Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

Picture books enable children to escape and experience worlds quite unlike their own. Non-fiction narrative picture books enhance those journeys even further. The following collection entices young readers to gaze skyward, creep through leaf litter and explore worlds in and beyond their backyards.

Backyard by Ananda Braxton-Smith & Lizzy Newcomb

Backyard is as it says; a whimsical exploration of a normal suburban backyard, that on closer inspection is anything but normal. ‘Sweet-tooth bats’ flit about the dusky evening sky, tawny frogmouths sit ‘as still as wood’. There is tiny movement everywhere and for one ‘sleep-moony child and star-eyed dog watching’, the world comes alive despite their close proximity to the city.

Visually sumptuous and satisfying, this picture book encourages mindfulness and evokes calm and imaginative thought. Captivating language coupled with sensory illustrations on every page will have youngsters revisiting this celebration of creatures great and small again and again.

Black Dog Books August 2018

Continue reading Beyond The Backyards – Nature Non-Fiction Picture Books

Review: The Chicken Keeper’s Problem Solver

Chicken Keeper's Problem SolverEven a cursory examination of my social media hints at the fact I adopt ex-battery hens. Which means I’m constantly on the lookout for information on how to best care for them.

That’s both in terms of providing them with the best quality of life, heading off potential illnesses and issues, and giving them the best medical support if and when they fall ill.

A friend and fellow writer and editor Clare found Chris Graham’s The Chicken Keeper’s Problem Solver recently. She sent me one of those random awesome texts you get where it’s a picture of a book you might be interested in.

Obvs I completely was, so I promptly ordered a copy of it.

(As a side note, I discovered Graham has a 500-issue version entitled Wisdom for Hen Keepers: 500 Tips for Keeping Chickens if you’re after a slightly more robust version. Given that it talks about showing and breeding chickens, it’s the antithesis of what I need, but I’m flagging it here just in case it’s of interest to anyone else.)

Identifying and explaining 100 of the most common chicken problems, The Chicken Keeper’s Problem Solver book is a fantastic reference, and its communication design is to be applauded.

Divided into 10 sections that include Food and Water, Housing, Parasites, Health Issues, and Behavioural Problems, with roughly 10 questions in each, the book is logical, functional, and designed to be scanned quickly.

Wisdom for Hen KeepersEach question is posed as you would think of it: My hens have gone off their regular feed; My hens seem bored; One of my hens has a swollen, hard lower neck; I can’t catch my chickens. They’re all for real, including the latter one, with which I have had personal experience.

Squeaker, one of the current battery hens I look after, is absolutely tiny and arrived with nary a feather on her. But she’s also the Speedy Gonzalez of chickens, which is probably what helped her survive to date. She’s had me running around my backyard with Benny Hill music playing in my head.

Thankfully, she’s a little more trusting of me now and applies her speed mostly to moments when she’s trying to scoot in the door to snarfoo some of the dog’s food.

Anyway, each of the questions is summarised and then explained in greater depth. All are in lay terms and all are accompanied by strong images, call-out boxes with handy hints, and—as I discovered on a second read—fab illustrations that often sit subtly behind or near the text.

So if you are fortunate enough to have chickens in your life—ex-battery hens or other varieties alike—I’d suggest this book is a handy go-to troubleshooter.

It’s written for the northern hemisphere, so I’d love to see a southern hemisphere version (*cough* *hint*), but there’s still enough in there to make it suitably applicable here.

It’s definitely one of the books I’ll be recommending slash loaning out slash gifting to other people kept by chickens (because frankly, I think it’s the chickens who are doing the keeping, not so much us).

Chicken Cheeks

Chicken CheeksI took a punt ordering children’s picture book Chicken Cheeks while on my everlasting quest to find great books about chickens. I am, after all, far from being in the book’s target audience.

It was the title and the cover image that sold me. I mean, who can go past the words ‘chickens’ and ‘cheeks’ accompanied by an image of a chicken standing on a moose and staring back at us through what I call (technical term) ‘fluffy pants’?

I knew my punt had paid off when I saw the inside flap of the dustcover. It reads: ‘This is a story with a beginning, a middle, and a whole lot of ends’. It appears I ordered a book about bums. Animal bums, to be precise.

I can’t reveal the plot without ruining the end-of-book payoff, but I will say the book features animals standing atop each other. This, of course, brings animals’ bottoms into close proximity to the heads of the animals on which they’re standing. Which makes the book sound far less G-rated than it actually is. Trust me, this book is safe for kids.

From moose caboose to penguin patootie to turkey tushy to hound dog heinie to polar bear derriere to, obviously, chicken cheeks, you’ll find yourself smiling at the terminology and the accompanying brightly coloured, brilliantly anthropomorphised animal illustrations. There’s even arguably some crossfit mockery (although I could be reading too much into this—I consider crossfit and its attendant carryings on ridiculous, but for all I know, this book was already published before the authors knew about the ‘sport’ and any reference is purely coincidental).

The other animals I share my home with—bees—also feature, making this a doubly suitable and successful chance purchase. But again, I can’t say any more without giving too much away.

What I will say is that I’m endlessly fascinated about where authors get ideas for such books. Even more so that they’ve then been able to get a publisher and bookseller and audience member like me to help them realise that idea. But I should probably be less surprised. Bums and farts are eternally interesting, whether you’re a sprouting child or a fully grown adult. (I believe The Day My Bum Went Psycho, for example, is a perennial bestseller.)

The Blue Day BookIt reminds me of my creative writing university lecturer once telling us budding, undergrad writers that we should forget about trying to write the great Australian novel. His frustration was that The Blue Day Book, a gift book about frogs accompanied by pithy quotes (or something—my memory is hazy and I’m less than motivated to go read it to clarify details) had sold (and continued to sell) an absolute motza.

He meant this is a bleak warning, which we all duly noted (I mean, why else would I still remember that out all these years on?). On one level I find that bookselling information as depressing as my lecturer intended. On another, I find it quite freeing. It reminds me there’s more than one way to write a book, and more than one type of book people clearly like reading. I say the more the merrier to encourage reading full stop. Which prompts the question to which I have no sales-data answer: Frog-themed quote books are clearly sought after. Surely, though, books about bums and farting would sell more?

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken

Louise, the Adventures of a ChickenMy chicken-themed (‘chooken’) book search and blogging continues, with today’s entry one about an adventurous chooken named the unchookenly name of Louise*.

The hardcover illustrated children’s book I picked up, Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, is written by Kate DiCamillo (better known to us for such titles as The Tale of Despereaux) and illustrated by Harry Bliss.

With bright white feathers, oval-shaped, curiosity- and emotion-imbued eyes, and a red comb (or as I prefer to call it: ‘woggle’), Louise is a free-ranging farm chooken with a taste for adventure. In some interviews on other sites, DiCamillo has reportedly described her feathered protagonist as ‘insouciant and unflappable’, but also ‘clueless’.

Throughout the 40-ish page, four-chapter book, Louise: boards a ship and sets sail, where she finds herself captured by pirates; joins the circus; and visits a bazaar. That is, she touches on the kinds of subjects and themes we’ve come to know from other children’s books. Which kind of disappointed me—where’s the surprise?

This is the part of the review where I probably begin to sound like the children’s book grinch.

Not being in the 4–8-years-old age bracket, I’m obviously not the target audience, but I have to say I found the stories a little two-dimensional. Key details are skimmed over or not at all explored as we hurtle suddenly to the stop of a story and the start of an unrelated one.

For example, the first chapter, about sailing and pirates, ends quite darkly without much true climax and certainly no explanation or build-up, and we’re immediately sent off to explore the circus. That then propels us into the next chapter, again without any satisfactory tying up of loose ends or even growth marginally achieved by said main character.

I also have to say Louise’s heart beating too fast in her feathered breast is a go-to phrase gone too a little too often. That’s not a phrase that should be used more than once or twice in a short book that contains a maximum of three sentences on each page. Where was the editor? I found myself thinking more than once.

But I also realise I’m critiquing this book with adult eyes, and it would be perfectly enjoyable for those for whom it is actually intended. Visually arresting, Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken is one you can pore over for plenty of time, and Bliss has wrought Louise as an incredibly adorable, expression-filled chooken.

The wit and anthropomorphic accuracy with which he conveys Louise’s emotions makes taking in the pages, if not necessarily the words, well worth doing. His depiction of a plucky (sorry—chooken puns are harder to avoid than you might think) Louise are top notch, and without a doubt are the book’s strength. Seriously, the chooken-out-of-canon sketch is fab.

DiCamillo often includes bleaker elements in her books, and this one adheres to that rule. Louise is in genuine danger a number of times, even if she is naively oblivious to it. Two out of three of those times, it’s because of humans who have less-than-honourable intentions for her. I initially found the darker tones unsettling and not what I was after, but in retrospect I do appreciate them—too often children’s books gloss over the realities of what happens to animals at human hands.

While I’m not sure if DiCamillo is trying to make an animal liberation or ethical statement (and I can’t find information about it online), either way she includes subtle reference to freedom—or rather, chickens’ more common entire lack of it. Louise is privileged enough to be a chicken free to range and make up her mind about where she’d like to go and what she’d like to do.

Late in the book—and when we least expect it, I might add—she finds herself trapped in a cage with other hens who haven’t had a taste for such freedom. When she breaks them out through her ingenious beak-maneuvering skills, they take tentative pecks at the ground, not dissimilar to they way battery hens do if they are ‘fortunate’ enough to experience sunlight and standing on the ground for the first time in their lives.

I have to admit I’ve read some other reviews on the internets that say what I’ve been thinking: the book’s not quite up to DiCamillo’s usual standard. But I should reiterate that I’m far, far older than its main readership so my critique could be wide of the mark. It might just be on the money for its intended readers (and have I mentioned Bliss’ anthropomorphised depictions of Louise are fantastic?).

 

*What constitutes a chooken name I’m not really sure—perhaps grandmotherly names, although I’m not sure how that came to be or why it’s the dominant naming convention. Thoughts?

The Problem With Chickens/Chookens

Louise The Adventures of a ChickenAnyone who even vaguely knows me knows I recently adopted some former battery hens. (If by some fluke you’ve missed it, you can follow along via the #OperationChooken hashtag.)

We’re coming up to celebrating one year of Randall and Coo (as I’ve named them) being cage-free (on 3 October it’ll be one year with me, but they were rescued roughly three weeks before I met them).

For almost a year now, I’ve been trying to find some chicken-related—‘chooken’-related—books to devour, only to find there’s either not a lot out there or my research skills are rubbish. It’s likely more the latter, but either way, I’ve come to realise chookens feature quite a bit in children’s books.

Some books I found I was familiar with, many more not. That may be because I don’t have children or it may be just that I never encountered the books when I was a kid.

The books I will shortly ingest include Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken and Henny Penny, the latter of which reportedly aims to set the record straight about chookens thinking the sky is falling in—that’s apparently a misnomer put about by foxes. I’ll also soon be reading the similarly titled Henny, which is about a chooken who has arms instead of wings.

The first chooken book to arrive in the post, though, was Bruce McMillan’s The Problem with Chickens. I’d be inclined to complete that statement with such things as:

  • they’re so adorable it’s impossible to concentrate on work or study while you’re hanging out with them so you’re behind on just about everything you’re supposed to be doing
  • they’re indiscriminate poopers, and especially like pooping places that aren’t grass and are therefore more difficult to clean up
  • they’re impossibly perky morning people, which poses challenges for those of us who are entrenched night owls
  • they’re smarter than we give them credit for and they’ll have you under their thumb and running around organising them treats and visits to the neighbours’ gardens for a variety of bug and worm exploration before you can say ‘cunning, cute chooken’.

McMillan’s characters experience something similar, with their adopted chookens behaving less like chookens and more like ladies, following the protagonists around and delightfully mimicking their every behaviour.

HennyThe problems come when the chookens stop laying. (I’m trying not to think too hard about the parallels with the real world that saw my chookens, Randall and Coo, no longer considered useful under these conditions, and how my adopting them was the only difference between them being alive and free now and being sent to cruel slaughter.)

The story then revolves around the protagonists taking innovative steps to encourage the chookens to lay again (I won’t ruin the surprise, although I’m not sure I feel it made a lot of sense). All the while, the narrative is complemented by Icelandic illustrator Gunnella’s pictures, which simultaneously depict the chookens as beautiful, whimsical, and of unique personalities. Those illustrations also put my amateur chooken stick drawings to shame (and no, I won’t post a pic here for comparison).

The Problem With Chickens is adorable enough, but it didn’t blow my mind in quite the way I’d hoped. So I’m putting it out there: Can you recommend some chooken-themed books I’d be keen to read? Preferably happy-ish ones because I’m already more informed about the horrors of factory farming than anyone would ever really want or need to be. That said, if there’s one you feel is a must-read, please feel free to mention it…

 

Operation Chooken

Reinventing the Chicken CoopI’ve been absent from blogging for a bit not because I didn’t have a billion books I wanted to write about, but because I’ve been buried in an ever-deepening sea of study. I’ve surfaced now, having passed some crucial milestones.

I’d like to say I’m feeling fresh and perky, but I’m really just feeling wholly exhausted and comprehensively relieved. Not to mention absolutely itching to get back into reading and blogging about the books I’ve been putting aside in favour (for want of a better term) of academic texts.

At the top of the pile are books about chickens—referred to as the more fun ‘chookens’ from here on in.

About six months ago I adopted two former battery hens—two chookens of the 43 billion chookens in the world. Randall and Coo came to me via Operation Chooken, a long-running campaign I’d waged for years against my increasingly worn-down parents.

It involved me desperate to rescue some battery hens from captivity and certain slaughter and involved my parents (still haunted by finding hens not completely killed by foxes years before that fitted through gaps that didn’t exist) far less enthusiastic for me to do so. Dealing with the aftermath of fox-induced deaths, not to mention the initial pen and run assembly, would fall heavily on my father’s shoulders. And he already had a busy schedule and plans to retire.

But, he relented and built a much-admired pen and run, and my world now revolves around Randall and Coo and their incredible spirits. They’re damaged chickens who had an unspeakably horrendous start to life, but who amaze me daily at their courage and willingness to trust me. Suffice to say, if you follow my Instagram feed (@girlcalledfred) or the hashtags #OperationChooken or #Chookens), you could be forgiven for thinking I’m a little obsessed. In the best possible way.

Roo-StarBecause we’d had chookens before, I didn’t do a lot of reading up before Randall and Coo arrived. You could say I’m doing it all in reverse now, scouring the interwebs for chooken information. Next on my reading lists are definitely going to be:

Reinventing the Chicken Coop, a book a few people have suggested I present to my pen-building father for his next birthday/Christmas/significant present-receiving day. Quite a few people have asked, based on the impressiveness of his pen- and run-building prowess. Methinks he needs some time away from pen building, but don’t worry, I have grand extension plans ready to table when I think he’ll be amenable to them.

In retrospect, the Backyard Chickens Guide to Coops and Tractors would have been a handy reference before we assembled something. The pen we have is very good, but as with anything, it’s only once you start using it that you think: It would be great if it was just/did just…I’m going to buy it for pointers for the next chooken shed I plan to scam my father to build.

I was mocked heartily by friends when I was shocked to discover that chookens lay just about every day, not monthly, as I’d anticipated. This children’s book, Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones might prove a handy, accessible text for me (and any kids I introduce to Randall and Coo).

Roo-Star, the Smartest Chicken in the Coop looks an interesting read, albeit one I’m not going to deny could be for the wrong reasons. Is it normalising that chookens should live in (factory) farms, with humans determining what’s ‘best’ for them? I’ll have to read this and see (stay tuned for an outraged post if this is the case).

GoblinproofingI’ve no idea if it’s a chooken-themed book or if chookens just happen to be the jumping-off point, but Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop is likely an intriguing read. In 2013 it won the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Its blurb reads:

Plagued by pixies, goaded by goblins or bothered by gnomes? Help is on the way! Help is here. This is the essential primer for banishing the dark fairy creatures that are lurking in the dark corners and crevices of your life. In this charming guide, ‘fairy hunter’ Reginald Bakeley offers practical instructions to clear your home and garden of goblins and banish them forever! In Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop readers will discover:

  • The most surprising weapon to use when hunting gnomes
  • What absinthe drinking has to do with strawberry gardening
  • Why a garden fumigator may come in handy on evenings at the pub
  • Why a toy-merchant, a butcher and a freemason are among your best allies in the fight against the fey.

Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop is the only complete manual on how to identify, track, defend and, if needed, destroy those bothersome brownies, goblins, dwarves, scheming flower-fairies and other nasty members of the fairy realm.

Alright, it’s probably got nothing to do with chookens, but it sounds hilarious. And it beat out some stiff competition to win that award.

9780852652350Finally, I’ll be tackling Chicken Coops for the Soul just as soon as I can get my hands on it. Clearly a play on the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, it documents the tale of comprehensively fallen in love with these fascinating, intelligent, extraordinary creatures:

When Julia Hollander agreed to buy her small daughter a rabbit, she had no idea that she would end up with two hens as well. Finding herself at the wrong end of a very steep learning curve, she then had to master the many skills of hen husbandry in short order, from what to feed them to how best to fox-proof a small urban garden. Chicken Coops for the Soul is a record of the five years of trial and error that ensued, in which Julia charts the joys, challenges and inevitable moments of disappointment of allowing your life to become dominated by poultry. Fascinating and entertaining by turns, this is a book that will prove invaluable to the aspiring keeper and remind chicken aficionados why they became hooked in the first place.

If you know of any other chooken books I should add to the list, please definitely let me know.

The Little Veggie Patch Co.

The Little Veggie Patch Co.My career choices of ‘writer’ and ‘editor’ hint that I’m rather text-driven. So book design has to be pretty spectacular to warrant any or all of my attention.

Suffice to say, The Little Veggie Patch Co.: How to grow food in small spaces is pretty spectacular. As in gorgeous, award-winning-worthy, I-want-to-eat-it, I’m-in-awe beautiful.

But in a complementary sense, because rather than dwarfing the text or making up for poor content as design elements are sometimes wont to do, this book’s design wholly supports and enhances the text.

The Little Veggie Patch Co. has been out for some time, but it’s been sitting on my ever-expanding to-be-read pile for almost as long. I bought it because I’ve always desperately wanted to have a wickedly lush garden filled with flowers and vegetables, with chickens gambolling about. The Little Veggie Patch Co. looked like just the inspiration-meets-instructional text I’d need to achieve it.

Veggie Patch FundamentalsAs of October, I’ve got the chickens—two former battery hens now named Randall and Coo I’ve adopted under what I’ve codenamed Operation Chooken (you can follow just about their every adorkable move via my Instagram account, @girlcalledfred, or by searching #OperationChooken).

I’ve been convinced I’m on my way to a burstingly good veggie patch and have madly been fantasising about raised garden beds overlaid with straw and fertile chicken poop and pallets doubling as containers. I’ve been sketching out designs for where everything can live (including the bee hive I’m hoping to add to the mix after I’ve completed a beekeeping course next week).

So I laughed more than a little when I read the book’s opening lines, having dug it out to help with my research and design:

The prospect of creating an edible garden can be so all-consuming, it’s quite easy to get over-excited. Spurred on by the overwhelming urge to become self-sufficient, you find yourself staying up past midnight, a glass of red wine in one hand and a blunted pencil in the other, feverishly mapping the layout of your new veggie garden.

Over-excited, moi? If my chooken Instagrams are anything to go by, you could say when I love something, I get a little obsessed. The book continues:

You are certain your family will share your enthusiasm and that trips to the supermarket will soon be a thing of the past. It all seems relatively straightforward. From what you can deduce, the hardest thing will be telling your partner their tool shed is now the chicken coop, and explaining to the kids that their cricket pitch will soon be an amazing new fruit orchard.

The Little Veggie Patch Co.I’ll not deny that I was hoping I’d be self-sufficient, except that I’ve quickly learnt I’m far less the green thumb than I ever imagined. Who knew gardening was so tough?

The smartest decision you can make is to start on a small scale and focus your attention on making your veggie patch as productive as possible. Don’t launch yourself into subsidising your current food needs, let alone becoming self-sufficient.

Huh. This book seems to be eerily written about and for me. So I’ve found myself inhaling its contents—figuratively and, because of the high production values, literally too.

The tasks outlined in The Little Veggie Patch Co. are practical, humour-filled, and achievable. I haven’t been disheartened by the difficulty of them as I was with those in Indira Naidoo’s book, which was incredibly well researched, but intense and beyond my extremely low skill level.

The Little Veggie Patch Co. doesn’t dumb the processes down by any stretch, but it doesn’t try to overwhelm you with information. I get the sense these guys—the owners of the business on which the book is based and the co-authors of the book—are very much familiar with explaining the how-tos of gardening in accessible, memorable ways.

For example, they’ve introduced me to the concept of compost ‘lasagne’, which for the first time made me understand how to organise layers in compost (and the importance of doing so).

The Little Veggie Patch Co.They made me realise I could manage a worm farm. And they have inspired me to attempt no-dig gardening, which is apparently both the lazy person’s garden and the smart person’s one.

They’ve shown it’s possible—optimal even—to have raised garden beds. Better yet, apple orchard boxes that offer a rustic aesthetic and ergonomic goodness in one.

They’ve also provided vegetable-by-vegetable breakdowns of what to plant, when, and how to nurture it. Then they’ve added in some scrummy recipes to boot.

All of this is accompanied by exquisite images with simple, step-by-step accompanying instructions (please forgive my dodgy Instagram pics of them, but you get the idea).

Suffice to say I’m still staying up late into the night sketching out my plans for vegetable- and chooken-led self-sufficiency, but I’m doing so better informed and with a better plan. Oh, and with a beautifully designed book to inspire.

Review – Peggy

PeggyIt is little secret I love chooks and pigeons. So when I noticed this lovely new picture book featuring a little black hen and her feathered friends, there was instant grab appeal.

Peggy, a beguiling little black hen, lives a contented albeit somewhat isolated life in the burbs until one day she is unceremoniously whipped up by a fateful gust of wind and dumped in the middle of a strange new world, the city.

Peggy embarks on all the things an out-of-towner in the big smoke might be expected to do; she shops, dines on new cuisine, feasts her senses on curiosities of all shapes and sizes; thoroughly enjoying her big adventure until homesickness suddenly strikes.

When she spies a familiar sight, a sunflower like the one from her yard, she pursues it tenaciously; her only tentative link with all that she knows and misses. But the sunflower soon disappears. Alone and forlorn, Peggy waits in an empty train station until salvation appears; the pigeons, the very same ones she used to observe from a distance. They show her the way home.

Peggy passes her days now as before only now she shares her existence with the pigeons, even taking the occasional outing with them – via train to the city.Peggy and pigeons

Anna Walker has deftly created a simple little tale of a brave chook on a big adventure with the use of ink and photo collage. Her economic of words ensures we keep turning the pages, keen to keep up with Peggy’s exciting explorations.

The use of photo imagery adds marvellous depth, and warm authenticity to the lusciously thick pages in spite of the chilly damp of autumn the illustrations suggest. Muted background colours ensure details are highlighted with sensitive playfulness: the bunch of bright, yellow sunflowers, brown, wind-blown autumn leaves, and cherry-red umbrellas.

I especially loved Peggy; plucky, stoic, simply black, with that inquisitive look that only a chook can wear. A look that wonders; Can I eat this before it eats me? Peggy gently suggests that it’s worth expanding your horizons from time to time, and that this is not as scary as you might think it is because there are always friends around to help you, if you keep an eye out for them.

Recommended for pre-schoolers and appreciators of avian.

Peggy is published by Scholastic Australia 2012

 

Down To Earth

Down To EarthThings It Would Be Helpful To Remember Before The Fact #147 was, for me, that I’m monumentally allergic to codeine. Recalling that at the crucial, pill-swallowing moment would have saved me a not-fun night of vomiting so regularly and with such force that I’m no longer sure there’s any enamel left on either my teeth or the toilet bowl.

The upside is that the subsequent sickness-related self pity inspired a desire for home comforts. Which in turn led me to finally crack the spine of a book I’ve long overlooked for ones made more exciting by vampires or damaged protagonists with a penchant for BDSM. It’s Rhonda Hetzel’s pretty, pretty, textured-pretty Down To Earth.

The subtitle, ‘A guide to simple living’, sums this book up better than any other words I can find. It’s a personal reflection on Hetzel’s own dissatisfaction with cash-strapped, rat-race-like consumerism and her search for satisfaction in simpler, more wholesome, less money-driven, more environmentally aware existence.

On one level I was disappointed with Hetzel’s book—it says very little that we don’t already know. On another I was inspired—it affirmed what I knew and appeared doable and not entirely scary. She’s effectively taken the gnawing doubts that there’s got to be ‘more’ to life than ‘this’ yearning for simplification that we all have and made the all-embracing leap.

The leap is back to much of what our parents and grandparents knew and did: growing your own food; mending rather than throwing things out; buying only what you can afford. Common-sense stuff, but that we’ve vastly and devastatingly departed from. It had plenty of this knowledge which has been lost or forgotten (or at least it has for me). A triple plus: Down To Earth had heaps of info on composting, worm farms, and keeping chookens—my three main current areas of interest.

I’ve spent many an hour researching and pinning images of chook tractors that I intend for my father to build. Tractors for chookens I’ve not yet convinced him I have to have. You see, we’ve had them previously and he has prior experience in building said pens and keeping said chooks.

That I was viciously attacked by the rooster and still have the physical and emotional scars from is something that I’m prepared to move on from, especially as I have no intention of having a rooster. The fact that I don’t actually eat eggs and that I live alone and travel a lot are, I feel, him dwelling on the semantics—me and the chookens would exist in happy, soil-improving, egg-producing bliss.

But I digress. Down To Earth is a heart-warming, rallying reminder of that which we know as well as a few new facts we didn’t. It’s also the lived, imperfectly honest journey of someone who’s tried and tested their way through the experience.

Oh, and did I mention it was incredibly, complementarily pretty? The book’s design (and, clearly, the budget outlaid to realise it) is earthy, wholesome, and straightforward while still being House-and-Garden-magazine salivating. It’s the perfect combination of being enticing but not intimidating. Me and my not-yet-purchased chookens wholly recommend it.