BOOK OF THE MONTH - #03


March 2015 :: A couple of nights ago we almost had a chill in the air – it’s been a long, hot and dry summer in Queensland. 

But even the hint that autumn might be coming was enough to get us thinking about woolly clothes and woolly crafts. Enter Extra Yarn!

Extra Yarn is great to read when you’re about to teach a child to knit or crochet, but it’s a book for any season. It’s especially good for talking about contributing and sharing – and aren't those the things we’re all trying to teach year round?

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Kim

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BLOGGING THE WEEKEND - #01

Happy weekend! We're starting a semi-regular bit of Saturday-blogging about things fun and pretty - starting with this lovely apartment. Hope you enjoy! 

The pic is from Joanna Goddard's blog - a tour of a Brooklyn Apartment with the owner, Tina Roth Eisenberg. It's chic and well worth a click: two cute kids, loads of books, cool & stylish rooms and good words. Like these, on getting kids to talk (our italics):

Every night I'll ask them [Tina Roth Eisenberg talking to her children], 'What's one thing that made you happy today?' I'll ask them all sorts of questions, and Ella loves it.

The way you always get them is you phrase it into a story, 'When I was your age, I remember...' They always listen to those.

 

Such a wonderful way to end the day. And don't the book stacks look fabulous? They're great decorating pieces, but practical too. If you don't have one in your home, you might have misgivings about, say, wanting a book from the bottom - but I can vouch that they're very manageable. 

One Christmas, my daughter's husband made (welded) three stackers for the girls in the family - they're on our walls and we use them like workhorses, keeping the books we're currently reading handy and at eye height. They're something like the one on the left below, except ours are made of metal and we're all much messier. Doesn't matter, they still look good.

This leaning stack is also a great way to display the beautiful picture books that we all happily accumulate. 

Have a wonderful weekend, see you Monday!

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REVIEW :: I am Henry Finch

 

It's pretty great when a book can make you laugh out loud and still leave you with some deeper thoughts to ponder on.

I AM HENRY FINCH is that kind of book.

The finches are a noisy crowd, so much so that ‘you really could not hear yourself think’. And Henry Finch is just an ordinary finch – one of the crowd. Until  he starts to think. And, most importantly, to listen to his thoughts

Life for the finches goes along at a merry pace with lots of formulaic socialising, but with very little thought. Until The Beast appears. There's a moment of panic and mobilisation at that point but, pretty quickly, everything gets back to normal. 

Henry Finch seems to be ok with all of that, until one day: “He had a thought and he heard it.”

One thought leads to another and Henry becomes inspired and emboldened with thoughts of greatness. These are followed by some pretty despairing thoughts and feelings of inadequacy (as they so often are). But Henry manages to overcome.

In the end, Henry is truly great – though not in the way he anticipated. (I’m trying not to give away the punch lines because they’re hilarious.)

 

The finches are brilliantly created around fingerprints, hinting that each finch is actually unique, even if they haven’t quite grasped that yet. The Beast is appropriately menacing, but when he changes, he is positively delightful. And the pictures of Henry’s thoughts are my favourites – so full of life and expressive. Children will get a kick out of the faces he makes and the unexpected moments that crop up.   

All of this makes I Am Henry Finch a great story to read with a child – but there's much more, so it's a great book for teens and adults too. There are thoughts embedded in the story that will benefit any age. For example:

We all need silence from time to time in order to hear our thoughts. 

Even in dire straits, we still need moments of calm to become aware of our circumstances.

It’s worth stepping outside of the everyday and into the realms of possibilities.

There’s hope of rescue from even the most awful situations – and very often we need to help ourselves.

Community really matters – but so do individuals.

By saving ourselves we can also save others.

Greatness is often found in the way we teach and help others rather than in death-defying deeds.

It’s worth some effort to think differently and to think personally.

A healthy sense of our own value is a good thing.

Understanding the perspective of others frees us to talk with them and find a solution to life’s inequalities.

 

Some really great art activities could flow from this book – families or classes could make their own village of finches using their fingerprints; thought bubbles could be added; pictures of desperate times could be drawn with your own 'fingerprint finch' at the centre of it all. You get the idea, I’m sure.

Henry Finch has some pretty lofty thoughts, along the line of Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ – the kind of thoughts we all need to think from time to time. But my very favourite is on the very last page: “GREAT,” thought Henry.

I absolutely agree – Henry is great, the story is great, the illustrations are great, the learning is great, the thinking is great and the jokes are great! And it would make a great graduation gift.

I Am Henry Finch was written by Alexis Deacon illustrated by Viviane Schwarz - it's a newie, published by Walker Books in 2015.  Here's the link to BookDepository, who do free postage.

Review :: The Boss Baby

Years and years ago, when my aunt and uncle had one very precocious 3 year old, the census rolled around and required that they stipulate the head of the household. Well obviously that was the three year old, so that’s what they wrote. Perhaps not what the census designers envisaged but certainly the truth.

If you know a baby who is the head of the household – and aren’t they all in one way or another – you’ll get a laugh out of this book.

The Boss Baby is great fun because it’s so very true to life. The Boss Baby arrives and sets up his ‘office’ in the middle of the lounge room – he calls meetings in the middle of the night – and eventually he wears his parents/staff down to the point that he needs to pull out something big! 

So he does. He says ‘Ma-ma? Da-Da?” And, just like that, he’s back in charge!

It’s funny stuff. The baby is wearing a suit, the parents look equally besotted and exhausted, as new parents do – and the baby’s list of demands seems endless.

For parents and grandparents, this is an inside joke. 

For a child with a new and demanding sibling, it’s a recognition that the baby really is ruling everyone’s life for the moment - as well as a chance to share the inside joke. (This is helpful since it moves the child from the ‘kid’ side of the equation to the ‘adult’ side, creating an ally for the parent as well as offering another benefit to being an older sibling to the child.)

For older children who 'remember the days', it will be funny too. (Recognition that we once indulged in the same sort of behaviours that now seem demanding and, well, bossy can help with developing empathy and perspective.)

For a young child it’s really about the image of a baby bossing his parents around so wilfully that it's funny. (Everyone needs to feel a little in control from time to time.)

And for a baby – it’s the fun of the cheerful pictures and the slightly more relaxed tone in Mum and Dad’s voices as they get a reminder that they’re not Robinson Crusoe in this baby raising stuff.

 

This is a hugely appealing book and one that we think makes an ideal new baby or baby shower present.

The Boss Baby is by Marla Frazee, published by Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Memory Tree

It’s a rare child whose life remains untouched by grief. It can be heart wrenching grief like the death of a beloved grandparent, or something less traumatic but still real. Like the loss of a friend whose family moves away, or a pet dying, or even grief over something as simple as a lost toy.

Books that offer positive mechanisms for coping with grief that aren’t overly sad or far too heavy thematically for young children are thin on the ground, but this is one.

The Memory Tree is the story of a fox who dies, whose friends gather around him and, in their grief, begin to tell stories about how the fox has improved each of their lives. 

As they each share their stories, a tree begins to grow. And over time, as more stories are told, it flourishes and becomes ‘... the tallest tree in the forest… a tree made from memories and full of love.’ 

The animals shelter in the tree and it becomes a place of joy and hope. ‘And so, Fox lived on in their hearts forever.’

 

The animals in this story do not display animal behaviours – the owl, weasel, fox, rabbit and others are friends. The fox isn’t going to eat the owl and the rabbit is safe with the weasel. 

These unlikely friendships add another dimension to the story – we can be friends with others who are different to us – and they also remove the story from the human realm, positioning it in a place where it is safe to talk about emotions and grief without requiring a human face.

I really appreciate how the story shows the animals working through a few different stages of grief. There’s a time when the animals come together and can’t imagine life without Fox, there is sadness, there is silence, there is remembering and storytelling; and there is continued life with the memory of Fox making life better for the other animals.

While the story is certainly about grief, it is also about:

-    Resilience. In the face of great grief the animals find a way through.
-    Remembering. The animals use storytelling to strengthen their friendships and to bolster their spirits.
-    Reassurance... that there are good times to come.
-    Reflection... on times past / and
-    Renewal. The tree grows where Fox died is life giving and nurturing

 

This is a story that would ideally be read over and over again before a child is confronted with serious grief. It’s a story that will settle into their inner self and provide strength at crucial moments. Those moments are not always devastating grief – they can be simple life-moments like a hurtful comment from a friend or a less-than-stellar result on a test. The lessons of The Memory Tree apply in these times too.

Reading stories like this aloud is not always easy – the right tone needs to be struck. I’d suggest a slow whisper that moves from solemn to joyful as the story progresses. You might like to try imagining yourself in the place of each of the animals who are remembering Fox.

Mostly, it’s important to move from grief to joy in the reading, because ultimately the story is about celebrating the good. (It could make a thoughtful gift for an adult who has lost someone dear and important in their lives.)

 

The Memory Tree was written by Britta Teckentrup, published by Orchard Books - and here's a link to BookDepository (with free shipping)

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Review: Good News Bad News

There are exactly four words in this book – good, bad, news and very! 

But they tell a super story - of a hopelessly optimistic rabbit and an equally hopelessly pessimistic mouse who are about to share a picnic.

 

Through a series of misadventures, the rabbit stays upbeat and the mouse stays miserable. Until it all becomes too much for the rabbit, who sinks into despair.

Right about then, the mouse has a change of heart too – all that optimism has finally rubbed off – and the mouse lifts the spirits of the rabbit.

 

This is a great story for beginning readers – four words and a predictable pattern coupled with a really fun story make it a great confidence booster. There’s plenty of room for expression and funny voices too.

One of the things I love about reading this book to young-ish children is that some identify with the rabbit and others with the mouse – it's very funny to watch. And the great thing is that there are lessons for each of them. The mouse learns to look on the bright side and the rabbit learns that sometimes life is rotten for a while. 

The friendship between the rabbit and the mouse is a good model too. They have different opinions about pretty much everything, they live in different places, they even get mad at each other, but they are friends all the same and that’s the very good news for both of them.

The pictures are great – they add to the story. The wide eyed optimism of the rabbit and the deepening cynicism of the mouse are made clearer and funnier through the illustrations. I especially love the page where the mouse finally sees something as good news. A pillar of light awakens the mouse to the rabbit’s optimistic point of view. The surprise and delight on the face of the mouse is brilliant!

Adults and teenagers will get a kick out of this story too – it’s funny and I suspect we can all see a bit of rabbit and a bit of mouse in ourselves (it's tagged for babies through to 8 year olds but really, anyone will enjoy it).

One last thing – because there are only four words, and because rabbit and mouse are animals and don’t wear gendered clothes, there's no reason to assume one gender over the other for either character. But most kids (and adults too) will do just that – there’s an interesting discussion to be had about why we do do that.

Good News Bad News was written by Jeff Mack - published by Chronicle Books  - and here's a bookseller link.

"An instructive and entertaining primer on the art of friendship and the complexity of joy."
- Kirkus starred review.

#QuoteLove

Congratulations Lindsay Jane and Jamie - and welcome to planet earth, Charlie!  

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Collections / for International Women's Day 2015

It's coming up to International Women's Day (March 8) and we're delighted to bring you our collection of favourite picture books about women who did remarkable things:

 

Let the Celebrations B E G I N! 
A group of women who did what they could with what they had, because they loved and had hope. booksellerreview

 
 

Moses: When Harriet Tubman led her People to Freedom  
A woman who did the impossible. bookseller / review

 
 

Malala Yousafzai Warrior with Words
A woman who isn't afraid to speak out (one of the Amazing Babes). bookseller / not reviewed yet

 
 

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie
A woman who built on the legacy of her childhood.  bookseller / review

 
 

Vision of Beauty
A woman who lifted others as she prospered.  bookseller / review

 
 

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto
A woman who risked all to save vulnerable children (one of the Amazing Babes).  bookseller / not reviewed yet

 
 

Limpopo Lullaby 
A woman who was brave when she had no control. bookseller / review

 

 
 

Me, Frida
A woman who spoke to other women - and men - through her paintings (one of the Amazing Babes).  bookseller / not reviewed yet

 
 

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride
Two women who loved life.  bookseller / not reviewed yet

 

Hope you enjoy checking those out!

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Kim

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Review: Amazing Babes

 

Every once in a while, we each need something to jolt us out of the everyday and remind us that: 

  1. we have the capacity to do and be great;
  2. there is still plenty of growing to do;
  3. people are endowed with wonderful abilities to share with others;
  4. there is a tremendous amount of good in the world;
  5. sacrifice for a greater good is worth remembering;
  6. there are many different ways to contribute;
  7. our talents are valuable / and
  8. women have been and continue to be a force for good.

Amazing Babes is just that sort of book. It’s lovely to touch and to feel, beautiful to look at and simply inspiring to read. One aspirational quality from each of 20 remarkable ‘amazing babes’ is highlighted throughout its pages, like:

“I want the courage of Aung San Suu Kyi.”
“I want the heart of Camila Batmanghelidth.”
“I want the determination of Malala Yousafzai.”

With a really lovely drawing of each woman on the facing page and sparse text, this could be a fairly quick book to run through. Except that you’ll want to know more about each woman, so you’ll go to the back of the book where there’s a paragraph about the achievements of each woman. And even then, you’ll still want to know more. So you’ll end up google-ing the women – and in my case buying biographies of a few of them!

The women in the book come from a wide variety of educational, racial, social, national and historical backgrounds. It’s a great mix. 

Chronologically, the earliest story is of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first Englishwoman to practise medicine - and the most recent is Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2014. (that piece of information came after Amazing Babes was written – one of the benefits of owning a book is that you can scribble notes like this in the margins as I’ve done for Malala.)

One of the really great things about this book is that it doesn’t value-load. Young fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson is given the same weight as, say, Irena Sendler who saved hundreds of children from the Nazis, or Edith Cowan the first woman elected to an Australian Parliament. So the qualities of the women become more important than the actions they performed. And ultimately I think we all hope most for strength of character in our children and ourselves.

This is book for girls and women and for boys and men. It’s a book to inspire us to keep growing and develop appreciation for good works.

Amazing Babes is by Eliza Sarlos, illustrated by Grace Lee - published by Scribe Publications in 2013 - and here's a bookseller link.

Review: iF... A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers

This is a brilliantly informative and fun book. We’ve had it sitting out on our table for a week or so now and it has captivated everyone who picked it up.

It’s all about scale. Scale is tricky to understand for young children, but numbers can get so big that it becomes almost impossible to get a sense of scale even for older children, teens and adults. Things like the size of the universe, all the wealth in the world, or all the food in world are just such huge quantities that one large number blurs into another. And that’s where this book comes in.

By reducing all the wealth in the world to a pile of 100 coins, it’s so much easier to visualise where all that money is held. 100 lightbulbs make it far easier to understand where all the world’s energy is coming from. 3000 years of history condensed into 31 days on a calendar page becomes much easier to visualise. And so on.

The food production page was fascinating to me. “iF…” reduces all the food produced in the world to a loaf of bread with 25 slices, then shows how much of that loaf each region in the world produces and how much they eat of the loaf. Lots of ‘food for thought’. :)  But also a really impactful talking point – even more so if there’s a loaf of bread handy to divide up.

 

This is not an alarmist book by any means, but it does give one pause. There's a lot to think about, from water conservation to species extinction to our place in the universe and more.

Each page is full of energy, the illustrations are quirky and fun. And there's just the right amount of information – enough to provide new information and enough left to research independently - making this an ideal book if you have a child who is struggling to find the motivation to read and research. Even the trivia/science/numbers buff in our family found it fun and interesting to read.

It’s also a great book to start talking about environmental issues, income gap issues, and social issues like poverty and life expectancy. Conversations that need to be had regularly but are sometimes forgotten in the midst of business.

iF... was written by David J Smith and illustrated by Steve Adamspublished August 2014 by Kids Can Press in US and New Frontier Publishing in Australia - here's the link to Book Depository (free postage).

(David J Smith also wrote If the World Were a Village another favourite, very much along the same lines - we featured it in one of our Top Fives)