Australian Backyard Explorer was one of 250 children's books from around the world included on the 2011 White Ravens list of the Internationale Jugendbibliothek München (International Youth Library) (along with a creditable number of other Australian books, though it was a little annoying to see Australian Jeannie Baker's brilliant Mirror = Mir’a-t in the lists as a British book. If you wish to see all of the 2011 winners, see this link.
There is a sequel on the way. It will probably be out in 2012, because we want to get it right, but in early September 2011, it was well along in the design phase. The title is Australian Backyard Naturalist, which gives you a pretty good idea of what it's about, but there's a bit more at that link.
About the book
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This book is written for ages 10-14, and it drew on an earlier book for adults, Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, still available in hardback, and shortly to be an e-book. Each of the works is soundly grounded in a massive database that I have now placed on the web. Details of access and the rather liberal conditions of use are here.
In this version, there is somewhat less detail, and I have added projects and activities to bring to life the many problems the explorers faced. Little things like equipment, transport, navigation, water, food, supplies, repairs, medical cases and more. The details are all there in the explorers' own journals, but who reads those, these days? Well, me for one, and after you dig into the database, I hope you may do so as well.
The publisher and I had a shared aim: to take a look at the science that confronted the early explorers of Australia and provide some worthwhile projects and activities for readers that are closely related to the sorts of problems early explorers faced. There are some 25 activities which will help them experience what the explorers experienced.
Importantly to me, the science is all legitimate! For those who don't know me, I write mainly about science and technology, and lately, I have been specialising in the golden age of understandable science and technology, the mid-19th century. Because of the earlier book, and as an old science teacher, I was the logical choice to do something similar for younger readers, drawing on the excellent design staff and delightful picture collections at the NLA. Our aim has been to get kids into a position where they can experience at first hand a few of the safer experiences, and to read at second-hand about the less safe ones.
Now, the blurb . . .
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At last! The book on Australian explorers I've been searching for all my life. The explorers used to be boring. Well, not any more. Here are tales of adventure and survival as Europeans and Aboriginal people faced the glories and challenges of Australia. Best of all - it's a wonderful read!
— Dr Michael Cathcart, historian and television presenter.
ANYONE who can breathe life into Australian history deserves success, so bouquets to Peter Macinnis. The Sydney-based writer has produced this terrific original treatment of the early explorers, tightly written with inviting layouts and excellent illustrations. He asserts early, and it is most welcome, that for all the adventurers we easily remember, such as the Sturts and the Oxleys, there are a host of unsung team members who helped them perform the amazing feats of exploration and survival. This is a great message to send to a generation utterly imbued with celebrity culture. Chapters are fascinating and topical — food, weather, finding the way — and each includes a practical task such as constructing a meat safe, making a laundry basket boat and making a water filter.
In this exemplary production from the National Library, Peter Macinnis gives readers a different and fascinating insight into explorers and exploration. He draws heavily on the library's resources, both for the explorers' own reports and diaries, and for the enormous number of sketches, paintings and photographs that enliven every page (all scrupulously acknowledged). In addition, there are activities related to the topics . . .
. . . This is an attractive and engrossing book, and provides a wonderful supplement to more conventional accounts of the achievements of Australian explorers. It is full of riveting facts: the weigh of various foodstuffs, skills needed (including sewing, mending leather, shoeing horses, doctoring men and animals, sourcing valuable timber, animals and plants, estimating distances and finding water . . .
. . . Congratulations are due to the author designer and publisher of this marvellous book; it not only provides intriguing information about exploration, it makes accessible some of the incredible historical riches held in the National Library. Highly recommended!
Aimed at 10 to 14-year-olds, Australian Backyard Explorer is a fascinating and informative read that kept me turning pages—often with regret that books like this didn't exist when I was at school.
Gone is the dry and lifeless approach to history—the 'who, what and when' that does so little to whet the appetite.
In its place, Macinnis writes engaging stories of explorers (including modern-day adventurers) and their oft-forgotten teams who strapped on their shoes, slapped on their hats and headed out on horse, foot, plane, bike or camel to explore the outback.
History is brought to life and the reader feels as though they too were on the expeditions . . .
This is an ideal gift book for any budding explorer.
And here's a review from Abbey's bookshop in Sydney. It's on page 10.
And here's a very nice review from Kids Book Review. I also did an interview with Kids Book Review recently and I notice that they have lots more interviews with writers and illustrators.
Media stuff: podcasts and Youtube clips
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For information from the publisher, see http://www.nla.gov.au/documents/nlashop-newletter.pdf.
An interview in the Sydney Morning Herald is to be found here.
There are three Youtube clips posted by the publisher, the National Library of Australia. In the first, I talk about the truth that underlies the explorers' stories and reveal some of my motivation for telling those stories. In the second, I show viewers how to make a pooter, a device used to catch small insects. Why? Well, most explorers went out with a number of aims, and one of them was to make "scientific collections". I believe that when young readers can get some hands-on experience like this, it stays with them, far better than what I learned in my school-days, which was a list of the rivers Leichhardt crossed between 1844 and 1846, as he headed for Port Essington. The third Youtube clip shows me using some home-grown equipment to catch insects in the grounds of the National Library, winter 2009.
I also talked during 2009 to Phillip Adams on Late Night Live, though that was about my other book of that moment, Lawn. I also talked to Radio New Zealand about Lawn.
It's no longer online, but you can read the transcript of a radio talk I gave about following the trail of John Oxley: Climbing Mount Exmouth. My talk about the writing of pioneers is at Is the book as we know it dead?.
On the web: the quotes database
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I have posted my zipped explorer quotes database online. This is the flatfile DB that I used to create both Australian Backyard Explorer and Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools. This is in Excel format and draws widely on Project Gutenberg sources, as well as material that I laboriously transcribed by hand from library photocopies. It is available for use and sharing in all educational or self-educational contexts. It may be shared for free, but I claim compilation copyright and will pursue vigorously any person who tries to sell it, unless they have discussed the matter with me first and added significant value to the product. I am always approachable to those who share my ethical standpoint but I am a nemesis for shonky types. Note that I created the database for my own use, so it is, to a degree, idiosyncratic. You need to live with that, sorry.
It contains something over 5000 quotes, each with date, place, source and other key details, but most importantly, each has associated keywords and phrases. In the journals, a crocodile might be a saurian, a caiman, a cayman, an alegator, an allegator, an alligator, or just a monster. With the keyword "crocodile" added, you can find them all quickly. The format also allows you to port the whole thing over into a database and format it in a variety of ways, if that suits your needs better. I have actually made the effort and ported it across into MS Access, so I know it can be done. Then I decided I was happier with my precious Excel spreadsheet. In the end, I decided to share that, knowing that others could go the extra yards if they wished: you have my approval to do so with no risk of copyright infringement. Consider this to be a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence for use.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/backyard.htm
It was created on April 2, 2008 and last revised on May 1, 2012.
Getting in touch
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If you email me at macinnis at ozemail.com.au, you will reach a spam trap, but be read, eventually. If you put my first name in front of that address (so the first part is petermacinnis, you will reach me direct. This low-tech solution is to make email harvesting difficult.
I live on Sydney's northern beaches, but while I am in the phone book, you will probably end up with voicemail. Use the email address above, but read the instructions! To locate me in my wanderings, I'm on Facebook under my own name, and in other social networking applications I am usually McManly. Seek, and ye may find! I am also on Skype as peter.macinnis, but I usually leave Skype off unless I am expecting a call, so if you find me online there and call, don't be offended if I ask you to hang up: I won't be being rude, just practical because I am probably waiting for a call from my grandchildren.
The home page of this set is here.
What a waste of brain cells that was!! Back to the media section.