Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

“‘Once, there were two princesses, Sisters. One trained to be a warrior, at the top of a mountain. She was never allowed to go home. The other trained to be the perfect princess. She was never allowed out of the palace. Until one day, when their father said they were ready . . .’
‘They weren’t ready,’ Ji-Lin admitted.
‘They weren’t,’ Seika agreed. ‘But they had to go, because they were needed. And their journey was more dangerous than anyone thought it would be.'”

In this middle grade fantasy with a hint of Japanese influence (no actual mention of Japan), the twin princesses Seika and Ji-Lin, heir and guardian respectively of the island kingdom of Himitsu, travel together on the ritual Emperor’s Journey to the volcanic mountain where Seika will meet with the dragon who keeps the hidden kingdom hidden with a protective magical barrier. Ji-Lin’s task, along with her winged lion Alejan, is to protect her sister, Seika, and help her to complete the journey. They must reach the the Shrine of the Dragon by Himit’s Day. The safety of the islands and their people depends on two twelve year old princesses and a strong, but immature, winged lion.

What a fantastic book—humorous, thrilling, and at times, even thoughtful. It’s a celebration of sisterhood as the twins test themselves and learn to depend on each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. There are koji, monsters of various sorts, to fight or avoid, and there are choices to be made, both moral and strategic. Seika, who depends on her mastery of the traditions and rituals of her people’s history to keep the world stable and safe, must learn that perfection in word and deed isn’t always possible and isn’t always what’s needed. Ji-Lin, who has been trained to fight and to protect, must learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Both girls, and indeed their father, the Emperor, and all of the people of the Hidden Islands of Himitsu, must grow to accept change and to make new traditions.

It’s not as complicated or indeed as literary as Grace Lin’s award winning novels Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver, books to which Journey Across the Hidden Islands is sure to be compared. The books do share a common theme: that stories are important and powerful, especially the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves. But as it turns out I’m more a fan of straightforward with a little bit of funny thrown in, so if you want a fantasy for ages nine to twelve with a hint of an Asian flavor, a solid plot, and good themes, I’d recommend this one.

Poetry Friday: Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers by Gloria Whelan

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers By Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.

This week and next in our homeschool we’re traveling to Japan: sushi, haiku, kimonos, rice paper, origami, big city, small farm, tsunamis, cherry blossoms. And what else might we discover in our imaginary journey to Japan?

When you’re looking for children’s books with an international setting and flavor, Gloria Whelan is a go-to author, and Sleeping Bear Press is definitely a premier publisher of such books. Sleeping Bear has published a whole bushel basket of alphabet books featuring different countries, states, regions, and interests from A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet to K is for Kabuki: A Japan Alphabet to Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet. And their non-alphabet, non-concept books rate high in both beauty and educational value, too. Sleeping Bear Press specializes in picture books, ergo the pictures in the books are delightful, colorful, and rich in detail.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers is no exception to that description. The illustrations, in double page and page and a half spreads, are Japanese in flavor, with the delicate figures and light and dark contrasts of Japanese character writing. However, there’s also a lot of color splashed all over these pages to delight the eye and engage the imagination. Yan Nascimbene also did the small, intricate illustrations for another lovely picture book set in Japan, Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner.

Gloria Whelan’s text tells the story of an seventeenth or eighteenth century girl, Yuki, who must accompany her family on a 300 mile journey to the capital city of Edo. Yuki must ride in a palanquin (most of the time), and her teacher has given her an assignment to write a haiku every day to chronicle the journey. Yuki writes all of her longing for home and her fears about the future as well as her enjoyment in the small pleasures of each day into her haiku.

Once outside the gate
how will I find my way back?
Will home disappear?

River is busy
making its own long journey;
it doesn’t look back.

Gulls write their haiku
in the sky, dipping and darting,
not caged in a box.

Once during the long journey, Yuki is able to climb out of the palanquin and walk a little way. She writes:

Grass under my feet
plum blossoms drift down on me
just for a minute.

Finally, the family reach Edo, the end of their journey, and Yuki learns to appreciate where she is, instead of always looking back to long for her old home.

The book is a fantastic introduction to historical Japan and a lovely story of overcoming homesickness through poetry and awareness of daily blessings.

Jama’s Alphabet Soup has today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.

Book Tag: Asia Picture Books

It’s time for Book Tag again. The rules are:

“In this game, readers suggest a good book in the category given, then let somebody else be ‘it’ before they offer another suggestion. There is no limit to the number of books a person may suggest, but they need to politely wait their turn with only one book suggestion per comment.”

I’ve been working on a follow-up to my Picture Book Preschool curriculum (for several years I’ve been working, ruefully), called Picture Book Around the World. How about you all help me out by suggesting picture books set in Asia today?

I’ll start us off with one of my favorite authors of picture books set in Japan, Allen Say. Mr. Say’s Bicycle Man tells the story of two American soldiers, immediately after World War II, who entertain Japanese children in a schoolyard by doing tricks on a bicycle.

Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1937. He now lives in the United States, and he both writes and illustrates children’s picture books. Most of his stories are either set in Japan or feature Japanese American characters.

What picture books set in Asia can you suggest for this edition of book tag?

Christmas in Kobe, Japan, 1912

Lottie Moon was born into a comfortable life on an antebellum plantation in Virginia. She died on Christmas Eve, 1912, on board a ship off the coast of Japan, some say of sickness due to malnutrition, after a life of ministering to and suffering with the Chinese people she loved. Between her birth and death, she met the power and love of Jesus Christ who forgave her, redeemed her, and sent her to teach the people of China about Jesus and the “great tidings of great joy.”

From her letters:

“Here I am working alone in a city of many thousand inhabitants. It is grievous to think of these human souls going down to death without even one opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus. How many can I reach? The needs of these people press upon my soul, and I cannot be silent.”

“Our hearts were made glad last Sabbath by the baptism of an individual who has interested us by his firm stand under the persecutions of his … family. They fastened him in a room without food or water, and endeavored to starve him into submission. Providentially, they did not take away his Christian books. He studied these more closely than ever. The pangs of hunger he satisfied by eating some raw beans he found in the room, and when he wanted water he commenced to dig a well in the room in which he was confined. Chinese houses are built on the ground and do not have plank floors as with us. When the family discovered the well-digging they yielded. They had no wish to ruin their dwelling. The man has shown that he is made of stern stuff, and we hope he will be very useful as a Christian.”

“Recently, on a Sunday which I was spending in a village near Pingtu city, two men came to me with the request that I would conduct the general services. They wished me to read and explain, to a mixed audience of men and women, the parable of the prodigal son. I replied that no one should undertake to speak without preparation, and that I had made none. (I had been busy all the morning teaching the women and girls.) After awhile they came again to know my decision. I said, “It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.” I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd. Men asking to be taught and no one to teach them.” February 9, 1889.

“How many there are … who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.” September 15, 1887.

“Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?” September 15, 1887.

You’ll find these quotes and many more from Lottie Moon’s letters in Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, edited by Keith Harper, published by Mercer University Press.

“When Moon returned from her second furlough in 1904, she was deeply struck by the suffering of the people who were literally starving to death all around her. She pleaded for more money and more resources, but the mission board was heavily in debt and could send nothing. Mission salaries were voluntarily cut. Unknown to her fellow missionaries, Moon shared her personal finances and food with anyone in need around her, severely affecting both her physical and mental health. In 1912, she only weighed 50 pounds. Alarmed, fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent back home to the United States with a missionary companion. However, Moon died on route, at the age of 72, on December 24, 1912, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan.” Wikipedia, Lottie Moon

Karate Kid Does Japan

Karate Kid, age 9, is interested in all things Japanese. While we’ve been touring Asia and Australia and the South Pacific, he’s been concentrating mostly on Japan and books set in Japan. Here are the books he’s read and his, mostly unedited, responses to them:

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler

I was in a dark tunnel, creeping along, feeling my way through the cold passage. My name is Seikei, I am twelve years old. I dream of being a samurai, one of the legendary warriors. I was working for Judge Ooka, a samurai himself who was too big to fit into the small tunnel. . . I was searching for a ghost!

Takao and Grandfather’s Sword

There once was a boy named Takao who lived in Japan. He owned a sword that his grandfather had given to him. He didn’t know how much trouble he would get out of it. He would be in fires and cry. He would have dreams. He would . . .sell his sword???

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

This story is about a girl who lived in Japan and her name was Sadako. I really hate this story because she dies in the end. DO NOT READ IT.

I couldn’t leave the (few) spelling errors alone. I’m a bad typist, but a good speller, and I can’t leave misspelled words on my blog.

Week 8 of World Geography: Japan

Robert Schumann—Symphonic Etudes
Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff–Wheeler

More haiku

Physical Science: Force, work, and energy

Nonfiction Read Aloud:
Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun–Blumberg

Fiction Read Alouds:
Li Lun, Lad of Courage–Treffinger
Born in the Year of Courage–Crofford

Picture Books:
What Does the Rooster Say, Yoshio?—Battles
How My Parents Learned to Eat—Freidman
Count Your Way Through Japan—Haskins. There is a whole series of these count-your-way-through books, and I think they’re lots of fun for little ones and elementary age children.
Tree of Cranes—Say. Allen Say is an amazing Japanese American picture book author and illustrator.
Tea With Milk—Say
Grandfather’s Journey—Say
Welcome to Japan–Auch
An Illustrated History of Japan–Nishimura
This Place Is Crowded: Japan–Cobb

Elementary Readers:
A Samuraii Castle—Macdonald
The Cat Who Went to Heaven—Coatsworth
The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn—Hoobler
Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy–Blumberg

Week 7 of World Geography: Japan

Franz Peter Schubert—C Major Symphony
A Little Schubert–Goffstein
Franz Schubert and His Merry Friends–Wheeler

Mission Study:
1. Window on the World: Japan
2. Bold Bearers of His Name: Kanzo Uchimura
3. WotW: Buddhism


Atoms and Molecules

Nonfiction Read Aloud:
Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun–Blumberg

Fiction Read Alouds:
Li Lun, Lad of Courage–Treffinger
Born in the Year of Courage–Crofford

Picture Books:
Take a Trip to Japan—Ashby
Hachiko, the True Story of a Loyal Dog—Turner
The Bicycle Man—Say
The Funny Little Woman—Mosel
Crow Boy—Yashima

Elementary Readers:
The Master Puppeteer-Paterson
The Big Wave–Buck
Takao and Grandfather’s Sword–Uchida
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes–Coerr
Easy Origami–Montroll

Movies: Are there any good (English) family movies set in Japan? I’m coming up blank. I don’t really want WW 2 because that would probably present an American point of view.

Stay tuned for more on Japan next week. . . .

Allen Say

Say is a Japanese-American author who was also born on this date. He was born in Yokohama, Japan and came to the U.S. just after WWII with his father. His father enrolled him in a military school in California, and Say hated the school and the United States. He was expelled from military school after a year enabling him to explore California on his own. He began to write and illustrate children’s books while doing advertising photography for a living. His book The Bicycle Man is set in Japan immediately after World War II. In the story, two American soldiers visit a Japanese schoolyard and show the children tricks on a bicycle. Maybe this book would be a good one to distribute among American servicemen in Iraq. Then again, maybe the situations are not that analogous. The Iraquis seem to be more dangerous. Could two American servicemen visit an Iraqui school without guns (the book specifically says, “They had no guns.”) and hope to be welcomed? Would they even be allowed to do so by the U.S. and Iraqi authorities? I don’t know.
Say also won a Caldecott Award for his book Grandfather’s Journey about his own grandfather’s coming to the United States.