for parents who want to know what types of books their kids are reading?

When people think of fantasy, they often think of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings where magic inhabits an Earth-like world. The conflict is often between those who practice good magic and those who use magic for evil.

Sci-fi differentiates itself from fantasy by offering a world transformed by advanced scientific technology, and the action often takes place away from planet Earth. Dystopian is usually set on Earth in the future, and involves a catastrophic event or technology fail that dramatically changed the society or government. The themes of both usually involve survival, or freedom from totalitarian control.

What is your current WIP?

Right now I’m reviewing the typeset pages of A Girl Undone that are due next week. I am also working with my publisher on how to make available a novella I wrote about Sparrow, a character from A Girl Called Fearless. We are considering putting it on Wattpad where readers could try it out for free.

Disclosure: I happen to know Catherine Linka who has reviewed many books for GRWR, however this did not influence my opinion about her novel.

Catherine-Linka.jpg

Catherine Linka, author of A Girl Called Fearless, St. Martin’s Griffin, Photo ©2014 Brad Buckman Photography

Meet Catherine Linka on her Thank You Sciba Book Tour.
In appreciation for the support of indie booksellers this year,
she can be found signing her debut novel, A Girl Called Fearless,
and hand selling children’s and YA books at the following stores.
She’s the best at helping you find the perfect gift!
Be sure to pick up several copies of her book.

12/18 Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA

12/19 Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, La Canada, CA

A GIRL UNDONE, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

ABA Kids Indie Next Pick

Winner SCIBA Book Award for YA Fiction, 2014

Nominated to ALA Amelia Bloomer Project, 2014

Website: www.catherinelinka.com

Twitter: @cblinka

Facebook: CatherineLinkaAuthor

 

 

 

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