Thursday, 28 April 2016

50 Books Every Kid Should Read Before They're 12

Hot off the press at Common Sense Media is this list of 50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They're 12. It's an interesting list. Essentially compiled by senior editor Regan McMahon. She has specifically tried to be more inclusive of content and genre, it's still primarily American in focus. Not an Aussie title to be seen sadly.

1. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus - Mo Willems 

2. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site - Sherry Duskey Rinker

3. Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown

4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

5. Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak 1963

6. Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson

7. The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

8. The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss

9. Frog and Toad are Friends - Arnold Lobel

10. Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

11. The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne

12. Mercy Watson to the Rescue - Kate DiCamillo

13. Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary

14. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

15. Ivy + Bean: Book 1 - Annie Barrows

16. Stuart Little - E.B. White

17. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

18. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

19. Coraline - Neil Gaiman

20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

21. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 1 - C.S. Lewis

22. The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread - Kate DiCamillo (see my review)

23. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

24. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

25. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1 - Lemony Snicket

26. Big Nate: In a Class by Himself: Big Nate, Book 1 - Lincoln Peirce

27. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

28. Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis

29. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

30. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

31. The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1 - Rick Riordan

32. Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

33. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

34. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

35. Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan

36. Hold Fast - Blue Balliett

37. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World - Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

38. Inside Out and Back Again - Thanhha Lai (see my review)

39. My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George (see my review)

40. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party - Ying Chang Compestine

41. Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech

42. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (see my review)

43. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

44. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

45. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

46. The Hunger Games, Book 1 - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

47. Legend, Book 1 - Marie Lu

48. March: Book One - John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

49. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

50. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee


As always some titles I've never heard of before- I've included the covers of those books. 10% are new to me!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Joan of Arc. The Story of Jehanne Darc

I'm really quite obsessed with Joan. It's an impossible story. Fantastic. Extraordinary. Almost surreal. But it seems to be real. So I was keen to read this book when I found out about it. Joan of Arc was Lili Wilkinson's first book. It was commissioned, and so far remains the only non-fiction book that she has written. I was very pleased to find that my library had a pack with the book and an audio version. I made the most of my recent trip to Newcastle and listened to the audiobook three times!

Fifteenth century France was quite a different one to the France of today. Much of Northern France was under English control. The Hundred Year war between England and France was three quarters of the way through when Jehanne Darc was born in 1412.

Legend says that when Jehanne Darc- Joan of Arc- was born at midnight on 6 January 1412, all the roosters in the village crowed, as if they were heralding a new sort of dawn. 
The story starts and ends at a rather obvious place, Joan's very public death in the Old Market at Rouen.

People who watched Joan die claimed that they saw angels around her head; that a dove flew from the heart of the fire; that the words Jhesus-Maria were written in the flames; that a halo appeared above her head; that her heart remained full of blood, even when the rest of her was reduced to ashes.

Joan's" trial" was pure farce, as I suspect many medieval trials were.

The man chosen to break Joan was the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon. Cauchon was 60 years old, a Burgundian, and a very intelligent, cunning and cruel man. Cauchon had been promised by the English that if he could find Joan guilty, he would be made archbishop of Rouen. 

Any wonder that Joan was found guilty then? She did make him work for it even though the odds were seriously stacked against her.

On the prosecution side, there sat a cardinal, six bishops, 32 doctors theology, 16 bachelors of theology, seven doctors of medicine, and 100 other clerics. On Joan's side, there was just Joan. 

Once again Charles, the king that Joan put on the throne, comes under heavy criticism.

From the day Joan was captured, till the day she died Charles made no attempt to help her. The laws of chivalry stated that any noble or captain could be ransomed, but Charles never offered to ransom Joan. 
Charles waited 21 years to save Joan. He then wrote a letter to the pope seeking to have an official trial of rehabilitation, which could officially annul the Trial of Condemnation where Joan was declared a heretic.

I've seen many images of Joan before,
but not this one I think

The structure of the audiobook was a bit confusing at times, as there are historical notes and asides liberally peppered throughout the narrative- which is of course obvious in the book format but not so much in the audio. Covering interesting topics such as Women in Medieval France, Saints especially Saint Michael, Catherine and Margaret who spoke to Joan, these notes give an invaluable historical background to Joan's story. Lili Wilkinson also uses many primary first hand accounts of Joan's life, actions and her trial which while fascinating, did not always slip easily into the audio either. This book is the second I've read about Joan that strongly recommends Regine Pernoud's Joan of Arc by Herself and her Witnesses. I must have it. Lili Wilkinson did a great job of telling Joan's story, I look forward to reading some of her fiction too.

French Bingo 2016

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Forage 2016

It seems rather incredible that another Forage has come and gone. I've had a happy association with this amazing event for 6 years now. Forage grows from strength to strength every year, it is one of the major events of Orange Food Week each April. It's always a sell out.

From humble beginnings in 2011, Forage has grown year by year. Today there were 1,500 enthusiastic Foragers making the most of lovely autumnal weather and the incredible food and wine on offer.

Loaded up with food and wine tickets
Canapé 1. A lovely fresh start. 

Char Sui Canowindra Pork on Crispy Wonton Salad with
Five Spice Dressing
Highland Heritage Estate
 We Forage through the lovely Central Tablelands.

Canapé 2. Big on taste.

Country Terrine and Toasts with
Pureed Pickled Pears
Michael Manners
Three kangaroos entertained us early on. It's really quite dry and dusty this year. 

 But there are splashes of perfect autumn colour.

The soup station is the first big station where people start to linger. I can never photograph soup in a cup all that well, but the Chinese Carbeen Chicken and Apple Soup was fab. Union Bank Wine Bar.

Intrepid Foragers heading for station 4 and the pies.

Pie- the pie was especially fabulous today. Perfectly flaky pastry and particularly delicious filling.

Wild Mushroom Pie with
Roasted Leeks and Dutch Cream Potatoes
The Agrestic Grocer

Bucolic beauty abounds.

I do love a new variety of fruit. Kanzi apples are delicious! A lovely Gala Braeburn hybrid. 

Main Course- amazing falling apart lamb. 

Slow Cooked Lamb Neck with
Smokey Parmesan Polenta and
Slaw and Maple, Rosemary and Mustard Mop Sauce
Smoking Brothers Catering

I wasn't drinking (although everyone else does...)

There's two or three fabulous local wines
at every station.
Brangayne's Tristan a very popular
accompaniment to lunch. 

Sorbet- this was outstanding.

Hand Pressed Shiraz Sorbet
Vindevie Vineyard

Sadly it was too dark for me to take a decent picture of the fabulous dessert from Edwena Michell Catering- Hazelnut and Brown Sugar Financier with Roasted Figs, Borenore Strawberries and White Chocolate Cream. That cream was amazing. I didn't get to the cheese station this year, but it was another sensational day, with bus loads of merry Foragers heading back into town with memories of another fabulous Forage.

Looking back at previous Forage experiences... it's really fascinating to see both the different foods and wines, and also the fluctuations in the landscape, green and lush some years, browned and dusty other times. 

I can't wait for next year already.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 
This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Thursday, 31 March 2016


I want to like graphic novels, I really do. I try them from time to time, but never seem to have much luck. They're ok I guess, but the story always seems a bit disappointing somehow. Why not write prose and write a really good story? What is the advantage of the format? Does it go beyond enticing reluctant readers? El Deafo didn't really hit the mark for me last year (see my review), but I did quite like French Milk a few years ago (see my review) although that's a much more obvious topic for me.

I've seen the covers of Raina Telgemeier's hugely popular graphic novels about the place recently, enough to get me curious about her work. Clearly I'm quite behind the times, Raina has  dominated the New York Times Graphic Novel list for the past few years, and her books tend to stay up there for over a 100 weeks. My library had a copy of Drama sitting on the shelf so I borrowed it recently, and read it in the past day. Graphic novels certainly are quick reads! And that's a good thing, a nice quick read for those times when you need to read something between other meatier reads.

Drama tells the story of Callie and her friends and fellow students at Eucalyptus (!) Middle School. Callie is a 7th grade student, and a keen participant in the drama group at the school- she loves theatre, she loves her role as set designer, and wants to work in theatre as a set designer when she grows up. The school is doing a play called Moon Over Mississippi and as with everything the production has some drama of it's own along the way too. All set amongst a background of first crushes, some dating problems and confusing times in friendships.  Naturally I liked the Les Mis references.

Drama is certainly inclusive, the kids depicted are from all sorts of backgrounds. Sometimes we learn this from their names, other times from the colour of their skin. Although I guess if graphic novels use colourists, then the colourist decides skin colour, not the author? I really do wonder how the colourist/author interaction works. I only learned that colourists existed a few months ago when I read El Deafo (see my review). So who decided that Callie had purple hair? That seems kind of important.

I found a rather fascinating description of Raina's work process on her blog- check it out, it's fascinating. Oh, and here she explains the interactions with her colourists, also fascinating, and an explanation as to why colourists even exist- as Raina says that it would take her an extra 6-9 months to do the colouring herself! Wow, it's clearly a process I have no idea about- I find it incredible that it could take so long. You can hear a great interview with Raina Telgemeier here.

I have Smile in the house, I'll try and read it soon.

Friday, 25 March 2016

You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum

I came across Mr Gum back in May last year, in a fabulous list about Roald Dahl's enduring influence, a list created by Andy Griffiths

OK, his books aren't published in Australia, but I can't leave him off this list. Here are the first lines of his Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning first book: "Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave. He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things."

Who could resist that? I liked the cover, so ordered it online straight away, and then got to reading it recently.

It is an awfully silly book, full of farts, general grossness and offal.

There was broken glass in the windows and the ancient carpet was the colour of unhappiness and smelt like a toilet. 

I loved the wonderful smeary pages making the book like it had just been removed from Mr Gum's house. 

You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum is the first in the Mr Gum series, there are at least eight Mr Gum books now. I'm sure they're all as grossly good as this one.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The 50 Children's Books That Should Be in Every Family Library

Every list is unique of course. This one from Good Housekeeping is an odd mix and appears to be in no particular order. Naturally, it's rather American.

As always the books I've read are in red.

1. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

2. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss

3. An Awesome Book of Thanks - Dallas Clayton

4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (see my review)

5. Dragons Love Tacos - Adam Rubin

6. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie - Laura Numeroff

7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (see my review)

10. Looking for Alaska - John Green

11. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg (see my review)

12. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

13. Busy, Busy Town - Richard Scarry

14. Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt

15. Frog and Toad Are Friends - Arnold Lobel

16. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

17. Eloise - Kay Thompson

18. The Complete Adventures of Curious George - Margaret and H.A. Rey

19. This is the World - M. Sasek

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

21. The Brownstone - Paula Scher

22. The Circus Ship - Chris Van Dusen

23. Olivia - Ian Falconer

24. Dada - Jimmy Fallon

25. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

26. Beautiful Oops! - Barney Saltzberg

27. Wild - Emily Hughes

28. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

29. Zero - Kathryn Otoshi

30. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White (see my review)

31. Max the Brave - Ed Vere

32. Rosie Revere Engineer - Andrea Beaty

33. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

34. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

35. The Heart and the Bottle - Oliver Jeffers

36. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

37. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

38. Home - Carson Ellis

39. The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt

40. On A Beam Of Light - Jennifer Berne

41. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

42. Llama Llama Red Pajama - Anna Dewdney

43. The Borrowers - Mary Norton

44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

45. Press Here - Hervé Tullet

46. What Do You Do With An Idea? - Kobi Yamada

47. Of Thee I Sing - Barack Obama

48. Where The Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

49. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary

50. Leo A Ghost Story - Mac Barnett


Always more inspiration.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Minpins

I think perhaps The Minpins was the first Roald Dahl I ever read, and that was only as recently as 2008. Young Master Wicker was in Year 2 and he had the first of many teachers who would read Roald Dahl to his class. I'd never read any Dahl in my own childhood so I took the opportunity to read them as Master Wicker had them read to him. I fell in love with The Minpins and I fell in love with Roald Dahl at the same time. He certainly is The Master. I found a second hand copy of The Minpins the other day and it seemed like an opportune moment to reread it. After all 2016 is the centenary of Dahl's birth.

The Minpins was Roald Dahl's last book, published a few months after his death. It tells the tale of Little Billy, a young boy who lives in a nice house just next to the Forest of Sin. Little Billy's mother is always checking on him, and making him do good, boring things.

Little Billy's mother was always telling him exactly what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do. 
All the things he was allowed to do were boring. All the things he was not allowed to do were exciting. 

One day Little Billy is lured into the Forest of Sin by the devil himself. Billy goes despite his mother's warnings of the many vicious and fearful creatures that live in the wood.

Do not believe one word of what your mother says about Whangdoodles and Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers and Vermicious Knids and the Terrible Bloodsucking Toothplucking Stonechuckling Spittler. There are no such things. 

Of course there is a terrible monster living within the woods, a revolting creature who belches smoke and fire and loves nothing better than eating little children. Perfect Dahl. But there are also gentle little creatures who live in the trees out of reach of the fearsome Gruncher. They have suction boots and ride about on birds.

It is all magnificently illustrated by Patrick Benson, another thing that sets The Minpins apart from Dahl's other books- the vast majority of which are illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake of course. The Minpins is a great Dahl short story, probably not as well known as many of his other books, with a great message at its heart. I'm glad to have a copy in the house, and glad to have reread it.
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.