Recreational non-fiction – a mid year review

I’m a pretty avid reader and mostly I love good fiction, but this year I have made a determined effort to read more non-fiction, but not just any old non-fiction – what I was after was “Recreational Non-Fiction”!

After a great deal of library exploration, and some very, VERY dry encounters with some non-fiction authors and their writing, I soon discovered that I’m particularly drawn towards non-fiction that is;

a) interesting / informative (gotta love what you’re reading about, right?)

b) conversational (this is very important to me!)

c) about an individual’s own explorations on a subject (it’s great to go along for the ride while someone makes discoveries!), and

d) based on the natural sciences (that’s just what floats my boat I guess!)

And I’ve been building a list this year to keep track of the “recreational non-fiction” titles that I have really loved, and here they are along with some notes on each;

2018 – The Best of Recreational Non-Fiction

List created by DevilStateDan

These are my best titles for the year under the banner of “recreational non-fiction”. Most of these titles are new releases, some are from decades ago, all are great! I do have a particular liking for the natural sciences so most of these books will be on this topic…

New Zealand Geographic – I love this magazine for championing and celebrating all the good things in New Zealand’s natural world. Every issue is packed full of interesting scientific projects being undertaken, updates on the status of various endangered species, and how humans are impacting on the environment and what we can do about it as individuals.

Cover of Smith journalSmith Journal – This is a great periodical, full of insight, information, and learning opportunities. Stories about potentially world-changing initiatives mix with current trends in sciences, and the revolution of traditional crafts, all from around the world. Very entertaining read!

The Secret Life of Flies – Do you like chocolate?!?! Then you’re relying on the humble and, misunderstood fly – they are the only pollinator of the cacao tree! Shocking hey!? Flies have so much more to offer the environment than we realise. Have a read of this entertaining and informative book, it may change the way you view these annoying pests for good!

Curious Encounters With the Natural World – This is a masterpiece of recreational non-fiction! Written conversationally (like you sitting with the author at the pub over a couple of pints discussing the natural world!), hugely informative, and hilarious, this book offers a very real access point for those who don’t read non-fiction or find in inaccessible. If you’re interested in the natural world, here’s one for you!

Cover of The truth about animalsThe Unexpected Truth About Animals – Another brilliant book about some of the lesser known creatures of the Earth and their own particular nuances. It’s very easy to read and pretty funny, making the science really attractive and easy to digest. Great dinner party fact fodder!

Blowfish’s Oceanopedia – The story of the seas from the coast to the deep. This book is divided up into quickfire digestible facts on all manner of issues and powers of the most abundant ecosystem on the planet. A great read for lovers of natural science.

Cover of SpinelessSpineless – Juli Berwald really likes jellyfish and this book proves it! Follow her story as she travels the globe learning about the state of jellies in our oceans, how they are coping with climate change, and what’s leading to the huge and unpredictable super-blooms of jellies. There’s so much information in this book about this underrated creature of the seas that it makes you wonder why we know so little about such a successful and abundant animal. A solid, insightful, and entertaining read and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Cover of American WolfAmerican Wolf – Follow the committed souls who observe the wolf packs of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves have only recently been reintroduced to the wild in this region and careful monitoring has led to some quite simply amazing discoveries about the ecological balance of a region. But not everyone is so keen to have the wolves back and as we follow the pack that she-wolf O-Six we learn how hard it is to survive in the wild under diminishing environment and increasing threats. One of my books of the year, this one!

Cover of The soul of an octopusThe Soul of An Octopus – In this book we follow the author as she becomes increasingly enamoured with all things octopus! We get to share the experience of learning SCUBA and see first hand behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium – a facility dedicated to sea life and full of passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. And throughout the narrative we think on the idea of consciousness and emotions in all life – did you know that fish dream?!?

View Full List

I’ll continue to add to this list as the year progresses and I have a feeling that this is only just the start of a beautiful relationship between myself and recreational non-fiction!

Pax: searching for peace

A recent addition to the children’s fiction shelves, Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a deeply emotional story that explores the special connection between a boy and his fox. The narratives of the two main characters, Peter and his fox Pax, are beautifully entwined in the tale of an epic journey through a world threatened by war.

Peter and Pax have both faced difficult family challenges early in their lives. When Peter finds and rescues Pax, an important relationship begins to develop that proves mutually supportive and healing. When Peter and Pax are separated by forces beyond their control (the decisions of their human elders and the destructive forces of war) the strength of their bond calls each of them back to one another. Their journey to be reunited turns into a voyage of self discovery. Along the way, both characters encounter two- and four-legged companions that hesitantly, yet expertly, guide them. But will they ever manage to find each other and will their respective experiences have changed the bond between them?

CoverThis is a story that presents a realistic view of life from the perspective of both children and animals. As hinted at in the naming of the fox Pax, it explores the journey taken to find an inner peace. The novel addresses mature topics such as war, grief and anger. These are treated sensitively, and balanced with discussion of ideas such as acceptance, the peace and freedom that comes from knowing oneself, what it really means to be home – and the importance of letting go.

Perhaps more suitable for readers 8 years and older, it may still suit those in the younger age bracket if time is allowed for discussion around some of the heavier themes involved. It is also a fantastic read for teenagers and adults! I particularly enjoyed the way in which Pennypacker’s extensive research of red fox behaviour lent credibility to the story of Pax. The portrayal of Pax’s thoughts and feelings is realistic and offers the kind of insight not often seen in more idealised animal characters of children’s fiction.

With both dystopian and fairytale undertones, the world of Peter and Pax is brought to life in the book with the aid of the moody illustrations of Jon Klassen. The author Sara Pennypacker also wrote the acclaimed Clementine series as well as many other popular children’s stories.

If you are interested in this book you may also wish to take a look at…

Pax
by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008158286

Cool stuff from the selectors: An array of great children’s books

You can usually rely on children’s books to have interesting inviting covers. This month’s selection do not disappoint.  Designed for children – but equally enjoyed by adults –  there should be something here that appeals to all ages.

The World of Moominvalley by Philip Ardagh

9781509810017The ultimate guide for any Moomin fan, old and new. A 350 page introduction to the unique hippo-esque shaped world where the best use for gold nuggets is as flowerbed borders, and a lending paw is more important the even the largest of large rubies.

Filled with illustrated maps and family trees, facts about Moomintroll behaviour and habits, this gorgeous book contains all you could wish to know about the beloved characters from the original Moomin stories and the world in which they live.

The Ways of the Wolf by Smriti Prasadam-Hall

9781526360304A stunning tribute to the majestic and fierce, proud and strong wolf. Follow them as they hunt and roam through their lands. Find out how they communicate, where they live and who their enemy is.

Wildlife illustrator Jonathan Woodward brings these animals to life with breath-taking papercut collage artwork.

We travel so far by Laura Knowles

9781910277331Small stories of incredibly giant journeys. From the epic migration of the huge humpback to the unbelievable determination of the tiny hummingbird. Each tale is told by the migrating animal and is wonderfully brought to life by the glorious illustrations of Chris Madden.

Book of Bones : 10 record-breaking animals by Gabrielle Balkan

9780714875125There’s a lot going on in this book. First you examine animal skeletons and guess who they belong to.  The answers are revealed in vibrant, full-colour scenic habitats, with easily understood and humorous explanations. For example a reticulated python would need a row of 5 king-sized beds to stretch out on. (What a dreadful thought!)

This entertaining introduction to the connection between animal bones (anatomy) and behaviour is playful, relatable, and includes touch-and-feel finishes that bring the bones to life!

Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

Animals at the library

The eagle-eyed among you might have spotted a theme in our school holiday events – toy animal sleepover, making owls, snakes on a plain – yes, we will be busy with animal-themed programmes and activities.

School holiday programmes

If your kids enjoy watching the wildlife, there are plenty of books and DVDs in our collection as well as the following resources:

Animal names

Find out the words for male, female, child and groups of different types of animal.

New Zealand birds and animals

New Zealand has an amazing amount of wildlife, we’ve collected some facts and resources in New Zealand birds and animals.

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National Geographic Kids

Learn about the natural world us with National Geographic Kids magazine online.

Booklists

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There’s a collection of Children’s animals eAudiobooks and eBooks on OverDrive for Kids.

Want more animal stuff?

Reading to dogs

All creatures great and small – celebrate World Animal Day 2015

Cover of Brother Sun, Sister MoonWorld Animal Day is an international day of animal rights. It is held annually on 4th October, on the feast day of St Francis of Assisi.

On this day, some churches have the blessing of the animals. I don’t have any experience with this, but if the Vicar of Dibley is anything to go by, it’s a bit chaotic.

On a more serious note, it is good to know that (even in 13th century Italy) someone was sticking up for the animals. Animals need our help and protection, whether they be family pets, farm animals, zoo animals, or animals living in the great-out-doors.

Organizations such as SPCA, Cats Protection League, Department of Conservation, Forest and Bird and our own Christchurch City Council all champion the right for animals to have a good life.

For those who want more, we have a selection of books on animal rights. If you are a pet owner, check out our books on pet care. If your interest is wild animals, our collection of books on wildlife conservation will be of interest.

To get involved with other animal lovers, search for the specific animal you are interested in in our CINCH directory.

Cover of Why Animals Matter Cover of A New Zealand Book of Beasts Cover of All Creatures Great and Small Cover of The Ten Trusts

Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!

You know sometimes when you see a book and instantly fall in love? I had one of those moments recently when I laid my eyes on Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman. I first saw this book on one of my favourite book websites, Love Reading 4 Kids and the cover really caught my eye. When I finally got my hands on a copy of the book from my library I fell in love.

Creaturepedia is a visually stunning book about creatures from all over the world. The book’s by-line is ‘Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth,’ and it’s not wrong.  Adrienne Barman introduces us to creatures great and small, huge and miniscule. Adrienne has split the book up into different sections, with names like ‘The Champion Breath-Holders,’ ‘The Masters of Camoflage,’ and ‘The Show-Offs.’

The beauty of this book though is that it is perfect for dipping in and out of. You could pick any page at random and it would make you go ‘Wow!’ Curious children could flick to ‘The Lilliputians’ and discover that the Bee Hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird at 5.7cm long or that the Dwarf Gecko is the world’s smallest reptile at 1.6cm long.

The text in the book is sparse, letting the reader focus on the gorgeous illustrations that portray these creatures. Children will discover creatures that they never knew existed and will want to find out more about them. Adrienne’s illustrations are vibrant, quirky and fun. Each of the creatures has its own unique personality. Take a look at just a couple of the page spreads from the book:

Artwork credit: This is an excerpt from Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman, published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Artwork credit: This is an excerpt from Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman, published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Before you even open the book you can tell you’re holding a work of art in your hands. The publisher of Creaturepedia, Wide Eyed Editions, clearly knows what makes a great book. The love that went into producing this book is evident, from the hardcover to the binding and the vibrant colours to the high-quality paper.

Get your hands on a copy of Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman and fall in love with this stunning book!

Quite Graphically Fantas(y)tic

If anyone had told me that I would become a huge fan of fantasy graphic novels with an anthropomorphic badger and more, I would have suggested they change their prescription.

Cover of Grandville Bete NoirDon’t get me wrong – I like graphic novels, well, some anyway.  I give a wide berth to superheroes and the like, but Grandville and the nicely put together Detective Inspector LeBrock and his terribly English, monocle-wearing sidekick Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi have me hooked.

The Grandville books are set in a steampunk world with murder, greed and political conspiracy as the themes. When I reserved the first book in the series I had no idea they were fantasy, or that my would-be heroes were animals. While most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, there are a few “doughfaces” representing humans.

England has recently won independence from superpower France (Napoleon won!). The far right have bombed Robida Tower, with the English being accused. Having created the fear, the scheming politicians/moguls plan to unite their citizens in a war against terrorism, thus overcoming any further socialist republic tendencies. They are working on the explosive finale, but not if our heroes have anything to do with it.

Cover of Grandville Mon AmourArchie LeBrock is no gentleman when it comes to dishing out justice and the body count is high in Grandville, the first book in the series. Think working-class Le Carré, Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming and pure fantasy. The steampunk theme is a perfect match for the characters and the stories, and adds an extra quality to the whole series. I found myself studying the background instead of just reading the words and moving onto the next frame.

The English resistance movement have struggled against France and have won independence, but at what cost? LeBrock and Ratzi find power does indeed corrupt and they have to face the unthinkable in the second title in the series, Grandville Mon Amour. Once again they burrow their way through the political system to find the rotten apples at its core. As a wee sideline, we get a small hope that Archie might find love again.

I love the sly digs, the twisted, quite fictional history and the visual and verbal puns which are a large part of the pleasure of reading these books. Despite my initial wariness (I mean, fantasy!?) I will read these books again and wait for the next two that will finish the series. I’m yet to read book number 3, Grandville Bete Noir, having saved it for a treat.

Cover of The Tale of One Bad RatI first came upon the terrific penmanship and fertile mind of the author of the Grandville series, Bryan Talbot, with The Tale of One Bad Rat set in the Lake District of England.

It would be hard to find a graphic novel less like standard comic books than this. I loved the almost Beatrix Potter-like watercolour drawings and the moving story of teenage runaway Helen and her pet Rat. Her story evolves, her past and her reasons for running away slowly becoming obvious as Helen tries to deal with her fear and self-loathing and  find her place in the world. An excellent combination of a sadly familiar story with a satisfactory ending, enhanced by beautiful drawings.

Have you ever had your reading tastes altered by a book, as firmly as I have? Ever tried reading graphic novels? Put a book back on the shelf after spotting the word “fantasy” and thought, not for me? I have enjoyed having my head turned by all of these books and will be more open-minded (I hope) in future.

Selfies, Maps and a Prince Philip cult: Cool new stuff from our Selectors

Cover of Tigers foreverTigers forever: Saving the world’s most endangered big cat by Steve Winter
This book showcases a decade of beautiful photographs and stories of tigers in the wild.  Alongside the spectacular photography by Steve Winter, and award winning National Geographic photographer are the stories of the committed people from all around the world who dedicate their lives to saving the tiger from extinction

Cover of My first AnimaliaMy first Animalia by Graeme Base
Animalia was first published in 1986, immediately capturing the imagination of children and adults around the world.  My First Animalia celebrates the magic of Animalia in a playful introductory format for the very young, but will appeal to all ages!

Cover of GoGo : a Kidd’s guide to graphic design by Chip Kidd
The author is an award winning graphic designer who has created a kid friendly (and adult friendly too) book on how to get your design ideas across to the world, showing how to make design dynamic and interesting. The back of the book contains 10 suggested projects to get started and these can then be posted to gothebook.com

Cover of MapsMaps by Aleksandra Mizielinska
This collection of 52 highly illustrated maps details not only geographical features and political borders, but also places of interest, iconic personalities, native animals and plants, local peoples, cultural events, and many more fascinating facts associated with each region. Check examples of the maps – they really are quirky and very interesting.  The New Zealand map has lots of well known icons, but nothing for Christchurch.  What is our global icon now?

Cover of SelfiesSelfies: Self -portrait photography with attitude by Jan-Haje Kamps
Apparently the Selfie is more than just pointing the camera at yourself and making a duckface. “Selfie” was added to the online version of the Oxford dictionary in August and is being considered for future inclusion in the more traditional Oxford English Dictionary so it must be here to stay!  This book might be the answer to those endless rather banal images that clutter Facebook, or perhaps Kim Kardashian (the expert in self promotion) can also set you on the right path?

Cover of Man belong Mrs QueenMan belong Mrs Queen : adventures with the Philip worshippers / Baylis, Matthew.
This has to one of the months more unusual books as it is about a Prince Philip- loving cult (Yes you did read this right – the Prince Philip of the dreadful gaffes) that exists on the South Sea Island of Tanna.

On the rumbling slopes of this remarkable volcanic island, banjaxed by daily doses of the local narcotic, suffering from a diet of yams and regularly accused of being a divine emissary of the Duke, Baylis uncovered a religion unlike any other on the planet. Self-deprecating, hilarious and enlightening, “Man Belong Mrs Queen” is travel writing at its horizon-expanding best.

The owl that fell from the sky : stories of a museum curator – New Zealand e-book month

Natural history museums contain many thousands of zoological specimens and each has a tale to tell – often involving extraordinary people, daring explorations, unquenchable scientific curiosity, and strange coincidences. This perfectly presented book, with its engaging pictures, is rich in stories and unveils many secrets.

Read about: the fate of a tortoise given as a gift by Captain Cook; the epic international voyage of the biggest known moa egg; the admiration induced by an ape from the jungles of Borneo; the barn owl of mysterious origins; the unfortunate fate of an angry young elephant; the quest to discover how a New Zealand heron turned up in a Florence museum; the strange arrival of an Australian banjo frog and many other mind-boggling mysteries.

You can read The owl that fell from the sky as an e-book from our Overdrive collection.

The owl that fell from the sky is also available as a paper book.