Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for Lovers of Libraries, Ballet, Gardeners and Girls with BIG IDEAS…

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Cheerio me hearties!  I’m a little bit behind on my review schedule this week, so apologies that you had to wait two extra days for this round up of worthy picture books.  Since there’s no time to waste we’re going to ride straight in – yaa!

The Night Gardener (Terry & Eric Fan)

*We received a copy of The Night Gardener from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

William looks out his window one night to discover that the hedge in the yard has been sculpted into a beautiful owl shape.  As the days continue, more hedge shapes appear around the town until William discovers the secret and begins to share in the work of the night gardener.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric picture book with a story that unfolds through the imagery as much as the text.  Not to be confused with Jonathan Auxier’s middle grade novel of the same name, this book contains many visual cues and clues for the keen-eyed reader to collect on the way to a charming finish.  The palette of deep greens and blues, alternating with sepia page spreads highlights both the sense of mysterious night-time gardening and the historical setting of the characters.  The colour palette changes as the story progresses and we are treated to the glorious browns and golds of autumn, the sweeping whites and greys of winter and the bright, busy colours of spring and summer by the end of the tale.  The mini-fleshlings were mildly interested in the story of William discovering the identity of the night gardener and taking on the secret himself, but were entranced by the illustrations.  This edition came with a dust jacket featuring the cover image above, that hid a beautifully etched drawing of leaves and lawn tools on the hardback cover, and some gorgeous line-drawn endpapers.  The Night Gardener is a visual feast and will bring to life the sense of adventure that goes along with discovering a secret for your mini-fleshlings.

Brand it with:

Terrific topiary; hedging one’s bets; walks in the moonlight

Lucy’s Book (Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini)

*We received a copy of Lucy’s Book from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

Lucy loves visiting the library and always checks out her favourite book.  When Lucy tells her friends about the book, they check it out too and take it on all sorts of adventures…until the book is no longer able to be borrowed.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one for the book lovers, the library lovers and the lovers of unexpected discoveries that stay with us forever.  If you’ve ever had the experience of finding a wonderful book at the library and have had to come to terms with the fact that other people are also allowed to borrow it, take it away and – gasp! – possibly damage it, you will definitely relate to Lucy here.  As well as the immense joy that Lucy gets from sharing her favourite story with her friends, and thus multiplying the level of joy she finds in the book, there is also the lingering sense of irritation that she doesn’t get to have the book with her all the time.  When Lucy arrives at the library one day to find that the book is no longer in circulation, and subsequently, out of print – oh the horror! – Lucy discovers that while other books and stories may temporarily fill the gap in Lucy’s bookshelf, nothing will ever plug the special story-shaped hole in her heart that the disappearance of her favourite book has left.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it will restore your faith in the support found in the bookish community and have you believing the claptrap that The Secret tries to have us believe.  This is definitely one for the mini-fleshling of your acquaintance who has that special appreciation of time spent with a favourite story.

Brand it with:

Lost and found; Try Abebooks; Neverending book club

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Frau Isa)

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Elisa Munso)

*We received copies of both of these titles from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

 

These two books are from a series of narrative nonfiction picture books about the lives of famous women.  Other books in the series focus on the lives of Maya Angelou, Emilia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel.  You can check out the full list of titles at Goodreads here.

Muster up the motivation because…

…these little gems are the perfect way to introduce mini-fleshlings to the biography format and the lives of some truly inspirational ladies in an engaging way.  I originally requested the Agatha Christie one for obvious reasons, but was sent both and I am highly impressed by the quality of information and the gorgeous illustrative styles. Each book seems to be illustrated by a different person, so while the books are part of a series, each book has its own individual style.

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Little People, BIG DREAMS: Agatha Christie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Elisa Munso.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd February 2017.  RRP: $18.99

 

Agatha Christie’s edition relies heavily on black and white with splashes of red and a certain Deco flair.  I particularly enjoyed the page recounting the number of books Christie wrote, accompanied by an image of the lady herself looking over a field of tombstones – each carved with the name of a victim from her novels!  Marie Curie’s edition is awash in shades of blue, green and brown and cleverly, yet subtly, highlights the struggles of Curie as a woman making her way in science.  I actually learned a lot from this little picture book.  I knew the basics of Curie’s life of course – her work in discovering radium and so forth – but expanded my general knowledge in discovering that she is the only woman to have so far won two Nobel Prizes in two separate subjects – Chemistry and Physics.  Each book also includes a short timeline at the end featuring actual photos of the women along with some important dates in their lives and a quick overview of their lives in traditional non-fiction style.  If you have a mini-fleshling about the place who is interested in nonfiction (or even one who isn’t, because these don’t read like your typical nonfiction picture books), you should definitely leave some of these lying around in plain sight.

Brand it with:

All the awesome ladies; little people, big brains; narrative nonfiction

Where’s the Ballerina? (Anna Claybourne & Abigail Goh)

*We received a copy of Where’s the Ballerina? from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

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Where’s the Ballerina? Find the Hidden Ballerina in the Ballets by Anna Claybourne and Abigail Goh.  Published by Allen & Unwin (HardieGrantEgmont), 25th January, 2017.  RRP: $19.99

If you have been waiting for the day when information about classical ballets is combined with a search and find picture book, then wait no longer!  This book retells the stories behind famous ballets from around the world along with fun search and find scenes related to each ballet.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as well as a fun search and find book, this book cleverly provides brief, illustrated retellings of famous ballets from around the world.  From Swan Lake and the Nutcracker to India’s La Bayadere and Spain’s Don Quixote, each ballet is retold in a beautiful double page spread, and followed by an eye-popping double page illustration in which mini-fleshlings are encouraged to find particular characters.  The double page illustrations bring to life the colours and settings of each ballet, so young readers can clearly see the differences in each story and come to understand that not all ballet involves pink tutus and dying swans.  This would be a fantastic gift book for a young one who is entranced by dance and wants to know more about ballet in particular, while enjoying a fun activity at the same time.  Similarly, this would be a great book for a classroom library, to trick  entice youngsters in with a search-and-find activity before they realise they are actually learning something.

Brand it with:

Dance like someone’s scrutinising every page; international ballet; fun with tutus

Clearly you will forgive my lateness in posting given how stunning these titles are and I will graciously accept that forgiveness and promise not to get behind on my schedule again.  Until the next time I have too many books and not enough time.

Tally ho my friends!

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crafting with Feminism: A Read-it-if Review…

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Today’s book is one that is quite timely given recent happenings in the US and certain behaviours and statements from a high-profile man whose name rhymes with “dump”, “rump” and “where the hell did you Americans find this chump?”.  You know who I mean.  We received a copy of Crafting with Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement.

crafting-with-feminism

Read it if:

*you’ve been looking for a simple, visible and slightly absurd way to stick it to the (random) man

*you’re hosting the next gathering of your Stitch and Bitch group and would also like to use up the last bits of bleach, glitter and fluffy fabric lying around in your craft drawer

*no one has ever described you as a shrinking violet

All in all, this is a bit of a silly book, with outlandish craft activities and a decent amount of tongue-in-cheek humour.  But really, if there are craft books out there exhorting us to craft with cat hair or knit one’s own lingerie, why the hell shouldn’t there be a book featuring tutorials on creating vagina-shaped tree ornaments?  Each to her own, I say.

Squarely aimed at the more “out-there” sort of feminist who is not afraid of body parts or inflammatory slogans, the book has step-by-step instructions on everything from felt merit badges (“Leg hair, don’t care” being my personal favourite), to stained glass candle decorations featuring strong female role-models (crafter’s own choice), and a huggable uterus body pillow, as well as the aforementioned vaginaments.  The crafts mostly seem to be aimed at beginners, with no crochet or knit projects included (which Mad Martha found quite interesting), using basic sewing and other techniques that don’t need a lot of practice or preparation beforehand.

Between each project there are full-page quotes from famous ladies of history and handy lists of feminist-themed movies, books, songs and holidays, as well as suggestions for how to host a fun feminist crafternoon.  Templates and information on supplies are listed throughout.

I don’t want to get bogged down in how truly feminist or otherwise the book is, but the projects clearly lean toward the sort of female-only feminism that excludes males from the conversation (and therefore from assisting in the fight for equality), which may be considered by some to be an outdated focus of the movement.  On the other hand, it could be considered a champion of the safe-space, in which females are allowed to claim their bodies, voices and means of expression in whatever form they please.

Or, you know, it could just be intended as a fun, slightly outrageous crafting book and maybe we’re all overthinking it.

As craft books go, I’ve certainly come across weirder offerings, and as Mad Martha has already started rifling through the fabric box to find something suitably shiny from which to create her own “Feminist KillJoy” sash, I think I can safely say that this book will find a home with fun-loving ladies of a subversive nature.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Graphic novel Double Dip…and an Fi50 Reminder

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Welcome to an illustrative double dip review with a side order of odd.   Before we start noshing on with graphic novels however, I must remind participants and lurkers alike that Fiction in 50 for February kicks off on Monday.  This month’s prompt is….

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To participate, simply  create a piece of fiction or poetry in less than 50 words, post it somewhere, then add the link to the comments section of my Fi50 post on Monday.  It was great to see some new players last month, so if you’ve been dithering about whether or not to join in, the time is NOW! For more information and future prompts, just click on the Fi50 button at the top of this post.

To the Double Dip! I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and it would be tricky to find two more different works. First up, for the young and young at heart we have Gronk: A Monster’s Adventure by Katie Cook.

Gronk is a little, not very scary monster.  After leaving Monsterland, due to her lack of scaring ability, Gronk is picked up by Dale, a human lady, and taken home to live with Kitty (Dale’s cat) and Harli (Dale’s Newfoundland dog).  We join Gronk as she negotiates the joys and terrors of the human world and tries to fit in as just another creatuimagere in a houseful of interesting ones.

Dip into it for:

…a cutesy, episodic tale featuring a cute little monster.  Gronk is undeniably adorable and there are some chuckles to be had as she tries to join in with various human activities with varying degrees of success.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for something with substance.  This really is just a bit of fluff for those days when you need a dose of cheerful monsterism to brighten your mundane existence.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed with the overall Gronk experience.  As it is based on a web comic, the book follows an episodic format, jumping around to different incidents in Gronk’s human-world experience.  While this suited the cartoonish, cute feel of the character, I tend to prefer a more linear storyline to make things a bit more meaty.  The undeniable star of the book for me was Harli, the massive dog.  He’s an absolute scene-stealer.  Recommended for monster fanciers and those looking for a non-calorific distraction.

Now to something for the grown-ups and a definite contender for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter.  I speak of Suffrajitsu: Mrs Pankhurst’s Amazons by Tony Wolf.

In London, 1914, the Suffragist movement is alive and well.  Women are prepared to fight, go to jail and hunger strike in order to secure the right for women to vote.  The last line of defence in this fight is an elite band of women trained in the martial art Bartitsu and the time is coming when these suffragettes aren’t just in danger from the police, but a conspiracy that reaches further then they could have imagined.

Dip into it for…image

…feminist ninja activists! Honestly, if that doesn’t convince you then nothing will.  The story is a socio-political, action-adventure, historical mystery, so if you like a bit of genre-mashing you should appreciate this one.

Don’t dip if..

…you don’t like non-cartoony art styles or blood-splashing violence. This is a graphic novel with a serious tone, so if you’re looking for a bit of light humour this might not fit the bill.  Also, as this is only the first volume the tale ends on a cliffhanger.

Overall Dip Factor:

I would be very interested in seeing where this series goes, as feminism and martial arts are two of our interests on the shelf, and quite frankly, we are pleased someone decided to put the two together.  The level of illustrated violence is probably at the top end of my tolerance level, but I was certainly drawn into the mystery that was revealed at the end of this volume.  Give it a go if you like your graphic novels with a social history twist.

Perhaps, these graphic novels have inspired some ideas for Monday’s Fi50? We’d love to see you join in!

Progress towards Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 3/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge (and jump on board!) click on the image at the top of the post.

Until next time then,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

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Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

tomboy

 

Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

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Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

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The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

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Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really 😉

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Paper Dolls You Never Played With as a Kid…

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It’s lucky dip time again, and have I got some ripping (pun intended) offerings for you today! For those who don’t know, my lucky dip feature involves typing a carefully selected term into the Book Depository’s search box and presenting you with the delightfully weird results.

So, paper dolls. Those favoured playthings of fleshlings fond of fun in two-dimensions. Who would’ve thought that scratching the surface of such an innocuous activity would  uncover a veritable treasure chest of oddity? Well, after the utter strangeness encompassed by the range of colouring books on offer, one probably shouldn’t really be surprised.  But one will be.

For your perusing pleasure, I present to you some of the real gems of paper-related play – click on the covers if your appetite for origami-esque shenanigans is whetted!

For the Buddhist who wants to add “right-dressing” to their list of rules for living:

dalai lama paper dolls

 

In a similarly religious vein, for the paper-doll enthusiast with a penchant for swift, undetectable revenge:

voodoo paper dolls

For the book enthusiast who really wants to get inside their favourite author’s head…and wardrobe:

literary greats paper dollsI’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m only certain of Shakespeare out of that lot…can anyone enlighten me as to who the rest are? Is that Sylvia Plath in the straight jacket? Virginia Woolf? And the bloke on the right looks like a close relation of Colonel Sanders the KFC man, but I’m guessing is somebody more literary minded….

For the pet-lover whose real-life animal friend is averse to wearing cute little outfits:

lucky cats paper dollsFor the man in your life who always liked to play with his sister’s dolls as a little boy:

naughty girls paper dolls

And my personal favourite….***DRUM ROLL PLEASE****…..

For the political enthusiast who wants to recreate famous scandals in their own home:

richard nixon paper dolls

Now before you start scratching your head at the utter surreal-ness of the book immediately above, the BD has a whole range of paper doll books featuring American presidents and their families.  So whatever your political persuasion, there is a paper doll out there for you, voter!

If paper dolls are not your thing, I have also recently discovered two more fantastically different colouring books that I just had to share with you:

For the littlest scholar of feminist philosophy:

girls are not chicks colouring

And for the colouring enthusiast who can’t resist using one of those fancy rainbow pencils:

sometimes the spoon colouring book

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and flex your creative muscle! And be sure to chime in with any other exciting paper-doll or colouring related titles that we need to know about.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read it if: Cinderella Ate My Daughter….

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Now is that a great title, or is that a great title? In fact, it was a brief glimpse at the title of today’s book that fired my curiosity and ultimately led to my immersion in the topic, despite not having a daughter myself.  Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontline of the New Girly Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein delves into the baffling, overwhelming and generally difficult-to-negotiate world of parenting young girls in the modern era.  The book focuses around Orenstein’s own struggles and contradictory actions in balancing out a healthy, fun childhood experience for her daughter with her own philosophies and values around gender and identity.

For Orenstein, raising a daughter to be a strong, confident person with a diverse range of talents and interests and a healthy understanding of her own femininity and the numerous ways in which it can be expressed, was a simple and straightforward matter.  Then, of course, she had a daughter.  Let the befuddlement (and 5th birthday spa and facial parties) commence!

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Read it if:

* you have noticed that Disney Princesses, when depicted together, never make eye contact, and you are curious as to why that might be

* you shook your head in bewilderment on realising that Dora (intrepid explorer and wielder of the purple backpack of adventure) was suddenly dressing in fairy and princess garb

* you’ve suddenly noticed a lot more four-year-olds of your acquaintance wearing lip gloss and eye shadow

* you can’t remember when entire aisles at the toy store became swathes of pink….even in the Lego section

* you are the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or carer of a female under the age of 18

 
I found this to be an enlightening read despite not having female offspring to apply it to.  Orenstein exposes some of the more insidious aspects of girl culture while acknowledging the difficulties parents (herself included) experience in finding a middle ground that allows kids to be shielded from incessant (and age-inappropriate) marketing drives, while still enjoying activities and toys that are important to their peers.  It’s also a reasonably quick and light read with plenty of humour, and with thought-provoking material in every chapter it’s the sort of book that provides value even when being skimmed, or picked up and put down.  Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce