The Familiar and the Unfamiliar

Sometimes there’s something very comforting about visiting the familiar; TV shows, movies, books or authors we know we can rely on to make us laugh or cry, gasp in delight or shake with terror. And other times, discovering that there are things that surpass the understanding of even the most brilliant minds can bring reassurance. The books on the blog this month have both of these options for you, along with a novel that offers a new way of looking at a piece of history that many of you may be very familiar with.

The Usborne 100 Things to Know About series is a fantastic introduction to a range of topics that engages readers with bold illustrations and thoughtful graphics, as well as intriguing, well-researched facts. The latest title is 100 Things to Know About the Unknown, which takes a deep dive into topics that have fascinated humankind for centuries, and in some cases continue to do so. For example, there are the mysterious lights that have flickered in swamps across the world which many cultures believed to be magic, which scientists now know are the result of gases emitted by the swamp as vegetation decomposes. (Sometimes discovering answers isn’t always better!) However, while they have theories, scientists have no idea why Venus spins in the opposite direction to all the other planets in our solar system, and archaeologists have no idea of the meaning behind hundreds of dodecahedrons (12-sided objects) left behind by the Romans. It’s fascinating to think that these objects clearly meant something to a culture not that long ago, but for which we can discern no meaning today. A thought-provoking way to look at the world!

For more than 10 years, Katrina Nannestad has been publishing books which have found their way into the hearts of classrooms, libraries and readers. While Nannestad’s books such as We Are Wolves and The Girl, the Dog and the Writer series are now widely known, there are many that were published well before they came along. This month, several of them are getting lovely new covers so that they can be discovered by a new audience. The Olive of Groves series’ covers have been updated, and The Girl Who Brought Mischief now has a whole new cover with a beautiful Scandinavian aesthetic! For those of you unfamiliar with this gorgeous story, it centres around 10-year-old Inge Maria who has been sent from Copenhagen to live with her grandmother, whom she has never met, on the tiny island of Bornholm. As first her grandmother seems stern and much more straight-laced than Inge Maria is used to, but gradually she learns that even old people were young once, and that judging people by appearances can lead to all sorts of problems. This would be a wonderful book to share with a class, as the story of Inge Marie, her grandmother and the residents of Bornholm is uncovered.

Ever since Tribulation Johnson read The Merchant of Venice she’s held a swiftly silenced desire to be on the stage, where a woman can be exactly who she wants to be, unlike the real world for a woman with no money in 1679. However, now that Tribulation finds herself on the way to London to live with her cousin, Aphra Behn, she’s not so sure that her long-stated ambition to leave the small village that is all she knows was really such a good idea after all. But Tribulation has no choice but to forge onwards, as she has been cast out from her home for being all the things that no woman is supposed to, but mostly for daring to question the men around her in positions of authority. When she arrives in London, Tribulation discovers that not only is cousin Aphra an unusual woman who makes her own living, something she’d been forewarned about, but she just might be the most notorious woman in the whole city. While Aphra encourages Tribulation to take up writing and pursue the stage, not everyone is accepting of their unusual lifestyle as they attempt to take charge of their own destinies. The Escapades of Tribulation Johnson is enormous fun, offering an engrossing, beautifully written insight into the life of a famously infamous woman, and a thrilling period in English history.

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