Josh Spencer on the digital age vs physical, tactile books:

There’s room for both, I think. I hope.
Josh Spencer - The Last Bookstore

This award winning documentary short by Chad Howitt is an all-round wonderful, life-affirming story about how Josh worked through his own suddenly and dramatically altered life circumstances, from:

"everything was a challenge, everything was difficult"


"after my injury, my life perspective changed."

"things that seemed difficult weren't necessarily harder ... just different, that's all."

and how, along the way, he founded THIS amazing bookstore: 

Just wow, it's on my LA list! Enjoy the video.

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8 books about men who used their talents and circumstances to make the world a better place

all ages / collections, powerful lives, s.o.s.e., s.t.e.m., true or true-ish

There’s nothing more important than teaching and loving the people around us – family, friends, neighbours - and the people who most profoundly influence our lives are almost always those who are involved in the minutia of our world. 

With that sort of support firmly in place, it’s great for kids and adults to look to the men and women who have used their individual talents and circumstances to create something extraordinary.

So, to complement our collection posts about amazing women, here are 8 truly lovely picture books about men.

These are books that read like stories and have great art. They’re also full of information about real-life men with diverse talents, circumstances, and lives. Men who have made the world a better place - artistically, scientifically, politically, academically, mathematically or any of a host of other ways.


Uncle Andy's - the story of Andy Warhol’s nephew and his visit to his not-yet-famous uncle. It’s a riot of colour and energy and overflows with family love. Great insight into the life of a brilliant artist. (James Warhola both wrote and illustrated this book – clearly he inherited his uncle’s love of colour and artistic talent.)


Simpson and his Donkey - the story of Jack Simpson and his many life saving rescue missions on the battlefield of Gallipoli .

14 Cows for America - the little-known story of a young Kenyan man who, with members of his Maasia tribe, presented the American ambassador with 14 cows as a gift after the September 11 attacks. An inspiring story about showing love and giving what you can.


The Right Word: Roget And His Thesaurus - the story of Peter Mark Roget and how his childhood and life led to the writing of the world famous thesaurus. Delightful to read and to look at – the pictures are busy and intricate – much like Roget himself.


Starry Messenger – Galileo’s life and work beautifully illustrated.


The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins - a fascinating insight into the earliest attempts to create drawings and models of dinosaurs.


One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin - heaps of information about Charles Darwin and his work and family in this fascinating picture book for older children.

On a Beam of Light - the story of Albert Einstein’s early life and his incredible discoveries, told with humour and insight.

The Boy who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos - unless you’re really keen on maths you may not have come across Paul Erdos previously – this is a tremendous introduction to his life and work. Best of all, this book leaves you with a sense of maths being fun and fascinating.

The books are linked to the booksellers who had the best price at the time of writing, but that can change with time. If you'd like to search for them through our other affiliate booksellers (thank you!) here are the generic links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

And P.S. - the image at the top of the page is me with my Dad, who continues to make my world a better place.

Names in these books - Andy, Jack, Charles, Waterhouse, Galileo, Peter, Kimeli, Paul

the beauty of a simple life - and the profound importance of valuing individuals and families

by Anna Ciddor – Allen & Unwin, 2016
ages 8 to 12 years + the adults who read it with them / chapter booksjunior readers

The Rabinovitch family are a real-life family and The Family With Two Front Doors tells a little bit of their story.

They also represent many other families living an Orthodox Jewish life in Poland in the 1920’s. This pre-holocaust time was in many ways a charmed space, nestled after World War I and before the Great Depression came to Poland – a time of relative prosperity and peace.

It’s simply delightful to follow the family through a few days leading up to Shabbes and then a few months leading to a wedding.

I confess to a certain 'holy envy' for an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath. Gathering the family, hurrying to be ready before sunset and sharing a traditional dinner sounds like a beautiful way to start a day of rest. 

The Rabinovitch family go through all of this, and my favourite passage from the book is in the chapter The Sabbath Queen:

At last it was time for the candles. Mama struck a match and leaned forward. Yakov watched in suspense – as he always did – to see how many she could light before the match burnt too low. First came the elegant, tall candlesticks for Papa and Mama, then the smaller ones for the children. The match burnt lower and lower, and Yakov let out a disappointed sigh as Mama dropped it on the metal tray. She picked up Nomi’s candle, and used it to light the last few candles, and then the four oil lamps for the little brothers and sisters who had died as babies.

Solemnly, she drew her hands in three circles above the hot, bright flames, covered her eyes and began to pray. At the sound of the words, Yakov felt Shabbes flow into the room, as warm and real as the heat that poured off the candles.


The bustle of the Shabbes preparations is carefully told in the preceding chapters, and then the excitement and busyness of arranging and preparing for a marriage follows. It’s a bit like reading Little House on the Prairie set in Poland – plenty of careful detail inviting readers into the family's life.

They're a bustling, rambunctious family and, as they hurry through their days, we get to know the children: 

We see Nomi making the Shabbes Gefilte fish for the first time, and we see her nervousness and her pride in taking on this most important role.

We see Adina handing over responsibilities to her younger sister as she begins to prepare herself for an arranged marriage. There’s grace balanced by apprehension in Adina – and all is well in the end as Nomi observes that Papa and the matchmaker had chosen well.

We see Shlomo, who can recite some Torah and knows parts of the Talmud, as he quizzes his future brother-in-law. He’s studious and protective and diligent. 

And there’s Miriam who is a child of the future – she’s unhappy about the old tradition of arranged marriages and thinks marrying someone you’ve never met is ‘stupid’.

There are a whole host of Orthodox traditions on show here. There's the shaving of a married woman’s head, feeding the Beggars each week, study of the Torah by the boys and more. It’s a great way to introduce these traditions, because the characters are so real and so appealing that they become our friends. And it’s always easier to relate to new ideas and traditions if we have friends involved.

The Family With Two Front Doors is lovely for reading aloud and since there is no mention of the holocaust and the preceding years of turmoil and hardship, it’s appropriate for younger children. It also serves as a really good way to begin talking about the ghastliness of the holocaust. (A simple note from the author at the end of the book tells us that only three of the nine children survived the holocaust.)

This is a book full of charm – a reminder of the beauty of simple lives, and more profoundly of the importance of valuing individuals and families.

I do hope there are more stories about the Rabinovitch family coming – some would no doubt be heart-wrenching, but I'm sure Anna Ciddor could tell them with the same warmth and engagement as she has in The Family With Two Front Doors

You can buy The Family With Two Front Doors via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

Names in this book - Aaron, Yakov, Shlomo, Adina, Bluma, Esther, Devorah, Nomi, Miriam

the life and career (so far) of Hillary Rodham Clinton

by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Raul Colon – Schwartz & Wade, 2016

by Michelle Markle, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – Balzer & Bray, 2016

by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Amy June Bates – Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015

ages 4 to 12 years / powerful lives

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to be nominated for President but Hillary Clinton is the first woman to run for President who actually has some possibility of winning! 

Regardless of political inclination most everyone would agree that Hillary’s nomination is a watershed moment – one that will change history, whether she wins or not.

Here are three picture books about Hillary – each of them effusive in their praise of her, and each of them beautifully illustrated. None of these even attempt to provide a balanced view, so if you are a steadfast Republican you might like to look away. J

In the interests of political neutrality I tried to find a picture book that positively portrays Donald Trump – couldn’t find one, but this looks funny at least.

Names in these books - Hillary

success is not always about winning ... sometimes it's about beginning

success is not always about winning ... sometimes it's about beginning

Even though she couldn't vote, Victoria Woodhull ran for President of the United States in 1872. She was a remarkable woman with a difficult life who had a passion for equality and she gave her all to the cause.
ages 8 years and up

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Lisa Bu on finding new ideas and dreams

Lisa Bu on finding new ideas and dreams

Books can be the ideal place to search for ideas, or new dreams, or role models. Here, Lisa Bu shares some favourites and talks about he joys of comparing and contrasting - a great way to approach reading and life!

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turning grumpiness around and helping friends feel better too

turning grumpiness around and helping friends feel better too

Grumpy feelings don't need to last all day - a cheerful gift, a bit of sharing, and giving to a friend help the animals in this story to get over their grumpy starts to the day.
ages 0 to about 6 years

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the transformative power of time spent in the wild

the transformative power of time spent in the wild

An inspiring story about perseverance and appreciating the natural world. A boy and his uncle embark on an amazing hike through the magnificent Grampian mountain ranges. Not everything goes to plan, but there's physical and metaphorical beauty each step of the way.
ages 6 to 12 years

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an intriguing exploration of what love requires when all else is lost

an intriguing exploration of what love requires when all else is lost

A troubling and yet uplifting story of the effects of war and politics on the lives of two women and the way they come to love and respect each other.
in / adult fiction

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