Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday, 14 February 2020

Discover! A selection of information books that explore the sciences.

Botany, anthropology, zoology and geology! Patsy Jones shares some titles for young and teenage readers with inquiring minds to discover more about our world – past and present.

I can spend a lot of time (and money!) in a bookshop – too much, probably. With my youngest grandchild now in his teens, I don’t now have a great interest in the picturebook and junior fiction areas of a library or a bookshop, either. My eye can be caught by magnetic and thought-provoking adult non-fiction titles quite often though…..

One day I found Peter Wohlleben’s The hidden Life of Trees, and have been dipping into that often at home. I knew I would find it of interest to me, because personally-admired Tim Flannery, had written the foreword for the Australian edition (1916).

But quite recently I found a copy of a Canadian edition of the book, titled Can you Hear the Trees Talking?, which calls itself ‘A Young Readers’ Edition’ of Peter’s fascinating work. It is lavishly illustrated, though it focuses, of course, on North American forests and animal life.
As with any non-fiction book, there is a Contents section at the beginning, with some attention-grabbing headlines – for example:
* Do trees have grandparents?
* Is there a Forest Internet?
* What are trees afraid of?
* Do some trees prefer to be alone?
And the index is useful too, with some surprising entries to catch a child’s attention: there’s an entry for giraffes,  another for the toilet, another for the Moreton Bay fig tree.

Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country: An Introduction to our First Peoples for Young Australians is much quieter in its presentation. There are some colour maps and illustrations, but most illustrations are in black and white. This book, published by Hardie Grant Travel in 2019, is the younger reader’s version of Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia, published in 2018.  It does not divide Australia into the separate states that we know; it is no travel guide. It discusses different aspects of First People’s history and culture, so is a valuable source of information on aspects of Indigenous life such as kinship, language, and art. But issues such as the Stolen Generations and Native Title are also addressed.
It is a scholarly work with a careful index, and is more suitable for the secondary school student, providing a copious list of references and resources for further study. The appendix provides, among other things, five maps in colour. The first map shows ‘hypothesised pathways for colonization of Australia, based on the distance to water’; another shows ‘Native Title Determinations as at 31 March 2019’. 

If the library of your local secondary school doesn’t have a copy available, please suggest that the librarian acquires several, enough to bring the material to the notice of all students.
I was surprised/impressed/slightly indignant to find this next book on the shelf in my local bookshop : Saving the Tasmanian Devil: How Science is Helping the World’s Largest Marsupial Carnivore Survive. This was written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, who lives in Montana, USA, and who was a college friend of Jenny Marshalll Groves, a geneticist, one of the scientists researching the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) in Australia. I guess the fact that somebody had to come all the way from the USA to write a book of such potentially  world-wide interest is what makes me feel slightly indignant – can’t we write books like this for ourselves and the world, here in Australia?

The book is beautifully produced, with photographs of Tasmanian scenery and Australian scientists working in the area; and, of course, photographs of the Tasmanian Devil. The thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) gets a brief mention – the extinct thylacine ‘was shot, trapped, and poisoned as an enemy of sheep farmers’.

Chromosomes, the immune system, and cancer are explained with illustrations; there’s a glossary, a list of sources, and an index to assist further research. While the book is presented in a very approachable format, and will be very popular with primary school students, secondary students will find it of interest and a source of information as well.

So I’ve looked at Botany, Anthropology, and Zoology – how about a quick look at Geology?  This title, though, may be more likely to be added to the picture book area. It’s The Book of Stone by Mark Greenwood and Coral Tulloch. Pictures of stones and fossils collected from many parts of the world have been used in the endpapers, with various captions indicating the name and origin of each. Each individual stone/fossil has a typed caption in the front endpapers, and its caption for the back endpapers is handwritten in a very attractive script. Any child with an interest in fossils and rocks will enjoy pursuing information about these samples.

Patsy Jones
Retired librarian, retired teacher

Friday, 7 February 2020

An Epistolary Collection

This week Felicity Sly shares her passion for letters, letter writing and stories told through letters. A post that celebrates past gems and also introduces some different titles that reflect the power of this format to speak to readers at a personal level.

What a gem of a word is epistolary, and it describes one of my favourite genres of writing…letters!

Letters of Note
Having been gifted a book voucher for one of those ‘decade’ birthdays, I wanted to buy a ‘keeper’ for my bookshelf. I actually got two keepers: Letters of Note and More Letters of Note; subtitled Correspondence deserving of a wider audience (compiled by Shaun Usher). I find reading letters a fascinating way to spend some time. The first collection has a letter from Roald Dahl to seven year-old Amy Corcoran (Feb 10, 1989) thanking her for sending him a dream in a bottle. Amy was ‘…the first person in the world who has sent me one of these…Tonight I shall go down to the village and blow it through the bedroom window of some sleeping child’ (p51). This same collection has a letter from Charles M Schulz to Elizabeth Swaim (Jan 5, 1955). Elizabeth (age not specified) wrote asking that the new and obnoxious character, Charlotte Braun, be retired from the Peanuts comic strip. Schulz responded that he would ‘eventually discard her  and ‘that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility?’ (p99) This letter contained a visual demonstration of this responsibility!

I then started remembering all the wonderful children’s books using letters as a device: JRR Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters is an annual favourite read (as mentioned in Janet’s December blog). I cannot recall how many times the various The Jolly Postman (Janet & Allan Ahlberg) titles were read at bedtime in our house. In The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt) the crayons leave letters for Duncan explaining why they have quit the crayon box. Letters from Felix: a little rabbit on a world tour (Annette Langen) inspired a television series and many children’s lost toys have had adventures whilst they found their way home (or not).

There are also many books for older readers which are epistolic. A gem of a book I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith of 101 Dalmatians fame) is in journal format, which feels like reading a letter. The interesting aspect of this book is that if you try to tell someone the storyline, it seems banal. Yet, it is a truly captivating read. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) is a coming of age novel which has been made into a feature film (2012). Other titles worthy of a read and reread are Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh), Go Ask Alice (Anonymous), The Adrian Mole Diaries (Sue Townsend) and Letters from the Inside (John Marsden)

Titles for more experienced readers include Dracula (Bram Stoker); Persuasion (Jane Austen) and 84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff). But a title I really need to revisit after reading a review is Daddy-Long-Legs (Jean Webster). On reading this as a teenager, it seemed a very innocent story…but in the light of the modern world I may revise my opinion.
Do you have favourite epistolic books? Please share their titles…I love a reading recommendation.

Felicity Sly is a teacher-librarian at Don College in Devonport, Tasmania and CBCA Treasurer.

Editor's Note: Wow, this post has really got me thinking about some great stories told with letters. All-time favourites of mine are Penny Pollard's Letters (Robin Klein) and an absolute gem is Emily Gravett's interactive Meerkat Mail which includes postcards home.