Monthly Archives: July 2016

Take 5: Favourite Children’s Books

What are your favourite children’s books? This is the sort of question that leads to passionate debate – because childhood favourites can leave such strong impressions on young, uncrowded minds; they may even inspire or shape the young reader’s identity.  Here are five critically acclaimed and hugely popular books that may already be part of your Favourites List; they certainly deserve to be the catalysts that trigger a lifelong love of reading:

Matilda by Roald Dahl

It’s hard to single out just one Roald Dahl book, but as a booklover-turned-librarian, I have a soft spot for Matilda.  Matilda is a story that celebrates intelligence and the transformative power of reading; there is sympathetic portrayal of libraries and librarians (the best ones are always welcoming and non-judgmental), and there is a good-versus-evil battle that makes you want to shout and cheer!  The success of the recent musical adaptation has renewed awareness for this well-known and well-loved book.  What better way to relive the show than to revisit the original book, in this theatre tie-in edition?

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Jolly Postman has everything that will delight little children – rollicking rhymes, fairytale mashups, cute drawings, things to spot in the detailed illustrations, and little cards, letters and a mini-book to take out of dainty envelopes!  On one busy day, this Jolly Postman rides his red bicycle delivering mail to villagers including Goldilocks, a Giant and the Big Bad Wolf.  Can he avoid being eaten and get home in time for dinner?  Books by the Ahlbergs feature regularly in “Best of” Lists, and The Jolly Postman is a classic example of their affectionate and whimsical style.  There’s lots of laugh-out-loud humour for both adults and children too.

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Mirror is a brilliant picture book for all ages, because it is not only beautifully crafted, but inspiring and thought-provoking as well.  It has a creative dual-book format that shows the stories of two families – one in Australia, one in Morocco – unfolding simultaneously.  The visually stunning spreads, in Jeannie Baker’s distinctive, meticulous collage, show that despite external differences such as landscape and clothing, the two families are essentially the same, in their need for connection and belonging.  Winner of awards in both Australia and the UK for its technical excellence and humanitarian message, Mirror is worth revisiting now, when foreignness is creating much fear and doubt.

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth may be better known in the US than in the UK and Australia; but with fans including Maurice Sendak and Philip Pullman, think of it as the choice of Those in the Know.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about Milo, a bored boy who goes on a fantastical quest after driving through a magical tollbooth.  Norton Juster has huge fun with words in the Phantom Tollbooth, where much of the action is linked to wordplay (for example, Milo’s watchdog companion is half-dog, half-watch; to reach an island called Conclusions, they have to jump).  This annotated edition celebrates the incredible richness in Norton Juster’s language, which references mathematics, philosophy, and science besides the extensive wordplay. The Phantom Tollbooth reminds us of the power of learning, and has been described as a modern-day Alice in Wonderland.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

With over 450 million copies sold, the Harry Potter series is probably the most popular children’s books of all time.  Although the original books and films concluded years ago, Potter mania shows no sign of waning – with a thriving fandom developing its own traditions including a Quidditch World Cup (which recently attracted 21 teams from countries worldwide).  The story of the Boy Wizard has classic themes of friendship, adventure quest and personal growth that doubtless will continue to engage and resonate with readers. In anticipation of the soon-to-come Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, relive the original story with this beautiful full-colour illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


How to set up a reading space for kids

There’s nothing like having a comfy, quiet space to enjoy reading a good book.  In order to spark an interest and engagement in reading with our kids, the same idea applies.  When it comes to teaching your child to read, finding a special reading space promotes quiet and calm and is particularly good for children who struggle to concentrate.

f8aec4e4abc4c6275272e74231d018c5A reading nook doesn’t need to cost hundreds of dollars or follow the latest design trends, but we’ve looked into some of the recommendations from My Little Bookcase and to firm up our ideas.  Here are our tips on setting up a reading space for kids:

– Set up a space in a light-filled room.  Use lamps when required to create a warm, ambient glow.  There should be enough light to be able to read the books easily but also create a lovely atmosphere.

4460438978_9174e6f4e5Enclose a space – Children love the idea of a ‘cubby’ or a secret space just for them.  It’s also nice to enclose a space within a larger room, so their reading nook is easy to identify.  Different ways to do this are to set up a tent over a few floor cushions.  Other ideas are to take the doors off a cupboard and deck out the shelves with books, adding seating into the bottom.  We love this version by

Make it cosy
– By adding floor cushions, soft toys and throw rugs, the reading nook will become a favourite place to ‘chill out’ and relax after a day at daycare or school.  Adding  comfy elements will also allow the child to ‘make it their own’.

readingbench-225x300Add some books – Make sure that books are at your child’s eye level.  Find different ways of storing the books, such as in baskets and bins.  Mix up the books so that a selection of their book collection are sitting in the reading nook.  A great idea is to ask your child to select which books are brought into the reading nook at a time and when they should be swapped for new ones.  This promotes ownership of the space.  Other ways to store books is to create a reading bench, such as that featured in  A simple idea of turning a bookshelf on it’s side, adding a padded top and filling it with books creates a beautiful and cost effective DIY reading bench.  We love this!

So that’s it!  A reading nook doesn’t need to be over-engineered, it just needs a few basic elements to become part of your child’s learning journey.

Looking through the ideas on Pinterest there are amazing and intricate reading nooks and spaces that clever people have created for their children.  Here are some of our favourites.



 The Best Young Adult (YA) Books

Young Adult (YA) fiction is the most exciting book category right now, with booming sales leading to a proliferation of genres and topics.  The YA fan-base is also broadening, with a significant and growing proportion of adult readers (who are loud and proud, and fast destroying any stigma about preferring YA over “grown up” books.  With strong narratives, intense feelings and the poignancy of coming-of-age, what’s not to love?  Here are some of the best YA, past and present:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders is iconic YA, being one of the first stories written by, for and about teenagers.  (The Catcher in the Rye  may be better known, but was written as adult fiction.)  The Outsiders follows the conflict between the Socs and the Greasers, rival teen groups distinguished by their socioeconomic status.  Its gritty realism and depictions of violence and delinquency revolutionised the genre by creating a demand for authentic, un-moralistic stories, although it continues to be controversial to this day.  The Outsiders is also one of the best YA books turned into movies, with director Francis Ford Coppola, and a cast of emerging superstars including Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Another YA bestseller with an acclaimed movie adaptation is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Named as Time Magazine’s #1 fiction book in 2012, The Fault in Our Stars cemented John Green’s reputation as a top YA author.  The Fault in Our Stars is about Gus and Hazel, teens who meet and fall in love through a cancer patients’ support group. John Green has achieved a skilful balance of tragedy, comedy, romance and sentimentality, and the cancer setting makes this classic doomed-romance fresh and bold.  The Fault in Our Stars is moving and romantic without being saccharine;  Gus, Hazel and their friends, worldly-wise beyond their years, are witty and irreverent without sounding annoying. A contender for best YA of all time, The Fault in Our Stars can make grown men (and women) laugh and cry – sometimes all at once.

Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden

The recent popularity of dystopian YA might make you think it’s a new trend – but not so!  A generation before The Hunger Games readers were gripped by Tomorrow, When the War Began.  This 7-novel series starts with Ellie and her friends going bush camping.  When they return several days later, their town is eerily quiet – their families captured by foreign military in a “peaceful invasion”.  Ellie and her friends must use all their wits and strength to adapt, survive and to fight against the invaders.  Classic coming-of-age themes are given urgency by the war scenario.  A live-action film and a new 6-part TV drama offer to bring new fans to this hugely beloved and acclaimed series.

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My Sister Rosa is shaping up to be one of the best YA in 2016.  It is a deeply unsettling story about 17-year-old Che and his  younger sister Rosa.  Che realises that, behind her charming facade, Rosa is a psychopath – manipulative and devoid of empathy.  Their parents are oblivious to Rosa’s true nature, so Che becomes her self-appointed minder – monitoring her behaviour and preventing her from hurting others.  Following the success of Liar and Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier shows her prowess in psychological thrillers once more.  My Sister Rosa is a tense and absorbing read, supported by brilliant characterisation.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is the latest hit by Rainbow Rowell, whose popularity and critical acclaim have been snowballing since her YA debut in Eleanor & Park.  Carry On is about Simon Snow, a magical Chosen One in his final year of wizarding school, as he comes to terms with his destiny, juggles relationships, solves mysteries and fights evil.  It is a story-within-a-story, with Simon and his friends first appearing as the book-obsession of the titular Fangirl of Rainbow Rowell’s previous novel.  Carry On is one of the best YA of 2015, richly-layered with magic, ghosts, vampires, friendships, romance, humour and teen angst; it is also a loving tribute to fandom and the Harry Potter universe (which shares similarities with Simon Snow’s world).

How to style a bookshelf like a Pro

I don’t know about you but my bookshelves are packed from top to bottom with books.  There isn’t a plan with regards to how books can be showcased and the space ends up looking more like an eyesore than an appealing area to enjoy in your home.  For this blog I have called in the big guns in the form of the wonderful blogs Spark & Chemistry and Tidbits and Wine who step you through the process.  Design Sponge also provide some inspiration in the forms of homes that ‘get it right’ when it comes to styling some of your most loved books and possessions.  If you are wanting to add some beautiful items to your bookshelf, we recommend The Designstuff Group.

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Image from Spark & Chemistry.

  1.  When it comes to styling your bookshelves, it’s best to start with the shelves and find ways to improve the look of them.  This might be papering the back of them with interesting paper, painting them or converting free-standing bookshelves to built-ins.  Once the bare bones look the best that they can, it’s time to start adding to them.
  2. Start considering what you want to place in the shelves.  Aim for large items and start diagonally – the could be stacks of books placed horizontally, large items such as vases or other types of memorabilia.  If you start putting an item on the top left, the next larger-sized item should be placed in the bottom right to ‘balance’ the shelves.
  3. Consider the colour palette of the shelves.  Tidbits and Wine recommend selecting main and highlight colours.  The below image features a mainly blue and white bookshelf with highlight colours of gold, red and green.  The shelf looks balanced as the colours remain consistent throughout the shelf and in the room.
  4. Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 8.30.45 pmOnce you have placed your large items, start placing your medium-sized items and then your smallest items.
  5. For smaller items, you might consider grouping them in two’s or three’s to give them greater impact – this works well if the items are of a similar colour or style.  If you are finding it challenging to style books that have different coloured jackets, consider removing the jackets or turning them around so that you can see the pages.  This also gives you a nice textural element to the display.
  6. You might consider grouping books according to their colour.  Brightly coloured books look fantastic styled this way.

Image from Tidbits and Wine

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7.  Consider adding sculptural elements such as candlesticks, interesting bowls or statues that provide a focal point for the bookshelves.

Voila!  You’re now styling your bookshelf like a pro!  If you would like some more tips on home decor and interiors, here are some books that may help.

For more bookish inspiration, follow us on Pinterest.

What are the most popular E-Books of all time?

The E-Book is a publishing phenomenon that continues to increase in popularity.  Each month 3 million E-Books are downloaded.  The versatility of the E-book is that you can download hundreds of books to one device (E-Reader or Kindle) and have the books in your hands in a matter of minutes.  Writing and selling E-books is now one of the fastest growing businesses enterprises globally: the concept appeals to society’s expectation of instant gratification.

Looking at Amazon’s best-selling Kindle books of all time, there is a certain colour that dominates (I’m going all punny here) the list and it’s ahem…grey.  E.L. James’ series has taken out the first, second and fourth spots on the list.  I guess it makes sense reading these books on the kindle, much less conspicuous than taking a paperback on the train.  Not to make light of James’ success, the author has obviously hit (there it goes again) a chord with a huge amount of readers, but for the purposes of ease, I’ll group these books together.  The other E-Books making their way onto the list are modern classics. ebookFifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James

James’ series is hugely controversial and seems to attract criticism from a vast range of social groups: literary enthusiasts and writers despise the fact that it’s poorly written, feminists hate the weak lead female character, B&D fanatics criticise the way the sex is depicted and domestic abuse advocates protest the stalking, threats and manipulation in the books.  Despite all this, the series has outsold any other and has inspired a similarly panned movie.  Suggested theories for why the books have been incredibly popular are that due to the way the female character, Ana Steele, is written almost as a blank slate,  readers can project their own personalities onto her.  Regardless, this series is the first pornographic novel (soft or otherwise) to make it into mainstream bookshelves with such a following. Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favours with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge .  An action-packed thriller with a fantastic twist at the end. One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Commencing with the one hundred year old birthday of Allan Karlsson, he is facing a huge party that he didn’t want anyway.  Deciding to have no part in it, he decides to climb out of his window.  Thus begins a huge adventure involving criminals, murders, a suitcase of cash and police.  As the story unfolds, we learn about Allan’s earlier life which involved him helping to make the atom bomb, befriend American Presidents, Russian and Chinese Leaders and participate in many key events of 20th Century history.  A warm, feel-good read. of Pi by Yann Martel

After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, a female orang-utan – and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Since it was first published in 2002, Life of Pi has entered mainstream consciousness and remains one of the most extraordinary works of fiction in recent years. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. Published posthumously and going on to become an International Best Seller, this novel is evocative, incredibly well written and contains some great insights into the criminal mind.

What are the best books of all time?

If you’re going to write a blog about the best books of all time, you’re not going to satisfy everyone, right?  It’s also pretty important to separate out your personal favourites and get some perspective on how to calculate the ‘importance’ or significance of a book to a group of people.  The other considerations are, of course, how the perceived importance of a book might change over time – many books and other creative outputs have become of increased significance after their creator has passed away.  There are other things to bear in mind: Fiction/Non-Fiction?  So finding the best books of all time is a bit of a challenge.

Based on all of this, I decided that I needed a bit of help in order to put this list together.  A quick online search helped me discover a clever site called  This site feeds in 107 ‘Best of’ book lists from a range of trusted sources.  Then, an algorithm (smacks of legitimacy!) is used to calculate a list based on how many lists a book might appear on.  In the interests of fairness, I’ve decided to feature the top 3 books from both the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories.

So here it is…the most popular fiction book of all time is….

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.  

Was that on your list?  Nope, me neither.  The significance of this book is both its length (it is a novel in seven volumes) and also its theme of involuntary memory.  Involuntary memory is a subcomponent of your memory which means that everyday activities or ‘cues’ can evoke recollections of the past without actively trying to.  The novel has had a significant impact on 20th Century literature with many writers seeking to emulate it.  Edmund White said “[Proust] has supplied for the first time in literature an equivalent in the full scale for the new theory of modern physics.”

The second most popular fiction book is: by James Joyce

Now, I’m not going to claim to have read this book but I did start it like so many other people.  I did lug it around my Uni campus trying to look intelligent from time to time.  Finish it?  No, no I did not.  Ulysses was written between 1914 to 1921 and has survived  legal action and bitter controversy. An undisputed modernist classic, its verbal inventiveness and wide-ranging allusions confirm its standing as a monument to the human condition. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s poem ‘Odyssey’.  The novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel.  Its stream of consciousness technique, careful structuring and experimental prose make this book a testament to the Modernist movement. Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It is considered to be one of the most influential novels of the Spanish Golden Age.  It features Mr Alonso Quixano, a member of the Spanish nobility.  Alonso reads so many romance novels that he loses his sanity and sets out to revive chivalry and right wrongs, bringing justice to the world.  Using the name Don Quixote de la Mancha, he recruits a farmer as his squire.  The beauty of this novel is its use of humour and literary techniques of realism, metatheatre and intertextuality.  Again, this work is hugely influential and is referenced in the works of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’, amongst others.

The most popular Non-Fiction book is:

Essays by Michel de Montaigne

In 1572 Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure, reading and reflection. There he wrote his constantly expanding ‘essays’, inspired by the ideas he found in books from his library and his own experience. He discusses subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience. Above all, Montaigne studied himself to find his own inner nature and that of humanity. by St. Augustine

The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Saint Augustine spent his early years torn between conflicting faiths and world views. His Confessions , written when he was in his forties, recount how, slowly and painfully, he came to turn away from his youthful ideas and licentious lifestyle, to become instead a stanch advocate of Christianity and one of its most influential thinkers.

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

References to ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ abound in modern life.  Written in 1899 by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the book was first published in an edition of 600 copies which did not sell out for 8 years.  Later gaining in popularity, seven more editions were published in Freud’s lifetime.  The premise of the book is Freud’s theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation.  In it, he discusses what would later become the Oedipus complex.  Freud said of this work, “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”


To see what other books made the list, visit

How to write a great book review

Despite what is frequently thought, writing a great book review is more than merely summarising the book and its characters. When I was studying, I would stare at a blank page for hours before distracting myself with sharpening pencils, tidying my room or adding colourful sticky notes to my lecture notes. What I needed was a quick, step by step guide to writing a great book review. The Booko team has decided to do just that for you. You’re welcome!

1. First, read the book. Sounds obvious, but it is important to read the book knowing you are going to review it. Sometimes that means reading it more than once. If it’s a novel, you may read it first purely to enjoy the story, and then re-read it a second time with the intention of taking notes.

2. Think about the book within the context of its genre or topic and decide for yourself how it fits. Does it build on knowledge of the area or miss things out? If it is a history book make sure the main events are covered, if any are missed decide if it was on purpose to present a new angle, or a whopping great error on the author’s part.

3. Determine the major themes of the book. This can be tricky to articulate when on a deadline (if you have left the book review to the last minute) so here’s a top tip, something we were taught is to try to sum the book up in a single word and then slowly stretch it out by adding additional describing words until you have enough to form the basis of a summary sentence.

4. Consider the authors writing style and how well the author develops major storylines or characters within the book. If the book is a work of fiction, think about how plot structure is developed in the story. Take notes on the book’s character, plot, setting, symbols, mood or tone and how they relate to the overall theme of the book.

5. Decide if you think the book is unique in any way and assess how successful you think the book is. How did the author convey the overall purpose of the book and did you feel satisfied by the book’s ending? Finally, would you consider recommending this book to others?

The easiest way to tackle a book review is to genuinely have a love of reading and writing which ideally would be fostered from a young age.  Speaking of which, we have been approached to publish a book review by a certain young chap who follows this guide to a tee:

Harry Potter (book series)

Hi I’m Niko, Booko’s creator’s son I’m 7 years old, born in 2009 Australia and I’m writing about some of my favourite books.

Firstly Harry Potter’s 3 main characters are Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley.  One day they figure out they are witches and wizards so they are sent to Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Witches and wizard’s sport is Quidditch. Quidditch is a game on broomsticks.

The reason I like this book series is because it’s scary, exciting and magical. I’d recommend this book series for 5 + year olds.’s book review features a plot summary, what he likes about the book and what age of reader it is suited to.  It’s obvious that he loves reading (and writing).  One of our favourite books which is a great resource in fostering a love of writing is Jennifer Hallissy’s ‘The Write Start.’

This book is a treasure trove of smart ideas. Whether your child is a pre-writer who is just starting to practice grasping a pencil or crayon, or a beginner writer who is starting to string together letters, words, and sentences, this book offers information and activities that will help your child develop a love of letters. From sand writing and chalkboard play to memory games and letter-writing kits, this book includes fifty-two inventive activities and games to engage your child in the world of letters.

We have also collated and pinned some terrific activity sheets related to writing book reviews to our our Pinterest board. Follow the link here.

How to buy cheap books online

If you’re shopping for books or DVD’s online and want to snap up a bargain, searching through Booko is a great place to start. The best way to buy cheap books online is to search through Booko.

In its infancy, Booko was a web page with a series of small programs collecting prices and calculating delivery costs for a handful of online book shops, to find the cheapest supplier of books. The overarching objective was to find both new and second hand books online as cheaply as possible.  When shops which offered free shipping could be added, even better.

The Booko alert function is a useful tool that allows you to set the maximum price you would like to pay for an item. If you are purchasing in advance (such as textbooks or gifts), multiple alerts on books can be set up and be running while you wait for the price to drop.

Here’s how to set up an alert:

Go to the search box on the Booko homepage and type in the name of the book.

From here, you will be presented with a range of results.  These might be different books or the same book with different cover art etc.  From here, click on the version you would like.  The page you are taken to looks a little bit like this:

Underneath the book cover art (the image of the book), there are two options: Add an alert or Add to a list. Choose ‘Add an alert’.

How to buy cheap books online - Booko's Blog

A box will appear which shows the current best price. You can delete this and instead type in your preferred price. After that, add your email address and click “Add”.

No one wants to miss out on a sale. Booko checks the prices of up to 60 online bookstores globally on a daily basis and will email you when the price drops below your specified price. I’ve already set up alerts for books I want to purchase as Christmas gifts for family members. If you are planning on setting up multiple alerts, it makes sense to set up an account to manage them.

How to buy cheap books online - Booko's Blog

To do this, simply choose the ‘Register‘ option in the footer.  You can complete the form or choose to log in using one of your existing social media sites.

So that’s it: If you are wanting to take advantage of price reductions on books (either new or second hand), getting organised by setting up price alerts makes for smarter shopping!