International Children’s Book Day

Since 1967 people all over the world have celebrated International Children’s Book Day. Timed to coincide with Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, it takes place on 2 April. Its aim is to promote books and reading to young people.

The perfect way to celebrate this event is to introduce a youngster to a fab new story. Here’s some places to get reading ideas:

To make it easy to choose we have written a blurb for each author or book so you know how to choose just the right one.
Search catalogue for Fairy talesSearch catatalogue for Wheels on the busCover of The Girl of the wish garden

Our favourite books brought to life

cover for One flew over the cuckoo's nestMovies and TV series based on books are funny things. You either love them or you hate them. There is nothing more annoying than one you hate and nothing more satisfying than one which brings a book or even a character truly alive.

I came across an interesting blog listing ten favourite movie adaptations of books recently and it got me thinking – what exactly are my favourites? The author’s list was pretty idiosyncratic as I guess everyone’s will be and included The Planet of the Apes , Lolita , Brokeback Mountain and One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Of this list I think there is only one I have both seen and read – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, although I loved both Brokeback Mountain and Planet of the Apes (the 70s version) as films.

He also liked Graham Greene’s The Fallen Idol which I have neither read nor seen. Greene was apparently deeply disappointed by most of the movies made from his books, although Brighton Rock is mentioned as acceptable and of course there’s The Third Man, one of my favs.  I wonder what he would have made of the 2005 version of The Quiet American, which I really enjoyed?

Many of my favourites include recent adaptations of Jane Austen books both in film and on television, which is a bit of a coup really, because its hard to satisfy when we know the books so well.

cover for High FidelityThe film versions of Atonement, The Remains of the Day and The Shipping News make my list because they captured the original so well. I also loved the film of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. An all time favourite remains To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’m a mystery buff so I can’t leave out the movie versions of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and Snow Falling on Cedars, The Constant Gardener, Red Dust and the recent version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I don’t know how anyone can get it down to a list of ten. I haven’t even started on my favourite New Zealand ones like In  My Father’s Den and Sleeping Dogs.

What are you favourites and pet hates?

Check our great list of Books into Movies to extend your reading and viewing.

Fireworks on a global scale

cover for the book EruptionWe all know about volcanoes right? After all here in Christchurch we’re virtually sitting on one which provides both of our local harbours.

But did you know about supervolcanoes? They’ve been in the news lately because at the best known one in Yellowstone National Park scientists have just finished measuring its magma chamber. It’s even bigger than they thought at fifty five miles across. That’s a lot of lava.

The other one you will have heard of is Lake Taupo, which is what remains of a supervolcano that exploded 65,000 years ago thereby helping to form the central plateau of the North Island.

The thing about supervolcanoes, of which there are a number on earth (estimates vary) and others known on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Io, is that they are also super spectacular. When magma from a chamber 55 miles across explodes it is world changing. When Taupo went up, evidence was noted by the Romans on the other side of the world in the form of unusual sunsets. It is thought that one in Siberia was responsible for what is known as “the great dying” the greatest extinction event on earth of all time.

Fortunately they only blow very occasionally, even in terms of geological timescales so you don’t need to lose any sleep over them. You don’t need to worry about our own Banks Peninisula volcano either by the way. It was pretty big but its magma chamber is empty.

Best music of 2013

If you’re going to buy the best music on 2013 you’ll either need deep pockets, or have some decisions to make.

All Music and Rolling Stone both came up with the best 50 albums of the year and of course their lists are not the same. The Guardian music blog is working its way through best albums of the year. Even if you limit yourself to New Zealand music the New Zealand Music Awards still has a pretty big range to choose from.

cover for Bartok/Eotos/Ligeti cdGramophone’s classical music list is a bit more manageable and the contributors of Rip It Up keep their lists short, as do specialist magazines like Jazz Journal and Froots, but even so I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

My solution is to pick some and try them out by borrowing CDs from the library or downloading from Freegal. That way I know what I’m getting. My rule of thumb is that if I feel a great resistance to returning a CD to the library then I buy it. As you can tell I’m a bit old fashioned and prefer entire albums to selected tracks – I find it more satisfying.

How do you choose your best music of the year?

Mastering the art of Christmas alone

cover of Norwegian by nighTraditionally Christmas is about friends and family, but spare a thought for those who are alone on Christmas day. For them the whole season can be laced with sadness. For the elderly whose friends and family have all gone, the bereaved , solo travellers, or people away from home, Christmas is a reminder of what is not there.

Surprisingly though some have mastered the art of being alone on Christmas day and see it as time out in a busy life, perhaps spending it catching up on rest, eating good food and reading. If you think this might be you, then here’s some reading and viewing suggestions.

Books and DVDs with a Christmas theme:

  • Merry Christmas Mr Bean – Mr Bean needs no introduction and he’ll make you laugh.
  • Joyeux Noel – The Western Front, December 1914. War is raging and heavy casualties have been sustained to both sides. A bloody battle of one of the most savage wars, but out of the chaos and slaughter, a miracle takes form; on Christmas Day, the soldiers of both sides meet in No Man’s Land and celebrate festivities
  • I’m half sick of shadows –  A cozy mystery set in 1950s England that has some delightful characters and will make you chuckle. It is set over the Christmas period and the young heroine is obsessed with the idea of capturing Father Christmas.
  • A highland Christmas – A Hamish McBeth mystery. In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, where the local Calvinist element resists the secular trimmings of Christmas, the spirit of Old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. Nor is crime taking a holiday and Constable Hamish Macbeth soon finds himself on the job.
  • The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx  – Biography of Motley Crue singer John Corabi. To be fair this has nothing to do with Christmas and I have no idea what its like, but here’s a quote from it  “There is something about spending Christmas alone, naked, sitting by the Christmas tree gripping a shotgun, that lets you know your life is spinning dangerously outta control.” I don’t know about you but I feel better about my Christmas already.

Books and DVDs that will keep you absorbed all day:

  • The Bridge – A woman is found murdered in the middle of Oresund Bridge, exactly on the border between Sweden and Denmark.
  • The Killing – In the course of 20 gripping days we follow leads and observe the consequences of a heinous crime that seem to ramify throughout Copenhagen. As the investigation unfolds, Copenhagen opens up like a Chinese box, full of secrets and power struggles.
  • The Luminaries – our very own Booker Prize winner. Need I say more?

Some light-hearted and entertaining books from 2013

That troublesome king

Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and great villain (or not) of English history, is still causing trouble.

The recent discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester, made headlines around the English speaking world. Arrangements were duly made to inter him in a suitable tomb in the local cathedral. Enter Richard’s (collateral) descendants in the form of the Plantagenet Alliance, who pointed out that he had very little connection to Leicester and wanted him buried in York. Legal battles ensued which are yet to be settled.

cover of Richard  III the maligned kingArguments have raged around him before. For centuries most accepted Henry VII’s version of him, which depicted him as the deformed, ruthless murderer as portrayed in Shakespeare. He always had his supporters though and eventually doubts began to emerge, first among historians and eventually in popular culture. History had indeed been written by the victor.

Novels had an important role in convincing the rest of us that the princes in the tower story may not be true. The first one to come to my attention was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey in which a detective confined to bed investigates and concludes Richard is innocent. The second was  Elizabeth Peters mystery novel The Murders of Richard III published in 1974. Cynthia Harrod Eagles The Founding and A rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith also come to mind.

Richard has also been the subject of numerous other interesting fiction and non- fiction works including a recent one on the search for his remains.  The various stories are well worth exploring.

Do you have any favourite novels about historical figures that we really must read?

Particle science for dummies

cover for The particle at the end of the universeWe don’t notice our scientists all that much, especially women scientists. So it was encouraging to see the not so shy and retiring Dr Siouxsie Wiles (of the long pink hair) recently receiving the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize. It’s great that there are prizes for communication in science.

Here in Christchurch we’ve learnt to value scientists who can explain their field in plain language. Where would we have been without Mark Quigley when we all suddenly developed an intense interest in earthquakes?

The ability to communicate science can be the foundation of a successful career. Stephen Hawking became world famous for explaining the difficult bits of cosmology to us. Now  Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist has tackled the Higgs Boson (or God) particle, one of the most esoteric of scientific concepts, in his book  The Particle at the End of the Universe.

The book won him the Royal Society’s Winton prize, always a useful in guide to the best in science writing each year. If he can make particle physics into something I can make sense of, he will have certainly have earned it.  The chair of the judging panel says

Carroll writes with an energy that propels readers along and fills them with his own passion. He understands their minds and anticipates their questions. There’s no doubt that this is an important, enduring piece of literature.”

Here in New Zealand we have the Callaghan medal and the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing, as well as The Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize. The latter was won this year by the absorbing Moa . The society also provides an inspiring list of previous winners on its website to guide your reading.

If you prefer to just dip into something  Compendiums of the best in science writing are also published every year and they’re  a great way of keeping up with what is happening in the scientific world. Science journals like  New Scientist  are also great to browse and you’ll find plenty of them at the library.

So if you someone who likes to settle into the Christmas break with something to stretch your scientific knowledge (and I know that a lot of you do because our science books race out the door over the holidays) you should have plenty to keep you entertained.

A glimpse of the exotic

Cover of The CrocodileI’ve been feeling like a bit of travel lately. Alas my wallet is empty. So instead I decided to travel virtually by reading detective novels set in other countries. I find it a particularly interesting way of travelling because of the glimpses I get into another society.

I went to Italy via The  Crocodile by Maurizio de Giovanni, a bestselling whodunnit recently translated from Italian. A Sicilian detective finds himself exiled to Naples after being named as a Mafia informer. He is of course innocent. He’s supposed to spend the day pretending to work but gets himself involved in the investigation of a series of murders. It’s a book full of very Italian preoccupations and attitudes.

Then I was off to China with Don’t Cry, Lake Tai part of an excellent and evocative series written by a former resident of Shanghai. They feature Inspector Chen, poet and policeman. Being a police officer in China it seems, is as much a political job as a police job. Guessing how much of the truth your superiors will tolerate you finding and who you can arrest without losing you job, is as big a part of the investigation as finding the culprit.

Cover of DeadlineFurther west I alighted in Istanbul with Deadline by Barbara Nadel. I always enjoy my visits to Istanbul with Nadel, feeling convinced I have just gotten off the plane when I finish the book. In this case she sets her story in the historic Pera Palas Hotel. This sumptuously decorated hotel really exists and was built in 1892 to host passengers from the Orient Express. The narrative unfolds during a charity fundraising banquet in the newly renovated building.

Then 1222 by Anne Holt took me to an old hotel in the wintery high mountains of Norway. Stranded after a train crash and huge snow storm, the train passengers make the perfect “country house murder” participants. In a very Scandinavian way of course.

Can city planners make us happy?

Cover of Cycle spaceThere’s speculation out there that city planners can make a happy city. As a citizen of a city about to be rebuilt it would great to think so. On the other hand I was around in the 60s and 70s when similar claims led to developments that are now a byword for social failure (think high rise housing estates and Milton Keynes in Britain)

However, recent research looking at ten international cities suggests it can certainly contribute to it. According to The Sustainable Cities Collective:

A Gallup study examined a number of questions directly related to the built environment, including the convenience of public transportation, the ease of access to shops, the presence of parks and sports facilities, the ease of access to cultural and entertainment facilities, and the presence of libraries.

All were found to correlate significantly with happiness, with convenient public transportation and easy access to cultural and leisure facilities showing the strongest correlation.

Other studies have shown the need for social connectedness and suggested that long commutes and

car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

They have suggested this may explain the decrease in happiness in some western countries despite an increase in income.

Other exciting ideas relate to the use of green spaces. The BBC recently featured a wonderful range of suggestions as to how green spaces may contribute to our wellbeing in future – in ways you’ve never imagined.

It’s all food for thought and I find myself hungry for some more detail as to how these principles might be put into place in Christchurch.

Good onya SCIRT

Cover of BrunelLike many other people this morning I had to find a new way to work because of roadworks. It took me twice as long as usual to get there. It is all a bit stressful and frustrating. However, its also quite impressive. An enormous amount of work is being done on our earthquake stricken streets and SCIRT – the organisation in charge of it – has just received recognition of its excellent work from the Institution of Civil Engineers in London. It has been awarded the Brunel Medal which:

recognises valuable service or achievement, which has been rendered to or within the civil engineering industry.

Having watched people in hard hats spend months staring down a large and recalcitrant hole in Edgeware Road  – a problem that took a couple of years to solve – I feel quite certain that our hard-working roading engineers deserve all the recognition they can get.

It seems entirely appropriate that they should receive a medal named after the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of so many other important transport engineering like railways, bridges and ships.

  • Find out more about Brunel at your library.