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1. Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway!

Some people say I’m a book pusher. I’m okay with that. I get impatient with friends when they still haven’t read that book I recommended at least A WEEK AGO, for heaven’s sake, so I just go online and send it to them. Pushy? Bossy? I will not apologize. People need to read certain books and yes, I do know what’s good for them.

Which is why I’m about to go full-on pushy once again, and not only recommend some books that you need to read RIGHT NOW to fulfill your need for kickass science fiction heroines, I’m also going to go the extra step of enforcing that by actually giving them away free to one lucky winner.

Diving into the Wreck ebook cover webFirst, Diving Into the Wreck, part of the Diving Universe series by Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been a fan and student of Kris’s for about 13 years, and have always viewed her as a pretty badass woman and author in her own right. But she also writes amazingly complicated and strong women characters who are always so much fun to spend time with. Kris has generously offered to give the lucky winner a signed copy of the book. She also answered some interview questions for me that I’ll share below, so hang on. It’s always fun to hear how other writers think.

 

The Lost WorldSecond is Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and if you were a fan of his Jurassic Park you may think you already know all there is to know about this sequel, but I think perhaps you don’t. Because the reason I’m pushing it is that it has one of my favorite heroines of all time, Sarah Harding, who is both scientist and never-say-die person-you-most-want-with-you-in-a-crisis, and I am so inspired by her intelligence and toughness I actually reread this book about twice a year just to pump myself up. I think once you’ve experienced Sarah Harding for yourself, you’ll be totally hooked, too.

 

Parallelogram OmnibusThird is my own Parallelogram seriesWhy am I book-pushing my own series? Because I wrote it for a particular reason: to show two very different girls who are entirely kickass in their own separate ways. One is a scientific explorer, willing to try out all sorts of bizarre (and potentially hazardous) physics theories she’s come up with, and the other is a teen adventurer who has been raised by her very badass explorer grandmother to handle all sorts of physical risks with a cool head and a deep will to survive.

In my spare time I like to read a lot of true adventure books by real-life explorers, and I based the teenage adventurer Halli and her grandmother Ginny on two women explorers I really admire: Roz Savage, who rowed solo across the Atlantic (why not??), and Helen Thayer, who was the first person to ski solo and unsupported to the magnetic North Pole. When she was 50, by the way. So yeah, I think you should read Parallelogram for the same reason you should read the Rusch and Crichton books: because the girls and women in these books will entertain and inspire you.

I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about her own writing process and what inspires her to write the strong kinds of characters you’ll find in all of her work:

RB: What qualities do you admire in the heroine of your book Diving Into The Wreck? Did you write those qualities into her character on purpose, or did they develop over time on their own?

KKR: Boss is her own person. She only lets people call her Boss, and she won’t tell anyone her name, because it’s her business. What I love about Boss is that she is so secure in who she is. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows just how much she’s willing to tell/give in any situation. She admits when she’s wrong, and she analyzes everything. She’s very strong, but she also can be vulnerable.

My characters come fully formed, but they do reveal parts of themselves over time. Boss & I share a love of history, but she’s so much more adventurous than I am. She would go crazy in a room writing all day. I love it. I never add traits consciously. Subconsiously, who knows? I assume so. But the characters are real people to me, with their flaws and strengths, and that includes Boss.

RB: Who are some of your favorite kickass heroines in other people’s science fiction books and movies? What about them inspires you as a person and/or as a writer? (I’m a big fan of Ripley’s in the Alien series. When she’s rescuing the little girl Newt from the breeding area in Aliens and fighting off the queen alien and her posse–you’d better believe Ripley makes me want to be braver in real life.)

KKR: Favorite SF women. Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. Most of the sf I read is short fiction, and the characters are one-offs. None of the women in the stories I read rise to the level of favorite. I like Ripley–and she was inspiring to me–but is not someone who comes to mind easily.

In SF, my examples were always negative. For example, in Trek, I was so happy that Kathryn Janeway had her own ship. Then I saw the dang first episode, and when she was faced with a big issue that James T. Kirk could have solved in 45 minutes, she gave in, and made her crew suffer for **years**  I think most of the sf films/TV suffer from stupid women problems.

The strong women I read about appear in the mystery genre. I adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. I used to love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone, especially when I encountered her in the 1980s. The female lead detectives were unusual women, who did their own thing in a man’s world. They’re the inspiration for my sf heroines.

RB: This is a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do you give your characters some of your own kickass qualities of bravery, wisdom, compassion, etc.–or do you feel inspired as you write their stories to be more like them yourself?

KKR: LOL, Robin. I love that you think I have kickass qualities. I think my characters are more articulate than I am, smarter than I am, more adventurous than I am, and more courageous than I am. I am blunt and stubborn and difficult, and in my fiction, those qualities are virtues, so there’s some of me there. But these folks are not people I want to be: they’re people I want to meet.

RB: Which character of yours has changed you the most as a person? Why?

KKR: The character of mine who has changed me the most as a person is Smokey Dalton, from my Kris Nelscott mysteries. He’s an African-American detective in the late 1960s. He’s a true hero, in my opinion. But his situations are beyond difficult. I always put him in the middle of a historical situation, and then ask him to respond. Some of those historical situations–I keep thinking, if I were there, would I have had the courage to do what he did? Would I have known what to do? And the thing I admire most about Smokey: His world, horrid as it is, doesn’t break him. It makes him stronger. That has had a huge impact on me and my thinking and my writing.

RB: What do you prefer in your favorite heroines, whether it’s the ones you write, read, or watch: More stoic than compassionate, vice versa,or a particular ratio of both? (For me, 80% stoic, 20% compassionate.)

KKR: Compassion first. I quit reading a mystery series set in the Middle Ages because our heroine–a smart and active woman–had a baby, and then abandoned that baby to go on a crusade. Well, this is the Middle Ages, and yes, she might have done that historically, but it would take 2-3 years to return to that child, and there would be no guarantee that the child was safe or well cared for. So I quit reading right there. The woman was too selfish for me to read about. Stoic, yes. But willing to sacrifice someone she loved for her own ends. Not someone I want to read about.

RB: Bonus question: I know you’re a big fan of the time travel series OUTLANDER, as am I. (I just finished the fourth book. What a ride!) If you were in Claire’s position, catapulted back to 1745 Scotland, what skills would you want to bring to the mix? I love her medical knowledge–it’s such a huge asset. But is there some skill you’d find just as valuable?

KKR: Great question. I have a wide variety of historical knowledge and weird trivia. I know how to make a match for example, and I know how to sterilize a room (even back then) and I know what’ll happen when in most of the English-speaking world. So I like to think all of that will be beneficial. Knowing outspoken me, though, I’d probably be jailed as a witch and executed. :-) I also know that I’d be panicked as hell about dying of something preventable, like the cold that has felled me this week in 2015. If it became an infection in 1745, I could die. And I’d probably worry about that more than anything (except the food, which–yuck!) So as you can tell, I’m probably too much of a worrier to time travel safely.

SPEAKING OF TIME TRAVEL …

Kris and I both have novels in the Time Travel Story Bundle, which is on sale for just two more weeks. Here’s your chance to score a whole bunch of great fiction at an incredibly low price. Don’t miss it!

All_Covers_Large

And as soon as you buy the bundle, head on over to my GIVEAWAY PAGE and enter to win those three fabulous science fiction books! I push them because I love–the heroines in those books and you, Dear Readers. Enjoy!

0 Comments on Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway! as of 1/1/1900
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2. In Tandem: BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN, by ELIZABETH WEIN

Welcome to another edition of In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both A.F. and I give our two cents at the same time. (You can feel free to guess which of us is the yellow owl and which of us is the purple owl...we're not telling!)... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on In Tandem: BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN, by ELIZABETH WEIN as of 3/23/2015 11:27:00 AM
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3. Books to encourage family adventures outdoors

Ever wanted to be a little more adventurous with your family? To take on the role of intrepid outdoor explorers? To feel inspired to leave the cosy comforts and instantly gratifying screens indoors for the wind in your hair and the sun on your face?

100 Family Adventures by Tim, Kerry, Amy and Ella Meek and Wild Adventures by Mick Manning and Brita Granström might be just the books to encourage you -and crucially your children – to wrap up warm and head for the great outdoors.

outdooradventurebooks

Both books offer up a banquet of ideas for family activities and explorations outdoors ranging from building dens with branches and leaves to sleeping outdoors without a tent, from fishing for your supper to foraging for food from hedgerows, from flying kites to learning to kayak.

The Meek Family have taken a year off from their regular jobs and schools to spend 12 months adventuring around the UK in a camper van (you can follow their journey on their blog). 100 Family Adventures is their first book and draws upon their experience of making a conscious effort to spend more time outdoors as a family. As well as 100 activities, there are jokes, tips and facts contributed by the entire family, including the children.

In Wild Adventures, Mick Manning and Brita Granström also draw upon the outdoor play and activities they enjoy with their four children, and whilst there is some overlap in the projects suggested in the two books, the approach taken in each is quite different.

Making and sleeping in a homemade shelter: 100 Family Adventures

Making and sleeping in a homemade shelter: 100 Family Adventures

Shelters: Wild Adventures

Shelters: Wild Adventures

100 Family Adventures is full of photos of the Meek family and their friends doing the activities suggested, whilst Wild Adventures is richly hand illustrated in pencil and watercolour, giving it a hand-made feel rather than something rather sleek and glossy. Whilst photos are “evidence” that the activities suggested can genuinely be done by children and families, Granström’s illustrations show a different truth; that the great outdoors can be enjoyed by any child, not just white able-bodied children.

Sometimes when I read activity or craft books my reading is aspirational; it’s about daydreaming a life in different circumstances. Sometimes, however, I want something with the messiness that is more familiar from my family life. For me, 100 Family Adventures falls into the former category. The adventures they suggest are all amazing, but quite a lot of them require expensive equipment, relatively long distance travel and some serious planning (for example skiing, sailing, kayaking and even some of the camping adventures they suggest e.g. winter camping). Wild Adventures, on the other hand, is much more “domestic” in scale. Although the projects are designed for engaging with a wilder outdoors than that simply found in your back garden, they are not about extreme adventuring. Having said that, 100 Family Adventures is partly about going out of your comfort zone and extending yourself and your family and so it’s not surprising that some of the ideas require more money, time and preparation.

Tracking and casting animal footprints: 100 Family Adventures

Tracking and casting animal footprints: 100 Family Adventures

Making plaster casts of animal tracks: Wild Adventures

Making plaster casts of animal tracks: Wild Adventures

Whilst Wild Adventures is perhaps the book I would choose for my own family, I really like the physical properties of 100 Family Adventures. It has been produced in a chunky format with a flexi-hardcover, making it easy to bung in a rucksack and take on adventures outdoors. Manning and Granström’s lovely book on the other hand is currently only available in hardback with a dust jacket, making it more suitable for reading indoors.

Having listened with interest to what translator and editor Daniel Hahn had to say recently about the value of opinion alongside fact in a day an age of easily found information, I’ve been thinking a lot in the past few days about my reviews and the balance between fact and opinion. These two books, both from the same publisher, on essentially the same topic have reminded me that different styles of books suit different people and that I should remain aware of this when reviewing books. Something I read may be just the sort of thing my family will love, but I shouldn’t forget that other families may like different things. So whilst Wild Adventures is my book of choice today, do look out both and see which suits you and your family… and then let me know which of the two YOU prefer!

Inspired by Wild Adventures we took to the seaside last month and made faces out of objects we found along the shoreline.

beach1

beach2

beach5

There really is nothing like having your own family adventure outdoors.

beach3

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4. TURNING PAGES: HARRISON SQUARED by DARYL GREGORY

I guess you know I'm not a "real" old-school Science Fiction person - "real" Science Fiction people can make it through H.P. Lovecraft. I can't. I've tried. It's not his labyrinthine sentence structure and 19th century word choices - I've read a lot... Read the rest of this post

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5. Time Travel Prizes and Story Bundle!

I LOVE TIME TRAVEL STORIES. I love to read them, watch them, write them. My current obsession is Diana Gabaldon’s wonderful (and lengthy! Hurray!) time travel romance series OUTLANDER. Love the books and now am enjoying the DVD of the first season of the TV series. More on that in a minute.

My young adult science fiction series PARALLELOGRAM has a whole time travel element to it, which is why I’m thrilled to tell you that the first book in the series, INTO THE PARALLEL, has been selected for inclusion in a fantastic TIME TRAVEL STORY BUNDLE featuring some of the top names in science fiction and fantasy.

Here’s what’s in the bundle:

All_Covers_Large

The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

The Rock by Bob Mayer
Time Streams by Fiction River
Alternitech by Kevin J. Anderson
Time’s Mistress by Steven Savile
Parallelogram Book 1: Into the Parallel by Robin Brande
Lightspeed: Issue 28 by Lightspeed

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you’ll get another six titles:

The Edwards Mansion by Dean Wesley Smith
Time Traveled Tales by Jean Rabe
The Trinity Paradox by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason
Summer of Love by Lisa Mason
Ansible by Stant Litore
Snipers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This incredible book bundle is available for only 3 weeks. I know you’re going to want to buy it–we all are. But as a special bonus for buying it now, in the first 48 hours it’s on sale, I’m throwing in a TIME TRAVEL PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY. Because we all want more!

One lucky winner will receive:

  • The DVD of OUTLANDER Season 1, Volume 1, just in time to start watching the series when it resumes next month.
  • The DVD of my favorite time travel movie, Richard Curtis’s ABOUT TIME. Love this movie so much, I want to make sure everyone in the world sees it. And at least one person besides me owns it so you can watch it over and over.
  • The PARALLELOGRAM Omnibus Edition, which includes the complete 4-book PARALLELOGRAM series. No waiting in between cliffhangers! Everything right there for the reading!

Now here’s the interesting thing about the giveaway: Unlike with most giveaways, your chances to win this one actually improve the more people you share it with. When you enter, you’ll get a special code to include on your own tweets or posts about the giveaway, and when someone enters using that code, you get 3 EXTRA ENTRIES for yourself. How cool is that?

So there you have it: In the next 48 hours you can buy 13 exciting time travel books AND enter to win more books and a couple of movies. Not bad for a Wednesday!

Here’s the link again to buy the TIME TRAVEL STORY BUNDLE.

And here’s where to go to enter the TIME TRAVEL PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY.

Good luck everyone, and happy reading!

 

 

 

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6. Spirit Circle Manga Review

Title: Spirit Circle Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Publisher: Shonen Gahosha (JP), Viz Media (US) Story/Artist: Satoshi Mizukami Serialized in: Young King Comics (33 out of 33 chapters reviewed) Fuuta Okeya lives a normal life and has gotten to his second year of middle school without incident, although he can see some spirits including the one following his new classmate, ... Read more

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7. TURNING PAGES: NOBODY'S SECRET by MICHAELA MACCOLL

Those of us who were English majors can be some of the biggest sticklers for facts, just the facts, ma'am, when it comes to our literary giants. We might argue loudly about canon, be Holmes buffs who tend to be wary of fan fiction, and dispute over... Read the rest of this post

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8. TURNING PAGES: SHADOW SCALE, by RACHEL HARTMAN

When I read SERAPHINA in 2012, I was just about out of words to describe it. It was, I decided a medieval mystery, based on its woodcut American cover, only it's not really set in medieval times, and there are dragons, half-dragons and... Read the rest of this post

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9. The Manager, by Caroline Stellings | Book Review

This funny novel is told through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Ellie, but the real star is her older sister Tina. They live in Whitney Pier over the gym where their father, a former boxer, trains aspiring boxers.

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10. Badass Women Back Before the World Knew About Badass Women

In celebration of the release of BOOK OF EARTH, the first book in my medieval fantasy warrior girl series THE BRADAMANTE SAGA, I thought we’d all like a little extra dose of some badass women. Enjoy!

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11. TURNING PAGES: STRANGER, by RACHEL MANIJA BROWN & SHERWOOD SMITH

I was reminded of the controversy surrounding this title in its infancy when I happened upon a Big Idea article about it last month. I'm pretty sure the authors are quite tired of the novel being tied to the... Read the rest of this post

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12. Blog Tour: ARES: BRINGER OF WAR (Olympians #7) by George O'Connor

click to embiggen.Summary: Ares is the seventh book in O'Connor's very successful Olympians series of graphic novels. In fact, I was amazed to see that we've already gotten to book 7, because that means I've missed quite a few in the middle. For... Read the rest of this post

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13. And Now For Something Completely Different: BOOK OF EARTH

You know how I’ve been writing contemporary all these years?

I’ve secretly always been a medieval warrior girl in my heart.

Time to see what that’s all about.

Book of Earth

One rash act: anything to finally protect herself from her mother’s abuse.

One rash act: and young Bradamante unlocks a future where she’s destined to become a warrior.

With the help of a mystical teacher, Bradamante and her brother Rinaldo learn the skills they’ll need to survive in a brutal kingdom. They’ll also learn that destiny can demand giving up the one that you love.

Loyalty and betrayal, danger and triumph, the magic of mystics—

The Bradamante saga begins.

BOOK OF EARTH, coming February 14, 2015. It’s my Valentine’s Day present to you.

You can pre-order it for the special price of $2.99 from:
Kindle
iBooks
Kobo
Barnes & Noble (link to come)
Scribd (link to come)
Page Foundry (link to come)

Want to know more? Read the opening chapters here.

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14. The Accidental Highwayman - an audiobook review

Tripp, Ben. 2014. The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides. New York: Tor Teen.


Can I tell you how much I like this book?  I reviewed it several months ago for AudioFile Magazine and could hardly wait until they published my review so that I could freely blog about my affinity for it!  Although "swashbuckling" is the term I've seen most often in reviews of The Accidental Highwayman, I would characterize it as a mix of daring deeds and derring-do, of historical fiction and magical conviction.  You can read my official review here, I listened to the audio version, but would guess that the printed copy is equally enjoyable.

To summarize:

Amidst a grim 18th century English setting arises the accidental highwayman, Whistling Jack.  Teenager Kit Bristol makes the unlikely yet unavoidable transformation from circus performer to manservant to famous highwayman tasked with the rescue of a mysterious princess from an enchanted coach.  Narrator Steve West employs the English "standard accent" for his presentation of the gallant robber.  He delivers non-stop action and suspense while maintaining an air of wise contemplation suited to this retrospective narrative of daring deeds from a magical past.

This is the first in an expected series. Judging from the effort expended on the series' official website, http://kitbristol.com , they knew right out of the gate that this one would be popular!  Enjoy the goofy trailer (there are two more on the site).

 

Note:
As a fledgling ukulele player myself, I love that Ben Tripp plays the ukulele in this trailer.

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15. Book Review- Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Title:  Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Author:  Rick Riordan
Series:   Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Published:  May 2005 by Miramax,  May 2006 by Miramax
Length:  377 pages
Source: bought and library
Other info: Many other series such as The Heroes of Olympus and the Kane Chronicles have stemmed off. There was a film adaptation of The Lightning Thief.
Summary :  Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse-Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends -- one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena -- Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Review: Percy Jackson is a mostly normal child. Yes, he has trouble concentrating and keeps getting thrown out of schools but mostly, he's ok. Until, on this school trip, it looks like he'll get thrown out because his maths teacher wants to kill him. And he vaporises her with a sword. More things happen, and Percy ends up at Camp Half Blood, with satyrs, demigods, and a centaur of a Latin teacher. And a quest. Because Zeus is angry. And things get better from there.
I love this series from the bottom of my heart. I read it first when I was eight or nine, maybe? I don't know, but I wanted a book and I asked my dad for recommendations in Waterstones and he picked this off the shelves and I fell in love with it when I read the chapter titles. Add the fact that I already had a love of Greek mythology and you can see how this is going to work out.
I reread this because my reading aim for 2015 is to work my way through all of Rick Riordan's demigod series and this is the first one.
The world of this is wonderful. The Gods are alive and kicking and operating out of the USA, doing what they've always done in a more modern way. This "what they've always done" includes having children with mortals, thus necessitating Camp Half Blood, a safe place to train and live without fear of monsters.
The characters  are well fleshed out and great to read about. The new takes on mythology are genius, especially when you notice the clever ways little things are updated'. You just fall in love with all the characters- Percy for his determination to keep trying, Grover for his determination to keep trying, Annabeth for her cleverness and levelheadedness, Chiron for his general badassery of being both a centaur and a Latin teacher...the list goes on.
They adventure in such a way that we meet a variety of creatures from Greek myth. I must say, when I first read it, I felt so proud of myself for being to guess ahead as to who this threat was, and I also enjoyed learning about new aspects of mythology too.
The writing describes well, but has a huge dose of humour. Case in point: chapter titles. But I loved the sheer amount of fun that this book was, comparatively speaking to everything else I was reading.
The  plot keeps running in new direction throughout the whole novel. The twists at the end where we learn how the thing got in, I  did not see coming the first time I read it. It was foreshadowed so perfectly and the way it all came round made me happy.


Overall:  Strength 5 tea to  a strong opening to a brilliant series.


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16. Catching Up: Book Blurbs of Fall/Winter, Pt. 1

I've gotten incredibly far behind on my reviewing, so it's that time again: time to cut to the chase and offer quick, no-nonsense book reviews before I completely forget everything about these stories. This past fall was a real bear as far as... Read the rest of this post

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17. I am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz

Are you ever too old for a picture book?

Walk into a bookshop, and you’ll rarely find a picture book on the shelves labelled 5-8, 9-12 or Teenage/Young Adult (the age bandings used in the most widespread chain of bookshops in the UK), implicitly telling buyers that picture books are only for those under 5.

But what if you have a picture book about Descartes’s philosophical statement “Je pense donc je suis” or to put it another way “Cogito Ergo Sum”?

A book which not only explores learning to listen to yourself, to trust your own instincts but also what it feels like when you think you have failed and how to fight against the dark thoughts that then crowd in.

Gosh, if only we all knew everything we needed to know about these issues by the time we were five! Wouldn’t life be much simpler?

henryfinchfrontcoverI am Henry Finch written by Alexis Deacon and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz is a new picture book which makes readers and listeners think about every one of these big concepts and more. It’s about being brave, about being independent, about feeling secure enough to not follow the crowd (though also being happy to be part of a community).

It’s also about totally adorable little birds and one terribly monstrous beast who wants to eat them all up.

Henry is just one of a huge flock of finches. They make a racket all day long, doing the same as each other over and again but one day Henry starts thinking for himself. He starts to have his own dreams, his own vision of who he could be, independent from the community he’s grown up in.

Alexis Deacon has written (although not specifically about Henry Finch):

“It seems to me that if every character in your story is entirely on message and engaged with the world you have created it can be very off-putting for the reader. I find that I am drawn to stories where not every character follows the grain: Reluctant characters, perverse characters, selfish characters, irreverent characters. They are often the catalysts for action too.”

And Henry Finch does indeed go against the grain, doing things differently to those around him, daring to be different. But he’s not selfish. In fact, his ability to think for himself gives him the courage to tackle the monster who threatens his family and friends.

Danger, doubt and darkness beset Henry, but he survives and shares what he has learned with his fellow finches, sparking a cascade of individual ideas and wishes as they each set off to explore the world, though not before reassuring each other that “We will come back“; the finches are thinking for themselves, but individuality doesn’t have to lead to the destruction of their community.

henryfinchinterior1

Deacon’s story is full of food for thought, opportunities for discussion and debate, whether you’re 4 or 40 or more. The meaty issues explored never become overwhelming, not least because Viviane Schwarz’s illustrations bring so much humour, delight and simplicity into the story.

The use of fingerprints to illustrate a narrative about what it means to be an individual is a stroke of genius; is there a more powerful symbol of individual human identity than the imprint left by the small ridges on the tips of our fingers? They also bring massive child appeal; mucky fingerprints on walls and furniture are unavoidable aspects of life with children, and so there is nothing like these marks to proudly proclaim, “Hey, I’m here, me, this child, and I can make a mark on the world around me!”.

henryfinchinterior2

I really like how Schwarz sometimes brings her real life community into her artwork. In her graphic novel The Sleepwalkers there are crowd scenes filled with real people she knows, and in I am Henry Finch, she’s included fingerprints from friends as well as her own. The joy she’s had in creating these images can be seen in the hugely expressive faces and wings of the finches, and that seeped into us: we just had to make our own flock of finches using the same technique.

We started out with inkpads, paper and lots of messy fingerprints…

drawingfinches2

…but soon we were experimenting with other sorts of prints too…

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Then we added beaks and wings…

drawingfinches

And soon we had our very own chattering of finches:

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One or two elephants interloped! (these were made from prints using the side of our fists – click here to see what Viv Schwarz created with similar prints)

fingerprints4

These finches were born from toe-prints, whilst the beasts were heel-prints:

fingerprints3

They just kept on coming, causing havoc, and just getting on with doing their own thing.

fingerprint2

Whilst fingerprinting and making our own flock of birds we listened to:

  • Fingerprints by I Am Kloot
  • All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints by Paul Simon with Los Lobos
  • Fingerprints by Patsy Cline

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading I am Henry Finch include:

  • Going to hear Alexis talk about this book at Discover (in London) on March 8.
  • Making up your own body organs, from watercolour blobs. You’ll see both why this is relevant and how you could do it if you check out this post from Viviane Schwarz.
  • Learning how to dust for fingerprints, using these helpful (teacher/technician/student) notes from Creative Chemistry.
  • I’ve more philosophy in the form of illustrated books coming up soon on the blog, with offerings from the Netherlands and Spain. What are your favourite picture books which deal with the big issues in life?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of I am Henry Finch from the publishers.

    4 Comments on I am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz, last added: 1/14/2015
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    18. Monday Review: MS. MARVEL VOL. 1: NO NORMAL by Wilson and Alphona

    Summary: I was excited, intrigued, and a little wary when I heard that the new reboot of Ms. Marvel was going to be a Pakistani-American, Muslim teenage girl. I cheered because young women of South Asian descent would finally be represented in the... Read the rest of this post

    0 Comments on Monday Review: MS. MARVEL VOL. 1: NO NORMAL by Wilson and Alphona as of 1/9/2015 7:17:00 AM
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    19. TURNING PAGES: ROSE EAGLE, by JOSEPH BRUCHAC

    It's a blustery, rainy day, and I have hot tea and lemon and have just finished a novella I've been looking forward to for weeks. All is well in the Wonderland treehouse, people. Happy, happy times. I'm generally not attracted to prequels as much as... Read the rest of this post

    0 Comments on TURNING PAGES: ROSE EAGLE, by JOSEPH BRUCHAC as of 12/5/2014 6:33:00 AM
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    20. George Can! (And You Can Too!), by Maria Stuckey-Leach | Dedicated Review

    George Can! (And You Can Too) is an affirming picture book about the wonderful powers of positive thinking. It offers young readers a playful nudge toward an optimistic attitude by utilizing the mantra “I can! I will! I believe!”

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    21. The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed

    I believe any book can fuel the imagination when it arrives in the right hands at the right time, but there are also some which explicitly explore how we nurture creativity and create space for inspiration and following our dreams. The Wonder by Faye Hanson and The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett are two such books which I’ve read recently and which have left me brimming with delight, hope and happiness and which have sparked hours of inspired play in my children.

    wonderfrontcoverThe Wonder by Faye Hanson is a sumptuous début picture book about a young boy whose head if full of daydreams which transform the humdrum world around him. Time and again adults tell him to get his head out of the clouds and come back to reality, but this is barely possible for a child who finds wonder, curiosity and delight wherever he looks. Finally in art class he’s able to let loose his imagination onto a blank sheet of paper delighting his teacher and filling his parents with pride.

    The child in this story sees ordinary objects but has the imagination to turn them into astonishing stories, breathtaking ideas, and worlds full of adventures waiting to happen. I know I want to foster this ability in my own children (and in myself!); the world becomes more beautiful, richer, and simply more enjoyable when we are able to imagine more than the grey, wet and humdrum daily life that all too often catches us up. This utterly delightful book is an enthusiastic encouragement to let more imagination in to our lives.

    Click to view a larger version of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

    Click to view a larger version (it’s really worth it!) of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

    Hanson’s illustrations are dense, saturated, and rich. Careful use of colour lights up the boy’s dreams in his otherwise sepia coloured life. Limited palettes add to the intensity of these pictures; it’s interesting that their vitality doesn’t come from a rainbow range of paints, but rather from focussing on layer of layer of just a few colours, packed with exquisite detail. There’s a luminosity about the illustrations; some look like they’ve got gold foil or a built-in glow and yet there are no novelty printing techniques here.

    All in all, an exquisite book that will tell anyone you share it with that you value their dreams and want to nurture their ingenuity, inventiveness and individuality.

    imaginarycoverNow let me play devil’s advocate: Is there sometimes a line to be walked between feeding a child’s imagination and yet enabling them to recognise the difference between real life and day dreams? In The Wonder, there are plenty of adults pointing out the apparent problems/risks of day dreaming a great deal. On the other hand, in The Imaginary, a mother fully enters into her daughter’s imaginary world, not only acknowledging an imaginary best friend, but actively supporting this belief by setting places at meal times, packing extra bags, even accepting accidents must be the result of this friend and not the child herself.

    Amanda believes that only she can see her imaginary friend Rudger. But all this changes one day when a mysterious Mr Bunting appears on the doorstep, apparently doing innocent door-to-door market research. But all is not as it seems for it turns out that Mr Bunting has no imagination of his own and can only survive by eating other people’s imaginary friends. He’s sniffed Rudger out and now he’s going to get him, whatever it takes.

    Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett , from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

    Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett, from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

    If you’ve ever wondered where imaginary friends come from, and what happens to them when their children grow up and stop day-dreaming this is a book for you. If you love a good villain, adventures which include libraries and narrow escapes you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re a fan of elegant and attractive books you’ll want to feel this between your hands. The illustrations by Emily Gravett are terrific (in every sense) and incredibly atmospheric, magically adding beauty and tension to a story which I thought couldn’t be bettered.

    Intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and packed with seeds of love and inspiration The Imaginary is perhaps my favourite middle grade/young fiction book of the year. If you want a fuller flavour of this gem before hurrying to get it into your hands, head and heart, there’s a full teacher’s guide to The Imaginary available on the Bloomsbury website and you can watch a video of Emily Gravett working on her illustrations here.

    *************

    One of the ways my girls have been inspired in their playing since sharing these books became clear when they told me they wanted to make a star-making machine to go with the one features in The Wonder (see the illustration above).

    M first wrote out some recipes for stars:

    bluegiantrecipe

    redgiantrecipe

    I provided a little food for thought…

    foodforengineers

    …and a selection of machine parts.

    machinepartsJPG

    Several hours later the star machine was coming together

    starmachine1

    buildingmachine

    Next up a selection of star ingredients were sourced:

    staringredients

    The machine was fed…

    feedingmachine

    Can you see the pulses of one star in the making?!

    starinmaking

    And out popped these stars (here’s a tutorial) at the end of the star making process:

    starsfrommachine

    Here’s one just for you:

    endresult

    Whilst making our machine we listened to:

  • Invisible Friends by Dog on Fleas
  • Imaginary Friend by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  • ‘Pure Imagination’ from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film
  • Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz (Groan!)

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading The Wonder and The Imaginary include:

  • Creating a wonder wall on which to write all those curious questions you and the kids want to find answers to. There’s a lovely tutorial for creating your own Wonder Wall over on Nurture Store.
  • Going on a Wonder Walk. I’ve been thinking about places which spark the imagination or create a sense of awe and thinking about how I can take the kids to visit these places and see what ideas the experience sparks. In general the sorts of places I think have the potential to ignite wonder include high-up places with views to the horizon, hidden places, for example underground, enormous spaces whether man-made or natural, and dark places lit only by candles or fire. I think these locations could all work as seeds for the imagination, and so during the coming holiday I’m going to try to take the girls to a place that fits each of these descriptions.
  • Spirals feature a great deal in The Wonder‘s artwork. Here are various art projects which might inspire your own spiral creations: spiral mobiles, spiral suncatchers, spiral wall art made from scrap paper and even human spirograph art (you need huge pieces of paper but this looks great fun).

  • How do you foster your kids’ imagination? And your own?

    Disclosure: I was sent free review copies of both books in today’s post.

    3 Comments on The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed, last added: 12/15/2014
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    22. Monday Review: UNMADE (THE LYNBURN LEGACY #3) by Sara Rees Brennan

    Cool font, spooky silhouettes...me like.Summary: Okay, so, I have read books 1 and 2 of The Lynburn Legacy and failed to write about those, so this is really a review of the entire trilogy. I know, I know; I really MEANT to write about them... Read the rest of this post

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    23. The Little Black Fish – an Iranian story about determination and freedom

    Is there a better way to start the new year than by introducing you to a book which will take you somewhere you’ve likely not visited via picture books before, is illustrated by the first Asian recipient of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and is about to be published for the first time in the UK with its original illustrations?

    thelittleblackfishThe Little Black Fish written by Samad Behrangi, translated by Azita Rassi and illustrated by Farshid Mesghali is perhaps the most famous children’s book of all time back in its home country, Iran.

    As anyone who’s spent time with children knows, the littlest people can ask the biggest questions, and so it is with the little black fish in this story who wants to find out more about life outside of the pool where he and his family have always lived. Just because the family have always lived a certain way, why shouldn’t this brave and curious fish extend his horizons and set out to explore beyond his known world?

    As the fish travels downstream he sees incredible sights the like of which he could never before have imagined. He also faces some terrible dangers. Will the fish survive to see his dream – the wide open ocean? Will his story of inquisitiveness and desire for freedom inspire others?

    Behrangi’s story took on great political significance in Iran after it was published, read by many adults as a political allegory (you can find out more here). Indeed the message was so powerful, the book was banned in pre-revolutionary Iran. Whilst this historical background gives the book an additional charge for adults, younger readers in 2015 can enjoy this short story as an encouraging tale about believing in oneself, about learning from personal experience, and about not being afraid to be different.

    readinglittleblackfish

    The Little Black Fish won the First Graphic Prize at Sixth International Children Books’ Fair (1968) in Bologna for its illustrations by Farshid Mesghali. The stylish bold textured prints in a limited range of colours are beautifully reproduced and bound in this smart edition from Tiny Owl Publishing. Their apparent simplicity suggests something both childlike and timeless.

    Inspired by the style of illustrations in The Little Black Fish we set about creating fish prints using plasticine (oil based, non permanent modelling clay). This was a great activity for giving old and manky plasticine one last shot at life!

    We squished together lots of old pieces, and created “blanks” of different sizes. These blanks were turned into fish shapes using scissors to cut them, and then decorated with impressions made using butter (blunt) knives, forks and sharpened pencils.

    littlefishprinting

    Top tips for printing with plasticine

  • Plasticine is more forgiving than lino or styrofoam for printing with little kids; it works really well when the inked design is squished a little bit into the paper.
  • If it’s a bit old or hard for little hands to work, drop it into a bowl of hot water or run it under the hot water tap for 10-20 seconds. This will soften it up and make it much more malleable and easier to press implements into.
  • Pencils work really well as mini rolling pins for little hands to roll out the modelling clay.
  • Once the plasticine is in the shape you desire, you can put it in the fridge for an hour or two to firm up before printing.
  • If you use poster paint or water-based printing ink, this can simply be washed off the plasticine afterwards. Because the plasticine is oil based, water is repelled and once the ink has been washed off you can dry the modelling clay and reuse it (something you can’t do with styrofoam or lino!).
  • Buttons, lego bricks, cocktail sticks, forks, hair grips, seed pods, pencils and shells are all useful tools for making impressions in the plasticine.

  • Once our prints were made we worked on some net-themed frames for them, making use of some of the cardboard collected over the Christmas parcel and present season. Here’s a short animated tutorial I made to show you how we did it:

    Here are some of our finished and framed prints of fish exploring the wider world!

    littlefishgallery

    Whilst weaving and printing we listened to:

  • Persian songs for kids on youtube including
  • Some Iranian folk music and dance including
  • We also watched several videos of Viguen, “King of Iranian Pop”, including
  • Other activities which would go well with reading The Little Black Fish include:

  • Creating a fish from paper lanterns – here’s a lovely looking tutorial from Live. Craft. Love.
  • Making folded paper fish using this tutorial from Buggy and Buddy. There’s something about how these look which reminds me of the print patterns created by Mesghali.
  • Turning toilet rolls into fish, with this tutorial from No Time for Flash Cards.
  • I’m delighted that Tiny Owl Publishing will be bringing us more translated Iranian children’s books in the coming months (although I do hope that future books will fully credit the illustrator and translator on the front cover of books, not just inside). What other unsung heroes in the international picture book world would you recommend I look out for – authors and illustrators who are famous in their home countries but who haven’t had wide recognition in the English speaking world?

    Finally, you might notice things look a little different on the blog today. Over Christmas I updated the blog so that it should now be fully mobile-platform friendly; if you want to view this blog on your phone or tablet it should now be much easier to navigate and more pleasant to look at as the text and images are fully scalable. I’ll also take this opportunity to highlight Playing by the book can be found on twitter @playbythebook, Facebook, Pinterest and even (in a very small way) on Youtube – please feel free to follow me wherever it suits you.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Little Black Fish from the publisher.

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    24. Parallelogram 4 Now Available for Pre-Order!

    Parallelogram 4

    Happy 2015! And here’s a new book for you!

    Parallel universes. Time travel. And a race for teen amateur physicist Audie Masters to save her own life before it’s too late.

    Enjoy the exciting, mind-bending conclusion to the PARALLELOGRAM series.

    You’ll never look at your own life the same way again.

    I am BEYOND ecstatic to be able to tell you that PARALLELOGRAM (Book 4: BEYOND THE PARALLEL) will be coming out January 20, 2015, and is available right now for pre-order! Yes! Finally!

    This final book in the series took me a long, long time to write (as those of you who have been waiting for it can attest), but you’ll understand why once you read it. It’s full of adventure, mystery, love, some very cool science, and the return of what I hope are some of your favorite characters.

    In celebration of the final book coming out, each of the first three books in the series will be a mere $2.99, and the new book will be only $4.99–but only until January 20. After that, all of them return to their regular prices.

    So if you haven’t read the first three books in the series yet, now’s your chance. I’m your book nerd friend who’s saying, “Come on! Come on! Catch up so we can discuss it!”

    Can’t wait to hear what you all think. I truly wrote this series for YOU!

    You can pre-order Book 4 from:
    Kindle
    Nook
    iTunes
    Kobo

    Thanks for being my readers! Hope you love the book!

    0 Comments on Parallelogram 4 Now Available for Pre-Order! as of 1/5/2015 4:59:00 AM
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    25. Zac’s Destiny 2014 Kindle Award Winner!

    Zac’s Destiny, winner of The Book Awards for a Kindle title 2014!
    Available on Kindle from Amazon worldwide.

    2014KindleWinner

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