Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

I really enjoyed The Ghost of Thomas Kempe even though I wasn't expecting to. I let a daggy old mid 1970s cover put me off I guess ... I should have known better. Penelope Lively is known as both a writer for adults and children. I've read her most famous adult book Moon Tiger, and remember liking it but not much more than that.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe is indeed a ghost story- perhaps the subject matter put me off a little too? I kind of outgrew ghost stories a few decades ago. But this is a delightful, well written ghost story with a delightful English village setting with marvellous village characters.

Ten year old James Harrison and his family have just moved to Ledsham in Oxfordshire, and into an old house.

It was a very old place, half way between a village and a small town, and had, somehow, the air of being dwarfed by the present. New housing estates were mushrooming now on two sides of it, but the centre remained as it must always have been with the houses and streets a size smaller than the houses and streets of a modern town. 

James' parents have converted the disused, locked attic into a bedroom for young James. And this is where the trouble starts. There is a wonderful sense of spookiness and foreboding from the start.

In the room, there was a gathering of air: it bunched and compressed into little winds that nosed the mounds of wallpaper, rustled them, and set the windows faintly rattling. Then it subsided, and the room was quiet: empty. 

But The Ghost of Thomas Kempe has much more substance than a mere ghost story. It is a wonderful contemplation of family, community, time and memory. James has just moved to a new town, he doesn't always get along with his sister, his mother makes cauliflower cheese for dinner and he is forever getting into trouble and despairs of ever receiving dessert or pocket money again. And apparently it's quite difficult to get anyone to believe that your house and village are inhabited by a note writing poltergeist.

'If you think I've made it all up,' said James icily, 'you've got another think coming. Who wants all their pocket money stopped and no pudding and everybody getting in a bad temper with you?'

Penelope Lively is a wonderful writer. While on the face of it she seems a most English of writers, she was born in Egypt to English expat parents and did not attend any sort of school until she was 12. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe was her first big success. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1973.


Friday 26 June 2015

29 Books Australians Grew Up Reading

Another great recent buzzfeed list. I'm way too old to have grown up with many of these books, but you can always make up for lost opportunities.

I suspect that this list is meant to be Australian. Certainly at least Hairy Maclary is not. But then what would an Australian list be without something borrowed from New Zealand?

1. Possum Magic - Mem Fox

2. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - May Gibbs

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

4. Diary of a Wombat - Jackie French, Bruce Whatley

5. Imagine - Alison Lester

6. The Muddle-Headed Wombat - Ruth Park

7. Hairy Maclary - Lynley Dodd

8. Grug - Ted Prior

9. The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill - Dorothy Wall

10. Wombat Stew - Marcia K Vaughan, Pamela Lofts

11. Where the Forest Meets the Sea - Jeannie Baker

12. Animalia - Graeme Base

13. Who Sank the Boat? - Pamela Allen

14. When the Wind Changed - Ruth Park

15. Seven Little Australians - Ethel Turner

16. Where is the Green Sheep? - Mem Fox, Judy Horacek

17. Magic Beach - Alison Lester

18. The Lost Thing - Shaun Tan (see my review)

19. Bamboozled - David Legge

20. Hating Alison Ashley - Robin Klein (see my review)

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

22. Adults Only - Morris Gleitzman

23. The Day My Bum Went Psycho - Andy Griffiths

24. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden 

25. Thunderwith - Libby Hathorn

26. The Burnt Stick - Anthony Hill, Mark Sofilas (see my review)

27. Deltora Quest - Emily Rodda

28. The Gizmo - Paul Jennings

29. Wicked! - Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings


May 2017 15/29

I find the inclusion of three Ruth Park titles interesting and possibly rather odd.

And still there's always a book you've never heard of- here it's Bamboozled for me.

Thursday 25 June 2015

One Minute's Silence

I was very keen to read One Minute's Silence because it appeared on the CBCA Shortlist this year, not just once- but three times! It made the shortlist for Picture Book of the Year and New Illustrator of the Year, and is a Notable Book for the Eve Pownall Award. That has to be an achievement in itself.

One Minute's Silence is a powerful picture book. A picture book for older thinking children, not a book for the fun of a noisy bedtime reading session or to calm toddlers for bed. One Minute's Silence asks us to imagine the unimaginable when we observe the minute silence to remember those killed in war. It focuses on the Gallipoli campaign, but One Minute's Silence asks us to imagine the war from both sides- from the view of both the young Anzacs rushing the beach in the predawn light and the young Turks who stood at the top protecting that beach and their country.

Michael Camilleri's illustrations are magnificent simple line drawings. He shows us a class of bored Australian school children about to observe their own minute's silence. Camilleri takes these same high school kids to those steep rocky beaches at Gallipoli, to see the conflict, the death, the hardship all round. To see the humanity of both sides, as they see the beach, the battle and the war from both perspectives.

It's a poignant moment in a sobering book.

Teacher's Notes for One Minute's Silence are available from Allen & Unwin.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Art in the Grounds of Versailles

I've been to Versailles quite a few times now. We loved it so much the first time we went back several more times, and arranged a night in the town. Then again on two more trips to France. It's vast of course, and I still haven't seen it all, but there is always something new each time.

My last visit was back in 2013, and they had some great artworks in the grounds. The mix of modern horticultural pieces was interesting in the refined formal garden of wonderment that form the grounds of the Chateau.

I love this photo for some reason. 
 It's a view down the inside of these trees:

I was reminded of this day because there is a new outdoor art installation in the grounds of Versailles this summer. It is somewhat controversial, and in dubious taste really I feel. It has already been vandalised

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Wednesday 17 June 2015

Grim Tuesday

Grim Tuesday is the second rather amazing fantasy story in Garth Nix's The Keys of the Kingdom series that started with Mister Monday (see my review). I really enjoyed the imaginative tale of Mister Monday and somewhat unusually for me embarked on my own quest to listen to the rest of the series.

Grim Tuesday of course finds Arthur Penhaligon, our rather unlikely, asthmatic hero back in The House sooner than he expected. Indeed on Tuesday morning, only hours after his adventures of the Monday Arthur is called to return. Things are getting out of hand in The House and they need Arthur's help. In the first story Arthur enters The House with part of the First Key already, here Arthur enters The House barehanded.

Garth Nix has once again created a highly imaginative story. It is similar in some ways to Mister Monday of course, there is Arthur, the second part of the Will, and the second set of keys, but Grim Tuesday's domain is another part of The House entirely and rather different to the Lower House of Mister Monday. Grim Tuesday's domain is the Far Reaches, a type of mine fired by his greed. Garth Nix is tremendous at creating monsters- my favourite this time is Grim Tuesday's disembodied eyebrow that has taken on a life of its own! But using Nothing as a threat is impressive too.

Rather unusually I thought Grim Tuesday himself doesn't enter the story until quite near the end, at the end of the 5th of the 6 audio CDs. He is of course a malevolent threat up until them, but we don't actually meet him until quite late in the story.

My library has the first three books of The Keys to the Kingdom available on audiobook, I will certainly continue on, and hope to listen to all of these wonderful, imaginative, complex stories.

Monday 15 June 2015

My Paris Night in Sydney

It's been months since I was in Paris last. November 2014. Aeons ago. I had a Paris Day in Melbourne last December. Last week I had a Paris Night in Sydney.

If you squint...

We went to Sydney to see Paris Combo. They were fab.

Walking down Castlereagh St was like being in Paris. Names, names, names.

Lèche vitrine seulement
Everyone wants to win a trip to Paris
Plenty of chocolate, comme Paris, but shaped like the Opera House.

Bubbles to start, sadly domestic. 

 Pre-concert dinner at Cafe Nice was a perfect choice.

Omelette of Meli Melo and Caramelised Onion
Why can't I cut my chives like that? Hmph. 
Then back to Angel Place for the concert.

Sponsored by Pommery!

You can rest assured that I certainly did front up to the bar for my complimentary glass.

There was even a chocolatier across the corner from our hotel
Fèrme, malheureusement

After a night in Paris you need a Parisian breakfast.

Delicious viennoisserie from Lorraine
also just down Angel Place

Silicon (?) covered Les Mis at Dymocks
No trip to Paris Sydney is complete without some patisseries to take home.

Salted Caramel Tart at Zumbo

And some macaroon naturally
but with an Aussie touch- malted milkshake

Is it Paris? Is it Sydney?
Even Ladurée are confused with their limited edition Sydney box. 
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Saturday 13 June 2015

Forgotten Songs

I've been keen to see the Forgotten Songs artwork for some time now. This week I had my chance, and I wasn't disappointed.

Forgotten Songs was initially a temporary laneway artwork program in Sydney in 2009-2010. Thankfully it wasn't lost to us and was recommissioned as part of an upgrade to Angel Place in 2012.

Forgotten Songs commemorates 50 bird species once heard in central Sydney before European settlement. These birds disappeared from the area as Sydney developed.

During the day the songs of these missing birds ring out above your head from their empty cages. 

I saw one of these beautiful birds just last weekend
(not in Sydney though)

As we went to a concert that night at City Recital Hall I got to go back in the evening. It was raining though so we didn't really hang around. At night the nocturnal bird calls are played. 

I'd long thought that Forgotten Songs reminded me of Dickens' Miss Flight in Bleak House. And what did I find in Dymocks that very same day? 

Art imitating life?
Life imitating art?

Actually it looks like Penguin have a lovely new set of Dickens hard back editions. I might really need these.

Forgotten Songs
Angel Place (just off George St, near Martin Place) 

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Friday 12 June 2015

Fattypuffs and Thinifers

I'd never heard of the French classic Fattypuffs and Thinifers until I saw it on the (UK) Telegraph's recent list of 100 Best Children's Books Ever. Naturally I recognised that the author had a French sounding name, and my curiosity was piqued and so here we are, a few short weeks later, I've tracked down the book (not so hard actually with the recent lovely Vintage Classics edition) and read it. And what a delight it is.

Two brothers, Edmund and Terry find a secret entrance to a subterranean world while out on a walk with their father. Naturally the two inquisitive boys are soon heading down a moving staircase into the depths of the unknown.

Edmund and Terry would never have believed that a staircase could be so long. Down and down they went for more than an hour; down and down, through a half-darkness occasionally broken by red and green electric lights. 

The boys find themselves in a very strange world indeed.

The two boys were immediately caught up in the crowd. They passed through a doorway, and as they did so a fresh, cool breeze blew on their faces. They found themselves out in the open air and overlooking the sea, but although the light was very bright they could see at once that it was not sunshine. When they had another look they discovered that the whole countryside was lit up by huge luminous balloons floating in the sky. 

This odd subterranean world is home to the warring nations of the Fattypuffs and the Thinifers. Fattypuffs are rather large as their name would suggest- they eat a meal every hour, and then sleep for a quarter of an hour. While the Thinifers

are an extraordinary race who inhabit the opposite side of the gulf. They are horrible to look at, being excessively thin, bony as skeletons and yellow as lemons. They live in the most ridiculous way. They scarcely eat anything, they drink nothing but water and they even work without being made to. But all that wouldn't matter if they weren't so downright nasty. 

André Maurois was indeed a French author. He had a rather incredible life- running his family textile business, being an interpreter during the first World War, and becoming an author. Patapoufs et Filifers was first published in Paris in 1930, and translated into English in 1941. There are certainly echoes of the war to end all wars- while the prospect of Fattypuffs making trench warfare logistically difficult is treated with humour,  Maurois does not shy away from the harsh realities of war, the senseless death, destruction and injury. Joan of Arc even rates a casual mention. There are still words very relevant to the modern reader.

'But all the same, just because two nations have different tastes, that is no reason why they should shoot things at one another, and wound people and burst their balloons.'

Fattypuffs and Thinifers remains a delightful read even though it is over 80 years old. I'm not sure if this is a modern translation though as the translator is not credited (another translator labouring in the shadows). Some have suggested that the Fattypuffs and Thinifers is an allegory for French German relations, it may well be, and it can certainly be read as such I think, but it is more than mere allegory, it's a great story- funny, thought provoking and entertaining.

The Vintage Classics edition is beautifully illustrated by Fritz Wegner, who sadly died in March.

French Bingo 2015

Thursday 11 June 2015

67 Children's Books That Actually Changed Your Life

Buzzfeed is always a great source of book lists. This one from May is no exception.

1. The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

2. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein

3. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales - Jon Scieszka

4. Matilda - Roald Dahl

5. Who Took the Farmer's Hat - Joan L. Nodset, Fritz Siebel

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (see my review)

7. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

I'm going to read this soon. YAY.

8. Harvey the Child Mime - Loryn Brantz

9. The Baby-Sitters Club - Ann M. Martin

10. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine

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

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

13. Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown

14. The Thief Lorde - Cornelia Funke

15. Holes - Louis Sachar (see my review)

16. The American Girl Series

17. A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicker (I've read at least the first one of 13)

18. Stephanie's Ponytail - Robert Munsch, Michael Martchenko

19. Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume (see my review)

20. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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

22. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

23. Danny and the Champion of the World - Roald Dahl

24. Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson

25. The Ordinary Princess - M.M. Kaye

26. Where The Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

27. Guess How Much I Love You - Sam McBratney

28. Bloomability - Sharon Creech

29. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

30. The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch

31. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Louis Sachar

32. The Moomins Series - Tove Jansson (see my review)

33. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor (see my review)

34. Hear the Wind Blow - Mary Downing Hahn

35. The Mrs Piggle-Wiggle series - Betty MacDonald

36. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

37. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

38. Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

39. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

40. The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling (read 1/7)

41. The Betsy-Tacy series - Maud Hart Lovelace

42. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

43. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark - Jill Tomlinson, Paul Howard

44. The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis

45. Dogs Don't Wear Sneakers - Laura Numeroff

46. The Ramona Series - Beverly Cleary

47. A Bad Case of Stripes - David Shannon

48. Love You Forever - Robert N. Munsch, Sheila McGraw

49. Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo

50. The Velveteen Rabbit - Margery Williams

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

52. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (see my review)

53. Oh, The Places You'll Go - Dr Seuss

54. Hatchet - Gary Paulsen (see my review)

55. When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry - Molly Bang

56. The Trumpet of the Swan - E.B. White

57. Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

58. Ruby Holler - Sharon Creech

59. Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

60. Miss Rumphius - Barbara Cooney (see my review)

61. The Junie B. Jones series - Barbara Park

62. The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)

63. Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

64. Dragonflight - Anne MacCaffrey

65. The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett

66. The Little House on the Prairie Series - Laura Ingalls Wilder (see my review Farmer Boy)

67. You Are Special - Max Lucado, Sergio Martinez

33/67 excluding series, which is a form of cheating.

September 2015 34/67

October 2016 36/67

July 2017 37/67

Saturday 6 June 2015

BridgeClimb Sydney

It's not every day that you get to cross something off your life list. But recently I did. I got a BridgeClimb Sydney voucher for my birthday last year, and time was running out to use it. So I had to make sure it got done.

Carb loading is important clearly.
Any excuse for another visit to La Renaissance is  always welcome.
I just noticed it's pretty much bridge shaped... 
There are many stairs before you even start. 

The morning weather was a bit iffy

but our timing was perfect! It was a perfect morning for it. 

BridgeClimb is a fantastic experience. Sadly you're not allowed to take your own camera because of safety concerns so they take your photo in all sorts of silly poses up the arch, and so I'm not able to bombard you with the millions of photos I would otherwise have taken.

You walk out under the bridge traffic initially and then navigate up several ladders to get onto the eastern arch of the bridge (on the Opera House side). You walk across the top and descend down the western arch. I'm not particularly scared of heights and was never even slightly anxious once. It's not scary. It's exhilarating.

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Friday 5 June 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory

I saw Laurie Halse Anderson speak recently at the Sydney Writers Festival. She was magnificent. I've read one of her books, Speak, probably her most famous book, and I loved it. I read it quite a few years ago, way before blogging, so I remember loving it and a bit about what it was about, but don't have any detailed memories. Naturally I bought one of her books at the SWF, her most recent book, The Impossible Kife of Memory, which Laurie signed for me, and thankfully I read it straight away. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory tells a very powerful story. Seventeen year old Hayley Kincain has just settled into a new town and new school. She and her father have spent quite a few years on the road, trying to outrun his torment from PTSD. Hayley's father is a veteran, and living with the after effects of his war experiences. Hayley can never be sure who or what she will come home to.

I opened the front door and walked onto a battlefield. 

PTSD, war experiences and substance abuse are all rather heavy topics and Laurie does not back away from the horror of any of this. Hayley's friends all have their own set of circumstances too. But it is all counterbalanced by Hayley's quirky and laugh out loud funny first person voice. Right from the start.

It started in detention. No surprise there, right?
Detention was invented by the same idiots who dreamed up the time-out corner. Does being forced to sit in time-out ever make little kids stop putting cats in the dishwasher or drawing on white walls with purple marker? Of course not. It teaches them to be sneaky and guarantees that when they get to high school they'll love detention because it's a great place to sleep. 

Hayley has seen more things than she should, and has a knowledge beyond her years. 

Maybe that was why I wanted to slap so many of the zombies; they had no idea how freaking lucky they were. Lucky and ignorant, happy little rich kids who believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and thought that life was supposed to be fair. 

I always love an on form first person point of view. Laurie Halse Anderson has written a gripping, honest book that is a joy to read. These people and their lives feel so real. Flawed perhaps at times, but very real. 

On Instagram Laurie Halse Anderson wrote:

I write books. I try to make them not suck. Newest book: The Impossible Knife of Memory. It doesn't suck. 

It certainly doesn't. I can't wait to read more of her books as I know they won't suck either. My library only has four Laurie Halse Anderson books but I'm rather overjoyed to see that they are all out on loan with reserves on some. I will donate my signed copy to them so that even more people can read her.

Monday 1 June 2015

Connasse: Princesse des Coeurs

Prince Harry has just spent the last month or so in Australia and New Zealand. He has been in the news a lot. Initially he was here for Army exercises, and then more holiday making. The pressure is really off Harry now. Fifth in line to the throne. He rubbed noses. He went to a pub trivia night. He charmed babies. He's been a bit everywhere. He even said he wanted to get married and have kids. Right now. The girls went wild.

So I was rather amused to see this article proclaiming Harry as the "unwitting star" of a new French comedy. I hadn't heard of Camille Cottin before, but it seems she is a French comedian and actress with a recent sketch comedy show called Connasse. In her feature film Camille decides she is sick of ordinary life and she decides to marry "the last bachelor prince who is not deformed (even if he is a redhead) and who is the right age: Prince Harry."

The format seems a bit Borat with hidden camera and real people, but there is enough Paris scenery and Cross Chanel rivalry that it looks a must watch.

I can't wait to watch Connasse: Princesse des Coeurs. I'm not sure when it will be available. It was released in France on April 29. Sadly I'm not in France. I can't find it on iTunes, and there doesn't seem to be any other international release dates as yet.

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