Sunday 28 April 2013

The Tent

A few years ago I read Gary Paulsen's My Life in Dog Years with my young son. It was an astonishing read. A memoir told via the canine companions that packs a powerful emotional punch. It was too much for a read to a sensitive young child actually, he was in tears at some of it. But I remembered the power of that book, so that when I saw a copy of The Tent on the sale table at my library last year I snapped it up.

I was always a bit daunted to pick this book up, because it is subtitled- A Parable in One Sitting. I often don't have time to read 80 pages at once. But if you put it on the cover it's like an instruction to be obeyed. Today I took the chance to pick it up in honour of this weekends Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon. I've not had the opportunity to participate in a readathon yet- but I do love the concept, so the planets will align one time I'm sure.

The Tent was an interesting read. Fourteen year old Steven is living with his father Corey in reduced circumstances in Texas. Corey had been laid off from his job a few years ago, and his minimum wage job can't pay for their trailer park home. Corey comes up with a money making scheme to become a travelling evangelist touring small town Texas, which comes as a bit of a surprise to Steven.

"God?" Steven stared at his father. In fourteen years Steven had never heard his father mention God- not counting the time he'd slammed his thumb with a framing hammer. They had never been to church, never studied the Bible, never spoken of anything even remotely religious.

Corey fits out an old army tent with some seats and a plywood pulpit and then Corey and Steve set off on their preaching adventure. The Tent wasn't as astonishing as My Life in Dog Years, but it's always difficult to read a second book by an author when the first one was so amazing. But I did read it in one sitting as instructed. I look forward to reading more of Gary Paulsen.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Bar-tailed Godwits Excellent Adventure

One of the reasons we travelled to Farewell Spit recently was to see some Bar tailed Godwits. These amazing birds travel down to New Zealand from their breeding grounds in Alaska. They spend the New Zealand summer feeding, and getting ready to head back north.

Sadly even though our trip out onto Farewell Spit was amazing, we didn't see any godwits. We did see other birds that day, and I'll show you those some other time, but I was especially keen to see the godwits. It had become a bit of a quest.

So it was a very exciting moment to see a lot of bird shapes at Taupata Stream the following day on high tide (the best time for seeing sea birds). Would these be godwits?

It was almost too much to hope for.

There were groups of different sea birds
And there they were!

hanging with some white-fronted terns

and some Pied Oystercatchers too

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Driving further around the bay we found more birds at Pakawau!

There were godwits there too!
Later we even found them at Nelson....
Which just goes to show that you need to look at what's around you

At Pakawau there was a great sign showing us how far these extraordinary birds have come.

Their journey south is the longest known non-stop flight of any bird
Which they do in an incredible 7-9 days
They have an even longer journey home, but make a stop in Asia!

The pohutakawa were beautiful that day too. 

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Thursday 25 April 2013

A Day to Remember

My love affair with both Jackie French and Mark Wilson continues. I've gushed over Jackie French quite a few times here, so much so that she has her own label. I've never blogged about Mark Wilson before, but I've read a number of his books, he illustrated a great series of books on extinct animals with Gary Crew (who also really deserves a presence on this blog- an oversight that I hope to remedy soon). 

I'd seen A Day to Remember around last year, but had not got a copy, then recently I saw a stack in the shops again, and with Anzac Day coming up I knew it's time had come so I bought one. 

Jackie French and Mark Wilson have created an extraordinary book which has rightly been shorlisted for the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book Award 2013

Anzac Day, April 25, is an important day in Australia (and other places around the world, but I mainly know about Australia). It commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. A Day to Remember traces the history of Anzac Day, from the story of those courageous but hapless young boys in 1915 through to modern times. 

The purpose of Anzac Day has changed over time. On the first few Anzac Days World War I was still going, "floundered in the mud of France and Belgium." The Anzac Day commemoration was to help enlist more young men for the war effort. 

It's fascinating to know that the first dawn service was an impromptu affair  in Martin Place in 1927. 
In the grey light of dawn, in Sydney, an old woman laid a wreath of flowers at the Sydney Cenotaph, not yet finished as a memorial to the Anzacs. A small group of returned soldiers, coming home late after a reunion the night before, joined her.
 They remembered the first dawn landing and the Last Post bugle call played each night, to signal that the night's sentries were on guard, and that the camp could sleep. They promised that next year there would be a service here at dawn. 

A Day to Remember reminds us that of course the War to End All Wars didn't actually end war, and that young lives are still being lost in conflicts around the world. At the end A Day to Remember cleverly looks forward towards those Anzac Days to come, to remembrance ceremonies that will held around the world, commemorating those who served and fell in many lands. 

Interesting to learn that those famous words were written in 1914,
before Gallipoli, in the first months of World War I. 

A Day to Remember is an important book, that every Australian, child or adult, should read and ponder.


Monday 22 April 2013


I recently got a new lap top, and as a surprise the thoughtful Mr Wicker set up a screensaver for me.

You can see why I love it....

It's a kaleidoscope of memories from my last trip to Paris, and a taste of things to come. 

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Saturday 20 April 2013

Forage 2013

Today I was lucky to go to the third Forage event as part of F.O.O.D Week 2013. I've been for the last two years and have watched the event grow. From humble beginnings two years ago, there were 750 happy foragers today! The weather for the last two years, has been sensational- the first year in 2011 it was a perfect autumn day, last year it actually got quite hot. This was clearly the year something had to change. Today it was cold, quite cold at times, and pretty windy. Still the rain held off and it was another great event.

An extra station this year
to accommodate the extra crowds

Caramelised onion, olive and feta tart

A new local sparkling from Swift
that really made me wish I was drinking
everyone said it was great

Lovely autumn colours

Absolutely delicious

Nature put on quite a show today too
Possibly a wedge tailed eagle, it was very big

Squint hard, there's a kangaroo middle of the frame

Braised Chicken and Wild Mushroom Pie from Tonic
Tasty filling, and fabulous pastry

Gorgeous local apples

The wind was doing weird things in the dams

The dance floor went off!
Blister in the Sun
Absolutely nothing to do with vast quantities of red wine I'm sure

The late afternoon light was divine
even if it was getting more chilly

Gina Allen's lovely Blood Plum and Star Anise Sorbet

Spiced Beurre Bosc Pear and Hazelnut Praline Tiramisu
from Lolli Redini
Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Friday 19 April 2013

Hitler's Daughter

Original cover,
which doesn't do the book any justice I think

Jackie French is one of my favourite Australian authors. I particularly loved Nanberry in 2011. I was so excited when I got to see her speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2012. She is quite astonishing in the range of stories she tackles and genres- picture books, nonfiction, books for older kids and adults. I think that perhaps historical fiction is where she shines best. She's amazing though.

I write because I believe that giving children fiction is one of the most valuable things you can give them. When you tell a children’s story, you are telling them life holds other possibilities. Encouraging fantasies of mermaids and unicorns just around the corner, may well foster creative imaginations that one day lead to social reform, or new theories of the origin of the universe, or simply, a knowing that life can be better. Source.

I was naturally excited when Master Wicker brought home his first ever English book from high school a few months ago. I was even more thrilled when it was Hitler's Daughter, winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 2000. A really interesting double story- a group of four country kids waiting for the school bus each day play a game where they tell stories to pass the time. All sorts of stories- about disappearing fish and secret passages under the school.

This rainy day Anna starts to tell a story about Hitler's unknown daughter Heidi. In a stroke of brilliance Heidi has dark hair, an obvious birthmark on her face and a limp. Heidi is hidden away, rarely seeing her father. He does visit her briefly from time to time, but even his gifts make her sad- the dolls with long blond hair "made her cry secretly at night, because they were beautiful and she was not." The story switches back and forth between our modern kids waiting for the bus during a rather prolonged rainy week, and Heidi living out her life in Germany during the war. 

Jackie French likes being a bit subversive. In Hitler's Daughter she dares to suggest that parents might do things that are evil, or believe things that are wrong. 

'All the things your mum and dad believe in- have you ever really wondered if they are right or wrong? Or do you just think that they're right because that's what your mum and dad think, so it has to be right?'

At 136 pages Hitler's Daughter is a super quick read. It manages to be a really interesting story and give you plenty to think about. Those clever folks at Monkey Baa have turned it into a play- I'd love to see it sometime. Recently the rather prolific Jackie released a companion book, Pennies for Hitler. It has been shortlisted for the Childrens Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Younger Readers this year.

A far better modern cover


Thursday 18 April 2013

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

I can't really believe that I haven't written about this book specifically before, as it's become a rather large part of my life. Back in 2006 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die came out. Of course I bought it. Naturally I browsed it quite a bit and idly dreamed that one day I would read all those books, but I really knew I wouldn't.

Then in 2009 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up was published. I was very excited about it, and requested it as a Christmas present. I poured over it, reading much of it over the next few lazy post Christmas days. Then I knew. I wanted to read all of these books. (The list is available here if you want to have a peek). So I decided to do it. And started my quest. I even started a group at Yahoo to see if anyone else wanted to join me on my quest, and happily they did.

I can't remember how many of these books I'd accidentally read before embarking on this quest, but now I've read 206/1001, which is pretty good as quests go I reckon, and the fire is still burning bright. Back in 1999 I started on a quest to read all of the Booker Prize finalists, a quest which was fun, but has sadly stalled for the time being. I hope I'll get back to that one day, although of course the challenge will be all the larger as it grows each and every year.

So far my 1001 quest has taken me to some rather amazing places. Quite a number of classics that I should have read before- Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers. And I have discovered many wonderful authors new to me- Lois Lowry, Eoin Colfer, David Almond, E.L Konigsburg, Martine Murray. All of these books are designed to appeal to children of course, but there is much food for thought and enjoyment for the adult reader as well.

My major disappointment with this book is that quite a number of the books are unobtainable to some extent- some are out of print, but that just really adds the thrill of the chase. Many though are not available in English, indeed never appear to have been translated. While I can struggle through the occasional picture book in French, I really am not up to reading larger tomes in Catalan, Polish, Spanish and all the Scandinavian languages. What exactly is the point of including those? It's rather frustrating, and I hope that one day a revised edition will be released where the books are at least theoretically obtainable in the English.

Will I ever get to grow up? I don't know. If I ever do perhaps I will move on to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? Although even that has become more difficult. I see that there are now three editions- the original 2006 edition that I have, which was then updated and revised in 2008 and 2010. So there aren't 1001 books anymore, there are 1294 books. That old TBR never gets any easier does it?

Books about Books Challenge

Sunday 14 April 2013

The 25 Books Every Kid Should Have on their Bookshelf

I do love a good list. And this week I found an intriguing one- The 25 Books Every Kid Should Have on their Bookshelf at Flavorwire. Often these lists have all the same books. This one is quite different- it has a fair few that I've never actually heard of before. Intriguing. 

As always the ones I've read are noted in red

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Expury

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

The Pushcart War - Jean Merrill

The Sweetest Fig - Chris van Allsburg

Ooh it's set in Paris!
Shhh, I might have just ordered it online

Matilda - Roald Dahl

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

Dealing with Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. LeGuin

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

It's in the house, I should read it. 

Half Magic - Edward Eager

Peter Pan and Wendy - J.M. Barrie

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (see my review)

Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my gushing review)

The House at Pooh Corner - A.A. Milne

The Story of Ferdinand - Munro Leaf

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

Lizard Music - D. Manus Pinkwater

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

Oh, the Places You'll Go- Dr Seuss


Not bad. But I do believe the TBR just got even bigger. 

June 2017 16/25

Saturday 13 April 2013

Road Trip! Canberra 2

Recently we took a day trip to Canberra to see the big Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. It was the first comprehensive retrospective of his work to be shown in Australia, and I was keen to see it before it finished. 

I figured Easter Sunday would be good, people would be distracted by Easter eggs and family lunches and not crowding up the gallery. I was Wrong. So Wrong.

Sadly this was as close as we got....
when you only have a few hours you can't wait in line for ever
So I picked up the free brochure Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris and the Moulin Rouge, and we went to the National Portrait Gallery instead. 

Not a portrait

We saw the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2013. Where I learnt that if you take blurry photos of celebrities it's Art worthing of hanging. There were a few really striking images though. We also saw the First Ladies exhibition. 

And then on to the National Library. To see the The Dream of a Century exhibition. Which was interesting, but I thought it was more about Canberra. It was actually about Walter and Marion Burley Griffin. I hadn't realised much about their other work besides designing Canberra- particularly that their Indian work. 

Exhibitions about architects don't always
 hold a boys attention
it's much more fun to slide down a rail
Our last road trip to Canberra was in spring.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 10/4/13

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Today's words are the second selection of Wondrous Words from my recent reading of Howards End is on the Landing. The first are here

1. Mawkish (Adjective)

Graham Greene is one of the moderns who best conveys a great many aspects of love, whereas D.H. Lawrence is mawkish. 

i) Excessively and objectively sentimental.
ii) Sickening or insipid in taste. 

2. Recondite (Adjective)

Some of the alphabetical entries are predictable- Beginnings, Beauty, Humour, Food and Drink- but others are more unusual and give rise to more recondite and provocative entries. 

i) Not easily understood; abstruse. 
ii) Concerned with or treating something abstruse or obscure. 
iii) Concealed; hidden. 

3. Factotum (Noun)

I got a two-pounds-a-week job at the Belgrade as a general factotum, which was how I got to know Arnold and his wife Dusty, and how, when I went to King's, I spent happy evenings babysitting their small children. 

An employee or assistant who serves in a wide range of capacities. 

Turns out it's a book and a movie!

4. Tendentious (Adjective)

Some of it is sentimental, some of it tendentious. 

Marked by a strong implicit point of view; partisan. 

5. Bruited (Verb)

The satisfaction and illumination that come from reading more or less nothing but Anita Brookner for three weeks are immense, and have alerted me all over again to how disgraceful it is that so many of her books are no longer in print, how much better she is than talents bruited more loudly abroad, how she ranks among the very best novelists of the late twentieth century. 

To spread news of; repeat. 

I was really interested in bruited, as I'm very familiar with bruit- a medical term for the sound of turbulent blood flow in an artery, it was clear that meaning didn't work here. 

All definitions today from

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Author Event Noelene Allen

I went to an amazing Author Event recently at my local library. Noelene Allen became interested in the story of the Kelly family after moving to Beechworth in Victoria. Noelene wrote Ellen, A Woman of Spirit to show the effects of the dramatic Kelly story on the women and children of the family, but more particularly on Ellen, Ned Kelly's mother.

Noelene told us the captivating but harrowing tale of Ellen's life. Born in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Ellen Quinn came to Australia aged 9 with her large family. She was an excellent horsewoman from an early age, but she rode astride, not sidesaddle. She eloped with John "Red" Kelly at 18 after her parents had refused the marriage. John Kelly had been convicted of stealing two pigs in his native Ireland and been transported to Tasmania for 7 years. John was a drinker, and he killed a neighbours cow that had wandered onto their property to feed his large family. He was sent to prison, after his release his drinking increased, and he died of dropsy while still a young man.

John Kelly's death left Ellen a widow at 33 with 7 young children. Ned became the head of the family at around 13 years old. More troubles were to beset Ellen in the next few years. Her drunk brother in law set fire to the house she was living in, leaving her once again homeless. She sued the father of her 8th child for maintenance in 1870, and won, surely a rare occurence. She was arrested for "furious riding in a public place" in celebration.

In 1874 she remarried. Her second husband was a 24 year old American, George King, with whom she was to have three more children. Ellen was 42 when she remarried but noted herself as 36 on her marriage certificate! The real trouble set in when Ellen was arrested for the attempted murder of a police constable, Alexander Fitzpatrick. He had visited the Kelly household to arrest Ned's brother Dan. Fitzpatrick apparently made an unwanted advance towards one of the girls, he left the house with injuries to his arm, and a dented helmet. He claimed that Ellen Kelly hit him with a fire shovel.

Ellen was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years of hard labour at Melbourne Gaol. The same gaol where Ned was later sent, and where he was hung on November 11 1880. Ellen worked in the laundry at the gaol, and chose to work in the laundry that morning even though there was a  window to the gallows from the laundry. Noelene feels that Ellen would have overheard the events in the gallows yard that morning. I don't know how any mother could go through that.

Ned himself blamed the incarceration of his mother (and his half sister) as the start of the family's troubles. Ellen was to have more heartache in later life, she was to outlive 7 of her 12 children, her granddaughter Ellen drowned herself at age 22 overwhelmed with grief at her mother Maggie's death, and another grandson was killed in France in WWWI. Ellen Kelly died aged 91 on 27 March 1923, she was buried in an unmarked grave at Greta cemetary.

It's a remarkable story of a rather remarkable life. Noelene spoke very well, and clearly knows her subject, she held everyone's attention with this incredible tale. I'm sure Ellen would be a great read.

Monday 8 April 2013

Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris

I've been a fan of Clotilde Dusoulier for some time, since I found her wonderful blog, chocolatenandzucchini several years ago. Clotilde has now written several books, but I've never come across any in Australia before. You can only imagine how quickly I snapped up a remaindered copy of Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris on a recent trip to my favourite remainder store, Clouston and Hall in Canberra- but then I don't think I've ever left their shop empty handed.

Clotilde Dusoulier is a native Parisian who endlessly explores her own city, and here in Edible Adventures she is kind enough to share her treasures with the rest of us. I devoured this book on our car trip home from Canberra. Written for Americans, there is a lot of basic information- don't call waiters garcon, or snap your fingers (really does anyone actually do that?), try to use some French, especially in greetings, and if you don't have a reservation you will often miss out on eating at the best restaurants during the busy periods- particularly Friday and Saturday nights. Clotilde helpfully suggests a typical conversation for booking a table in a restaurant. Further advice is scattered throughout the book- favourite picnic spots, tips on navigating the different supermarkets, and seasonal treats available throughout the year.

This 2008 book is divided into two main sections. The first Eats lists Clotilde's restaurant suggestions for each of the 20 arrondissements in central Paris. Her suggestions cover brunch, lunch and dinner suggestions ranging from casual to gastronomic dining experiences, as well as salon de thes and wine bars. There is something there for every taste and every budget.

Part two, Shops, covers so much. Markets. Bakeries. Pastry shops. Chocolate shops. Candy (lolly) shops. Ice Cream shops. Speciality providores for cheese, meats, fish, spices, teas and honey. What else could you want?

I'm familiar with many of the shops that she lists and agree fully with her choices. I'm more than happy to try some of Clotilde's suggestions on my upcoming trip. Some that particularly called to me:

Semiliquid caramel bites at Patrick Roger (the Savage glimpsed on Patrick Roger's site). OMG. I am so there.

The "remarkable" marron glaces at Debauve and Gallais, about which I only learnt this week from the equally remarkable Carol at Paris Breakfast.

The Violette and Quartre Epices at Belgian master Pierre Marcolini. Clotilde advises that the French believe Belgian chocolates to be "too rich, too sweet, and, well, a bit pedestrian", but that Pierre's chocolates are so good he has made a name for himself in Paris. She also recommends his pates de fruits and his chocolate-covered guimauves (marshmallows). I don't normally like marshmallows but Parisian marshmallows are the bomb.

Delicabar, the first floor restaurant at Le Bon Marche, quite close to our flat, where the outdoor patio is an oasis for chic summertime lunches.

The specialty loaves at Eric Kayser- hazelnut and turmeric, fresh fig- or the bread of the month.

When I pop into Poilane for an apple turnover/chausson aux pommes, I will want to try the punitions too, "pale blond butter cookies worth selling your soul for".

If we get to Du Pain et des Idees (they have a gorgeous website too, with an aural slice of Paris boulangerie chatter) I would love to try the stuffed bread rolls- goats cheese and figs, banana and chocolate or apple and almond.

And if we venture back to Montmartre this trip then perhaps we could take in a slice of lemon pound cake (quatre-quart au citron) or a goat cheese and hazelnut bread at Coquelicot.

Perhaps when Mr Wicker goes to Stohrer to try their exemplary eclairs, I will need to sample the baba au rhum (Nicolas Stohrer is said to have introduced it in France whilst he was pastry chef to Louis XV, his patisserie is the oldest in Paris, trading since 1730!) or the house speciality of puits d'amour (well of love) a pillow-shaped, caramelized custard tart named after a late-nineteenth century operetta.

Pain de Sucre has sublime tartlets- fig and thyme, ricotta and wild strawberries) and revamped classics-orange flower callison or a mango eclair.

Clotilde names Pierre Herme as her macaron provider of choice. They were my favourites last time too. "A relentless alchemist of flavours..... his luxurious and whimsical creations are a feast for the eye, the taste buds, and the intellect Herme was the first to introduce fashion concepts into the stiff world of French patisserie."

I'm not sure if we'll make it to the 9th to find Aurore-Capucine, but their crackled macarons sound extraordinary, as does a coconut and geranium dome or a puffy raspberry turnover, and their products are a riot of colour, or as Clotilde says "a profoundly handcrafted, flamboyant look, as if assembled from velvet, silk, and fake pearls by an eccentric duchess".

Whilst in the 9th Arnaud Delmontel may provide us with a feuillete de seigle au miel- a flaky roll made with rye flour and slightly sweetened with honey, or brilliantly simple inventions such as a lemon turnover called bichon and glossy edible sculptures!

I'm quite keen to try some of Paris's more exotic treats this time- La Cafe Maure at La Grande Mosque de Paris appeals. As does La Bague de Kenza, serving Algerian style pastries, "aromatic delights filled with nuts, figs, or dates, and flavoured with honey, rose water, orange blossom, mint, citrus or vanilla." Yes please.

I saw Ble Sucre on French Food Safari recently, it looks magnificent, and well worth the trek out to the 12th to try the best madeleines in Paris. Clotilde tells us that they sell perfectly done classics with a handful of original creations too. She has apparently fallen head over heels for the chocolate bar with crunchy specks of salted caramel, and why not.

Edible Adventures in Paris really has something for everyone planning a trip to Paris. Indeed, we're positively spoilt for choice. I can't wait.

Books on France, a great 2013 challenge from Emma at Words and Peace

Dreaming of France, a great Monday meme from Paulita at An Accidental Blog