story, science, technology and creativity

1 Comment

Make your own monster: in Japanese and English

Creating monsters with Japanese students at the Hyogo Centre

Me causing chaos at the Hyogo Centre…the students are inventing some awesome monsters!

I’m just back from a terrific conference with the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. It was great!!

I am all inspired and fired up to start work on ideas for a Takeshita Demons book 5 (and I think book 4 is nearly ready to start writing!)

Monster self-introductions

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own writing, or you want a fun activity for teaching Japanese language or creative writing, check out the new Monster Self Introductions activity on my website.

We gave it a try with some Year 9s at the Hyogo Prefectural Government Cultural Centre last week and they came up with some super scary (sometimes hilarious) monsters. Well done guys!!!

Leave a comment

Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Want to hunt some yokai?

You’ve come to the right place! I’ve posted a new game:

It’s a ‘match-the-pairs’ challenge that uses the artwork of Toriyama Sekien.

Sekien is famous for his early depictions of Japanese monsters, better known as yokai.


It’s simple!

Use your mouse to click on any of the closed books: when you click, the book will open to reveal one of the yokai Sekien drew.

– If you find a pair, the books will stay open.

– If you don’t find a pair, the books will close and you must guess again.



Not only do you get to exercise your brain and have some fun, you also get to learn some more about Japanese demons, practise your hiragana and kanji, and SPOOK YOURSELF OUT!


(And huge thanks to my lovely and clever husband for making the game: what a champ!! xxx)

1 Comment

Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese

Want a fun way to practise your hiragana? Try this spooky hiragana wordsearch!

If you’re studying Japanese, then you alredy know that the Japanese language is written using three different alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Words can also be written in romaji, using the English alphabet.

This word search uses hiragana and features demons from spooky adventure story Takeshita Demons.

Can you find the yokai demons before they find Miku?

Head to the resources section of my website and you can download a PDF of the activity and its answer sheet.

Takeshita Demons hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons


ようかい                    溶解                Yōkai (demon)

ゆうれい                    幽霊                Yuurei (ghost)

みく                            未来                Miku (our hero!)

かず                           和                    Kazu (Miku’s brother)

たけした                    竹下                Takeshita (Miku’s family name)

かわにし                   川西                Kawanishi (where Miku lived in Japan)

ぬけくび                  抜け首            Nukekubi (cut-throat demon)

ぬれおんな              濡女                Nure-onna (woman of the wet)

さかばしら                逆柱                 Sakabashira (inverted pillar)

ざしきわらし             座敷童             Zashiki-warashi (house ghost)

ゆきおんな               雪女                Yuki-onna (snow woman)

おに                           鬼                    Oni (ogre)

1 Comment

Japanese ghost stories: of a mirror and a bell

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.

Hearn’s ghost story “Of a mirror and a bell” appears in Kwaidan and is a spooky tale of curses and regret.

“Of a mirror and a bell” is reproduced below…

OF A MIRROR AND A BELL, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama, in the province of Totomi, wanted a big bell for their temple; and they asked the women of their parish to help them by contributing old bronze mirrors for bell-metal.

There was at that time a young woman, a farmer’s wife, living at Mugenyama, who presented her mirror to the temple, to be used for bell-metal. But afterwards she much regretted her mirror.

She remembered things that her mother had told her about it; and she remembered that it had belonged not only to her mother, but to her mother’s mother and grandmother; and she remembered some happy smiles which it had reflected.

Of course, if she could have offered the priests a certain sum of money in place of the mirror, she could have asked them to give back her heirloom. But she had not the money necessary.

Whenever she went to the temple, she saw her mirror lying in the courtyard, behind a railing, among hundreds of other mirrors heaped there together. She knew it by the Sho-Chiku-Bai in relief on the back of it: the three lucky emblems of Pine, Bamboo, and Plumflower, which delighted her baby-eyes when her mother first showed her the mirror.

She longed for some chance to steal the mirror, and hide it, that she might thereafter treasure it always. But the chance did not come; and she became very unhappy, feeling as if she had foolishly given away a part of her life.

She thought about the old saying that “a mirror is the soul of a woman”, and she feared that it was true in weirder ways than she had before imagined. But she did not dare to speak of her pain to anybody.

Now, when all the mirrors contributed for the Mugenyama bell had been sent to the foundry, the bell-founders discovered that there was one mirror among them which would not melt.

Again and again they tried to melt it; but it resisted all their efforts. Evidently the woman who had given that mirror to the temple must have regretted the giving. She had not presented her offering with all her heart; and therefore her selfish soul, remaining attached to the mirror, kept the mirror hard and cold in the midst of the furnace.

Of course, everybody heard of the matter, and everybody soon knew whose mirror it was that would not melt.

Because of this public exposure of her secret fault, the poor woman became very much ashamed and very angry. And as she could not bear the shame, she drowned herself, having written a farewell letter containing these words:

“When I am dead, it will not be difficult to melt the mirror and to cast the bell. But, to the person who breaks that bell by ringing it, great wealth will be given by the ghost of me.”

You must know that the last wish or promise of anybody who dies in anger, or performs suicide in anger, is generally supposed to possess a supernatural force.

After the dead woman’s mirror had been melted, and the bell had been successfully cast, people remembered the words of that letter. They felt sure that the spirit of the writer would give wealth to the breaker of the bell; and, as soon as the bell had been suspended in the court of the temple, they went in multitude to ring it.

With all their might and main they swung the ringing-beam; but the bell proved to be a good bell, and it bravely withstood their assaults. Nevertheless, the people were not easily discouraged.

Day after day, at all hours, they continued to ring the bell furiously, caring nothing whatever for the protests of the priests. So the ringing became an affliction; and the priests could not endure it; and they got rid of the bell by rolling it down the hill into a swamp. The swamp was deep, and swallowed it up, and that was the end of the bell.

Only its legend remains; and in that legend it is called the Mugen-Kane, or Bell of Mugen.

Oooooooo! Spooky!

Leave a comment

Awesome fun with Kappa and Tanuki

Kappa and Tanuki celebrate Christmas - DCcardWant to see just how ubiquitous yokai demons are in Japanese culture?

Check out the awesome tanuki and kappa animations and resources the Tokyo-Mitsubishi bank put together as part of an advertising campaign for their DC card.

The ads feature a shape-shifting tanuki and a (traditionally) blood-hungry kappa. And they’re very cute!

(I can’t imagine any Australian bank advertising their credit card using a vampire or werewolf, can you?)

But seriously, if you’re into cute, or you’re interested in Japanese culture, you should check out the animations in particular (an example here). They are super-cute and the manga-like voice bubbles are a great resource for learning Japanese.

Cherry blossum viewing with Kappa and Tanuki DC cardYou can download short movies, desktop art, icons and stationary templates.

Don’t forget to scroll through the menu at the bottom of each page for extra options.


Awesome kids site: Folk legends of Japan

I’ve just discovered a terrific site for kids (and big kids) interested in learning more about Japan: Kids Web Japan.

There’s a cool section on Japanese folk tales, including the Tongue-cut Sparrow, The Mouse’s Wedding, and Japan’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Tanabata. Plus, of course, my favourite folktale: Momotaro, the story of a boy born in a peach.

(When I was living in Japan, my third year students performed their own version of Momotaro at our school’s cultural festival, writing the entire script in English and performing to the whole school. It was brilliant!)(We also did Hashire Meros, based on a short story by revered Japanese author, Osamu Dazai.)

Anyway, back to this terrific site: You can learn about sumo, explore a virtual Japanese house, try your hand at cooking… It’s brilliant fun.

Working, writing, playing!
I’ve been flat out this week preparing for school visits next week (the last week of school – YAY!) and library visits (school holidays – YAY!) and I’m absolutely loving Monster Matsuri…it’s a funny, scary and exciting book…Just the sort of thing I love to read. I’m nearing the end of the first draft but I know there’s lots more work to do.

I love writing!!
But MAN…I love writing. It’s so cool to invent a world and people who live in it, and then spend ages playing with them. I used to love playing with lego (and we’ve just introduced Fergus to lego too…he thinks everything is an aeroplane), and writing is just like playing with lego. You get a few pieces (words) and plug them together in different ways (sentences), and then you play with them for hours. FUN!

Off for more of that then!



It’s here! But how do you pronounce “Takeshita”?

My first copy of Takeshita Demons arrived in the post! Wheee! It’s very strange, and it certainly doesn’t feel like “my” book. The letters that spell my name on the cover just seem to be some random jumble of foreign symbols. Very odd.

Don’t you think it  looks GREAT!!!

So a few questions remain:

How do you pronounce “Takeshita”?

It’s the one question everyone is certain to ask me, and, if you’ve ever studied Japanese at school, you might have an idea.

The word “takeshita” is made up of “ta-ke” or 竹, meaning bamboo, and “shita” or 下, meaning beneath.

TA: “ta” sounds like “ta-ta”, the word that many English-speaking babies use to say “goodbye”
KE: “ke” is the same as in “kettle” or “kennel”.
SHITA: The “shi” sounds like the English word “she” (as in “she studies Japanese”) and the second “ta” also rhymes with the English word “ta-ta”, but is squashed together into one syllable with the “shi”, making a sound like “sh-ta”

How do you write “takeshita” in kanji?

The kanji used to write “takeshita”are really cool, because they look like the word they describe:

Check out “ta-ke” or bamboo: 竹
You can imagine the two long vertical lines are long, straight bamboo plants, reaching to the sky. The details at the top of the kanji are like the leaves of the bamboo, waving in the breeze.

And “shita” or beneath looks like this: 下
There’s one long horizontal line at the top of the kanji, and then everything else is below or beneath that line.


I love kanji, and I love Japanese language. It sounds SO beautiful and fluid, and it’s so logical, so the rules of grammar and spelling are easy to learn. And that’s a huge relief for me!!! (My least favourite grammar rule is “I before E except after C” because it’s not even a real rule!!!!!)

“I give you”

I met some cool kids at a wedding on the weekend (and two of them, incidentally, spoke Japanese!) and it was ace to play with them on the kiddies’ table while all the adults made conversation instead.  We played heaps of games, including “I give you”, which we made up on the spot. In the game, you take turns giving each other imaginary gifts: you can give powers, or magical instruments, or, if you think someone’s getting too many powerful gifts, you can give them a giant toad or an empty swimming pool, just to even things out 😉 It was GREAT! One of the greatest bits about being an author for children is that you get to play with kids. YAY!

Leave a comment

Take&#$@a Demons?

The reviews for TAKESHITA DEMONS keep coming in and, although I try not to look and to focus on my own enjoyment of the stories, it is great to see that people are enjoying the read.

An interesting thing: one of the reviews was censored by Amazon for including an obscene word. Guess which one?

For the record, “Takeshita” is a common surname in Japan and is composed of the kanji “ta-ke” (which means bamboo) and “shi-ta” (which means under).

And, equally funny but perhaps a little rude for my French-speaking readers: “Burne” is a fairly unique surname, especially with the “e” at the end.

But apparently (and I thank my French-speaking pals for their courage in telling me this) it means something quite rude in French (think “kindama” for those of you who speak Japanese ;-)). While we were living in Geneva, if I rang up to book tables or leave messages, I used my husband’s name instead.

I wonder if I’ll be the only “Burne” on French shelves?

Leave a comment

Science on the Move: South Africa

I’ve just found out that my great pal and co-presenter Graham Walker is back in South Africa this year with a mobile science show raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

At last week’s “Meet the Talent” session, I talked briefly of my experience in a science circus, mentioning that I’ve presented to a gazillion children over my years on the road. Some of these children were in Zululand, South Africa, where Graham and I volunteered with the FABULOUS UniZul Science Centre and Science on the Move, a mobile science exhibition that travels to remote and disadvantaged schools.

What follows is the story of one day on the road
(the photos come from many different days :-))

Fenced primary schools of ragged curious children, interactive science shows performed to packed classrooms, low-tech teacher workshops, streams of learners through the hands-on exhibition… We escape potholes, dodge taxis, pack boxes, choose words…Welcome to another day trucking with Science on the Move.

On this particular day we are travelling in a convoy of two, and already deep into the dirt roads and rolling hills of Zululand when we first suspect something is up.

The lead car, the one containing the teacher sent to guide us to her school, stops to ask a passerby for directions. Hang on…how can a teacher not know the way to her own school?

A few minutes on we stop again to ask for more directions. The T-shirt of the woman we ask reads: “Smile and be happy”. And so when she points in the opposite direction, we just smile and happily do a U-turn, narrowly avoiding a pothole that eats up half the road.

During the drive we pass two schools and no cars, and we are still heading into the hills when my co-presenter Graham leans over and whispers: “Are you covered for abduction?”

I’m still not sure what the answer to this question is. Hopefully I will never have to find out.

Just as we are beginning to entertain the idea that this teacher is an imposter sent to lead us to our ambush doom, we arrive at the school.

It is literally on the edge of nowhere. On one side are the round huts of the village, on the other, empty hills. The sign on the barbed wire fence says “No guns, No knives, No alcohol”. It’s a primary school.

There are 295 learners and the school fees are 50 Rand (around US$6.50) a year. There are six classrooms, wooden desks, concrete floors.

We do two shows (including the first-ever show performed by a female member of the science centre staff)(Yeeha!) and we get the whole school through the exhibition.

The kids understand hardly any English and are entranced by our white skin and big body language. The littlies dance in the just-shiny reflection of Derek’s car.

They seem to think I am an MTV diva…the girls strut and flick their hair in an imitation of what they think white women are, except that I’m wearing dirty sneakers with my hair shoved in a super-daggy cap.

The boys race to be the one to help me carry boxes; their friends point and look on and laugh. Some mock my sing-song language when they don’t understand. Others (none today) can hold a perfect English conversation.

There are ten staff, all women. At the end of the teacher workshop, when I ask if there are any questions, the teachers pepper me: How does rain work? Why are Australians so good at sport? What does the rest of the world think of Africa?

One woman raises her hand and says, “Can you help? Can you help our school?”

At the end of a hot, steamy, dusty, non-stop day we are offered another, different, escort for the trip home. Only then do the teachers come clean:

“Hijackings. This area is known for its hijackings. They see you arrive, and then they wait for you to come back. She will show you a different road home.”

Yikes. The first teacher didn’t know the way to her school because she was deliberately taking us a different way. Yikes again.

I cannot say it enough: These weeks were an AMAZING time. Many, many thanks to the amazing staff of the UniZul Science Centre, to the Fish family, Graham Walker, the Duck Inn, CPAS at the Australian National University and many more. Wow. Thankyou.

Good luck with the new show Graham! One day we’ll bring Fergus to Richard’s Bay and see if he can build the house of nails!

Leave a comment

Favourite use of a word in a children’s picture book

I love fabulous picture books: ones that challenge readers, inspire them to feel new things, make them laugh, and make their parents laugh too.

There are some fabulous picture books on my shelf: check out Diary of a Wombat (by Jackie French) and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (by Mem Fox) for two Australian classics. The first is simple and laugh-out-loud funny; the second is poignant and beautiful and always makes me smile. Yay. I tingle just thinking about them.

So what’s your favourite use of a word in a children’s picture book?

MotherwasapirateMine is “philosopher”, from The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate, by Kiwi writer Margaret Mahy. Mahy studied philosophy at university before becoming a librarian and author.

As a kid I remember LOVING this tiny little man in his brown accountant’s suit, and being swept away with his adventures as he abandoned his office life to journey to the wild sea with his pirate mother. Wonderful! (And very similar to what we are doing with Fergus right now!)

Our teacher read The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate to our class: the highlight for me was meeting the philosopher: he sat, watching the world go by, under a tree. I loved being able to say such a large word. I loved knowing what it meant. And when we had to make papier mache puppets of a character in the book, I chose the philosopher (probably so I could say the word, over and over again). This book is tattooed in my brain: it sparked so many different feelings and emotions.

If you ever get your hands on a copy, be careful: you might follow the little man’s example (like we did!) and toss away your office job to head for the ocean. Whee!

So what about you?? What’s your favourite use of a word in a children’s picture book? Is it something that sticks in your head from childhood? Or something that’s grabbed you from more recent shelves…?