My kids both loved the book Deadly Feathers by Des Hunt, I actually really enjoyed it too, made me want to go to Stewart Island. We loved reading about the kākāpō and Sirocco the Rock Star Kākāpō.
The other thing we all love is a nature programme so I thought I would check out New Zealand Geographic TV. There is a huge selection from old classics like the Wild South series in the 80s to international series like Living World. I found a programme called To Save the Kākāpō that was filmed in 1997 when there were only about 50 kākāpō left and follows the very rare breeding season of the kākāpō. To Save the Kākāpō is filmed the year Sirocco hatched so is actually quite fascinating the lengths the volunteers went to help the kākāpō chicks.
The kākāpō only breeds when the rimu trees fruit, which is once every 2 to 4 years. This summer is expected to be another breeding season, even a bumper one, so hopefully they can increase the population from the current 154.
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;
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.
Smith 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!
The 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.
Spineless – 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.
American 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!
The 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?!?
As the mother of a preschooler, one thing I’ve noticed is how much small children respond to learning about topics that they can see reflected in their day to day life. Whether it’s seeing a picture of a tuna (eel) or a duck (both creatures we’ve fed on the Avon River), or stories about diggers (of which there are many in Christchurch), or picture books about Christmas at that time of year – little ones really love stories that they can relate to what they see in the world.
Yesterday (21 March) marked the official beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere and already there are clear signs of summer’s departure that even small folk can make note of – fruit from neighbourhood trees dropping, new warmer pyjamas being bought, some trees already losing their leaves, and the need for rainjackets or gumboots on rainy days. So now’s a great time to comb the library’s bookbins for titles that either explain the change of seasons or reinforce those signs of autumn that younger family members might be noticing.
There are plenty of titles in the library to choose from. Here are just a few to get you started:
I’ve recently been delving into some “recreational non-fiction” reading!
Recreational non-fiction is what you might call stories based on fact that read as easily as a novel. This can be particularly true of memoir or biographies, and I’ve come across four such titles that I would like to recommend to you, the Christchurch reading public!
They’re all based around the topic of the natural world, they all read like adventure tales, and they all have a common link; the idea that we should all spend more time in and around nature, observe, engage, and enjoy.
We certainly don’t all need to go to the extreme lengths that these authors do – you don’t, for example, need to be the man responsible for dangling Sir David Attenborough 180ft in the upper canopy of one of the world remotest rainforests! You also don’t need to chase errant wild stags through the outskirts of London during the storm of the decade! And you definitely don’t need to be the man behind the push for Cpt. William Bligh to set off on his ill-fated voyage in the Bounty to take breadfruit from the Pacific Islands and take it to the Americas as cheap fodder for slave owners!
No, we can just sit back on a sunny spring day and enjoy stories of nature and travel, real stories told by real people who actually wrote the words themselves (apart from Linnaeus and Banks of course, their stories are ably told by Oxford historian Patricia Fara)
The amazing story behind two giant names in natural science; Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks. Just how great were they? Were they true champions of natural science, conservation, and preservation? Or were they subject to their own particular biases and egos in their work, striving to become something more than they were..? This book is a great insight and a brilliant read, giving context to the lives and journeys of these two names so famous now that we forget how recent their work actually is!
This is a series of stories that follows a man around the globe as he climbs some of the tallest trees in the world! He regularly works for the BBC to help produce some of the amazing images of the flora and fauna to be found in forest canopies seen in their Planet Earth series, he has a brilliant outlook on nature and conservation, and is a very talented storyteller – his tales read like boys-own adventures as he navigates all kinds of perils (weather, insects, primates, you name it!) to provide safe vertical passage through the forests of the world. If you like the natural world then this is a memoir too good to miss!
The story of David Attenborough’s fist major nature assignment as he travels into remote parts (pre-internet or mobile phone coverage!) to obtain vision of some of the creatures of the earth that humans have only ever read about in books. Written by the man himself, his voice is clear and present in every word as he deals with the perils of travelling the wilds of the earth for the betterment of natural science.
John Bartram stands as the longest serving gamekeeper of the illustrious and ecologically-fragile Richmond Park – a secluded nature reserve in the midst of the busyness of London. He tells of his journey to get to the job and the lifetime of work and memories he has obtained along the way. It is written in a very matter-of-fact manner which serves well to remind the reader that nature is on our doorstep and to stop now and then to treasure it.
And if these stories have piqued your interest in the natural world but you’re wanting to read more about OUR natural world, then perhaps try one of these beaut magazines available through Christchurch City Libraries… they’re full of the same fascination and excitement of discovery as the old stories but with the added advantage that they’re the stories of our own generation, in and of our own region.
As the movie proves, it isn’t just books that inhabit Sheila’s world. It’s also wonder and passion for the natural world — plants, animals and rocks. This translates into writing and beautiful illustrations. The documentary shows so much — her love for the sea and sailing, honeymoon spent in the hut under Mt. Aoraki, the fun of learning Icelandic and swimming with seals, her close and dear friendship with Janet Frame in their formative days as young writers. Got the feeling? Who needs a TV and a car if you can enjoy a night camping under the stars and a bicycle tour from Picton to Bluff?
Sheila Natusch greatly contributed to the understanding of nature by writing and illustrating Animals of New Zealand, the first comprehensive reference guide on this subject. She carried on writing all her life, on nature and history. Sheila has her artistic talent (inherited from her mother and grandmother) to accompany her words with convincing yet soft illustrations. In 2007 she was awarded New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to writing and illustration.
Watching the movie, it is not hard to see what compelled producer Christine Dann and filmmaker Hugh MacDonald (Sheila’s cousin) to capture Sheila on film. With premieres rolling out in cinemas from Auckland all the way to Gore, they are both fully occupied these days, but Christine still found some time to reveal the backstory of this inspiring project.
When did the idea to make a documentary about Sheila become obvious and where did it come from?
Director Hugh Macdonald has known Sheila all his life and always wanted to make a film about her, as she is such a fascinating character, as well as a woman of great achievements. I knew about her achievements before Hugh introduced me to Sheila, and as soon as I met her knew she’d be a great film subject.
Sheila is such a cinematic character, her enthusiasm and love for life in all its forms is beaming from the screen. Her story and persona are perfect for a form of a film storytelling. What was your intention in making this documentary, besides portraying Sheila and telling her story (because it also is a film about nature, New Zealand, wonder, curiosity and passion)?
Hugh and I share Sheila’s love of nature and the wild places of New Zealand. We agree with her that they are a source of much joy and inspiration. In making a film about her we wanted to share some of that joy and inspiration via someone who embodies it.
You produced the documentary but also contributed as a researcher and writer. How long did your research take, what were the main resources you used?
The research for the film took about nine months, but that was spread over 18 months in time as it involved going to Dunedin twice, down the West Coast, and to Southland and Stewart Island. My written sources included Sheila’s letters to her parents in the 1940s, and to Professor Ramsey in the 1950s and 60s, plus all her published work, both books and articles. Of course I talked to Sheila a lot to check things out as needed.
Is there a funny story from behind the scenes, something that happened during filming that you could share with our readers?
There always seemed to be lots of surprises happening, mostly good ones – such as the completely unexpected delivery of a box of chilled mutton birds to Sheila’s place when we just happened to be there with the camera for other reasons – and that enabled us to shoot the scene in the Bach Cafe where Sheila takes them to her friend Maraea to cook up for them all.
The visit of the Ecuadorian navy sailing ship the Guayas to Wellington in January 2016 was another such good surprise, even though we had to scramble hard to get the filming organised
Sheila made nature and science accessible to New Zealanders in a user-friendly and encouraging way, especially with the Animals of New Zealand. However, she was to an extent criticized by scientists due to a lack of scientific language in her works. Why do you think that happened?
She was writing at a time when the scientific community (especially the Royal Society) was trying to raise the status of science as a profession of experts who communicated largely with each other, rather than the general public. Sheila has always believed that knowledge about nature needs to be shared as widely as possible, and that means writing in non-technical, jargon-free and also lyrical ways.
Sheila is extraordinarily talented in so many different ways: she is an amazing self-taught illustrator as well as a writer, she has a great passion, understanding and an eye for the natural world, she is a researcher and an “outdoor pioneer-ess”. And she managed – it seems like all throughout her life – to nurture and develop all those talents, which must have been quite hard in those days.
Sheila is not only very intelligent, she’s also very determined, so although she was certainly knocked back and excluded from some things she wanted to do, or ways she wanted to do them, she just kept on pushing until she found a way around the obstacle.
Which is your favourite motto or a thought from Sheila’s wise yet witty repertoire of thoughts?
Too hard to choose! But in the film you’ll hear her say several times that you have to ‘keep on keeping on’ when challenges arise, and that’s a good advice.
I was very delighted, when I realised that Sheila quotes Walt Whitman in her introduction to Animals of New Zealand (his poem The beasts, which talks about the animals). I wonder if she ever in your conversations revealed her fondness for any other authors and who were they?
She has a big library of books on ships and sailing, and likes novels and poems about the sea and life on it. She can remember a lot of songs and poems from her early years with a sea theme, such as John Masefield’s Cargoes. She’s pretty good on Shakespeare as well.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Sheila and your movie?
It has been very rewarding for Hugh and me to share our enjoyment of Sheila, and her enjoyment of life, through this film, and find that is (as we hoped) resonating deeply with other people.
Sheila’s story told through the camera lens is full of curiosity and wonder for nature and great outdoors that surround us. It proves that those who observe and see, will be rewarded greatly – with life-long beauty and content. Make sure you see it!
A what ambassador? The Threatened Species Ambassador is a new role that was established within the Department of Conservation earlier this year. Perhaps we’d best ask Nic what that involves exactly…
What does a Threatened Species Ambassador do?
My job is to raise awareness and profile of our threatened species in NZ, and the issues they face that are impacting on their survival. NZ has the dubious honour of having one of the highest numbers of threatened species in the world (799 threatened and another 2700 ‘at risk’).
New Zealand’s flora and fauna is so amazing it has been described by author Jared Diamond as ‘…as close as we will get to the opportunity to study life on another planet’ because it is so unique from anywhere else. Rudyard Kipling described NZ’s environment as the “Last, loneliest, loveliest…”
How does someone get to do a job like that?
I have worked in a bunch of jobs where I have been an advocate for nature in New Zealand, in DOC last time around I was lucky enough to write and present “Meet the Locals” a series of 200+ mini wildlife documentaries for TVNZ’s digital channels. I also worked for Forest & Bird as a conservation advocate, and I used to have a job taking people swimming with Hector’s dolphins a very long time ago when I finished University. (I also sold a lot of polar fleece while at Varsity at my local Kathmandu store).
What made you want to be New Zealand’s Threatened Species Ambassador?
I have been a ‘nature nerd’ for as long as I can remember – lots of family trips camping in our wee pop-top caravan (which I now go camping in with the bloke and our two year old son), and I was lucky enough to spend part of my childhood in Mount Cook National Park and Twizel, so spent a lot of time outdoors. I was constantly bringing home animal skeletons, shells, feathers and assorted nature paraphernalia.
What one thing could we do to help a threatened species survive?
The best thing you can do is learn more about what makes our wildlife here so special and unique. Read lots of books about it, go outdoors and have a poke around! The more you learn, the more you’ll be blown away by how ancient and wonderful our flora and fauna are. Did you know that our native frogs are so ancient they were literally hopping around the feet of dinosaurs?
In practical terms, the best thing you can do is set up some pest control at home. Get a good rat/stoat trap and give local birds and reptiles and invertebrates a place to thrive. If every person in every house in NZ did this, who knows what we could achieve for our native wildlife. Kiwi in our backyard maybe! Then you can build on that by finding out what are the best things to plant in your area, then you’ll have a whole mini-National Park at home!
Patterns in nature are beautiful. Exploring Nature’s Pattern Magic by Dee and Mike Pignéguy is an ingenious, well designed book that captures those spectacular forms – from spirals to fractals, and crystals to camouflage.
There is a lot of fascinating scientific information in here, presented in neat bite-sized snippets. Here’s some things I learned:
The patterns you see in rose petals are equiangular spirals.
Spheres are circles in three dimensions.
The head of the marine iguana is a study in tessellations.
There are Fibonacci patterns in pineapples.
There’s an action point in each chapter, encouraging kids to find examples in nature and lots more activities at the back.
I think adults will like this as much as kids. Yay science!
Ancient Greek historian Xenophon and the August nature and science newsletter seem to have a thing about the sea. Dive in and see if you are on the same wave-length. Catch the drift of the reading picks, if you don’t like one, there are plenty more fish in the sea. Get on board our sailing ship of great aquatic reads. Have a whale of a time with some sea-tastic snappers of a sea-related….nope, that’s it, I’m out.
Love with a chance of drowning: A memoir by Torre DeRoche.
Ivan, a handsome Argentinian obviously ticked all the right boxes for this author as she battled seasickness and a morbid fear of water to accompany him a year-long voyage across the Pacific. Good to read if you like a touch of romance with your travel!
Two books about working as a community, making do, thriftiness, recycling, and mucking in. You will find these books in our history section, but the lessons learned are just as relevant today.
Fifty shades of feminism by Lisa Appignanesi
50 years after the publication of the Feminine Mystique and following in the footsteps of another type of Fifty shades, fifty women reflect on what being a woman means for them today. Contributors include some well-known writers eg Siri Hustvedt, Kathy Lette, Kate Mosse and Jeanette Winterson.
Rubelli : a story of Silk in Venice by Irene Favaretto
The story of the Rubelli family and their textile company in Venice going back to the 18th Century. Lots of gorgeous illustrations of their beautiful material.