Wednesday, 20 August 2014

War Horse

I enjoyed the opportunity to read War Horse recently. I knew that it was one of my 1001 books, and so I'd avoided the play (which was possibly dumb) and the movie, so that I could keep the experience of the story for my first reading of the book. I'm glad that I did, but I'll be keen to see the movie now, and hope to see the play sometime too. 

I think it was a stroke of genius from Michael Morpurgo to tell a war story from the first person narrative of a horse. Joey becomes a trojan horse of sorts (pun definitely intended). We see the misery of war for the English, the Germans and the occupied French through Joey's eyes. I now love this current cover even more- the reflection of the line of soldiers in Joey's eye.

War Horse has a strong beginning, with young Joey, a foal, "not yet six months old, a gangling, leggy colt who had never been further than a few feet from his mother" sold at auction to a mean, drunk farmer. Joey bonds with Albert, the farmer's son. We feel rather sorry for Albert and his early life- with his miserable unhappy father, drunk every week on market day. One day Joey is sold to the army and sent to fight in the muddy fields of western France.

Morpurgo doesn't spare his young readers from the awful truth of war.

The wounded were everywhere- on stretchers, on crutches, in open ambulances, and etched on every man was the look of wretched misery and pain. 

I had seen the same grey faces looking out from under their helmets somewhere before. All that was different were the uniforms - they were grey now with red piping, and the helmets were no longer round with a broad brim. 

And yet Morpurgo gives us some hope, with a meeting of opposing forces in the desolation of No Man's Land, and the toss of a coin. 

We have shown them haven't we? We have shown them that any problem can be solved between two people if only they can trust each other. That is all it needs, no?

I enjoyed War Horse, and was very moved by some sections, and cried at times (tricky on a plane), but it wasn't the kick in the guts experience that I got from reading Private Peaceful (see my review)- one of my first Morpurgo reads which is possibly going to live on as my favourite. Still it's an appropriate month to read War Horse with the 100th anniversary commemorations of the start of WW1 this month, we do still live in a world that needs us to remember their stories.

War Horse was something of a sleeper hit. Originally published back in 1982, it came to prominence in 2007 when the National Theatre in Britain staged War Horse as a play with groundbreaking life-size puppets that went on to become a worldwide hit and made the book famous. A Spielberg movie version doesn't hurt either.

Morris Gleitzman's moving Loyal Creatures (see my review) is an Australian response to War Horse.


Monday, 18 August 2014

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I expected to love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After all this was my second excursion with Jules Verne, not counting the lunches. I read his Journey to the Centre of the Earth back in 2012, and really loved it. I expected the same joy once again. Sadly it wasn't to be. 

Mind you, I did like the story itself, which is an exciting tale. A mysterious monster is attacking shipping in many places around the globe. Speculation mounts as to what it can be- a giant narwhal? French expert, Associate Professor Pierre Aronnax is sent on a mission with his trusty servant, the Belgian, Conseil, to capture the monster. Pierre Aronnax, Conseil, and Canadian harpooner Ned Land come to be trapped on the Nautilus with the rather enigmatic Captain Nemo.

Captain Nemo is a very famous character in fiction, whose reputation preceded him somewhat of course- but he wasn't what I expected at all. He remains rather enigmatic throughout the entire book. Why is he so enraged? Why is he so misanthropic? Sadly we don't really find out. We learn that his wife and children have been killed in disturbing circumstance, but not really any more details. And yet Nemo is a learned man, an unrecognised scientist, a gentleman scholar, but he can also be barbaric, and yet is often kind, even philanthropic, a Robin Hood character. Apparently much more detail about Captain Nemo is forthcoming in The Mysterious Island, a sequel of sorts to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

My lovely illustrated Harper Collins Books of Wonder version tells me that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is "Considered by many to be his greatest work, it has never been out of print in French or in English", and yet it's really a bit of a hard slog to read. Incredibly detailed, over detailed really, it is more a textbook than a novel at times. Historical fiction when Verne wrote it, is also one of the first books of the science fiction genre. A tale of an electric powered submarine criss-crossing the worlds oceans before readers of the book had electric light in their streets and houses must have indeed been quite fantastical.

There is so much detail about explorers, geography, history, oceanography and more. Many pages list species of fish, or seaweed, or shipping disasters. Not just a list of two or three example- paragraphs, pages of it. Dear god, if there was another mention of the taxonomy and classification of fish I thought I would go quite insane. It all got in the way of the story (which is actually exciting and well written), rather like the long swathes about Russian peasants got in the way of the story of Anna Karenina (which I never was able to finish). Rather incredibly there is a whole chapter about the disappearance of Monsieur La Perouse. Happily I have quite a fascination with the disappearance of Monsieur La Perouse, so I didn't really mind, indeed I quite enjoyed Verne's explication of events. But if I wasn't particularly interested in the exploits of French explorers of the 18th century then that chapter too would have been quite dull. For me there wasn't quite the same level of humour and fun that I found in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Although there were moments that brought a wry smile.

There are some interesting perspectives reading this book from the distance of the 21st century. Written as the Steller's Sea Cow was being hunted to extinction, environmental messages are balanced by a hunting/eat everything you see mentality.

"And do you know," I added, "what has happened since man has almost completely destroyed these useful creatures? Rotting plants have fouled the air, and it is this foul air which has produced the yellow fever laying wast to these remarkable lands. Poisonous vegetation has increased beneath these warm seas, and this disease has spread unchecked from the mouth of the Rio Plata to Florida!"

I was rather excited though at a random mention of the giant clam shells at Saint Sulpice in Paris.

This shell, furnished by the largest of acephalous mollusks, measured about thirty-three feet around its delicately scalloped rim. It was even larger than those lovely giant clams given to Francis I by the Republic of Venice, and which the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris has made into two huge holy-water basins. 

It rang a faint bell. Yes- I have a slightly blurry photo of one- taken in my church going frenzy in Paris last year.

I'll have to go back and pay more attention!

I also read the introduction to the Oxford World's Classics edition by William Butcher, who is very critical of prior translations of Verne's works.

The poor style often associated with his name is not his. 

Butcher tells us that "The books were generally chopped by about 20 percent. The translators, frequently anonymous, often did not understand the French, and so mistranslated it." He gives such examples as the Badlands of Nebraska being mistranslated as the 'disagreeable territories of Nebraska'. 20,000 Leagues would be a challenge to any translator with the many species names and scientific descriptors.

So while I didn't enjoy my whole journey aboard the Nautilus (much like Pierre Arronax, Conseil and Ned Land) I am glad to have made it.

Books on France, a great 2014 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

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

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Birds of Rottnest Island

A few weeks ago I showed you some photos of our all too brief visit to Rottnest Island in Western Australia. Another reason Rottnest was so special is that I saw many really cool birds, many new to me.

Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides)
The female has a white eye ring and is sitting here

They have such beautiful burnished colours

Darting in and about the rocks on the shore of the salt lakes was a
White-fronted chat (Epithanura albifrons)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Juvenile black-winged stilts

This one was very far away, I believe it is a
Red-capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

The eagle eyes of Master Wicker spotted this amazing robin for me
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)

But he couldn't see the Osprey nest!
Even with a sign….

An Osprey in action (Pandion cristatus)

Crested terns (Thalasseus bergii)

Some more familiar ducks
Grey teal (Anas gracilis)

And one of my favourite birds
Our Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
I bought a copy of the local bird guide so I can check
the ones that got away
and why I need to go back soon.
Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday, 15 August 2014

CBCA Book of the Year Awards Winners 2014

Well today was the big day, the announcement in Canberra of the winners of the CBCA Book of the Year Awards 2014. Congratulations to all the winners and honour books.

See the Judges Report on Books of the Year 2014 here.

Book of the Year Older Reader Winner (Judges Comments)

Acceptance speech by Fiona Wood

Book of the Year Older Reader Honour Books

Fairytales for Wilde Girls - Allyse Near
The Sky so Heavy - Claire Zorn

Book of the Year Younger Readers Winner (Judges Comments)

Book of the Year Younger Readers Honour Books

My Life as an Alphabet - Barry Jonsberg (see my review)
Light Horse Boy - Dianne Wolfer, Brian Simmonds (illustrator

Book of the Year Early Childhood Winner (Judges Comments)

Acceptance Speech Andrew Joyner

Book of the Year Early Childhood Honour Books

I'm a Dirty Dinosaur - Janeen Brian, Ann James (illustrator)
Banjo and Ruby Red - Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood (illustrator)

Book of the Year Picture Book Winner (Judges Comments)

Acceptance Speech Shaun Tan
Wouldn't you know it?
The only one in this category
that I didn't blog about

Book of the Year Picture Book Honour Books

King Pig - Nick Bland (see my review)
Silver Buttons - Bob Graham (see my review)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Winner (Judges Comments)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Honour Books

Welcome to My Country - Laklak Burarrwanga and family
Ice, Wind, Rock - Peter Gouldthorpe

Crichton Award for New Illustrators Winner

Back in April I had a go at predicting the winners (based on covers before I'd ready many of them at all. I picked 3/6 just based on the cover. 50%! I'm pretty chuffed with that.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Author Event - Deb Hunt

Recently I had the good fortune to be able to attend another author event at my library. I do like to attend as many as I can, even if I don't intend to buy the books. I think it's great that our library is able to bring authors to a regional centre and I want to show my support, often the crowd is small but appreciative.

So I went along to see Deb Hunt speak about Love in the Outback. Not knowing anything about the book or the author. I figured it wasn't my sort of thing anyway, but I was very soon won over. Deb Hunt is a lively and engaging speaker, and told us of the background to her memoir, Love in the Outback. 

Deb Hunt was 49, living in an idyllic 19th century stone cottage in the Gloucestershire village where she had grown up. But she was profoundly unhappy. Never married, with no children, and a "lifetime of failed relationships" behind her, Deb was working in what she knew was the wrong job- a job she tried to resign from on the first day of work!

One bleak English wintery day Deb goes online to find a job in Australia, she gets the job, and finds herself on the way to Australia a mere three weeks later. Deb got a job as the Communications Manager for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, that most iconic of Australian outback medical services. Her job takes her to remote Broken Hill, a place where the tyranny of distance is still obvious. 

Deb pointing out that we all carry
 the history of the RFDS in our wallets
Broken Hill is still a frontier kind of place. BHP began there, and the fight for workers rights. It is a place of plagues, desert and rain. Deb was able to have chooks for the first time in her life, and grow more veggies than she could back in England. Deb settles into life in the outback, and is soon enveloped in the wonderful community that remote places can offer. 

She is not looking for love when she meets the man she dubs Captain Considerate, the CEO of RFDS at the time. Captain Considerate has a rather incredible back story, badly injured in a helicopter crash when he was only 21. CC was a passenger in a helicopter that crashed in a remote spot, and it was 12 hours before they were found, after his pilot died of his injuries during the night. Extraordinary to think that that young man would then train as a pilot and make his career of it. 

Love in the Outback tells the tale of this meeting of opposites. She a left wing vegetarian who likes the theatre, and he a carnivorous liberal. I'm sure by now you've worked out that I bought a copy, and have added it to my rather monstrous TBR. 

You don't just have to take my word for what a fabulous tale this is, you can hear Deb Hunt speak about Love in the Outback on RN's Life Matters. Deb blogs at strawberriesinthedessert, and it's fascinating to see her turn the mirror on simple pleasures in Orange

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean was a book that I'd meant to read for a long time, and fully expected to like. I did like my time with Clarice, but I didn't love it as much as I'd presumed I would. Still, it was a nice quick read, even I managed to read it in just a couple of days. I liked this better than the picture book Clarice Bean, That's Me. Perhaps the longer format worked better for Clarice? I definitely like her voice- she's quite funny, and I did chortle away a few times, not quite laughing out loud, but there were some sniggering snorts. 

I really like Clarice's language. How her every third word is utterly. How things are probably almost definitely code. That she uses insults like super limpet. How when her best friend Betty isn't at school Clarice presumes that she is in Russia or kidnapped by aliens. And it's funny.

Can you imagine Ruby Redfort cleaning the washbasin? 
The answer is NO because she has Mrs Digby who looks after her every need.  
Ruby Redfort is too busy solving crime to clean a washbasin. 
Mum says if I moan about this she will get me to clean the toilet.  
I'm thinking about calling the child protector people. 

It's strange but finally reading Utterly Me, made me not really want to read the Ruby Redfort books, when I'd been vaguely interested before. I knew that they were a spinoff from the Clarice Bean books, but didn't really know how. Ruby Redfort is a girl detective and the heroine of a book series that consumes much of Clarice and Betty's attention and affections. However Ruby sounded rather annoying, kind of like a modern Nancy Drew at times, and generally like a James Bond/boys adventure hero (perhaps that's the point) at others. 

Still, Lauren Child has rightly been tremendously successful, her style is immediately recognisable, rather influential and even iconic in the children's book world. I'll spend more time with Clarice and hope our friendship grows. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Australia's 50 Favourite Children's Books

Brace yourself. It's time for another list. Just released last week to celebrate National Bookshop Day, August 9 2014.

Clearly this is a list of Australia's favourite kids books, not favourite Australian kids books. 

As always the books I've read are in red

1. Possum Magic - Mem Fox and Julie Vivas

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

4. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (see my review)

5. Where is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox and Judy Horacek

6. The 39-Storey Treehouse - Andy Griffiths

7. The Magic Faraway Tree - Enid Blyton

8. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

9. Diary of a Wombat- Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

10. The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

11. Matilda - Roald Dahl

12. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

13. Tomorrow When the War Began - John Marsden

14. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

16. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

17. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

18. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

20. Are We There Yet? - Alison Lester

21. The BFG - Roald Dahl

22. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

23. We're Going On A Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

24. Animalia - Graeme Base

25. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

26. Divergent - Veronica Roth

27. The Flying Orchestra - Clare McFadden

28. The Magic Pudding - Norman Lindsay (see my review)

29. Dear Zoo - Rod Campbell

30. Famous Five Series - Enid Blyton

31. Guess How Much I Love You - Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

32. Hairy Maclary from Donaldon's Dairy - Lynley Dodd

33. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta

34. Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor - Jacqueline Harvey

35. Looking for Alaska - John Green

36. Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park (see my review)

37. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

38. The Witches - Roald Dahl

39. Where's Spot? - Eric Hill

40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41. Stew A Cockatoo - Ruthie May and Leigh Hobbs

42. Edward the Emu - Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement

43. Magic Beach - Alison Lester 

44. Giraffes Can't Dance - Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

45. Green Eggs and Ham - Dr Seuss

46. Storm Boy - Colin Thiele

47. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes - Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

48. The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss

49. The Lorax - Dr Seuss

50. The Messenger - Markus Zusak (see my review)

I've read 38/50. A grand effort but there are still some rather obvious holes.

Surprises for this list- Enid Blyton with a top 10 finish. She has always been popular in Australia, but she hasn't had any recency effects like a movie to boost the profile of the Magic Faraway Tree. And I'm very surprised to see Dr Seuss only emerge in the last 5.

As always there are a few books I've never heard of - Stew a Cockatoo and The Flying Orchestra.