Archives

Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth

Ultrawild

Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth

Steve Mushin

A & U Children’s, 2023

80pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781760292812

When the introduction to a book is entitled ” Ludicrous Ideas are Bootcamp for Brains” then you know you have something that is going to be out there and it’s going to appeal to your wild thinkers, your madcap inventors and all those other kids who dwell in the Land of What If?

This is a most unusual book in both format and content and yet it is also most intriguing.  The author himself says that he had been having “outlandish ideas” for as long as he can remember, some successful, some not-so, but he is on a mission to “crush climate change by transforming every city on Earth into a jungle (or whatever other type of ecosystem it was before humans trashed it)”.

So in a comic-like format that follows his thought processes, he designs habitat-printing robot birds and water-filtering sewer submarines, calculates how far compost cannons can blast seed bombs (over a kilometre), brainstorms biomaterials with scientists and engineers, studies ecosystems and develops a deadly serious plan to transform cities into jungles, rewilding them into carbon-sucking mega-habitats for all species, and as fast as possible. But, as a highly-respected industrial designer, artist and inventor these are not the random machinations of a child’s wildest dreams, but serious collaborations with scientists and others who are concerned about the planet and which incorporate futuristic materials and foods, bio reactors, soil, forest ecosystems, mechanical flight, solar thermal power and working out just how fast we could actually turn roads into jungles, absorb carbon and reverse climate change. Each project has been researched and while not yet necessarily put into practice, each is theoretically possible and some are already happening,

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Underpinned by quotes from those who have gone before including 14th century philosopher William of Ockham who said that “the simplest solution is almost always the best” (Occam’s razor) this is one to inspire all those who are concerned about climate change but who want and need to do more than reduce their personal use of plastic and who can see that doing what has always been done might not work in time, let alone be successful. It validates the wacky and the wild ideas some students have and encourages them to go even further.

What Can I Do With a Cardboard Box?

What Can I Do With a Cardboard Box?

What Can I Do With a Cardboard Box?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Can I Do With a Cardboard Box?

James Maclaine

Harriet Noble & Erin Wallace

Usborne, 2023

48pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781805310037

We have all had experiences where we have seen mega amounts of money spent on a gift for a young child yet their greatest enjoyment has come from the cardboard box it was packaged in.

This new release from Usborne takes that humble cardboard box to a new level, well beyond the imagination of the toddler and into the construction skills of the older child. Using all sorts of boxes, each type readily available, they are challenged and guided to building a mini village, turning tissue boxes into monsters and rolling up chunky beads from bold and bright packaging. Bridges and ramps are put to the stability and functionality test, and that knowledge is used to investigate how to make an empty box strong enough to sit on.  They can see what happens when a marble is rolled in the lid of a shoebox with some paint. And simple step-by-step instructions can turn any big cereal box can become an amazing 3D model of the Solar System.

Forget being thrilled about creating a cardboard version of Hogwarts – these projects will satisfy all of the requirements of the Design and Technologies curriculum while encouraging creative and critical thinking as models are designed, made and appraised as well as giving hours of enjoyment and fun. And there are even more ideas at the Usborne Quicklinks page. 

Perfect for the Christmas stocking for both child and teacher!  

A cardboard Hogwarts

A cardboard Hogwarts

The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gargoyle

Zana Fraillon

Lothian, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780734421241

Forced off his rooftop to make way for a new urban development in a barren cityscape, the old gargoyle packs a battered suitcase and boards a train going who knows where. But he is unseen to all those who are packed on it, except for a child  who has the time and the presence to ponder the gargoyle’s story…

He’s old, this gargoyle. Very old. Older than me. Older than anyone. He looks tired. If I had a seat, I would give it to him.

He shuffles past me and stands near the door and watches the city smushing past.

I think I hear him sigh. An echoey, achy, hollow sort of sigh, like the wind when it gusts down lanes and through tunnels and in and out of the big drains that stretch under the city.

Invisible to all who are so engrossed in what is to come that they don’t see the here and now, except for the ticket collector who forces him off the train when he cannot produce a ticket, the gargoyle is a forlorn sight, testament to the often unnoticed and ignored elderly, disabled and homeless among us.  But he leaves his suitcase behind and when the child, overcome by curiosity and compassion, opens the case he unleashes the gargoyle’s many memories of the city and its inhabitants. When the case crumbles, leaving nothing but a small seed, the child decides to find a place to bring the gargoyle, and the soul of the city, back.

This is a poignant picture book that works on many levels both for younger and older students as they explore it, each visit exposing something different.  For example, on a literal level, the meaning and history of “gargoyles” could be investigated  to build vocabulary and children could be encouraged to not only identify structures in their town that feature them but also learn architecturally related words such as buttress and belfry, perhaps even compare modern and bygone construction styles and methods.   

Others might like to consider what memories are contained in the gargoyle’s case, and if he were a gargoyle from one of their town’s structures, what changes and events might he have seen and packed into that case.

Older readers who can dig deeper into the messages that lie beyond the words might look more at the humanitarian issues that are addressed- the trials and tribulation of ageing and how those who are in their senior years become invisible and often ignored as though they no longer have anything  to contribute; the way buildings and structures are often valued and preserved more than those who constructed them; the destruction of those buildings in the ever-growing need for quick-fix housing; the knowledge and memories of people and places past that could be drawn on to build a better future so the same mistakes are not repeated; society’s attitudes towards and treatment of the homeless… And having examined those issues, consider and plan what might grow from the seed that the boy plants.

Teachers’ notes offer discussion points about these as well as ideas for exploring its language, literary devices and visual literacy – both the author’s and illustrator’s notes add much – but the lingering emotion for the reader is one of empathy and compassion, of a desire to acknowledge and celebrate the legacies of those who have gone before us and consider the legacy that we, ourselves, might leave. 

I do expect to see this among the award winners of the upcoming year. 

Bored: Evie Dreams Big

Bored: Evie Dreams Big

Bored: Evie Dreams Big

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bored: Evie Dreams Big

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2023 

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780733342066

“My name is Evie and I’m making plans. Actual plans. I’m going to build my own house. I’m not talking about some silly treehouse either. I’m going to build a real house.

Only it seems everyone else who lives in Turtle Place has an opinion they’d like to share. Frog and Milo want to build something totally different, Mr Santos is grumpy, Mrs Katz is spying on us, my sister is the most annoying person on earth and my parents don’t believe in me at all. But I have a plan!

I have big dreams when I’m bored …”

This is the third in this series featuring the kids from Turtle Place who are very ordinary and do ordinary things and yet the creativity of Matt Stanton turns them into engaging reads for independent readers. We’ve already met Milo  and Frog and now it’s Evie’s turn who lives in a very nice two-storey house with her parents and two little sisters, so immediately you wonder why it is that she wants to build a new house just for herself…

Being bored is a common catch-cry in families just a few days into school holidays when the excitement of free time is worn off and the reality of the importance of the routine of school is realised, but it is often when we have the best ideas – or what seem like the best ideas.  So while Evie’s situation may not be the same, it is familiar and readers will relate well to her and her friends, which is always a must-have in any story for this age. Kids like to place themselves as active participants in the plot and this is one of Stanton’s strengths, and in this story, there is plenty of scope for opening up discussions about how they would deal with Evie’s situation, which so many will be experiencing. Is there a more practical solution than building a house so you can move out? At the same time, Stanton acknowledges the need for more independence as you mature, the need to have a space of your own, the need to have your concerns heard and acknowledged and your ideas and dreams supported, articulating them in a way that might help the reader speak to their own family. 

This might be just the book to rekindle the bedtime story ritual, so often abandoned when the child learns to read independently – certainly the parent won’t be bored and mat just learn something. 

 

 

 

 

Need a House? Call Ms Mouse!

Need a House? Call Ms Mouse!

Need a House? Call Ms Mouse!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need a House? Call Ms Mouse!

George Mendoza

Doris Susan Smith

A & U Children’s, 2022

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781761066016

The sign outside her home says that Ms Mouse & Co are “builders, designers and decorators” and certainly she has a portfolio to back her claims.  All the animals want to live in a house designed by Ms Henrietta Mouse, because she is the only mouse in the world who understands exactly what makes a squirrel or a rabbit, a caterpillar or a frog feel at home.

With her faithful mouse helpers she has built just the right home for so many of her forest friends and each is shown in beautiful detail on each double spread from the spaceship for Squirrel to the underwater Atlantis for Trout to the highly tuned web for Spider. Fourteen homes in all, so what does her own home look like?

As the 2022 season of The Block draws to a close, the interest in home design and décor is rising, and I am always amazed at the number of children who not only turn up to view the open houses but who can speak quite knowledgeably about the contestants and what they have achieved.  Some even aspire to be on the show themselves.  So this picture book  will inspire their imaginations as they think about what their own house might look like, taking into account their personal preferences and foibles, or perhaps inspire an activity that involves designing a home for an Australian animal, also considering their unique needs.  Combine it with books like Puffin the Architect, and Built by Animals and there is the basis for a range of skills and strengths to come into play combining STEM and art that might even kickstart a career choice… 

Jørn’s Magnificent Imagination

Jørn’s Magnificent Imagination

Jørn’s Magnificent Imagination

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jørn’s Magnificent Imagination

Coral Vass

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

It is the backdrop to the lives of so many, draws millions of visitors from around the world, and yet is so familiar now that many don’t even see it.

Who would have thought that such a magnificent structure could grow from a little boy playing with sailboats, watching swans land on water, collecting seashells and flowers, even playing with his breakfast orange peel?  And yet it did and in this beautiful retelling of the young life of  Jørn Utzon, the reader learns not only of the beginnings of one of the world’s most recognisable buildings but the power of the imagination, and the importance of letting dreams lead us into amazing places.

Where might today’s discovery take a young person in years to come? Even if it is a wet, indoors day, what might they build from “rubbish” that could become the start of something magnificent?  In 50 years, will a nation be celebrating their dreams as they are about to celebrate Jørn’s?  

Sensitively written and illustrated in a way that doesn’t reveal the mystery to the end, this is a book that not only celebrates a little life that has big dreams that come true, but inspires the reader to drift away and imagine… If Jørn could begin a building with orange peels, could they make a city floodproof by playing in their porridge and milk?

Tatty Mouse Rockstar

Tatty Mouse Rockstar

Tatty Mouse Rockstar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tatty Mouse Rockstar

Hilary Robinson

Mandy Stanley

Catch A Star, 2022

16pp., board book., RRP $A14.99

 9781922326553

Tatty Mouse wants to play in her brother’s band, but given they already have a guitarist, a saxophonist and a singer, she has to find a place.  Known as the ‘mend-it, make-it mouse”, and so, after consulting a book she decides on maracas and drums and sets to, using everyday objects from her home to make her own musical instruments.

The board book format lends itself perfectly to a lift-the-flap experience for our youngest readers as they follow Tatty Mouse’s instructions, perhaps making their own versions as they do because everything she uses is readily available.  

Catch A Star continues to recognise the need for even our youngest readers to have engaging stories that are sturdy enough in their own hands so they can mimic the reading of those who read to them, a critical step in becoming a reader, and this is no exception. The text is simple but the story can be followed without being able to read it because the pictures are colourful and clearly amplify what the words say, while the lift-the-flap and the invitation to do so adds to the engagement.  Above all, this format shows little ones the value of the constancy of print – rather than being a fleeting image on a screen, it is one they can return to again and again, not just to enjoy Tatty’s inventiveness but also to explore their own. 

 

Let’s Build a Backyard

Let's Build a Backyard

Let’s Build a Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Build a Backyard

Mike Lucas

Daron Parton

Lothian, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780734421289 

Chug! Chug! Chug! That’s the sound of the tipper truck.

Bang! Bang! Bang!  That’s the sound of the nails being hammered into the fence.

Sing! Sing! Sing! That’s the sound of the birds in the big tree that offers shelter and shade to countless living things and which must be protected.

In this charming companion to Let’s Build A House, Dad and his daughter are back again, this time building the backyard from bringing in quality topsoil to building a bee motel to planting the vege patch, installing a frog pond and planting bright flowers that feed on stinky chicken poo.  Using simple rhyming sequences and repetitive text, Mike Lucas and Daron Parton have once again combined to bring the complex task of creating a backyard haven for the family and wildlife alike into the realm of our youngest readers.  The bond between father and daughter is just as strong as she helps him with all the tasks – imagine the fun of being allowed to control the bobcat – with the final spread showing them sharing the joy of their labour together, suggesting that there is no mother in the story, a situation many will relate to.

As well as introducing young readers to all the tasks involved in creating a backyard and the order in which they must be done, the story opens up the opportunity for students to dream with their eyes open and plan their own backyard.  What features should it have so that it is perfect for playing and relaxing while still being a safe haven for the local wildlife and environmentally sustainable?  Teach them about bird’s-eye-view maps and drawing to scale so things fit. Big concepts for little children but made thoroughly accessible through this must-have book. (And if the prospect of a backyard is not feasible, how could the school playground be improved in a similar way? )

 

Built by Animals

Built by Animals

Built by Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Built by Animals

Christiane Dorion

Yeji Yun

Wide Eyed, 2022

77pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780711265684

In my region, one of Australia’s greatest construction ventures, the Snowy Hydro-Electric Scheme, which has been described as “one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world, the Snowy Scheme consists of nine power stations, 16 major dams, 80 kilometres of aqueducts and 145 kilometres of interconnected tunnels” was constructed in post-war Australia and now its expansion is well underway.  As they bore through 27km of earth to connect Tantangara to Talbingo one wonders how they can do this successfully both holding the water back in the dams in the first place and then join them without the tunnels collapsing.  Perhaps, as they did their designs, the architects and engineers looked to Mother Nature, specifically the dam-building techniques of beavers and the underground architecture of ants for ideas and solutions.

Perhaps they were inspired by a book such as this which looks closely at the best architects, designers and builders of the animal and plant worlds and how they build amazing structures  how they create super-strong materials and find clever ways to keep warm or cool, all with very limited tools.  Divided into five sections – construction, materials, shapes, energy, and water – a representative of each species not only explains what, how and why they do what they do but shows how this is being translated into human-made structures so that our buildings of the future are more efficient and more environmentally friendly.  Whether it’s the white, curved, shell of the desert snail giving insight into cooling without air-conditioning or the way the shimmering feathers of the peacock’s tail reflect light, or even the Australian thorny devil’s unique drinking habits, each double page spread is introduced by a new creature telling their own story to the reader in simple, direct language that just makes for fascinating but easy-to-understand reading.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

This is the latest of a number of books by this author including Invented by Animals  that would not only complement the theme of this year’s reviews of how the world began and developed, but also any STEM curriculum focus as Dorion sees her role as “inspiring children to explore the complex systems of the world we live in and to take positive actions towards a sustainable future.” By allowing the creatures themselves to give the explanations not only does she reach the reader but offers a new way of approaching what could be a not-so-fascinating topic.  Certainly, until I picked up Built By Animals I never drew any sort of correlation between what is happening less than 100km away with the ants who build their burrows in the driveway!

A must-have for all your curious builders, particularly those who frequent the Lego wall or the makerspace.

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lighthouse Story

Holly James

Laura Chamberlain

Bloomsbury, 2022 

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781526624123

“On bright summer days, Eva visits her Grandad…

But this is no ordinary trip because it begins with a boat ride on a small boat to a rocky island because Eva’s grandad is a lighthouse keeper.  Eva loves her Grandad but she loves lighthouses almost as much as she bombards him with millions of questions about the what, why, where, who and how of these structures that seem to have their own mystical appeal.  

And so interspersed with the story of Eva and Grandad sharing the daily routine of maintaining the lighthouse, the reader is given all sorts of facts about them – who knew that even  their external paint pattern was so significant – their purpose, their location, their upkeep, their range, as well as cloud formations, stars in the night sky and the wildlife that surrounds the lighthouse. There is even the remarkable story of Grace Darling, the legendary lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rescued so many. 

Give me a book with a lighthouse on the cover and I can’t resist – I’m straight back to my childhood at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand where I grew up with the local lighthouse sweeping its reassuring beam over my bed in its rhythmic pattern each night, and on clear nights, the distant Dog Island lighthouse too.  So although my grandad wasn’t the lighthouse keeper, so much of Eva’s story brought back the best memories. 

 

Apart from me though,  this is a book that will resonate with so many who are familiar with lighthouses as there are over 350 of them dotted around our coastline. While there are no longer any manned, nevertheless they still hold an appeal and Eva’s  journey back into another time will help those who are fascinated by them, not only understand their function better but also have an even deeper respect for those who looked after them, and, through their efforts. so many others.  

The perfect companion to  The Lighthouse Keeper series – another favourite!