Review – Big Hug Books

For many oThe Playground is like the Junglef you, by now your little ones will be well and truly back into the school routine. Apart from the usual school-related requirements, you may have also restocked your return-to-school library, determined to share the educational and emotional journey your child is embarking on, perhaps for the first time. You will find some of those terrific school-ready titles here.

But what if the ensuing days might not exactly pan out as expected for your little ones, or even for you for that matter? What happens when your child’s feelings are derailed by a minor incident that they allow to escalate into a damaging problem and subsequently feel powerless to overcome? How can you help them get back on track smoothly?

Like manyShona Innes, I find some of the answers in books, picture books. Newcomer to writing for children but experienced child whisperer and clinical and forensic psychologist, Shona Innes together with The Five Mile Press has released a series of books under the banner, Big Hug Books.

Big Hug Books are essentially that; picture books that wrap young children and their carers up in issue specific stories that enable readers to understand and embrace problem situations and learn solutions to overcome them. And we all know how benefThe Internet is like a Puddleicial a great hug can be.

There are four in the series so far with two new January releases, The Playground is like the Jungle and The Internet is like a Puddle. Innes uses age appropriate analogies to illustrate the many positive attributes of each situation a child encounters then progresses to the less positive things that could occur between friends, within relationships, during periods of loss, and living in our modern world. Her expressive text, while a little laboured and repetitive at times does adequately reiterate and reinforce the choices available to all young people and the reasons why they should react in certain ways.

The puddle metaphor used to establish how deep and unassuming Internet use can be in The Internet is like a Puddle, is particularly clever and useful. It is a topic we should all be aux fait with considering the tender age that our offspring are exposed to such digital media these days.

Irisz AgocsIrisz Agocs’ playful watercolour illustrations provide the much needed focus and fun to keep youngsters riveted to the main theme of each book. Animal characters depict children in a consistently comical yet sensitive way.

Easy to read footnotes at the end of each story gives parents, teachers and carers time to take in what they have read and arm them with more insight into each particular topic of discussion. Conveniently, this eliminates the need to some degree that every (new) parent feels to read and memorise every how-to-parent book available on earth.

While titles in the Big Hug Books series will not remedy every problematic situation you and your child will encounter, they do tackle the more common ones in a format that promotes acknowledging, seeking and solving the dilemma together, parent and child. In my eyes that is as valuable as any hug.Big Hug illo spread

Suitable for older pre-schoolers and primary aged children.

The Five Mile Press January 2015


Review – Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson


There have been a plethora of books on the brain; how it changes, how to rewire it, what it can do and how we still know hardly anything about it. At the same time there has been much written about the growth of The Internet, social media and advances in computer technology and how this is undermining our brains. As we let computers do the thinking for us and as we use The Internet and social networks to answer questions we are losing the ability to think for ourselves and as a consequence we are getting dumber. Clive Thompson argues in this book that this couldn’t be further from the truth and in fact we are becoming smarter than ever before.

Clive Thompson also shows that these fears are also not new. With every piece of new technology human’s have invented there have been bold predictions about what these inventions will lead to, positive and negative, and time and again both sets of predictions have been off the mark as our everyday use of these technologies often differs greatly from what the technology was intended for. Television, radio, the telephone, the telegraph and even the Gutenberg press were all ushered in with some people decrying the negative impact they would have on human’s ability to think and interact with one another. Nothing has changed with today’s technology

Thompson’s key argument is that our fear is human functionality is being replaced by new technology but what is actually happening is that we are integrating with this new technology. The book opens with Thompson looking at the quest to find a computer better than a human at chess, something humans have been doing for over 100 years. And while yes there are computers now than can beat a chess master there are also people becoming chess masters at younger and younger ages. And even non-chess masters who can beat computers and chess masters alike by using a combination of skills, human and technological.

This is true for new everyday technologies. We don’t use Google at the expense of memory we often use it to jog memory. It even helps us prioritize our memory. If we know something else will remember a detail or fact for us we won’t waste valuable space trying to remember the detail, we will try to remember where the detail is stored. Rather than The Internet, text messaging and twitter eroding literacy it is actually making us the most literate generation of humans ever. And social networks are also making us more socially aware, online and in person, not just of our friends but the whole world around us. And it is also allowing us to collaborate in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined before.

Thompson is not all glowing about what is happening. For every potential positive there are pitfalls and drawbacks. The technology that helped foster the Arab Spring is also being used by other regime’s to clamp down on people’s rights and maintain their power.  Some social networks can also  lead to homophily, where we only communicate and interact with those of similar opinions which can create massive echo chambers that serve to reinforce a belief, rightly or wrongly and can foster fierce partisan politics.

But technology, like humans, is ever evolving and as we learn more and more about ourselves and the technology and use it in different ways we get different outcomes that will shock us, surprise us and lead us in bold new directions. It is all about making the best use of technology. One of my favourite examples in the book is about a group on NZ High School students whose teacher got tired of the same, stock standard essays and reports being handed in. Instead she got the students to post their essays and reports publically online. At first nothing changed but as the students became aware that other people outside the school could also read and comment on their posts (parents, friends and even authors of books they wrote reports on) their writing began to change. More attention was paid to their research and more time was spent on their reports. Their writing improved.

This was a wonderfully thought-provoking book which reminds us all that rather than fear and deride what is new and changing that we should take time to look at the whole picture not just what bubbles to the surface. Because, one person’s silly cat meme can be another person’s only way to protest…

I found out about this book via Rebecca Schinsky on the Bookrageous and Book Riot podcasts. Check both out they’re awesome.

Buy the book here…

The Internet Is For Porn

The Art of ImmersionThe internet is for porn—there’s even a song about it. Sung, no less, than by child-like puppets disconcertingly addressing extremely adult themes.

There is, of course, Bookshelf Porn, which I’ve blogged about previously and obsess over daily. But I’ve now stumbled on a site that will enable me to get a double dose: Book Cover Archive.

The site is, as it states, and archive of book cover designs and designers dedicated to the appreciation and categorisation of excellence in book cover design. That’s a bunch of words that really means it’s a site dedicated to book cover porn. And porn it is, with the homepage a breathtaking layout of book cover panels guaranteed to set any booklover’s heart racing.

I’ve had the Book Cover Archive open on my laptop for days and my appreciation for book cover design genius as a whole has reached new levels.

Ugly ManHow greatly simple and powerfully effective, for example, is the Ugly Man cucumber cover?! Who isn’t mesmerised by The Art of Immersion, the cover art that, like those cryptic 3-D puzzles you used to stare at as a kid, reveal more the longer you look at it?!

And whose mind on seeing The War on Words doesn’t whirr off in a million thoughts about the clever intersection of newspaper print, puns, and typography?! I also really love the haunting, show-don’t-tell simplicity of The Ethics of Interrogation.

The beauty of this site’s design is immediately apparent—the crisp, simple header gets out of the away of the site’s real stars: the book covers. But its thoughtful, subtle design is something you appreciate more as you spend time on there.

Each book cover image links to a page containing all the information (and links) you could ever hope for: the author, the publisher, publication date, designer, genre. Each of those enables you to drill down and sort by the one you prefer.

There’s also a small, non-intrusive link to purchasing the book via Amazon if you so desire (which I so don’t), and about which the site’s owners are completely transparent: ‘Amazon sends us a small commission for purchases made by way of The Book Cover Archive. We hope you don’t mind and appreciate your support.’

Who’d possibly begrudge them early a few cents (and it will be only a few cents—we are talking Amazon) after a kindly note like that? Well, me actually. I appreciate their sentiment and it’s nothing personal, but I’ll still be buying the books from this Australian-owned, carbon-neutral bookstore.

The War on WordsThere are other fantastic finds in what’s effectively the site map at the bottom. In addition to the standard social media and newsletter sign-up options, you find out who’s behind the blog and the book covers featured and can leap off onto their sites—fantasising, of course, about one day commissioning them to do work for you.

There are also links to fantastic books and websites about cover design, of which one can never have or ogle too many (in fact, be warned: this entire site is a veritable rabbit hole of book and website and design porn).

My two favourite aspects of the site, though, are the fact that they include a list of planned ‘future enhancements’ for the site and details of the font indentification.

The former outlines how the site is a work in progress, but a considered and (to borrow the word I used to describe their Amazon links) transparent one. As someone who works on websites and (painfully) understands how much goes into even the simplest of designs, I appreciate knowing where the website developers have been, where they’re heading, and especially how far they’ve come.

The Ethics of InterrogationThe latter-mentioned font identification is something that helps all of us solve that eternal question—not ‘What is the meaning of life?’ but ‘What font have they used on that book?’ I’ve committed many hours of my life that I’ll never get back on the hunt for the ever-elusive answer to that.

Which indeed reminds me that the internet is for porn. If you haven’t discovered the mindblowing-ness that is Typographica (which, now that I look closely, has an extremely similar design), I suggest you grab a coffee and buckle yourself and your internet connection in—that’s another, extremely worthy, highly addictive rabbit hole all of its own …

You Say Westfield. I Say…

Much was made of shoppers completing their Christmas shopping online. Mostly by physical-store retailers who reckoned they wuz being robbed because offshore online retailers don’t have to charge GST. I won’t deny that price at least in part drove people out of stores and on to their computers, but I will say that I think that was but a small part of the equation. Me? I shop online for a variety of reasons (well beyond the fact that I’m a blogger for this good, carbon neutral, online bookstore and it’d be in my interest to say so). The other reasons are, in no particular order, as follows:

You say Westfield? I say somebody kill me now

Seemingly never-ending university study and a need and desire to feed myself necessitated that I worked in retail for more years than I care to admit. And retail is officially the seventh circle of hell, with the general public automatically assuming that you’re stupid and slow and treating you accordingly.

Years of politely attempting to assist people who get aggressive and abusive when you don’t immediately know which orange book (um, there’s like 150 Penguin Modern Classics for starters) they’re after has left me with something of an aversion to shopping centres and the general public in general. You say Westfield? I say I’d rather die than venture into one.

Just what I want and need and no more

As someone who had to do it herself and struggled with every minute of it, the forced greeting within 30 seconds of you entering the shop and the subsequent efforts to ‘add on’ extra, high-margin but entirely-unneeded items irks me no end. It disturbs me in financial and environmental terms, with the former taxing people who often can’t afford even the items they originally set out to purchase and the latter taxing the environment as these extra, undesired, unused items end up in landfill.

Pretty wallpaper makes lots of landfill

The advent of big-box book retailers brought with it the promise of every title your heart could possibly desire being housed and sold under one roof. The lure of these places is vast and compelling (seriously, my body sniffs out and gravitates towards the book perfume whenever I’m—against my better judgement—in a shopping centre). But there’s also a dark side.

Lots of shelf space means lots of books are needed to make said shops look full and enticing. Not all of these books are sold and end up acting as a sort of three-dimensional wallpaper before being returned—under a Sale or Return (SOR) agreement—to the publisher for what often ends up being pulping.

Consider the resources consumed to first produce, then freight, then re-freight, then pulp these books, and bricks-and-mortar stores aren’t shaping up so book- or environmentally friendly. The books might look good on the shelf, but they don’t sit so well in landfill or on my conscience.

Letting my fingers do the walking

Borrowing the jingle from an ironically now-largely-online phonebook, it’s smarter to let my fingers do the walking rather than my feet. For starters it saves the tread, and for seconds and thirds it saves the environment and my shopping-centre-worn-down sanity. It’s taken me a while to realise it, but intermanet shopping has someone other than me chase around and find stock. I have no idea why I/we haven’t embraced this easier form of shopping earlier.

It’s like Christmas every day

These days most of my mail arrives via email, and most of it’s bills. Nothing excites me less or frustrates me more than coming home to find physical junk mail—wasteful, environmentally unfriendly letterbox spam—poking out of my little letterbox. Offsetting that, though, is receiving packages of books in the mail.

I (admittedly) buy too many books and rarely remember what’s on its way, which means that finding and unwrapping those parcels is a lot like receiving Christmas presents. There’s some sizing up, some shaking, and some guessing before I peel open the package to unveil the book within. And frankly, that’s not something I can get from a physical store.

The Internet is for Porn (And So are Ebooks)

We all know it’s there, and there are a lot of us out there who use it – so why does the civilised internet like to pretend it doesn’t exist? That’s the question James Ledbetter asked in a column in Slate this week, when talking about erotica appearing on the Kindle store. Snip:

As I write this, the most downloaded item for Amazon’s Kindle is a novel by Jenna Bayley-Burke called Compromising Positions. Here is part of the plot description: “David Strong knows how to do a lot of things—run an international fitness company, finesse stock portfolios and stay out of emotional entanglements. That is, until he gets tangled up with Sophie Delfino and her Sensational Sex workout. He’s supposed to help her demonstrate Kama Sutra positions for her couples-yoga class. … And his co-instructor unexpectedly tests his control to the limit.”

As Ledbetter goes on to point out, one of the many reasons Compromising Positions (go on, look it up, I’ll wait) appears on the top list for fiction is that the publisher is giving it away free to promote the author or the series. This is one of the many ways in which producers of adult entertainment (and by adult, I mean porn) push the envelope of what is possible and experiment with new technology. And by that I mean with sales, distribution, content and marketing, not teledildonics.

Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it.

What annoys me about the article in Slate, however, is the presumption that given enough time and attention from the wrong sorts of people, Amazon may be forced to censor their listings.

Is it valuable to the company to goose interest in the Kindle with erotica giveaways, or will the presence of e-books like Compromising Positions at the top of Amazon’s charts sully the e-reader’s reputation?

My question for you today is simple: is this something we need to worry about? Is this another example of the way American prudishness is ruining the internet? Or should we be thinking of the children? Is erotica something we ought to be scared of, or something we should be happy about because at least people are reading it, instead of having it injected into their eye sockets? You decide – sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

A Feature, Not a Bug

Excellent article in the Guardian this week about the internet. It seems almost laughable that someone could write a four thousand word essay about the internet these days, so central is it to the way we live our lives. But John Naughton has, and it’s excellent. He makes an excellent point about disruption being an essential part of the internet – a feature, not a bug:

One of the things that most baffles (and troubles) people about the net is its capacity for disruption. One moment you’ve got a stable, profitable business – say, as the CEO of a music label; the next minute your industry is struggling for survival, and you’re paying a king’s ransom to intellectual property lawyers in a losing struggle to stem the tide. Or you’re a newspaper group, wondering how a solid revenue stream from classified ads could suddenly have vaporised; or a university librarian wondering why students use only Google nowadays. How can this stuff happen? And how does it happen so fast?

Naughton argues that we are currently in the midst of a revolution (an actual revolution, rather than an evolution) the outcome of which is not by any means clear. He says that in the future, it’s likely we will look back on the internet in the way we look back at the Gutenberg press – tracing a clear line of consequence between movable type and such massive cultural shifts as the rise of modern science, entirely new social classes and professions and the collapse of the universal power of the Catholic church.

Of course, without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to know whether the changes the internet and the age of digitisation will bring will be good or bad. It’s very likely they’ll be a combination of both. But nonetheless there is a certain inevitability about it – whether we want it to or not, change is coming.

What has this got to do with books and book technology? Quite a lot. Movable type and the Gutenberg press were at the centre of the communications revolution of the last millennium. The press allowed all sorts of new kinds of communication, and it allowed the rapid distribution and dissemination of books. Will the new communications revolution leave books behind altogether in its race to transfer information ever faster, or are books still a relevant means of communicating ideas in this new age? The answer, according to Naughton, will come to those who wait. In the meantime, of course, we can always speculate. What do you think? Will the book as a medium survive the next four hundred years? If so, why? What does it have to offer that no other medium has?