May 25: Keep Walking


We left Hostel Kanouya the next morning. Our hostess followed us out into the street and just as we were about to turn the corner, we turned around to share a wave. “Wait. It’s tradition,” I said, before turning. After we’d turned the corner, Kari told me that it was in fact traditional to see guests off like so. 

We went to Kyoto Station, checked all of the coin lockers, and eventually settled for putting our luggage in the luggage room downstairs for a little more money and a bit less stress. There are fifteen floors in the JR station. We climbed as high as we could go through a series of staircases and escalators for the view from the top of the building. Plexiglass kept us from a dizzying fall but also obscured the view a bit. There was a small garden on the rooftop. There have been buildings I’ve regretted not climbing, however, so I’m glad this cannot be one of them.

A train then took us out to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, easily one of the most photogenic architectural pieces I’ve ever seen. I have a wealth of pictures of the complex, which ranges across the mountainside along 2.5 miles of trails (let me tell you, it felt like much more than that). Trying to cull them down to the best to put on this blog has been a challenge.

We spent very little time by the main shrine itself. It was a breezy day however, and the breeze made the streamers flutter, so those pictures are worth including.


Then we left the main complex to strike out for the trails, and perhaps you will recognize the site from this first picture.


There are two branching trails beneath rows of these orange torii. The crowd thins the farther you go along the trail, but even so it was difficult for me to take pictures that would not include fellow travelers.

The trail wound and branched and deposited us at minor complexes, abandoned save for us—or maybe they belonged to men or women who lived on the mountaintop. One just off the path backed up against a house, which we discovered only by accident by taking narrow, greenery-lined trails. I can only imagine that the shrine was there first, for the stone has an ancient feel to it—but perhaps that is the my Western mindset speaking, where a standing stone is a thing of ancient wonder, no one knowing how long it’s been there, how it came to be there, or why it was set so. Still, there’s moss on the steps of this shrine complex.


Kari had told me that this particular shrine sports feral cats among its patrons and inhabitants. I lost Kari briefly following one beautiful tom down a narrow path.


There too I shared a moment with a pair of Japanese women over arachnophobia when I spotted a spider dangling not too far in front of me. Some things truly are universal.

A little farther on and higher up, past at least one way station where refreshment and talismans could be found, we passed a passel of kittens among the azalea bushes. I rested a long while, watching them. By that point in our hike, Kari and I were flagging, but then began the litany of “Just a little farther” and “I just want to see what’s around that bend” and “I just want to see the view from there.”


That litany, joined by the occasional rendition of VeggieTales’ “Keep Walking,” took us the rest of the way along the mountain trails, with a few setbacks.

A man at a map of the trails told us to take the trail to the left after the way station that we would come to, claiming it would be the quickest way to our destination (I’m not sure we had a destination, but apparently, we did).  We found the next way station, which boasted a lookout area as well. We rested a bit.  We thought that we’d turn around, and with the thought that we might leave, I decided to climbed a steep set of stairs on the right. They led past a small house and to a mazy collection of shrines.


As I wandered the narrow paths between stone torii and upright markers, all dotted in orange torii-shaped petitions and red bibs for the kistune, the man from the house came out to his porch to play his wooden flute. It was a magical moment I wouldn’t have missed it for nearly anything.


The rest changed our minds, and we thought that we could go a bit farther.  We thought that we took the leftmost turn, but we were mistaken. We went a ways and turned around, lured back to the way station by the promise of soft serve ice cream. I’m still puzzling whether soybean flavored ice cream provides more than the usual protein found in soft serve.  (It was delicious, sort of sweet and salty at once.)


Kari found the third trail that we’d missed, the leftmost. We followed this beneath orange torii that opened up in occasional glades of stone and orange torii and upright stones. As we were following this trail, we passed a couple who were pausing before the shrines.  I’d heard a strange trumpet earlier in the day, and had wondered, and I witnessed this man now blowing a long note on his conch shell. If you’ve read Lord of the Flies, you’ll recognize the importance of the conch shell. It is a magical thing. I thought then that these were perhaps genuine pilgrims, travelers here for the shrines and not for the trails or to check another feature off in sight-seeing bingo. Now I wonder if this man was a priest, having learned that conch shells are sometimes used in Shinto religious ceremonies.

This trail took us most quickly too to the peak of the trail. I think this was the destination to which the man referred.


The trail from there, of course, went downhill—and we began to worry how long the trail might be and whether it would loop or whether we could wander too far from the gate and be stranded in the dark woods overnight.

We waited on a steep flight of stairs for a passerby, and Kari asked if the trail did in fact loop and whether we would find an exit if we continued downward; neither of us had much desire to climb the steep steps upwards.


Having learned that we in fact were on a path towards and exit, that we weren’t likely to be lost in the wood, we continued downwards with a little more enthusiasm. We stumbled into more glades of shrines, including one that featured a small waterfall that could be found down a very narrow and by then quite dark trail, its stones dark with runoff, but was out of sight above or outside of that cleft. I wish that picture had come out more clearly.

Eventually we met up with a familiar path and familiar friends.


We also met up with a woman who seemed to live on the mountainside, carrying her groceries up the path. The cats were following her. She wanted to practice her English and gave us gifts, including a paper crane.

Having found the exit, we had to catch a train to Tokyo, where we had hostel reservations for the night.

Inari was a great way to end our stay in Kyoto, and for only having been there three days, we saw a great deal.



We arrived in the new city late at night and in a heavy rain. We decided to call a cab rather than risk being lost and confused in such a situation. The drive was short, but our cabman was amiable.

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  All maps are made using Google Maps.

Book Reviews: August 2014 Picture Book Roundup: Franchised



High Voltage! by Frank Berrios and illustrated by Andrea Cagol and Francesco Legramandi. Golden-Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Now I know that part of Spidey’s appeal is his propensity for awful puns (and I’m no huge fan of his, though I enjoyed—at least mildly—the first two Tobey Maguire movies; I’ve not seen any of the others put out by Marvel), but this story feels like a string of awful puns loosely tied by a plot, where of course, the hero had to triumph over a villain with a ridiculous name and ridiculous outfit. It seemed like poor writing, though I know it to be catering to a particular gimmick. I also had to explain how Spidey had defeated the villain, giving a quick (and I’m sure poor) lesson in the conductive properties of water. Now I suppose one could use that to her advantage if she knew about the story time in advance and set up a pretty nifty though probably pretty dangerous science experiment, but I was anything but prepared for this story hour.



High-Stakes Heist! by Courtney Carbone and illustrated by Michael Atiyeh and Michael Borkowski. Golden-Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

After reading High Voltage! this book seemed much better written—though I am more invested in the Avengers’ plot since Joss Whedon got his hands on it, so it might be only fair to take this with a grain of salt. At least the puns were fewer. Perhaps because the puns were not there to throw me from the storyline or perhaps because I know more about the character of Captain America than I do Spidey’s, Captain America’s personality and character seemed to come through the story more clearly than did Spider-man’s in the Berrios book reviewed above. The plots could have been identical though. I suppose in a book intended for young readers and of the same genre—and this genre in particular—that’s to be expected—and for this audience perhaps even good—a story of right always winning—though what I’ve grown to love of the Marvel movies are the comments on society, on power and powerlessness, the doggedness to protect despite odds, and the depth of the characters portrayed, their reactions to war and to one another—and, really, all of that was lacking from this Golden Book. For those following the storyline strictly from the POV of Marvel’s movies, this book will include a few spoilers as it happens farther along the storyline than has yet been released in theaters. I think I did too here have to take a moment to explain a bit about the idea of mind-control.



Sophie La Girafe: Sophie’s Busy Day by Dawn Sirett. DK, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Sophie La Girafe merchandise before. This one let me down a bit. I didn’t find it up to the standards I’d set with Peekaboo Sophie! Like Peekaboo Sophie! this is a toddler’s touch-and-feel book. The story takes Sophie through a day of chores and fun with friends, a common storyline for toddler books. Peekaboo Sophie! was rife with questions and instructions to teach children verbs, as well as lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel interactive illustrations. Sophie’s Busy Day lacked the question and response element as well as the lift-the-flap element, and I think that’s why it fell flat in comparison. For its genre, however, and when the pedestal of Peekaboo Sophie! is out of sight, this is not a bad book.


These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: The Assignment (515 words)


The door thudded with heavy security, but the boy on the other side of the bars still shivered as he faced me. I stood, a guard behind me, in a small antechamber of sorts, before a room divider with a door that locked from the inside, the boy on the other side.

I was surprised by the room divider’s inelegant design. The vertical boards hardly matched the refinement of the rest of the mansion that I’d seen, a strong tell that they’d been quickly—and probably poorly—constructed. The boards were spaced too far apart. They might deflect an arrow shot hastily or from a distance, and I allowed that the boy would have time to run or hide if the assassin came with only a sword or knife or blunt instrument, but an assassin with time could easily push an arrow’s tip between the bars before releasing.

Lying amidst brocade and velvet cushions as the boy was, and wrapped in a heavy velvet robe himself, the neckline fur-lined without his—I was sure—having hunted and skinned the fox, it was hard to pity him, though I’d heard what had rattled him—and it was enough to rattle any but the toughest-skinned.

“Do you know why you’re here?” He tired to inject his voice with steel but it was brittle as a dry twig.

“Aye, boy,” I said. “I suspect. Rumor travels fast.”

“Can you do it? Can you find it? And kill it?”

I wasn’t sure how much of me he could see, but I still fingered the wooden beads around my wrist for show as I said, “I suspect so. But not easily.” If the boy suspected devilry and magic then it was best to make a show of being pious.

“You’ll have whatever you need.”

Nobles are always saying that. It’s what makes the job profitable. The fun is in coming up with outlandish and expensive necessities and plausible uses for them when all I really need are my wits, a knife, two good ears, and stealth. With those accoutrements alone, I can usually find and end any threat. But I thought for a moment. “I’ll need a ruby, one about the size of your palm, a stylus strong enough to etch the gem, six sheets of clean vellum, ink and a pen, and a few of your hairs—to track the beast down, young master.”

“I’ll tell Styles. You’ll have them. All of them. The ruby might take time, and the stylus….”

“The sooner the better. I might be able to track the beast without but I’ll have no container for it.”

“Will only a ruby do? There’s a sapphire in my mother’s—in my collection that’s about that size.”

I ignored the stumble. “Hmmm,” I said, while trying to suppress a smile, “a ruby and a sapphire are about as hard as one another. I think it’ll do.”

“I’ll—I’ll give it to you then. For this.”

“And the other things? When can I expect them?”

“Give Styles your address as you leave. He’ll see that you have them.”

I’m abysmally late.  Apologies have been made to all the appropriate parties but you, dear readers.  This week’s theft was from Kid at The Gate in the Wood.  She wrote “Tonic and Poison” but we saw only her first line before we wrote our own stories.  I wasn’t the only thief.  Here are our other thieves’ works:

Kate at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Breaking Containment.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Through Walls” (563 words).

Bek at Building A Door wrote “Behind Bars.”

I suspect I may have to continue this story at a later date….

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a Poorly Formatted, Solid Story



I found a copy of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda used some time ago, and recognizing that it sold well and was therefore probably something that I should read, I took it home. It sat unread on my shelves until I thought that I’d be able unexpectedly to see Angleberger. I hurried through it, reading nearly half of it in two hours before leaving for the supposed signing. By the time that I left for the signing, I was so far into the book that I couldn’t very well stop. I finished it in two days. So take my review with those things in mind.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is written as if by a number of different characters reporting on encounters with one character, Dwight, and his finger puppet, Yoda. Several different fonts are used to distinguish the characters, though some characters share fonts, and all of the fonts are similar enough in style for the font changes themselves to not interfere with the flow of the novel as a whole.

The text and format of the book as collected narratives, however, do make it disjointed, and that I think is what keeps it from shining for me. If there had been less acknowledgement of its form within the texts, if the characters hadn’t kept referring to the book and complaining about being asked to write in it, I would have been less thrown from the novel with each new chapter.

Each report is headed by a drawing of the POV character. Illustrations pepper the report as well. In their loose, sketchy style, the illustrations remind me of those that I’ve seen on Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, though Kinney’s are somehow both better at conveying emotion and more cartoonish. Kinney’s books also sell enormously well, and I have to wonder if the similarities between the two illustration styles contribute to Angleberger’s success.

A few quick notes: I will be the first to admit that trying to capture the essence of my characters in drawings is one of the hardest things, but I recognize that I am not a professional artist and plan on accepting help—or foregoing illustrations more likely. Angleberger accepts help from Jason Rosenstock with whom he has co-illustrated the book. I don’t know which illustrations are Angleberger’s and which are Rosenstock’s, but I suspect that the more professional illustrations are Rosenstock’s, so I applaud Angleberger accepting some help, but maybe he didn’t accept enough or was overenthusiastic about having illustrations at all. On the whole, the illustrations may make the books seem less frightening to a young reader, but they don’t for me add anything to the plot or to my understanding of the story. Applause for the text there. (Though I would argue that an overreliance on illustrations might signal too little confidence in children’s imagination and in the strength of the text. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures.” “Well some people use their imagination.” It’s not as though Angleberger is describing unique experiences—apart from perhaps the origami Yoda itself, and that is illustrated on the cover by Melissa Arnst.)

So overall, I don’t feel as if the format of the book as collected narratives or the inclusion of illustrations were particularly good choices and feel that these choices may have limited my enjoyment more than enhanced it. However, the content is solid.

This is a school story, and its focus is on the everyday challenges of interacting with classmates.

Dwight is unpopular. He does odd things like wear the same t-shirt for a month. This book was not part of the curriculum for Giving Voice to the Voiceless, but I think that it easily could have been. There’s no explicit mention of any neurodevelopmental disorder that might explain the quirks in Dwight’s behavior, but I suspect that Dwight might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, explaining his difficulty relating to his peers, the difficulty that he has in speaking to them, and the ritualistic behaviors in which he engages.

While Dwight is unpopular, the finger puppet that accompanies Dwight gives wise advice to Dwight’s classmates, some of whom believe that the puppet may even be able to predict the future.

The premise of the book is to determine whether or not this is the case—though that mystery is never solved—and the end makes it seem less about Yoda and more about Dwight—particularly Tommy’s relationship and reaction to Dwight. The book takes the form of an apology. Tommy decides after examining Dwight and Yoda that he’d “rather be on Dwight’s side than Harvey’s. Dwight is weird, but I guess I’ve started to like him, and I hated to let him down. Somehow I didn’t mind letting Harvey down” (138).

Tommy’s relationship to many of his classmates changes over the course of his study. Harvey begins as one of his better friends, and Dwight as just the odd kid of the class. Dwight is able by standing out more than usual by the adoption of his puppet to influence the whole of the school for the better, bringing partners together, exposing bullies, healing peer relationships, and making traditionally disappointing school events more fun.

It’s a story of the power of the outcast and of acceptance, and I really like the conclusions that Angleberger and his characters come to.

This book has a great title, and it’s a good middle-grade read for its morals, but I really wanted to be blown away by this book. I wanted it to deserve its bestseller status. Especially as Angleberger is now among those local authors that I might one day have a chance to meet in a relaxed setting.  I wish that I could be more pleased with the book’s format.


Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Illus. Tom Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock.  Cover art by Melissa Arnst.  New York: Amulet-ABRAMS, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Tom Angleberger, Jason Rosenstock, Melissa Arnst, Amulet Books, or ABRAMS.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: July 2014 Picture Book Roundup


First a quick acknowledgement: The first picture book roundup was posted July 1, 2013.  I have officially been doing this for over a year now; I just hadn’t realized it.  Since I’ve realized it, you might notice a small detail added to the title of this post.  I guess it’s time to start distinguishing by year as well as month.

Also, I ought to apologize.  This month’s is awfully late.  But never mind.  Here it is at last.

Waldo the Jumping Dragon

Waldo, The Jumping Dragon by Dave Detiege and illustrated by Kelly Oechsli. Whitman-Western, 1964.

This one I found in an antiques mall, drawn to it by the dragon on the cover. Waldo is a careless dragon who doesn’t look where he’s going, and because the characters warn the dragon that that heedlessness will get him into trouble, I’m tempted to think of this as a didactic story. He runs into a knight—literally—and the knight decides that he must slay the dragon. The knight chases him, eventually catching hold of the dragon’s neck after the dragon frightens a king and a queen. Waldo, however, just continues to jump from place to place with the knight clinging to him, until he runs into a tree, dislodging the knight, who runs away from the reckless dragon, deciding that he is too dangerous. But before dislodging the knight, Waldo admits that he is a lonely dragon, so his recklessness leads not only to danger for himself and others but also a lack of friends, making it truly unenviable to a young audience. Because he isn’t watching where he is going, Waldo breaks the 4th wall and jumps off of the page. I’ve always been a fan of books that break the 4th wall and acknowledge themselves a book. 



Touch the Red Button by Alex A. Lluch. WS, 2014.

Hervé Tullet’s Press Here has spawned several copycats, including this book and Bill Cotter’s Don’t Press the Button. (There are more copycats than I’d realized. Here’s an online version intended for an older audience.) These books ask readers to interact with the illustrations, and the illustrations reflect the readers’ assumed interaction. It’s a pretty fun concept, and though I recognized pretty quickly that Lluch’s book was a Press Here copycat, I still read it all the way through, then held it out to a coworker for him to play with too. This more than any of the other books I’ve found—including the original—is more complimentary, praising the reader for following directions. But it’s also less original than Cotter’s book.

These will never be good story hour books but will always be good bedtime books. They’re educational. The interactive model makes them books of play for kids and adults too. The novelty of the concept is starting to wear off, but I think that the interactive and playful nature of the books will ensure that they keep selling.



Can You Say It, Too? Moo! Moo! by Sebastien Braun. Nosy Crow-Candlewick-Random, 2014.

This flap book shows hints of the animal behind the flap. It is peppered with animal sounds paired the animal’s name. It’s actually been pretty highly praised, but I found nothing in it to disappoint and nothing in it to blow me away.



Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Good Books, 2010.

Now Smallman seems about as enthusiastic about dragons I am, and I understand that Vikings and dragons have a long history, but there are so many echoes of Cowell and of DreamWorks here that it seems nothing so much as a leech to the How To Train Your Dragon franchise’s fame (the movie was released about six months prior to Dragon Stew’s release). In Cowell the bathroom humor of middle-grade boys is age-appropriate. In a children’s picture book, it seems grotesque (though I do recognize that my disgust is also mixed with my outrage at the book so blatantly coasting on Cowell’s success without acknowledging it). For an older audience, I’d love it, and maybe for, say, ages 7-8 (ages which are within the realm of picture book marketing), it would be great. It’s an exciting adventure about bored Vikings who decide to go and hunt a dragon for their stew without knowing what a dragon looks like, battle their way past sea monsters, eat all of their teatime sardine sandwiches, land on a dragon’s island with the help of a killer whale, examine a pile of dragon poo, and then are confronted with the dragon itself, who rather than allowing himself to be chopped up for stew, sets their bums alight. It might be a delightful picture book, but it’s not one I’m likely to read to my children while they are young enough and incompetent enough readers for picture books—and by the time they’re ready for it, I hope we’ll be reading chapter books.



The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973.

A wordless picture book! A wordless picture book from the ‘70s! So it’s a much older concept than I’d thought. I stumbled across this book in a local used bookstore. I was at first attracted by the title and then because the illustrations reminded me Wesley Dennis’ artwork. Dennis illustrated all of Marguerite Henry’s books, so the style was familiar and warm as a childhood security blanket. When I realized after several pages that no text was forthcoming, I became more intellectually interested.

In this tale, a farm boy with his head in the clouds spies a Pegasus. The boy tries to tell his father, but his father doesn’t believe his wild tales, and the boy’s punishment for his perceived tale-telling is a spanking. The boy sees the Pegasus again, however, and this time befriends it rather than fleeing to tell his father. Once friends, he and the Pegasus travel the world, helping other children, delivering sunflowers to young, lonely girls—acts of kindness and bravery and chivalry, sure, but I can’t really cheer the depiction of children of other ethnicities and cultures, as they are shown to need the help or love of the superior white man and his flying horse. (I’m a product, aren’t I, of my generation, as much as this book is of its time?)

[SPOILER] Like so many good horse stories, the boy is hurt riding, and he thinks that he has lost the horse. The injury softens the father. The book ends with the boy receiving a pony who is the doppelganger for his lost Pegasus as a gift from his previously hard father. [END SPOILER]

But aside from that, these illustrations are pretty beautiful, particularly the landscape and animals. I could hope for a little more emotion from the human characters but not from the animals. The format delights me. There’s room for creativity but enough to have—I think—a fairly similar story and enough illustrations to make the story coherent as well so that it is a feat of storytelling in picture format.


These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Worth Her Salt (234 words)


Connal ignored the resentment simmering in the silence and enjoyed his drink.

Ally might have exhausted her tongue, but she hadn’t exhausted her bitterness. Her arguments would start to flow again as soon as the drink hit her, maybe with more vehemence than before if she was that kind of drunk.

But he pitied her too. It did seem a raw deal.

Connal sipped the beer again, looking at Ally thoughtfully. She was tough. She was wiry and long, the muscles visible below the tanned skin. The expression that she wore was as fierce as his own could be, enough to make others skirt her in this dingy taproom despite the swell of her chest and the flare of her hips just hanging over either edge of the stool. With her hair braided back she looked as ready for action as any man in the tavern.

Connal let his eyes slide around the barroom. Ally really did look as capable as many here, and she was trustworthy besides, which he could say for very few of the burly men lit by the candlelight.

“How,” Connal asked her carefully, “attached are you to your hair?”

Ally’s eyes narrowed sharply. “What?”

“Your hair. Would you cut it?”


“And your chest. If you wore baggy clothes and maybe bound those things back more firmly….”

“What’re you getting at, Connal?”

“I’m saying you’d make a good crewman.”

This week we all stole from Kate Kearney from More Than 1/2 Mad.  She wrote “The Living and the Dead.”  We pinched the first line and used it but saw nothing of the rest of her story before we wrote our own stories.

Kid at The Gate In The Wood wrote “The Silent Bar.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “No Need” (524 words).

Bek at Building A Door wrote “Small Town Stigma.”

Book Review: Island of the Aunts Uses Fantasy to Discuss the Ailments of Mankind and the Sea



I had read a few of Eva Ibbotson’s books previously to great delight; The Secret of Platform 13 has long been a favorite of mine, and I enjoyed The Star of Kazan too, though less so. So when I found Island of the Aunts at a local Goodwill, I brought it home.

Ibbotson writes for a younger audience (elementary bordering on middle-grade), making her books pretty quick reads, but despite that, this book in particular touches on some very difficult thought- and conversation-provoking ideas.

Ibbotson uses the fantasy genre well in Island of the Aunts to talk about difficult topics, the ailments of a fallen world, with a veil of unreality that invites readers to examine these ideas at a safer distance. All of the creatures that come to the uncharted island where the aunts live are hurting in some way, and in this way Ibbotson is able to introduce a number of physical, mental, and emotional hurts. There is an old mermaid who feels the aches of age. That is a simple problem compared with the others but Ibbotson takes the opportunity to gently remind readers to be conscious of the difficulties of age and considerate towards those who cannot move with the swiftness of youth. A mermaid mother too comes to the island with her three children: The youngest is spoilt and overweight though his mother won’t admit it. One of her daughters foolishly pursues men, exposing herself and her family to danger. The other has been held hostage by a man who fondled her inappropriately, traumatizing her so that she loses her voice. There Ibbotson deals not only with the dangers of lust but also with the symptoms of PTSD. Herbert the selkie struggles with indecision. The kraken struggles with balancing work and family. Minette comes from divorced parents, splitting her time and herself to suit her parents and listening to their complaints about the other. Fabio is forced to deal with prejudice even from his own grandparents who see him as a wild boy from the jungles of Brazil and want him to be a “proper English gentleman.”

There’s a lot about prejudice—and about acceptance and the beauty of the Other—in this book, between Fabio’s grandparents and schoolmates and then the Sprott’s, Lambert and his father. Lambert is cast as an unlikeable child who cannot comprehend the magical creatures on the island as anything other than monsters and hallucinations. Lambert’s father is cast in an even worse light, and in fact is qualified as “evil,” seeing the magical creatures as nothing more than objects for his profit and being willing to hurt them and their protectors to satisfy his own schemes (251). Ibbotson brings Mr. Sprott’s prejudice too to a more human level by sending him briefly to an island of nudists who could not be kinder to Mr. Sprott but whom make Mr. Sprott supremely uncomfortable despite and whom he treats poorly.

There’s also a lot in the story too about environmental consciousness. The kraken is a beast of healing for the seas. His hum ends violence and stalls greed by influencing the mind or heart (probably both) of the hearer. The aunts’ island is a place of healing too for sea creatures. Creatures come to them having been caught in oil spills.

All in all, I feel like I read an adventure book more than I read any didactic tome. I’ve always thought that the best tools for teaching involve enjoyment of the lessons, so I feel like Ibbotson has here created a pretty effective vehicle for her morals.


Ibbotson, Eva. Island of the Aunts. Illus. Kevin Henkes. 1999. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Printed with permission from Dutton-Penguin.

This review is not endorsed by Eva Ibbotson, Scholastic Inc., Dutton Children’s Books, or Penguin Putnam Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Blindsided (409 words)


It took three weeks to sail between the islands, though rough weather could turn it into a more interesting five. Not one among the crew had told him what sort of delay would be caused by a tussle with pirates.

They’d not prepared him well for that possibility.

No one had mentioned raiders. Certainly no one had mentioned sword- or fistfights or being captured and having his ankles and wrists tied together, sitting quietly on the deck under threat of being skewered like a pig while three burly men in ratty clothes watched him. 

None of it sat well with Aidan.

He wasn’t sure if he was more annoyed with the tight-lipped traders quaking beside him or the pirates.

He ought to have just gone below and hid. He wasn’t sure why he’d jumped to engage the pirates.

They had his knife and his sword now. They’d been thrown into a pile with the weapons wrested from or surrendered by the crew and a very few that belonged to felled pirates.

At least, he thought, Darryn wasn’t here. Until recently, he’d have had to look after Darryn besides, but now it was only Aidan’s own hide that needed saving.

And that made things easier.

To the man next to him, he grumbled, “You didn’t tell me there were pirates.”

“We didn’t know,” the sweating sailor pled. “I haven’t heard of any in the area before now.”

“Just our luck. Any thought what happens to us?”

“I don’t know these—”

“Hey!” one of the guards shouted, and the tip of a sword tickled the sailor’s throat. “I said no talking.”

“I was asking him,” Aidan said boldly, “what he thinks you’ll do to us.”

“That’s up to the captain.”

“Do you have a guess?” Aidan pressed.

“Pray to your gods, boy,” the pirate growled by way of answer. He lowered the sword and made to turn away, but was stopped by Aidan.

“Suppose,” Aidan said, “that I pray to the captain instead.”

“Captain don’t like beggars.”

“Maybe not, but maybe you could use an extra deckhand? Or a cabin boy?”

The pirate laughed. “Boy, you don’t want to be no pirate’s cabin boy.”

“What’re you doing?” the sailor beside him hissed.

“I need passage away. I don’t particularly care where. And you lot seem unlikely to be able to take me much farther. So what do you think,” Aidan asked the pirate, “since they can’t take me, can you?”

This week we all stole from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, who wrote “Herd” (1117 words) but showed us only the first line until we’d all written our pieces.

Kid at The Gate In The Wood wrote “Red for the Blood.”

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Three or Five.”

Bek at Building A Door wrote “Paying Passage” (375 words).

May 24: More Temple-Hopping in Kyoto


We’d always planned that our time in Kyoto would essentially be spent temple-hopping. On our first day, we visited two temple complexes. On our second day, we visited another two, and in fact, spent the entirety of our day—or all but—in temples or wandering the city streets in search of dinner.

This time we used Kyoto’s public buses.

The first stop was the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. A bit of quick Wikipedia research tells me that the official name is Rokuon-ji, the Deer Temple Pavilion, however, and that the distinctive gold leafing of the main temple of the complex might’ve been added when the pavilion was reconstructed in 1955 instead of when the complex was built nearer 1397. The complex actually has a pretty interesting history that might be worth a read: a powerful family, casualties of war, an attempted suicide….24goldenpavilionThis was the first Buddhist temple that we visited. There did seem, though, to be several Shinto shrines too on the grounds—or else there were also Buddhist shrines in the complexes that were mainly Shinto—or else the practices and architecture are extremely similar (I think it’s the first of those situations).

The complex was quite crowded, Kinkaku-ji being one of the better-known sites in Kyoto and the park being small compared to most of the others that we visited. We shuffled along with the crowded past the Golden Pavilion itself, making our way around a wide pond at the end of which sat the temple. The irises here seemed to be collected, I don’t know for what purpose—probably for sale?—but I do wonder how one becomes an iris farmer at a temple. Doesn’t that sound like an interesting character?

24goldenpavilionirisesThe path then wove us into the wooded gardens, past many ponds and smaller shrines. There were several springs that seemed to be shrine sites.This is the Galaxy Sprin, Ginga-sen, and the Ryumon Taki.(This is the Galaxy Spring, Ginga-sen, and the Ryumon Taki.)

We passed several collections of small statues, Jizō statues. The Jizō are guardians of children particularly, particularly children who have died before their parents. The coins and pebbles that sometimes gather around the feet of the Jizō and bibs that sometimes adorn their necks are left by parents—or family or friends—in hopes that the donation will shorten the sentence of their children’s souls in a sort of Limbo, stuck on the wrong side of the river—or sometimes left to thank a Jizō for protecting a child during a serious illness. They also protect travelers and firefighters.24goldenjizoAs we came towards the exit, we entered a sort of complex of its own—of mostly Shinto shrines, I think. The atmosphere was festive. Here among the shrines were stalls of food, stalls of amulets and talismans.24goldenfestiveJust as we were deciding where to go next, we were approached by a group of middle school students on their school trip. Well, their chaperone approached us first and asked if we would mind talking to them. We let the kids—a group of young boys and girls—interview us, I speaking as I normally would mostly, and Kari easily slipping into what she had learned from teaching English herself. I hope we were a good pair for them to talk to. They presented us each with an origami crane to say thank you, and we waved them goodbye.

We wandered the streets around Kinkaku-ji for a bit before finding the bus again and taking it to Kiyomizu-dera, another Buddhist temple complex on the other end of town. Kinkaku-ji cost a small fee for entry but Kiyomizu was free. Kiyomizu is built upon the mountainside with views overlooking the city.kiyomizu124kiyomizuviews24kiyomizuarchThis too is a major attraction in Kyoto, and was again crowded, but the area is so much larger that we were able for the better part of our visit to wander out beyond the crowds. In fact, I think that we found the waterfall for which the temple is named down, down the mountain along paved paths and stairs through the woods that wound and twisted.

24kiyomizulowerwaterfallOr perhaps the waterfall is this one that has been diverted into fountains where patrons drink for health, longevity, and success.24kiyomizuwaterfallBut that was near the end of our adventure in Kiyomizu, when we were becoming quite worn down from our days of travel.

We entered with the crowd. The climb to the complex itself is up a narrow and steep road lined mostly with small, wooden shops selling tourist goods, and food. On both the climb up and the climb down my eyes were too overwhelmed and my body too involved in both climbing and then avoiding running into anyone for me to take pictures. I only snapped this one, just as we were leaving the complex.


I’m pretty sure that the women in front of us were tourists and not maiko.

Here was a more active, more festive temple than Kinkaku-ji. We passed people at prayer, taking in the incense that rose from a great vat, bowing before the altar to pay their respects, cleansing themselves at the tsukubai…. There was some sort of game or challenge to lift a heavy iron weight. We wound our way beneath overhanging roofs and out to terraces to gawk at the city below and the temple grounds far below. We climbed a set of stairs and found an area with shrines dedicated to various gods: Okuninushi and his messenger rabbit; Daikuko whose bronze stomach one was supposed to pat to have her prayers answered; Okage-Myojin, who would answer only one prayer and for whom women used to nail straw dolls to cedars to put a curse on their enemies; there were two love stones, of which it is said that if a woman could walk between the two with her eyes closed, the wish for love will be granted soon. This is particularly difficult with herds of people crowding by the various shrines, but we did see two young women make it to the far stone with eyes shut, led by guy friends, who also called out to others to clear the way. I don’t know how that affects the fortune.

We took a far path out through the woods, clinging to the hillside, that brought us to the pagoda that can been seen across the narrow valley that the temple complex surrounds.24kiyomizupagodaandviewWe then wove our way back down the mountainside, eventually ending up at that waterfall.24kiyomizutrailviewsAfter dinner, we snuck back to the streets. Night had truly fallen when we snuck into the Imperial Palace Park. We didn’t stay long. The park was not quite silent and not quite empty, but darkness kept us both from seeing much of the park itself or any of its inhabitants. We did find an impressive gate, my picture of which didn’t come out well. Then we walked for a bit along its better lit outer wall, ducking into the dry moat to keep out of the way of cyclists and because I’ve found that I like walking dry moats, having fond memories of another in Dubrovnik.

We ended up beside Nijo Castle too a little later, and though the attraction was shut down, we walked the outside of its long outermost walls and admired the architecture of the gates and what of the castle we could see over the walls.24nijoThen it was time to return to the hostel.  But we covered a pretty good area during our brief stay in Kyoto, and the following day, we would add one more attraction to the map….


All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  All maps are made using Google Maps.