Book Review: Living Big in a Tiny House, by Bryce Langston

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_living_big_in_a_tiny_house.jpgTiny houses are a big thing. Around the world, more and more people are embracing the concept of downsizing their living space. The reasons for doing so are as varied as the tiny houses they create. Some wish to lessen their impact on the environment, others want to reduce their cost of living, and for some, a tiny house offers greater flexibility in where, and how they live.

Five years ago Bryce Langston stumbled upon an image of a man standing in front of a tiny house on wheels and was intrigued to find out more. He was hooked, and from then on, he has constructed his own tiny house and at the same time, created a video channel showcasing his own experiences as well as exploring the tiny house concept. This book is born out of that passion and interest, and is a collection of inspirational houses and the people who live in them.

Ranging in size from a miniscule 4 metre square to a ‘huge’ 60 metre square, the houses are as different as their owners: some are kitted out vans, some are permanently fixed homes, others are converted shipping containers. The folk themselves range from singletons, to couples to families to retirees. One particularly impressive owner built her tiny house as her Year 13 school project – a home owner at just 18 years old.

Each house is presented with an array of photographs along with a background story/interview of the owner and the how/why of their tiny house journey. For those who might be inspired to build a tiny house, practical tips for construction and planning are included at the beginning of the book. Although the photographs offer a good peek at the inside, I would have liked to have included a plan of just how each tiny house is laid out.

It is beautifully presented, and is a colourful and interesting book to dip into. The personal stories show not only the possibilities of what can be created, but also how lives can be enhanced and widened by living with less. You can’t help but admire the tenacity and passion of these pioneers in the tiny house movement. This will appeal to anyone who is interested in design and lifestyle, or those who are keen to try tiny house living for themselves.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Living Big in a Tiny House
by Bryce Langston
Potton & Burton, 2018
ISBN: 9780947503901

Book Review: Everyday Adventures, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_everyday_adventuresLonely Planet, that loved and trusted bible for backpackers and travellers, has added to their pantheon of guidebooks with a book close to everyone’s home. The cover promises ‘50 new ways to experience your hometown’ and it certainly delivers on this promise. Set out in five sections of adventure themes: Follow Your Senses, Social Adventures, Challenge Yourself, Cultural Odysseys and for the more adventurous adventurer, Roll the Dice, the book offers unique and fun ways to re-discover the place you live in. In each section you can pick and choose the challenges that best suit your level of budget, and adventurous spirit. This is a fantastic ‘how-to’ book that will get you out and about, looking around you and appreciating (hopefully) the world you walk through each and every day.

The adventures are outlined briefly and a list is provided of what you will require to complete each mission, along with instructions and colourful photos from around the globe. Diving into the challenges could see you for instance: camping in your own backyard and stargazing; spending 24 hours at the airport; travelling to the end of the train/bus line; playing life size monopoly around the city; letting your dog take you where they want to go, or volunteering a charity or organisation that operates in your city. The options are varied from easy to complex, and range from an hour or two to a few days – they have the suggestions, you decide on what and how and where.

To offer you more inspiration to get out there, or to clarify just what the adventure may entail, a case-study for each suggested adventure is provided. Written by Lonely Planet authors, they are lyrical pieces of travel writing filled with personal insights and imagery describing the sights and smells discovered by the adventurer as they test drive the adventures. These vignettes make for charming reading in themselves, and are accompanied by interesting facts relating to the adventure.

It has been *ahem* quite a few years since I had a few backpacking adventures on my Big OE; travels now look very different, and are a whole lot more comfortable might I add. However, like most travellers the love of discovering new places and experiences remains and with this book the Backpacker spirit can live on, opening up the possibilities of adventure close by. This is definitely a book for those who like to try new things and for those who love sharing fun experiences with family and friends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Everyday Adventures
Lonely Planet Global Ltd, 2018
ISBN: 9781787013582

Book Review: Witchfairy, by Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut. Translated by Laura Watkinson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_witchfairyRosemary is a fairy. But she is not like other fairies; she doesn’t want to be sweet and decorous. She wants roller skates but that is not allowed (what if you fell and got a nosebleed?) She also would like a boat but that is not allowed (what if you fell into the water and got all dirty?)

Fairies are expected to be neat and tidy and quiet and polite and speak with honeyed voices. “Rosemary thought fairies were really dull…. Rosemary would rather have been a witch. Witches were allowed to get nice and dirty and to shout and scream with laughter and to sail boats down the stream.”

This desire is not well met by her mother and after stamping of feet and a lot of shouting back and forth, Rosemary takes off to live with the witches in the dark wood. And… despite her mother thinking she will hate it, Rosemary loves it there! Finally she can be loud, and have fun, and learns to fly on a broomstick and gets her roller-skates. “Being a witch was the best fun ever!”

Mum misses her and visits Rosemary in the dark wood, where Rosemary introduces her to broomstick flying, sailing, and tea with the other witches. Mum discovers that the witches aren’t so bad after all and enjoys her time with them. She also discovers that her daughter is happy and overcomes her prejudice and gives Rosemary her blessing to be whoever she wants to be. In turn, Rosemary discovers that she likes being a witch sometimes and a fairy sometimes – she is a witchfairy.

Originally published in Belgium in 1999 under the title Heksenfee, this fairytale about finding your true self is delightfully different and very European in feel. Brigitte Minne has written over 200 stories for children and has won several awards in Belgium and internationally for her work. Illustrator Carll Cneut has also won awards for his work. (In this interview, you see him create art for Witchfairy as he talks about his craft). The illustrations are artworks beautifully hued in reds and pinks, contrasted with deep greys and black. The characters feature huge conical hats akin to those worn by European and Scandinavian gnomes, and rosy red cheeks. I love that the very first page has no illustration; we are drawn in and prepared for the tale with only four lines of text – expectations of the usual sparkly, dainty fairies come thumping down with the delivery of the fourth line, and in we go.

Book Island specialises in bringing well-loved, unique stories from Europe (mainly Holland and Belgium) to New Zealand, offering new perspectives and understanding. They seek to present these stories in beautiful, high-quality books, and Witchfairy is certainly one of them.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Witchfairy
by Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut
Translated by Laura Watkinson.
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496076

Book Review: Three Cheers for Women!, by Marcia Williams

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_three_cheers_for_women“What’s this book about Dot?”

“Amazing, fantastic girls, Abe!”

“Boys do amazing fantastic things too!”

“Of course they do. But there are lots of books about them already!”

This introduction from the ‘narrators’ says it all really: this is a collection of over 70 amazing fantastic girls who have inspired and help shape our world, from Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt, to Malala Yousafzai: women’s rights activist.

Presented in an engaging comic strip format, each featured woman’s story is told in manageable bites across a double page spread, using fun and witty dialogue to keep the information interesting for younger readers, similar to the popular Horrible Histories series. Additional information features in the margins and the narrators keep up the banter throughout the book.

The range of women selected (and the author acknowledges who hard it was to select only a few from the thousands of inspirational and amazing women there are) features well-known names such as Jane Austen, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth I, and Marie Curie. It has to be said that these well-known names are predominantly European, and this predominance is somewhat offset with the inclusion of other famous names such as Cleopatra, Cathy Freeman (Aboriginal Olympic gold medallist), Malala Yousfazai, Mae C Jemison (first African-American Woman in space), Wangari Maathai (Kenyan Peace Activist and Environmentalist).

It is the diverse range of accomplishments represented is wonderful to see – there are queens, sportswomen, creators, scientists and activists. Shared by all the women is a passion and belief in their worth and it is this important message that is there for all readers to see. Girls really can to anything they set their minds to.

The last three double spreads feature introductions to even more amazing women, with both familiar and new names featuring in a roll call of honour. It would have been great to see them have their own bigger spreads, but then the book would have ended up way too big to pick up! Perhaps the publishers could create a Three Cheers for Women – Vol 2?

As a highly readable non-fiction title, this will be a valuable resource for any primary or intermediate school library which can be used as a base for research projects or discussions about gender equality.

With the words of wisdom included and the stories of achievement and desire to help their communities, I sincerely hope it inspires both young girls and boys to find their own passions and way to make the world a better place for everyone – no matter who they are.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Three Cheers for Women!
by Marcia Williams
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406374865

Book Review: Reena’s Rainbow, by Dee White and Tracie Greenwood

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_reenas_rainbowReena’s mother hits the nail on the head when she tells her: ‘We are like the colours of the rainbow. We are all different. But when we stand together, we are one’.

For Reena, her difference is that she cannot hear. Most of the time this doesn’t matter – she plays with lots of kids and is the best at finding the others when they play hide and seek. Although deaf, she sees and notices the little things the others miss: ‘she saw the leaves shimmer and dance in the breeze.’

Sometimes, though, her difference makes her feel left out and alone. Mum offers words of comfort but Reena still feels ‘periwinkle blue’ – a colour that doesn’t belong in the rainbow.

Kind-hearted and recognising that he needs a friend, she makes friends with the scruffy brown dog hiding in the shadows. Thanks to Reena and Dog’s sharp eyes and quick action, an accident is avoided. Dog is hurt and in helping him, Reena sees how he fits perfectly into her life ‘at the end of her bed, in the space under her chair, on the park bench next to her.’ Now sporting a cute rainbow collar, Dog becomes her best friend who helps her when she needs to hear; like when her friends are calling her to join their game.

Filled with engaging and colour filled illustrations, Reena’s Rainbow brings an important message of kindness, understanding and inclusiveness. It highlights the need to think of other’s needs to ensure all can participate in their own way, and helps show that everyone has individual strengths and differences that are valuable and are to be celebrated.

Dee White and Tracie Grimshaw have created a heart-warming tale of friendship which encourages empathy in a way that will appeal to young readers. It can open up conversations about diversity and acceptance; encouraging us to look past differences to really see the unique individual. This kindness and acceptance is beautifully portrayed in the last illustration – the group of children under a rainbow, learning sign language with Reena.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Reena’s Rainbow
by Dee White and Tracie Greenwood
EK Books, 2017
ISBN: 9781925335491

 

Book Review: Watch out for the Weka, by Ned Barraud

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_watch_out_for_the_wekaWatch Out for the Weka is the latest superb children’s book from independent publisher Potton & Burton, adding to their list of high quality, informative books which highlight New Zealand’s many natural treasures. Although primarily an entertaining story based on a campfire yarn heard by the author back in the day, there are plenty of details within it that tell you a bit about our cheeky weka – for instance, I had no idea they liked to steal shiny things!

Set in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park, the illustrations showcase the colours and textures of the New Zealand bush and coastline. The story features Alf, a DOC ranger who spends his summers looking after the tramping hut and visiting trampers. While cooling off in the stream, a weka takes off with the watch his dad gave him. Alf leaps out of the water giving chase but to no avail (cue lots of giggles at that particular illustration). Later that evening, the moonlight on the water gives Alf an idea of how to get his watch back.

Author Ned Barraud spent many childhood summers camping in the Abel Tasman National Park and his love of it is evident in this book. Many young New Zealanders don’t get the opportunity to encounter the weka (or other native birds for that matter) in its natural habitat which makes books such as these so important, as they help bring children closer to their environment, and an understanding of the unique flora and fauna which they share the country with.

The text is well balanced with the illustrations and reads well. Coupled with some weka facts at the end, the book would make a great resource to add to any classroom. Potton & Burton seek to share stories that ‘inspire and matter’, and with Watch Out for the Weka, I would say they and Barraud have got it spot on.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Watch Out for the Weka
by Ned Barraud
Potton & Burton, 2017
ISBN: 978091450354

 

Book Review: The City of Secret Rivers, by Jacob Sager Weinstein

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_city_of_secret_riversWho knew there was a maze of secret magic rivers flowing underneath London’s streets? Certainly not Hyacinth Hayward, the young heroine of this contemporary fantasy adventure. When she ‘fixes’ the plumbing and inadvertently releases a single drop of magic water she finds herself caught in the middle of a centuries old struggle for power.
A knock at the door reveals the strange Saltpetre Men who work for the Royal Mail. Slow moving and sibilant, they are the first of many strange characters she encounters in her race to recover the magic droplet and save her mother.

Aided by her neighbour, the elderly and feisty Lady Roslyn, the pair escape down into the sewers and into an underground escapade full of twists, peril, surprises, double crosses and riddles. Hyacinth has to trust her instincts in order to work through the situations she finds herself in. As her adventure progresses she uncovers a family connection to the magic which adds to her determination.

The story is full of clever plot points, many of which relate to real London monuments and events in the city’s long history. The characters are funny and unique; from the charming huge pig who communicates via printed cards, to the Saltpetre Mailmen and some who are seen here in a totally different guise than normal – I’m talking to you, unicorn!

Readers who enjoy magic and adventure will surely enjoy The City of Rivers and will be drawn into this engaging and well-paced story. The ending, while closing off this adventure, leaves you with a hint of further mysteries and questions to be answered in a follow-up sequel, which I am hoping is in the pipeline (pun completely intended!).
Now that we have been introduced to the magical world existing below the city streets, a visit to London will never be the same again…

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The City of Secret Rivers
by Jacob Sager Weinstein
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406368857