Thursday 29 September 2016

4 Children's Books That You Need to Re-Read As Adults

I'm rather surprised that this list is only four books long. Although it certainly gives me a fair chance of actually finishing it I suppose.

Many, many kids books hold up to rereading as an adult, and I generally agree with the inclusion of Dahl on any list. But this list is somewhat flawed. As far as I can tell The Heart and the Bottle, which I imagine is perfection, like all of Oliver Jeffers' work did only come out in 2010, so there aren't that many adults who would need to re-read it after they read it when they were a kid back in 2010.

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Heart and the Bottle - Oliver Jeffers

Matilda - Roald Dahl

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi


I've read The Little Prince a few times now, and well, I'm sorry to say, French icon and all that it is- I just don't get it.

Monday 26 September 2016

My Dead Bunny

I'd never really heard of this book before it appeared in the CBCA Award Shortlist 2016 earlier this year. I was intrigued by the title, My Dead Bunny. It's certainly not a typical picture book title. But then My Dead Bunny is not a typical picture book. This is no bedtime read for little kids. This is a zombie story in picture book format for older kids.
My dead bunny's name is Brad;
His odour is extremely bad.
He visits me when I'm in bed,
But Bradley wasn't always dead ....
I just loved the rhyming zombie text- a picture book first? I can't be sure. Zombies aren't really my usual genre.

Sigi Cohen is a new name in Aussie children's books. Sigi is a West Australian lawyer with a degree in English literature and a fondness for rhyming text. He's certainly hit his stride with this first outing. Zombie bunnies is genius. And it's funny. I hope there's more books to come from Sigi, I'm certainly looking forward to them.

Illustrator James Foley has written a fabulous series of blog posts about the horror movies he used as inspiration for his fabulous illustrations for My Dead Bunny. Even I got The Shining references, but The Walking Dead is beyond my ken. I really love learning about the background stuff that illustrators use, their thoughts, inspirations and visual references.

Teacher Notes

Saturday 24 September 2016

Eat Melbourne 2016 Yum Cha and Dumpling Edition

I recently had (yet another) fabulous trip to Melbourne. I did lots of fun things, most of which I haven't told you about yet... Although I have described the fun of the Opening Night of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I always have a great time in Melbourne, mainly because there's so many great things to do (checkout my Melbourne label), and generally I get to eat some fabulous things not available in small town Australia as I catch up with friends. There was a lot of catching up this week, and a lot of non small town things eaten. 

One of my first priorities in Melbourne eating is Yum Cha. I love, love, love yum cha. And am sadly deprived of it year round where I live. So I take every opportunity when I'm in the big smoke. One trip to Melbourne we did five yum chas in a row! Even I needed a break after that, and my stalwart friend was begging for mercy. 

This time round I managed two yum chas and a night time dumpling fest. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

First stop was to long time favourite Shark Finn House in Little Bourke Street. Hmmm, there doesn't seem to be enough pictures I'm sure we ate more than this ...

Bean curd skin with seafood 

Har Gow (prawn dumplings)

We've been coming here for decades and
there's still newness to try
Chinese Sausage bun

BBQ Pork Bun

Mango Pudding
The following day we tried the relatively new Tim Ho Wan on Bourke Street. Even though they have four locations in Sydney I'd never made it to any of them. I think I'll have to now. I loved everything. 

Spinach Dumpling with Shrimp

Prawn Dumpling
I think possibly the best Prawn Dumplings ever!!
Big Call I know. 

Steamed Egg Cake

The Baked Bun with BBQ Pork was apparently the reason for the Michelin Star awarded to the original Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. It was amazing. Crispy outside - a texture unlike anything we'd had before. 

Golden Tofu- amazing
So crispy outside, so creamy inside

Beancurd Skin Roll with Pork and Shrimp

Vermicelli Roll with Shrimp
It's not yum cha without one of these for me
 The desserts were most unusual, completely new. We decided not to google the ingredients until we'd eaten the jelly. Turns out Osmanthus is a flower which can be made into a tea. 

Tonic Medlar and Osmanthus Cake
It was kind of astringent but delicious 

Mango Sago Pomelo
punchy mango flavour
 What would you want for dinner after yum cha in Melbourne except dumplings? We've been to a few dumpling houses over time, this time we went back to Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House on Russell Street. I can't remember all that we had. 

But I do know that these were Chicken Xiao Long Bao
-the dumplings with soup inside

It's always crazy cheap at a dumpling house. Less than $30 for a meal for two which we couldn't quite finish. 

My previous Eat Melbourne 2014 experience was so good that it needed two posts. Eat Melbourne 2014 and My Paris Day in Melbourne. I was there for a week this time... there will be more than two posts if I get around to it. 

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Friday 23 September 2016

A Mother's Story

I knew listening to Rosie Batty's A Mother's Story would be tough, but I didn't expect to start crying during the dedication. Rosie Batty was catapulted to "fame" in early 2014 when her ex-partner killed their 11 year old son in the practice nets at Tyabb Cricket Club.

Rosie starts her story as she became Australian of the Year in January 2015 in Canberra less than a year after Luke was killed.

It's an honour beyond my wildest imaginings. I am overwhelmed and truly humbled. And yet it's also bittersweet -12 months ago I was a single mum from Tyabb, a tiny dot on the map of the Mornington Peninsula, but in 18 days time it will be the one year anniversary of the death of my only son, killed by his father at cricket training. And then the sadness hits me, the only reason I'm in this position, the only reason I'm standing here holding this trophy and receiving this ovation is because I've endured the kind of tragedy that makes people recoil. I've become Australian of the Year because I'm the person noone wants to be, the mother who has suffered the insufferable.
Rosie and I actually had some similarities in our young lives including the bad frizzy perms popular at the time, and we both struck off at 20 for international adventures as a nanny- Rosie to Austria, me to Canada. Thankfully our paths were to diverge after these early experiences.

A Mother's Story is just that- Rosie's life and the major turning points around which our worlds turn. For Rosie these are two major events- the private death of her own mother when she was a 6 year old girl, and then her son Luke's very public death decades later. Rosie had learnt not to cry in grief as a 6 year old girl when her mother died and she wan't told until after her mother's funeral.  Luke's death did not happen out of the blue, Rosie had endured years and years of abuse at the hands of Luke's father. Rosie chronicles this abuse and her many and repeated attempts to get help and protection from those systems which are supposed to protect us- particularly the police and the courts.

The multiple failings of Victorian police computer systems is beyond unbelievable, the convoluted processes, so far from being streamlined. I hope that these processes have improved now, even though Rosie's experiences are not that remote, just a few years ago. It also quite boggles the mind how an abused woman and mother trying to protect herself and her child from a violent, mentally ill man has no right to know when he incurs other charges- when he accesses child porn, or threatens to kill other people with a knife. How is his right to privacy more important than her right to safety?

The final disc, disc 7, includes an impassioned plea for change in our society to help reduce family violence. There is an extensive list of resources for those affected by family violence  in Australia and New Zealand. Rosie also talks of how she has found her purpose in Luke's death, how her tireless work in family violence, has given meaning to her life, and the strength to go on. 

... I will not let my grief limit or define me. For reasons that are beyond me I am the one that people seem to want to hear from, and I know, people tell me, that I inspire them and give them courage. But what people don't know is that speaking out also empowers and inspires me. It's bittersweet knowing that this has happened because of Luke's death, but I feel I am making a difference, that gives me the impetus to keep going which is important, because my sense is that if I keep doing this and keep the public spotlight on the issue of Family Violence things will change because they have to change. 

It is completely unacceptable that one woman is murdered each and every week in Australia by her current or former partner. One of my high school friends was shot and killed in the street by her expartner. It touches all of us. It does have to change.

I do wonder that Rosie Batty chose to champion family violence particularly rather than mental health services. In fact she doesn't really mention mental illness all that much in A Mother's Story even though Greg Anderson clearly had a major mental illness which may or may not have been adequately treated. Her story is obviously tragic, and moving and I'm glad that I've finished the audiobook in a way so that I won't have to drive to and from work largely in tears, but I do wonder about Greg's story too - his life had it's own tragedies too I believe, and I wonder if he too was failed by the systems- police, judicial and health, that should have been there to help him. Rosie says repeatedly how much he loved Luke, would Greg have wanted it to end this way? I can't imagine so.

A Mother's Story is an important story for us all, no matter how hard it is to listen to.

Thursday 22 September 2016

15 Best Children's Books of All Time

A list from 2014 but still an interesting list from Britain's Telegraph. Who then provided a list of 100 Best Children's Books in 2015, which includes some, but not all, of these books. 

Watership Down - Richard Adams 1972 (see my review)

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien 1937 (see my review)

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe 1950

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 1952

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1943

Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren 1945 (see my review)

Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kästner 1929 (see my review)

James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl 1961 (see my review)

Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne 1926

A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett 1905

The Just So Stories - Rudyard Kipling 1902

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne 1864 (see my review)

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 1908 (see my review)

The Doll People - Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin 2000

The Child that Books Built - Francis Spufford 2002


Other Contenders:

The Sword in the Stone - T.H. White 1938

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett 1911 (see my review)

Sting of the Dump - Clive King 1963

Heidi - Johanna Spyri 1880 (see my review)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling 1997

How the Whale Became - Ted Hughes 1963

The Velveteen Rabbit - Margery Williams 1922

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster 1961 

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - Dave Shelton 2012

The Little White Horse - Elizabeth Goudge 1946


I always like a list that gives you a spare list. Although why not just make it the 25 Best Children's Books of All Time?

Thursday 15 September 2016

15 YA Books That Need To Be Adapted Into Broadway Musicals

Who could ignore a list titled so? Not me! Even if I haven't read any of these books. And it's not like I've been the biggest fan of musicals in my life, but I am growing into them. Although I'm not sure that it makes sense to make a music out of a book that is a retelling of a fairytale or classic story that has already been made into a musical, which rules out three of these titles already.

1. Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli

2. Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

3. My Lady Jane - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

4. Tiny Pretty Things - Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

5. Cruel Beauty - Rosamund Hodge

6. Cinder - Marissa Meyer

7. Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

8. The Wrath and the Dawn - Renée Ahdieh

9. Nimona - Noelle Stevenson

10. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor

11. The Selection - Kiera Cass

12. Dorothy Must Die - Danielle Paige

13. Beauty Queens - Libba Bray

14. Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

15. The Crown's Game - Evelyn Skye


Hmm, can't get much worse than that. I have considered reading some of these books, most notably Eleanor and Park (I saw Rainbow Rowell in Melbourne recently, she's very funny I must read something of hers), Dumplin' and Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda (which I actually have in the house). Many of the others I've never heard of, and some of them I know wouldn't be to my taste.

June 2018 1/15 YAY!

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Melbourne Writers Festival Opening Night 2016

I was very excited to attend the Melbourne Writers Festival again this year. I've been to a few MWFs over the years and a few Opening Nights. Looking back though it seems the last time was 2012! Much too long ago. There was a somewhat bizarre ticketing system this year, which caused me some panic as initially I thought I would not get a ticket to Opening Night, but thankfully more tickets were released and I did.

Maxine Beneba Clarke delivered a sensational opening address. She is an author and slam poet (I'm not really sure what that means exactly). Her speech was moving and powerful. Unexpectedly for me Maxine spoke of the importance of children seeing themselves in their books. She opened with a performance of her poem fairytale from Carrying the World (currently reading, my review coming soonish). It begins

the teacher reads snow white
in our fairytale
my daughter will scar herself
with household bleach tonight
crying mirror on the wall
erase this face as black as night

"Story is where empathy begins and children unseeing themselves in Australian Literature is unfortunately not an unusual introduction to story."

"Some Australian children learn very quickly that literature is a landscape they don't belong in, that books render them invisible. That their stories are not important."
Maxine was 19 before she was able to write a character that looked like herself. Extraordinary video of the Doll Test that she discusses. She also spoke of the spoken word community, the political difficulties of being published as a writer of colour in Australia, the economic realities of surviving as a writer in Australia- when our authors still earn an average of $12,000.

You can watch Maxine Beneba Clarke's MWF Opening Night address online in full, here.

The second part of the evening was the announcement of the Miles Franklin Award 2016. 

We watched videos of the nominated authors read excerpts from their nominated books. 

After A.S Patric was named as winner two delightful fairies ran excitedly up to congratulate him. 

And in a beautiful circle of life moment, Maxine Beneba Clarke had launched Black Rock White City at Readings St Kilda last year. Great to see the award go to a small publisher too, Transit Lounge based, rather appropriately, in Melbourne. 

Friday 9 September 2016

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 ¼ Years Old

This absolutely delightful read was an impulse buy while I was in Melbourne recently. Bought on the cover alone really. Of course it wasn't that I hadn't taken enough books with me to Melbourne. Always fearful of being caught short I did take 6 books to a writers festival.

And read a mildly respectable two of those. 

And I bought/obtained nine more while I was there.

Actually it was ten... I missed one. 

I'm not quite sure why I was so keen to buy and then immediately read a book about an old man living in a Dutch nursing home. Although that Victor Meijer drawing on the cover helped, and glowing blurbs from Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project- see my review) and John Boyne (I saw him speak in Sydney in May, and remain rather smitten) didn't hurt either. Flicking through the book randomly as we readers are wont to do my eyes touched on a random sentence: "There is a great buzz about plans for a euthanasia clinic." The back cover told me that Hendrik Groen was a "cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands". That's it, I was in. 

I thought that a diary format might be a good book to read on my journey home from Melbourne (an all day extravaganza) and it was. I started reading Hendrik whilst still in Melbourne and it kept me fully occupied for my day of travel. Hendrik Groen is in fact 83 ¼ at the start of his diary, January 1 2013. 

Another year, and I still don't like old people. Their Zimmer-frame shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and biscuits, their bellyaching.
Me? I am eighty-three years old. 

Hendrik has been living in his North Amsterdam nursing home long enough to be aware of the occasions that mark the passage of time. 

The last Saturday of the month: bingo night. Geriatric gambling addicts competing for a box of cherry-liqueur chocolates. 
 Hendrik and his friends embark on a series of new adventures, the close band of friends set up an "anarchic" Old-But-Not-Dead-Club which stirs things up in the "House of the Setting Sun".
You have to keep both body and mind active, especially the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls functions such as planning, initiative and flexibility. Well, we may presume that the management of this place doesn't care much about the prefrontal cortex. Neither money nor trouble is spared to keep the oldies docile, passive and lethargic, camouflaged by bingo, billiards and 'Feel Good Fitness'.
He has quite a bit of wisdom to pass on to us. 

When you're young, you can't wait to grow up. As an adult, until the age of sixty, you want above all to stay young. But when you're as old as the hills, you've got nothing left to strive for. That is the essence of the emptiness of life in here. There are no more goals. No exams to pass, no career ladders to climb, no grandchildren to raise. We are too old, even, to babysit the grandchildren. 

I loved the way that Hendrik wove actual events from 2013 into the story, it worked really well. 2013 was quite a big year too it seems. Pope Francis was elected in March and the Dutch Queen Beatrix abdicated in April, handing over power to her son. There were a number of notable deaths including Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela. Anouk represented Holland at Eurovision in Malmö in May. And I was in Amsterdam in June! I remember that 33 degree day quite well as I climbed the second highest church tower in Europe that day (barefoot as it turned out). 

Hendrik is mildly obsessed with bitterballen as a snack whilst drinking. Actually there's a lot more drinking going on with Hendrik and his friends than might be expected of gentle nursing home folk, and much of the humour arises from it.

My Bitterballen experience whilst drinking
 Amsterdam 2013

Translator Hester Velmans did an extraordinary job as The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen reads as if Hendrik was a native English speaker.

See John Boyne's review at The Irish Times. 

From the start Hendrik's voice was not what I imagined of an octogenarian, and indeed it may not be as Hendrik Groen is a pseudonym and the hunt is on for the true identity of the author. I don't really mind who wrote it, it was fun. And good news - The second book is on the way! John Boyne isn't sure that the formula will stretch to a second book, but I'm more than willing to give it a go. 

Monday 5 September 2016

Advanced Style

I'd never heard of Ari Seth Cohen or his blog, Advanced Style, when I came across this book-of-the-blog in Melbourne recently. Ari was apparently captivated by fashionable older women from the time he was a young boy when he watched his grandmothers exhibit glamour and style. He moved to New York as an adult and started his blog.

These photos offer proof that the secret to remaining vital in our later years is to never stop being curious, never stop creating, and never stop having fun. 

There seems to be a few essential items to the Advanced Style (female) look. (There was I think one lone man who made the pages, maybe two) A big or quirky hat. Big glasses. Big jewellery.

Big rings. A Chanel 2.55 doesn't hurt either.

I had no idea you could still get crocheted gloves! But a number of the ladies had them. 

I would have absolutely loved this Tiffany umbrella back in the 80s. Now I like it, and like it quite a lot, but I like my Desigual one better. 

Some women with Advanced Style wear a riot of colour, others prefer monochrome outfits. Big wads of cash do seem to help as the majority are wearing clearly expensive designer clothes. Some of the women are wearing more modest garments, and clearly the book isn't focused on money per se, it's focus is to showcase older people/women with style and panache. 

There is a documentary that I will seek out:

and a second book- Advanced Style- Older & Wiser. I'll be looking forward to checking it out. Thankfully I've still got some prep time before I'm old enough to be included. 

Saturday 3 September 2016

Roald Dahl Cover to Cover

I've just got home after an incredible week at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2016. MWF is still going actually, and due to finish tomorrow. As part of their final day they are celebrating Roald Dahl Day as part of the worldwide festivities this month to honour Roald Dahl 100. Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff on September 13, 1916. 

The Cover to Cover exhibition was displayed in Federation Square throughout the writers festival. It tells us that over 200 million Dahl books have been published in 59 languages! Some of those covers are shown in Cover to Cover. I couldn't recognise some of the languages. 

It looked cool lit up at night.
But was hard to photograph day and night. 

Most of them were easy to guess.
This one stumped me a bit.
The Witches in Hungarian.

Much easier in French. 

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