Non-Fiction

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

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There’s plenty of fun to be had when the sun’s gone down. Outside our windows, when the night sky is shining, a whole host of animals and plants are raising their heads. Grab a torch, a grown-up, and a jacket and explore the nighttime with this handy, pocket-sized book. 

With ideas about ways to have fun out in the garden and further beyond, this is a wonderful guide which encourages safety, respect for nature and a bucket load of curiosity. 

From traditional skills like identifying animal tracks and following scent trails, to instant fun like glow in the dark paint, there is bound to be a suitable suggestion for every occasion. 

As regular readers know, I am all for books which put us back in touch with nature. Over recent generations, we have lost touch with the natural world to the extent that knowledge is being forgotten and empathy for other species is at a low. My Granddad, for example, recognised bird songs by ear, a skill which few people today have. The great news is that between the young people who are fighting for our planet, and the wave of books which has come in the past year, there has never been a better time to discover the wildlife on our doorstep. 

This would be a lovely book to slip into a satchel, and it would also make a great stocking-filler for anyone who is getting ahead on the Christmas planning. A guide book, a torch and a compass and you’re all set to go (even if it isn’t beyond the front gate). 

The design is neat and attractive. The illustrations manage to be cute while not being sentimental, and examples are clear enough for the reader to follow. I love the rounded corners and elastic band, which make this feel like a journal or an adventurer’s log-book. 

With a focus on nighttime wildlife, this offers something different to other nature books I have seen, and it is clearly designed to encourage young people to get outdoors. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my gifted copy of Out And About – Night Explorer. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of ‘The Dog Runner’ Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner

About The Dog Runner

The crops have failed and there isn’t enough food left to feed everybody alive. Food is at a premium, sold to the wealthiest for extortionate prices. Food parcels aren’t coming in as often as they once were. 

Ella and Emery are starving in the poorer part of the city. Emery’s Mum lives in the countryside where people are trying to reintroduce indigenous crops to the land. The children want to reach her, but to do that, they must cross vast areas of dry land. 

The only way their plan might work is with the help of their dogs. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to ask author Bren MacDibble some questions about her story. Her debut nobel, How To Bee, was a big favourite of 2018 and I was particularly impressed by how she turned serious topics into compelling fiction. 

Thanks to Bren for your time and to Liz Scott for organising this opportunity. 

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Q&A with Bren MacDibble

Food production and land management play an important part in The Dog Runner. Why did you decide to write about these themes?

I’m very interested in where our food comes from and how we treat our environment, so when I wrote a story where a couple of kids take a dog cart across Australia, I made their reason for doing it to flee a famine-ravaged city, and it seemed natural to me, to take on a common threat to our food-security, which is wheat fungus, and expand that in my famine. We seem so disconnected from our food sources these days that we don’t understand how food is produced or the threats to our food from disease, lack of landcare or climate change. Australia is in a particularly strange place where we have a dry climate but we grow European foods, and yet the Aboriginal Peoples were growing and cultivating different grains, grinding flour and baking bread 600 years before the Egyptians. There is a wealth of knowledge and grain types that have previously been completely ignored, but which could be vital to our future as the planet warms.

 

What kind of books did you read to write this story? Was there anything you learned about for this first time?

I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, (a children’s version of that came out recently), also The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage, both of these books talk about life and land use and land care before Australia was colonised. I was delighted to learn about all the methods of sustainably harvesting food: Fish nets that let the small fish through, and only killing large male kangaroos, and how the many peoples would travel to take advantage of seasonal harvests, like the protein-packed baked bogon moths.

 

The acknowledgments section mentions that you travelled as part of your research for The Dog Runner. How did this shape your work?

Yes, I received a travel grant from the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund. It was so good to visit the rail-trails and land the children travel across on their journey. Just to feel the heat and see the amazing colours of the dirt and study the plants other than grass that grow there, trying to imagine what that landscape would look like with even less vegetation. I also visited a mushroom tunnel, and a grassland regeneration project, and got to see sled dogs in action. Honestly, you think you know a little bit about a topic but when you visit people and talk to them, you learn so much more.

 

Ella and Emery travel across the land with the help of their dogs. Do you have any strong feelings about animals in children’s fiction? What is important when you write animal characters?

It’s easy to make animal characters too human, especially dogs who love to interact with humans, and one of these dogs is super smart, but I think it’s really important to show dogs being dogs. They have their needs and their limitations, they can supportive when the kids are down, or unpredictable and cause problems. Above all, the kids are ultimately responsible for the health and care of the dogs. They have to keep them safe and fed, and it’s a big responsibility in this book. Dogs are family, even when they’re naughty, and their needs can’t be ignored.

 

Ella’s Dad says that the people who survive extreme circumstances, such as a global food shortage, are the ones who learn to stand on their heads. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?

He says when the world turns upside down the first ones to walk on their heads will survive. It’s a bit of an odd saying… but then he’s a dad, and we all know with Dadisms it’s the intent behind the saying that’s important. What he means is you have to be prepared to change immediately to suit the world you find yourself in. You can’t cling to your old ways and expect life to go back to normal. Survival is ultimately about being resourceful and thinking creatively about how to solve new problems. This is why it’s important to raise creative kids in an ever-changing world. Creativity may be the most important thing we can encourage in our kids, building, exploring, getting out in nature and just playing is super creative.

 

The book ends with a note of hope and makes references to seed banks. What could readers do now to care for the planet and support diverse food sources? 

 If you can source food that is produced without use of fertilisers and pesticides, buy this organically produced food as the land, insects and surrounding waterways are less damaged by natural processes, and you will encourage growth of this organic market. Eat what is grown locally and what is in season, learn some new recipes if you have to. If you eat meat, eat less red meat. Save beef for special occasions. Plant wildflowers, let grass grow long and have a few wild places for bugs, don’t spray weeds (dig them out by hand or put salt and boiling water on them if they’re in pavers) to keep the insects and bees healthy. Limit waste, especially plastic waste, and walk, cycle or take public transport more often.

 

Author Bio:

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee – her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards downunder and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner, her second children’s novel, hits the shelves on 2nd May.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

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Yarr! Prepare for a voyage of discovery on the seven seas. Everybody has an image of pirates from films and stories, but who were the real-life pirates across history? What does piracy involve? Meet The Pirates is an accessible and humorous introduction to a favourite topic. 

From the Vikings to the modern day pirates with GPS systems, the book is like  a time-line of piracy. 

img_8171This book continues an already popular series which looks at the periods of history covered by the KS2 curriculum. It is easy to see why the series has taken off. The books are highly visual and the information is broken up by the illustrations. Each page contains a short amount of text. It is easy to make the mistake of looking for non-fiction books which match a child’s fictional reading skills, but readers have limited patience when they are learning new facts. The information needs to be broken up, and what is there needs to be written in such a way that it is engaging and memorable, without skimping on the content. 

The limited colour-palette of the illustrations makes the book look trendy and modern. They still manage to incorporate a lot of information, from the kind of pistol Blackbeard carried to the sails on different ships. The illustrations are as informative as the text. 

I love the features of the book. The title of each topic is written down both sides of every spread, so readers can flick through and find the relevant information with ease. As well as informative illustrations, such as a map of trading routes and an image gallery of different types of ship, there are cartoons and humorous illustrations. The importance of comedy in children’s books can’t be stressed enough. For many readers, these cartoons are the reward for taking in new information.

This will doubtless be a hit with teachers and librarians, but it would also make a lovely introduction to the topic for children who have shown an interest in pirates fictional or otherwise. I am hugely impressed with these books and look forward to sharing my review of Meet The Ancient Greeks. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my copy of Meet The Pirates. 

 

 

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Matilda Woods

Q&A with author Matilda Woods.

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Set sail on an adventure to the sea and the stars. 

For years, Oona Bright has dreamed of her own adventures. While her father is away at sea, Oona reads stories about the fabled beast, the Nardoo. She stows away on a whaling boat and sets off in search of the truth. Is the Nardoo real? Will she ever find out?

I am delighted to welcome author Matilda Woods to my blog to talk about magic, the sea and how girls can have adventures too. 

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  • Tell us a little about The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator

The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is about a girl called Oona who has always dreamed of going on a great adventure with her father who owns a whaling ship. Unfortunately, Oona’s father doesn’t think girls belong on ships: its too dangerous and wild and wet. To prove him wrong, Oona stows away when he sets out on the annual whaling hunt. Oona encounters all sorts of magical creatures on the hunt – some kind and some cruel. She also discovers a truth about her father which she never would have known if she had stayed on land. The story is set in an unnamed Nordic country in the 1900s and has elements of magical realism. It’s very much about taking chances, going after your dreams and being open to changing your mind about things as you grow older and see more of the world and the people (and creatures) in it.

  • Why does the sea play a huge part in your stories? Also, the setting is cold (and wet!), why did you choose that setting rather than a similar climate to Australia? 

I’ve always loved the sea and the connotations it has. For me, the sea makes me think of adventures, escape and going to new places. These have all been central elements of my first two books. I’m lucky (or, maybe, unlucky) to live in a part of Australia where we experience the extremes of all four seasons. We have really cold, wet and windy winters and summers so hot that even the blowflies slow down from the heat. I like to match each story with the season I think will be the best fit. So far, this has always been winter.

  • Oona is a girl trying to prove herself so she can take part in activities that are normally prescribed for boys/men – do you think you ever came up against these challenges as a young girl?

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I can think of a few times when I didn’t do things because they were seen as too much of a “boy/man” type of activity. In school I wanted to study engineering but I would have been the only girl in the class so I studied textiles instead. I also wanted to play cricket but there weren’t enough girls to start a girls team and the boys team (and their coach) didn’t want a mixed gender team.  I think in both of those cases if I’d really wanted to pursue those options I could have done it, but I’m not sure if I was brave enough or passionate enough (about cricket and engineering) to fight for them.

  • Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?

The first book I fell in love with was The Twits by Roald Dahl. I thought it was disgusting and funny and brilliant. Our librarian read it to the whole class. We had library lessons once a week so I always wanted the weekends to end faster so I could hear what happened next. When I started reading books myself I really enjoyed anything by Tamora Pierce and I also loved the Harry Potter books. I also went through a phase where I loved reading biographies and non-fiction books, especially ones about ancient history, anthropology and animals. I also love mysteries – especially those written by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • How do you develop your characters? Are they based on real people/yourself?

Whenever I have an idea about a character – a name, trait, scene, physical description – I write it down in a notebook. When I’m developing a new story I flick through the notebook and pick all the ideas that I like. I group them together to form different characters. This is how I create the main characters in the story. Then, the secondary characters usually develop out of necessity e.g. in The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker I needed a character who would notice that Alberto was hiding a boy in his home. So, I created Rosa and Clara Finestra: two old ladies who are always spying on their neighbours over the back fence.

  • There is a sense of magic that underlies the seemingly real world that you have created. Did you choose to write a magical realism story or was this something that happened organically?

When I wrote my first book – The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker – I had never read anything in the genre of magical realism. In fact, I’d never even heard of that genre until someone said I wrote that type of story (and then I had to google the meaning to find out what it was). So in my first book that did happen organically. When I started writing my second book I was more aware of purposely making it fit into that genre. I really do love the genre – I love that it isn’t so far removed from reality that it’s all fantasy, and I love that it allows you to make impossible things happen within a world that feels real. 

 

Many thanks to Laura Smythe PR, Scholastic UK and Matilda Woods for making this Q&A possible.

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Picture Book Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

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Review: Once Upon A Raindrop – The Story Of Water by James Carter and Nomoco

Our world is so wet. We need water to survive. Venture on a journey through the world of water. Where does water come from and how does it move around our planet? Those questions and more are answered in this beautiful and informative book. 

This book is both informative and poetic. It immerses the reader into the world of water through questions and language, then gently imparts information about the origins of water and the water cycle. Information books for younger readers have come a long way in recent years. There is suddenly an understanding that information needs to come in small bites and that it needs to be presented in interesting and attractive ways to hold the reader’s attention.

img_7100Once Upon A Raindrop is a masterpiece of design. Kazuko Nomoco has produced designs for numerous brands and clients including The Guardian, The Folio Society, Audi and Moschino. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find she had a background in communications – her designs remind me of the very best infographics. They grab your attention straight away and impart just enough information in one go. 

This is an information book for modern times. 

I love the minimalist colour-palette – different shades of blue and grey are occasionally broken with splashes of colour. The style is impressionistic, with very few lines. 

This would be suitable for children as young as four but would make a lovely gift for any child interested in geography or learning about the water cycle. It would also be a great book to use in art. It would inspire children to think outside the box about how they paint and draw water. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my copy of Once Upon A Raindrop. Opinions my own.