Letters to the Zoo

Books, mostly.

Month: April, 2016

Topo Maps on the Radio

Dear Zoo,

Here’s a Q. Have you ever thought about maps? I like maps. Cartography. That word runs a shiver down my spine. Now days, I say like a 90 year old, we have Google maps, milliseconds from our fingertips, covering the world over. Maps seem so trivial.

But there are still non-Googlified maps. Still cartographers. I love bumbling into a discussion about a profession I’ve never thought of.

Listen here (or read) and learn about the topographic map makers of New Zealand.

Yours on Thursday,



Looking at Race in Fiction

Dear Zoo,

You’ll never guess what but the sky is still brilliant blue. I keep looking at in awe thinking “soon the rain will come and we’ll hunker down and peek out at the grey, waiting”.

This week in my course we’ve been looking at how race is represented (or not) in fiction, and how a distinct lack of non-white characters can be harmful to non-white readers. We read an excerpt from Frantz Fanon’s ‘Black Skin, White Masks’.

I work in a library and when possible, hide in the children’s section among all the glorious books with their bright, smudge-y covers and well-thumbed pages. And having read Fanon’s work I can say, there is a lack. I wonder things like, ‘who should take responsibility?’ – us? The librarians? But what if we aren’t responsible for buying our books. The publishers, perhaps? And what do all of the kids make of this? Do they just gobble up Geronimo and every collapsing Star Wars Lego book they can lay a hand on?

I really like New Zealand because we are such a wonderful mix of ethnicities. I also know, without a doubt, without reading Fanon, that kids are SO impressionable. And that these characters – be it Harry, or Geronimo or a creeper or Tracy Beaker – are so important.

So where does that leave us, the librarians, the cheerleaders of our fictional heroes?  Food for thought.

Some newsy bits:

Malorie Blackman on ethnically diverse fiction

This great post about whitewashing (OK, I’ll take Cumberbatch any darn day of the week, but Swinton, really? I’m disappointed in you Hollywood.)

Yours ponderingly,


It’s Okay to Read All The Things

Dear Zoo,

It’s Saturday. Caturday. Saturyay. I’m happy. There is blue sky and a few wispy clouds. I’m up to my second cup of tea. Things are peachy, after an extraordinary week of busy.

This week, I read this great post over at Meet Me at Mikes. Pip writes about virtue versus character and how people often strive to be this perceived great thing – particularly on social media – and that this perceived great thing is maybe a bit over-rated, maybe a bit inauthentic and not necessarily satisfying or fulfilling. She declares that being the true, authentic you, faults-and-all, is a better road.

I happen to agree. For some reason, we’ve wound up in a society that is heavily focused on perfection. It kind of blows, because we all know, really, that everyone has quirks and – gasp – flaws. And that a lot of the time, these are OK and make for an interesting world and interesting conversations and, shock horror, diversity. Some way back we got incredibly lost and wound up thinking that being all the same was somehow, not just better, but how we actually are. False.

In the wide, magical world of reading there is great diversity. For some reason, however, we can get a bit hung up on what we read, a bit judgey. We lump things into categories, put some things on pedestals, frown at some things. It’s a shame. I try to remember this when I embark on a reading adventure – any and all things are great to read and it is perfectly OK not to like some things as long as you know that that is totally subjective.

Some things I like to read: novels that do not fit in a genre, novels set in interesting places like Not Forgetting the Whale and State of Wonder, articles about Antartica or dinosaurs or technology, books about animals, Flow magazine, books about interiors like Spaces and Fine Little Day, the newspaper, large-format children’s books like Maps, cookbooks made by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, crafty feel-good things like Craft for the Soul, blog posts, anything by Elizabeth Gilbert, favourite kids books like Hatchet, graphic novels, things about crafts, all of things written by Rainbow Rowell because she is a word magician.

Do you like any of these things? I bet your list is different to mine. That’s cool. Have a nice Saturday!

Yours truly,


The One About the Penguin Post Office

penguin post office

Borrowed from the BBC (links below)

Dear Zoo,

I’m writing to you from the marshmallow that is my bed. I’ll paint you a word picture: pink polka-dot sheets, red tartan blanket atop even retro-er speckled brown duvet, three pillows, curtains open, world dark.

It’s only Wednesday but this week feels long, really long. I live a double life which is one part work and one part study. This week I made it through the work part and now I’m tackling the study part. But penguins!

The best part about you, zoo, is that you result in amazing mind-expanding journeys into the unknown. Subjects can range from French clock mechanics* to frugivores**. Or Antarctica. Best of all.

I’m a bit besotted with Antarctica, something I believe I inherited directly from my dad…maybe way down the line we have Shackleton blood. Anyway, I always find amazing things about Antarctica completely by accident. Last night I was pootling about on PressDisplay which is a massive newspaper database that you SHOULD get acquainted with (ask your friendly librarian). In my pootling, I found an issue of BBC Wildlife magazine (insert overjoyed cactus emoji) and THEN I learnt all about the Penguin Post Office at the not-quite-bottom of the world, i.e. Port Lockroy, Goudier Island, Antarctica.

In short, the Southern-most active post office meets Gentoo penguin breeding colony. Nice, yes? The post office is open in the summer months and is of course heavily visited by tourists. It also has a bit of a museum situation going on as the site has a lot of British historical relevance. The good part is that the site also conducts a lot of research on the Gentoos, particularly around how the colony is effected by human activity.

You can listen to the BBC radio series here.
Read more about Port Lockroy here. And I can’t link you to BBC Wildlife but for curious souls it is issue March 2016 Volume 34 Number 3.

I have to say it feels especially good, reading about the cold South from my cosy bed! Also should add that I don’t spend ALL my time in bed. Promise.

*an actual question I got asked at the Lib!
** my new favourite word – fruit being the primary food source of the species, often in relation to seed dispersal, e.g., many birds are frugivores.

Yours ironically,
Laura and the Gentoos