Letters to the Zoo

Books, mostly.

Month: November, 2016

The Light Between Oceans – Thoughts

Dear Zoo,

This week a friend and I went to the cinema to see the much-anticipated The Light Between Oceans. Clutching tissues and smuggled-in strawberries we waited to see how the movie would shape up. We had both read and loved the book.

Granted, it was a few years ago that I read the book, distinctively without much hype. But I did enjoy it. I enjoyed the detail, the setting – off the coast of Australia post WW1. I enjoyed the characters. Two things struck me in the book:  the first was that it was a story more so than many books I’d read that year. It was like hearing a yarn as you sat with a close group of friends as dusk set in. It was sombre and full of heart. The second thing was that it completely challenged my moral understanding of the world. In most cases of reading,  I know how I want the book to end, who the winners should be, what would in fact make a happy ending. In the case of The Light, however, I was stumped. (If you’re totally unaware, it’s about a couple that run a lighthouse on a remote island who find a baby in a dingy that they, blinded by grief, decide to raise as their own.)

Now for the movie. The sea was as sweeping and magnificent as I’d hoped. Some of the detail was missing from the island but detail – what books have in spades, movies tend to lack and that’s okay. As far as I can trust my memory, the plot kept fairly closely to the book (again with a lot of the detail parred-back out of necessity). I give the filmmakers kudos for the casting. I think Tom – acted by Michael Fassbender – was the highlight of the movie. He just looked exactly like the book Tom, and he portrayed the broken, guilt-ridden and deeply in love man I came to know in the book. Isabel – Alicia Vikander – was somehow just a bit off, to me. I just didn’t buy that it was the 1920s when she was on the screen, though Isabel’s grief was real enough. I don’t know if the moral conundrum was quite as convincing as in the book but it was certainly a good story. Oh, and as my friends agreed, the tangible details very much unique to the movie format – the clothes, furniture – were delightful. I’d watch it again to see Isabel’s wedding dress and their little house on Janus Island.

Have you seen the movie or read the book? Thoughts?






Dear Zoo,

My fiance sometimes pokes fun at me because I have no vices. I have a low caffeine tolerance so I’m restricted to drinking tea (which is okay because tea is ACE). One bottle of cider will see me putting on a Johnny Cash CD. I’ve never smoked. I’m opposed to gambling. And a wild Saturday night will see me tucked on the couch with a book and a crochet hook. But vices come in all shapes and sizes and if I did have one it would be books (decidedly more healthy but not necessarily better for my bank account). Conveniently I work as a librarian, so I get to borrow most of what I read. Here is a snapshot of what I carted home this week.

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants. Ruth Kassinger

I go through bouts of reading nonfiction books about plants and animals (to use the technical terms). I’m actually just about finished reading the excellent ‘The Thing with Feathers’ by Noah Strycker and am looking forward to another book in this vein. I’ve read a few pages and I’m enjoying the narrative style.

Leonardo Da Vinci in 30 Seconds. Paul Harrison

Ha. Is this like Jamie’s so-called 30 minute meals that actually take HOURS to make but lure you in with promises of swift results? One of my favourite things, period, is children’s nonfiction. It’s whimsical, colourful, accessible and often very well-written and stuffed with knowledge. This book is all of those things and the layout is broken into easily navigated chapters and sections that each take a snapshot (the supposed 30 seconds) of Da Vinci’s life, looking at things like his early life, the Mona Lisa, and his other inventions. A great introduction to the man told in a modern and highly-readable way.

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes. Nicola Davies

More CL nonfiction. This book lives in the space between picture book and nonfiction. It has fewer words and takes us on a narrative journey of the microbe world. It’s well balanced in it’s facts and the wonderful illustrations contribute largely to the story. I’m pleased someone wrote a book about microbes.


My library finally subscribed to frankie. There is something fantastic about frankie being borrowable and sharable – need I say more. I might be going on a bus ride tomorrow so it will be good t0 have frankie at my side.

I’m off to undo and recrochet half a scarf. Have a great Friyay!


The borrower.

P.S I spent AGES arranging those books so nicely for the photo for this post. Don’t laugh, I truly did. I’m not destined to be a photographer.

Coding on the Coast – Library Life

Libraries as Facilitators:
Coding on the Coast

Part One:

I think it’s not just libraries that are wading into new waters, but all of us this side of 2016. Technology is progressing at such a rapid pace that we’re all trying to figure out what our role is. I get an interesting slot in this: I’m a ‘digital native’ but at 25 the children can run rings around me with their technologically wired brains. That has the power to make me feel old much faster than wayward comments about my ovaries.

I think that moving forward, the library’s biggest role is that of facilitator. We can be a conduit between the learners and the world-changing ideas, or information, or that lightbulb moment. Why facilitator? Why libraries? Well, in short, who else is there? I think the only valid answer to that is school because anyone else will ask for something in return: your data or your money. So why not leave it to schools to teach these all important functions or facilitate the creation of ideas? For one thing not everyone goes to school or takes the traditional curriculum.

The good thing about being a facilitator is that we get to say yes. We don’t have to rely alone on the skills and knowledge, or resources, we have in house but we can say yes, we the library want to be a part of this, what can we offer? A room or space? Technology? Crowd control?

Part Two:

For a small library in a rural setting, Westland District Library packs a punch. I might be biased but in the four months I spent there we rolled out some awesome programmes. Like many other libraries around New Zealand, Westland offers Code Club. I love having a quick squiz through Twitter most afternoons and what I see there is libraries constantly redrawing the boundaries with cool tech. Code Club is maybe old news, but coding being at the heart of most things, it’s the jumping off point for children and libraries.

Being a small library generally means less. Less staff, less money, less resources. But hey, we still get to be the facilitator because in this sense, size doesn’t matter. Our Code Club works like this. We provide the space, a spare room, and we manage the membership side. The local High School loans us a set of Chromebooks which we make a dash for at 3.30 each Wednesday. They also loan us their IT technician, Flow, who runs each session (and tries to include algebra lessons and arcade game history on the sly). I took the role of assistant and got busy learning about Scratch (and chasing down rogue club members). We started out with about 10 kids and lost a few along the way as happens but the kids in the Club at the moment manage to put a smile on my face each week with their perseverance and enthusiasm (quite frankly you could dangle a KitKat in front of their nose and they wouldn’t look away from the game they’re making).

We’ve worked our way through a number of Scratch projects and have now gone off the beaten track. Last week we introduced the kids to Super Breakout (OK, I wasn’t alive in 1978 so it was an intro for me too) and then backwards engineered it, asking the question ‘how do we make this?’ and using Scratch. We only had four members at that session so we thought we’d try something – teamwork! They crowded around one computer and shared the keys. Flow and I sat back and grinned at each other. Their cooperation would put some of us grown-ups to shame.

The next plan is to make one game as a team, with each member having a different role (kind of like real life) so the kids can play to their strengths. I’m keen to see how that pans out. Beyond that we are deciding what will happen to Code Club in 2017, with a waitlist of six. The library is also hoping to get its mitts on its own computers at some point and then…world domination from Hokitika? For now our Code Club is an ode to collaboration and the synergy between community and library.

I’ve now returned to my normal role as Library Assistant at Nelson Public Libraries, so will be watching the developments on the Coast from a (slightly drier) distance.

Originally published in November issue of LIANZA produced Library Life.