Under the Christmas Tree – Part 1

Okay, with just over a month and a half to go, it’s time to get serious about Christmas. For the next 42 days or so,  I’ll attempt to fill your Christmas lists with some nifty literary ideas for kids to go under the Christmas tree this year. Today we look at some terrific non-fiction titles guaranteed to raise a few oohs and aahs on Christmas Day.

cheeky-animalsCheeky Animals – Shane Morgan

The classic 20-year-old picture book, Look & See, inspired Shane Morgan’s hard cover board book, Cheeky Animals. Clean, smile-inducing text compliments simple yet strong illustrations of some of our most cheeky cherished Aussie animals.  A great stocking stuffer for 2 + year olds.

Magabala Books October 2016

funny-facesFunny Faces – Dr Mark Norman

Just as funny but using expressive real life images of a variety of animals and their amazing anatomy to accompany concise, information-laden narrative is Dr Mark Norman’s, Funny Faces. This soft cover version is a close up, informative, extraordinary (did you know a Dragonfish has teeth on its tongue!)  look at the funny face bits of a planet of animals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. The fact file and images are sure to keep budding biologists absorbed for years. Super handy and an easy to reference guide book for early primary project makers. Check out other titles in this funny series, here.

Black Dog Books June 2014

animaliumAnimalium – Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Animalium is a cloth bound, pocket-sized gem of a book that invites fledging Attenboroughs to enter a literary museum of the animal kingdom. I felt as though I was wondering through the astonishing exhibits of the London Natural History Museum, exploring the world of mammals, invertebrates, fish and more. This is a biologist’s nirvana: insightful, knowledgeable text, and clear, detailed illustrated plates. Excellent go to book that is a work of art unto itself for mid to upper primary.

The Five Mile Press October 2016

amazing-animals-of-australian-national-parksAmazing Animals of Australian’s National Parks – Gina M. Newton

Gina M. Newton’s Amazing Animals is an environmental triumph. This large, soft cover book leaves no leaf or stone unturned as Newton guides inquisitive minds through a plethora of our national parks and their fascinating individual habitats. From the Tropical Rainforests in the north to the Mallee Woodlands of the arid south, Amazing Animals focuses on the species that inhabit these places with detailed Q & A, fast facts, and a ‘did you know’ kind of narrative. Diagrams and close up photos completes this brilliant compendium of who what and where along with a comprehensive ‘how to use this book’ guide that even includes a Conservation Status indicator. Young readers may be familiar with some of the species highlighted; they may have even spotted a few of them in their own neighbourhoods. What is nifty about this guidebook is that they can now actively get out and explore more of the native parklands in their locale and become more wildlife aware by doing so. Superb. Highly recommended for classroom to bedroom bookshelves of primary and above readers.

NLA Publishing October 2016

awesome-animals-horse-fun-factsAwesome Animals – Horses Fun Facts and Amazing Stories – Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill

I was your typical horsey-obsessed little girl. That kind of passion never real dissipates, merely dims with neglect. Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill have produced a handy, bookshelf friendly series of Awesome Animal books that present eager young readers with a mindboggling array of facts, figures, trivia, and fun stories for a menagerie of animals. This one, about Horses is incredible. Layered with more information about horses than I have ever encountered, Horse Fun Facts is comprehensive, breezy, easy to navigate and utterly captivating. I guarantee readers will learn something new each time they delve into these books. Horses is an awesome mix of entertainment and information that will fuel those pony club passions forever more. A brilliant, value-laden gift idea if ever there was one.

Big Sky Publishing September 2016

fantastically-great-women-who-changed-the-worldFantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst

History, whilst fascinating can be a tiresome thing to wade through at times. Not so anymore thanks to Kate Pankhurst’s illustrated explorative journey with some of our planets most noted, daring, and incredible women. Great Women Who Changed the World covers such heroines as Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank. Others like, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart are also featured, each with their own two-page spread festooned with detailed trivia type tip bits all gorgeously illustrated to create a visual wonderland of facts and figures. By the time young readers have swam the English Channel with Gertrude Ederle or uncovered the first Pterosaur skeleton with Mary Anning, they will be hundreds of years wiser and no wiser for it! This awesome picture book ends on a note of great inspiration, namely for young misses but the message is universal: never give up, believe in yourself, back yourself, and dare to be different! Truly fantastic and a must have in your Christmas stockings!

Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing October 2016

For more great gift ideas, visit The Kids’ Reading Guide – Information Titles and stay tuned for my next instalment of Under the Christmas Tree.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

Spellbound

I am wholly obsessed with and terrified by spelling bees in equal measure. Obsessed in that I can’t get enough of watching or puzzling over them, turning the etymology, sounds, and letter combinations over and over in my head like David Bowie juggling the crystal ball in Labyrinth. Except with much less mesmerising skill and slightly less mullet-y hair.

I’m similarly terrified by the thought of getting up on stage and attempting to assemble and utter letters coherently in order to correctly spell something—experience has taught me that I’m an excellent on-paper speller, but a terrible, fumbling, stumbling one out loud.

I truly fear competing in on-stage spelling bees more than public speaking and death combined. But watching them, as long as I know I’m not going to be called upon to get up and participate, is another story altogether.

Spellbound the film (2002) and the annual ESPN coverage of the US national spelling bee brought many of us out of the spelling bee-loving closet and introduced many more to the competition’s magic. ESPN’s coverage, in particular, is stellar—they commentate the event as they would a gridiron or other action-packed sporting match. And who hasn’t uttered the now classic line ‘Can I have the etymology?’ after watching Spellbound?

The Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) was in town with its Digital Writers’ Conference last week. The team closed out the event with a Sunday night spelling bee at the funky, recently opened Jam Jar. Work commitments (and, if I’m honest, a healthy fear of being roped into participating) prevented me from getting down to watch some fellow writers, editors, and spelling afficionados compete, so I chatted to writer and editor Chad Parkhill to find out how it went.

How does a spelling bee work?

The spelling bee I was at—the one at the conclusion of the Brisbane Emerging Writers’ Festival—is really only loosely based on the American-style spelling bees we know from Spellbound and other documentaries/television shows.

Instead of being competitive, it’s a social thing: get a bunch of writers together in a room, add some booze and the challenge of spelling words, and have some fun. Having said that, there was one chap there who had his own spelling bee alias—I’m positive that his real name wasn’t Obadiah—and he seemed to take the whole thing rather seriously.

I can only spell something when I write it down. Is that peculiar to me or if not, how do you manage to overcome that to spell aloud?

That’s not at all peculiar! I noticed lots of the competitors and audience members spelling out the words with their fingers on tabletops and the surface of their jeans in an attempt to get it right. In order to spell aloud, I try to visualise the word printed on a piece of paper, and simply read it out from there.

Have you watched Spellbound/the annual ESPN spelling bee? If so, any pointers you picked up? Did someone ask for the etymology (in an American accent)?

Unfortunately, I haven’t watched Spellbound, but I think that’s because I have a pathological fear of watching small children being intense and dorky. It takes me back to my own days of being an intense and dorky child.

Nobody asked for the etymology of words, but many did ask for words to be used in sentences—mostly for comic effect. (Krissy Kneen, who has just published a book of literary pornography, Triptych, was called upon to use the word ‘tumescent’ in a sentence.)

One important difference between the EWF spelling bee and the American-style spelling bees is that you’re not required to start by saying the word, then spell it, then say it again—you just have to spell it. This means you don’t get a chance to correct yourself if you’ve reached the end of the word and you know you’ve stuffed it up.

Can you remember any of the words you were asked to spell (or that others were)?

My own words were ‘chameleon’, ‘vacillate’, ‘finagle’, ‘gauche’, ‘lymphatic’, and ‘plagiarise’, among others. In general, there were lots of words that everyone knows, but hardly anyone can spell—I think ‘rhythm’ is the best example of this kind of word. There were also lots of ‘trick’ words such as ‘inoculate,’ which nearly everyone thinks has two ‘n’s. (I know I would have been stumped by that one!)

Finally, there were also lots of loan words, mostly from French and German, such as ‘ennui’, ‘cliché’, and ‘doppelgänger’. I was a little disappointed that competitors weren’t asked to place the correct diacritical marks in those words—that would have made things more challenging!

What was the word that stumped you?

‘Fahrenheit’, of all things. I am actually capable of spelling it, but I’d had one too many beers—gone beyond ‘the zone’, as pool players might say—and completely forgot to say the second ‘h’. I guess I should have started by spelling it out on my jeans with a finger!

Can you remember the word that won?

The winning word was ‘synecdoche’, which the winning competitor spelled with ease. It’s supposed to be a stumper, but I think Charlie Kaufmann’s Synecdoche, New York may have had something to do with its popularisation.

Any notable words/moments worth mentioning?

The bee included ‘caesura’, which I thought was a particularly tough one. Oh, and ‘Fahrenheit’. Curse you, Fahrenheit! Your scale sucks, anyway.

Which dictionary did they use (e.g. Macquarie)? Did anyone try to sneak through with American spellings?

The dictionary was, I believe, the Macquarie. Nobody tried to use American spellings, cleaving to -ise rather than -ize.

Were there any crash study sessions/methods applied?

Certainly not on my part! I was actually a last-minute ring-in—I was there simply to catch up with a friend, but got roped in by the festival organisers. I’m glad they asked.

Any heckling? Controversy? Googling of spellings and definitions?

No, everyone was pretty well-behaved.

Hmm, methinks [read: Fi thinks] that’s very civilised!

Chad Parkhill, who was brave enough to compete, writes for Rave Magazine and The Lifted Brow.

Little Piggies

This Little Piggy‘Tis funny the things you learn from books. The quirky, the apparently useless but interesting trivia that stays with you long past the time you’ve finished reading them. Equally odd are the books that you wouldn’t have realised there was a market for, but that find yourself completely suckered into buying as soon as you see them. Thereby, of course, becoming part of that particular book’s buying market.

That happened to me on Friday with Jane Croft’s This Little Piggy: A celebration of the world’s most irresistible pet.

It’s a small, square book about micro pigs, which are the next big thing in so-cute-you-want-to-squeeze-them must-have pets. Often smaller than cats, dogs, and even chooks (although one of the book’s big warnings is that there’s absolutely no guarantee Babe will stay pint-sized and you might end up with a hefty heifer of a pig careering around your backyard and through your house), micro pigs are apparently smarter and cleaner than dogs. They also apparently come with in-built, highly developed fridge-raiding skills, with the author recounting the various fridge-locking devices of which her pigs have made short shrift.

Among the pig-themed facts I picked up from this impulse buy was just how large a part pigs have been in humans’ lives. No, I’m not talking about the amount of bacon omnivores consume, but that pigs have been around on every continent except for Antarctica for about 40 million years, that they’re smarter even than chimps, and that they have proved masterful adapters, which included them being the first animals ever to be successfully domesticated. As the book puts it: ‘Pigs have successfully adapted to forest, swamp, savannah, and now sofa.’

Oh, and they also have about 15,000 taste buds, which exceeds those possessed by any other animal, including humans, and have such acute smelling senses they can sniff out things underground. Like truffles.

The mini pig incarnation is the result of some clever cross-breeding (at least, I hope it is—I don’t want to know if there are some nasty genetic modifications at play). Judging from the glossy pictures full of little trotters so adorable that even Anne Geddes would be jealous, micro pigs are so weak-at-the-knees cute that the words universally emitted from anyone who sees said book are, ‘Awwww, I want one’.

Which I now do, however impractical (and subsequently useless trivia-related) it may be.