Aussies – We salute! Reads to enjoy around the barbie

As the mercury level rises and your pool swells with screaming kids, it might be time to reach out for a reason to remember why you love summer, and kids, and Australia! Here is a real mixed swag of reads full of the flavour of Australia Day.

Australians Let Us B B Q!Australian’s Let Us Barbecue! I featured this one just before Christmas but it’s still worth popping on the bonus CD by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion for that extra dollop of Oz. Along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton, every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition have been merged into the tune of our Australian National Anthem. Throw your thongs in the air and enjoy the rousing recital and sing-along. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us over rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

The Little Book of Australian Big ThingsNow that everyone’s levels of Aussie-rama are peaking higher than the midday sun, grab The Little Book of Australia’s Big Things by Samone Bos and Alice Oehr. This nifty little hard back features an amazing assortment of Australia’s BIG things from bananas, lobsters and trout to guitars and bushrangers. Fun, informative, and loaded with cheek and colour, this guided-tour-around-Australia-collection has a charming retro feel with dozens of activities, recipes, and pop-out pages for little ones to Big thingscraft their own big things. The dust jacket forms part of the fun too, folding out into a big Australian panoramic scene. Too true! It’s enough to make me want to jump in the Kombi again and track these all down for the heck of it. Highly recommended.

Chirpy Bird imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont 2015

Speaking Bad Nedof bushrangers, check out a really bad story by Dean Lahn. Actually, his picture book, Bad Ned isn’t all that bad – that’s just the subtitle. The bad face, explosively bold text and cartoon-esque styled illustrations are comically quirky and a pleasing parody of a little boy’s imaginative day. Bad boy Ned models himself on the notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly but at the end of the day, his naughtiness becomes unstuck, literally. More entertaining than expected however the sudden ending may require explanation for young readers not familiar with our bush-rangering lore.

Omnibus Books imprint of Scholastic May 2015

ABC DreamingIndigenous author, Warren Brim hails from Far North Queensland, as do I, so it was a marvellous treat experiencing ABC Dreaming. Unlike some learn-the-alphabet books, ABC Dreaming depicts a unique array of Aussie (rainforest) characters, fruits, and flora. The stunning x-ray line, dot artwork paints each subject against a vibrant background that best accentuates its unique features. From Red-eyed green tree frogs, mozzies and nutmeg pigeons to yabbies and xanthorrhoeas (blackboys or grasstrees), this is a beautiful and stimulating way for little Aussies to learn their ABCs.

Magabala Books November 2015

An English Year front cover (800x770)But of course, little Aussies take on all shapes and forms. If you’d like to spend Aussie day appreciating your family’s diversity and background or the culture of others who make up our great society, cast an eye over Tania McCartney’s and Tina Snerling’s latest additions to their Twelve Months in the Life of Kids series. An English Year and A Scottish Year are as good as actually being there. I encourage you to visit this awesome series of picture books that allows Aussie kids better beautiful contact with kids outside their ‘norm’ of experience. Lavishly illustrated, meticulously thought out and superbly accurate, An English Year invites you to experience the English isle, its inhabitants, and rituals without the need of a passport. Better than a bacon buttie. Exploring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland is just as fun as well. You’ll be visiting this one time and time again if nothing more than to practice pronouncing the Celtic mouthfuls of place names, traditional fare and annual events.

A Scottish Year front cover (800x770)Fun and informative. Breezy yet substantial. I have to say, I’m a little bit in love with this series. Potentially so useful in the classroom and home. Of course, if it’s Aussie flavour you’re after, An Aussie Year is the non-fiction picture book choice.

EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing September 2015

The Big Book of Australian History 2I embrace the digital dexterity of our young generation however confess that I sometimes get a lot more joy from thumbing over pages of facts and images rather than endlessly scrolling and clicking. There’s something so organically satisfying and enriching reading an old tome style encyclopaedia. Renowned history and science writer, Peter Macinnis has created a sensational collection of historic events for primary and high school students in, The Big Book of Australian History that I am delighted to thumb through.

From the time Gondwana broke up to when strangers arrived in the 1600s to our present day milestone-makers, this is a truly superlative treasure trove of highlights, did-you-knows, ancient discoveries and of course stunning images, photographs and maps. As stated by the National Library of Australia, The Big Book of Australian History (shortly to be followed by The Big Book of Indigenous History) ‘is a book to dip into and savour’, an ‘enthusiastic retelling of Australia’s story that is infectious’. Informative text is presented in a non-over whelming way and broken up into logical chapter chunks flowing chronologically from the Dreamtime to modern day, finally entreating readers with the proposition that they are tomorrow’s history makers. Bloody marvellous, if you’ll pardon my Aussie vernacular. But then of course, it is time to salute our Aussieness!

National Library Australia May 2015

Enjoy and Happy Australia Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Do you read more in winter or in summer?

Winter is a popular time for book lovers, the season where many of us enjoy staying in, rugging up and delving into a good book. But do we read more in the winter months or in summer?

Summer brings to mind images of sunny days, cool drinks and reading a book on the deck or under the shade of a tree. Many of us take our holidays in summer, reading in airports, on buses and at caravan parks. In summer we seem to be out and about more, enjoying the sunshine and daylight savings, BBQs and day trips, festivals and markets; but do we have more time for reading?

The only time I read during the day is when I’m stuck waiting. It might be waiting at the Doctor’s office, waiting at a cafe for a friend or waiting for a plane. None of these daytime waiting and reading opportunities are at all weather dependent. In fact, when it’s terribly hot and I’m heading out and about, I’m more likely to slip a bottle of water into my handbag in place of a book. For me, summer is a time for travelling light and keeping out of the sun.

I don’t know about you, but I do most of my reading at night and in bed. I find reading before sleep is the best way for me to unwind from the day, tell my body it’s time for rest, and occupy my mind on a single task to minimise the internal chatter.

It’s a fact that in winter we sleep for longer, and when it’s time to get up in the morning we find ourselves reluctant to venture out into the frosty morning. There’s actually a scientific reason for this. In winter there is less daylight, and as a result the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. When we wake up it’s still dark outside and the pineal gland has yet to shut down, hence our reluctance to get up in the morning.

I’m a city dweller, and in the summertime, hot nights are often filled with the sounds of music, BBQs and parties finishing long into the night. In winter, people are keen to get home and don’t seem to venture much outside (except to get from A to B), meaning the city is much quieter. Quiet time is a great time for reading.

Taking all of this into consideration, I think I’ve decided that I do read more in winter than in summer. There are less social gatherings to attend, and it’s nice and cosy in bed with the electric blanket on and a good book in my hands.

What about you? What are your reading habits and do you read more in winter or in summer?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of Incourage

Does anyone actually read on the beach?

With summer well on the way in Australia, I’ve noticed our thoughts have begun to shift away from snuggling down or curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Instead we start talking and thinking about lying on the grass with our favourite book, reclining in the sunshine and enjoying a good ‘beach read’.

What is a beach book anyway? I always understood it to be an easy breezy read that didn’t require any brain power in a ‘check your brain at the door’ kind of way. The more I think about it though, the more I disagree. If you’re on holiday and your everyday stresses are out of your mind, wouldn’t this be the best time to tackle a more challenging read? Wouldn’t it be easier to tackle War and Peace while on holiday than during a busy work week?

I recently voted in the Classic Beach Books competition currently featured on The ABC’s Book Club website and found myself wondering if anyone actually reads their book on the beach. I don’t go to the beach much these days, but when I do I love to watch the rhythmic rolling of the waves, the slow movement of the tide, swimmers and surfers frolicking in the water, distant ships and the calming effect of the horizon. I enjoy all of this too much to think of ignoring the scene in front of me and whipping my book out for a sneaky chapter.Beach Read

Even if I could ignore the scene before me, the idea of sunscreen-smeared fingers, squealing kids, squinting in the sunshine, and sand between the pages just doesn’t inspire a relaxing reading environment for me. What about you? Do you read at the beach? Do you enjoy a ‘beach read’ in the summer or any time of the year?

I found this quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift From The Sea: “The beach is not a place to work; to read, write or to think.”

I think I agree with her that the beach isn’t a place to read or work, but I think it’s the perfect place to think. There’s nothing better than taking a long walk along the beach and analysing a problem, turning a question over in your mind, or calming down after an argument. The sea and salt water are often cathartic and healing, although I can never still my mind enough to read my book there.

I’d love to know where you enjoy reading over summer and if anyone actually reads on the beach or if this is just a bookish myth.

 

Review – Fire

FireMy first glimpse of the flamed-licked cover of Fire, sparked a considerable amount of emotion. Growing up close to the Adelaide foothills meant scorching childhood summers were unfortunately often synonymous with phrases such as Ash Wednesday and Black Friday.

A couple of years ago I was inextricably moved by the heart-rending picture book recount of the Brisbane floods by the same quietly sensational picture book team, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, (Flood) so viewed this new picture book release of theirs with anxious anticipation. Could they pull off another disaster-inspired winner able to resound with children and adults alike? The answer is, yes.

The cover and title pages, both featuring the single word, Fire, as though smeared by someone’s finger across a grimy, ash-streaked window pane, mesmerised me from the onset. I was unable to quell my attraction in the same way one is unable to sever ones hypnotic trance with fire’s dancing flames.

This is apt, for fire is the predominate character in this masterful expression of how our nation weathers one of its most deadly natural adversaries. Its release is timely. Once again, vast tracks of Australia bake till hills are ‘bleached golden…and leaves lay limp in the air sucked dry.’ All sobering reminders of Victoria five years past.

Jackie FrenchFrench balances beautiful evocative language with harsh stark imagery. She tempers the brittle narrative reality with soft lilting rhyme, thus allowing us to ‘enjoy’ the awful spectacle unfolding before us. A sulphur crested cockatoo sits alone under ‘a baked blue sky.’ He is disturbed by a flickering, snickering enemy. The birth of a bush fire takes hold with alarming ferocity and speed.

Fear feeds confusion, people flee. The fire feeds itself, growing more and more invincible and mocking as it consumes everything in its path without mercy or remorse. Soon an inferno rages; a fire storm spitting fury and blasting away life, deforming reality and changing lives forever.

But there is hope, always hope, on the horizon: a speck overhead, a hose, a loved-ones hand…And in spite of the devastation, French shows us that it is how we face the aftermath that is often the true measure of our survival.

I am unable to say whether the narrative imagery out surpasses the illustrations or vice versa, however Bruce Whatley’s visual images burnt themselves deep into my psyche like the very stink of fire ravaged bushland. They are breathtaking.

Most fascinating are Whatley’s endnotes describing how difficult it was for him to capture ‘fire’ in paint. And yet all of its dirty, erratic intensity and heat are rendered with such brilliant acuity, that the pages look almost too hot to touch. Logs turned to charcoal glow amber so realistically, you swear you could toast marshmallows on them.

But this is no marshmallow-toasting-time as we are reminded by images of burnt out cars, stricken families and most poignantly, a volunteer fire fighter giving a koala a sip of water from his bottle; all vivid recollections of news clips from former dire times.

Every page is hemmed in by ruled pencilled borderlines. The water coloured illustrations fill these windows, sometimes bleeding over the edges which for me, softens the impact of the scene, contains it somehow and therefore prepares me to turn the next page. I presume many younger readers will experience this subconsciously as well. My 8 year old appreciated the cockatoo’s presence throughout as much as I valued the lingering message that out of tragedy and despair, ‘good things will grow again’.

Fire is a warming testimony to the selflessness of those who give everything to fight Australia’s bushfires. It is as powerful and dramatic as fire itself but is a picture book that will have significant relevance for readers 4 + for varying reasons. It embraces the sometimes bleak reality of living in Australia and how that translates to our ‘never say never’ attitude and our indomitable spirit of survival.

Another CBCA award book in the making. Get your copy here.

Scholastic Press February 2014

 

 

 

 

Review – A Swim in the Sea

My first foray into the sea was a moment in time I remember as vividly as a blistering Aussie summer sky. It was in the surf off Magnetic Island in a sea a mere metre high but to a person of toddler stature, the waves were mountainous. It was a character building exercise my mother seemed intent on, not relinquishing her grip on my wrist for a minute. As she dragged me further in, my apprehension escalated and I begged her not to let go.

A Swim in the SeaHowever high expectations can assuage fear and doubt and in A Swim in the Sea, Bruno experiences all these sensations. Bruno has never been to the beach before. He can’t wait for Mum and Dad to have breakfast and pack the car. He is simply busting to get there and searches excitedly for his first glimpse of ‘the big blue sea’.

At first it is every bit as exhilarating as he anticipated; all ‘sizzling sand’ and ‘salty breezes’. But Bruno’s enthusiasm soon ebbs as he is confronted by his first wave and alas, like me, is slightly overwhelmed and terrified by the huge, ‘white foamy wave monster’.

All that sparkled minutes before becomes dark and threatening for Bruno and no amount of exotic sea-creatures or rock pool treasure can entice Bruno out from his dread until his sister, Tessa, enlists him to help build the wall for the family sand castle.

Perhaps Bruno is feeling a little sheepish after his encounter with the big blue sea. Maybe it’s the sensuous feeling of the sand as he digs that lures him out of hiding. Or it might just be being part of a team that helps Bruno finally regain his sense of purpose and fun because soon the castle is enclosed with a magnificent wall, strong enough and high enough to withstand any rougue wave…almost.

This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury
This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury

 

A Swim in the Sea is as enjoyable to read as licking a cone-full of gelato. Sue Whiting neatly avoids the usual beachside unmentionables such as sea lice, sunburn, stingers and sand in your togs in favour of the less tangible emotions of excitement and anxiety. The naivety Bruno possesses not only fuels his expectations but also foments his apprehensions into something almost too gigantic for him to deal with; as gigantic as the ocean itself. Just as Bruno has us teetering on the edge of fear, Whiting draws us back with reassuring images of backyard paddle pools and ‘sparkly blue jelly’, images that any kid, even those who’ve never breathed in the briny scent of the sea before, can relate to.

The beguiling acrylic paintings used by Meredith Thomas to illustrate Bruno’s adventure swirl and surge across the pages providing bucket-loads of textural depth and fluidity.A swim in the Sea Jelly spread

I especially love Bruno’s faithful little unnamed brown dog who mirrors every moment of Bruno’s pleasure and pain, and ultimately relishes his swim in the sea as much as Bruno.

A Swim in the Sea is a superb little slice of summertime fun and perfect to read with pre-schoolers, beach lovers and those still slightly wary of the surf like me.

Because overcoming your fear and enjoying the moment is often just a matter of letting go, which thankfully my mother didn’t.

Check out more of Sue Whiting’s books and buy A Swim in the Sea here.

Walker Books October 2013