Monday 30 June 2014

French Cookbooks

I always like to buy a cookbook or two on a visit to France. The recipes are always different to those that we get here, and I like to pretend that I can read them in French. Well I can a bit, usually enough to get through- with the occasional bit of googling. I've bought a soup cookbook before, this time I was enticed by some sweet titles.

CBS…. Swoon.
I should have bought this one

And Speculoos, but I can't buy it here,
it would only make me pine even more. 

Some I find really surprising

Lolly cookbooks? Really?

A Chupa Chup cookbook from the home of Haute Cuisine

How can that be?

I did buy a couple of Nutella cookbooks last visit,
but haven't used them yet

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

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

I'm too excited and starting a day early!

Sunday 29 June 2014

The Treasure Box

The Treasure Box is another collaboration between two big names in Australian children's books- author Margaret Wild, and illustrator Freya Blackwood. Both are prolific, and usually feature in many awards.  I've featured a few Margaret Wild titles before- The Dream of the Thylacine and Tanglewood.

I'm always rather astonished at the breadth and depth of topics covered in picture books for children. The Treasure Box, like so many others, deals with war. In a nameless war, "the enemy" bomb Peter's city, and everything including the books in the library burns.

Only one book survives. A special book, treasure by Peter's father, "a book about our people, about us".

Peter and his father are ordered out of their home by this faceless enemy, so they join others fleeing their city. They take the precious book with them.

The Treasure Box raises issues of war, death, refugees and oppression. It also deals with hope, perserverence and the power of the human spirit. Just your average picture book stuff.

I always love Freya Blackwood's illustrative style. Her book with Ireland's Roddy Doyle, Her Mother's Face, is one of my favourite picture books ever. Her style is quite distinctive, but she really mixed things up here, and adopted a different approach. She still does her beautiful, soft, emotive drawings but has combined them with texture and layering which give the images even more impact for this war time setting. Freya wrote about the process on her blog back in 2012 when she was working on it.

The stunning endpapers are made from foreign language editions of Sonya Hartnett's The Silver Donkey, and Morris Gleitzman's Once and Then- all books with an obvious wartime theme.

The Treasure Box is shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Picture Book of the Year (winner to be announced August 15 2014).

Saturday 28 June 2014

Dinner at the Australian War Memorial

A particular highlight of the recent CBCA Conference was the conference dinner. I've been to quite a few conference dinners- this was the best ever.

Great location. The Australian War Memorial was recently named Australia's number one "Traveller's Choice" landmark- beating out Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I don't know that I'd agree with that, but it is a rather fascinating place to visit.

Peter Corlett- Simpson and his donkey, 1915

We didn't get time to do a tour, but there was already a display from Anzac Day this year, when William and Kate were in Australia, and they performed part of the Anzac service in Canberra.

We did see a great audiovisual show featuring a Lancaster Bomber G for George. 

We then dined under the wings of G for George, and had a most delicious dinner which sadly it was too dark to photograph. I had great company too, with my new friends from Auckland City Library.

There were of course fantastic speakers too.

Jackie French!
Always an amazing speaker, she made an
impassioned speech about story

Morris Gleitzman
Morris only spoke briefly and then let his most recent story, Loyal Creatures, speak for him. Tim Potter performed the theatre piece that became Loyal Creatures- an Australian response to the theatre production of War Horse. It was sensational. There was not a dry eye in the house at the end.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Thursday 26 June 2014

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot

I've been meaning to read this book (now a series) for quite some time. I finally met Violet Mackerel this week- I can only wish that I'd done it sooner. Violet Mackerel is a dreamer, a daydreamer, and the book is completely charming. Violet lives with her mother and older brother and sister. Her mother has run a stall at the Sunday markets selling knitted objects since her husband left. Violet goes along with her family to the markets each week, and busies herself with finding small things, becoming an archaeologist and her imaginings.

Violet needs a brilliant plot to be able to buy a blue china bird she has seen at the market. Of course, she doesn't have any money, but she has a very creative mind. Her mother tells her to "think outside of the box" and that "if you can see it you can be it". Author Anna Branford has a lovely website, where she thinks outside the box, knits and makes small things, and has many activity sheets for kids to do. Violet Mackerel is the perfect book for her to write, you can see how she invests her energy and soul into the story.

Violet's mother even dreams of Paris too! When the kids are grown up she sees herself living in Paris, speaking French and knitting for fashionable Parisian boutiques.

Gorgeously illustrated by Sarah Davis, Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot is a delight to read. Quite rightly it was an honour for the CBCA awards in 2011.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

19 Truly Brilliant Young Adult Book You Can Enjoy at any Age

Whether or not adults should read YA has been in the news quite a bit this month. Ruth Graham really set the cat amongst the pigeons on June 5 in an article at Slate when she loudly proclaimed "Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."

Well, didn't that create a ruckus? Pretty much everyone has weighed in, from the Washington Post and CNN down.

It's the "should" (Slate's italics, not mine) here that vexes me most. It implies that someone else's hierarchy of taste and personal experience takes precedent over your own, when in reality, letting go of that is one of the great spoils of achieving adulthood.

Exactly. We adults are free to read whatever we like, whatever interests us, and whatever brings us joy. Flavorwire reminds us that "The books worth reading are out there, and they're numerous, trust me -genre be dammed."

I can never go past a good list it seems. And every list makes my TBR grow. On to the list, an Aussie heavy YA list from Buzzfeed.

1. On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta

2. Wildlife - Fiona Wood

3. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

4. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson

5. Everybody Sees the Ants - A.S. King

6. Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Gaskell

7. Girl Defective - Simmone Howell

8. Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey

9. We Were Liars - E. Lockhart

10. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

11. All the Truth that's in Me - Julie Berry

12. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

13. The Diviners - Libba Bray

14. Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan

15. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

16. This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers

17. Graffiti Moon - Cath Crowley (see my review)

18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

19. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen


Well that's a particularly dismal result. I've meant to read quite a few of the others for what it's worth. As always there's a few I've never heard of. There are lots of great books out there- we should read them.

Tuesday 24 June 2014


I really have no idea what made this memoir by a Texan teen about her quest for popularity amongst the tribes of the eighth grade jump into my hands recently. After all it's never been one of my quests, and I am somewhat distant from teenage angst. Perhaps it was the cool retro cover with the suggestion of paper dolls. Perhaps it sounded a bit like Populaire, an utterly delightful French movie that I watched on a plane last year. Whatever, it was I'm very glad it did. Popular is charming, and I'm sure will be popular.

Maya has always struggled a bit socially. She's a nice girl, vegetarian since she was 8, and understandably anxious since her younger sister died when she was six. Maya has some friends, but she's a bit shy, and finding the onslaught of the early teenage years a bit difficult. Before she was born her father bought a second hand book- Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide, originally published in 1951. The book resurfaces during a household clean up when Maya was 13 and about to start eighth grade. As improbable as it sounds Maya decides to follow this 60 year old advice to teenage girls, almost to the letter and document her social progress over the year. Rather amazingly in this oversharing world she keeps her project a secret from all but her close family.

And so Maya begins a year of sensible eating, good posture, girdles (yes, girdles) and wearing vaseline as eyeshadow. And she is slowly transformed by the process in unexpected ways. It's not always easy.

It's literally painful. I look like someone out of an old movie, or a patient in a nursing home. Tears well up in my eyes, and I bite my lip. 

I really enjoyed my time with Maya and Popular, even though I am closer to Betty Cornell's era than Maya's. Besides being a slice of modern American teenage life, it also gives us a glimpse of life in the border town of Brownsville. It is a far, far different place to suburban Australia. The violent drug war between Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican military are carried out within sight of the town. There are frequent lockdown drills at school, FBI drug operations in nearby streets, and students required to use mesh backpacks for school to discourage the carriage of weapons or drugs. And all the other inconsistencies of modern America.

In Brownsville tampons are seen as immoral. So is using birth control. What I don't understand is that teen pregnancy is generally accepted. 

As it must logically be I guess if you think birth control is immoral. Thankfully all that is not my world. Maya also introduced me to the concept of French Toast Casserole. WOW. Bread and butter pudding by another name I guess. And raspas- Mexican snow cones. If only I knew about them when I was in Houston. I'll have to go back someday.

Maya Van Wagenen was named one of Time Magazine's 16 most influential teens of 2013 (an interesting list but does anyone really care what Justin Beiber does any more?), and was interviewed on the Today show (who got the decade wrong- but still, they tried). I'll donate my copy to my local library so that local girls can enjoy Popular too.

Monday 23 June 2014

Living Language French 2014

Mr Wicker bought me this as a bit of a joke Christmas present. It's a great present. And a great joke. They've chosen some rather intriguing daily phrases for a Living Language.

The year starts off with a bang.

Some bring to mind the ennui of the French soul.

Living Language French really makes you appreciate the difference between the idiomatic French and English expressions- particularly when they apply to animals. 

Some will make sense once you've visited Paris

and some will seem impossible once you have. 

Now this one actually may come in handy.

But I suspect that my favourite is Thursday November 13.

Just the phrase everyone needs! I think that if I slip that into any conversation with any random French person they will just give up and break into English. That's my current plan anyway.

Living Language French comes with a bonus CD of generally useful basic phrases and expressions. It includes more traditionally useful things such as friendly greetings, numbers, days of the week and months of the year.

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