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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Halfway Through John Glenn: A Memoir...

I can't help feeling I'm learning a lot about John Glenn the person rather than what he did. I'm reading this side by side with The Astronaut Wives Club and it makes for an interesting comparison.

He spends a lot of time describing the various planes he flew - in great detail, what they could do, what the problems were, what happened with his next plane. I had a hard time focusing on all that and admit to sliding over some of the plane descriptions. 

But there's no question that he was a passionate flyer, that a lot of the stuff he volunteered for was because it was the only way he could keep flying instead of being stuck behind a desk. After World War II, seeing friends be killed, admitting that napalm was horrible and that maybe the bombs over Japan were not nice, he goes to Korea. The patriotism? Definitely, but mainly because it will keep him flying. He doesn't have the particular skills needed for commercial flight and anyway, people who do are applying for all the jobs available. In Korea he hopes he can do the Snoopy-Red Baron type of combat flying he wants so desperately, and he does, three times(five would have made him champion). 

I've just reached the bit where he has finally been accepted for the Mercury program. He admits to all the awful stuff the astronaut candidates had to go through in their medical tests. I read about that in The Right Stuff and other books on the subject. It was not only difficult, it was downright embarrassing!

Interestingly, that line about "sleeping under a Communist moon", which I have read elsewhere was spoken by LBJ, he attributes to Khruschev, as a sneer. You do have to wonder about this man...

But I'm finding that there was good reason for the fact that the astronauts were able to participate in the design of their spacecraft. They were all test pilots at this stage and it was something test pilots did. Even then, you really needed to have science and maths skills to be able to do the job. Glenn admits he had a hard time with the maths, though he eventually managed it, though he never quite got the hang of calculus.

Okay, on with the book and further comments when I've finished it. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Australia's Favourite Author 2017: Final List

Once more, Booktopia is inviting readers to vote for their favourite local authors. You don't even have to stick to one person, as they recognise you have more than one favourite. I'm pleased to say there are several children's and YA authors on this short list. I've given them my preferences, though I've also voted for one or two writers for adults, who overlap. Do vote! Whoever ends up winning will not only be happy, they will have something to add to their resume and that's important when publishers make decisions(admittedly there are some "classic" writers on the list, such as May Gibbs and Banjo Patterson, who won't care if you vote for them. I stuck to live ones). You don't, I think, have to be living in Australia to vote, at least it doesn't say so, but there is a prize of $1000 worth of books if you give them your details - I certainly did! Why not wander over and see if your favourite Aussie author is there? (There is even a Kiwi, Juliet Marillier, but she lives here)

And here is the link.You have until January 20 to vote.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Now Reading...John Glenn: A Memoir and Simon Schama's French Revolution book!

Sometimes you just have to have it in print. I had to order the John Glenn book because it wasn't on iBooks and it wasn't at Dymock's in Melbourne despite being on the web site. The staff member explained that the web site had a different warehouse; I'd be better off ordering on line and having it in ten days than waiting for the shop to get it from overseas. So I ordered on line and had the fascination of tracking it on the Australia Post web site. At one point it was actually in West Sunshine, where I work. If I hadn't been on holiday I could have had it that day! 

As it was, it arrived yesterday. My neighbour made sure it was on my doormat for me when I opened the door yesterday. I was utterly excited and delighted and, of course, started reading it right away. Only a chapter in, but interesting so far. He was of a working class family on his Dad's side(Mum was a primary teacher). His father started off working on the railroads, then became a plumber. 

And he started his passion for flying one day when his Dad was driving along and there was this man in a field offering rides in a biplane(this was only a couple of years after Lindbergh's flight). His Dad said he could come up with him or wait, but he was going to have that ride. The rest is history. 

I bought the Simon Schama book at Dymock's on Thursday. I'd gone there to meet my friend Bart, who had a birthday on Tuesday. We were going to have afternoon tea afterwards. He had hoped to do that at the elegant Hopetoun Tearooms, but the queue outside put us off. Amazing. The place is around 100 years old - you'd think by now it would be taken for granted! I'd never seen that before, either. So we crossed the road instead and had our tea and chocolates at Ganache. But the thing is, when I enter a bookshop I almost invariably leave with a book. Citizens actually is available in ebook, but... I just love anything by Simon Schama and, well, I couldn't leave without it. 

Anyone else like that about bookshops?

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Two Troll Tales From Norway Retold by Margrete Lamond, Ill. by Ingrid Kallick. Armidale NSW: Christmas Press, 2016

Here's another delightful, beautifully-illustrated folktale volume from the amazing Christmas Press.

This time the theme is that Norwegian creature of mischief, the troll. Forget about the Tolkien variety which is a huge, not-too-bright peasant and turns into stone at sunrise. Forget even the Terry Pratchett variety, which has a silicon brain, can live in the city, work in the police force and needs the cold to be smart. 

The trolls in these stories can change shape if they wish and are closer to the Faerie folk than to the big, thick-as-two-planks version in fantasy fiction. They don't even live under bridges. 

The first story, "The Little Old Lady From Around The Bend", is about something that happened in  the old lady's youth. The girl in the story suffers the same fate as those folk in other stories who are silly enough to help out the ungrateful Faerie and then admit to having seen them afterwards. As if that's not bad enough, she doesn't even get to enjoy her official reward for having helped the trolls. 

In the second story, "The Golden Ball Of Yarn", yet again we are made aware of the problems of helping or even being involved with the Faerie. A young woodcutter hands back a ball of golden yarn to  a huldra girl and finds himself controlled by her for some time, till he finally manages to escape to the other side of the world. 

The huldra are Scandinavian critters that can help or punish mortals. The women are beautiful, except they have tails, the men are ugly. 

There is humour in both tales, which are lively and cheerful, though the second story could have been tragic. The author links them to her own family - the girl in the first story was a crazy old lady remembered by her great grandmother from her childhood, while the woodcutter is someone met on the ship  to the other side of the world(presumably Australia) by her grandfather. 

Both give the traditional warning to children: "Don't trust the Faerie folk!"

The artwork is stunningly beautiful and appropriate to the stories told. I especialły liked the first story's frontispiece which shows a young girl going down the hill from her cottage, which sits on top of a pile of rocks shaped like a sleeping old woman.

You can buy this book from the publisher's web site, from Booktopia and the Book Depository, or, if you live in Australia, you can just ask for it at your local bookshop! 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016.

From Coco Chanel to Rosa Parks, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is bursting full of astounding facts and incredible artwork on some of the most brilliant women who helped shape the world we live in.
Kate Pankhurst, descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, has created this wildy wonderful and accessible book about women who really changed the world.

Discover fascinating facts about some of the most amazing women who changed the world we live in. Fly through the sky with the incredible explorer Amelia Earhart, and read all about the Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole with this fantastic full colour book.  (Publisher's blurb from Allen and Unwin website.)

I did wonder when I read this book if the author-illustrator was any relation to the suffragette Pankhursts. Nice to know that their descendant is now able to do stuff like writing about women's achievements. Her other children's books are fiction.

The author has chosen a good variety of women who did different things. Of course, her ancestor is in there, but she is only one entry in a variety. There is also swimmer Gertrude Ederle, who swam the English Channel at a time when women just didn't do that. There's Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, with an easy-to-follow explanation of what was behind those colourful paintings. There's Mary Anning, a young girl who grew up in the Regency era, finding and collecting fossils. The family did it for a living, in their home at Lyme Regis, to sell to tourists, but when she made some major finds, they called in the scientists. It was fourteen year old Mary who discovered the ichthyosaur. As a young woman she discovered the plesiosaur. I had heard of her, but only briefly on a radio show on the ABC. I must look up more. 

Mary Seacole gets a page too. This nurse set up her own hospital in the Crimea during the Crimean War, because as a black woman she had been turned down as an official nurse(Florence Nightingale - remember? Although as I recall, she did say Florence Nightingale was quite helpful to her once she got there). Probably just as well, because she treated the wounded men of both sides of the conflict.

It's a charming book which can set children off in all directions, to find out more, and might make little girls feel better about themselves. The artwork is delightfully whimsical and suits the text perfectly.

Should suit girls from about seven upwards, or can be read to younger ones. There is a useful glossary at the back, to explain hard words. Not enough books have that these days!

Buy it at any good bookshop or online retailer!

Odd And The Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. Ill. by Chris Riddelll. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear … and then Odd's destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor's hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods …  (Publisher's blurb)

When you see a new children's book that combines the talents of the amazing Neil Gaiman and Children's Laureate, artist Chris Riddell, you know you're in for something special. I have been lucky enough to read and review previous collaborations by these two, Fortunately, The Milk...  and The Sleeper And The Spindle and there is no question in my mind that as creators they belong together. Each of them is excellent alone, but together? Something very special, strengthening the work of both.

Neil Gaiman has shown that he can write both for adults and children. And this is one you can confidently hand to the eight or nine year old in your life, or read to them.  It has just a little bit of information about Norse society at the start, without making the young readers feel they're in the classroom - perhaps just enough for them to go and look up more. Odd's late father is only a part-time warrior, as are all the other Vikings; his day job is a woodcutter. In fact, Odd becomes crippled due to trying to use an axe that's too heavy for him. And his father didn't die in battle, he died on the way back, of cold and wet, after rescuing a packhorse fallen overboard. That adds a touch of reality to the fantasy world, in which you might wake up and hear animals talking without wondering, What the heck! and then find a way to Asgard, without thinking, Hey, I'm talking to Thor and Loki! There's humour, too, with the quarrelling gods, a bit of genuine Norse myth and Odd using his brains to solve the problem, not suddenly picking up an axe and wielding it. (Well, the ice giant is just a bit too big for that, even if he wasn't crippled).

Chris Riddell's artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, as always. He could make a living just from illustrating fairytale re-tellings, and be counted among the great fairytale illustrators.

Another book you will need to buy two copies of, if you are to part with one. My young nephew is getting this one when this review is up.

Buy it from the publisher's web site here. Or from Booktopia, here.  In fact, you can buy it pretty much anywhere, including your local good bookshop, which will order it in for you if they don't have it. Why not try there first and keep bricks and mortar stores in business?

Monday, January 02, 2017

Dear "Head Of Library" Reposted From My Livejournal

Dear "Head Of Library",

I read your article in a school library journal. It was about improving schools' perceptions of teacher-librarians.

Which is absolutely fine, I'm all in favour of getting some respect from the administration. It's when you spent your entire article giving advice to "library teams" to remind everyone that they are teachers as well as librarians that I started to wonder what kind of schools you've been working in lately. I looked you up and found you'd been "head of library" at a couple of private schools and were now working part time at another private school and enjoying the break from being in charge. You did say you'd worked at some state schools, though not which ones, and I suspect they were nice middle-class ones in areas where the parents can afford private education but have chosen to send their kids to a state school. They're the kind of schools where you can put a laptop computer on the book list and know parents will buy it.

Well, I'm head of library too, as I'm the only teacher-librarian on my campus. My team consists of me and a two-day-a-week library technician and I'm lucky to have her. If she retired or left, I would be alone. It saves money. They don't cover her any more when she has to take time off. They used to.

And I don't have to remind anyone that I'm a teacher, because, despite being the sole TL, I also have to teach classes. For that matter, so does a friend of mine who is now working at a private girls' school, who is only a little better off than me in staffing, though I bet her budget is better.

What I really want is to have my job as a librarian recognised, stuff the teaching side of it! I'd like to have a support team like yours, Head Of Library, to be able to get together and do great things that cost money, then pat ourselves on the back for being terrific librarians and also teachers(don't forget!)

But you do what you can. I haven't had time to do things like Readers' Cup, though I probably should invite kids to do the Premier's Reading Challenge. It's better if you have support from the English staff, but it can be done informally. You do need to have the books in the library to be borrowed, though, and I'm not sure I have everything on the list. 

I have been able to do book launches and get in the newspapers for those events. I'm running a student book club, which helps choose books for the library and goes on excursions when I can arrange something cheap for them. I write a book blog and occasionally invite students to interview authors, said interviews going on to my blog.

I've been lucky, as a writer, to have some fellow writers offer us a freebie(they get fed and gifted and newspapers are called, the best I can do, since I can't pay them). We're members of YABBA, which offers the occasional freebie too.

I've done virtual readouts with the kids for Banned Books Week. Hey, it's free and they love it!

My colleagues and the kids know what I do. I wish the admin did.

But please, Head Of Library, stop giving advice to people who have had greater challenges than you.

Thank you.

Now Reading...The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

And thoroughly enjoying so far! 

When you do the whole "sensawunda" thing about the early space program, you think about the magnificent men in their flying machines zooming off into space. You don't think immediately about the women who had already spent years as the wives of test pilots, more or less bringing up the kids alone, wondering every day if their men would ever come home. The women who often worked at low-paying jobs to help their husbands finish their degrees while giving up their own education. 

And suddenly they were in the spotlight, with journalists and photographers camping out in their gardens or out in the street, and there was a deal with Life Magazine, so you had to be available for family shots and interviews. It wasn't all bad, of course. The pay was a lot better. They could afford stuff they hadn't been able to afford before, maybe even go out for a night on the town and to pay a babysitter! 

What I hadn't realised was that they were important to NASA too. The astronauts were not just chosen for themselves. This was going to be huge publicity. They had to be married - happily married. The wives had to be respectable - and patriotic. A man's chance of getting the astronaut gig actually depended on his wife. In one case, that of Gordo Cooper of the Mercury Seven, his wife had left him, taking the kids, and he had to go after her and beg her to return. Trudy Cooper was a strong woman, herself a qualified pilot who flew a lot. She was persuaded to return.The whole space thing was irresistible. 

I haven't read far, but I think this is going to be a fascinating book! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finally Got Around To Seeing...Rogue 1!

I missed the first few sessions. I think these days I don't feel that I simply must see a film on the first day/night/midnight. I'd go, I suppose, if a friend wanted to go together. It is a good idea, though, to go soon, because very few films last more than a couple of weeks nowadays. And I'm on holiday now, so this morning I went off on time for the 11 am session.

I've been a Star Wars fan since I first walked into that cinema on Bourke St, Melbourne, and saw the word crawl and the spaceship zooming overhead. I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, which was in the true spirit of the original trilogy. 

Now there is Rogue One, which is the buildup to the events of ANH. You see the various races mingling in the streets of the cities and on the Rebel Alliance Council. You see storm troopers in grubby armour because they're in charge of labour camps instead of on the villain's ship, where they would be expected to keep their gear clean. No cantina scenes, alas, except very briefly. And you find that even the good guys are willing to do unpleasant things to win.

I like the fact that this is the second Star Wars film in a row to have a female protagonist. And Jyn is a good, strong character, and brave. 

It was interesting to find out just why the Death Star had that weakness for the rebel fighters to exploit. There have been arguments about that over the years, with many people finding it just too convenient . But there's a reason! A very good reason. 

And thanks to CGI effects we can have Grand Moff Tarkin back, though Peter Cushing has been dead for some years. There's also a young Carrie Fisher's face in the last scene. I know some people have said that it was creepy or disrespectful to do this to actors who have passed away, but I have to say I was quite impressed. Well, with Tarkin, anyway; I thought Carrie Fisher's face looked a bit plastic. Really, if you didn't know Peter Cushing was dead, you wouldn't think "creepy". I hadn't heard about this, so I thought, "Hang on, he's dead! This must be CGI." The film makers said they thought Tarkin needed to be in the film and they had no intention of doing this regularly. 

There were some other characters who returned. Darth Vader, of course, with James Earl Jones's voice. No Dave Prowse, but it wasn't necessary and maybe he had another job. Anthony Daniels appeared very briefly as C3PO; he had one line. 

There was a droid who was more than just a sidekick, K2. He was a fascinating character in this own right and not a fussy butler like C3PO. 

My favourite characters were the two warrior-monks who accompanied our heroine on her quest. One of them was blind, but still Force-sensitive and an amazing martial artist(the actor is well known for his martial arts skills). The other looked like a samurai. But they were both Chinese, not Japanese, though the characters had a definite Japanese influence. 

It was definitely darker than the other Star Wars movies, though it was dark enough when Han Solo was killed in The Force Awakens(and not even a heroic death, just a murder!). Maybe a bit too dark for me and I wondered how the children who were viewing it felt. 

Still, I'm happy I went and will probably go again or get the DVD when it's out.

Happy Birthday, Rudyard Kipling!

Portrait by John Collier, 1891. Public domain.

I was looking for some important things that happened on December 30, but most were horrible. And nothing writing themed. I did unearth a feast day of a saint called Abraham the Writer, but even Wikipedia only told us his name and the church that celebrated him On This Day. Sorry, Abraham the Writer!

So then I looked up the writers born On This Day. I'd never heard of most of them, though it was nice to know it was the birthday of Sol Saks, scriptwriter for the TV series Bewitched, which I enjoyed as a child, though I wanted to thump Darren most of the time. 

However, there was one major birthday - Rudyard Kipling! 

I confess I haven't read all his works, not even some of the famous ones, but then he was a pretty prolific writer and traveller, I just can't read it all - yet. There's a story that he simply turned up on Mark Twain's doorstep and knocked on the door, before wondering whether this was a polite thing to do. However, the wonderful American writer kindly invited him in and had a long chat. 

My American readers will be pleased to know that he lived in the U.S. for a while, with his wife and kids.

I have read Puck Of Pook's Hill and its sequel, Rewards And Fairies, which were utterly magical, linked stories about England's history and folklore. I've been making my way through Just So Stories - and I remember reading "The Elephant's Child" to my nephew Max when he was little(he's about to turn 19 now and start university!). They are wonderful stories to read to a child and put on the voices for them. I've read a fair few of his short stories, including his horror fiction. Bet you didn't know he wrote horror fiction - I didn't either, till I found a collection at my favourite bookshop. 

And the poems - oh, those poems! Beautiful stuff which refers to the sea as "the old grey widow maker" - "Harp song of the Dane Women" and "Song of the Men's Side" which made great filk songs by Leslie Fish and the wonderful late Linda Small. 

And there's "Tommy", a poem about the ordinary British soldier. "Oh it's Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy go away, But it's thank you, Mr Atkins, when the band begins to play." A gorgeous poem, which has also had the filk song treatment, about how soldiers are treated well when they're needed to fight and like dirt when they're not. We had a student called Tommy Atkins at my first school and he must have wondered why I sang that line at him when he borrowed a book! He didn't ask, though. 

Apparently, Kipling had swastikas all over his book covers till the Nazis spoiled the old sun symbol for him and everyone else, when he stopped. He was no fan of the Nazis!  

I know he has been controversial both in India and elsewhere, but he did write some great stuff. 

Happy birthday, Rudyard!