All posts by Karen Seligman

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a newly-qualified librarian working in a public library. As a book- and library-lover from way back, she finds nothing better than being surrounded by books and other library-lovers! Karen’s past lives as a law graduate, corporate warrior and research scientist continue to inform her wide-ranging tastes in reading material, with her favourite genres including historical fiction, fantasy, food writing and popular science.

The Savvy Shopper’s Christmas Guide

Online shopping is a real blessing when you have family and friends scattered around the world – not only can you shop at your leisure, but the parcels can be sent directly to the recipients (giftwrapped if required), without a mad scramble to find packing materials and a trip to the post office.  But not all of your favourite stores will ship overseas that way – so how to find one that does? This is where Booko can help.  Booko can help you work out the best prices for books, eBooks, DVDs and games for delivery in 17 different countries – here’s how:

• When you visit the Booko website at www.booko.com.au, the region is set to Australia. This is indicated by the Aussie flag in the top-right corner of the webpage:
• Click on the flag and it will reveal all the countries/regions available – which includes Japan, China, Spain as well as NZ, US and the UK..
• Click on the flag for the destination country you require. The new flag is now displayed in the top corner. Now search for your preferred book / eBook / DVD as usual, and Booko will calculate and rank prices based on shipping to your new destination country.

So easy!

Here are a few book and DVD goodies that I’m earmarking for friends overseas…

Kedi [DVD]

Kedi proves that, yes, everyone loves watching cat videos.  This feel-good success of 2017 is a documentary about the street cats of Istanbul – they have been an inextricable part of the cityscape since first arriving in trading ships centuries ago. They are free to roam and are often fed and cared for by their human neighbours. Kedi focusses on seven cats with different personalities and stories full of humour and drama.  The camerawork offers a cats-eye view of beautiful chaotic Istanbul and encourages us to reflect upon our notions of community, of progress, and of the relationship between animals and people.

 

A Die Hard Christmas by Doogie Horner

Die Hard is widely regarded as one of the Best Christmas Movies ever – and now comedian Doogie Horner has amped up the festive feel and made the Die Hard story fun for the whole family! A Die Hard Christmas is a beautifully illustrated picture book set to the rhythms of Twas the Night Before Christmas.  The violence has been toned down but is still present – so best to share with older kids – that is, if you can prise it from the fingers of the grownups!

 

Twilight Zone – The Original Series Season 1 [DVD – NTSC Region 0]

The Christmas Break is perfect for binge-watching, with many DVD sets released in time for the gifting season.  This Twilight Zone Season 1 box set allows you to revisit this classic series that has remained fresh, relevant and chilling for over 55 years.  Its mixing of science-fiction, fantasy and horror themes, its famous twist endings and use of speculative fiction as a vehicle for social and political commentary is groundbreaking and has influenced generations of Creatives.  This is a 6-disc set offering all 36 episodes of Season 1.

 

 

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Already a bestseller beloved for its authentic voices and gripping story, Wonder has now become a major film starring Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay.  10 year-old Auggie has facial deformities that make him look different, but he loves Minecraft, Star Wars, and ice cream just like any other kid.  Auggie had been home-schooled, but he and his parents decide that he is now ready to re-join the wider world. Wonder tells the story of Auggie’s first year at school; it shines through its cast of complex characters and its deft handling of sentimentality.  A fabulous conversation-starter about empathy, differences and bullying.

Creating your own traditions for the festive season

How do you like to celebrate Christmas?  Christmas is a time when we find comfort and joy in performing familiar rituals with familiar people. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make new traditions, and indeed many have – by creating something to share with your own children or your tribe of friends, or by adopting something you’ve loved in your travels.  If you’re ready to put your own special touch on your Christmas celebrations, we’re here to help – we’ve gathered some great resources to help you make your Christmas more imaginative, creative, sustainable and authentic:

Christmas: a Biography by Judith Flanders

Social historian Judith Flanders investigates the history of Christmas in this extensive and entertaining biography.  She turns up some surprising tidbits – Christmas has long been more about merriment and feasting than about religion (even in the fourth century, Church Fathers were lamenting that people were forgetting the “true meaning of Christmas”); that the commercialisation of Christmas is not a recent problem, and that Santa was dressed in red even before the iconic Coca Cola advertisements.  The evolution of Christmas meanders from Europe towards Turkey (where the real Santa Claus supposedly lived) and even to Japan, where Judith Flanders discovers that Christmas Eve is seen as a romantic time, like Valentine’s Day, to be celebrated by couples. The wealth of detail in Christmas: a Biography is perfect for putting you in the festive mood.

Green Christmas: how to have a Joyous, Eco-friendly Holiday Season by Jennifer Basye Sander and Peter Sander with Anna Basye

“Give more, consume less” is the mantra that will help you achieve a more eco-conscious Christmas without skimping on the love and fun – it will make Christmas cheaper and less stressful too.  Green Christmas shows us how the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle ideas can work at Christmas time – a time typically associated with conspicuous consumption.  It’s packed with tips on reducing our environmental impact, from using recycled materials to make cards and gifts, choosing between a live or an artificial tree, to creating eco-responsible lighting displays. It also reminds us that even simple actions such as carpooling and swapping outfits with friends can reduce our use of limited natural resources.

 

Maggie’s Christmas by Maggie Beer

As a former northern-hemispherian who has fully embraced summery Christmases, I think the Old World can learn a thing or two from the New.  One of these is our approach to festive food – lighter dishes, emphasis on seafood, a relaxed and informal attitude to entertaining, and a willingness to incorporate new flavours.  Let Maggie Beer be your trusted guide in introducing new ideas to your Christmas menu.  Whether you’re after a twist on classics, such as roast turkey with prune and orange stuffing, or passionfruit and banana pavlova; or crowd pleasers such as gourmet pizza, pan-fried squid or espresso jellies, you’ll find recipes that will make your next season’s entertaining more memorable than ever.

 

The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories and Essential Recipes for Midwinter by Nigel Slater

Nigel Slater is one of my favourite authors, and this is my early Christmas present to myself.  Like his Kitchen Diaries series, the Christmas Chronicles is a journal studded with seasonal recipes – and also Nigel Slater’s love-letter to winter.  Spanning the days from November 1 to February 2, The Christmas Chronicles waxes lyrical about anything and everything wintry, from hot toddies to pantomimes to choosing Christmas trees to winter travels in Norway and Japan.  Nigel Slater’s quiet but evocative writing takes the reader straight to a cosy room with a crackling fire, book in one hand and hot drink in the other, while outside the landscape is silenced by falling snow.  The Christmas Chronicles is not just an absorbing read, but also the ultimate journalling inspiration.

 

 

Big Book of Christmas Things to Make and Do by Fiona Watt
The LEGO Christmas Ornaments Book by Chris McVeigh

One of the best ways to get kids involved and busy at Christmas is through making decorations – there’s nothing more personal than decorating with items made by your kids or yourself, and even the wonkier pieces are sure to bring back fond memories in years to come.  The Big Book of Christmas Things to Make and Do offers lots of ideas in a range of crafts including Christmas decorations, cards, wrapping paper, toys and baking.  Projects are illustrated with stepwise instructions.  For those who don’t fancy paper crafts, how about making decorations from LEGO?  The LEGO Christmas Ornaments Book offers detailed instructions on fifteen impressive projects, from traditional styles such as snowflake to more lighthearted ones such as a hamburger!

 

Ugly Christmas Sweater Party: Christmas Crafts, Recipes and Activities by Brandy and Matt Shay

When did ugly Christmas sweaters come back as a thing? Add some silliness to the festive season by throwing your own Ugly Christmas Sweater party.  It’s a good opportunity to hang out with friends, dress up and have lots of laughs.  You can also use this opportunity to help those less fortunate, by raising funds for charities such as Save the Children. Marketing experts Matt and Brandy Shay have done all the hard work for party-throwers by compiling this manual – suggestions for outfits (including for your pets!), decorations, food, drinks and games are all included.

Books to get you thinking this Christmas

As we hurtle towards December, a few things brighten our days – anticipation for Christmas (the food! The long holiday! The time to read!) and also the wave after wave of new release books, ready for gifting or to add to our own wish lists. Team Booko’s currently in a cerebral mood, so here are our top picks for books that inspire and challenge us to think:

Garden of the Lost and Abandoned: the Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Woman and the Children She Saves by Jessica Yu

This biography of Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibbala shows human nature at its most selfless and inspiring. Gladys writes a newspaper column in Kampala called “Lost and Abandoned”, where she profiles homeless children in the hope of reuniting them with their families. Her conviction about giving these children a chance to thrive leads her to set up a farm for them to stay in.  Garden of the Lost and Abandoned offers an absorbing portrait of a charismatic, determined and energetic woman.  Jessica Yu’s background as an award-winning filmmaker shows in her use of vivid dialogue, local colour and a dramatic narrative with plenty of highs and lows.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano

Comics / graphic novels are not just about superheroes, and Illegal highlights how it can be a powerful tool for discussing complex issues.  Twelve-year-old Ebo is all alone – his sister and brother have both disappeared, escaping their African homeland for the safety of Europe. Hoping to reunite with his sister, Ebo also sets out on this long and perilous journey, crossing the Sahara Desert before sailing across the treacherous sea. Throughout his ordeal, Ebo never loses hope of reaching his sister, or of finding a place where he can grow up in peace and safety. Illegal is a gripping story and an excellent way to help children understand the refugee crisis. For ages 9 and up.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with Why is the basis of the third most-watched TED Talk ever (34 million views and counting).  The name “Start with Why” refers to a common trait in the most successful leaders and organisations – they are very clear about why they do what they do.  Focussing on the Why – rather than the How or the What – engages people’s emotions and motivates them to act.  When the Why (i.e. mission) of a company is unclear, it leads to poor decision-making that loses sight of longer-term success.  Simon Sinek is an anthropologist who has turned his analytical gaze towards what makes leadership and management effective.  The simple yet powerful messages in Start with Why inspire us to find our Whys and act upon them.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

This follow-up of sorts to the bestselling Lean In  is one nobody would have wanted, or expected Sheryl Sandberg to write – it’s the story of how she clawed her way back from profound grief following the recent, unexpected and public death of her husband. Feeling lost and disoriented, Sheryl Sandberg turned to Adam Grant, a friend and psychologist, whose professional insights became her framework for how to survive through, and overcome, this bleak time.  Option B is part memoir, part social science and part self-help manual; Sheryl Sandberg’s openness, honesty and her fighting spirit make it both a very moving and a very helpful book.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

The latest Stephen King novel sees him collaborating with his son Owen (also a published author).  Their take on Sleeping Beauty imagines a viral pandemic that makes women fall asleep and grow cocoons around themselves; disturb the cocoons, and the women awake as vicious zombies. In their dream-state, women enter a better, happier alternative-world; meanwhile, the loss of an entire sex creates chaos in the real world.  Is Sleeping Beauties straight horror, a twisted fairytale, or a fable? Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale may spot its dystopian themes. Read into this what you will.

Hiddensee: a Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire

Having put his unique spin on childhood favourites (including Mirror, Mirror and the fabulous Wicked, Gregory Maguire turns his eye to the quintessential Christmas story – The Nutcracker. Hiddensee tells the life story of Drosselmeier, the elderly toymaker who made the nutcracker given to his goddaughter Klara. Drosselmeier was a foundling who, despite a miserable upbringing, retained his innocence and his ability to love and care. Hiddensee is another showcase for Gregory Maguire’s gift for giving emotional depth and a rich, surprising backstory to characters that we thought we knew well.  Pre-order now ahead of its release on October 31.

Books to help you get your act together

Last week we offered some ideas on how to spring clean and declutter your belongings; this week we turn inward to look at how we can declutter our minds.  Do you ever feel exhausted just thinking about change?
It’s easy to procrastinate when we feel anxious about the amount of disruption and effort we’ll need to make lasting change. Decluttering our minds means letting go of these preconceived ideas and anxieties, which can then help us welcome in fresh thinking and opportunities.  These authors are here to guide you towards greater clarity, focus and calm:

 

Declutter Your Mind by S J Scott and Barrie Davenport

Do you feel overwhelmed easily? As if your mind is spinning from too many thoughts?  Do you find it hard to get motivated? Or feel there is too much negativity around you? If you answered YES to any of these then you may be experiencing mind clutter.  Mind clutter gives rise to anxiety, stress and frustrations – issues that can only be solved by changing mindsets and behaviours. S J Scott and Barrie Davenport show how to use mindfulness techniques to declutter our thoughts, obligations, relationships and surroundings.  Declutter Your Mind is concise and readable, packed with ideas and advice.

 

 

Unstuffed: Declutter your Home, Mind and Soul by Ruth Soukup

Unstuffed helps with spring-cleaning of both our physical and mental spaces. Following Ruth Soukup’s bestseller Living Well, Spending Less, Unstuffed continues to help us reduce those cravings for more of everything – possessions, relationships, responsibilities. She encourages us to think deeply, identify our most important values and prioritise accordingly, shedding unimportant stuff in the process. She also advises on how to deal with the guilt associated with letting go! For those interested in faith and spirituality, there is also a unique section on decluttering your spirit. Unstuffed comes with an app that offers further tips and support on this decluttering journey.

 

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

Sarah Knight penned this irreverent but heartfelt anti-self help guide when she realised her perfectionist “good girl” tendencies were the cause of her constant stress and anxiety. So she learned to give fewer f**ks – to feel OK about not being perfect, to say yes only to things she cared about. The result is letting go of everything except the things that actually matter.  With a decluttered mind and fresh focus, Sarah Knight then takes us to the next level in Get Your Sh!t Together, which shows how to “win at life” – start prioritising and doing the things you actually want to do, while still managing all the sh*t you have to do.

 

Let it Out: a Journey through Journaling by Katie Dalebout

Journaling can be as simple as jotting down a To-Do List, or as complex as expressing your innermost feelings.  In either case, it is a powerful way of relieving a load from your mind. Let it Out is both an inspirational story and a how-to guide to Journaling.  Katie Dalebout has been journaling since her teens, discovering that her writing can be a plan, a review, therapy as well as life coach.  She credits journaling in helping her to recover from an eating disorder.  After sharing her life story in the Introduction, Katie sets out a range of journaling topics / exercises to suit different moods and purposes.  Katie’s young age and experiences make this a great book to share with the teens / young adults in your life.

 

Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

When Bill Gates writes a detailed (glowing) review of a book then you know it deserves attention.  Carol Dweck is a psychology professor who popularised the idea of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. A fixed mindset assumes ability is innate and thus success is largely predetermined; while a growth mindset believes that ability is the result of effort and persistence, and thus can be attained by anyone.  A growth mindset makes us more resilient and helps us maximise our potential.  I’ve included Mindset here as inspiration of what can be achieved when our minds are unburdened by anxieties, bad habits and negative self-talk, which tend to contribute to a fixed mindset.

 

Smiling Mind

S J Scott advocated mindfulness in Declutter your Mind, but, if you’re like me, you might prefer to learn mindfulness while listening – this is where Smiling Mind comes in.  Smiling Mind is a non-profit organisation aimed at making mindfulness techniques accessible to all ages.    They have two excellent free apps (one for smart phones and a web-based app for computers) co-developed with psychologists and health professionals.   These apps offer something for everyone – there are guided practices of different lengths, separately aimed at kids, teens as well as adults.  My local school uses Smiling Mind in the classroom and I know many parents who use it in their children’s bedtime routines. The Smiling Mind website also offers tips on how to use mindfulness meditation at schools or in the workplace.

The Books that are the Playlist of my Life

Sometimes, the books you read, and the authors you love, are like staging posts, reflecting particular stages and events in your life; you grow from the experience and move on.  Sometimes, what you crave is a life partner – someone whose books engage and resonate with you year after year, come what may.  While most authors excel at writing in a specific genre or for a particular age group, there are many who write more broadly and are potential “life partners”.  Here are three popular authors who write across genres and age groups… do you have more you can recommend?

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is best known for his children’s stories – including his acclaimed and very entertaining autobiography Boy – but his adult fiction is also incredible.  He is a master of the short story, able to evoke a vivid scenario, then throw in a gasp-inducing twist, all within a handful of pages.  Where Roald Dahl’s twisted humour makes his children’s stories fantastical, it turns his adult stories hyper-real, emphasising the sinister, nasty side of human nature.  A celebrated example is The Champion of the World, a short story about pheasant poaching contained in his compilation Kiss Kiss; its twistedness was then transformed into Danny the Champion of the World, an altogether more whimsical story about the father-son bond and beating the establishment (and pheasant poaching!).

Kaz Cooke

Kaz Cooke is a fearless, frank and funny feminist – the sort of person you wish were your cool best friend, or fun auntie. Kaz works as a cartoonist, journalist, and agony aunt – and she has used these skills to create a range of advice books for women and children. From pregnancy (Up the Duff) to puberty (Girl Stuff) and women’s health (Women’s Stuff), Kaz has pretty much every life stage covered. What I love about these books is their excellent balance between irreverence and information – they are funny and easy to read, yet meticulously researched. Kaz also champions a body-positive message that helps readers block out the BS and learn to love and trust themselves and be more confident.

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot is best known for The Princess Diaries, which amply showcases her chatty style and deft balancing of comedy, romance and sweet earnestness. Through a series of fifteen books, we see Mia come of age, from a gawky teenager to a confident princess, developing her own personality while honouring duty, and juggling the demands of family, friendship and romance.  Meg Cabot has extended this series up into Chick Lit territory with Royal Wedding, where an adult Mia prepares to get married (but not before lots of drama!); and also down into junior fiction, with the spin-off Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.  Not content with one hugely successful series, Meg Cabot has also written in other genres, including series of paranormal romance, and murder mysteries.

Escape to Everywhere

Australia punches well above its weight when it comes to children’s literature – so it is particularly fitting that we devote an entire week to celebrating this each year. This year’s CBCA Book Week theme is “Escape to Everywhere”, which perfectly describes what great writing means to me: whether it takes you to a fantasy land within your mind, or offers a glimpse of life elsewhere on Earth – a great book stretches your imagination and broadens your horizons.  Drumroll please for this year’s winners…

Book of the Year: Older Readers

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

Claire Zorn is a YA force to be reckoned with – all three of her novels are award-winners, including two CBCA Book of the Year awards (The Protected won in 2015).  One Would Think the Deep is about Sam, whose mum dies suddenly, shockingly, in his arms.  Having no options, he moves to the coast to live with his estranged aunt and cousins.  In this new environment, he struggles to process his grief, shock and anger – but also finds some solace in the surf.  One Would Think the Deep is almost painful to read, but Claire Zorn’s complex characterisation and raw, visceral portrayal of grief draws you in and doesn’t let go.

Book of the Year: Younger Readers

Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Trace Balla is another rising star, with both Rockhopping and its prequel, Rivertime, winning major awards. Having travelled down the Glenelg river together in Rivertime, Uncle Egg has finally agreed to take Clancy hiking to the Glenelg’s source in Gariwerd (the Grampians). During their five days in the wilderness, they see lots of flora and fauna, meet other hikers, have some scary moments – and Clancy grows up a little.  Trace Balla shows her love of nature through her incredibly detailed illustrations; she also conveys some beautiful messages about slowing down, living in the moment and respecting indigenous culture.

Book of the Year: Early Childhood

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley

Inspired by life in Tennant Creek, Go Home, Cheeky Animals! is a great book for reading aloud (loudly!), with lots of opportunities for audience participation.  There are too many cheeky dogs in Canteen Creek, but when the weather changes and more cheeky animals arrive, chaos begins! The lively rhythm of the text and child-like illustrations combine to present a hilarious and riotous scenario that will appeal to both school-aged and younger children.

Picture Book of the Year

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham

“Delightful” and “heartwarming” are no exaggeration when it comes to Bob Graham’s books – he is an expert at showing the humour and joy in the minutiae of life.  Home in the Rain starts with a little red car stuck in traffic – Francie, her mum and her baby sister (warmly tucked inside Mummy’s tum)  face a long drive on a rain-sodden day. From such an ordinary premise, Bob Graham has crafted a tender story that makes your heart glow. Home in the Rain is his eighth CBCA win – and a compelling example of why Bob Graham is one of our most beloved and awarded authors.

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks by Gina M. Newton

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks showcases more than 120 animals from 55 National Parks around Australia – from our national icons, through birds, to fish and insects. The book is divided into seven sections, each exploring a different habitat; thus offering additional insights into geography and ecology.  Gina M. Newton and NLA Publishing have done a terrific job in making a wealth of information accessible rather than overwhelming, using a range of colour coding, charts, maps and photos. Perfect for browsing as well as for reference.

The Crichton Award for New Illustrators

The Patchwork Bike by Van T. Rudd (text by Maxine Beneba Clarke)

A streetwise gang of children build a patchwork bike using what they can find – branches for handlebars, a flour sack for a flag. This exuberant story highlights the joy of making your own fun using creativity and imagination. The setting is hugely different from suburban Australia, emphasising how play is universally valued by kids, whatever their circumstances.  The street-art style of Van T Rudd perfectly matches the rhythmic text of slam-poet Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Unravelling the climate change debate

11 years ago, Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth burst into our consciousness, raising climate change awareness everywhere, promising to be the tipping point towards greater environmental protection.  Fast forward to today, and what seemed like a simple scientific observation has morphed into a bitter political dispute that stifles action.  As the issues surrounding climate change become more complex and emotive, how do we separate the facts from the manipulation?  These books can help you analyse, unravel and understand the complexities of climate change:

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power by Al Gore

An Inconvenient Sequel is a timely update, released 11 years after the influential An Inconvenient Truth.  In these intervening years, a string of extreme weather events – Hurricane Sandy, heat waves, melting polar ice – have caused huge damage, while action has stalled as climate change becomes mired in political controversy.  Hot off the press, An Inconvenient Sequel focusses on possible solutions, particularly around the use of clean energy, and also reflects on the consequences of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm

If you want a concise, readable introduction to the issues and consequences of climate change, then this book is for you.  Writing in a Q&A style, Joseph Romm, a physicist and former US Energy Department official, explores key points including basic theory, projected impacts, politics and policies, and possible solutions.  A particularly powerful section explores how climate change will impact everyday decisions for ordinary people, including where to retire, what to study, how to invest, and necessary changes to our diet.

 

 

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

Eyes Wide Open aims to help teens critically assess the issues and arguments surrounding environmentalism.  Paul Fleischman draws on history, psychology, sociology and economics to explain the origins of key environmental issues including population, energy and climate.  He also tries to explain why different reactions to these issues exist.  A particularly useful feature is its guide on “How to Weigh Information”.  Eyes Wide Open is valuable for readers of any age who want to cut through emotive writing, and develop their own informed views.

Don’t Even Think About it: Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall

Most people accept that climate change is real, yet do nothing to stop it.  Don’t Even Think About It suggests that this has an evolutionary origin – human brains are hard-wired to prioritise immediate dangers over future dangers; and they tend to interpret new knowledge through existing frameworks, increasing the likelihood of confirmation bias.  George Marshall interviewed psychologists, evangelicals, activists and conservative politicians in this entertaining yet thought-provoking study on the psychology behind the climate change debate.

On a Farther Shore: the Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder

The effect of pesticides on wildlife may seem unrelated to climate change, but our current awareness of the environment is arguably influenced by Rachel Carson’s work. Her seminal book, Silent Spring, inspired the modern environmental movement, and influenced legislative changes and the founding of the EPA.  Rachel Carson was a skilled nature writer who combined lyrical prose with extensive research to make science understandable and compelling.  On a Farther Shore is an engrossing biography that places Rachel Carson’s life and work within the context of the politics and culture of the mid-20th Century.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

If you don’t normally read non-fiction, there is a growing list of novels to help you visualise the world post-climate change.  The latest novel from SciFi master Kim Stanley Robinson imagines life in New York in 2140 – a sort of “ Super Venice” partially-submerged due to climate change. New York 2140 creates a vivid world packed with details of economics, politics, and the minutiae of life; it is not grim, but offers a critique of capitalism’s role in climate change.

Big Ideas for Little People (or, Quick Reads for Adults)

Abridged or simplified books have been around for a long time, often associated with literary classics, and aimed at English learners. More recently, the idea has expanded to include a wider range of bestselling titles. Often called Young Readers Editions, they aim to simplify the vocabulary without sacrificing the drama and interest of the original. Booko is a big fan of Young Readers Editions, not only because they help us share our favourite reads with children, but also because they offer quick but meaningful reading at times when we can’t commit to denser, longer books! Here’s a selection of our favourites:

Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, a group of African-American women made significant contributions towards the American space effort. Their story was little-known until Hidden Figures – both the book and the film – achieved great commercial success. Despite the racial- and gender prejudices prevalent at the time, these women – including Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn – were valued for their mathematical and engineering talents, a culture leading to NASA’s pioneering efforts in desegregation. Young Readers will find Hidden Figures gripping and inspirational, as well as thought-provoking in its reflections on race, gender and equality.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls broke records as the most-funded original book in crowdfunding history, and has since become a bestseller in 30 languages. Challenging gender stereotypes, Good Night Stories profiles 100 women – scientists, athletes, politicians – who have contributed to public life. It further celebrates women by highlighting the work of the two authors and 60 illustrators, who produced this striking and colourful volume. Written in the style of fairytales, Good Night Stories is not just for bedtime or for girls – it is inspirational for all children. Adult readers can also enjoy it as a sampler offering ideas for further reading. Volume 2 is already in the pipeline.

Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers Edition by Saroo Brierley

Recently I nominated Lion: A Long Way Home as one of Booko’s Favourite Biographies  and I can’t resist mentioning it again. Saroo Brierley’s story of how he rediscovers his birth family – based on dim recollections of landmarks half a world away – sounds fantastical until you remember it is true. Young readers are sure to be drawn to little Saroo, who was only five when he was lost on a train in India. In a strange place, with no money and no language, he had to avoid a lot of danger until he started a new life with adoptive parents in Australia. Saroo’s story of survival is full of drama and emotion, and is a celebration of hope, perseverance and the benefits of technology.

 

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Young Readers Edition by Ashlee Vance

Inventor, entrepreneur, maverick: Elon Musk is synonymous with a string of successful tech companies, including Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX. He has a no-limits approach to problem solving – taking huge risks and starting from scratch where necessary, willing to tackle the biggest problems, with an attitude that seems to merge sci-fi and science. Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future draws connections between Musk and Iron Man – Robert Downey Jnr reputedly based his portrayal of the superhero on Musk – a comparison that is surprisingly apt for this flamboyant character. The life story of an intelligent, ambitious boy who rose above a difficult childhood (including brutal bullying) to enormous success is sure to inspire any science- and tech-minded young readers.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan

Young Readers Editions are not exclusively about inspirational biographies – many make topical issues accessible to all ages. Published soon after Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (which has its own Young Readers Edition ), The Omnivore’s Dilemma reveals the social and environmental consequences of food production. The Omnivore’s Dilemma helps us understand the interconnections between sustainability, ethics and public health, as we grow increasingly aware of the wider consequences of our food choices. Facts have been updated in this 10th Anniversary reissue, which also includes a new Preface and Afterword.

 

Awesome by Pete Johnson

Young readers who find reading a little challenging may enjoy “Hi-Lo” books. They are stories that have HI-interest (themes that appeal to older children or teens) but with LO-vocabularly – meaning that older, reluctant / struggling readers are not stuck with books aimed at young kids. Many Hi-Lo titles are by popular and well-known authors, and have additional accessible features including dyslexia-friendly fonts and layouts. Awesome is a comedy about Ben, who is mistaken for a TV star at his new school – you can imagine the mayhem this causes! Awesome is aimed at teen readers and has been edited to a reading age of 7.

Need a hobby? Books that help us learn something new

It’s midway through the year, and Team Booko is checking out new hobbies to try, as we prepare for more indoor-time during the winter months.  But hobbies are not limited to the winter – and as summer holidays beckon to our Northern Hemisphere friends, perhaps you are looking for new pastimes as well?  To spare you the hard work, we’ve rounded up six hobbies that are fun, creative and rewarding (and even delicious!)

The Home Distilling and Infusing Handbook (Second edition) by Matt Teacher

The popularity of boutique beers and spirits – think craft gin, infused vodka and spiced rum – really encourages us to embrace variety and experimentation, as we discover tastes that we truly love. In The Home Distilling and Infusing Handbook, Matt Teacher shows us how easy it is to create uniquely flavoured spirits even without special equipment.  Try one of the included recipes, such as horseradish vodka or cucumber gin, or learn how to combine fruit, herbs and spices to impart flavours to alcoholic bases such as gin, vodka, bourbon and tequila.  And for the more adventurous, Matt Teacher also shows how to blend whiskeys and bourbons.

The Smart Phone Photography Guide by Peter Cope

Smartphone cameras have transformed the way we record our lives – but do you know that, not only are they convenient, many also rival “proper” digital cameras in terms of quality and features? The Smart Phone Photography Guide aims to help users take, create, manipulate and share images and video taken with smartphones and tablets.  Packed with “Pro tips”, explanations and “Try this” exercises, Peter Cope will improve your photography skills in no time.  Make your memories even more beautiful by realising the full potential of your phone camera – whether they are small-but-precious moments, stunning holiday vistas or artistic compositions.

Sewing in a Straight Line by Brett Bara

Sewing in a Straight Line is the most morale-boosting and innovative sewing book ever!  Brett Bara has devised a whole range of projects – from accessories to homewares to chic skirts, tops and even dresses – that only require sewing in straight lines.  With the help of some stylish fabrics, anyone can achieve results that look way more impressive than the effort required.  I love this book because normally, clothes have complex construction and require at least intermediate skills to make; instead, Sewing in a Straight Line has shown us how even total beginners can quickly learn to make attractive pieces that they would be proud to wear or use.

Making Pottery You Can Use by Jacqui Atkin

There is something very satisfying about making objects you can use everyday – and Jacqui Atkin’s new book can help you do just that. Making Pottery You Can Use bring some super-useful advice to our rediscovered love of handmade ceramics.  Not only can we enjoy the tactile lushness of shaping wet clay, now we can also turn our creations into functional objects – pieces that stack well, with lids that fit and handles that stay on.  The combination of clear, beautiful photos and succinct but informative text makes Making Pottery You Can Use a valuable reference for beginners through to professional ceramicists.

Ferment for Good: Ancient Foods for the Modern Gut by Sharon Flynn

Our interest in fermented foods shows no signs of abating – not only do we enjoy the amazing flavours of foods such as kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut, we also appreciate how they can improve our gut health; while others are also keen to perpetuate this ancient skill.  Sharon Flynn is a former English teacher whose interest in fermentation grew from a hobby into a successful business.  In Ferment for Good, she shares her deep knowledge through recipes, anecdotes and tips.  With recipes ranging from kombucha to pickles to miso to relishes, Ferment for Good is a friendly and informative overview for anyone who wants to try fermenting their own foods.

Ikeahackers.net: 25 Biggest and Best Projects by Jules Yap

When Jules Yap started the ikeahackers blog in 2006, she simply wanted to create a place to showcase IKEA Hacks – the repurposing or modifications of IKEA products.  Little did she know that it would grow into a thriving community of DIY enthusiasts who enjoy personalising their IKEA pieces, sharing their skills and ideas in the process.  Now the essence of Ikea Hacking has been revealed in a book.  Ikeahackers.net: 25 Biggest and Best Projects offers step-by-step instructions on how to transform common IKEA items into stylish, functional and unique objects.    Fancy embellished drawers, or a coffee table made from magazine holders? The options are only limited by your creativity and skill.  Pre-order for a July release.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – Booko’s favourite biographies

Who needs fiction when you have biographies? Biographies can make you laugh or cry; they can offer comfort or inspiration – and sometimes all of these at once!  Whether the subjects are famous or ordinary, these stories offer insight into remarkable lives and extraordinary experiences.  Here is a selection of biographies to suit every taste:

Unmasked by Turia Pitt and Bryce Corbett

Turia Pitt was running an ultramarathon in outback Australia when she was caught in a bushfire. This accident seemed set to destroy her successful life as a mining engineer and a model – Turia barely survived her injuries, which included extensive, disfiguring burns.  With fierce determination, great courage, and the support of loving parents and a partner, Turia is not only on the road to recovery, but is achieving ever more impressive feats as a motivational speaker and endurance athlete.  Unmasked describes this new chapter in Turia’s life – how love and determination has helped her recover and thrive, and how we can all apply similar lessons in our own lives.

Lion: a Long Way Home (Young Readers Edition) by Saroo Brierley

Saroo Brierley’s remarkable story has wowed both readers and cinema-goers – in fact, Lion became one of the Highest Grossing Australian Films of All Time only a month after its release . Now children can experience the story all by themselves with this Young Readers’ edition.  Little Saroo was lost on a train in India when he was only five years old.  Far from home, with no money and no language, he had to avoid a lot of danger just to survive.  Eventually he found safety and a new life with adoptive parents in Australia.  While he loves his new parents, he never forgot his earlier life.  His search for his birth family is a fantastic, almost fairy-tale like story about hope, perseverance and technology.

More About Boy: Roald Dahl’s Tales from Childhood by Roald Dahl

Many readers love biographies because they are inspiring – stories like Unmasked and Lion describe triumphs over incredible challenges.  However, biographies can also be entertaining and fun.  More About Boy is an expanded edition of Boy, Roald Dahl’s celebrated autobiography of his childhood.   The drama and naughty humour in the original stories – including Quentin Blake’s illustrations – are still there, and have been enriched with archival material including photos, letters, and previously unpublished stories.  The result is not only very readable, but it also gives better insight into Roald Dahl as a writer.  For Roald Dahl fans of all ages!

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

Born on a Blue Day is special because it is a first-hand account of autism.  Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant – while his ability in abstract thinking and social interactions are impaired, he has genius-level abilities in mathematics and languages.  Daniel’s combination of autistic behaviours and language expertise is particularly rare – it makes Born on a Blue Day an incredibly articulate, often lyrical, and very informative description of what it’s like to live with autism. Born on a Blue Day charts Daniel’s life from a withdrawn, often frustrating childhood to eventual success in adulthood, gaining financial independence with his own business, sustaining a long-term romantic relationship and achieving fame as a real-life “Rain Man”.

In Order to Live: a North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park

North Korea is regularly in the media spotlight but little is known about this closed and secretive country.  For most of us, the only information we can get is through biographies.  Yeonmi Park joins a group of North Korean defectors who have used their life stories to publicise the plight of North Koreans.  As a child, Yeonmi lived a relatively wealthy life until her father was arrested for smuggling.  This fall from grace made the Park family’s lives increasingly dangerous and, once Yeonmi’s father was released from prison, the family attempted to escape to China.  Yeonmi and her mother endured rape and human trafficking in their long and perilous journey, having to trek across China into Mongolia, before missionaries could take them to safety in South Korea.

Dear Quentin: Letters of a Governor General by Quentin Bryce

Dear Quentin is not a biography per se but it does offer fascinating glimpses into the life of Dame Quentin Bryce and into the role of Australian Governor-General.  During her tenure (2008-2014), Quentin Bryce travelled extensively, both across Australia and internationally.  She also wrote prolifically – upwards of 50 letters a week, to people of eminence as well as ordinary citizens.  Dear Quentin is a collection of those letters, both written to and by her. The correspondence shows a warm, intelligent, articulate person meeting her demanding job with humour and dedication. Dear Quentin also celebrates the art of letter-writing, and the delight we feel when we receive one (even if we are too lazy to write them ourselves!) Royalties to this book will go towards research into child health.