Saturday, 30 January 2016

So, This Happened This Week

I got a bit of a fright as I walked into the lounge room this week. 

I saw a shape at the door. It was moving. But wedged in between the screen door and the glass door. 

Was it a huge rat? It kind of looked like it.

Closer, no, not a rat, reptilian. OMG, is it a snake? (Every Australian's first thought... ) The dogs had something cornered in the yard the other day under some wood and I'd been worried it was a snake.

But no, there's legs! YAY, there's legs.

Oh, it's a blue tongue. Our largest skink


I'm not sure what it was doing in there. 

A pretty big one too. Pregnant maybe? I hope so. 

We went out to take the screen door off to help it get out. 

I hadn't seen a blue tongue for quite a few years. We had one that sunned itself out the front of the house for a while, but the neighbour's dogs cornered it in their yard one day, and killed it. 

I wasn't sure if it would eat the skink. It didn't. 

I hope I can keep this one safe from my dogs. I like to think that's she's out there.


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Thursday, 28 January 2016

10 Great Books All Children Should Read

A new great list from The Conversation about friendship and families.

1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes - Mem Fox, Helen Oxenbury

2. Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes from Around the World - Elizabeth Hammill

3. Bear & Chook - Lisa Shanahan, Emma Quay



4. The Lion and the Bird - Marianne Dubuc

5. The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers

6. Herman and Rosie - Gus Gordon

7. My Two Blankets - Irena Kobold, Freya Blackwood (see my review)

8.  Animalium - Katie Scott, Jenny Broom



9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (illustrated edition) - J.K. Rowling, Jim Kay

10. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

5/10

Although I have read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, just not the illustrated edition.

I do love how these lists always contain books you've never heard of.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Indie Book Award Shortlist 2016



Australia's Independent Bookshops run the Indie Book Awards each year. The 2016 Shortlist was released this week.

Fiction Shortlist

The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop
The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
A Guide to Berlin - Gail Jones
The Natural Way of Things - Charlotte Wood

Non-Fiction Shortlist

Flesh Wounds - Richard Glover
One Life - Kate Grenville
Reckoning: A Memoir - Magda Szubanski (nearly finished)
The Anti-Cool Girl - Rosie Waterland

Debut Fiction Shortlist

Rush Oh! - Shirley Barrett
The Anchoress - Robyn Cadwallader
Relativity - Antonia Hayes
Salt Creek - Lucy Treloar

Children's Shortlist

The Bad Guys, Episode 1 - Aaron Blabey
The 65-Story Treehouse - Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
Olive of Groves - Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo
The Singing Bones - Shaun Tan

Young Adult Shortlist

Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan - John Flanagan
Soon - Morris Gleitzman
Prince of Afghanistan - Louis Nowra
Cloudwish - Fiona Wood

The Young Adult list is difficult as 3 of those books are part of a very successful series- none of which I have read sadly. Cloudwish is the third in a linked series of books. Soon is the fifth of Morris Gleitzman's series dealing with the Second World War. And I know that John Flanagan has written quite a few of the Ranger's Apprentices books.

And still always books you've never heard of...

You can see the full longlist here. It's always interesting to see what didn't make the cut.

Winners will be announced March 23 2016.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

One



I'm not really sure why I became so desperate to read One, a book I hadn't really heard of all that much. I did see it on a number of end of year lists out of Britain. Actually I do think this one from the Guardian may have tipped me over the edge. Various authors recommended it- including Katherine Rundell (who is high on my To Read radar herself, and who had many recommendations of her latest The Wolf Wilder on the list). Who can go past this:

Mine is One, by Sarah Crossan. It's a book that shouldn't be possible- a blank verse novel about conjoined twins that never once dips into sentimentality- but Sarah Crossan makes it look so easy. It's a book about love, and courage, and I adored it.
I've come so far in my Verse Novel Journey that this was an added incentive, and soon it was landing on my doorstep. Perhaps because it featured so much on an English list I thought it was an English book. But it most definitely isn't. One is set in Hoboken, New Jersey. I see now that Sarah Crossan was born in Dublin, and currently lives in England, but she did live in New York while working as an English teacher before she became a full time writer. I believe that her other books are set in the UK, I wonder why One is set in America then?

Grace and Tippi are 16 year old conjoined twins who have been homeschooled to hide them from society's prying, and often cruel, eyes. But now the family circumstances have changed and the girls need to go to school for the first time. Hoping that it won't be terrible, hoping to make friends, even perhaps hoping to find love. 

'Are you kidding?
You are normal.
And normal is good.
Normal is my goal,'
I tell him.
The story was always relatable even though unusual, and the characters, especially Grace and Tippi were well written, our narrator Grace was clearly her own persona, and different from her sister. There were just too many issues for my liking. Everyone in the twins immediate family had major stuff going on. So did their friends. While perhaps we all do have our own stuff, it just seemed a bit much at times. One is not Sarah Crossan's first novel in verse, it seems that The Weight of Water was also a verse novel, she also writes in prose. She started One in prose, but it wasn't working, even after 30,000 words, until she swapped to verse. 

Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon, and not something I've thought about all that often. Every now and then a set of twins will come to prominence as efforts are made to separate them, although sometimes this is not possible of course. I've never thought about what it would be like to be conjoined. I don't think it's something that is actually all that easy to imagine but One gives us some small insight into the internal world of conjoined twins. And even the ethics of it all. 

Gorgeous people strut down catwalks
in dresses made of string
loll half naked on sandy beaches
and no one seems to mind
that they do this for money
no one finds it
distasteful
at all. 
But when Tippi and I consider cashing in on our
 bodies,
everyone frowns.

In an Author's Note at the back of the book Sarah Crossan says that she modelled the physiology of Grace and Tippi on the bodies of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, particularly tragic Russian conjoined twins, taken from their mother in 1950 Russia, who were to live a tragic life and die of alcoholism. Although, Sarah tells us

It might be astounding to a singleton, but conjoined twins do not see themselves or their lives as tragedies. 
Grace tells us too. 

It really isn't so bad.
It's how it's always been. 
Two of Sarah's previous books The Weight of Water and Apple and Rain were nominated for The Carnegie Medal. Clearly she is an author to explore.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Jasper Jones Belvoir Street

Picture source

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of going to see the stage version of Jasper Jones, a fantastic book that I read 5 or so years ago. I never blogged about Jasper Jones at the time, which was a bit of a shame, because I loved it so, and now I don't remember all that many details of the book. I remembered the start, the setting, and zombie cheeses, and that I loved every single word- even the quite detailed cricket match! And I really loathe cricket. But I didn't remember most of the story, or even who dunnit in the end.

Jasper Jones is an amazing tale of growing up in a small Western Australian town in 1965. Charlie Bucktin is 14 years old, and a bit of a geek, he reads a lot and doesn't get up to any trouble. His life changes forever when town bad boy Jasper Jones comes knocking on his window late one night. There are major events unfolding in the town and Jasper and Charlie end up right in the thick of it.

All of the adult actors did an amazing job of their juvenile roles. It was a particularly funny play, but not in the least light weight, the big emotive moments were really well done too. I hadn't been to Belvoir Street since my uni days in the 90s, so it was nice to go back there too, although I did think it was in totally the wrong suburb- such are the vagaries of memory. The staging was very clever, I particularly loved how the tree changed from scene to scene.

This stage version only lasts until Feb 7 (and most of it is sold out anyway), I'm so glad I got to see it. There is a movie version of Jasper Jones due out later this year starring Hugo Weaving and Toni Collette as Charlie's parents, Levi Miller as Charlie, and Aaron McGrath as Jasper Jones. I'm not very good at recognising actors, but Aaron McGrath has been everywhere lately - Glitch and Ready for This, and I think he'll make a great Jasper. I've bought myself a new hard back copy of Jasper Jones, and am definitely planning to read it again before the movie comes out. Now just to find the time.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Sydney Festival 2016

I made a rather flying 24 hours visit to Sydney this week. Saw the absolutely fantastic stage adaptation of Jasper Jones at Belvoir Street last night (further gushing here). For those unlucky enough not to be able to see it, then read the book as soon as you can, and there is a movie version coming later this year.

Today we went to the Hyde Park Sydney Festival hub. And participated in a very fun event. Dance Your Hyde Off with Guru Hudu. SO much fun.


Guru Hudu from Melbourne
And soon we were on a silent disco walking tour of Hyde Park. 




I've never thought about the Archibald Fountain
as a disco icon before,
but clearly it is

It was so fun, and even more fun to watch the reactions of other festival goers.



I liberated three books from the Library on the Lawn.


I've never made it to the Speigeltent though. Maybe next year.


And then we went to Bodhi for Vegan Yum Cha.





But you can't live on vegan yum cha alone, so it was back to Hyde Park for Gelato Messina.

Messina Weiner

My fun times at Sydney Festival 2015.

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Friday, 15 January 2016

Good Night, Sleep Tight



Good Night, Sleep Tight is a masterful picture book from Australian powerhouse Mem Fox. I was intrigued by this book after I heard Mem speak about it and some of her other books at the Mudgee Readers Festival in 2013.

Mem is a great exponent of children's literacy and she wrote Good Night, Sleep Tight after she heard the fact that if a child knew 6 nursery rhymes by heart by the age of 4 then they would be in the top reading group by age 8. So she wrote a story with 7 nursery rhymes embedded within it, the six necessary ones, and a spare one - just in case. And it works really well.

wonderful bright Judy Horacek illustrations

Parents will remember most of these rhymes from their own childhood, although there was one that was completely new to me, and the rhyming repetitive link Mem has written has perfect Mem Fox cadence.

'We love it, we love it!' said Bonnie and Ben.
'How does it go? Will you say it again?'


Good Night, Sleep Tight is a perfect gift for new babies. It comes in a sturdy board book format too, to stand up to the many readings that will ensue. Even picture books can have fascinating back stories, Good Night, Sleep Tight was originally published in 1998, and then spent many years out of print before being brought back by a father's request.

See Mem read Good Night, Sleep Tight.



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