compiled by Lynndy Bennett
Thank you to all our customers who have continued shopping with an independent ‘real’ bookshop, and those who have embraced our more compact children’s shop at Glebe. Thanks also to those who came along to our family events, and anyone who contributed to this year’s children’s selections in the Gleaner. As ever, we are very keen to hear from you the readers, so do send me your comments and feedback on anything you’ve read; as a reward/incentive you receive a book voucher or advance copy of a book, so those ten minutes spent capturing the essence of a book earn you more to read! Please email email@example.com. Happy Christmas. May your supply of books never be exhausted.. Lynndy
Happy by Mies Van Hout ($25, HB)
This is a glorious celebration of various emotions, portrayed by separate fish. Each fish, beautifully drawn with colourful pastels on dark paper, has a different expression. Not only is this a fun book, and stunning to look at, but it would be a very useful tool for discussion of feelings and empathy, and suitable for very young readers as well as older children. Louise
Mouse Mansion: Sam & Julia by Karina Schaapman ($25, HB)
I doubt that even muriphobics will shun the oh-so-bewitching mouse families in this extraordinary first volume of Schaapman’s labour-intensive creations. Feisty Julia who abhors boredom lives with her mother on the sixth floor and timidly obedient Sam from the family-crammed mid-house are inseparable, and when this winsome duo meets up recklessness and adventure are inevitable. In a three year project Dutch creator Schaapman (who is also a politician) handcrafted every element of this exceptional book, using waste materials, cardboard, authentic fabrics from 1950’s-1970’s, and papier-mache to create a 100-room mansion and all its realistic furnishings and fittings, as well as the mouse families that populate it. Even those too young to read about the mischief wrought by Sam and Julia can grasp the story and spend hours poring over this visually complex book. Utterly absorbing! (Whether or not this book appeals, I urge you to check out the Mouse Mansion itself, all 3 x 2m of it, on Google images, and envy those who can visit the actual tour de force in the Amsterdam Central Library). Lynndy
by Juliet Bell ($24, HB)
Eleven-year-old Ella Mackenzie’s mother is gravely ill in hospital and her father is a deadbeat fisherman she seldom sees. With no one else to care for Ella, she is packed off to House of Mud, her estranged grandmother’s Arizona residence. The house features adobe bricks, peacocks, an extensive library, and one very eccentric owner. One day her grandmother’s most prized possession—her late husband’s rare edition of Kepler’s Dream—goes missing! Will Ella solve the mystery before the summer ends? You’ll have to read to find out! This memorable and affecting debut novel is the best children’s book I’ve read of late. It packs a lot in, but is an easy read and the heavy subject matter is given a light touch. I found the letters Ella writes to her mother over the summer the most touching and humorous parts of the book. This precocious and idiosyncratic girl will captivate your imagination long after you turn the last page. Hannah
Claude in the Country by Alex T. Smith ($13, PB)
Debonair Claude is a well-groomed dog with panache. He sports freshly-combed ears, a very dashing jumper and jaunty beret; and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock, is both a (nattily) striped sock and quite bobbly. In this fourth outing for the vivacious pair, they weary of suburban pursuits and find themselves in The Countryside, being inveigled into farm work and unexpectedly participating in a show. Suited to newly confident readers of 7+, each of hapless Claude’s adventures is illustrated in colour and distinguished by Smith’s hilarious wit – ideal for youngsters and adults to share. Catch Claude In the City, At the Circus, and On Holiday. What a joyful treat these books are; thankfully there are more planned. Lynndy
Roald Dahl Audio Set ($79.95, TIN)
27 CDs, 10 complete, unabridged stories and almost 27 hours of audio pleasure! Revel as a cast of performers such as Stephen Fry, Timothy West and James Bolam bring to life Roald Dahl’s best-known tales in this limited release audio collection. Total value $192.25, a bargain at $79.95!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Book & CD
by Eric Carle ($30, HB)
Admittedly there are numerous formats of this beloved classic, a mainstay of early childhood literature, but this hardcover edition has the added allure of music and a performance by Eric Carle himself on the readalong CD. What a splendid way to ensure the exploits of the voracious little nibbler are even more memorable!
Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner
narrated by Bertie Carvell ($20, CD)
Coinciding with the release of the first book of the fairy detective series Wings & Co, this 3-hour unabridged audio introduces Emily Vole who made headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she was found in an abandoned hatbox in Stanstead Airport. A few years later, her neighbour Mrs String died leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: a cat, an old shop and a small bunch of golden keys. Now it is up to Emily to reopen the shop & resuscitate the mysterious Fairy Detective Agency. Delightful magical adventure for mystery-lovers of 6+.
The Word Witch: The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy: Book & CD ($33, PB)
Much-loved doyenne of children’s literature Margaret Mahy performs her own work on the CD accompanying this book illustrated by David Elliot. “She can lasso with a limerick, haunt with a haiku and wrap you tight in a rhyme, quick as lightning. Her cauldron is a dictionary, her wand a mighty pen, and she stirs her words at midnight, making tempting treats for children, to please and tease and tantalise them with imaginary treasures and delectable dreams. She weaves words into adventures, sets verses wildly dancing, makes similes sing and stamp their feet and poems purr like pussycats who’ve eaten all the cream.” The 12 offerings on this CD include some of her picture books, including Down the Back of the Chair. Sadly, her death earlier this year means there’ll be no more chances to hear the magnificent wordsmith Mahy, but her books will continue to feature amongst children’s classics.
For Mature Readers
Every Day by David Levithan ($20, HB)
‘Never get attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.’ In his 16 years of existence, A, who wakes up as a different person every day, living that different person’s life, has abided by his own rules. He has accepted these brief interludes of being more than 6000 other people, until now. The day he spends as Justin, indifferent boyfriend to Rhiannon, A realises the dilemma of his mysterious ‘life’: that he has no control nor stability, but for the first time that is exactly what he craves, along with a lasting, normal relationship with this girl who fills his heart and mind. An unusual concept, masterfully written, this haunted me with its palpable yearning, and stimulated contemplation of ethical quandaries A faces in his transient inhabitation of other people. Underpinning it are powerful contemplations of love, judgement of physical appearance, connection and identity. I surrendered to the anticipation of A’s daily awakening, as well as to his wistful comprehension of his ‘life’, and I’ll be recommending and remembering Every Day for years to come. Stand by for award nominations—this book is superb! Lynndy
Interactive and Novelty
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Matching Game by Sherry Duskey Rinker, (ill) Tom Lichtenheld
Response to Louise’s piece in the September Gleaner about memory games was immediate and enthusiastic, necessitating quick reorders to keep up with demand. Amongst our other toys and games this is the most recent matching game, great for promoting visual discernment, concentration and memory in young players. Featuring an assortment of richly coloured construction machines and excavators from the book of the same name, the 72 cards encourage reflexes and matching skills. Forget Old Maid, bring on the trucks! ($19.95. BX)
Edward Gorey’s Dracula: A Toy Theatre ($29.95, BX)
Invite the uber vampire in, with your own performance of this distinctive Gothic masterpiece. Based on Edward Gorey’s set and costume designs for his long-running, multi award-winning Broadway production of Dracula, this pack contains enough for you to stage your own miniature production. The die-cut perforated foldouts include: 3 pop-up stage sets; a cast of 8 (15 figures in all) and stage furniture. To aid the assembly is a booklet with very simple instructions, along with a synopsis of Gorey’s Broadway adaptation of Dracula, and additional notes on Edward Gorey and his creations. Lynndy
The Little Yellow Digger: Trace ‘n’ Race Box Set
by Betty Gilderdale, (ill) Alan Gilderdale ($20, BX)
The NZ classic steps into technology! When the little yellow digger gets stuck in the mud, a bigger digger is brought in, but it too becomes stuck, so an even bigger digger comes in but guess what…? In this cumulative rhyming tale the little yellow digger is the hero who saves the day, and the excavations. Now you can own both the book and your own replica little yellow digger, enhanced by inductive technology. This gift set also contains instructions and a crayon to start you off: simply use the crayon to draw a line, power up your tractor, set it on the line and watch it trundle along the path you’ve created. Magic! (NB Requires 3 x AAA batteries, not included).
Playbook Farm by Corinna Fletcher, (ill) Britta Teckentrup ($25, BX)
Ingenious paper engineering allows this book to unfold to a 12-panel playmat 1800 x 2400mm, complete with six large fully interactive pop-ups and a simple story. A separate pouch contains double-sided play pieces: each animal mentioned in the story and busy farmers (including a girl driving a tractor – yay for gender equality!), all accurately proportioned. But that’s not all: turn the playmat over, and read the informative details about each aspect of the farm overleaf. Teckentrup’s realistic illustrations are endearingly character-filled and the invitingly presented set is sturdy enough to withstand repeated playtimes. Pitch-perfect for imaginative younglings. (NB Owing to smaller play pieces the cautioned age rating is 3+). Lynndy
Xmas Gift Suggestions
$5 or less: Mini activity books: challenge with crossword puzzles or mazes; entertain with stickers; colour in, apply some tattoos (guaranteed removable)
Mini picture books: wee versions of classic picture books such as Harry the Dirty Dog or Mrs Mopple’s Washing Line. Art supplies like Lyra aquarelle crayons or pencils in a multitude of colours.
Under $20: Kites—Brightly coloured kite paper for DIY aeronautical engineers
Boxed games—Dominoes, and mini parlour games
Threading Beads boxed in generous assortments of different wooden beads complete with coloured strings for threading. These are exclusive to our shop, and suitable for ages 3+
Glow Stick Science Kit: explore and create glow-in-the-dark projects.
Australia’s Greatest Inventions & Innovations by Christopher Cheng & Linsay Knight in Ass. with the Powerhouse Museum ($24.95, flexi)
Simple explanations and abundant photographs demonstrate a selection of impressive Australian contributions to technology now adopted internationally. Bravo Australian ingenuity!
The 10 Best Games of All Time by
Angels Navarro ($25.95, BD)
In a single cleverly presented compendium are 10 games plus instructions and game tips, along with brief notes on the origins and history of each game. Including durable press-out playboards, 100 counters, and 1 die to assemble, this book is fully self-contained with all the components you need for family fun —just add players!
Interview with Shaun Tan
Behind every enduring innovation lies a vast cemetery of achievement: the world of failed inventions. While the best museum collections remind us of cultural objects that are iconic, many others serve as an equally valuable repository of the obscure and forgettable, offering a fascinating insight into the vagaries of the human imagination. Award-winning author and illustrator Shaun Tan explores this forgotten world in The Oopsatoreum, a fictional tale of a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor.
Your new book, The Oopsatoreum, is a hard book to categorise. How would you describe it?
Like all of my previous work—which I also hope is a bit hard to categorise—The Oopsatoreum is an illustrated book, so a combination of words and pictures that tell a kind of story. The interesting thing in this case is that the illustrations are mostly photographs of real objects from the Powerhouse Museum collection, accompanied by strange fictitious explanations. The result is a fun mix of fact and fiction revealing how things can be quite open to creative interpretation, and also how ‘writing’ and ‘illustration’ can happen in any order, and from any source.
Tell us about Henry Mintox. Did you have anyone in mind when you were developing the character?
Mintox insists that his own children refer to him as ‘The Thomas Edison of Australia’ rather than ‘Dad’, but the similarities to real historical figures probably end there. I think he’s more a distillation of something that is as widespread as it is under-reported: misguided creativity. There’s a bit of Mintox in all of us, it’s an essential part of being human. I think some readers might especially recognise Mintoxic elements in their own family—DIY Dads with a streak of creative wilfulness that ignores any sense of practical reality.
Henry’s inventions are never a success, but he seems undaunted by failure. In your experience, to what extent are mistakes a part of the creative process?
The more I draw and write, the more I realise that accidents are a necessary part of any creative act, much more so than logic or wisdom. Sometimes a mistake is the only way of arriving at an original concept, and the history of successful inventions is full of mishaps, serendipity and unintended results. The only difference with Henry is that he isn’t actually successful, but you can otherwise argue that he’s a very good inventor.
Were your stories of Henry’s inventions influenced by what an object ‘really is’?
Yes, sometimes you just can’t beat the strangeness of reality, from the small trumpet-shaped hearing aid to the tiger-shark-skin shoes and automatic tea-maker, for such cases I did refer to their original function and origin. In other cases I did my best to ignore the intended purpose of an object altogether and instead treated it as something of a mystery.
Since your last collaboration with the Power House Museum, The Odditoreum, you’ve won an Oscar and the prestigious Astrid Lindgren award. Is it odd to be writing about failure after so much success?
Ha, yes that’s an interesting question. Both those awards were very big surprises, and I think it’s easy to exaggerate the difference between failure and success based on hindsight. Good and bad ideas both come from the same fountain of speculation and experiment. I feel great empathy with Henry Mintox, actually, because the majority of my creative ideas jotted in notebooks (not too different from Henry’s postcards) are actually nonsense, unworkable, and will remain forever unseen, hopefully. It’s only a very small percentage of creative thinking that ends up connecting with a wider audience, and even then any success is quite unpredictable.
Henry’s home town, Burrumbuttock, is a real town in NSW. Ever visited?
No, I’ve never been there, I just stumbled across it on a map and loved the name! So I must visit the next time I happen to be driving around rural Victoria, and I hope the residents of Burrumbuttock are amused by this piece of imaginary local history. Speaking of names, ‘mintox’ was a slang term from my childhood in 1980s Perth that few people probably remember. It means ‘exceptionally good’, coming from the word ‘mint’ used to described something in excellent condition. As an obsolete form of praise, it felt like a perfect name for an inventor whose genius has been largely forgotten.
First published in Powerline, the magazine of the Powerhouse Museum, Spring 2012.