Review – Sew It Yourself (Daisy Braid)

Keywords: sewing, sewing patterns, fashion, accessories, manual, how-to guide, step-by-step, informational, crafty, sustainability.

The front cover

I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew. I remember watching my mum in fascination as she used this huge sewing machine she brought from her home country. It always scared and fascinated me – the sharp needle going so fast you couldn’t even see it, the sounds of piercing fabric getting louder and louder…

It was because of this fear that I never learnt how to use a sewing machine growing up. What a shame! Because now that I’ve been learning to sew, I find myself wishing I started earlier! Imagine the clothes I could have made for myself…the scrunchies I could have made for my friends…

Daisy Braid, the author

Oh well. Better late than never! My journey into sewing is what led me to the book I’m reviewing today: Sew It Yourself by Daisy Braid. I thought it’d be a simple book of sewing patterns, but thankfully it’s also a guide on sewing terms and how to sew.

Did you know that the sewing world has a lot of special words? I definitely didn’t! Thank goodness this book actually explains these words. Otherwise, I’d be completely lost and confused. Some terms you learn about in this book are:

  • Warp/Grainline
  • Weft/Crosswise Grain
  • Bias binding
  • Overlock
  • Toile (pronounced ‘twahl’, since it’s a French word!)
  • Seam allowance
  • Pinking shears
  • Silk crepe de chine (another French word!)

There was another surprise in this book. Apparently, sewing requires maths. Lots of maths (or at least more than I was expecting!). If you want to sew things, you need to understand how to measure. You’ll find a lot of measurement formulas for the sewing patterns so that you know how much fabric to cut. For example, here’s the formula for cutting the fabric for a scrunchie:

Fabric = 12 cm (4 3/4 inches) x 60 cm (23 1/2 inches)

Elastic = 5 to 10 mm x length. (Length = circumference of your wrist + 2cm [3/4 inches] OR 20 to 22 cm (8 to 8 3/4 inches)

The first scrunchie I made!

I know that might look like a lot to take in (I was pretty flabbergasted when I saw it!). Or maybe you’re more the mathematical type of person, and the formulas aren’t intimidating at all. Great! The thing is, reading these formulas and actually following them are completely different. Once you get your head around all those numbers, it’s surprisingly simple to follow. You basically just get a ruler or measuring tape, draw lines where the measurements in the formula are, then cut out the fabric. It becomes a lot less intimidating when you actually do it!

Now, the most important benefit about sewing has to do with the environment. Think of it this way: we buy and throw out cheap, weak clothes so often that we create a lot of trash. Plus, the workers who make cheap and weak clothes (‘fast fashion‘) often face horrible working conditions, with extremely low wages and dangerous work environments. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone – the workers, the shops, and the people who buy the clothes – to support fashion that’s made ethically? That means making sure the factory workers are treated fairly and the clothes we buy are made to last. By doing this, we also save the environment from unnecessary trash.

One way to be more sustainable is to sew your own clothes! You can either buy your own fabric or even work on old clothes that might not fit you anymore. That’s why it’s so important to know how to sew!

So far, I’ve made a scrunchie and a bag. Don’t tell my friend, but I’m making another tote bag for her birthday! When I’m feeling more confident, I’m totally going to create a Sophie Trapezoid Skirt and a Rectangle-Sleeve Jacket. The instructions in Sew It Yourself are fairly easy to follow, especially if you read the first section (the one that explains all those sewing terms and techniques). In a year from now, when I look at all the clothes and gifts I’ve made, I’ll have Daisy Braid to thank!

There’s a lot to research about sewing and Sew It Yourself provides a lot of that information. So, Sakura is very fond of this book! Gus loves it too – like me, he has always wanted to learn how to sew.

Review – A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories (Angela McAllister)

Keywords: Shakespeare, fiction, narrative, collection, age 9+, illustrations, classic.

Alice Lindstrom’s portrait of William Shakespeare

At last, an excuse to talk about Shakespeare! We all knew I had to review this guy eventually. I mean, he’s literally one of the most famous writers of all time. I cannot stress enough how famous this guy is. So, let’s look into why he’s so well-known and why we’re even talking about him over 400 years after he passed away.

William Shakespeare was a playwright (a person who writes plays) and poet. He lived from 1564-1616, in England. He was considered a brilliant actor and playwright, even becoming a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I! We’ll be talking about the plays that he would’ve performed for royalty and for countless people who watched them at the Globe Theatre.

The front cover (gorgeous, isn’t it?)

Shakespeare’s plays can be divided into three categories: comedies, histories, and tragedies. You might have heard of some of his most popular plays before: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you’ve never heard of those plays before, don’t worry! We’re going to explore them a bit in today’s reviewed book: A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Alice Lindstrom.

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories is a collection of 12 Shakespearean plays, rewritten as narratives. You can read it on your own or have someone else read it for you (it’s a wonderful bedtime story!). The 12 stories you’ll read in this book are:

Othello and Desdemona from ‘Othello’
  • Romeo and Juliet (a romance between a boy and a girl whose families are sworn enemies)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a comedy where fairies make four people fall in love randomly, leading to hilarious trouble)
  • The Tempest (a story about a shipwreck, a magical island, and a wizard guy)
  • Othello (a tragedy about a man lying so much that a husband thinks his wife is cheating on him)
  • Hamlet (a tragedy about a dramatic prince who sees his murdered father’s ghost and promises to avenge his death)
  • Twelfth Night (a comedy where a girl dresses up as a boy, but when her twin brother comes to town, there’s a lot of confusion!)
  • Macbeth (a man with a powerful wife is driven mad by ambition as he kills people so that he can become king)
  • King Lear (an aging king tells his three daughters that he’ll give his kingdom to the daughter who loves him most, and chooses the wrong daughters)
  • As You Like It (a comedy where the characters fall in love at first sight and have fun in a forest)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (an island where a man is tricked into thinking his fiance is cheating on him, and a man and woman who hate each-other are tricked into falling in love with each-other)
  • The Merchant of Venice (a scheming money-lender tries to trick a man into an evil money loan. The man must be saved in court by a woman dressed up as a man.)
  • Julius Caesar (the historical story of a Roman senator and how his fellow senators assassinated him)
Each story begins by showing the cast of characters

Every single story is well-written and engaging. Having said that, you might prefer some stories over others, depending on the type of stories you like. For example, my personal favourite Shakespearean play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream (it was the first of Shakespeare’s plays I’d ever read, and it made me laugh so hard that at one point I spat out my tea!).

“But,” you might ask me, “If the original plays are so good, why would you rewrite them as narratives?” An excellent question! You see, the original plays are written in Elizabethan English. This is the kind of English that was written and spoken while Queen Elizabeth I was ruling England. It’s very different from modern English, since 400 years have changed the language a lot.

King Lear in a storm

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Here’s one part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hermia is telling her friend Helena that she and her lover Lysander will escape the city to get married. Keep in mind, Hermia is basically just saying, “Helena, I’ll leave Athens with Lysander. Athens used to be such a great place to me, but since I met Lysander, my opinion of Athens has become sour. I just love Lysander so much!”

“Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;

Lysander and myself will fly this place.

Before the time I did Lysander see,

Seemed Athens as a paradise to me.

O then, what graces in my love do dwell,

That he hath turned a heaven unto a hell?”

(Hermia talking to Helena, Act 1, Scene 1, lines 202-207.)

So…yeah. The way the characters speak in the original plays is challenging to understand, especially if you’re not used to Elizabethan English. It takes some practice and reading to understand the original plays.

Ariel the sprite flying over Ferdinand and Miranda in ‘The Tempest’

That’s why 12 of the plays have been rewritten as narratives: to make them easier to read and to be a nice introduction into Shakespeare’s stories. It’d be so easy to be scared by the original plays’ language and think, “Um, I don’t understand this. I don’t want to read anymore.” But then you’d miss out on some of the greatest stories ever written!

So, did I like A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories? Of course! I found it very fun to read and to see how the Elizabethan English can be translated into modern English. The only thing I can criticize is that a lot of cool details and jokes are left out of the narratives. But I think leaving some things out is necessary, since if you wrote absolutely every detail, the book would be way too long. Each story cuts down the plays to its most important details, which means that the stories aren’t usually longer than 4-5 pages.

Puck the fairy putting a love potion on Demetrius’s eyes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The illustrations are really interesting too. They’re paper cutouts painted over in gorgeous colours. I haven’t seen this art style very often in books, so it was lots of fun to look carefully at the illustrations and guess how they were made! Sometimes you can see how the artist used their paintbrush to make different patterns on the characters’ clothes. It’s beautiful work! It makes me want to try out this art style for myself, actually.

This was a long review, I know, but it needed to be long! There’s just so much to talk about when it comes to Shakespeare. If you’re interested in learning more about him and his stories, A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories is a brilliant introduction. You see, there’s information about Shakespeare and the 12 plays at the end of the book!

It’s not only me who enjoyed this book, by the way. Dmitri adored it, since he’s such a fan of Shakespeare (he can even recite passages from Hamlet by heart!). Surprisingly, Gus liked this book too, even though he’s told me before that he doesn’t like Shakespeare’s stuff. When I asked him why he liked this particular book, he said that the way it was written made it easier for him to understand the actual stories. “I don’t understand the original plays,” he said, “So I’m happy that I can enjoy the stories in a way that I do understand!”

Review – Eliza Vanda’s Button Box (Emily Rodda)

Keywords: Year 4+, fantasy, magical, light-hearted, emotional management.

The front cover, complete with Sultan and a box of buttons! Can you find Victor and the magic mirror?

Before we start, I just gotta say that I miiiiight be a little bit biased. You see, Emily Rodda – the author of Eliza Vanda’s Button Box – also wrote The Key to Rondo, which happens to be one of my all-time favourite books from my childhood (and a book we have reviewed before!). So there was a part of me that already liked Eliza Vanda before I even read it. I mean, it’s written by a beloved author and it has a pretty cover? Sign me up!

Of course, there is far more to a book than how it looks and who wrote it. There is definitely truth to the idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover”! This review is my attempt at being fair; I’ll try not to like or dislike the book for no good reason at all.

The character of Eliza Vanda is similar to Mary Poppins!

Okay, so let’s start with the plot. Despite its title, the main character of Eliza Vanda’s Button Box is not actually Eliza Vanda! It’s a girl named Milly Dynes, an 11 year old who lives in the seaside town of Tidgy Bay. She lives with her dad Rory and together they take care of holiday houses, which they rent out to people. One of these people is the titular Eliza Vanda, a mysterious woman who brings magic and buttons along with her. Think ‘Mary Poppins’ but with more dress-making!

Other characters include a snobby mouse named Victor, a grumpy black cat named Sultan, and a witch who will remain unnamed, because I don’t want to spoil the plot too much! I will, however, say this:

  • Yes, there is a hidden world that Milly explores;
  • Yes, there are magical creatures and characters;
  • And no, the hidden world is not what you think it is.
Lots of fantasy books involve characters travelling to hidden worlds, like Alice in Wonderland.

After you read a lot of fantasy books, you start to pick up on a lot of similarities between them. You even start to predict what a book must be about. For example, when I picked this book up, I said to myself, “Oh, there has to be a hidden world and the main character has to save the day with magic or something!” While this is the case for Eliza Vanda, the plot is actually not as predictable as it seems. Ugh, I wish I could tell you why it’s unpredictable but I can’t ruin the surprise! Just trust me on this one!

I would like to divulge one spolier, though, because it’s just too cool to ignore.

Every person in this hidden world has emotions. Those emotions, however, take the form of ‘mysies’, which are little creatures that live outside of their bodies. They’re mostly kept in hats, though some people keep them in pockets and bags. Some mysies include ‘Temper’, ‘Memory’, and ‘Sense of Humor’. So whenever someone needs a certain emotion, the mysie comes and whispers in their ear to help out! For example, when one character forgets who Victor is, his memory mysie helps him out:

The man stared at him blankly, then fumbled in a silver mesh purse hanging from his belt. A small, neat, lizard-like creature sprang from the purse and ran up his arm to perch on his shoulder and whisper in his ear…

“Victor!” cried the man, his face lighting up. (Chapter 6, page 71.)

This is what I think a memory mysie looks like!

But if you lose a mysie, then you lose that emotion. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “losing your temper”!

I truly love the idea of mysies. Actually, it’s a wonderful way to think of your own emotions; they can be easier to control and understand if you think of them as creatures and pets rather than something untouchable and invisible. The mysies are a vital part of the book’s plot and provide a lot of moments to think about our own emotions. What happens if you lose your ‘Courage’? How would you control a wild ‘Temper’ mysie? You could spend hours thinking about it!

The author, Emily Rodda

Having said all that, the book isn’t without areas of improvement. For example, it seemed a bit too fast-paced to me. There is a main villain, but we don’t hear about them until we’re three-quarters of the way through. It would’ve been much more engaging if the villain was hinted at much earlier in the book then revealed triumphantly near the end. That would be much more enjoyable and dramatic!

This also seems less like a stand-alone book and more like the first book in a series. Everything wraps up a bit too quickly for my liking. Hopefully, this will turn into a series. There are just too many unanswered questions!

The delightful fantasy of this plot appeals to fantasy-loving Felipe, so he had a great time reading it. Surprisingly, Gus actually liked it too! When I asked him why, he just shrugged and said, “You said it was fast-paced, so I decided to read it slowly. It was pretty good, not gonna lie.” So yeah, both Felipe and Gus recommend Eliza Vanda’s Button Box!

(Psst! If this book looks familiar, it’s because I wrote a reading comprehension exercise based on its first chapter! Check it out here!)

Review – The Iliad (Homer, translated by Kathleen Olmstead)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: classic, Greek, historical fiction, Greek mythology, Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus and Aphrodite, abridged, war, politics, revenge.

My flawless drawing of how the Trojan war started 😂

I know what some of you must be thinking: “But Miss, The Iliad is one of those boring classics that we’re forced to learn about. It’s not fun. Why are you reviewing it?”

I understand. Honestly, I was the same when I was a younger student. Classic books that I heard about from adults and TV (The Iliad, The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex etc.) sounded too difficult for me to read. To be honest, some of them are — especially in their original old-fashioned format! But this book is different.

This version of The Iliad has been translated and rewritten by Kathleen Olmstead. Homer – the original author – wrote the book in an ancient Greek (Homeric Greek). It’s a mixture of different Greek dialects. For most of us (including myself), that’d be very difficult to read. Plus, the original book was actually an epic poem (‘epic’ as in the type of poem, although it is very epic and awesome as well!). It was 15,693 lines long. Imagine how long it must’ve taken Homer to write it and Kathleen Olmstead to translate it! To understand just how tricky it would have been to write and translate Homeric Greek, here are the first seven lines of the original version:

Zeus showing off how cool he is (he does this a LOT)

Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα· Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή·
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

(Listen to how these Homeric Greek lines are spoken here! Skip to 34 seconds.)

This language is so beautiful! As it’s a dead language, not many people learn it anymore (or even want to). That’s a shame. Sure, it’s a complex language, but its history and alphabet are just too cool to be ignored! Having said that, you’ll probably want to start with a translated one first. Don’t worry: the Classic Starts version of The Iliad is far more readable than Homer’s original. You get to learn more about Greek mythology and how the gods and goddesses made decisions. The book is about the Trojan war, a 10-year battle between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (AKA the Greeks). You’ll hear a lot of famous names in this book, like Achilles, Zeus and Odysseus. It’s fun to see what kind of people these famous characters are! (Apparently, Achilles is the kind of person who throws temper tantrums. You also find out how stubborn Zeus really is.)

Helen of Troy (looking very annoyed for some reason)

Basically, the whole reason for the Trojan war is because of a fight between three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They fight over an apple that’s meant for the ‘fairest’ goddess. In this case, ‘fairest’ means ‘most beautiful’. The goddesses decide to ask Paris, prince of the city of Troy, to state who is the most beautiful. He chooses Aphrodite as the winner. As a reward, she gives prince Paris the most beautiful mortal woman in the world: Helen. Unfortunately, Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. So, Aphrodite basically stole the king’s wife and gave her to another city’s ruler.

That’s how the Trojan war began. It was fought for ten years. That’s right: ten years. The soldiers must have been exhausted! I bet their distress and tiredness is even stronger in the original version. All the more reason to study Homeric Greek!

Let’s just say that The Iliad is a classic for a reason. It’s filled with drama, godly powers and fighting. Even though he doesn’t read many books, Gus is a fan of The Iliad. It’s a great story to read through slowly just before you go to sleep! Since he’s a historian, Dmitri, of course, is a huge Homer fan. He has read every version of The Iliad, even the original Greek one! Both Gus and Dmitri recommend the Classic Starts version of The Iliad.

Review – Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, formal vocabulary, advanced reading, Year 8+, quirky, stand-alone book.

The front cover (do you get the joke the pictures are telling?)

Okay, before we start, I need to let you know that this book uses a lot of fancy words. Like, a lot. Definitely read this book along with a dictionary!

If you need to expand your vocabulary, this is absolutely the right book for you. Also, if you are a huge English nerd (no judgment, I’m one too!), this will probably be one of the most clever books you have ever read.

Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of Ella, a girl who lives on the (sadly fictional) Nollop Island. On this island, they praise Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” It’s famous because it uses every letter of the alphabet. Go over the sentence and you’ll see!

Since the island’s hero is a person who contributed to the English language, it’s no surprise that every islander is obsessed with English. They’re all incredibly educated writers whose vocabularies are unimaginiably huge! You get to see how great their writing skills are in this book. Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning that it’s a book made up of letters. (‘Letters’ as in the things you write to others, like emails.)

It gets even more interesting. There’s a statue of Nevin Nollop on the island with his famous sentence displayed with metal letters. One day, the letters start falling off! The island’s government decide that Nevin Nollop is sending them all a message: to stop using whatever letter falls off the statue. Soon, it becomes illegal to write or even speak certain letters, like L or T. As the book continues, Ella’s letter-writing skills become simpler and more mispelled. She can’t use certain letters of the alphabet, so it would be difficult to write properly! Imagine trying to write something without the letter ‘a’ or ‘t’.

So, it goes from this:

“How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth!” (pg. 5)

To losing a few letters:

“Insane woman name Ella: Retreat is what we want. Go away. Let we alone. Anonymess.” (pg. 158)

To eventually only having “LMNOP” to use, like this:

“No mo Nollop pomp! No mo 4 pop/1 moll Nollop looloo poop! No no no mo plop, plop, plop, plomp!” (pg. 197)

The book itself is good! I found it a bit difficult to be hooked by its first chapter. However, the plot quickly becomes interesting after the first couple of chapters, so don’t give up!

It’s a book that’ll need concentration and careful reading. So, both Louise and Gus heartily recommend Ella Minnow Pea!