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.

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.

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.