Five Great Aussie Children’s Books

It’s been some time since I’ve posted for five things Friday. It’s also been some time since we returned from our visit to Australia. So it seems appropriate that this Five Things post features goodies that we bought back from our trip all those weeks ago.

I really should take an extra suitcase just to carry all the books I bring home with me from Australia. Many of them can’t be ordered through Amazon and those that you can buy in the States are “translated” to American English. I prefer to pay good money in Australia to see a “u” in favourite and read words like petrol instead of gas and torch instead of flashlight.

But, I digress. On to the list.

1. The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey
Note: you can buy this book on Amazon in the US for about $100 but I recommend getting an Australian Pen Pal to send you one. I paid about $15 Australian.

Thomas became very interested in Aboriginal culture during our latest trip home so, when I spotted this book that I recognized from my own childhood, I just had to add it to our already too-heavy luggage. The Rainbow Serpent tells an aboriginal dreamtime story about how the earth became populated with animals. There are a number of versions of this story available but I love the traditional aboriginal style illustrations in this one. A true classic.

2. Queen Victoria’s Underpants by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

I am a huge fan of this Author-Illustrator team (see also Peet the Sheep-Sheep, Diary of a Wombat and Too Many Pears), so I was thrilled to spot this book about a lady who made the very first pair of underwear for Queen Victoria. It’s fun, it’s funny and the illustrations are, of course, adorable. I think I may like this book a lot more than my children do.

3. The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

This book is a little strange but in the best way possible. The artwork (yes, artwork) is incredible and so detailed that I know the kids and I will be finding new hidden treasures in the images for years to come.


I recently ordered Tales from Outer Suburbia to put aside as a Xmas gift for the kids and, if I’m being honest, it might be more of a gift for me than for them.

4. Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan

This is another book that you might want to get from an Aussie friend ($350, seriously Amazon?). A fun, classic story about a Dingo who is looking forward to a meal of Wombat Stew but is outsmarted by a bunch of other Aussie animals that come to the wombat’s rescue. It reads like Stone Soup but with a much less happy ending for the Dingo.

5. Flood by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley 

I realize that this is yet another Jackie French/Bruce Whatley entry on the list, but this one had to be included. It’s not the happiest of stories and probably won’t be one that the kids want to read again and again but it’s a piece of art. Flood tells the story of the 2011 Queensland floods from the perspective of a cattle dog that has been separated from his family. It’s moving and sad and beautiful. You’ll notice that the illustrations have a much different feel to other Whatley-illustrated books that I’ve shared and that’s because he decided that, for this story, he would paint in watercolor and with his left hand to provide a unique, melancholy look. Incredible!

(Please excuse my badly painted toes in this photo. The book refused to stay open on its own).

So, there you have it. A collection of new books that are apparently way more expensive to buy in America than I had anticipated. If you have to have one of these books and  don’t have a friend in Australia to send you a copy, you should either a. find yourself an Aussie friend (I have it on good authority that Aussies are awesome) or b. consider purchasing from Readings, one of the best independent bookstores in Australia. They ship internationally for a flat fee.

Let me know if you have any of these books and what you think of them. And, please, share your own favourites in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for great children’s books and, with Christmas around the corner, I have the perfect excuse to stock our library.

Scenes from Weekends Past

Happy Friday! As we begin our well-deserved long weekend, I thought I’d share a few photographs from weekends past. Here’s what we’ve been doing between work and travel (I think they call it living).

1. The last piece of my birthday puzzle was a wonderful night out with my husband while the kids enjoyed a sleepover. We had delicious cocktails and enjoyed some live Jazz at The Secret Society while we waited 90 minutes for a table at Toro Bravo (totally worth the wait). Then we went to see the Avengers. We were running a little late so we sat in the front row which sometimes made for challenging viewing. There’s a lot of action in that movie. Well worth seeing though, even when sitting just a few feet from the screen.

The Bees Knees cocktail was…well…the bees knees. I may have had more than one.

2. The occasional sunny day has allowed us more time outside. A trip to the local farmer’s market means a side visit to the playground. Both of the boys are working on their Ninja Warrior training.

Don’t know who the other kids is in this picture. Friendships come and go quickly on the playground.

3. Speaking of Ninja Warriors, Thomas earned his yellow belt in Karate which is good for two reasons – yellow is his favorite color and a new belt equals renewed passion for Karate.

4. Practicing for a yellow belt has the side effect of little brother wanting to get in on the action.

5. Spring at a Japanese school means it’s time for Spring Festival. Thomas was joined by 109 of his Kindergaten classmates to sing about 20 songs (only a slight exaggeration) in English and Japanese. Thomas is the blurry one walking across stage in his blue Hapi coat – one of the few who dressed up for the festival. It apparently made him hot so he took it off before he even walked off stage.

I assure you that he was more excited than he looks in this picture.

With limited space, it’s a wonder no one lost an eye during this song.

Of course there are more photos – of neighborhood bike rides, jumping castles and dunking machines – but they will have to wait for another time. Right now, the weekend – and the sunshine – is calling my name.

Plans for this weekend include a few boring things like renewing car registrations and organizing my US residency paperwork. But thankfully also a ton a fun activities such a riding the “bat bike” (pictures of that impressive Kei creation coming soon!) and hosting about 15 four year olds at a Ninja Warrior birthday party.  Wish me luck with that one.

Signing off with one final picture of Batman/Ninja Warrior/Birthday Boy.

Five Things Friday: More Children’s Books Worth Reading More than Once

A couple of months ago, Samuel decided that, each night, he would like to read a few books to himself before going to sleep. Of course Kei and I read to the kids every night before bed, but this is just one of many ways in which Samuel is trying to assert his three year old independence.

It began with reading in the dark until we told him it wasn’t good for his eyes. So Samuel moved to the other side of the room to read by the glow of his night light. After a while we caught on to this little trick and decided that we really should provide him with a safe way to read that won’t contribute to the genetic disposition he already has for bad eyesight (our kids don’t have the best odds for 20/20 vision).

Finally, we bought him his own reading lamp and, let’s just say, it’s opened up a whole new world – one that has been ending at 9 or 10pm on some painfully long drawn out nights. He’s been cranky and unbearably difficult to get out of bed in the morning, but at least he’s picking up some essential (pre)pre-k reading skills in the meantime.

Not that I can complain too much. I have vivid childhood memories of being told time and time again to turn off my light and go to sleep. Samuel and I are alike in many ways.

But I digress. The primary goal of this post is share five of our favorite children’s books. The ones that are inspiring and entertaining a three year old and a six year old – not to mention their parents.

1. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

I’ve mentioned this one before but it’s worth repeating. Stuck is an incredibly imaginative book that made Thomas laugh out loud the first time we read it together – and also the second time and the 20th time. I adore Oliver Jeffers and the book’s tag line ” a story about trying to solve a problem by throwing things at it”.

One catch with this book is that it doesn’t seem to be widely available for purchase here in the US. Even Amazon ships from the UK.

2. Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy

Finally, a book about Superheroes who are not affiliated with DC or Marvel. As much as I admire my boys’ dedication to Superman and his friends, I truly appreciate a book that encourages them to use their imagination and transform themselves into superheroes using what’s around them.

3. The Three Questions by Jon J Muth

Based on a story by Leo Tolsty with a very “zen” approach to problem solving. The most interesting thing about this book is how each of the boys can translate it based on their individual levels of maturity.

4. Art and Max by David Wiesner

This book relies mainly on the illustrations to tell the story – and what wonderful illustrations they are. Such a wonderfully creative story for all children, regardless of age.

5. Predator Showdown by Scholastic

It does pain me a little to put this book on the list because I wasn’t exactly thrilled when Kei bought it at the school book fair. But I have to admit that it is interesting and fun to read with Thomas given his current obsession with animals. On each two page spread they pit one predator against another, comparing things like speed, brains and strength and declaring a winner. It’s written in such a way that it has to be read by putting on the voice of a dramatic television announcer “THIS WEEK ON PREDATOR SHOWDOWN.. SHOWDOWN…showdown…” Of course I recommend it particularly for six year old boys.

So there you have it, book recommendations courtesy of the Ishida boys and their parents, guaranteed to keep everyone entertained – provided you have good lighting.

Five Things Friday: Romantic Movies that Go Beyond All That Gross Kissy Stuff*

*Gross kissy stuff according to a three year old. Not the opinion of the author.

There was a time, long ago, when I went to the movie theater on a regular basis. I would easily lose myself for a couple of hours in a romantic comedy or the latest thriller or even a classic movie – due in large part to a wonderful 12 month period when I lived within steps of the famous Astor theater in St. Kilda.

There was also a time, long ago, when I could proudly declare that I had seen most, if not all, of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar telecast and share my informed opinion on who should win.

Of course those days are over thanks to something call “parenthood” – and the increase in the number of best picture nominees didn’t help my cause.

So, as I share my favorite romantic movies, you’ll notice that most of the films on the list are more than a few years old. Part of this is because I have to be particularly choosy about how I spend my movie-viewing time, but I also believe that it is because it is incredibly difficult to make a  great romantic comedy – one that doesn’t resort to cliches or painful sentimentality to tell a story.

Without further ado, my choices for the top five romantic movies that stimulate the mind as well as the heart strings.

1. When Harry Met Sally

Hand’s down my all time favorite romantic movie. I think I’ve seen it more than 30 times and owned it on VHS in Australia before I upgraded to a DVD copy when we moved to the US (Blue ray may be next). It’s a funny, romantic story about friends who finally find love right in from of them. I love the “documentary” interviews that are sprinkled throughout the film and, of course, the quotable dialogue that ends with one of the most romantic declarations of love ever found in a movie.

“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. “

This film caused me to fall in love with Billy Chrystal for a couple of hours – now that’s genius.

2. Like Water for Chocolate

Back when I used to see a lot of movies, I also used to see a lot of foreign movies. I know, it was a crazy, frivolous use of time and I LOVED it. One of my favorites was “Like Water for Chocolate”, a story about forbidden love and the heroine channels her pain and  passion through the food she cooks. Funny, romantic and, above all, delicious.

“The trouble with crying over an onion is that once the chopping gets you started and the tears begin to well up, the next thing you know you just can’t stop!”

3. The Princess Bride

This movie has revenge, kidnapping, swordplay, giants, poison and Rodents of Unusual Size (ROUS’s) but above all, it’s about “TWUE WUV”. I vividly remember going to see the Princess Bride as a child with my Mum, my brothers and one of my Mum’s friends with her kids in tow. It made such an impression that I simply cannot wait until my kids are old enough to enjoy this film. Of course, given they’ve declared the movie “UP” to be too scary thanks to the appearance of a bad guy, I may have to wait a little while. I don’t think they’re quite ready for Prince Humperdink and his Pit of Despair.

“I was eleven years old. And when I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.””

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A story about breakup and the lengths two people would take to erase memories that are almost too painful to bear. Is erasing the bad worth the loss of the good memories as well? This movie is a bit of a mind bender, but that’s what makes it such a unique and wonderful love story. Kate Winslet is fabulous and even Jim Carrey plays it wonderfully straight. Unforgettable, for sure.

“Look man, I’m telling you right off the bat I’m high maintenance. So I’m not gonna tip-toe around your marriage or whatever it is ya got goin’ on there. If you wanna be with me, you’re with me.”

5. Annie Hall

OK, I admit that Woody Allen is not everyone’s cup of tea, but who can deny the brilliance of the dialogue in this movie. It’s just an everyday story of two people who meet, fall in love and then find themselves hating each other. But what makes this movie rise above the ordinary is the list of fantastic one-liners and Diane Keaton at her most fabulous.

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. “

Special Mentions

  • An Affair to Remember – I had to include at least one classic. Cary Grant. Enough said.
  • Crazy Stupid Love – funny, unexpected AND released within the last 12 months. 
  • While you were sleeping – A gentle, only slightly predictable, love story. It won’t make you think very hard, but it will definitely make you smile. 
  • Edward Scissorhands – this film is visually amazing and, of course, I’m a sucker for Johnny Depp, even at his most freaky-looking.
  • Up – what’s not to love about a cartoon that can tell an entire story of a couple’s relationship from beginning to end in a 3 minute montage?

Did I miss one or two (or 20)? Share your own favorites in the comments.

Five Things Friday: The Christmas Gift Roundup

Here are some of my favorite gifts that appeared under the tree this year. Some were for me, some for the kids and a couple I probably chose and/or purchased myself – which is probably why I love them so much.

I’m choosing to leave one item off the list and that’s the book that I was so proud to purchase for my husband only to find out he bought the exact same book (signed copy) for me six years ago. What can I say? I’ve had two children since then and apparently the memories of this book (that I even READ) were lost in my fried Mummy brain.

1. My BRAND NEW Kindle Fire 
Love love love this little piece of technology – and sure I will love it even more after I try it out during my first plane ride of 2012 on Monday. A little sad that I purchased the hardcover version of this book before I got my new toy because it would definitely be easier to carry on the Kindle than lugging around all 600 pages. (thanks to my wonderful husband for this surprise).

2. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
I bought this book for the kids and it’s jumped to the top of my list of favourite children’s books. It’s also apparently perfect for six year olds because Thomas laughed out loud the entire time I was reading it. The best thing about this book is that it’s not predictable – well, not until you’ve read it 20 or 30 times.

3. Bridesmaids on Blu Ray
My favourite funny movie last year and the Blu Ray means I can have another laugh at the movie and then laugh again at the thousands of extras. Still haven’t found the time to watch the entire thing. I see a girls’ movie night in my future. (thanks Kellers!)

4. Peter Alexander Pajamas
They’re not exactly the same as these ones, but they’re black and white and just as comfy. I wish I could wear them night and day. (thanks Ben & Emma!)

5. The New York Time Magazine Photographs
Not every book should be on the Kindle and this is one of those books that need to be seen in person and full size. A wonderfully enormous collection of photographs, and the stories behind them, from the past 30 years. Hours of inspiration ahead.

So much to keep me inspired and entertained for the coming year. I’m a very lucky girl. 🙂

Five Things Friday: Link Me Up (and a beautiful sunrise)

Sharing a few things I came across online during a very busy week. You see, I will officially be on vacation at around 5:01 this afternoon and I had a lot to squeeze into a short 40 or so hours.

Still, I managed to find a few minutes here and there to seek out some online inspiration with a couple of WOW moments.

  1. A beautiful look back at 2011 (keep the tissues handy)
  2. A little (free!) recipe book that I had a hand in designing (look for my contributions next to the recipes from Australia and Portland)
  3. Christmas album #567 added to my collection. OK, not really #567, but I discovered I have a lot of Xmas music and this new one stands out because of the Muppets!
  4. A cautionary tale for the iPhone generation
  5. A wonderful story featuring random acts of book art

Now that my christmas shopping is all done, I am looking forward to weekend filled with relaxation and sloth like behavior – OK, not really. Still, there has been a great weight lifted from my shoulders that will be replaced by my to do list of laundry, grocery shopping and getting prepared for arrival of our guests on Sunday night. For fun, I’ll squeeze in a play date for the boys with some very special friends on Saturday afternoon and something Christmassy.

For now, I leave you with a photograph that I took when I dropped Samuel off this morning. I guess it pays to be a little early for school every now and then. (no comment on the fact that he has a MUCH better view than I do during the day).

Photo is straight out of the camera with just a little sharpening – pretty amazing.

Happy weekend!

Five Things Friday: Christmas Tunes

A special holiday-themed five things Friday this week. I am currently immersed in trying to cut down my Christmas mix tape (CD) from about 30 songs to about 15-20 so it will actually fit on a CD. And now I’m going to try and cut it down to five for this week’s Five Things Friday…

1. Last Christmas by Wham
Sung by my High School celebrity crush (I was so naive). It’s 80s and it’s fabulous!

2. Jingle Bells by Michael Buble feat. the Puppini Sisters
The opening is very cheesy, but this is one one of my favourite renditions of Jingle Bells ever recorded.

3. Sleigh Bells by The Ronettes
This is the sort of song that they choose to play during the opening credits of a holiday movie. You know that part where they’re flying the camera in over the city before they zoom in on a lonely girl alone in her apartment. The one who’s just looking for a little love this Christmas? That one.

4. Baby It’s Cold Outside, Glee Cast
One of my favourite all time Christmas tunes and this one is even more special because it’s… well… Glee!

5. All I Want for Christmas is You, Mariah Carey
Arguably the best Christmas song recorded in the past 20 years. It will also always remind me of the girl who sings it at the end of Love Actually (arguably one of the best Christmas movies of the past 20 years). It’s a shame the music video is so cringe-worthy.

Bonus Aussie Tune: Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris
Did you know that Santa is pulled by Kangaroos in Australia? It’s True. The rest of the story is explained in the song.

I know there will be a bunch more that come to me right after I hit publish. I’ll share my full mixed tape sometime next week.

This weekend marks a very big milestone birthday for my husband – 40 years! We’re spending it by leaving both kids with friends overnight and staying in a downtown hotel. Sure – it’s only 10 miles away, but it’s worth it for the maid service.

Happy weekend!

Five Things Friday: Being

1. Watching…
Grimm – my new favorite show. It’s like it was created just for me – a little bit of crime, a little bit if mystery and a whole lot of weird. It’s also set AND FILMED right here in Portland so it’s fun to try and identify parts of the city as I watch. I might even venture so far as to say it’s my new X Files. I know – HUGE.

2. Reading…
IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. Loving it so far, although I’m only three chapters in. It’s a huge book so it should keep me going through Christmas and likely for much longer after that at the rate I am able to read books these days.

3. Listening…
To Christmas Music. I know, I know, it’s early, but I am on a mission to put together a fun mix for our trip to the Polar Express late next week. This song will definitely make its way onto the playlist.

4. Anticipating…

A bunch of new movies that will be released over the next few weeks. Thinking I might have trouble dragging Kei along to Breaking Dawn Pt1 or The Hunger Games but he might be interested in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We’ve seen the Swedish version and I want to see how the American version compares.

Although if he sees this trailer, he might just change his mind about The Hunger Games. It looks amazing!

5. Browsing
75 years of Life Magazine covers.  A wonderful history and photography lesson with inspiring images dating back to 1936. If you don’t have time to browse the full 75 years then I highly recommend the 75 Best Life Covers of all time and, for a reminder that perfection is elusive, Life’s 20 Worst Covers.

This weekend looks like rain, rain and more rain. In other words, the perfect weekend to run errands like grocery shopping and piles of laundry, and get ready for the holiday week. Thankfully, our take-out turkey dinner will be cooked by someone else, so all I have to do is make one more side dish and buy some wine for mulling.

I fought this time of year for a long time, but I am slowly learning to love the falling leaves, cozy nights in and the way American’s add “spice” to everything. Looking forward to a great weekend and a short work week.


Five Things Friday: Photos To Help Us Remember

Veterans day in America is called Remembrance day in Australia. As a child, I vividly recall my entire school stopping everything for one minute of silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember. Here’s my 2011 digital version of that same minute of silence – to remember men and women who served in wars past and present and to hope for peace in the future.

For more moving images, check out the LIFE gallery of 50 photos that brought the war home.

Five Things Friday: Movies for Halloween Weekend

It’s the weekend before Halloween which means America is abuzz with all things ghoulish. While I don’t fully understand why people become so excited about decorating their front yards with skeletons and headstones (seems a little morbid to me), I CAN get into the spirit with a great scary movie – whilst wearing my witch’s hat of course.

I love scary movies. Actually, let me clarify that. I love suspenseful movies – the kind that keep you guessing  and then surprise you with an ending that you didn’t quite expect. I’m not a fan of the movies that try to outdo themselves with gore and violence (the SAW series will not make it to my Netflix queue anytime soon), I like scares with more intelligence twists and fewer decapitations.

So here’s my top five.

You’ve probably heard of them all before – I’m not an art house scary movie girl which is probably why I didn’t pursue a career as a film critic. That, and the fact that my writing often pushes grammatically-correct boundaries.

1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Remains one of the biggest twist endings in movie history and takes you a wild ride along the way. Bonus points for turning my teenage popstar crush into someone unrecognizable.

2. The Others (2001)
Although this movie was largely panned by critics (and my husband), I find it creepy, moody and very scary. It’s also easy for me to empathize with a mother who seems to be losing her mind.

3. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I can’t believe this film is 20 years old – which makes me WAY too young to have seen it when it was released. It remains one of the creepiest, most disturbing movies I have ever seen and explains why I have never, ever bought a bottle of Chianti and cant stand fava beans.

4. The Shining (1980)
Another movie about descent into madness. Earns bonus points for starring Oregon’s own Timberline Lodge.

5. The Omen (1976)
The original, not the remake. A demon child, a Catholic church conspiracy and just enough blood and gore without crossing into gratuitous violence.Also made me never, ever want to name a child Damien.

Honorable mentions:

I’m sure I missed a bunch – apparently I haven’t watched many scary movies during the past 10 years. Please share your own favorites in the comments so I can bring my Netflix queue into the 21st century.