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Book Review: Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

23 Feb

My sister recently asked me,

“Have you read the Jasmine Toguchi series– beginner chapter books about a Japanese-American girl?”

I had not heard of it, but I immediately got a copy to read. And I loved it!

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The book I read was the first in the series, called “Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen“. It is written by Debbi Michiko Florence with illustrations by Elizabet Vukovic. I was immediately enamored by the main character– a spunky 8-year old girl who is a member of a warm and loving (and sometimes annoying) Japanese family, living in the United States. She reminded me of my own 9-year old daughter, sometimes so much so that I found myself laughing out loud and saying to my husband, “Listen to this! It’s just like our kids!”.

The book has won numerous awards including:

A Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 Selection
An Amazon’s Best Children’s Books of 2017
An Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids List 2017
A Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books 2017
A 2017 Nerdy Book Club Award Winner

There are currently 2 books in this series with 2 more coming soon (Read about them HERE). They are recommended for grades 1-4 (or ages 6-9). My daughter who is in 4th grade (and is a higher-level reader) said she liked the book but “it’s better for 2nd graders”. It is a great way to learn a little bit about Japanese culture in a very relatable way.

I personally would have loved to have had this series when I was a child. There is such a lack of children’s books starring Japanese American families. Author Debbi Florence is a third generation Japanese American and native Californian. She currently resides in Connecticut. If you are interested in having her visit your schools to talk about Japanese culture and the writing process, you can find out how HERE!

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Author of the “Jasmine Toguchi” series, Debbi Florence

You can purchase “Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen” HERE, via Amazon (affiliate link).

This post was not sponsored by Debbi Florence or Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers. All opinions are unbiased, honest, and completely my own. 

Japan-inspired Classroom Valentines

24 Jan

Eek! It has been a long time since I last blogged! So sorry. (I post more often on my –> Hiragana Mama facebook page if you’d like more updates!).

So the fall/winter holidays came and went in a whirlwind and now it’s almost Valentine’s Day! At my children’s school, they still exchange valentine cards so I’ve been trying to brainstorm ideas for cards. If you want to be unique, why not try a Japan-inspired Valentine’s card?

For example, use origami. Here are some ideas I found on Pinterest. There are hundreds of ideas on there! Here are my favorites.

First, a unicorn origami valentine bookmark, found at willowday.net.

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Next up, Origami Troll valentines, by PinkStripeySocks.com.

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Aren’t they sooo cute??

Here is an origami Kissing Lips valentine by homemade-gifts-made-easy.com

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You can visit Origami Club to learn how to make basic hearts out of origami: Origami Club.

If you and your kids are not the crafty types, you can always purchase pre-made cards from places like Etsy.

Check out this cute Totoro valentine by Etsy seller playerNo2

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You could also buy clip art from sellers like Cockatoo Design

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Minted.com also has these adorably clever cards that you can order.

Udon Card

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Wasaaaabae (this one is my favorite)

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Check out Minted for even more! (No, not sponsored. No part of this post is sponsored. I just like to find good stuff and share them with you.)

My children’s school doesn’t allow food to be passed out, but if your school allows it, I thought it would be fun to pass out candy like Hi-Chew, interesting-flavored Kit-Kats, or little packs of Konpeito (Amazon Associate links). I have seen some of these foods being sold at World Market, and of course at Asian grocery stores.

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Aren’t these little bags of konpeito so cute? $9.99 for 50 packs!

I am sure you all could come up with some Japan-inspired Valentine’s Box ideas as well. What have you done in the past, and what do you plan to do this year? I would love to hear.

 

 

Learning Kanji With Poop– yes, really

4 Jun

So guess what the #1 bestselling textbook in Japan is? It is:

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日本一楽しい漢字ドリル うんこかん字ドリル 小学1年生” (The Most Fun Kanji Drill Book in Japan: Poop Kanji for First Grade)

I saw this on Amazon Japan a few months ago and had a good chuckle. Someone is a genius! Do you know how much my kids love potty-humor? Hahaha.

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So I was totally on board when my son’s first-grade teacher at Japanese School wanted every student in her class to have a copy of this kanji workbook. And you know what? My son LOVES it. I hear him reading this book out loud to his sister in the mornings. I have to force him to stop working in the book sometimes. Would your kids be motivated to learn kanji if they had a workbook like this?

Here are some sample pages:

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The translation for the first example sentence above is: “Today’s weather forecast is sunny, partly poopy.”

There are unko/poop kanji workbooks for grades 1-6. I’m not sure how many 6th graders would like this learning style, but my first grader sure likes it. They can be bought at Amazon Japan, here (I am not affiliated with Amazon Japan).

You can find out more at: https://unkokanji.com/

“Once Upon a World” : Fairy Tales Reimagined!

17 May

 

Have you happened upon the “Once Upon a World” series yet?? If not, you must! It is a refreshing, delightful new take on the classic fairy tales. The stories are the same, but the characters and illustrations reflect a different culture. So far in the series, there’s Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella.

We are especially in love with “Snow White“, by Chloe Perkins. The illustrations inspired by Japan are just lovely to look at. I love that my little girl can see that someone who looks like her can be a princess too.

Here’s what the Simon & Schuster website has to say about Snow White:

The classic tale of Snow White gets a fresh twist in this debut title of a brand-new board book series, Once Upon a World. With Japan as the backdrop, and beautiful artwork from Japanese illustrator Misa Saburi, Snow White is still the same girl who meets seven dwarves and accepts a shiny red apple—but she’s totally reimagined. Once Upon a World offers a multicultural take on the fairy tales we all know and love. Because these tales are for everyone, everywhere.

You can purchase “Once Upon a World: Snow White” HERE. (Currently less than $5 on Amazon! I might stock up for baby shower gifts)

These are nice board books– perfect for little ones!

(This is not an endorsed post. We found this book at our local library and loved it so we wanted to share. If you use my amazon link to purchase a book however, we will earn a few pennies to help keep this blog running! Thanks!)

Kanji-Learning Videos!

3 May

There’s a lot of hiragana-learning videos for kids, but there’s still very few kanji-learning videos for kids (as of 2017). I hope someone will create some high-quality kanji videos in the near future. In the meantime, here are some kanji videos I’ve found. Mostly geared towards adults but I think kids could benefit as well.

This first video IS geared toward kids but is outdated. It is part of a series called 児童教育 右脳イメージトレーニング (Image Training for Children).

This next video is by Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com, and is very well done.

Learn the Kanji Basics with Williams College:

Learning kanji with animation, by キッズボンボン:

By the Japan Channel:

By 英会話のEnglish Garden:

By Easy KANJI Lesson:

First Grade Kanji by LetsLearnJapanese:

 

If you come across any great kanji-learning resources, please leave a comment!

Super Simple 日本語 Japanese Children’s Videos

1 May

Super Simple has released some great Japanese videos recently. They produce videos in many different languages. I think the translation is done really well! I hope they keep adding more.

 

 

They also have a set of “Mommy-and-Me Japanese videos here.

Cafetalk: Private Lessons Using Skype!

15 Oct

Have you heard of Cafetalk? You must check it out. It is one of my favorite Japanese-learning resources! (Special promotional link at the end of this post!)

Cafetalk is a website that connects you to tutors from all over the world. The tutors teach languages (TONS of Japanese teachers!), music (piano, voice, ukulele, etc), arts and crafts, hula, abacus/soroban, and a lot more. There are thousands of lessons offered.

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As you know, I am passionate about exposing my children to as much Japanese language and culture as possible, so I searched the Cafetalk website for tutors who teach Japanese to children. I was a little bit overwhelmed with all the choices, so I asked a Cafetalk representative to recommend teachers to me (you can chat, call, or email them and they are very helpful!).

I registered online (very easy), entered my Skype name (you must have Skype to use Cafe Talk), then signed up for some lessons! It was all very straight-forward, and I thought the lessons were priced very reasonably (cheaper than hiring a tutor to come to my house). Many tutors even offer free or discounted Trial Lessons.

The day of our first lesson came, and my kids sat anxiously in front of our computer, waiting for our Skype tutor to call us. The lesson was for my two older kids, but Baby Sister wanted to join in the fun.

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Our tutors were always right on time. I love that. And I love that we didn’t have to leave the house, and my kids could be in pajamas.

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I sent each tutor specific requests before each lesson. For example, “I want them to practice katakana”, or “Could you help them increase their vocabulary?”. The tutors went above and beyond my expectations, catering their lessons to my children and sending a follow-up message after the lesson was over, which included what was taught during the lesson, and what my kids could work on during the week. One of the tutors sent me a message ahead time asking me to print out a worksheet to use during the lesson.

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One tutor did such a great job keeping my kids engaged during their entire 20-minute lesson. She used a game of guesstures to teach action words. My kids loved it, as evidenced by this video! My kids are always sad when their lesson comes to a close.

 

Sometimes the lessons were face-to-face conversations,  and sometimes the tutor would use a feature on Skype where they can type on the screen during the lesson. I thought that was pretty neat. Here’s an example from when my kids were practicing katakana:

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Overall I was very pleased with our Cafetalk experience. I was impressed with the number and quality of tutors available on the website, the customer service, and price.

The only downside for us was that since we live in the New York Time Zone and most of the tutors live in Japan, many of the lessons I wanted to try were not available during my children’s after-school hours (because that would be the middle of the night in Japan). The tutors we found were Japanese teachers who had moved to Hawaii or the mainland.

Our family was given a few free lessons in exchange for a review. To be honest though, we enjoyed Cafetalk so much that I’ve already paid for a few lessons as well!

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I think this service is a great supplement to my children’s Japanese education. I know that in a few years, Japanese School may become too difficult or sports will get in the way of attending. So Cafetalk may become our alternative to Japanese School at that time.

I highly recommend Cafetalk if you want to learn Japanese (any level– beginner or advanced, and any age!). It is great for people who want to learn from home, or live in an area where getting a private tutor is difficult or expensive.

Cafetalk has generously offered Hiragana Mama readers 500 free points! You can use your points to purchase any lesson. Click HERE for your free points!

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The 500 points will be delivered to your account only if you sign up using this special link.  Also, the points will be usable only for 30 days after you sign up. 

Please let me know what lessons you tried and how you liked it!

Love, Hiragana Mama

NEW Gakken Go Go Workbooks!

10 Sep

I believe learning should be fun, motivating, and rewarding. If you believe that too, you should check out the new Go Go series by Gakken!

Gakken has been creating educational materials in Japan for years. Go to any bookstore in Japan, and you will see shelves lined with workbooks by Gakken. Just recently, they have started branching out and creating workbooks for sale in the United States. They reached out to me to see if I’d like to review the new books, and I said SURE! because I knew they create good-quality books.

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The books arrived and my children (even the ones who are too old for them) couldn’t wait to flip through the colorful pages and admire the cute stickers.

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Hmm which sticker to use next?

The first thing that impressed me was the quality. Every page, front and back, is full-color. The pages are nice and thick so you could use pencils, crayons, or markers. The stickers are high-quality and the illustrations are adorable.

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2-4 year old tracing book

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Go Go Tracing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

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from the 4-6 year old mazes book

I also liked that the books are very age-appropriate. I received several books for 2-4 year olds. My almost-2-year-old could do some of the beginning pages, but the rest of the pages were a bit too advanced. I know they will be just perfect in a few months! However, she wants to use up all the stickers NOW! 🙂

Right now they also have books for 3-5 year olds and 4-6 year olds. I hope that as the company keeps expanding, they will publish more books for older kids too! (See all the currently available books HERE). I would also love to see their Japanese language books (like hiragana) here too.

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cute stickers galore!

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As someone who is passionate about Japanese culture, I was thrilled to see that pieces of Japanese life are included in the books. People who don’t know anything about Japan may be confused by things like Koinobori (carp fish) and Hinaningyou (Girls Day Dolls), but I LOVE it!

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Gakken workbooks are available for purchase NOW! And I think they are very affordable, ranging from $5 to $8 on Amazon. Totally worth it to keep my kids busy and learning. The stickers are definitely motivating and rewarding for little ones.

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Here are the Amazon links to purchase the books.

Go Go Intellectual Skills 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Life Skills 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Cutting and Pasting 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Tracing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Drawing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Life Skills 3-5 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Mazes 3-5 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Go Go Cutting and Pasting 3-5 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Go Go Mazes 4-6 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Intellectual Skills 4-6 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Want to try out a few pages before deciding to purchase? Gakken has generously provided free sample pages from each book, which can be downloaded HERE. Enjoy!

 

よつばと!(Yotsuba&!) Book Review

28 Jun

Do you know what I LOVE? I love to see my children reading books. And I especially love it when they read Japanese books!

My oldest, now 8 years old, is getting a little bit old for our Japanese picture books. But her reading skills are not strong enough for a lot of Japanese chapter books. So I have been on the hunt for books that she can easily read by herself, and ones where the content would be interesting enough to keep her engaged. We tried Doraemon, Yokai Watch, and Chibi-marukochan, but she was like, “meh”. They didn’t hold her interest (she is picky).

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I came across a review by Japan Info about how a comic book series called よつばと!/Yotsubato by Kiyohiko Azuma is great for people learning Japanese. I researched a little bit more and decided to give the series a shot. I got a great deal on  Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)through Amazon but they are sometimes available on eBay as well, and you can always get them from amazon.co.jp (but the shipping is expensive). There is an English translation of this series too, so make sure you are getting the right language when ordering.

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ANYWAY… the よつばと!comics were a huge hit with my 8-year old! She read one, sometimes two books per day. Sometimes I found her laughing out loud as she read. As soon as she completed the entire series (books 1-13), she started reading book 1 again. She told me she likes the series because “Yotsubato is like me. A foreign girl who knows Japanese, and she’s silly.” I’m reading the books too (I’ve only read up to book 5 so far) but even I find them very engaging and fun to read.There’s not too many kanji, nothing inappropriate for a child, and you learn about Japanese culture as you read! 2 thumbs way up from my daughter and I!

Official Yotsubato website is HERE.

Preview some pages HERE.

Wikipedia article HERE.
Buy Volume One here: Yotsubato! Vol. 1 (Yotsubato!) (in Japanese) (Japanese Edition)

Buy books 1-12 in a set here: Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)

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This is a totally unbiased, unsponsored post about Yotsubato, but I will receive a small portion of any purchases made through Amazon to help fund my website. Thanks!

How to Read a Calendar, in Japanese

23 May

Here are some resources for learning to read a calendar in Japanese.

The trickiest part is learning to read the numbers correctly. Print-kids.net has an excellent printable that shows you how to read dates, with accompanying worksheets, HERE.

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from print-kids.net

Some more printable calendars can be found at Happy Lilac.

After you’ve learned how to read a calendar, I thought this game, by Tatsushi FUKUNAGA, was a wonderful way to review.

 

And here are some YouTube lessons on how to read a calendar in Japanese:

 

And here are some videos about how to say the days of the week in Japanese:

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