Monday, November 30, 2020

Hello Design by Isabel Thomas and Aurelie Guillerey

Hello Design by Isabel Thomas and Aurelie Guillerey

Published November 2020 Penguin


A design can be as small as a toothbrush . . . or as BIG as a skyscraper. Every design starts in someone's imagination - an imagination just like yours. Travel through one day and discover how the world around you has been designed - even though we don't always realise it! Question HOW everyday items have been designed, and WHY they look the way they do. Guaranteed to make you see the world a little differently, pick up your pencil and imagine your own designs. What will you design? With facts and questions to inspire all budding designers and get creative minds whirring - and featuring iconic designs from the enthusiasts at the V&A.

I have been waiting for this book to come out all year. I loved the sound of it, and it hasn’t disappointed me.

Engineering and design are a big focus in schools, but when we think of design, we might think of big or obvious things like cars, clothes and houses, when in fact, design is everywhere.

This book looks at the story of everyday objects, and makes you realise that designers have created pretty much everything around you. From your toothbrush, to your lunchbox, even this very book. 

The book is broken up into daily activities, and the elements of design are discussed.  Why something was made, who was it made for, how have designs may have changed over time.

There are also task/question boxes.  For example:

What differences can you spot between the way your home and your school are designed?

Design the perfect lunchbox or playground game.

This book is published in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design. At the back of the book there are Credits pages, giving credit to the actual designers whose items in the V & A collection inspired some of the illustrations in the book.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie
October 2019 Midnight Sun Publishing


What if you could see what is hidden?

Rafferty Kaminski is a 13-year-old who believes in facts. Not like his Cryptozoologist father, who searches for creatures not proven to exist.

When their father disappears in the Flinders Ranges, strange things start happening to Raff and his younger sister Zara. They learn that their father belongs to a secret organisation and they are suddenly being pursued by bunyip hunters.
Raff is drawn into the weird world of Cryptozoology as he and Zara follow 'sightings' of creatures around country Victoria. 

Will they find their father? And what is the ancient voice that only Raff can hear as they approach the Wombat State Forest?

This is a book about 13 year old Rafferty Kaminski and his younger sister Zara. It is a rollicking adventure, full of twists and turns…but it is also a story about something very old, something that has been hidden…something connected to Raff.

Let me start by saying, that I am a person who believes. 
I would like to believe that there may still be Tasmanian Tigers in existence.
I would like to believe that the gastric brooding frog is still living underground waiting for the right conditions to re- emerge.

Part of me would love to find out that yeti’s do exist, and that the loch ness monster is real…because I think there are plenty of things out there on the world that we don’t really see, and if we do get a glimpse, we can’t quite explain them.

So a book about a Cryptozoologist had immediate appeal to me.
Let’s start with Cryptozoology – a definition at the start of Chapter 1 says it’s the study of hidden things.
According to Wikipedia :
Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience and subculture that aims to prove the existence of entities from the folklore record, such as Bigfoot, the
chup-a-cabra, or Mokele-m-bembe. Cryptozoologists refer to these entities as cryptids, a term coined by the subculture. Because it does not follow the scientific method, cryptozoology is considered a pseudoscience by the academic world:

And for those of us that need to know what pseudoscience is, according to Wikipedia again, it is, Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual but are incompatible with the scientific method.

Now that we have that explained, let’s get onto the book.

Cryptosight, the title of the book, refers to the ability to see these hidden things.

At the start of the book we meet Raff 13, and his sister Zara 11.  They are camping with their Dad in the Flinders Ranges, their Dad, who just so happens to be a cryptozoologist.

Their Dad is not a normal Dad, and this is no normal camping trip.  Part of the reason for their trip was so that Raff and Zara could start some Cryptozoology training.  On day three of their training, their Dad takes them on a hike, to the middle of nowhere, and leaves them there. They have to find their way back to the campsite.

He leaves them with the five rules of survival, and its these rules that they fall back on more than once during the book.  

The five rules are:
Number 1: Always take a torch
Number 2: Always protect your family
Number 3: Wear clothes with lots of pockets
Number 4: Really looking for things is the only way to find them
Number 5: In case of emergency, leave back up in a safe place.

The siblings do make it safely back to their campsite, only to find that their Dad has gone, his bags are gone, all of his clothes,  everything.  Gone.
But...he did leave a note:

Dearest Raff and Zara,
I’m sorry to leave you so quickly, but time is of the essence.  A friend is coming very soon.  Please wait until he arrives.  I will be back before you know it.  Please keep going with your training.  This is very important.  I have to ask you not to ring your mother,  I can’t tell you why just now, you have to trust me.  I’ll see you in a couple of days.
Love always, Dad  (page 14-15)

This is where the adventure really starts for the siblings, where things start to get quite bizarre and at times, unbelievable, starting  when Zara realises she has left something behind on their hike, something that her Dad gave her, …he said it was very important, so now the pair have to go back and find it.  It’s here we start to learn a bit more about Raff and Zara, we learn that Raff is the more serious responsible one. He doesn’t believe in cryptology. Zara is forgetful, always losing things, but she believes everything her Dad believes in.

This important thing that Zara had to go back and find, is a rock, probably volcanic in origin, but seemingly ordinary.  What is very far from ordinary is that on this journey to find the left behind rock, a big black raven that stands in their way.   This, in itself, is not that weird or odd, the weird and odd part, is that Zara understands that the ravenn has a message for them, and that Zara can understand what the raven is saying

‘Beware of the three, beware.
One, face like the moon, looking for shine
Two, like a brolga, without the dance
Hands of three, the colour of setting sun.
Beware, beware, of the three.
Beware beware, Beware…’
Page 22

From here on it’s non stop action for the Raff and Zara.
They escape a ranger, that’s not really a ranger, but one of the Three.
Stowaway on a bus full of kids retuning home after a camp, get held in a police station and go home with virtual strangers who believe they have a river serpent on their property....could it be a real live cryptid?

But Raff and Zara do finally make it back home, only to be faced with one of the Three breaking into their house, so they make their escape, and stow away on a truck heading in the general direction of their grandfathers house,  a grandfather they haven’t seen for many many years.

All of the time getting more and more clues as to what has happened to their Dad…and also start to figure out that their Mum is not the laboratory scientist that she claims to be.

We do find out how important the 'ordinary' stone is, it’s a Sark, which helps cryptozooloigists keep track of each other, identifies someone who has seen a cryptid and when there is danger nearby.  The Sark, it the one thing that might save them, and answer some questions.

As I said at the start, this is also a story about something very old, something hidden.

Throughout the story there are paragraphs, told from a different voice, the voice of this something, passages from the point of a view of a creature. A creature that has been living underground. It has been asleep for a long time, but it has woken…it’s something that should not even exist.

Obviously I am not going to tell you what this creature is, or what other cryptids the siblings might come across in this book, where’s the fun in that.  You have to read the book to find that out…read the book and see if you just might be a believer too?

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hidden Planet by Ben Rothery

Hidden Planet by Ben Rothery
October 2019 Penguin UK


A beautiful crossover book for all ages, this is the book natural-history illustrator Ben has wanted to read since he was a child. Simple text will provide an insight into these lesser-known birds and animals - some endangered and some less so - told from the perspective of a detail-obsessed illustrator.

'This is my love letter to Planet Earth; a celebration of her hidden species, from the bold and the beautiful to the interesting but ugly. And while not a complete list, I hope that these few give a glimpse of the outstanding diversity of nature' - Ben Rothery

Animal lovers behold.  
This is an absolute beauty of a book.  
The book is impressive before you even open it.  
It's large (h378mm  x  w280mm )...and that lion!

I will admit to not having actually read all of the text.  I can't get past the illustrations, they're breathtaking, as you can see from some of the internals below.  There is a good deal of information in this book though, with each animal having 5-6 paragraphs of text, and because of the books size, I can just see kids, and families pouring over the pages on the floor or around a table.

There are plenty of animals you will already know and love (lions, zebras, koalas) and then there are some you may see and read about for the first time  (clouded leopards and pangolins).  There's also general information about a variety of animals under topics such as camouflage, dimorphism and hidden abilities.

Hidden Planet is the title of this book so the hidden theme runs through all of the sections in the book.  There's an introduction explaining this at the start of the book:

Hidden Planet

When we think of something as being hidden, we normally imagine a creature that is out of sight or cleverly disguised as something else.   Perhaps it is cunning, shy or sly.  Maybe it is small or comes out only under the cover of darkness. It may live deep in a rainforest or in a cave, bury itself in the sand or spend its life high in the treetops.

There are also hidden relationships between species that might seem otherwise unconnected.  For many years, humans have invented fantastical stories to explain these connections.  One more secret of Planet Earth can be found in the unexpected abilities and behaviours of some of the creatures we think we already know.

The creatures in the is book are hidden in some of these ways.

This book will appeal to animal lovers, art lovers, and lovers of beautiful books.  

If butterflies are more your thing, Ben Rothery has you covered there too...look out for Sensational Butterflies.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Many Windows: Six Kids, Five Faiths, One Community by Rukhsana Khan, Uma Krishnaswami, Elisa Carbone

  • Many Windows: Six Kids, Five Faiths, One Community by  Rukhsana Khan, Uma Krishnaswami, Elisa Carbone

  • Published December 30, 2013 Napoleon and Co 

In the midst of global turmoil, with people of various faiths in major conflict, three friends—a Muslim, a Christian and a Hindu—decided to write a book. Many Windows is a book about young people who are friends despite their religious differences. It’s a book about celebrations, that ultimately celebrates community. Many Windows is a collection of seven stories about six children who are in the same class at school, two white boys, a black girl, a Chinese girl, an Indian girl and a Pakistani boy. They are not necessarily friends, but they all come together in one commnunity at the end of the stories. Each story in the collection centres on a different celebration within the faith of that child. In the appendix, each of the celebrations is explained in more depth, as it is celebrated within that faith community: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Each story represents a window into the life of the child, or, from a different point of view, the child’s window looking out to the world.

This is a collection of seven stories about six children who are in the same class at school, two white boys, a black girl, a Chinese girl, an Indian girl, and a Pakistani boy. They are not friends, but they all come together in one community at the end of the stories. Each story in the collection centres on a different celebration within the faith of that child, and in the appendix at the back of the book, each of the celebrations is explained in more depth, as it is celebrated within that faith community: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.

Each story represents a window into the life of the child, or, from a different point of view, the child's window -- looking out to the world.

I loved this book, and I think it’s so relevant to most children’s school experiences today.  So many children in the one class with different beliefs and cultural backgrounds, but not necessarily having much understanding of what those faiths are like…or even what other families are like.

Let me start by saying that this is a tiny book, the story part of it is only 65 pages long.   It is published by a small publisher in the US, so just a heads up, to get it in Australia it is quite pricey. If you are an Ebook reader, it is available on kindle and much cheaper.

There are 7 stories in total, each story told by a different character, with one character having 2 stories, at the start and at the end of the book, bringing everything together.

Each of the stories focuses on a different child, and the more stories you read, the more the stories become intertwined.  Rukhasana Khan did not write all of the stories in the book, she wrote 5 of the 7, but I will look at the book as a whole.

Because each story is short, I won't tell you too much about them, I will just give a brief teaser to each one.

The characters are:

Natalie a Buddhist, she works in her father’s jewellery store, an Important part of her story is a locket...that we see again somewhere else in the book.

Jameel a Muslim,  his family is having a visit from his uncle, from Pakistan.  There is some secret about his one talks about it, but will Jameel find out the truth?

Deepa is Hindu and Diwali is her festival. Friendship is a strong theme in this story. The one person Deepa normally celebrates the day with is not with her this year.

Benjamin is Jewish - his grandmother is in a nursing home...she doesn't recognise Benjamin or his family any more.  But something about seeing Benjamin play with his dreidels, sparks a memory in her, a memory of a family member who is no longer with them.

Stephanie is a Christian and It's Christmas Day.  In Stephanie's story we see all of the other characters come together.

I like that the stories aren't 'about' religion or culture, they are just stories about people, they don't stop and explain anything within the story, it's just ‘there'

They mention Ramadan, but they don't go on to explain what that is, Similarly with other aspects, Like the food, the Luddos in Jameel's story or puris and jalebi in Deepa's. 

Other things like the dreidels in Benjamin's story. They're an important element to the stories, but it's never explained what they are... So it makes the reader want to find out more.  

As mentioned earlier, at the back of the book there is more detail on each of the faiths, as well as the specific celebrations mentioned in the stories, so you don't have to go far to get the extra information.

TJ is the other character and he has the first and last story in the book, and his, for me, are the most powerful stories.

In the first story, and you get the feeling that TJ has a bit of attitude…it’s his first day in a new school, and he does not seem happy to be there.  When he gets pulled up by the teacher, she asks him questions about his behaviour like he has a choice…this isn’t something TJ is used to, and it throws him a bit. 

His new classroom is a No Put Down Zone, and this rule applies to the yard as well, so when some kids tease TJ at lunch time, he shoves one of them, gives them a bloody nose and ends up on the principal’s office.  When he explains that the kids were teasing him first, Mrs Williams says that’s unacceptable and they must apologise to TJ…

TJ is shocked that he was listened to, and that the other kids were made to apologise. TJ doesn’t get off lightly though, and he still gets detention…that’s OK by him though, it’s fair.

The book ends with TJ. We start where we began.  What I get the most from this book is that TJ is the character I want to know more about. As a reader we get a glimpse into his life, and it’s pretty bleak, I just want to know that he will be ok. All of the other stories are about family and faith, but not TJ’s. The contrast between his life and those of the other characters is stark. That's why his stories work so well starting and ending the book, it puts all of the other stories into perspective.

The strongest theme that I get from all of the other stories would be family.  Each character has a strong connection to family, and within that family they also have their faith, but for me family is the key.  It’s obvious from what we read about TJ that this is what he is missing, and there is hope that maybe the new friends he has, have gone some way to fill the emotional void in his life.

This book is exactly what the title suggests, a window into the lives of these children.  Yes, it is a book about culture and faith, but it's also about family, family histories, friendship and community...oh and basketball... basketball is another thing that joins these kids together...but you can read the book to find out more about that.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

No Reading Allowed: The WORST Read-Aloud Book Ever by Raj Haldar & Chris Carpenter illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter

No Reading Allowed: The WORST Read-Aloud Book Ever by Raj Haldar & Chris Carpenter illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter

Published November 2020  Sourcebooks eXplore


In the vein of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, this delightful new book places pairs of similar-sounding sentences together and illustrates them in two hilariously different ways. These illustrations gone awry highlight how absurd the English language can be. But, have no fear! The illustrations will give you all the clues you need to decipher the true meanings behind these wily words. You won't be tricked by phrases like 'C Major, it's a beautiful key! / See Major, it's a beautiful quay!' Context clues, bright illustrations, and rhyming words will help readers navigate the ridiculous text with ease.

I love a book that shows us how absurd the English language can be.  

This is a book of homophones. Homophones being pairs of words that sound the same, but have very different meanings and different spellings.  

This book relies heavily on the illustrations for the humour, because the nature of a homophone is that each sentence will sound the same, it’s the spelling of the word that will change the meaning.  So reading this book out loud, without showing the illustrations might actually make it the ‘worst read-aloud’ book ever, as it states on the cover.  

It does however, make a great book for sharing and discussion, and an excellent choice to liven up an English lesson in the classroom.

This book is American, so for readers in Australia there may be some additional explanation of the words to ‘get’ the humour, as we pronounce some words differently, or we don’t use some of the words featured in the book. 

For example:

We saw the queen’s burrow thanks to our ant hill.

We saw the Queensboro, thanks to our Aunt Hill   

We don’t pronounce Aunt as Ant in Australia, so the sentences won’t sound the same.


The pitcher held the batter –We don’t use the word pitcher, here we call it a jug, and baseball is not a commonly played sport.

That’s nothing against the book.  I don’t think those ‘Americanisms’ will take away from the enjoyment of the book at all, and it gives parents/educators additional discussion points in regard to the English language.  Even though Americans and Australians speak English, there are still plenty of differences.

There is also a glossary at the back of the book, so if the reader is in any doubt as to the meaning of a word, they will find the answer there (although ‘pitcher’ is not on that list)

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the review copy  #netgalley

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
August 2015 Simon & Schuster


Sophia tries varied techniques to get the giraffe she wants more than anything in this playfully illustrated story about the nuances of negotiation. 
Sophia has one true desire for her birthday. But she has Four Big Problems in the way: Mom, Dad, Uncle Conrad...and Grand-mama. 
Will her presentations, proposals, and pie charts convince them otherwise? Turns out, all it takes is one word.

When this book came in last year, I thought it was new. It isn't,  it came out on 2015.  Once again, proving that I don't know everything, and I don't know every book on our shelves.

Anyway, I loved the cover, and that's what drew me to read it...a girl in a tutu standing on a giraffe's head.  It becomes clear in the first two pages why there's a giraffe on the cover.  You see, Sophia has One True Desire, and that is to get a pet giraffe for her birthday.

In order to achieve this one true desire, Sophia has to convince four people:

Mother, who was a judge,
Father , who was a businessman,
Uncle Conrad, who was a politician, 
and Grand-mama who was very strict.

And so begins Sophia's quest to convince the four.  There are long-winded reasons, diagrams, charts slideshows and graphs, and after each presentation she's given the brush off, being told her presentation was verbose, effusive and loquacious...

I love the language used in this book, so many words that mean 'using too many words'!...and then there's Activist, Quadruped, Respondents, Revise and Warehousing...all of which are explained in the glossary at the back of the book.  

All of this rich language wrapped up in a book that will appeal to every child who has wished for something big....and the power of one little word...

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Resilience Project by Hugh Van Cuylenburg

The Resilience Project by Hugh Van Cuylenburg
Published November 2019


Hugh van Cuylenburg was a primary school teacher volunteering in northern India when he had a life-changing realisation: despite the underprivileged community the children were from, they were remarkably positive. By contrast, back in Australia Hugh knew that all too many children struggled with depression, social anxieties and mental illness. His own little sister had been ravaged by anorexia nervosa. How was it that young people he knew at home, who had food, shelter, friends and a loving family, struggled with their mental health, while these kids seemed so contented and resilient? He set about finding the answer and in time came to recognise the key traits and behaviours these children possessed were gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. In the ensuing years Hugh worked tirelessly to study and share this revelation with the world. He launched The Resilience Project, which has become part of the curriculum in many schools and he tours Australia talking to parents, educators, corporations, CEOs and sporting elite. Now, with the same blend of humour, poignancy and clear-eyed insight that The Resilience Project has become renowned for, Hugh explains how we can all get the necessary tools to live a happier, more contented and fulfilling life.

I have just ‘read’ (listened to) the book The Resilience Project by Hugh Van Cuylenberg. In the book he is described by someone as being a cult leader, and the Resilience Project as a cult. The funny thing is, while I don’t think that at all, I do get it. Because after I read this book, I couldn’t stop talking about it and wanted to make sure everyone I knew read it. I even joined up a ‘non library using’ friend (I know!) to the library online, so they could listed to the audiobook themselves. 

I read it because someone mentioned it, but only in passing, saying her daughter had read it and couldn’t stop talking about it. That’s the kind of book it is. It’s not a long read, only 4 hours 40 listening time with the audiobook, and 288 pages in the physical book. It’s really a collection of stories, shared by Hugh about his journey to what has become the Resilience Project. And while I could go on and re-tell Hugh’s own stories, I won’t, because you will read all about them when you read the book 😉. 

What I will tell you, is that the idea of the Resilience Project is all about how we can implement more gratitude, empathy and mindfulness into our lives, and how that will, in turn, make us happier. I highly recommend the audiobook version of this, because the book lends itself so well to the stories being 'told', and Hugh narrates the audio version, so it's the next best thing to being able to see him in person.

Bringing all of these ideas around to my world of children’s literature, there was one book I kept thinking of the whole time I was listening to this, and that’s the book Pookie Aleera Is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick. So many of Herrick’s books have an underlying theme of kindness, but this is the one that stands out to me, and is one of my all-time favourites, a book that will make your heart swell, and make you laugh out loud!

There’s a particular scene in the book, that really shows how making someone happy, can affect our own happiness, and I think about it all of the time: