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.

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.

On writers and publishing

Most of us booklovers have probably dreamt of writing our own masterpieces someday.  That dream may be more achievable than you think – the internet has given us more opportunities to get our work noticed, both in terms of helping us connect with potential mentors, buddies and audiences, and also in terms of self-publishing (physical books, eBooks and online).  Here’s some inspiration, information and motivation to finally get started on “that book you have in you”.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Did you know that this acclaimed novel of a woman’s battling early-onset Alzheimer’s disease was originally self-published?  After receiving no interest from traditional publishers and literary agents, Lisa Genova chose to self-publish, then set about engaging with potential readers through social media.  Her persistence was rewarded with internet buzz and solid sales, and eventually led to an offer from a major publisher.  E.L. James’ 50 Shades trilogy is another famous and successful example of a book that was self-published before gaining attention from traditional publishers.

How to Make a Living with Your Writing by Joanna Penn

This is the manual for Living the Dream – how to support yourself as a full-time writer.  Joanna Penn is an author, speaker, marketer and publisher who has developed a growing business – and a six-figure income – out of her creative output.  In How to Make a Living with Your Writing, she uses her own experience to show how to make money from books, and also how to capitalise on your creativity in other ways, such as by blogging, public speaking, coaching and content marketing.  Also checkout her website, The Creative Penn  for a wealth of (free) tips and resources for aspiring writers.

The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig has built a successful writing career by embracing new formats and media – his works include a blog, eBooks, computer games, scripts, comics as well as novels.  He also writes great writing advice – his tone is sharp and in-your-face and aims to challenge and provoke.  The Kick-Ass Writer starts from the beginning – how to get started, how to build characters and dialogue and develop suspense – and onto how to deal with publishers and agents, and how to promote, connect and market yourself.  It also discusses crowd funding, self-publishing writer’s block and how to handle rejection.  A great resource for helping you become the Kick-Ass Writer you want to be.

Publishing: a Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin 

For an insider’s take on writers and their relationships with the publishing industry, you cannot go past Gail Godwin’s memoir.  Gail Godwin has been a writer for five decades, with over 20 published works.  Publishing: a Writer’s Memoir reflects on Gail as a writer: her hunger to be published, her craft, and what it means to be a modern author (there is a great anecdote about branding and self-promotion).  It also reflects on the changing nature of the publishing industry, from a more “gentlemanly”, literary enterprise to big business. Gail Godwin offers fascinating insights to anyone curious about the book industry.

 

From blogger / vlogger to author

Developing great blogs and vlogs (eg YouTube channels) are an increasingly common pathway to a book deal.  Blogs/vlogs are powerful tools that can help you hone your writing skills, develop/promote your brand and connect with potential readers.  Many popular authors – particularly in the humour / food & wellness / lifestyle / parenting categories – first became known through their blogs. Two of my favourite bloggers/vloggers-turned-authors include:

Advanced Style: Older and Wiser by Ari Seth Cohen

Advanced Style started as a blog celebrating stylish, older New Yorkers, and has turned into a worldwide movement.  The colourful portraits in Advanced Style urge us to be bold, take risks and dress how we like, whether we are 15 or 85.  I saw the eponymous documentary a few years’ ago, and not only was there great style on-screen, many of the audience were bold and stylish too.  Advanced Style is joyous and gloriously inspirational.

The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook by Amy and Julie Zhang

Amy and Julie Zhang are popular YouTubers whose Dumpling Sisters videos showcase modern takes on homestyle Chinese dishes. 

The sisters – born in China, raised in New Zealand and now living in the UK – love their food because it’s a reminder of their Chinese background and their childhood, and also because it’s a great way to connect with their friends.  Dishes such as oyster sauce beef and broccoli, and prawn and spinach wontons, are great whether for some quiet me-time or for fun and casual entertaining.

Great start to literacy – 1000 Books Before School

Most people are aware that reading to children is beneficial; in fact, it is one of the best preparations for school.  When we read to children, we are exposing them to a rich vocabulary, helping them develop listening skills and attention spans, conveying information and fostering a love of reading.  These skills create a solid foundation for developing literacy.

Many libraries are now running “1000 Books Before School” programs (sometimes called “1000 Books Before Kindergarten”) to help encourage caregivers and children to keep reading and reap those literacy benefits.  The 1000 books goal is based on research – it is big enough to allow children to experience a variety of language, but still achievable – for children who start school at 5, it translates to about one book every 2 days. And for children who prefer to have the same book read over and over, each time counts as one book!

To make the process more fun, libraries and some websites offer record sheets to help families keep track of their reading.  Regular milestones (with small rewards) help build a sense of achievement until the big, final graduation.

Families living in Victoria can enrol in the program through the State Library of Victoria website or at your local library.

To get you started, here are some new and older favourites, perfect for sharing with your children.  6 down, 994 to go…

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Sturdy board books are great for the youngest readers, who might show their enjoyment of books by chewing and throwing! In Dear Zoo, a child writes to the zoo to send them a pet.  It takes a bit of trial and error to find a pet that is just right!  Dear Zoo has been a favourite with both little and big kids for over 30 years.  Its combination of a funny story, cute animals, lift-the-flaps and call-and-response makes it an excellent choice for both reading aloud and reading on your own.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree is as much a toy as it is a picture book.  Each page invites the reader to tap, shake, jiggle, or pat the book, even to blow it a kiss!  Starting with a bare brown tree, we gradually see leaves sprout, buds blossom, apples grow, the leaves yellow and finally blow away with the changing of the seasons.  The simple drawings and sparse text combine into an absorbing story that is elegant and sweetly magical.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

Charlie and Lola stories are laugh-out-loud funny, with vivid characters and situations that perfectly captures life with young children.  I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato is the story that started it all, and is still one of the best.  Big brother Charlie – the sensible, long-suffering one – needs to give dinner to his funny little sister Lola.  But she is really fussy about her food! So Charlie plays a trick on Lola – what if he is not giving her mashed potato, but cloud fluff from the peak of Mount Fuji?

Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Bill woke up with a bad feeling about his day.  As more things go wrong, his huffy feelings coalesce into a big grey thing, who sighs and keeps following Bill around.  How can Bill make Mr Huff go away?  Mr Huff is a cute and poignant story, and perfect conversation-starter about how to deal with sad, gloomy feelings.  Anna Walker’s understated illustrations add surprising amounts of drama and emotion.  Well-deserved winner of last year’s CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year Award.

The Usborne Big Book of the Body

Non-fiction (information) books can often engage children who don’t seem interested in stories.  Usborne is known as a publisher of beautifully-produced, interesting information books for children, and The Big Book of the Body is no exception.  The pages fold out into giant posters showing our main bodily functions, including bones and muscles, heart and blood, lungs, brain and our senses. A mix of short explanations and quirky facts make The Big Book of the Body entertaining as well as educational.

Billie’s Underwater Adventure by Sally Rippin and Alisa Coburn

As your child gets older, why not introduce them to great characters whose stories will keep them company through their school years? Billie’s Underwater Adventure is a picture book where Billie and her friend Jack use their imaginations to have marvellous adventures at Kinder.  Then there’s the Billie B Brown and Hey Jack series, which are slice-of-life stories aimed at beginner readers; and the Billie B Brown Mysteries is a collection of short chapter books that is perfect for those mystery- and excitement-loving middle graders.

Caring is … Sharing great books and games

How do you extend that summertime feeling to the rest of the year? For me, summer holidays mean more time to enjoy the company of family and friends – eating, chatting and playing together. Such quality time may seem impossible within the busyness of your normal routine, but is definitely worth scheduling. Start with an activity that can involve your whole family – such as cooking, making things, playing games or reading – here are some resources to get you started. And if you are a fan of board games, don’t forget that Booko can help you find the best prices for games as well as books!

Qwirkle Cubes

The latest version of this award-winning game comes as a set of colourful cubes. Make rows or columns of cubes by matching either the colour or shape on their faces. The cubic shape of the pieces add an extra level of game play – you can try to change the shapes you have by rolling the cubes. The basic rules are easy to learn for even young players, while some tactical thinking will ensure you achieve high scores. For 2-4 players, ages 6+

Sleeping Queens card game by Gamewright

Sleeping Queens has become a family favourite after we travelled with it this summer. It is a compact card game with a fairytale / Alice in Wonderland flavour (and this special 10th Anniversary edition comes in a beautiful carry tin). The Pancake Queen, the Rose Queen and their ten queenly friends have fallen into a magical sleep and need to be woken up. A King can wake a Queen but watch out for Knights that might steal her away! Winning is based on a little skill, some maths and some luck. Sleeping Queens also shines through its gorgeous and funny art. For 2-5 players, ages 8+

Parlour Games for Modern Families by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras

Parlour Games for Modern Families shows how to play silly and raucous games with big crowds and small, and with few or no props at all. Unusual games such as Farkle and Blind Potatoes join old favourites including Chatterboxes, Murder in the Dark and Dictionary. There are chapters for word games, drawing games, card games and mystery games. Suitable for ages 4-104, these games will help to lighten up rainy days, family gatherings, even dinner parties and work functions.

 

 

Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids that you will Actually Enjoy by Rebecca Green

We’ve all been there – that resigned feeling of doing an activity “for the kids” rather than “with the kids”. Banish Boredom promises to change all that, with suggestions on activities that are stimulating and fun for both adults and kids. From art to science experiments to excursions, Rebecca Green offers a variety of ideas as well as useful tips on how to plan, manage and extend activities. Banish Boredom is a great parenting resource for any time of year.

 
The World of David Walliams CD Story Collection by David Walliams

 

Listening to audiobooks turns reading into a social activity, especially useful on those long holiday car trips. Comedian-turned-superstar-author David Walliams is the creator of bestsellers including Mr Stink and Awful Auntie. Many reviewers see him as a successor to Roald Dahl, skilfully mixing over-the-top humour with poignant reflections on friendship and loneliness. David Walliams voices his audiobooks himself – but listen out for cameos by famous guests such as Matt Lucas. For immediate gratification, choose the 14-CD 5-story set ; or pre-order the Bumper-tastic 27-CD, 8-story edition , out in late January.

 

Cooking with Coco: Family Recipes to Cook Together by Anna Del Conte

Cooking is a great activity to do with children – not only will there be a delicious outcome, you will also be nurturing some healthy habits and useful life skills. Cooking with Coco is a collection of recipes Anna Del Conte has cooked with her children and grandchildren (Coco, now in her teens, has become a confident and creative cook). The collection features classic dishes including baked polenta, beef rolls, basic biscuits and pear cake – sophisticated food that will appeal to both adults and children, without resorting to novelty shapes or lollies.

Load your eReader this summer with these great titles

Much as I still prefer paper books, I have discovered that eBooks offer some great benefits.  For example, eBooks are great for holidaying – they add hardly any bulk or weight to your luggage; they allow easy adjustment to font size and colour contrast; and you can buy and download them instantaneously wherever you are. So whether you prefer an eReader or eBook apps on a tablet or phone, you will never be without a book again!  Here are some great summer e-reads, whether you are travelling or relaxing at home:

Rogue One: a Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

Loved the latest Star Wars film and want to revisit the story?  Perhaps you haven’t yet seen the film, but don’t feel like battling with crowds during your summer break?  Download the novelisation of the film instead. Rogue One: a Star Wars Story is more than a standard movie novelisation – many scenes have been extended and expanded to give a richer story while being totally faithful to the film.  Alexander Freed has used his extensive knowledge of the Star Wars Universe – as creator of earlier video games, comics and novels – to deliver a well-written novel that contributes strongly to the overall canon.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Austen Project – six modern retellings of Jane Austen’s beloved novels – has attracted stellar authorship including Joanna Trollope (for Sense and Sensibility ) and Alexander McCall Smith (for Emma). Now Curtis Sittenfeld has tackled Pride and Prejudice – probably the most daunting one to adapt – with impressive results.  The story is set in suburban Cincinnati, where Liz and Jane Bennet return to the family home after Mr Bennet suffers a heart attack. Jane is a yoga teacher and Liz a magazine writer based in New York – both nudging 40 and still single. Along comes Chip Bingley (a doctor and former contestant in a reality-TV dating show) and his snooty neurosurgeon friend Darcy…  Eligible is spot-on in retaining the wryness of the original while lampooning modern-day obsessions.  It is riotous and totally addictive – even when you already know what happens!

Neighbourhood by Hetty McKinnon

Hetty McKinnon is the powerhouse behind Sydney’s Arthur Street Kitchen, a salad delivery service renowned for its innovative and flavourful modern salads – think layers of textures and flavours provided by herbs, grains and roasted vegetables as well as leafy greens.  Following the success of her first cookbook, Community, comes Neighbourhood, with salads inspired by the multicultural neighbourhoods of New York, her new hometown.  Neighbourhood is not just a recipe collection, it celebrates the sharing of food in building friendships and communities.  I love Neighbourhood for its warmth, stunning photography as well as its message – the idea of connecting with others through sharing food is perfect for this time of year.  The delicious recipes provide rich inspiration for summer eating, whether entertaining a crowd, or preparing something simple for those too-hot-to-cook days.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

Popular science is a great genre if you prefer books with both readability and substance.  The Hidden Life of Trees is a recent release with an intriguing premise – that trees are social beings that count and remember; that look out for, and support neighbours and relatives; that communicate with each other by sending signals through a vast underground network of fungus.  The Hidden Life of Trees uses an anthropomorphic style that is captivating but may sound fantastical; however, these revelations are based on Peter Wohlleben’s extensive experience as a forest ranger, and backed by recent research in biology and ecology.  A bestseller in its native Germany, The Hidden Life of Trees challenges us to value forests as much more than a habitat or a source of timber.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons epitomises an idyllic summer full of freedom and adventure.  During the school holidays, the Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) are staying at a lakeside farm with their mother and infant sister.  The children are given permission to sail their dinghy, the Swallow, to an island in the lake to set up camp.  Camp life involves plenty of swimming, sailing and fishing for their food – and no adults.  One day, the Swallows spy two fierce pirates – sisters Nancy and Peggy in their dinghy Amazon.  What follows is a summer of friendship, fun and even some mystery… Swallows and Amazons is a classic story that still excites young readers with its spirit of independence and derring-do; it also unleashes adult nostalgia about our own free-roaming childhoods during endless summers.  A perfect waterside read!

Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

As our friends in the US celebrate Thanksgiving today, we at Team Booko are also reflecting on Thanksgiving and thankfulness in general. Thanksgiving traditions are borne of the harvest festivals of Europe, and of the age-old practice of giving thanks to God at significant events; modern-day Thanksgiving is characterised by travelling home – there are more long-distance travellers at Thanksgiving than at Christmas – and of course, a traditional feast including roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.   Although Thanksgiving seems a quintessentially American holiday, it is celebrated in places as diverse as Canada, Liberia and Norfolk Island, and its messages of gratitude, community and sharing will find resonance in any part of the world.

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell

The Thanksgiving Story is a classic picture book about the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving, as seen through the eyes of three children.  Giles, Constance and Demaris Hopkins are travelling on the crowded Mayflower with their parents, bound for a place where they hope to practise their religion freely.  Alice Dalgliesh adds lots of historical detail to enrich a familiar story of early hardships ultimately overcome with the help of the Native Americans, leading to the first successful harvest. A Caldecott Honor book.

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey

’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving is no ordinary story – simply because it is written by Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame).  Dav has taken the classic Christmas poem and given it a Thanksgiving twist.  Eight children are enjoying an excursion to a turkey farm on the eve of Thanksgiving. When they realise that the cute baby turkeys are earmarked for Thanksgiving dinner, some quick thinking is required. Sufficed to say that those children end up with plump feathered guests at their respective (vegetarian) Thanksgiving feasts!  Something funny and a bit different for this tradition-laden day.

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac

The events surrounding the first Thanksgiving have become mythologised over the past centuries.  1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving invites readers to see through the myths, by showing the events from the perspective of the Wampanoag, one of the Native American tribes who shared that first Thanksgiving feast.  It is richly informative about the Wampanoag’s culture and way of life.  1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving reminds us that history is often subjective, and challenges us to think and question what we know.

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr

When you are a kid and the grownups keep nagging you to say “thank you” to everything, it can be hard to understand what there is to be thankful about.  The Thankful Book, with its bright colours, simple pictures and gentle text, reminds us of the little things that brightening our days – music that makes us want to dance; friends that make us smile; hair that make us unique.  The Thankful Book is wise and joyous, and sure to spark good conversations about happiness and thankfulness.

The Gratitude Diaries: how a Year Looking on the Bright Side can Transform your Life by Janice Kaplan

“Always look on the bright side of life” can have life-changing effects – just ask Janice Kaplan.  The editor and former journalist made a new year’s resolution to show more gratitude for a year, and it had remarkably positive effects on her physical and mental well-being. Janice Kaplan discovers that not only can a positive attitude influence our sense of fulfilment, it can change our neural pathways and even influence our children’s happiness.  The Gratitude Diaries is a skilful blend of self-help, memoir and popular science that will both entertain and inspire.

What’s on Your Festive Table this Year?

Six more weeks to go…. as my stress level rises with the growing list of things-to-do-before-year’s-end, so does my excitement and anticipation for the festive season.  For me, year’s end is the delicious time of year – a whirlwind of catch-ups and family birthdays as well as Christmas and New Year – all made more memorable with delicious and plentiful food.  No matter what your cultural or religious traditions, it’s a great time to wind down and catch up with loved ones – and the following books will provide food inspiration whatever the occasion.  Of course, half the fun in entertaining is browsing cookbooks and choosing the right dishes….

Jamie’s Christmas by Jamie Oliver

It has taken Jamie Oliver seventeen years of fine-tuning to achieve the recipes worthy of his “epic” Christmas cookbook. He’s planning to do only one Christmas cookbook, so he wants to do it right.  Jamie’s Christmas is not just a collection of recipes – it is a manual that aims to guide and reassure.  There are plans, tips and shortcuts to minimise the stress of entertaining a crowd. Besides show-stopping mains and desserts (for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat-eaters), there are extensive chapters on sauces, salads, sweet treats and edible gifts.  Happy days!

Celebrating Christmas by the Australian Women’s Weekly

Antipodeans looking forward to a summery Christmas (think fresh seafood, juicy mangoes and ripe cherries) are forging a new style of Christmas feasting.  And the Test Kitchen of the Australian Women’s Weekly – synonymous with foolproof recipes – is ready to guide you with step-by-step instructions.  Celebrating Christmas has everything from menus to drinks, and ideas for decorations and leftovers.  There are recipes for both casual and formal occasions including brunches, lunches and dinners.  Whether you prefer a traditional or modern gathering, Celebrating Christmas has great ideas for you.

Basics to Brilliance by Donna Hay

The premise of Basics to Brilliance is, well, brilliant.  Take some basic recipes – and Donna Hay is here to show you how they should be done – then expand your repertoire by learning some variations with wow factor.  Thus a plain grilled steak can be transformed into beef skewers with a fresh and zingy chimichurri sauce.  This formula is a great way for beginner cooks to experiment and gain confidence, while giving experienced cooks fresh ideas.  Basics to Brilliance offers lots of inspiration for both home cooking and entertaining.

Appetites: a Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever

Age and parenthood are mellowing Anthony Bourdain (just a little), and his latest book, Appetites, reflects this life stage.  It’s a collection of family-oriented recipes that should appeal to even the fussiest of youngsters.  The dishes range from scrambled eggs to Italian, Malaysian and Korean classics, striking a good balance between comforting and exotic, and reflecting Bourdain’s extensive travels.  Add some irreverent commentary and a cover by Ralph Steadman (known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson) and the result shows that Anthony Bourdain hasn’t lost his gonzo cool.  

The Cook’s Table by Stephanie Alexander

For many people, food forms an integral part of memories and traditions – whether it’s birthday cake or greasy fry-ups – and Stephanie Alexander is no exception.  In The Cook’s Table, Stephanie has arranged 130 recipes into twenty-five themed menus, such as “A Jamaican Jerk Party” and “Autumnal Italian Lunch in a Suburban Farm”; which are based on memorable occasions throughout her long and celebrated life.  Stephanie’s reminiscences encourage us to reflect on our own special foods – while she also invites us to create our own memorable occasions, through sharing her delicious dishes with our families and friends.

Cocktails for the Holidays: Festive Drinks to Celebrate the Season by the Editors of Imbibe Magazine

If you want to host a gathering but don’t feel like cooking, how about a drinks party instead?  Get great ideas on stylish and seasonal drinks in Cocktails for the Holidays.  Fifty recipes compiled by the award-winning Imbibe magazine cover any festive events from breakfasts to nightcaps.  From classics to the drinks du jour, and from hot toddies to sparkling punches, these drinks just shout festive cheer.

Books that illuminate life’s journey

Our lives are long journeys full of tough questions and unexpected trials and tribulations.  Don’t you wish there’s a manual for it?  For Booklovers, the solution is simple: books can be our wise counsel, chronicler and companion.  Here are titles that can delight, entertain, enlighten and accompany you through many stages of life:

 

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince is a poignant story that can be read on many levels.  Younger children will delight in the charming, fantastic story of a little prince who lives on an asteroid the size of a house, and his curious adventures whilst exploring the universe; older children may start to recognise certain caricatures in the story; while adults might appreciate it as a fable about love, loss and loneliness, with philosophical musings about human nature and relationships.  This 70th Anniversary Edition is a deluxe gift set containing a hardcover book with the original illustrations in full colour, two CDs of an unabridged reading by Viggo Mortensen (aka Aragorn of Lord of the Rings), as well as a code for audio download.

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

It has sold over 65 million copies across 80 languages; many people credit it with changing their lives.  What makes The Alchemist so special?  The Alchemist is a timeless and dreamy story about Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd who tries to fulfil a prophecy by travelling to Egypt, but finds his Personal Legend (destiny) instead.  Through Santiago’s quest, Paolo Coelho invites us to look inside ourselves to discover our own Personal Legends. His poetic, spiritual language, crafted into beloved messages such as ‘When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you’, is uplifting and sure to inspire.

A Good Life: Philosophy from Cradle to Grave by Mark Rowlands

In the near future, Nicolai finds a manuscript written by his late father Myshkin.  The manuscript is Myshkin’s record of how he lived his life, the issues he faced, and the decisions he made.  In A Good Life, philosopher Mark Rowlands uses this fictional narrative to explore moral and ethical questions including abortion, compassion, animal rights and euthanasia.  This clever hybrid of philosophy and literature is funny, unsettling and challenges us to also question ourselves on these knotty issues.

Feast: Food that Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson

Across cultures and eras, food has been an important element in how we mark life’s milestones.  Nigella Lawson, ever a champion of food-as-celebration, has gathered this collection of enticing recipes to suit any sort of feasting – not just Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, but also Eid, Passover, weddings and kids’ parties.  It’s worth seeking out the original UK edition of Feast (just click on this cover image for stockists), which contains a chapter on funeral feasts – which powerfully and poignantly highlights the power of food to comfort and bring people together, in sorrow as in joy.

Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Booko featured Mary Roach’s work earlier this year as one of the most popular TED talks ever.  However, her brand of quirky investigative journalism was already perfected in her first book, Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers.  Mary Roach’s take on Life After Death looks at what happens to our bodies after we die.  In fact, she sees cadavers as having a rich and meaningful second life, contributing to scientific advances in medical research, safety testing, body farms, and even composting.  With its unusual subject and skilful balance of information, gore and laugh-aloud humour, Stiff is an endlessly fascinating, unforgettable book.

Join the Slow Education Revolution

Not a week goes by without media attention on our education systems – whether standardised testing offer useful insights; whether exam-pressure causes excessive stress; or whether we are teaching the “right” knowledge when professions change and evolve so quickly. The Slow Movement argues that exam-based education encourages teaching-to-the-test and cookie-cutter uniformity; and instead proposes Slow Education as a better option.

Like other aspects of the Slow Movement, Slow Education is about deep connections with its subject matter – learning.  It focusses on the process of learning; it encourages educators to tailor learning experiences to their local context and to suit their students’ interests; and it encourages students to reflect on, and discuss how and what they have learnt.  This creates students who learn how to learn, who learn deeply and become self-motivated through interest in their own work.  Such ideas are not new – many alternative educational approaches, such as Montessori and Waldorf/Steiner, share these concerns; and many conventional schools already use techniques such as play-based or inquiry-based learning to stimulate and engage their students.  

Everyone can and should have an opinion on education, not just parents or educators – because education can influence the future direction of many aspects of our society.  So to get you thinking, here are some books that discuss why and how education should be changed, as well as resources on how to enrich children’s learning through fun, interactive experiences:

Finnish Lessons 2.0: What the World can Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg

The Finnish education system is considered a marvel by English-speaking countries – Finnish students have high proficiency in science, maths and reading despite the Finns’ “unconventional” disregard for standardised testing, late start to formal education (at age 7) and emphasis on play.  In Finnish Lessons 2.0, Pasi Sahlberg uses his experience as a teacher, teacher trainer and policy developer to explain how Finland made such impressive improvements to its education system through thoughtful reforms.

Creative Schools by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Ken Robinson is an authority on arts education and has given three TED talks about the role of creativity in education – including THE most-watched TED Talk ever, with over 41 million viewings. Creative Schools picks up on this TED talk, arguing that the current education system, with its focus on exams and factory-like mass education, stifles creativity.  Instead he urges everyone – educators, policymakers and parents – to push for change, to a system that awakens creativity, as well as fostering diversity and curiosity.   

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

Tony Wagner is an education expert and Ted Dintersmith is a venture capitalist; in a convergence of idealism and materialism, their joint proposition in Most Likely to Succeed is that education should move away from content/fact delivery and towards fostering life skills such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  They argue that this is a better way of future-proofing our children, of helping them become successful in the long run.  Most Likely to Succeed is derived from the critically-praised film of the same name.

Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science: a Family Guide to Fun Experiments in the Kitchen by Andrew Schloss

Even without systemic change, we can encourage curiosity and creativity in children, through hands-on deep learning.  Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science contains projects ranging from edible slime, to glow-in-the-dark jelly and “glowing, bouncy eggs”.  The edible aspect adds extra excitement (and also reduces concerns about handling harmful chemicals) to the exploration of some fundamental scientific concepts.  Projects use supermarket ingredients and come with detailed instructions and safety advice.  Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science is a recent title in a very user-friendly series that includes Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, Outdoor Science Lab for Kids, and Art Lab for Kids.