Archive for the ‘REVIEWS’ Category

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With a visit from Santa and Ethan’s birthday our house has recently been flooded with new children’s books so I thought I’d share with you what we’re enjoying at the moment.

The big winners at the moment are:

I am too absolutely small for school feauring Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child.
Love, Splat by Rob Scotton. 

Very cute story about Splat the cat on Valentines Day.

Both are incredible writers and illustrators. They obviously have ready access to the imaginative child inside them. Their work is so original and whimsical. A pleasure to read … again and again.
Grug, a series of books by Ted Prior – eg Grug plays cricket; Grug and the rainbow. They’ve been around for thirty years but I’ve only just discovered them.They’re perfect for pre-schoolers as they can relate to a lot of what Grug is experiencing. Very simple language that pre-schoolers can understand. 

Inexpensive, just AUD$5 each. A great little gift.

Stick man by Julia Donaldson

My four-year-old Finn and I are off to see a production of Charlie and Lola at the Opera House on Sunday. Can’t wait. And we’ll be paying a visit to Kinokuniya bookstore afterwards to perhaps stock up on some more Lauren Child books.

Do you spend more time reading children’s books than your own books? What’s popular in your house?

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Buddhism For Mothers – A Calm Approach To Caring For Yourself And Your Children by Sarah Naphali

Let me just start by saying that I’m not a Buddhist. And whilst Buddhism For Mothers is about how Buddhist principles can be applied to parenting I think mothers of any spiritual or religious belief can get an awful lot out of this book.

Topics include parenting mindfully; listening well; dealing with anger; and meditating, amongst others.

Writing style: Easy to read. Not preachy.

Best bit: I actually had what Oprah would could call a light bulb moment during the chapter ‘finding happiness and losing our self-image’ where Napthali writes about the Buddhist believe in no-self. She quotes Buddha:

“The buddha which I believed in was a fictional construction! I have a name, a personal history, memories, thoughts, emotions, dreams; but when I look they are quite illusory.”

This book had quite an impact on me. I am a better mother for having read it. I am calmer, more patient and ever mindful of being present with my children.

If you like: Stephanie Dowrick’s books you’ll like Buddhism for Mothers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Highly recommended.

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If I Ran The Circus

My boys and I were in the queue at the post office yesterday waiting to buy some stamps when Finn spied a pack of Dr Seuss books in a bin of childrens books. Four books for $10. Fantastic. I’ll take those thank you very much. I didn’t even pay to much attention to which books were included. It didn’t really matter. I’d just bagged a bargain.

I was pleased to discover that Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was included. It’s certainly one of Dr Seuss’s best books. My husband and I love it and we read a passage from it for our youngest son at his naming ceremony recently.

But the most wonderful surprise was If I Ran The Circus. Finn and I sat down to read it tonight for the first time. And I was blown away. If you’re not familiar with it it’s about a boy who imagines all the wonderful creatures and acts that would appear at his circus.

Just one of the many incredible passages:

And now here is a Hoodwink
Who winks in his wink-hood
Without a good wink-hood
A Hoodwink can’t wink good
And, folks, let me tell you
There’s only one circus
With wink-hooded Hoodwinks!
The Circus McGurkus!

As I was reading the words I just couldn’t believe that anyone could conceive of combining words in this way. It’s hilarious. And genius. Completely non-sensical yet it makes total sense. It makes you rethink what you know about language and writing and storytelling. Most of all it’s just fun.

You don’t need to have children to enjoy this book. If you haven’t read it get your hands on a copy.

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The Great Dan Brown Mystery

I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post. Where has the year gone? My excuse – if it’s worth anything at all – is that I’ve been spending my writing time on my novel. Plus, I’m pregnant and everyone knows that time goes quicker when one is pregnant.

Anyway, I just wanted to comment on the Dan Brown mania which has reared its (dare I say, ‘ugly’) head with the release of his latest novel, The Lost Symbol.  Footage on the news last night showed the hardcovers being grabbed out of boxes by crazed fans before they could even get a look-in on the shelf.

I just don’t get it. Why all the hoopla? Why are Dan Brown’s stories so incredibly popular?

I was in a bookstore last week, a rare occurence lately as I’m still on sabbatical from buying books but as I’m still allowed to buy books for others I was there purchasing a book for my two-year-old son. (Really, I was, he can attest.) Perusing the new releases shelf I was delighted to find new novels from Ursula Le Guin and Iain Banks. And then I realised I couldn’t buy them and got sad. So I’ve put them on my ‘Books to Buy on 2nd January 2010’ list.

But I digress. The point I’m getting to is that: Why does Dan Brown’s new book get major media coverage and invoke reader madness whilst novels from the likes of Le Guin and Banks are lucky to get a review in the weekend paper?

I read the Da Vinci Code a few years back to find out what all the fuss was about. And having read it I was more confused than before. The story was engaging enough but nothing extraordinary and the writing was average, at best.

The only conclusion I can come to is that Dan Brown’s popularity is simply due to the controversial nature of the topic he wrote about in the Da Vinci Code. This controversy led to publicity which led to book sales which led to more publicity and on it goes so that now his name is so huge that he could write a bad limerick and publish it on toilet paper and it would sell a squillion copies.

I would love to know your thoughts. Forget global warming and economic crisis, The Great Dan Brown Mystery is a truly important issue.

Why do you think Dan Brown is so popular?

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I became a fan of Pinky McKay after reading her down-to-earth articles on bellybelly.com.au whilst I was pregnant with my son so I was pleased to see her new book Toddler Tactics: How to make magic from mayhem had been released. Its timing could not have been better as my son had recently celebrated his first birthday and graduated from baby to toddler.

Pinky McKay is a lactation consultant, infant massage iToddler Tactics by Pinky McKay nstructor, author and columnist specialising in parenting and baby care. Her books include Parenting By Heart and Sleeping Like a Baby.

Toddler Tactics is an easy and reasonably quick read; I finished it in a few hours. However, for a small book it’s incredible how much useful information it contains. Topics include toddlers’ physical development, behaviour, play, learning and sleeping, to name but a few.

It’s the kind of book that can also be used as a reference to be consulted later as your child grows and new challenges arise. For example, I’ll be revisiting the chapter on toilet training in a year or two.

McKay has a gentle approach to parenting. Her advice doesn’t come with a ‘Do it this way or your child will be forever ruined’ footnote. She doesn’t aim to add to the pressure already on parents who are often already feeling guilty or inadequate for one reason or another. Rather she provides answers to a lot of the questions many parents will have about their toddlers with a guiding hand and some common sense advice. For instance, tips for encouraging healthy eating include: don’t put too much food on your child’s plate, and let your toddler help prepare food and some things parents can do to support their toddler’s speech include: name everything, listen, exaggerate speech sounds

Toddler Tactics is peppered with first-hand accounts from parents of toddlers sharing their experiences and their own toddler tactics which are often quite touching and very helpful in themselves.

McKay does have some parenting do’s and don’ts however they are do’s and don’ts that I don’t think any conscientious parent could disagree with. For example: don’t label children, use rewards rather than bribery, support don’t criticise. Even though these are all common sense principles, as a parent, it helps to be reminded sometimes.

Whilst there is a lot of useful advice and information in this book I think the most important thing I learnt from it is to always try looking at things from my child’s perspective. For instance, McKay gives parents a reality check with regards sharing:

Do you lend your friend your car, your computer or your brand-new shoes? Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect your toddler to willingly part with his favourite toys whenever a strange child visits? (p93)

Point taken. And she reminds parents that very young children are simply not able to understand the concept of sharing, this capacity doesn’t develop until about three years of age. So in other words, ‘Lighten up Mum and Dad!’

And McKay has this advice for playtime:

Give children a few minutes’ warning that it’s nearly time to stop playing, rather than insisting they pack up now! Imagine how you would feel if you were busily working at a task and somebody ordered you to stop immediately! (p119)

Toddler Tactics is a must-read for all parents, and soon-to-be parents, of toddlers.

Publisher: Penguin Australia

RRP: $24.95

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Firstly, let me preface this review with the admission that I am not a gardener. I am guilty of both neglect and incompetence when it comes to caring for plant life. And yet I am reviewing a book about gardens because, in spite of my failings in this domain, I am fascinated by gardening and people who know how to care for gardens. Judyth A McLeod is one such person and she has shared some of her extensive knowledge in her latest book, In a Unicorn’s Garden: Recreating the mystery and magic of medieval gardens.

In a Unicorn's Garden

McLeod was inspired to turn her long-held notion of writing a book about medieval gardens into a reality after walking through the Labyrinthe des Merveilles at the Chateau de Merville in France. Its design is based on the secular labyrinths of the medieval period.

McLeod is also the author of Organic at Home and Lavender Sweet Lavender, amongst other titles on gardening and natural methods of healthcare. And she is co-owner of a nursery in the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) called Honeysuckle Cottage, which specialises in plant antiques.

The opening chapter, of In a Unicorn’s Garden, ‘Unicorns and Other Magical Beasts’, was a complete eye opener for me. I was intrigued and delighted to learn that, during the medieval period, it was common for one to believe in unicorns, dragons and other fantastical creatures. Animal-plant hybrids such as the incredible, if ill-fated, Vegetable Lamb, were also thought to exist.

The Vegetable Lamb was a creature that grew from a seed and was attached to the ground by a stem. It survived by eating the grass it could reach and when it ran out of grass it died. And then there’s the Barnacle Goose, a strange fish-bird combo that it seems was contrived, before anyone knew about the migration of birds, to explain how geese suddenly appeared from over the seas. If you can’t explain it, imagine it was the medieval motto.

After the first chapter McLeod settles into discussing the various types of medieval gardens such as The Abbess’ Garden, The Knight’s Garden and The Cook’s Garden.

Each chapter contains a history of the garden, the reason for its being, a physical description including layout and the types of plants it would contain, who would use the garden and be responsible for it, and ends with a design and instructions for creating such a garden yourself. For instance a Mary Garden was created to honour the Virgin Mary and is intended as a place of prayer and reflection. Just some of the plants that would feature in a Mary garden, due to their association with the Virgin Mary, are carnations, forget-me-nots and the Madonna Lily.

It is fitting that in discussing beautiful design and things of a practical nature In a Unicorn’s Garden’s design and layout is both beautiful and practical. From the cover to the index it is clear that a designer’s hand has touched every page. The illustrations and photographs are thoughtfully incorporated with the text so as to accompany and enhance it. This book can be read from beginning to end or used as a reference via its comprehensive index. And mention must be made of the garden designs in each chapter that are exquisitely depicted in water colour.

McLeod has an enviable talent for capturing the wonder of the medieval period and its gardens and at the same time conveying so much factual information in an engaging and accessible way. In a Unicorn’s Garden will appeal to anyone with an interest in medieval history, mythology, botany, horticulture, landscape design or simply a desire to be fascinated.

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