Wednesday 26 February 2014

Maia and What Matters

We all know that sometimes we do judge a book by it's cover, and I certainly did with Maia and What Matters. Definitely a book I'd never heard of, but I did just have to read it as soon as I saw it. I saw Maia in a daily email that I get from full of tempting treats. Actually I get one from as well. Most days I manage to resist their tempting offers to fill my house with even more books. But some days I just can't resist, and my resolve falters. This day I fell in love with this cover, and so I ordered it then and there. Fishpond do actually have fabulous one-click ordering (it's much too easy) and great service.

I'm so glad I did. For many reasons. The gorgeous cover for a start of course. Also because Maia and What Matters is a book in translation. I do especially enjoy picture books in translation, they have such a different sensibility and feel to our Anglophone creations. They're often amazing books, and really stay with you. Books like The Scar, or Feeling Sad.

Maia and What Matters is an astonishingly beautiful book, from Belgium via New Zealand. Written by Belgian author Tine Mortier and masterfully illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire Maia and What Matters was translated into English by David Colmer, an Australian translator who lives in Amsterdam (since I have been musing on bringing the translator out of the darkness and into the light recently) and published by a new Kiwi publisher Book Island. Book Island is based on the beautiful Kapiti Coast of the North Island of New Zealand and publishes translated children's books- primarily from Dutch it seems, here with assistance by the Flemish Literature Fund.

Maia is an impulsive little sprite- born under a cherry tree in quite a rush.

She has a special bond with her Grandma. They both love cake. It seems cake is one of the things that matters. As is Grandma.

Maia has moments of unadulterated pleasure and joie de vivre, and moments of devastating sadness when her beloved Grandma falls ill and her family is changed forever.

The illustrations are breathtaking. Even the endpapers are special.

Paris patisserie wrappers!
The only things I would like to have seen would be an author profile and illustrators note at the end. I look forward to finding more fascinating books from Book Island. When I can stop flipping through this delightful book I think I'll give it to my favourite primary school library where I'm sure it will be well loved too.

Monday 24 February 2014

Alice-Miranda in Paris

Jacqueline Harvey's Alice-Miranda series have had an extraordinary success over the past few years. The first Alice-Miranda book, Alice-Miranda At School, was only released in 2010. Already there are 9 Alice-Miranda titles. I hadn't read any of them before but recently I saw Alice-Miranda in Paris at my library and felt compelled to read it. Alice-Miranda in Paris is book 7 in the series.

Jacqueline Harvey is Australian and I had presumed that Alice-Miranda would be too. I'm not sure that she is. She could be I guess, but there was no mention of nationality in this book, perhaps coming in at book 7 is difficult. The rather improbably named Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones attends Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, which is probably in England, but again I'm not quite sure. It seems she has attended school in New York at some time too.

Alice-Miranda gets to go to Paris as part of a school group, students from her school and the nearby Fayle School for Boys form the Winchester-Fayle Singers. The choir has been invited to Paris to perform at three runway shows for Paris Fashion Week. An exciting set up. Very soon, indeed on arriving in Paris the children are witness to a robbery from one of the worlds most famous fashion designers- a bolt of the finest fabric in the world- vicuna. No I hadn't heard of it either. But it's real, made from the wool of the cute vicuna, a llama relative.  Vicuna has brought down politicians, a mere scarf will cost $4,000!

Alice-Miranda and her friends become caught up in some fashion mystique and intrigue all set amongst the hurly burly of Paris Fashion Week. The group stay on the left bank and tours Paris of course between their official engagements- and I was thrilled to have been to almost every setting. Notre Dame. Eiffel Tower of course. The Ritz. The Hotel de Ville. Boulevarde St Michel. The Luxembourg Gardens. The Louvre. Versailles. Sacre Couer. Nutella crepes. Well except one- I haven't dined at La Tour d'Argent- yet.

Jacqueline Harvey clearly knows what her young girl readers really, really want. They lap up both Alice-Miranda and her other Clementine-Rose books. I found Alice-Miranda somewhat precious for her eight years. Perhaps it is merely all a modern riff on a princess tale? Alice-Miranda's family appear to be rather wealthy- her mother and aunt stay at the The Ritz when in Paris. Her aunt is married to a movie star, and Alice-Miranda met the President of America at their wedding. However I do know that getting one taxi, let alone two, in Paris during Fashion Week is a complete fairy tale!

Saturday 22 February 2014

Animals on Bikes

Sometimes it's fun to be a tourist in what is really your own backyard. Recently a friend and I drove part of the 120km Animals on Bikes Sculpture Trail from Molong to Dubbo. Even though I've driven to Dubbo a few times I'd never taken this alternate route through Cumnock and Yeoval.

It's all looking very dry.
We've had some rain after this trip, but not enough. 

This horse in Cumnock is my favourite

There are many others of course. Too many to stop at them all. We only went to Yeoval this day, but one time soon I'll drive the rest of it too. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Friday 21 February 2014


Any new book by Jackie French is exciting, but I was particularly thrilled to find Fire in my local bookshop recently. I read it standing there in the shop, and then bought a copy. Fire is clearly styled to be a companion book to the amazing Flood of 2011. Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have paired up again to bring us another extraordinary picture book about all the other of the all too familiar ravages of the Australian environment.

Jackie French has written a moving, true representation of the fires that attack parts of Australia every year. Many of our children are much too familiar with fire as a threat- they have lived through it, they have lost houses, or lost loved ones. Those that haven't experienced it themselves have seen the devastation played out on the nightly news, or watched stories like this one by children's news shows like Behind the News, often watched in primary school classrooms.

Jackie French has seen fire threaten her own country home. She was a volunteer bushfire fighter when she was younger, and her first hand experience with fire is obvious to see. Fire is an amazing poem.

Hills bleached gold, a baked blue sky
Leaves lay limp in air sucked dry. 

All masterfully illustrated once again by Bruce Whatley. Bruce has captured the heat and intensity of a bush fire beautifully. He doesn't seem to have used his non dominant hand to create these images like he did in Flood (Bruce Whatley was actually so interested in the way that art is created by non-dominant hands that he has done a PhD on the subject, Left Hand Right Hand), but his illustrators note at the back of the book tells us that fire "has been the hardest thing for me to capture in paint".

The erratic shapes are so random- there is no pattern or shape that becomes the foundation for the rest of the drawing. And then there is the heat and intensity. The brightest mark I could make on paper was none at all, letting the white of the paper shine through. The reds and yellows then create the shapes. What makes the fire intense is the surrounding darks. 

I'm off to a bit of a slow start for this years Australian Women Writers Challenge, but happy that my first read was Jackie French- very appropriate as she was the Aussie Women Writer that I read most last year and she is our new Australian Children's Laureate.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013/2014

The end of the year is such a busy time I never got to doing a wrap up post for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge- or to sign up for 2014!

So, let's get caught up.

I blogged 15 books by Australian Women Writers in 2013. Rather incredibly, or perhaps somewhat predictably, 3 of those 15 were by Jackie French. But then I am a little bit obsessed by her.

The Tommorrow Book

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris

The Silver Brumby
Thursday's Child
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Pearlie in Paris
Memoirs of a Suburban Girl
A Day to Remember
Hitler's Daughter
Have you seen Ally Queen?
Peeling the Onion
My Home Broome
Come Down, Cat!

It's interesting to look back at my year of reading Australian Women Writers. 

8 picture books. 
2 Paris books. 
2-4 nonfiction, depending on how you classify them. 

Hmmm, it seems I didn't manage to read any adult books last year! I'll have to change that this year. Although Picnic at Hanging Rock probably counts. 

I wonder how many I'll read in 2014? Hopefully at least 16. Allons-y!

Saturday 15 February 2014

A l'Etoile d'Or

I'm so saddened tonight by the news from Paris that the iconic Denise Acabo and her beloved A l'Etoile d'Or  suffered a terrible subterranean gas explosion, and on Valentine's Day of all days.

Back in 2010 we made a pilgrimage to A l'Etoile d'Or.

Not far from the Moulin Rouge

is A l'Etoile d'Or 
30 rue Fontaine 75009

Run by the irrepressible Denise Acabo,
the sweetest woman in Paris 

It is a genuine treasure trove of delights 

from all over France

A l'Etoile d'or was the sole agent for the exalted Bernachon in Paris

You can watch a video of David Lebovitz visiting Denise. 

She is so full of energy, and so delightful, charming and enthusiastic with every one of her customers. I hope Denise was not injured, nor any of her customers, and that she and her store recover fully from this.

Update July 2014 by David Lebovitz- progress is slow, and it is uncertain whether or not A l'Etoile d'Or will reopen or not.

Update October 2015 by David Lebovitz- the happy news we've all bee waiting for, A l'Etoile d'Or will reopen on November 3 2015. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

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

The Brides of Paris #2

I do love seeing brides in Paris. I've seen some before in 2010. We only saw two more in 2013, it seems brides love a Paris monument just like everyone else.

Photographing the bridal nose perhaps?

On the temporary seating outside Notre Dame

Turning up to find the Eiffel Tower shut
because of a strike
would be disappointing

Most of the Paris brides I saw in 2013 were potential brides in shop windows.

Suzanne Ermann
29 rue de Tournon 75006

And a glimpse of wedding pamplemousse!

Max Chaoul
55 Quai des Grands Augustins 75006

66 Blvd Raspail 75006

My favourite frock I think

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

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