Monday, March 30, 2015

My Review of Eileen Wacker's 'Black Tortoise and the Dynasty Dragon'

In Eileen Wacker’s fifth addition of the Fujimini Adventure Series, the animals of Fujimini Island notice a mysterious Turtle Boat on the shores of the island. The Black Tortoise, one of the Samurai Warriors, is visiting the island with a special mission- but what exactly is his mission? Orange Bunny listens in on a conversation between Black Tortoise and Brown Hamster to try and figure out what is going on. Do you ever listen in on other people’s conversations or spy on others? Orange Bunny overhears that the Black Tortoise is looking for the legendary Dynasty Dragon. Orange Bunny panics and  jumps to conclusions that the Samurai are trying to kidnap the Dynasty Dragon so she launches a special mission to try and save him. Will Orange Bunny and her friends on Fujimini Island save the Dynasty Dragon or has Orange Bunny made a big mistake? 

One of my favorite features of the Fujimini Adventure series, is how in each book Wacker introduces a subtle but important lesson that can be taken away from the reading. Underneath the silliness and fun of each story lies a message that is very relevant to kids and growing up. In Black Tortoise and the Dynasty Dragon, this message is what can happen when you listen in on others’ conversations, spy on people and make assumptions. In addition to the lesson, Wacker also introduces some fun new characters, like the Dynasty Dragon, and some new terminology, like a Turtle Boat. So not only do little readers learn lessons that are relevant to their daily lives, they also learn some new stuff that are a part of other people’s lives and cultures as well. 

The cute and creative story about not making assumptions, working as a team, and the depth of a mother's love has been rated 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Review of Eileen Wacker's 'Silent Samurai and the Magnificent Rescue'

After hearing that Samurai are coming to Fujimini Island, Purple Penguin is eager to plan a big welcome party for their guests. He runs to tell all his friends on the Island, but others don’t react the way he thought they would. Not everyone is as excited for the warriors’ arrival as he is- but why? The other animals start to worry, letting what they have heard about samurai warriors form their opinion of their visitors before they have even arrived. Have you ever made assumptions about someone else before you met them? Will the hamsters, pandas, penguins, and bunnies come together and decided to welcome their guests with open arms and friendship or will they stay as far away as possible? 

Eileen Wacker’s third edition of the Fujimini Adventure Series is cute, exciting and introduces some fun new characters. It also exposes kids to some Asian culture and history, like how purple is the color of royalty in Japan. Wacker embeds lessons within all the books of the Fujimini Adventure Series, but this book offers a few lessons that we can all learn from, including reserving our judgements of others based off of things we have heard until we actually get a chance to know them, and making new friends, offering a warm welcome to new people. This book is the perfect way to start a conversation with your kids about meeting new people, being a team player, and helping others out. 

Rated 5 out of 5 stars by Barnes and Noble, the story is available for purchase in hardcover, for your kindle, or for your nook. 

'The Tonight Show' Lip Sync Battles Are Becoming an Epic TV Show

There is no doubt that one of the most popular parts of Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show has been his hilarious lip sync battles with his various celebrity guests. The game works by pitting celebrities against each other to lip sync to two or three songs of their choice making it look as real as possible.

These battles have become so popular, in fact, that The Tonight Show producers, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Merchant, and John Krasinski released a trailer for an entire spin off show dedicated to these epic battles. The trailer is pretty awesome, so I cannot wait to see what the show has in store for us. It is a star studded event that takes his Tonight Show battles to a whole new level, including costumes, lights, surprise guests and more. Watch the trailer below to see what I’m talking about and mark your calendars for April 2nd because I promise you won’t want to miss this! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chinese Families Prepare to Pay Respects to Ancestors During the Qingming Festival

In a few weeks, many Chinese families will begin preparations for the upcoming holiday known as the Qingming Festival. Also called Ancestors’ Day or Tomb Sweeping Day, the traditional Chinese festival happens each year on fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox, which this year makes it April 4th. Qingming Jie literally translates to the “pure brightness festival” or “clear and bright festival”, it is a time where people are encouraged to go outside and enjoy the beginning of the spring weather. The holiday is considered one of the Chinese Twenty-Four-Solar Terms, giving it a very close relationship with greenery, spring, and agriculture. 

Not only is this time a seasonal symbol, the Qingming Festival also represents a day for respecting ancestors and loved ones who have passed. In addition to spending time outside among nature and appreciate its beauty, it is also customary to sweep the tombs of ancestors after a long hard winter. Families will clear away weeds and add fresh soil around the gravestones of passed loved ones to show love and caring. They will then present offerings of wine, paper resembling money, and their favorite food to pay their respects and ensure ancestors are not hungry in the afterlife. 

Another custom held dear to those who celebrate the Qingming Festival is flying kites. On this day, people across China-young and old- gather together to fly handmade kites of all different shapes and sizes. The most beautiful part of kite flying comes when the sun sets. Once the evening comes, it is tradition for people to attach tiny colored lanterns to their kites before flying them, making them look like twinkling stars in the night sky. Cutting the strings of the kites and letting them fly freely is a custom that is believed to bring good luck to the kite owner. 

And of course what would a Chinese holiday be without a traditional holiday food? Dating all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty, over 2,000 years ago, it is custom to prepare and eat sweet green rice balls on this day. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

All Parents With Preschool Aged Children Should Check Out This New Television Show

Based on the books by Jim and Kate McMullan, The Stinky and Dirty Show describes the adventures of two best friends who become unlikely heroes. Stinky is a garbage truck and his new friend Dirty is a backhoe loader, who have to put their heads together to solve a big mess that they have accidentally caused. Learning what to do when things do not go as expected can be a tough lesson, but when the two friends think creatively and practice being resourceful, even the messiest problem gets resolved! The new show has been rated 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon Prime and an 8.8 out of 10 on IMDb. The characters are voiced by Ethan Wacker, who plays Stinky, and Jacob Guenther, playing Dirty. 

This show, which aired January 15th shows huge promise after just the first episode. Made for preschool aged children, it utilizes fun and humor to teach some very important lessons about teamwork and fixing mistakes. After accidentally causing quite a mess, the two new friends get creative and resourceful to fix their mistake. The cute and funny show demonstrates problem solving skills and using what you already have (which in Dirty and Stinky’s case was “trash”) to get something done and save the day!

Click the video below to watch a sneak peek of the show:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Eileen Wacker Gives Her Take on Kids and Reading in New Article

Author, CEO of ONCEKids publishing, and mother of four, Eileen Wacker, was recently featured on Baltimore’s Child with her candid article about the subject avoided by many parents: their children’s reading skills. The busy working mom sheds light on the truth behind kids and reading; that most parents don’t find themselves with kids who love to read and just can’t wait to turn off the television and pick up a book. From a young age, it is drilled into our minds that good reading skills are vital for any success in school, so when parents find themselves with a child who is not picking up reading easily they panic- but Eileen is stepping up to say not only is that completely normal, but its okay. Nowadays, parents feel immense pressure to have their kids be excellent at everything and always one step ahead of their peers, when the reality is that for most parents that just isn’t the case. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Reaction to Eileen Wacker's "Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco"

In Eileen Wacker’s sixth addition of the Fujimini Adventure Series, Rainbow Panda is just itching to cause some trouble as the other Pandas on the island prepare for the New Year’s celebration. While all the Pandas are busy sweeping, cleaning, planting flowers, and writing wishes on ribbons, Rainbow Panda is busy concocting a plan that turns him into a hero. One of the most exciting parts of the New Year celebration is the fireworks display of course, but this year Rainbow Panda wants to put on a fireworks display of his own. To set his plan in motion he tries to get the help of Green Hamster, who is always eager for excitement. Will his explosive plan turn him into the New Years hero he hopes to become or just cause a whole lot of trouble? 

Ms. Wacker does a fantastic job of telling a fun story while incorporating cultural elements that may be unfamiliar to most American children, such as the customs and traditions behind Asian New Year celebrations. Using lessons like teamwork, problem solving, and following rules, the story puts an educational spin on a cute and funny tale of adventure and learning consequences. Rated 4.8 stars on Amazon and 4.4 stars on Good Reads, this story is definitely a crowd pleaser and one of my personal favorites of the Fujimini Adventure Series.

When asked about her motivation and inspiration behind writing the sixth book of the series, author and CEO of ONCEKids publishing, Eileen Wacker, responded; “My motivation for the Rainbow Panda book was to highlight a New Year that is celebrated by half of the world's population. I also wanted to highlight how hard it is for kids to accept rules and people saying 'NO". And to show how sometimes mischievous antics can lead to unanticipated issues. But good teamwork and strong friendships will usually ensure a happy ending. The Rainbow Panda is a rascal and I love him as a character.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Review of Eileen Wacker's Green Hamster and the Quest for Fun

Energetic and restless Green Hamster becomes bored with the daily activities of him and his other hamster friends and he becomes convinced that all the other animals on Fujimini Island are having way more fun. So he sets off seeking a day filled with adventure and excitement. His goal of his quest is to find which group of animals have the most fun on the Island, but meets some unexpected challenges along the way. Who do you think he decides has the most fun on the Island?

Eileen Wacker’s first installment in the Fujimini Adventure Series is a must read. The award-winning children’s book has been a hit in the Hawaiian Islands as well as many other parts of the country. Given 5 stars on both Good Reads and Amazon, the cute and educational book provides insight into Asian cultures as well as some unexpected lessons. Since its publication, the story was also given a Mom's Choice Award. 

When asked about her inspiration behind her first book, author Eileen Wacker commented; "Let's see. Green hamster and the quest for fun was the first book i wrote. I was inspired by my children and how they are always on the lookout to make sure they aren't missing out. They are also used to being on the go at all times. It's a day off and we're staying in? I'm bored! I loved the idea of a quest that would lead to the realization that their fun little lives are just right for them!"

Click below to watch the trailer for the new animated book:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Asian Countries Know How to Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day Too

It might not be the first places you think of- but countries in Asia actually have some pretty incredible St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Although, there is not a high Irish population throughout Asia, on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish right? The holiday isn’t big everywhere in Asia but there are a few places that really get into the spirit of things and would be a great place to spend the holiday if you’re ever around the area in March!

Seoul, South Korea
It is a fairly recent addition to the list of Korean festivals, but since 2001 the Irish Association of Korea has been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with an annual parade that hosts up to 15,000 attendees. It is complete with everything you would expect for a St. Patty’s Day celebration, including bagpipes, Irish dancing, Celtic music, lots of green, and of course lots of beer! The Koreans love any excuse for a good party!

Tokyo, Japan
This may come as a surprise to you, but the Japanese have celebrated and embraced Irish culture for quite some time, and this includes- of course- St. Patrick’s Day. Each year, Tokyo hosts an amazing parade bringing 30,000 people to the streets to celebrate and several thousand parade participants. And like in Seoul, lots of green, music, food, and alcohol can be expected!

Due to it’s strong associations with the British Isles, Singapore also has a connection to Irish heritage and with it, St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to a spectacular parade, Singapore also hosts an annual St. Patrick’s Day Ball. The celebrations stretch over a three day period. First begins the ball on the eve before the big day. Then on the 17th, the streets fill with green for the parade. And the fun continues on the 18th with street parties outside of local Irish pubs and Irish Festivals. 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In previous years, Kuala Lumpur has had parties and festivals that have reached over 8,000 attendees. But Malaysia is making our list because of their public determination to host Asia’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, even making an online pledge to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. And they take it one step further, wanting to make not just the 17th the day of celebrations- but all of March!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Chinese New Year Celebrations Conclude with the Annual Lantern Festival

In just two days, the two week long period of Chinese New Year celebrations will come to a close. So of course, it is only right to end China’s most important holiday with one of their most important festivals. The Chinese Lantern Festival can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, over 2,000 years ago. After learning that monks often lit lanterns in temples to show respect to Buddha, Emperor Hanmingdi felt that custom should be done in all temples, households, and royal palaces. Eventually, the practice turned into a large festival celebrated annually among all people. 

Popularity for the festival grew during the Tang and Song dynasties, about 1,000 years after the practice of lighting lanterns first began. Historical records document stories about how the people celebrated the festival by dancing and singing from dusk till dawn. Today, customs vary from region to region but there are a few practices that can be seen no matter where you are celebrating. These include watching lanterns, guessing lantern riddles, and lion and dragon dances. 

The main event of the celebration is, of course, to light and release lanterns. As you can imagine, it is a spectacular sight to see thousands of beautiful and creative lanterns floating into the night sky. In different places lanterns carry with them different meaning, for example, in Taiwan lanterns stand for brightness and birth. Therefore, lighting the lantern signifies lighting hope for the future. It is customary for women who wish to become pregnant to walk under hanging lanterns to pray for a child.

One of the most popular activities during the festival is the lantern riddle game. The game is played by putting a riddle on the outside of the lantern with the correct answer on a folded piece of paper inside. If the person guesses the correct answer they receive a small gift from the person who gave the lantern to them. 

Another custom seen throughout most regions of China during this holiday is to consume Yuanxiao, sweet stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour and served in soup. This practice is believed to have originated during the Song Dynasty. Due to their round shape, the dumplings are a symbol of togetherness, so when eating with the family it represents staying together. 

Lion dances are popular during the Lantern Festival as well as many other festivals and holidays. The dances are believed to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck to those who watch or participate. In ancient Chinese culture, lions have long been a symbol for strength and bravery, so the dances are also used during the Lantern festival to pray for safety and protection during the new year. 

The History Behind Japan's Girls' Day Traditions

With the arrival of March, we can begin to look forward to a transition from the long and cold winter into the beginning of the spring months. The coming of spring not only means welcoming warmer weather, but also a season full of fun and traditional festivals and holidays throughout Asia. 

One of the first spring holidays in Japan has already arrived! Today is not just March 3rd, it is also Girls’ Day. Also referred to as the Doll Festival or Hinamatsuri, Girl’s Day is one of the oldest known holiday traditions in Japan. The annual celebration first began during the Heian Period, which dates all the way back to 794. The people of the ancient villages began first by displaying the beautifully crafted dolls in their homes, believing that they possessed the capacity to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune. It then became customary to engage in a custom known as hina-nagashi. This practice called for people to place the dolls into boats and push the boats out to sea, with the belief that the dolls would carry the bad spirits away with them. 

The Doll Festival has also become referred to as Girl’s Day because during the Heian Period, and still today, it was popular for many of the little girls to play with dolls. The dolls were so loved that they even became seen as the protectors or caretakers of the girls, warding off bad spirits and keeping a watchful eye on their owner throughout her childhood, adolescence, courtship, and even marriage. 

Each year as the hand-crafted dolls are displayed, it reminds the people of Japan of an almost millennia-old custom. If you are looking to get a taste of the rich culture and history of Japan, there is no better time than during this beautiful display of Japanese history. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Japan Celebrates the Arrival of Girls' Day

Excitement is growing throughout Japan due to the arrival of one of the nation’s biggest holiday traditions, Girls’ Day. The millennia old celebration, also referred to as Hinamatsuri or the Doll Festival, takes place every year on March 3rd. With all the history and tradition behind this special day comes just as many customs and celebrations. 

One of the oldest, and most important, customs that comes each year with the arrival of March 3rd is the displaying of dolls, the reason behind one of the holiday's names. This practice began during the Heian period. The dolls can start to be seen being displayed throughout Japanese homes around mid-February and remain there through the end of the celebrations. It is also customary for many people to participate in an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi, one of the very first practices of Girls’ Day. During hina-nagashi people place straw dolls into a boat and cast the boat out to sea, believing the dolls carry the bad spirits away with them. The more exquisite dolls do not get put in the boats- sometimes these dolls are passed down through generations- instead they get taken down and put away after the celebrations have come to an end. Although they are put on display in February, it is important that the dolls are taken down no later than March 4th, or it is believed the daughter of the family will get married late. 

And what kind of holiday would be complete without food and drinks? Along with the traditional celebrations during the holiday come traditional dishes. Traditional foods consumed on this day include hina-arare, bite-sized crackers flavored with either soy sauce or sugar (which one depends on the region) as well as colored rice cakes, or hishimochi. Chirashizushi, sushi rice flavored with sugar and vinegar then topped with raw fish among other various ingredients, is also a holiday favorite. 

For girls seeking a united and peaceful relationship, it is suggested that they consume ushiojiru, a soup, that contains clams still in their shells because a pair of clam shells can fit perfectly together- but only with the original pair. In addition to traditional foods, Girls’ Day also brings to the table a customary beverage, called shirozake, a Japanese sake made from fermented rice.