Express Yourself! – Picture Books Concentrating on Creativity

The seed of creativity takes many forms. It may lie dormant, untapped, unchallenged, or temporarily forgotten  but when nurtured, wonderful things grow. This bushel of picture books not only gives young readers permission to express themselves, but also demonstrates creativity’s diverse manifestations.

Eric Finds a Way by Robert Vescio and Ann-Marie Finn

Eric loves reading and living the stories he reads about. He aspires to write and draw his own adventures but frequently stumbles over his feelings of inadequacy. Encouraged by his ever observant and patient father, Eric persists until one day he has an idea that does not require pictures and words to enable him to journey into a story. Eric’s discovery of the power of imagination and the realisation that you can express it in many different ways is a timely reminder that not all kids like leaping into storybooks to experience new adventures and travel to new places. Nor do they have to. Finn’s beguiling collage and paint illustrations are the ideal match for Vescio’s smooth clean narrative. Inspired outside-the-box-thinking for 5 – 8 –year-olds.

Wombat Books June 2017

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Courtyard Kitchen

Courtyard KitchenIncreasing numbers of Australians are living in apartments and fewer and fewer of us have yards in which to grow vegies or herbs. Worse, most of us have lost or never known produce-growing know-how.

I comprehensively count myself in the latter group. I never learnt the basics of growing things—soil prep, climate suitability, seasonal produce stuff, and more—and I make growing anything far, far harder than it should be. I also realise buying things like herbs, which can be grown in small spaces, is a giant waste of money.

Released on 1 May (just in time for Mother’s Day), Courtyard Kitchen contains growing tips for herbs and potted fruits, then segue into recipes to use that produce. That is, the kind of fundamentals for people like me.

Written by photographer Natalie Boog, whose experience spans working for various Fairfax publications such as Sunday Life and Spectrum and Pacific Magazines publications including New Idea and Better Homes & Gardens, Courtyard Kitchen of course contains beautiful images.

That’s both beautiful as in the shots but also their styling. They’re the kind of pics that encourage even the blackest thumbs of us to give growing herbs one more go and inspire us to whip up some delicious meals once those herbs have grown.

Containing tips about such things as preparing soil, planting, watering, managing pests and disease, which pots to plant in, and how to go about sterilising bottles and jars for things like pestos, the book contains plenty of information that, while practical and basic, is perfect for those of us needing to start from scratch. (The also layout comes complete with super-cute callout circles with handy hints inside them.)

Primarily a cookbook with some herb-growing tips at the start, Courtyard Kitchen caters mostly to omnivores, but offers a number of vegie options. The recipes are grouped by the herb they most feature. For example, Chocolate Basil Cake and Basil Pizza fall, as the titles suggest, under the Basil section; Rosemary Potato Wedges fall under Rosemary.

The recipes range also from Chili Vegie Tagine to Thyme Dumplings to Celeriac & Potato Soup and Parsley, Chilli & Lemon Spaghetti. All tasty options to experiment with and from which to derive a sense of ‘I grew this, I cooked this’ satisfaction. Not-so-green thumbs up.

Thanks to Murdoch Books for the review opportunity.

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.