Letters to the Zoo

Books, mostly.

Month: October, 2016



Women in Science, Rachel Ignotofsky

Dear Zoo,

I’m writing from HOME. What a concept. This time last week we had just left Hokitika and embarked on the journey of navigating through myriad small towns, green pastures, up the Coast (every town has a tiny church and a Speights pub).

And now I’m here.

Thought I’d share some things that I’ve been reading.

Almost Finished:

Ted Dawe’s Thunder Road. OK, so I met Ted in September at a library conference and he is one of these instantly likeable types. A teacher, which comes across in everything he does. And a book lover. What happens if you teach teenage boys and love books? Well, you set out to write books that they will read. Thunder Road is basically about two young guys who have had a pretty tough upbringing and have now found themselves on the wrong side of society and the law. The book is about cars and drug dealing but luckily Ted has this terrific way of writing, and writing about New Zealand and so we get something a bit closer to Alan Duff. Also, as Ted promised, it is a page-turner.

Just Started:

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker. I have been hanging out to read this children’s book. It features a fox on the front cover (squee!) and is told from the perspective of Pax, the tame fox, and his ‘boy’ Peter. It has been really highly rated so I’m expecting good storytelling. We’ll see.

On the Table:

Women in Science, by Rachel Ignotofsky. This book features 50 women scientists from different places and times and shares a glimpse of their life and work. It is a visually striking book, being illustrated by the author and it sure is nice to look at. I really like these compilation books that let you explore a bit of history and encounter new names. I do wonder if it is maybe a bit too arty for children – I’ve noticed that sometimes they just don’t go for that, but hey, women scientists for the win!

What are you reading?

Yours the forever bookworm,



Lab Girl – A Review


Dear Zoo,

I’ve discovered that it’s really, really hard to review great books. You can’t say much about them – what you do say just doesn’t measure up.

So I read this book about trees and it was awesome. I teared up as I read Jahren’s final message – plant a tree – because 300 pages into her life I knew something that had taken my world view and tilted it on it’s head. Trees. Plants. I’d opened a door.

Hope Jahren is a Bad-Ass Lady Scientist – or technically, a geochemist and geobiologist who is also a brilliant, witty writer. Thank God because these two things combined gives you one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m going to be frank: I did biology in 6th form, I think – memory’s a bit fuzzy, and I did OK at it. Then I left high school and never looked at a cell or thought about an atom again. I adore the natural world mostly because it is elusive: this great untamable secret that I know only a tiny smidge about. So to read a non-fiction book detailing the life of a geobiologist and the various plants she meets along the way is not a walk around the block type activity for me. But this is the beauty of Jahren’s writing, because somehow this book – with its richness of detail and fact and Jahren’s faith that the reader will come along for the ride without dumbing down – was an absolute treat.

I’m a bit of nerd (I mean, I work in a library) and so I guess I’m kind of thinking that some people would find books about plants – gasp – boring? I get that. They’re green, so what? But Jahren is so good. You read a few pages and you will be spilling over with new-found adoration for our plant world. Adoration and sadness and mad respect for plants and a hunger to know more. I generally don’t read a lot of non-fiction, usually finding it a bit of a trek but this book is so accessible, thanks to the author and the stories she pours onto the page.

See here’s the other part of Lab Girl. In between the ‘windows’ into the plant world we learn about Jahren’s life which is glorious in all its grittiness. It pains me to have to say this, but being both a woman and a scientist instantly meant that Jahren’s life would not be easy, she would have to fight to succeed and she does this with unyielding determination and a love for her craft. I kind of really want to know Jahren but hey, reading her book will have to do. I’m so glad she got to a next-level brave and told the world her story.

Is my post really boring? Sorry. Just read the book. You won’t look at a willow the same way ever again.

Yours with heart-eyes,


Library Gold

Dear Zoo,

When I can’t stand to cut out more felt/ stare at Wheelers for a moment longer/ want to hide from the patrons I take some time out from my work and spend a few minutes trawling for gold online. Library gold. Brilliant, no-point-reinventing-the-wheel ideas that makes me go ‘yep, I should do that’.

Here is one: http://www.abbythelibrarian.com/2016/08/i-survived-library.html

I like that this combines physical books (yay books) and really fun activities to bring the stories off the page.