Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Dutch Twins

The Dutch Twins was the first title in what was to become a popular and enduring series of Twin Books by Lucy Fitch Perkins. She wrote more than 25 Twin books, it was a popular series and other writers continued it after her death. It's readily available online

The Dutch Twins is certainly of it’s time (1911). Gentle stories of every day life in Holland for two young twins, Kit and Kat, not yet big enough to be called by their real names of Christopher and Katrina. The twins live with their parents on a traditional Dutch farm. They help their parents with chores- tending the vegetables, and helping feed the animals- the cow, the geese, chickens and ducks. The six stories are snatches of their ordinary life- a fishing trip, going to the market with their father and going to church on Sunday.

There is typical sibling rivalry, gentle ribbing, and quite a lot of comment on the difference between girls and boys. Kit is always expressing how much better boys are than girls. He is sometimes rebuked either directly in words, or other times by the events that follow. Sometimes it is reinforced. 

“No,” said Vrouw Vedder. “Girls shouldn’t think much. It isn’t good for them. Leave thinking to the men. You can stay home and help me. "

Theirs is a simple rural lifestyle. They travel on a barge on the canals to town for market. They skate on these same canals when they have iced over in the winter. Their diet is rather modest and yet fascinating. It reminded me somewhat of the diet described in Heidi- although the twins did have a better variety of food available to then. For breakfast they often had bread and milk. Their father grows potatoes, cabbage, beetroot and carrots, and this forms a large part of the diet. The twins are allowed to drink weak coffee on Sundays and special days like Christmas. I was surprised to see that salt herring didn’t rate a mention until page 106. 

I am a great fan of Dutch Breakfast, having experienced it in 2013 so I was intrigued enough by the mention of buttermilk porridge to try it out. I checked out an online recipe this week. It was ok. I used  coconut sugar which is not traditional I'm sure, but I had some in the house and figured it would give it a nice caramel colour- which it did. 

I suspect that I made it too thick also. My Dutch sources tell me that karnemelkpap is more drinking consistency when you buy it in the supermarket there. 

On the whole it was a sweet story through most of it. Although I was surprised when in the final story Grandmother tells a story, much like a traditional fairy tale with child killings and even pickling of children. 

The Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English says that she wrote the Twin books  to encourage “mutual respect for the best which other nations bring to this shore (America).” At times it is a little too earnest, such as the inclusion of the Dutch National Anthem. It was a very interesting historical detail to learn about dog drawn milk carts. I’d never heard of this before though it seems it was quite a widespread practice. 

I do know that this style of book would have been a difficult sell to my son when he was younger. I wonder how modern children (and their parents) would take to it? I guess I almost see it as more of historical interest now. 


This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Monday, 23 March 2015

Newcastle Writers Festival

A few years ago I set myself the goal of going to every Australian Writers Festival, and last weekend I went to the Newcastle Writers Festival for the first time as part of this quest. The Newcastle Writers Festival is three years old this year, and it seems to be going from strength to strength. I hadn't been able to attend the first two years due to work commitments but this year I was able to arrange things and go. I'm so glad I did, it was a great festival, with lots of fascinating sessions held over three days.

I have now been to Melbourne Writers Festival, Sydney Writers Festival, Mudgee Readers Festival (did you see what they did there? I really like it) and the Newcastle Writers Festival. All have been great and well worth attending, but the smaller festivals really do have a lot going for them. It's all very easy going, easy to navigate, and you have much more opportunity to talk to the writers, and other attendees will sit down next to you and chat.

Newcastle Writers Festival is held in Newcastle City Hall, i.e. all the events are in the same building, and so everything is easily accessible. It turned out that I only went to paid ticketed events at Newcastle, as they were the sessions I most wanted to go to, and there was no trouble gaining access to the sessions, and you don't have to queue like you do in Sydney. It is impossible to attend back to back sessions at Sydney Writers Festival. There you have to queue for the free sessions for at least half an hour or 45 minutes to have a chance to get in. Once last year in Sydney I queued for the requisite 45 minutes to see a free session with Fiona Macfarlane only to miss out on getting in by about 5 people. That kind of experience doesn't make for happy festival goers.

Every time I tell people I'm going to a Writers Festival many people will always ask am I writing a book, or if I plan to. I'm always surprised by this, and surprised by how many people don't understand what a writers festival is. A writers festival is really a festival of ideas. They're such a condensed format for discussing books and ideas. An important source of intellectual public discussion that seems to be too often lacking in our society. Reading is typically a solitary pursuit by it's very nature, it's so wonderful to come together with other readers and discuss books we love, or find new books to enjoy.  Of course writers festivals also do often provide sessions and workshops for those interested in becoming a writer or improving their writing. I haven't been to any of those but understand that they are very popular.

Festival programmers go to a lot of effort to put on a really broad range of sessions, with well known as well as lesser known authors. The Newcastle Writers Festival this year hosted 130 authors speaking at 60 events. I got to hear a fabulous selection of authors this weekend- Helen Garner, Michael Robotham, Jessica Rudd, Garth Nix, Magdalena Ball, Bob Brown, Don Watson, Munjed Al Muderis, Favel Parrett, Brooke Davis, Courtney Collins, Erik Jensen, David Leser and David Roland.  Sadly I missed out on Les Murray (although he had to withdraw), Blanche D'Alpuget, Marion Halligan, Geraldine Doogue, many, many others and all of the Kids Program.

And boy they covered some ground. Everything from mindful meditation, the nature of truth, the importance of curiosity and kindness to suicidal ideation and many sorts of mental illness, violent fantasists, global warming, Australian Detention Centres and refugee policies. Wow, no wonder I was tired after a few days of all that and needed a beautiful walk along the breakwall at Nobby's to recover.

Where else could I walk given I'd been
looking at the NWF logo for days?

I'm not always usually very good at writing up individual sessions, even though I intend to every time. I do hope to write about some of these individual sessions in the coming few days and weeks, they were so very good, and provided much food for thought. Bob Brown was sensational, a true inspiration. Garth Nix was also tremendous, and I'm so glad that I listened to the audio book of Mister Monday (review coming soon) as I was driving to and from Newcastle.

So there really is no excuse not to get along to your local writers festival- they seem to be springing up everywhere. They are amazing community events and really worthwhile attending. I can't wait to find my next one, and hope to revisit Newcastle Writers Festival many times.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

When the Night Comes

I didn't know a lot about When the Night Comes when I picked it up. I'd heard much of Favel Parrett's first book, Past the Shallows, which I still haven't read, but I was about to see her in a session at the Newcastle Writer's Festival, and as I was keen to do some prereading, so I thought I'd check out her newest book. 

When the Night Comes is an odd book- an odd mix of story that takes us between Tasmania and Denmark, and diverts off to Antarctica at times. Structured with two linking story lines, When the Night Comes tells the story of 13 year old Isla, who has recently moved to Hobart, and Bo, a Danish cook, working in the kitchen of the Nella Dan, an Antarctic supply ship. Clearly these two story lines were going to be linked, but I found it frustrating and annoying that how they were linked wasn't really clear until 120 pages in. The time lines seemed blurred before that.

I enjoyed Isla's story more I suppose. Isla is moving to Hobart with her mother and brother when we meet her at the start of the book. Her mother is distant, leaving the kids alone on a rough crossing to Tasmania.

Mum said that she would just have one more cigarette and then we could go inside. I looked at her white face and her white hands. She was always sitting places by herself in the night- always sitting by herself having one more cigarette. 

Isla's Mum was to remain rather distant throughout the book. Clearly there has been a marriage or relationship break down, I really would have liked to learn more of that throughout the book.

It was only the ship that was keeping us safe. Only thin layers of steel and an engine pumpkin away in the dark were keeping us above the water, which would gladly swallow us all up like we had never ever been. 

The book is certainly not complimentary to Hobart, which I have always found to be a charming city to visit. The weather is always cold and miserable (which may be true to some extent), and there is rather a sense of foreboding.

Some of the steps were bowed and stained, and the stains looked like old blood rusted orange with time. Blood soaked into the stone. We'd go down one step at a time as quickly as we could. Down, down, and we'd try not to look ahead into the dark lane. But at the bottom, in the cold cobbled shadows, ghost would claw at our clothes, try to grab hold of our hair, whisper in the echo of the stone. 

Bo's story is a bit more distant for me. Bo is Danish, he grew up on an island, with a small blue and orange boat that he fished from with his father when he was not off sailing. Now Bo is a sailor himself, or a cook, working the Nella Dan on her summer supply trips to Antarctica. It never occurred to me that Antarctic supply vessels would need their own baker.

Leo has been here for hours already baking. The life of a baker. The galley warm with the smell of bread, with the smell of pastries coming out of the oven to be cooled and glazed.

I hope these Antarctic bakers are still there, not replaced by frozen bread. I like the notion of ships smelling of freshly baked bread heading off into the Southern Ocean. The story seemed more about the Nella Dan than Bo in many ways. MV Nella Dan was a real ship, made fictitious here, although she meets the same fate.

Rather unusually there is a suggested playlist at the back of the book. A list of songs mentioned during the book, most of them already old when the book is set in the mid 80s. I listened to these songs while reading the book. Many of them were familiar of course, a few new to me.

Favel Parrett was awarded an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship as part of the research for this book. I like to think that in another life I'd be awarded an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship. I wonder if they need a part-time book blogger to go? Alison Lester's Sophie Scott Goes South (see my review) was also the result of an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


I know some people get freaked out by moths. Thankfully I'm not one of those people.

Moths are hard to photograph.

But they're rather extraordinary when you get up close.

I'm not sure that they even have a face. 

But they have an amazing symmetry.

And such a beauty in the details. 

There really is beauty everywhere if you look.
It's one of the reasons I like taking photos. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Glenda Millard's Top Ten Australian Children's Books

I was very excited to come across this list last week. I love any list, but especially an Aussie list of course, and it was so nice to see this one by Glenda Millard- one of our most original writers. And it had just so much synchronicity. I had just recently come across The Man Who Loved Boxes (and read it), and here it was again!

1. The Man Who Loved Boxes - Stephen Michael King (see my review)

2. Fox - Margaret Wild, Ron Books

3. The Trouble with Dogs - Bob Graham

4. Withering-by-Sea - Judith Rossell (see my review)

5. Bird and Sugar Boy - Sofie Laguna

6. The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley - Martine Murray (see my review)

7. The Running Man - Michael Gerard Bauer

8. Something in the World called Love - Sue Saliba

9. Sea Hearts - Margo Lanagan

10. Leaf - Stephen Michael King


I'm ashamed to have not read Michael Gerard Bauer and Margo Lanagan- not just these particular titles, but any of their works. Bird and Sugar Boy has been lurking in my TBR for some time. I've not heard of Something in the World called Love before- there's always at least one I've never heard of...

Monday, 16 March 2015

Madame Pamplemousse Series

I do so love Books You've Never Heard of But Just Have to Read. Happily I found the third book in the Madame Pamplemousse series browsing my local library shelves- an excellent source for such books of course. Being moderately OCD about such things I had to get the first in the series sent over so I could read them in order. It was indeed so delicious that I couldn't wait to get the second book from the library. These books are such perfect little confections it made sense to review them collectively.

Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles is the first of this utterly delightful series, set in Paris, but written by Englishman Rupert Kingfisher. Madeline is a young girl forced to work under rather slave like conditions in her uncle's Parisian restaurant every summer while her parents go on a safari or round the world cruise. Madeline's uncle is the deliciously named Monsieur Lard, who runs The Squealing Pig. Monsieur Lard is jealous of his young niece's abilities in the kitchen.

The truth was she had made him so violently jealous he would never allow her to go near a cooker again. So instead she had to scrub the plates, pots and pans- giant heaps of them stacked up to the ceiling and everyone covered in slimy fat. 

One day Madeline becomes distracted by a cat while going to buy some Mixed Innards Pate for The Squealing Pig, and so she finds Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles.

The cheeses are of an unimaginable smelliness, some dating back to medieval times, and each of the pots and jars have their contents written in fine, purple letters: Scorpion Tails in Smoked Garlic Oil, Crocodile Kidneys in Blackberry Wine, Cobra Brains in Black Butter, Roast Piranha with Raspberry Coulis, Electric Eel Pate with Garlic and Prunes, Great White Shark Fin in Banana Liquor and Giant Squid Tentacle in Jasmine-Scented Jelly. 

I devoured Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles in record time. It's an utter delight. There does not seem to be all that much out there about Rupert Kingfisher, but I was not surprised to find that he loved Roald Dahl, comics and horror as a child- the shadow of Roald Dahl certainly looms large in his writings.

The second book in the series is Madame Pamplemousse and the Time Travelling Cafe. Paris is threat from an evil President.

The President hated Paris. He loathed it with a passion. To him it seemed a lazy, slovenly city, where people did notghing but eat and talk and fall in love when they should have been doing something far more practical, like cutting down rainforests instead. And so he began planning Paris's systematic destruction. 

There is a rather complex plot involving time travel, coffee and mythic beasts in a plot to save Paris from the evil President and stupid government. While there were some glimpses of Paris this story didn't work for me in the way the first one did.

The Third book in the series, Madame Pamplemousse and the Enchanted Sweet Shop had me in from the very first sentence.

In the city of Paris, in the middle of the River Seine, there is an island called the Isle Saint Louis. 

Oh there is indeed, and it is magnificent. I became lost in reverie at this point and had to start again. It is on Ile Saint Louis that the Enchanted Sweet Shop appears one day. Our hero Madeleine has recently started at a new school, and settled in with a group of friends. Then a new girl, Mirabelle, starts the next term, and things start to unravel for her. Mirabelle bullies Madeleine using rather typical techniques of high school girls, and turns her group of friends against her.

Madame Bonbon finds Madeleine crying in Notre Dame and offers her solace with a special box of her sweets.

Before Madeleine could object, Madame Bonbon took her by the hand and led her out of the cathedral into the fading winter light. The wind had picked up and they walked briskly up and they walked briskly to avoid the freezing gusts, crossing over the water on to the narrow streets of Saint Louis. 

The story has a nice mix of real world bullying story, friends and fitting in within social groups, and more fantastical elements, time travel again, witches, mermaids.

'Well Madeleine, I have to say, you are different, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. And as for "fitting in", personally I never have, nor do I intend doing so. But you know,' she paused to smile, 'that has never stopped me having friends.'

I'm glad to have found this lovely series of books. 

French Bingo 2015

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Dick Bruna Huis

I've been reading some books set in Holland this month, and it got me to reminiscing about our lovely stay in Holland in 2013. It was all too short, but there were many highlights packed into just a few days.

One was a visit to Dick Bruna Huis at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. It was opened Feb 16 2006 by HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands as a tribute to Dick Bruna.

I loved the gold Miffy welcoming you inside. 

Every museum and exhibition I saw in Holland was really cool. They put a lot of effort into how things are displayed, and do it imaginatively. Dick Bruna Huis was no exception. 

So many Miffys!

So many translations.

Cute Miffy seats. 

Dutch museums made great efforts for us English speakers.
It seems Miffy is popular in Japan too. 

Lots of floor height activities for the littlies. 

Animation figures for Miffy the Movie

There was an exhibition called With Miffy in the Attic, a rather odd intersection of Miffy with Contemporary Art. 

I don't pretend to understand it. 

I always find it interesting to see displays on how an author/illustrator/artist does their work. I don't think I knew that Dick Bruna did as much non-Miffy work as he did. He designed thousands of book covers and posters for the family A.W. Bruna & Zoon including Maigret covers. 

Did I mention that I really loved gold Miffy?

The gift shop was loaded with many cool things, and everything Miffy. 

Who wouldn't want a Miffy lamp?
I might have bought one if it wasn't
Completely Impractical to get back to Australia. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
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