Month: August 2010

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie by Alan Bradley

Oh Gosh!  What a charming read!  Set in a crumbling manor house called Buckshaw, with an 11 year old chemistry wizz heroine who solves crimes, escapes from certain death and is bold and brave beyond measure this is a lovely book.  When a body is found in the cucumber patch Flavia decides to investigate.  England in 1950, was gripped in the post war poverty for the previously monied classes and maintaining one’s large family home was somewhat of a challenge, there is no money for entertainment so the sisters Ophelia, Daphne and Flavia are left to their own devices and this only enhances their quirky personalities.  Flavia is busy, she is trying to torture her sisters (poison in the lipstick!) in response to their torture of her, and trying to solve the mystery of her deceased Mother, the facts about Dogger, the man of all trades about the house, and their mysterious, vague and isolated Father.

The book is written by an American which is interesting, his tone is that of a bygone age (nearly all the time) and the long last art of philately gets a good outing in this book.

I didn’t love this book until the action really hotted up and then I found myself speeding madly towards the end.  It is flawed, but perfect.  Will be reading the next one which is fabulously called The weed that strings the hangman’s bag.


Geek The Library |

Geek The Library |


Via the Christchurch City Libraries Bibliofile this is some very good marketing of public libraries in the United States.  “Whatever you geek the Public Library supports it all”.  Interesting famous folk, great photography and lots of things to download and share.  Get yourself some geek wallpaper for your ‘puter and contribute to the site.

If I could only get the web banner to import here and work I would be most happy, but go to the site and check it out.  This is the uber cool stuff, or should that be zcool!  Here is the school library section.

Here is one of the 26 videos from the site.

Richard Dawkins speaks in Christchurch

Whatever you think of his politics and his outspokenness on his topic, he is an interesting man to listen to.  This is a sound recording of him speaking in the Christchurch Town Hall earlier this year.  I could listen to him for hours.  Great voice.  There is something about knowledgeable men speaking about learned subjects that is downright cool.  There are 6 of these videos/sound recordings.  Go to YouTube and click on the 8 videos tab at the top to listen in order.

Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words (via Steve McCurry’s Blog)

This came through my Twitter feed today. I love these pictures. The international appeal of reading and text, everyone everywhere needs to be able to read so that they are able to work, to play, to help find a community and to enable a connection with other people, to figure out how to do things, and to just get on in society.

Today I worked with a class of Year 10 students helping them with a research assignment, the problem for many of them was that their spelling was so bad, they could not find the information they were searching for, and when they found it, there was so much text on a page that their major urge was to simply copy and paste the whole webpage into a word document and call it quits. It was only with me reading out what was on the pages that they realised that not everything worked to answer the questions they had to answer. They just trusted that if there was a webpage that came up in a Google search (or a Bing search – man I hate Bing) that it would be exactly what they needed. The worst one was when there was a photo-shopped picture of a tsunami and the student was so blown away by the image that even though he realised it was fake, it was so much more impressive than the real thing that he decided to use it instead of the less impressive real photos.

What is my point (let’s leave the copyright and the plagiarism issues alone for now). My point is that these boys were so disadvantaged compared to their peers, the mere fact that they couldn’t check facts, or analyse data meant that they blindly trusted that the text in front of them was right. How will they cope in later life, will they go through their lives blindly trusting that what is written is truth. These guys need help, they need to be able to read, they need to be able to look at information and think critically about it, and they badly need to be able to find strategies to help with spelling. I’m hoping to get them back for a session where we look at a few things, how to search so that you can find better information, information that really works to answer the questions you have to answer, and how to make better decisions on what you put in your assignment. Might also show them how the spelling and definition features work in google.

But lets please get them reading the information in front of them rather than blindly accepting that it is all correct. Reading skills are for life, for a better life.

Fusion:  The Synergy of Images and Words Ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press which enabled everyone to read books, artists have tried to portray the relationship of a reader and his/her book.        Garrett Stewart’s book, The Look of Reading:  Book, Painting, Text, explores the relationship of reading and art.       We are familiar with words describing images, but not so familiar with images describing words and the impact reading has on our lives.           Artists fro … Read More

via Steve McCurry’s Blog

Chocolate Coffee Cake (Mrs Harbrow)

We have a bookclub at school called the BookGang.  Part of the deal is that the boys take turns to bring the cake, oh the crumbly mess we make!  Chris bought cake that he and his Mum made and it was downright delicious.  I put the recipe on the school blog a while ago but thought I’d re-post it here for the family folk.  It is all my favorite things, rich, dense and delicious and very easy to make.

Mrs Harbrow’s Large Chocolate Coffee Cake
1 3/4 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder (or 2 cups of self-raising flour), 3/4 cup cocoa (depending on how rich you want it, sometimes 1/2 a cup is enough), 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup strong coffee (aprox 3 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup water), 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup oil.

Mix everything together in a bowl and blend on medium/high speed for 3 minutes.  Bake in oven at 180 degrees for approximately 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.  (Best to check after 1 hour and make a judgement call on how much longer)  Ice with chocolate or coffee or chocolate and coffee icing!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, called Bod for short, was rescued from an evil man called Jack who had slaughtered all the other members of his family when he was just a baby.  He is bought up by the occupants of the graveyard and learns the vital skills of fading and other handy tricks to prevent mortal people from discovering them.  As Bod grows towards boyhood he explores more and more of his world within the boundaries of the graveyard, including beneath the gravestones and into the depths of the world of the gouls, very scary!  Bod is a character I became quickly very fond of, his adopted guardians and family of graveyard inhabitants, who all look out for him are beautifully written.  There is lots of fun and wit for a grown-up as well as for kids.

This book has been reviewed all over the place by people far more skilled than I, and there is quite a lot of debate about it’s suitability for young readers.  I think I would have read it aloud to my kids when they were little as a scary bedtime story and they would have loved it.  It is gripping right from the first sentence and I just adored reading it, I tried to eek it out so that it lasted longer.  I can’t wait to get my boys at school reading this book, there are some that I know will just adore it.  There is a video you can watch with Neil Gaiman reading from the book and lots of places you can check out the art by Dave McKeen – who works with Gaiman regularly – which is throughout the book.

It is a book to treasure and would make a lovely gift for a young person who loves to read.   Although the very beginning is totally terrifying it quickly moves on to more gentle territory of life in the graveyard.  I heartily recommend it to everyone!

Simon’s cat saves the day

It has been a bit of a week!

Partner in hospital (undergoing surgery as I type, leaving soon to collect the patient again),  a lovely elderly lady I know also in hospital and needing visits daily, boychild freshly out of neck brace being told he is fine to play rugby this weekend and to top it off this morning a less than satisfactory encounter with an automaton who works at the Inland Revenue Department  leaves me in need of a pick me up.  The conversation with the automaton started with me asking  a question which could have simply been answered with a yes or no answer, instead opened a can of 5 year old worms, which had I not phoned would have blissfully gone on being an unopened wormy can for the rest of my life.  It does however solve the mystery of why they keep sending me forms to fill in and file.  Sigh.

Simon’s Cat to the rescue.  While I ponder what to do about the automaton problem I will watch Simon’s Cat.  There are lots of these now and you will see the rest of them pop up on the bottom of the screen at the end of the video.  Watch them all.  All cat owners will relate to them.  The wonderful website is here.  And he has a book now too!  You can see him talk about the cat (called Hugh) and see him talking about the process of making the videos here.