We’ve Got This!

We’ve Got This!
Rashmi Sirdeshpande with EmpathyLab, illustrated by Juliana Eigner
Words & Pictures

One of the most important life skills children need to develop is empathy and this book is intended to help them do that. How exciting it is to have a book emphasising the power of reading to boost empathy and to read this in Sir Michael Morpurgo’s foreword: ‘ Books and stories to me are the key to empathy and understanding everyone. They are the pathway to understanding people as individuals. Read books. Enjoy books. And, most of all, learn from books.’

Readers of this particular book will assuredly do so. Empathy, we read at the outset is a ’real superpower’ and herein youngsters are offered a six-step process that uses case studies, empathy exercises and activities, to supercharge their empathy. Participating along with readers on this exciting journey are members of the Sharma family – mum Shivaji and her children, Isha and Rahul.

There are pieces by a number of well-known authors – Cressida Cowell, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson, Sue Cheung (aka Sue Pickford), Jen Carney, Manon Steffan Ros, Ben Davis, Patrice Lawrence, Nadia Shireen,

Abigail Balfe, Dom Conlon, SF Said and Joseph Coelho, all of whom are affiliated with EmpathyLab. And there are examples from books by other writers in the fourth step Learn to Recognise Emotions, where one of the ideas is to be an emotions detective as you read. From the next section, I love this example of ‘super questioning between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.

The text is chatty and child-friendly, and Juliana Eigner’s inclusive, often gently humorous illustrations are engaging. (Further resources are listed at the back of the book.)

A must for all KS2 school children, classroom collections and I think lots of adults would do well to read it too.

Round and Round Goes Mother Nature

Round and Round Goes Mother Nature
Gabby Dawnay and Margaux Samson Abadie
Wide Eyed Editions

The circles of life keep on turning and change is part and parcel of all life, happening constantly around us in the world; it’s in the turning of the season, sometimes it’s as rapid as a hatching egg, sometimes it’s as slow as an imperceptibly growing or diminishing mountain. This gorgeously illustrated book, divided into four sections – Animals, 

Plants & Fungi, then moving beyond biology, Earth and finally, Space – presents forty eight life cycles, starting with the fleeting appearance of a mayfly and ending with a black hole: a massive scope indeed.

Readers will be fascinated at some of the details, for instance the male seahorse carries the eggs deposited by the female in a special sack in his abdomen, which then acts rather like the womb of a female mammal. Imagine being a female rattlesnake; such creatures are ready to have babies around the age of four and will continue mating and giving birth every two years for the rest of its life up to twenty five years; that’s an awful lot of snakelets.

I was astonished to read that it’s possible for the peanut-sized seed from a lotus flower to remain dormant for decades and one has survived for two thousand years.

There is a fair bit of written information for each life cycle and the illustrations show such close attention to fine detail that you will want to spend time looking carefully at each spread.

Recommended for both home and classroom use; this will keep a child engrossed for hours.

50 Words About Nature: Animals, 50 Words About Nature: Bugs / I Want To Be A Lion, I Want To Be A Monkey

These are all books for very young children, – thanks to the publisher Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review.

50 Words About Nature: Animals
50 Words About Nature: Bugs

Lily Holland and Debbie Powell

As an advocate for using the correct scientific terminology with young children I was excited to see this pair of books – the first two in the new series 50 Words About Nature – doing just that.
Animals takes a look at the whole of the animal kingdom – mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and molluscs giving examples of each including a tiger, alligator, dolphin, frog, beetle and octopus, in the process defining such words as carnivoreherbivore, vertebrates, invertebrates, primates, habitat, zoologists and extinct.

In similar fashion Bugs explores first insects, then arachnids and next returning to insects, focuses on several different beetles, including some like fireflies that are nocturnal. There’s a spread featuring nocturnal moths, another looking at pollinatorsand the final one introduces entomologists. Terms used include exoskeleton, antennae, proboscis, metamorphosis, arthropods,

elytra, carapace and telson. I don’t think I met those last three until I started studying biology at secondary school. However in my experience, small children love big words, will assimilate these in context herein and enjoy impressing adults by using such terms as bioluminescence and pollinators.

Integrated into the text, Debbie Powell’s illustrations are both arresting and realistic.

I Want To Be A Lion
I Want To Be A Monkey

Pintachan and Katie Woolley

It’s time to move with two additions to Pintachan and Katie Woolley’s Move and Play series for the very young. Get your little ones, be they at home or in an early years setting, pouncing, 

creeping, rolling, running, hiding away and yawning like a lion. If you’re at home cut out the mask, add string and your child will be even more lion-like especially if they also start with a few very loud roars.

Alternatively they might prefer to emulate a monkey; in which case the starting sound is ‘Ooo-ooo-ah! after which comes the more active scampering, rolling scratching, munching (bananas of course), climbing , swinging, leaping all of which can be combined into a lively monkey dance. What are you waiting for? …

Stuck for ideas? Scan the QR code inside the front covers. Pintachan’s bright art work and the engaging texts support the development of children’s imagination and their physical development, but above all they are fun.

A Child Like You / People Power: Peaceful Protests that Changed the World

A Child Like You
Na’ima B. Robert and Nadine Kaadan
Otter-Barry Books

Beautifully illustrated and presented, speaking directly in a sensitive, heartfelt manner to young readers, author Na’ima and illustrator Nadine celebrate the four children featured, whose actions will surely act as a rallying cry for all children, showing that no matter what, there is always hope.

Inspired by young campaigners and activists, Greta Thunberg, Yusra Maardini, Marley Dias 

and Iqbal Masih, the book highlights the issues of climate change, the refugee crisis, the under representation of black girls in children’s stories, child labour and enforced slavery. 

These four youngsters show the way that other children too – children like them – can also be the change, make the change happen and inspire others to make changes, to speak out strongly on behalf of the dispossessed and the oppressed – to stand up for human rights and make our world a better place for everyone.

A book for all KS1 classrooms.

People Power: Peaceful Protests that Changed the World
Rebecca June, illustrated by Ximo Abadia

Rebecca June and Ximo Abadia provide readers with a close up look at thirteen revolutionary movements that protested peacefully in various parts of the world, allocating two spreads to each one.

It’s amazing to think that in the UK women have had the vote for less than a century; ‘Votes for Women’ was the battle cry of the women’s suffrage movement on a march through the streets of London one rainy, wintry day in 1907 in what became known as the Mud March; but it took more than twenty years of protesting to achieve their goal.

It was women too, who campaigned peacefully by surrounding the US airbase in the English countryside where nuclear cruise missiles were stored. Their actions were an inspiration to anti-nuclear movements throughout the world.

There are examples of people power from other continents such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott where in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white woman and the boycott, which lasted a year, forced the city to change its rules on racial segregation on its buses. Sadly racial discrimination is still with us, both in the USA and throughout the world; hence the necessity for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations prompted by the unlawful killing of the African American, George Floyd by a police officer.

Environmental activists too have a place in this book with Greta Thunberg and her Fridays For Future movement involving young people; but new to me are the ‘Defenders of Pureora Forest’ whose protests against deforestation of this New Zealand tropical rainforest, an important site in Maori culture, saved the forest and led to the ending of felling by the New Zealand Government of all native forests owned by the state.

These and the other movements featured are described in Rebecca June’s straightforward, engaging but never preachy text, and Ximo Abadia’s stylised, often arresting illustrations, both of which convey the message that peaceful protest can effect change, every single voice matters and nobody is too young to start getting involved to make the future better for all of us; what’s needed is optimism, determination and a strong sense of hope.

An important book for primary classrooms everywhere.

The Secret Life of Oceans

The Secret Life of Oceans
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Lineker
Happy Yak

In this book, which is a mix of science and traditional stories from various parts of the world, we’re in the company of Tia the green turtle, famous for her swimming prowess and beautiful shell. Having introduced herself and told the story of how she was born, Tia takes readers on an exploration of some of the secrets of marine flora and fauna starting with those relating to sea turtles like herself and other turtles that live in the world’s various oceans (there’s a map showing these).

Diving down through the zones of the ocean all the way to the abyss, we encounter marine inhabitants large and small from giant squids and blue whales

to microscopic zooplankton and phytoplankton and sea-horses, to mention just a few.

Other topics are included such as ways of communicating – did you know that bottlenose dolphins each have their own unique whistle sound or that blue whales make low rumbling sounds that can travel as far as 3200 km through the water? There’s a look at the ocean’s gardens, the chilly, slippery stormy spots formed of ice and snow, an encounter with fearsome creatures with ferocious-looking teeth. And, we find out something about ocean currents, some special coastal features, what it’s like living and working by, and with, the sea.

Many of the spreads have a ‘can you spot’ feature to encourage younger readers to use their powers of observation. The two final spreads are devoted to the endangerment of turtles and what we humans can do to help them. There are also five traditional stories from various parts of the world.

With bright, bold illustrations infused with humour, and a thoughtfully presented, engaging text, this is enjoyable learning for primary children.

Animal FACTopia!

Animal FACTopia!
Julie Beer, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

You never quite know where your inquisitiveness might take you in this engaging and informative book. And you’ll assuredly find yourself laughing at some of the zaniest zoological facts you encounter, every one of which is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and every fact is linked to the next. Herein you will encounter – one way or another – creatures scaly, feathery, furry, silky smooth, from the microscopic to the massive, some friendly and others downright dangerous.

You will discover something about skin shedding spiny mice of the African kind, whistling walruses, purple-blooded peanut worms, blue-tonged skinks and lots more – weird and wonderful animals assuredly.

Coincidentally I came upon examples of bioluminescence three times in a single day: the first in this book:’ microscopic male crustaceans called ostracods vomit glowing mucus’ to attract partners.

Then the topic was mentioned in a David Attenborough programme I watched in the evening as well as in the novel I am currently enjoying.

Were you aware that certain monkeys floss their teeth with bird feathers? I wasn’t; nor did I know that ghost crabs have teeth in their stomachs to facilitate digestion or that Western painted turtles are able to hold their breath for four months. Amazing!
With a mix of photographs and Andy Smith’s cartoonish illustrations this will surely satisfy curious KS2 readers and entertain a great many adults too I suspect.

Ava Loves Rescuing Animals / Pedro Loves Saving the Planet

Ava Loves Rescuing Animals
Pedro Loves Saving the Planet

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These are additions to the Nature Heroes series where the focus is on a group of friends who love nature and being outdoors: essentially each one is a fact-filled picture book story.

In the first we meet Ava who lives with her grandparents They run an animal rescue centre that provides a temporary home for all kinds of animals, be they pets or wild creatures, large or small.
Accompanied by a tiny white mouse, Ava takes a walk around the centre and its environs as they head to the pet shop to buy hay for the animals soon to be cared for by her grandparents. On the way Ava stops at a pond containing frogs and lots of frogspawn and gives readers information on a frog’s life cycle and introduces some other amphibians.
We follow Ava on her ‘adventure’ during which she meets Pedro, the narrator of the next book,

and a lizard that narrowly escapes being run over by his cycle wheels. The entire walk turns into a fascinating learning journey for readers as they are introduced to various mammals – some of them record breakers, and find out about basic animal groups, ecosystems, habitats and more. Ava also meets another friend, Billy, who narrated Billy Loves Birds. Finally we discover the identity of the creatures that have just arrived at the rescue centre during their absence.

Pedro is an eco-warrior and in Pedro Loves Saving the Planet he and his older brother spend a day in the eco club’s new cabin. They choose to walk to their destination and encounter others who are using planet-friendly means of transport. Then once inside the cabin Pedro talks about renewable and non-renewable energy,

ways of saving water, points out that the cabin is built from sustainable materials, which leads on to a presentation of the 7 Rs (things that everyone should always keep in mind)) and other vital topics such as how to grow your own food, composting, the importance of trees, how to save energy at home, and the joys of being outside in green places.

Both books are illustrated by Duncan Beedie whose amusing art work underscores naturalist/vet Jess French’s informative, enjoyable texts. It’s never too early for young children to start learning about the importance of environmental care and the impact their actions have, both now and for the future. These books are spot on for foundation stage and KS1 class collections.

Migrants / What Is War?

What Is War?

Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

Both of these books are, sadly, hugely topical right now.

In Migrants, this sometimes emotive subject is explored in a matter of fact and dispassionate way. Eduard Altarriba explains that people have always been on the move since early humans migrated out of Africa to Europe and Asia more than a million years ago. He looks at borders between countries and why they exist, passports and visas that are required to cross them, how some countries colonised and created others, and discusses the reasons why migration might take place.

There is an excellent map showing the main migrant routes used in the last thirty five years. For some people it proves impossible to obtain the documents needed to cross borders so they have no option but to use often dangerous, unofficial routes and this leaves them open to exploitation by criminal gangs of traffickers.

The author covers the topic thoroughly yet succinctly, posing questions and answering them, progressing logically from one explanation to the next, with just the right amount of detail for older KS2 readers,

The same is true of What Is War? which is equally well-designed and illustrated. Altarriba’s approach is non-partisan and he explains that conflict between two clashing viewpoints, if unresolved through diplomacy or politics, may lead to violence and war. Disputes might be about borders or between different ethnicities, social or political groups within a country, in defence of national interests or historical grievances.

There are spreads about the principal actors involved, both national and international, the power brokers, the weapons and technology deployed. There’s a timeline stretching from ‘warring’ Neolithic hunters to the 20th century, a look at the types of war and the concept of a ‘just war’, a spread explores how a war might end and peace and mediation. This is followed by a brief look at the consequences of war both on individuals and societies.

The book concludes with three case studies: North Korea, the war in Syria and the war in Ukraine. War is a topic that, from questions they ask, worries many primary children, some of whom currently have Syrian and Ukrainian classmates.

I would strongly recommend adding both titles to upper primary class collections.

The Time Machine Next Door: Explorers and Milkshakes and The Time Machine Next Door: Scientists and Stripy Socks

The Time Machine Next Door: Explorers and Milkshakes
The Time Machine Next Door: Scientists and Stripy Socks

Iszi Lawrence, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley
Bloomsbury Education

These are the first of a new series of historical adventures for younger primary readers.
Explorers and Milkshakes begins with the announcement that Sunil is in BIG trouble. We soon find out that while at home alone he’s accidentally broken a prized gramophone record of his grandfather’s and needs to fix it at top speed before his parents discover what has happened.

It just so happens that next door lives the eccentric Alex, owner and inventor of a time machine: could this Boring Machine or BM as she calls it, provide a highly unusual solution to the boy’s problem?

Before you can say ‘belly button’ Sunil finds himself on a hair-raising trip during which he encounters the likes of famous astronaut Neil Armstrong, and then visiting Antarctica and meeting Ernest Shackleton and some of his fellow explorers (plus a cat) stranded as they head for the South Pole. BRRR!

All of this happens while Sunil is trying his utmost to steer clear of the strange Mr Shaykes and kiwi companion.

In Scientists and Stripy Socks, Mr Shaykes announces that his Interesting Machine is in need of repair and if Alex doesn’t fix it for him, the milkshake cafe will ‘go bust’. But then his mention of Charles Darwin arouses Sunil’s interest and off he sets on another time-travelling caper. He learns a considerable amount about earthworms thanks to Charles, as he asks Sunil to call him when they take tea together.

He also temporarily loses his toe when he meets physicist Isaac Newton; in fact he briefly loses several body parts in this adventure. The final part of this book includes a discussion with astronomer Caroline Herschel; but with Alex’s time machine increasingly unpredictable, will our intrepid adventurer get back before Sunil’s mum and dad come home?

Giggles aplenty await when you read these two wacky stories as well as a considerable amount of information. Iszi Lawrence offers an unusual and very entertaining way to introduce readers to famous people from history. Adding to the fun are Rebecca Bagley’s black and white illustrations.

The Who, What, Why of Zoology

The Who, What, Why of Zoology
Jules Howard and Lucy Letherland
Wide Eyed Editions

For youngsters with a budding interest in the study of animals ie zoology – this is for you, whether or not you have aspirations to become a zoologist.

The author starts by defining zoology and explaining what zoologists do and then takes a quick look back over the past hundred or so years at how the work of zoologists has changed with the help of ever-developing technology.

Readers then join the scientists working in the field and visit different biomes around the world and this is where the book differs from the many others about environmental regions in that it provides an insight into the role played by zoologists in the world today.

We start with temperate forests, then take a we look at tropical rainforests, deserts,

grasslands including savannahs, the tundra, and then dive down to underwater reefs and beyond, to the ocean floor.

For each region, the book explores the kind of terrain, introduces some of the animals who live there, provides some interesting facts related to those animals, and looks at the work zoologists do in that region, and how they go about it.

After all the exploring we return to the laboratories to see zoologists working not in the field but using high-tech equipment to further their research.

We also find out about the role museums, zoos and aquariums play in the area of zoology. Throughout Lucy Netherland’s illustrations illuminate the text and also offer gentle humorous touches in each spread.

The book ends with a reminder that zoology is for everyone and, with quotes from some of today’s great zoologists, offers pointers in how young readers can start out on their own zoological adventures.

Fascinating, informative and pitched just right for older primary readers and above.

Wanna See A Penguin? / The Lost Leopard

Wanna See A Penguin?
Simon Philip and Ian Smith
Oxford Children’s Books

A self-declared penguin expert and friend search the city for penguins; they see all kinds of black and white creatures striped ones, furry ones,

animals with fins, horned ones, ones with hooves, four-legged animals and others but none of the eight fit all the penguin criteria. Is there actually a penguin anywhere around?

Yes indeed and that is what makes this book such fun. Hiding in plain sight in every scene is the animal the friends seek. Young listeners will love searching the pages to find its whereabouts as well as guessing the identity of the partially shown animal on each spread and laughing at the misidentifications of the so called penguin pundit.

The author’s manner of telling is gently humorous – the ending a hoot – and Ian Smith’s delightfully droll illustrations include lots of amusing details.
There’s a fact file after the story presenting a paragraph each on the zebra, puffin, duck-billed platypus, monkey, orca, goat and dog that appear in the story.,

The Lost Leopard
Jonny Marx and Xuan Le
Little Tiger

We join Flora and Fauna (dubbed the ‘world’s greatest explorers) and their baby, Bud, on their search for the elusive clouded leopard.

Their journey takes them to various habitats along a river,

over foothills and up the Himalayan mountains, through forests and jungles and a rainforest; even down into caves. Needless to say there’s an awful lot of mud and not everywhere is accessible by road so their quest involves a lot of walking; walking through rain and snow, strong swirly winds and scorching heat until they finally arrive at a tropical forest location.

During their travels they encounter a wealth of amazing wildlife including yaks, langur monkeys, Bengal tigers,Indian elephants,

a King cobra, all labelled. Truly an epic journey but do they find what they have been searching for? Baby Bud has certainly learned a lot and so will youngsters who explore this exciting book.

Xuan Le’s vibrant detailed illustrations, which include lift the flap sections, cutaway pages, die cut surprises and a gate fold, extend Jonny Marx’s engaging, informative text making this a book that is probably best shared with an individual child or small group as there is so much to explore on every spread. Individual, more confident young solo readers will also love embarking on the adventure with Flora, Fauna and little Bud.

Who Owns the Woods? / Above and Below: Sea and Shore

Here are two recent picture books about the natural world from Little Tiger – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Who Owns the Woods?
Emily Hibbs and Jess Mason

A boy and his grandma go exploring in the woods and as they walk, the child asks ‘who owns’ various natural things. Could it be one of the tiny animals they stop to observe – the spiders spinning their webs perhaps, or the butterflies with their beautifully patterned wings. 

Perhaps the woods belong to the magnificent stag, a fox or … maybe the boy himself is the owner of all those magnificent trees.

Not so, says his wise grandma; nobody can claim ownership of this particular area of woodland forest with its wealth of awe-inspiring flora and fauna; it is there for the enjoyment of every single person and moreover, as the boy himself confirms, it needs to be shown respect and treated with care.

What is needed is stewardship not ownership; that is the key message in this book beautifully illustrated by Jess Mason. Her scenes truly evoke the magic and tranquility of these special places. I really like the way the branches of the trees speak to readers serving to re-inforce the all important theme of Emily’s Hibb’s text.

Above and Below: Sea and Shore
Harriet Evans and Hannah Bailey

Now published in paperback, this is one of an excellent spilt page, lift-the-flap natural history series; it explores ocean habitats below and above the waves taking readers to such locations as the coastline, a sub-aquatic kelp forest, polar oceans and an estuary. There’s a visit to a tropical shore, a coral reef, a mangrove swamp and more.

The information comes in bite-sized portions making it accessible to EYFS and KS1 audiences. Children will be fascinated to discover that for instance, a lobster tastes with its legs and has teeth in its stomach and that in the forests of a mangrove swamp is a grey-headed flying fox with a wingspan of 1.5 metres, making it one of the world’s largest bat species.

The spilt pages work well providing as the title indicates, above and below views of the locations featured, each being beautifully illustrated with lots of detail: there’s so much to see.

This is a book that celebrates the natural world and gives a real sense of the sheer diversity of life in our oceans and rivers and on our shores.

Super Small / The Versatile Reptile

Super Small
Tiffany Stone and Ashley Spires
Greystone Kids

You may be surprised to learn that some of the world’s smallest creatures have awesome superpowers.

The minute oribatid mite can lift more than 1,000 times its own weight. The pygmy seahorses are so good at camouflage that scientists only discovered them accidentally when they brought some coral into a lab to study; then there’s the bee hummingbird that’s able to fly backwards and upside-down – clever stuff!

Did you know that wood frogs are able to survive harsh winter conditions as ‘frogsicles’ – they stop breathing, their hearts stop beating and their bodies make a kind of protective antifreeze and as for those teeny tiny tardigrades, here’s what author Tiffany Stone has to say about them: ‘The tardigrade, or water bear, / is so small that its barely there. / … And bear in mind, although it’s wee, / it’s tougher that you’ll ever be. / Freezing cold or boiling hot— / too much to bear? This bear thinks not.’

Ashley Spires uses her artistic superpower to illustrate each featured creature, making every miniature marvel appear super-confident; and to accompany her poetic descriptions Tiffany Stone provides some side-notes in the form of animal monologues (or dialogue) presented in comic strip style side panels. This is a book that will appeal to animal enthusiasts especially.

So will:

The Versatile Reptile
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron

In this addition to the rhyming series in which Nicola Davies presents a look at various animal types, we meet some reptiles.

Reptiles are found in many different parts of the world as the young adventurer in this book discovers in her search. These scaly creatures might be jungle dwellers, live in desert places or swim in the seas among the seaweed, and can vary in size from massive to minute and from endearing to downright grim and ghastly. 

One thing the entire reptile group can claim though, is versatility. 

Abbie Cameron’s accurately detailed, close-up illustrations really drive that point home to readers who will one hopes enjoy coming face to face with such fascinating creatures. This reviewer certainly did.

Perfectly pitched for KS1 readers.

A Little Dose of Nature / Look What I Found: On the Farm

A Little Dose of Nature
Dr. Alison Greenwood and Anneli Bray
Ivy Kids

Written by psychologist, Dr Alison Greenwood who has set up a charity called Dose of Nature, this book as the cover says, suggests ‘outdoor fun to help happiness bloom’. To improve mental health and wellbeing, twenty five activities are suggested for children (and adults), all to be done outside in the natural world, well away from the distractions of social media, computer games etc.

First though the author states that nature has five active ingredients that are of benefit to humans; these will give us more energy, improve concentration and sleep, help us to relax, and to be in a better mood. These include fractal patterns, nature’s sounds, phytoncides (natural chemicals), soil bacteria and sunlight. I expect some of these science terms will be unfamiliar to younger children and Alison pitches her explanations at just the right level. The book has five main sections, entitled Nature’s Fractals, The Science of Sounds, Fresh Air, Soil

and Soak Up the Sunshine!

Who could fail to connect with nature as they collect and arrange natural objects to create a mandala – in my experience children love to do this.

The same is true of getting messy by sculpting animals using sludgy mud or running around barefoot in a muddy patch and then comparing the experience with walking barefoot on grass.

Brilliant for forest school and outdoor science. I love that Alison’s final words include paragraphs on awe and what she calls ‘wow moments’.
Anneli Bray’s detailed illustrations are an inclusive delight and certainly make this particular book stand out from others on the theme of appreciating the great outdoors..

Look What I Found: On the Farm
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

Bursting with information, this is the third title in a series published in collaboration with the National Trust.
Readers join the three young adventurers on a new expedition one spring day as they investigate their surroundings while following the path through the fields. Each in turn exclaims in the rhyming narrative, “Look what I found!”

excitedly showing the others and readers the discovery, be it animal related, such as a tuft of sheep’s wool or a feather, or plant-related like the fluffy head of dandelion seeds.

Another engaging mix of story, non-fiction and search-and-find, illustrated by Jesús Verona whose scenes of the natural world, both the close-ups and landscapes are immersive.

Recommended for family bookshelves and KS1 class collections, especially if you want to encourage children to get outside and explore their surroundings.

Baby Owl

Baby Owl
Anne Rooney and Qu Lan
Oxford Children’s Books

The adorable-looking white fluffy owlet that emerges from an egg, the Baby Owl featured in this book doesn’t stay like that for long. With Daddy owl’s hunting and feeding regime, the owlets soon outgrow the nest, venturing out onto the tree branches. Baby Owl however, isn’t quite ready to catch his own insects. He ends up on the forest floor in a heap and has to climb all the way back to the nest by means of his sharp beak and claws.

Soon though, the owl parents leave their little ones to hunt for their own dinner and off goes Baby Owl in search of food.

Flying is fun, he decides and eventually with mouse in beak, back he goes to show his parents his prey. After consuming same, he settles down and falls asleep warmed by the rising sun..

As with previous titles in the series, young children will absorb quite a bit of information from the well-written narrative but characteristic of the Amazing Animal Tales are the flaps beneath which additional facts are presented as well as occasional questions, which add to the book’s interactive nature. In this one, youngsters will learn that an owl can turn its head nearly all the way round and can see all of its own back. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this is certainly one to add to early years collections.

Super Poopers

Super Poopers
Alex Woolf and Isobel Lundie
Little Tiger

The topic of poo almost invariably raises interest in young readers and this book will surely do so with its humorous approach to those often whiffy bodily emanations. Before you turn your nose up though, consider this statement that concludes the author’s introduction: ‘In short, there seems to be no end to human and animal ingenuity when it comes to finding uses for poo’.
A fair bit of ingenuity is also presented between the covers of this collaboration between author Alex Woolf and illustrator Isobel Lundie.

They start by presenting a handful or two of the weirdest facts about creatures and their poop. Did you know for instance that a hippopotamus whirls its tail while pooing. The result being flying faeces (sometimes reaching as high as 10 metres) that can be used to mark their territory and to show off to the opposite sex. 

Imagine being a pitcher plant in the vicinity of a mountain tree shrew; said animals use pitcher plants as toilets, which is of mutual benefit: the plant receives nutrients in the poo and the shrew licks the plant’s nectar.

Child readers may well be aware that poo makes a fantastic fertiliser – there’s a spread on that topic herein – but how many are aware of some of the things it can be used to make. For instance there’s a company in Thailand aptly named Poo Poo Paper that uses elephant poo to make paper. Of course, the pong is removed during a process of boiling that also disinfects the pulp before it’s mixed with plant fibres, spread on mesh trays and left to bake in the sun. The result is paper. Apparently one elephant’s daily dung dump is sufficient for over 100 sheets of paper. 

There’s also a luxury coffee that uses beans collected from the poo of Asian palm civets and it’s said to cost way, way more than your usual cup of coffee. I don’t think I’ll be trying that though.

Covering twelve topics in all, Alex Woolf’s playful, punning text is both fascinating – yes really – and full of amazing information and includes such topics as diverse as ancient fossilised faeces and what it can teach us, and ways poo can or might be utilised to produce power for heating, lighting and even vehicle fuel. In keeping with the tone of the verbal content, Isobel Lundie’s bright, detailed visuals are appropriately amusing and the resulting combination is sure to produce giggles aplenty in readers.

Meet The Weather

Meet the Weather
Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Team Hart and Woollvin follow their introductions to the planets and the oceans with an opportunity for young children to go adventuring a third time and find out about different kinds of weather. Meet the Weather sees a little girl and her canine companion soaring through the sky in a magical hot air balloon. On their journey they’ll meet shape-shifting clouds, wild whooping whooshing winds, lightning along with booming thunder, a destructive tornado that twirls and whirls sending everything in its path skywards. 

Then there’s the cold murky fog with its damp greyness; 

the snow that can transform the land into a carpet of white, the radiant sunshine that makes the world joyful; the vital rain to refresh the natural world and help it grow, and finally perhaps most beautiful of all, a glorious rainbow where the sun meets the raindrops.

Young children will love copying the various onomatopoeic sounds Caryl includes in her rhyming text and enjoy exploring the land- and sky-scapes presented in Bethan’s dramatic, vividly coloured illustrations in this book which provides a subtle STEM lesson woven into a fun story.

So You Want to be a Frog

So You Want to Be a Frog
Jane Porter and Neil Clark
Walker Books

In her follow-up to So You Want to Be an Owl, author Jane Porter presents what it takes to be a frog. Should you decide to give it a try, you may be surprised to learn that it requires a considerable number of skills; so says Frog Club leader, Fabio Frog. Happily he is on hand to provide support and information via a set of rules..

First off, (remember there are several stages in your life-cycle) you will need to work on your wriggling. Then, once you’ve lost that tail, jumping is an important way of moving and your tongue becomes a vital part of your anatomy – it’s very useful for catching flies. Did you know, that should you manage to catch a fly, your eyeballs will push the food down your throat? Although if slugs are more appealing, they’re another live option (no self-respecting frog would eat anything already dead).

You’ll also need to be able both to breathe underwater (there’s a fuzzy-looking Hairy Frog’ that has hairs to help) and ‘drink through your skin’.

Colour is another consideration – not all frogs are green like Fabio, although there are a fair few green species in various parts of the world. Others though don’t even live in ponds: a few are desert dwellers, others high in the branches of tropical trees.

Quite a number are poisonous too, so beware.

As always Jane Porter’s love of nature shines through in her writing, which is highly engaging and fun for young readers. Cleverly integrated with the text are Neil Clark’s amusing, detailed illustrations. A considerable amount of verbal and visual information is to be found between the pages of this non-fiction picture book. One last word or several: croaking and ribbiting are not the only froggy sounds, but to discover other possibilities, you’ll need to get your own front limbs on a copy of Jane and Neil’s book.

Scientists in the Wild: Galápagos

Scientists in the Wild: Galápagos
Helen Scales and Rômolo D’Hipólito
Flying Eye Books

Along with a team of seven scientists from around the world who have a variety of special interests and expertise, readers are invited aboard the research ship, Sula, the aim being to study the flora and fauna of the Galápagos Islands, especially those unique to the archipelago.

Their tasks will include counting penguins: high numbers indicate that the population is healthy, What they find on this first stop is that nearly half the penguins they see are juveniles; this is good for it means the adults are breeding well.

The next job, after measuring a tiger shark is to attach a satellite tag to the creature and then track its movements. On the same island is a cove: a good stopping point for some underwater filming of the sea lions with a focus on what fish they’re eating.
The islands are home to a large variety of iguana species, one of which is very rare and the team stop off on one to count the endangered Pink land iguanas. Much, much tinier are the microscopic phyto- and zooplankton that play a crucial part in feeding the marine life around the islands.

The richness of the subaquatic flora and fauna attracts huge animals to the Galápagos to feed including sperm whales and one of the team wants to try and discover what it is these whales are communicating to one another.

It’s impossible to mention all the team investigates in a short review but readers find out about such topics as climatic conditions, a successful breeding programme of almost extinct Espania tortoises; there are spreads about Darwin and how the islands inspired his On the Origin of Species; the underwater volcanoes and their ‘mysterious’ ecosystems; and the final spread presents on going work in the Galápagos islands.

Helen Scales, herself a marine biologist, writes in an engaging manner, holding the reader’s interest throughout. I was excited to find the spread on Blue-footed boobies having loved Rob Biddulph’s picture book that starred the bird.

Stylish, detailed illustrations by Rômolo D’Hipólito play an equal part in conveying the science and keeping readers absorbed.

Who Ate All The Bugs?

Who Ate All The Bugs?
Matty Long
Oxford Children’s Books

Doing something rather different, though still in his trademark zany style, Matty Long, creator of the Super Happy Magic Forest series takes a look at the food chain, courtesy of his minibeast narrator, Snail. The mollusc is on the trail of a dastardly killer and is determined to track down whoever is destroying bugs all over the place and bring them to justice. No help is forthcoming from any of her buggy companions so she just has to go it alone.

Bird is quick to proclaim his innocence

so Snail moves on, stopping off in the cabbage patch for a bit of sustenance and to question the bugs she finds there.

Eschewing Grasshopper’s advice to “let it go’ she creeps through the grass to accuse her next suspect, Snake. Wrong again! However Snail isn’t giving up that easily so she heads next to the greenhouse to confront her final suspect.

The arachnid isn’t guilty though, so should Snail finally take notice of Glow-worm’s insistence that “You can’t fight the food chain.” Time for some serious thinking on Snail’s part.

That’s not quite the end of this scientific story but is it perhaps the end of our justice-seeker? She might just have found out the hard way … Try asking a certain amphibian.

A slice of scientific learning served up in a deliciously funny manner that will surely have both children and adults chortling. Make that two slices – the final double spread provides additional buggy facts and the bug hunt activity page will likely send youngsters back to the start to track down the minibeasts in various stages of their life cycles. For this adult reviewer Who Ate All The Bugs is perhaps my favourite of Matty’s picture books so far.

If I Were The World

If I Were The World
Mark Sperring and Natelle Quek
Bloomsbury Publishing

By making it sound personal this book really gets across the crucial messages about our precious environment and climate change. Written in rhyme and using ‘If I were the world’ repeatedly to introduce topics including plastic pollution, the toxicity of fossil fuel gases, the loss of animal species for various reasons, over-fishing of the oceans and catastrophe-causing climate change Mark Sperring presents the harmful things we are doing to our planet.

Then comes a rallying cry, “It’s time to take ACTION! We must do ALL WE CAN!” and the focus shifts to what can be done by each and every one of us to heal the damage. Things like recycling our waste, stopping deforestation, the greening of cities by planting seeds really can make a difference. Either we do so or the harm will definitely be irrevocable.

Natelle Quek uses three children to champion the environmental cause showing them first witnessing the harms mentioned in the words and then participating in the actions called for. Her illustrations are powerful and arresting, causing the reader to stop and look carefully at the wealth of detail included in each one

and in so doing extending the already impactful text. A smashing book both to share in primary classrooms and with individuals at home.

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular
Polly Owen and Gwen Millward
Wide Eyed Editions

Charles Darwin is famous for his contribution to the understanding of evolutionary biology in particular his ‘On the Origin of Species’ but I wonder how many people are aware of his intense fascination with earthworms and the work he did on that topic.

Darwin was convinced that these little creatures were under-rated by the scientists of the Victorian era, many of whom considered them mere pests. So, he set about discovering their ‘superpower’. He tested their eyesight; but realised that worms don’t have eyes, then, their hearing – no ears either. What he found was that rather than eyes and ears, earthworms possess receptors in their skin that can sense not only light and dark but also vibrations.

In addition they could sense the smell of foods they liked but none of these could he really rate as a superpower.

However, Darwin’s abiding interest led him to chance upon the lowly earthworm’s superpower. Their poo helps make soil healthier but he only managed to persuade people after he’d paid a visit to Stonehenge and then received some ‘poo help’ from friends in various parts of the world. Eventually he described them as ‘nature’s plough’ and at last the people at his presentation began to take notice of what Darwin was saying: these worms feed all the plants humans depend upon.

This is such an entertaining way to introduce child readers to the methodical manner in which Darwin conducted his experiments. I really enjoyed the inclusion of a bespectacled worm’s viewpoint on Darwin’s experiments as will youngsters. Polly’s text has the perfect complement in Gwen Millward’s engaging illustrations.

(The final spread gives facts about earthworms in general and includes mention of the Earthworm Society and links to relevant websites) Absorbing and fun, this is science writing for children at its best.

Celebrate With Me!

Celebrate With Me!
ed. Laura Gladwin, illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
Magic Cat

Twenty five creative people including chefs, artists, storytellers and designers from various parts of the world, have a double spread in which to present their favourite festival. Each person provides an introduction telling what makes their chosen festival special for them. Some festivals have a fixed date and others vary each year and the book starts with New Year’s Day and closes with New Year’s Eve. It introduces readers to some of the less frequently mentioned festivals and celebrations as well as presenting some that are well-known including Diwali, Eid-Al-Fitr and Easter. I had not come across Juneteenth before reading baker and food justice advocate, Michael Platt’s spread on the celebration.

Since food is such an important festival component, every one includes a recipe (to be used under adult supervision) – some are sweet, others savoury – as well as an art/craft activity, a story, song, game or something else that for each presenter, is part and parcel of their personal way of celebrating.

The book concludes with a look at some birthday traditions around the world and a spread suggesting readers ask those they know some festival related questions.

Diversity is key in this invitingly illustrated book. It’s a great way to learn about a variety of cultures and to help readers feel connected to the cycle of the year and to other people.

5 Minute Nature Stories

5 Minute Nature Stories
Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Mona K
Magic Cat

Nine lyrically written stories about various key topics demonstrate the interconnectedness of the natural world. Starting with The Mystery of Mushrooms, poet and science writer Gabby Dawnay presents first a story and then the key facts about each of her chosen subjects. Her mushroom story begins with the distribution of spores scattered by the wind across the forest floor where, in the moss they start to create a network that grows and spreads underground until up pop a cluster of little mushrooms ready to start the cycle over again.

Making links with the underground mycelium by means of a partnership called mutualism, are the roots of the trees that also form an invisible subterranean web, we learn of in The Wood Wide Web.

Next to make an appearance is a group of Red Deer that forage on the fruits, bark and foliage of the woodland terrain that gives them a protective environment. These majestic creatures sing The song of the Deer, the chorus of which is, “This forest is ours / and together we’re strong. / In the meadows we roam, / in the woods we belong!”

Meanwhile, high up in the branches is a nest upon which sits an adult starling, until that is, three baby birds hatch from their eggs. Thereafter Mama Bird flies off to seek worms in response to their call for food. That she will do until some months later, they are ready to fend for themselves. Then comes The Flight of the Starlings as this story is called.

Other tales are of the metamorphosis of frogs, the amazing seven year long ‘feast’ of the stag beetle, the honeybee’s dance, photosynthesis as seen through the eyes of a little grey rabbit and finally, we encounter the tiger moth that uses moonlight to orientate and guide her nocturnal flight to find a mate – it’s called transverse orientation.

Each story is illustrated by Mona K whose natural world scenes are an appealing mix of realism and anthropomorphism. A lovely book to share.

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers
Christina Couch and Cara Giaimo, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Walker Books (MIT Kids Press)

This fascinating book introduces animals large and small, each one having been selected because it has the ability to perform a specific task such as testing treated water, or has a special highly developed sense.

There are eight main topics, one per chapter and readers are also given briefer notes on many others. First we learn of a dog named Eba, trained to help a human killer whale biologist track endangered orcas. Eba is ‘possibly the only dog in the world trained to sniff killer whale poop’. Then there’s Cynthia, a ferret living underground in Leicester. One of fifty, their task is to help humans run cables through ‘skinny underground pipes and replacing pipes when they break.’ This they do by means of their whiskers.

Rosita is a goat – a risk abatement goat – one of a herd that climb over the rocky hills of Southern California, eating dried-out bushes, grasses and other dried-out plants, thus removing fuel sources for small fires which could get out of control, as well as creating paths that are helpful for human firefighters coming to put out flames.

Did you know that since 2002 researchers working on the ICARUS project have used tracking tags placed on thousands of animals the world over and monitored from space as a means of predicting earthquakes. One such is a cow named Bertha in Italy; in 2016 she was able to sense an imminent earthquake.

Each chapter is followed by a related ‘activity’ for children to try out. These include simple guided experiments to test their abilities to for instance follow a scent trail or use echolocation.

All the creatures mentioned help their human co-workers tackle real-world problems like pollution and global warming but sometimes there are ethical considerations and the authors don’t overlook these.

In addition to the colour photos, Daniel Duncan provides some gently humorous illustrations;

and the source notes and bibliography are excellent. Altogether an engaging and enlightening book.

Whose Tracks in the Snow?

Whose Tracks in the Snow?
Alexandra Milton
Boxer Books

‘Look! Look! / Tracks in the snow!’ is the cry on each alternate spread in this gorgeously illustrated book that introduces readers first to the footprints and then having described the chief characteristics of the prints, ‘Tracks like hearts, Tracks in two lines’, asks them to guess who left those marks, ‘by the snow-covered pines?’

The black smudgy marks each time are a close facsimile of what children would see in the natural world and a small glimpse of a part of each animal provides an additional clue, in this instance, the dark brown tip of a lighter brown tail. The page turn reveals the answer—‘A shy red deer’—and some information about the creature depicted in all its glory.

The rhyming text with its repeat refrain is a joy to read aloud, the descriptions of the tracks are superb ‘Tracks with lines, / Tracks like a kite’ are those of a waddling wild duck,

‘Tracks like diamonds …’ refer to those made by the bushy-tailed fox’, but it is Alexandra Milton’s exquisite collage illustrations at every turn of the page that are the real show stoppers. Just look closely at the snow with its variations in colour and small portions of shading. Six animals, six landscapes and each a joy to behold.

What a wonderful way to entice youngsters out into the woods on a snowy day for some track-spotting. (The back endpapers show life size tracks of the six animals – pheasant, duck, fox, hare, deer and squirrel.)

My First Book of Electromagnetism

My First Book of Electromagnetism
Eduard Altarriba and Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferron
Button Books

In their usual stellar way author Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferron and illustrator Eduard Altarriba present another STEM topic – that of electromagnetism, broken down into bite-sized portions suitable for primary readers.

In our modern world it’s almost impossible to think of many things that work without either electricity or magnetism but what actually are these physical phenomena and how do they work together? Furthermore, what do these things have to do with light? These and many other questions are explored in this fascinating book.

To relate the story of electromagnetism and our developing understanding of it, the author takes us way back to circa 600BCE to when Thales of Miletus’s first experiment with magnetic attraction when by rubbing a small piece of amber on some fur, he noticed a strange force that could attract small pieces of straw. Moving on we encounter Benjamin Franklin, an 18th century American scientist who worked on the idea of electrical charge in his experiments.

Until the work of Ørsted and of Ampère people thought electricity and magnetism were unrelated; those two experimented during the latter part of the 18th and first half of the 19th century.

That brings us right through to Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell unifying the fields of magnetism and electricity to develop the theory of electromagnetism. Because of Faraday’s poor background, what was his original idea was left to Maxwell to write the four famous basic equations describing all electric and magnetic phenomena.

At intervals during this exciting account, readers can pause and do some experiments for themselves. These include making an electroscope to test for electric charge, creating a homemade battery and constructing a working motor.

It’s not simple science that’s described herein but it’s made accessible, engaging and exciting for children, and is presented in a way that will help them understand. Using his design background, Eduard has created enticing illustrations and helpful info-graphics to complement the text.

Recommended for budding scientists either at home or in school.

Little Elephant / Little Platypus

Little Elephant
Anna Brett and Carmen Saldaña
Little Platypus
Anna Brett and Rebeca Pintos

In the first of these additions to the Really Wild Families series, Anna Brett takes readers to the African Savannah, home to Little Elephant (our narrator) and family to spend a day with the elephant herd comprising fifteen elephants, almost all of which are female, the oldest and most knowledgeable being Grandma. The youngest member of the herd is a two day old cousin of the narrator.

We see how the elephants search for and eat their food, meet some of the other animal inhabitants of the savannah and then head for the watering hole to drink and have some fun too, all under the watchful eye of Grandma.

It’s she that sounds the trumpet alarm call warning of a lion in the vicinity: time for the adult elephants to form a protective circle around the calves until the danger is over. There’s information about the role of tusks, ways of communicating and more, until at sundown, members of the herd stop to rest for the night.

Following the simple narrative are some additional elephant facts, information about elephant conservation, a case study and some activities. Carmen Saldaña illustrates this one, supporting the information well.

Belonging to a much smaller family (a mother and her two young ones) and living tucked away in a burrow on a riverbank in eastern Australia is Little Platypus, a nocturnal animal. It’s Little Platypus’s voice that tells readers about platypuses’ physical features, habits and habitat, reproduction and how they are born,

what they eat and how they survive. Males such as Little Platypus have a spur on each back leg that is able to release venom in dangerous situations.
Again Anna Brett’s manner of presenting the information is well pitched for young children and Rebeca Pintos’s illustrations are beautifully executed, playful and alluring. The backmatter is similar to the previous book though platypus related.
Like the elephant title, the few photos are especially useful as both illustrators have made their animals look rather more endearing than realistic.

A Dinosaur A Day

A Dinosaur A Day
Miranda Smith, illustrated by Jenny Wren, Juan Calle, Xuan Le, Max Rambaldi and Olga Baumert
Red Shed

Imagine being able to encounter a different dinosaur, or other prehistoric animal, every day for a whole year. That’s what you can do if you plunge into this prehistoric extravaganza. Herein, after a general introductory spread, you will meet all your favourites such as the fearsome Tyrannosaurus, the club-tailed Ankylosaurus and the plant-eating Triceratops and Diplodocus. You’ll also encounter a great many unfamiliar creatures, some of which have only recently been discovered: I have to admit the majority were new names to me.

One such is Aquilops, one of the beaked dinosaurs. It was a herbivore about the size of a cat with a skull smaller than the hand of a human. Another small herbivore was the Nqwebasaurus (found in what is now Southern Africa) Amazingly so we read, ‘fossils have been found with gastroliths in the stomach – stones it swallowed to help grind up tough plant food,’

As well as dividing the contents by months, the author also uses dinosaur groups – examples are: ‘some of the smallest’, ‘duck-billed dinosaurs’, ‘horn-faced dinosaurs’ and ‘largest of them all’. Surprising to me was that all those included here were herbivorous. One such Antarctosaurus never chewed its food, rather it swallowed plants whole.

Key facts for each dinosaur featured include the period it lived, the family it belonged to, diet, length, weight anywhere remains have been found; and there is also a brief paragraph giving key information ; and helpfully, the backmatter includes a pronunciation guide.

If you have a dinosaur fanatic or a budding palaeontologist in your family then you should definitely get a copy of this book. It’s also one to add to school collections: I envisage it being in much demand especially with KS2 readers.

Ballet Kids

Ballet Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

Before the title page we meet a small boy holding up a doll dressed in ballet attire, who introduces himself thus, ‘I’m Thomas, and I want to be a ballet kid.’

He then goes on to share with readers in a straightforward manner, the events of a ballet class day. Having dressed up warm as befits the snowy day and packed his ballet shoes, off he goes to the dance studio clutching mum’s hand. He introduces us to each of the friends he meets on the way, all of whom are heading to the class too.

Once there, with their ballet shoes on, the children start their lesson. Thomas takes readers through the warm up, and the various moves, describing the exercises,

defining ballet terms, while speech bubbles provide comments from the young participants. Mr Elliot, their teacher is enormously encouraging as are the children one to another and then with Christmas approaching, the pupils choose outfits and thus, roles for the winter show, a performance of The Nutcracker. Thomas picks out what he thinks is the most wonderful costume he’s ever seen. “You’re the Sugar Plum Fairy”, Mr Elliot tells him and puts on the music for him to dance. When it’s time to leave Thomas has started feeling butterflies in his tummy but they’re soon allayed by his teacher’s words, “Just listen and move with the music, the magic will come from within.” And it most certainly does …

In her inclusive illustrations, Holly Sterling captures that magic and the sheer joy of the young dancers both in their class and as they perform the winter show. Young audiences will surely be swept up in that enchantment, especially the aspiring dancers among them.

History’s Biggest Show-Offs

History’s Biggest Show-Offs
Andy Seed, illustrated by Sam Caldwell
Happy Yak

What is it about some people that makes them want to show off about their achievements? Have you ever wondered who the biggest braggers of all time might be? If so then Andy Seed has done the work for you, presenting in his lighthearted style, the flashiest boasters in the history of humankind.

The book is divided into three main parts entitled People in Charge, People Who Think Up Stuff and People Who Create Things; however if readers prefer they can look instead at different time periods: ancient (c.6000 BCE to 500 CE), post-classical (c.500-1500 CE), early modern (c1500 – 1800 CE) and modern (c. 1800 to the present).

We’re introduced to eleven rulers, five of whom were women. These include Hatshepsut, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Tarabai who at just twenty five, took over the leadership of the Marathas after the death of her husband and proceeded to show off her military skills to overcome the Mughals; and Christina of Sweden, she who was super-brainy and loved to read. Among the men was Mansu Musa who when on Haj, took 12, 000 servants each with a bag of gold to give away en route to Mecca.

Those with a scientific or technological bent include the first ever computer programmer, Ada Lovelace

and Ynes Mexia, an intrepid plant collector from the early 20th C who discovered 500 new species and had fifty plants named after her. Having studied at Brunel University, I have to mention the ace engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, with help from his father, built the first ever tunnel beneath a river (The Thames) and who sadly died before his exceedingly costly Clifton Suspension Bridge was finished.
Finally come the creative types: Ustad Ahmad Lahori was asked by Shah Jahan to create a building in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz and that’s how the magnificent Taj Mahal came to be. Another show-off architect Antoni Gaudi is famous for Barcelona’s still unfinished Sagrada Familia.

There’s a wealth of bling too, as Andy Seed’s humorous writing brings all these and more back to life and he’s even included some quizzes to ramp up the fun. Talking of fun, Sam Caldwell’s zany illustrations certainly add more of that in abundance: even the timeline will make readers giggle.

Black Swans

Black Swans
Laurel van der Linde and Sawyer Cloud
Sunbird Books

The six brilliant Black ballet dancers almost leap right off the pages of this show-stoppingly illustrated, narrative non-fiction book.

First we are introduced to Essie Marie Dorsey who although she never made it as a ballet dancer herself on account of her colour, made sure that others could by opening her own dance school in Philadelphia – The Essie Marie Dorsey School of Dancing; and to get Black parents to enrol their children, she went knocking on their doors asking them to send their offspring as pupils and so they did.

Next is Arthur Mitchell; such was his skill at ballet, that he attracted the attention of George Balanchine, artistic director of New York City Ballet and was invited to join the company, eventually becoming the first Black principal dancer. Even then it wasn’t plain sailing for in 1957 an audience deemed it unacceptable for a Black man to dance with a white woman. Some twelve years later using his own money, Arthur co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem ballet company.

Christian Holder moved to England aged seven with his family, then later attended the New York High School of Performing Arts. His talent was noted by the choreographer Robert Joffrey and as principal dancer, he had to face racial prejudice but it was his partner, not Christian who was replaced.

Dwight Rhoden too was held back on account of his skin colour, but as a choreographer went on to cofound Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Last come two women, Misty Copeland who in 2015 became the first Black ballerina to be Principal Dancer of American Ballet Theatre and finally Michaela DePrince who when a very young orphan in Sierra Leone saw a magazine picture of a ballerina.

When she was adopted by a family from New Jersey she went on to become a star dancer of Boston Ballet.

Ground breakers all and each of these dance lovers achieved greatness by overcoming obstacles through self belief, determination and of course, amazing talent.

A lovely book to inspire youngsters to follow their dreams, whether or not that involves dance.

Baby Polar Bear

Baby Polar Bear
Anne Rooney and Qu Lan
Oxford Children’s Books

In this latest of the Amazing Animal series, we follow a recently born Baby Polar Bear cub and her twin as they take their first forays away from the Arctic den their mother has built. They’re a playful pair and both stay close to Mummy Bear as they frolic in the thick snow.

One morning their mother leads them away from the den on a long journey across the icy terrain. The little ones take care not to stray too far away in case of wolves.

Eventually they reach the sea and the cubs delight in chasing the birds and Baby Bear takes a tumble into the chilly water. Brrrrr! After some splashing for a while, it’s time for the cubs to snuggle up together under the star-filled sky. All this is told in the narrative part of the text while facts about the bears are found beneath the gate-fold flaps of this cleverly designed book.

The illustrations are gorgeous and Anne Rooney’s engaging text with its interactive element, is pitched perfectly for the intended young audience; to add to fun, there’s also a Bonaparte’s gull to find on every spread.

A book I’d strongly recommend for both home and class use.

Africana: an encyclopedia of an amazing continent

Africana: an encyclopedia of an amazing continent
Kim Chakanetsa, illustrated by Mayowa Alabi
Wide Eyed Editions

For this large format book, author and broadcast journalist, Kim Chakanetsa, divides the African continent (the second largest in the world) into five regions – north, east, central, west, and southern – the following topics being covered in each region: a timeline of important dates, people and culture, 

wildlife and landscapes, famous people (change makers and superstars), and snapshots of interesting facts. There’s also a final section called ‘Global Africa’. Even before starting to read about the five regions, readers are confronted with some uncomfortable facts about the slave trade and its continuing impact upon descendants of African slaves in such places as the US where they are still living with the consequences of slavery even today.

However, there is a great deal to celebrate, not least the wonderful landscapes, 

animals and cultures and those important change-makers. Let me just mention a few of those: first my all time hero, Nelson Mandela who spend 27 years in prison and is now thought of as the father of South Africa’s democracy. From Western Africa there’s award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, most famous for Half a Yellow Sun, Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, singer-songwriter Miriam Makeba, another campaigner against the apartheid system in South Africa.

Strikingly illustrated, highly informative -also included are words of wisdom from various countries, flags and with an excellent glossary – this is a great introduction to a vast continent presented in an accessible way. A book for classrooms, families and libraries.

An Invitation to the Ballet Theatre

An Invitation to the Ballet Theatre
Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Helen Shoesmith
Welbeck Editions

At this time of year especially, an invitation to participate in a special VIP tour of the world of the ballet theatre, particularly when it culminates in watching a performance of Swan Lake on stage is very enticing. This invitation enables the reader to go on a virtual outing to the world of ballet that begins with an empty auditorium capable of seating over two thousand people. Next comes a look at what happens in the costume department where, beneath a gate-fold, there’s a designer fashioning a ball gown for the dancer who is to play the part of Cinderella in an up-coming show, as well as other people hard at work. 

I never before realised that there is a ballet-shoe manager responsible for checking that every dancer’s pointe shoes fit properly and that the right ones are always available. We explore the crucial warm-up routines, the clothes worn for training, see the various ballet positions and movements being practised in a morning class and then watch what happens in the rehearsal studio where the dancers spend a fair part of the day. 

Those of us who just go and enjoy a ballet performance don’t stop to think about the considerable amount of stress, both physical and mental, that dancers are under, nor about the importance of a dancer’s diet. These aspects require expert support to ensure the performers stay healthy in mind and body. To that end there is a healthcare suite wherein we see dancers working with weights, gyrotonic equipment for stretching and toning, doing Pilates exercises and consulting the experts available.

We also visit the orchestra pit, and the make-up room: I was surprised to find that most ballerinas apply their own make-up prior to going on stage; this involves accentuating features to make sure they are seen clearly under the bright stage light no matter where members of the audience are sitting.

Produced in consultation with English National Ballet’s Ballet Futures programme, this terrific, highly informative, beautifully illustrated book, is one to include in classroom collections, to give to youngsters who aspire to be become dance performers, or indeed to any child who is going to a visit to the theatre to watch a ballet.


Carnovsky and Barbara Taylor
Wide Eyed Editions

With an engaging text written by Barbara Taylor, who was at one time Science Editor at the Natural History Museum in London, and art from the same design duo as Illuminature and Illumisaurus comes another fascinating look at the natural world. Readers will be able to discover 180 minibeasts from various parts of the world using the magic three colour lens. The red lens shows insects, through the green you see plants and the blue shows (rather less clearly) other creepy crawlies.

There are seven regional sections, first North America, followed by Europe, Asia, Australasia, Central and South America, Africa and the Arctic. These are followed by a look at underwater bugs and finally, prehistoric bugs. I was surprised to read that there are 18, 000 butterfly species but even more astonished to learn that there are 12.000 species of millipedes in the world.

Each of the main sections is presented in a similar fashion – first a spread that includes the important environmental and survival information and a fact box relating to the region, an observation deck showing the minibeasts among vegetation waiting to be revealed,

View through red lens

– and lastly, a black and white double spread giving diagrams of insect species and other creepy crawlies (with a brief paragraph about each). This includes a search and find element that sends you back to the ‘observation deck’ to spot the minibeasts through the appropriate coloured lens. Purists will note that the insects depicted on the ‘observation deck’ are not drawn to scale.
Just in case you forget to replace the viewing lens in the front cover pocket, there’s a QR code at the back of the book that enables you to access the same feature on your phone.

This large format book offers hours of immersive enjoyment for readers of all ages from KS1 up, especially those with an interest in nature.

India Incredible India

India Incredible India
Jasbinder Bilan, illustrated by Nina Chakrabarti
Walker Books

As a frequent visitor to India I know that to be there is an onslaught on the senses. You almost experience that when you read Jasbinder Bilan and Nina Chakrabarti’s book and as the author implies in her ‘welcome’ introduction, to visit any of the states is like visiting a different country. I totally agree when she says this vast country has a ‘huge welcoming heart’. Indeed it has many, for I have formed some very close friendships over the years with people in various states from Rajasthan to Kerala.

The book is narrated by Thara whose nanijee has a very special old trunk full of precious objects collected over the years as mementos of her travels all over the country. Every Friday night the two sit together and nanijee takes out one object and tells her granddaughter all about it – the state of its origin, what makes it unique and why it’s so special to her.

The first item is a book entitled Ganga and we learn the story of the goddess Ganga and the origin of the holy river Ganges that starts its journey in the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand. I was excited to see that second object was an envelope with a stamp showing sculptures from a place I once visited – Chandigarh’s sculpture garden – where everything is made from recycled waste.

As the journey continues, readers will discover something of the history of Delhi, where ancient and modern sit side by side; see some of India’s amazing and diverse wildlife, be astonished by the beauty of some of the architecture, notably the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple in Amritsar – the holiest city for members of the Sikh religion and Udaipur’s Lake Palace. Rajasthan and in particular Udaipur is like my second home.

If you take a trip on a boat along Kerala’s backwaters, you may well encounter elephants taking their morning bath.

But no matter where you go, there will be markets, some selling good things to eat, others, richly patterned clothing, wonderfully crafted jewellery or perhaps dhokra (metal statues like those in Odisha and West Bengal.)

I could continue enthusing about the multitude of wonders India has to offer, and this book with its splendid illustrations, gives a real taste of those wonders, so I suggest you get a copy, read it and start planning your visit.

Eight Nights, Eight Lights

Eight Nights, Eight Lights
Natalie Barnes and Andrea Stegmaier
Little Tiger

Presented from the viewpoint of children Max and Lara who lives opposite, this is a lovely introduction to the Jewish festival of lights, Chanukah. It begins in a bustling city just before the festival itself when Max is excitedly hurrying home telling his grandpa that he’s going to light the first candle on the family’s menorah that night. This he does in the company of his grandparents and mother. Meanwhile across the road Lara and her family are doing likewise. As the story progresses we see other festivities taking place in other homes – the candle lighting, the preparation and sharing of special foods

including latkes and cookies decorated with Jewish stars, the playing of dreidel

and the welcoming of visitors. There’s an exchange of gifts and one young couple are spending their first night in a new home together. On the eighth night there’s a party at the synagogue and the rabbi tells the story of the festival’s origins – how the oil in the menorah lasted not one but eight nights. Finally back home once more, having lit all eight candles Max and his mother look out onto the street where ‘fireworks burst overhead’ and windows are bright with light. A joyous way to end the festival.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a smashing book to introduce younger primary age children to the Chanukah festival, which begins on December 18th this year.

Every Word Tells A Story

Every Word Tells A Story
Tom Read Wilson, illustrated by Ian Morris
Words & Pictures

This is one of those books about which you think, right I’ll just give it a bit of time, sufficient to write a review, only to find that it’s drawn you right in and a couple of hours have passed.

There are four words for each letter of the alphabet, each letter having for the first of the four, a funny, short, rhyming story, followed by a definition, information about its origin, meaning and its etymology, together with a humorous illustration by Ian Morris, the lead ones occupying most of the spread.
Did you know that a rhinoceros can produce as much as twenty five kg of poo every day?

Or that the word rhino is Ancient Greek for nose, and furthermore dung comes from the Danish dynga meaning heap? I certainly didn’t but I did however know that the word rupee comes from the Sanskrit meaning ‘beautiful form”; I have a considerable number of these coins tucked away in various purses on account of my frequent trips to India.

Whether it’s fun anecdotal stories or fascinating facts that you are interested in, you are certain to find plenty of both in this exploration of everyday words that shows how the English language evolved (and indeed still is). Equally it’s likely to encourage children to enjoy words and language for their own sakes. Supplying additional humour, illustrator, Ian Morris brings every entry to life with his dynamic pen and watercolour illustrations.

Happy Stories for Nature Lovers

Happy Stories for Nature Lovers
Dawn Casey and Domenique Serfontein
Ivy Kids

Watching the Earth Prom on TV today I heard Chris Packham say this: “Now is the time to ask what we need to do for wildlife. We know we are on the brink, … but there is still hope … we can stop the loss of millions of species but we have to understand the need to change what we do, to accept and celebrate that change – we need to do it together with tolerance and kindness, because ultimately we are one species on one very special planet with one very big problem and one last chance to sort it out. Now is the time for ALL of us to make a difference.”
Author Dawn Casey writes in her introduction to this book of an environmentalist, Joanna Macy, who talks of the fact that more and more people are indeed taking action in response to nature’s needs, calling this shift ‘The Great Turning’.

The eight narrative non-fiction stories herein are examples telling how individuals and conservation bodies have made a difference to wild life in various parts of the world. We read of young Anna who, on account of her love of trees, was responsible for the founding of the Children’s Forest movement by passing on her passion to her pupils. 

A grandpa talking to his grandson outlines how the Humpback whales were rescued from the brink of extinction. In the 1930s only 440 were left but with the banning of hunting and killing of whales for commercial gain in 1986, their numbers have grown to 25,000.

Intensive farming methods with their use of pesticides and the destruction of hedges and trees have created green deserts in many parts of the world. However in Nature’s Plenty we learn how a farming couple in Normandy, Charles and Perrine followed their dream of growing healthy food for their family. Starting small, they bought a field and without the use of machinery, by feeding the soil only natural things, replanting hedges and planting crops for their mutual benefit, developed over the years a rich ecosystem of pastures, pools, orchards and hedges. This aroused the interest of scientists who came to see and were vastly impressed to discover the amount of food the farm grew on so small an area of land. Now the couple help others learn to farm in a similar low impact manner.

These and the other five examples, stylishly illustrated by Domenique Serfontein, should give young readers cause for hope and will surely inspire them to take action in whatever ways they can. The final spread offers some suggestions of how we might all walk more gently upon the earth.

Invertebrates Are Cool! / Slow Down and Be Here Now

Invertebrates Are Cool!
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron

In author Nicola Davies’s latest Animal Surprises book, she takes us in the company of a young naturalist, on an exploration of the world of bugs, mini-beasts and some sea creatures too. In case you are wondering what all these might have in common, it’s that every one of the animals featured lacks a backbone. First of all we get close up to some earthworms, find out how to make a simple wormery and watch the clever tunnellers at work. Next come the slitherers with slimy undersides – snails and slugs.

It’s strange to realise that these are cousins to cuttlefish, squid, nautilus and even more astonishingly, the octopus.

Beetles are the next focus; did you know there are more than 400, 000 different kinds? Some such as ladybirds will be familiar, but readers may not have encountered chafer beetles or the devil’s coach horse, both of which are featured in Nicola’s rhyming narrative and Abbie Cameron’s illustrations. The latter are sufficiently detailed to enable identification of the creatures and on some spreads readers are able to get right up close to the featured animal.

There’s a final ‘match the animal to its home’ puzzle. A book that’s likely to nurture children’s interest in the natural world and whet their appetites to get outdoors and explore.

Slow Down and Be Here Now
Laura Brand, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Magic Cat Publishing

The author presents twenty awe inspiring events that take place in the natural world, each of which is a captivating reason to do as the title says, to slow right down and to be fully in the present, immersed in an amazing wild life happening. It’s as though time has been suspended as she presents each of these ‘moments’ in its allocated double spread, including a harvest mouse building a nest, a snail retracting into its shell when threatened by a predator, a goldfinch extracting seeds from a dry teasel head

and a frog sating its hunger by catching and swallowing a fly. Thus the reader is able to watch each occasion when they so choose, as they savour the words and study carefully Freya Hartas’s delicately detailed, sequential illustrations, which include occasional gently humorous anthropomorphic enhancements.

The text itself comprises a mix of easily digestible paragraphs of information, an on-going narrative and captions to the illustrations.

Not all the nature moments could be observed at first hand but anyone who follows the suggestions on the ‘Come Into the Here and Now’ pages, will likely encounter some of these wonders or indeed, chance upon opportunities of their own to observe moments of joy, awe and wonder.

The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

This the first of the publishers new Protecting the Planet series looks at the effects of climate change on the much loved giraffes of Niger; its inspiration was the work of climate activist and film maker, Kisilu Musya.

Once some time back giraffes were very much a part of everyday life in Niger: and considered a blessing in the same way as the birds, the trees and the rain. The children saw them browsing the trees on their morning walk to school or when they brought home the cattle at night; the giraffes had a strange fighting regime and communicated in a language of grunts and snorts.

However the number of these graceful animals sadly started to decline as more and more buildings, roads and farms filled the land and then on account of climate change the rains began to fail too. The result was terrible droughts that parched the land causing much suffering to both animals and humans.

Soon very few giraffes were left in Africa but in the country of Niger, there was still time to save the few that remained. The humans stopped hunting, protected the trees giraffes fed on as well as the creatures’ favoured places and gradually, then more rapidly, the giraffe population increased. So much so that some have been transported by truck to other parts where they live under the watchful eye and care of wildlife rangers and scientists. The hope is that one day these beautiful animals might be able to return to the places they once roamed.

Nicola’s story of optimism shows how with resolve, we humans can change things for the better; it’s gorgeously illustrated by Emily Sutton who captures both the grace of the animals and their homeland, and the lifestyle of some of the people of Niger.
(There’s additional information about giraffes, climate change and what we can all do to help both causes.)

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

This sumptuous volume brings together Braun’s Wild Animals of the North and Wild Animals of the South taking us on a world tour that begins in North America, moving in turn to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica.

Magnificent art takes the forefront in an awe-inspiring introduction to an array of creatures great

and small of the land, sea and air. Sadly some – the Asian elephant, the Emperor penguin for instance – are on the endangered list, others are threatened, though this isn’t stated in the book.

Dieter Braun manages to encapsulate the very essence and spirit of every one of the hundred and thirty plus animals portrayed. Some have an accompanying factual paragraph, others leave the labelled illustration to speak for itself. (Both scientific and common names are given.) A great gift for young wildlife lovers.

Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a new large-format edition of Jackie Morris’s ode to bears. It begins with a large brown bear nose to nose with a teddy bear and the words, ‘Let me tell you something, something about a bear.’ Readers are then introduced to eight kinds of bears through stunning watercolour illustrations and a poetic text.

Each turn of the page takes us to the natural environment of one sort of bear or another starting with Brown Bear watching salmon in a river. On a mountainside in China, a Panda is shown nurturing its child ‘Born as soft and small as peaches.’ Next we see a Sloth Bear carrying her cubs on her back set against ancient Mughal architecture; a Spectacled Bear with cubs high up in the canopy of a South American jungle;

from her nest an enormous Asian Moon Bear waits and watches, all set to go a-hunting. Now you might be surprised to learn that Polar bears are not white – their fur is ‘hollow’, their skin, black. Nor is the American Black bear always black; it could be cinnamon or honey coloured and even, rarely, white.

The very essence of each one of the magnificent ursine creatures is captured in Jackie Morris’s awesome paintings and it’s incredible to see the range of browns she uses. A considerable amount of information is included in the main narrative, which eventually comes full circle to the two we met on the first spread, closing with the words, ‘the very best bear of all is YOUR bear. Two further spreads give additional notes on each bear featured. A terrific gift book for bear lovers of all ages.

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers
Andy Seed and James Weston Lewis
Nosy Crow

In this puzzling adventure set in ancient Egypt 1422 BCE readers are asked to assist apprentice scribe Nub and his friend Iteti to stop a gang of robbers intent of stealing items from the tomb of Queen Neith.
To do so the two friends need to discover the exact location of the burial place and halt the robbers before a terrible curse is unleashed. 

When they try to find Iteti’s father the vizier to let him know of the robbers, they are told he’s away, so leaving a message with a trusted servant telling him to go with soldiers to Queen Neith’s tomb. they decide to go ahead and follow the robber gang to the pyramids.

There’s a hieroglyph puzzle to solve on most spreads and lots of ‘Did You Know’ information bubbles as the story proceeds, as well as the possibility of whether or not there really was a curse to ponder upon. If you find yourself stuck over any of the puzzles all the solutions are at the back of the book as is a glossary, a codebreaking guide, hieroglyph charts and a list of 70 Egyptian words with their English translations.

Written in collaboration with The British Museum, readers will learn a lot as they participate in this adventure and James Weston Lewis’s stylish illustrations do an excellent job of capturing life in Ancient Egypt. KS2 readers, especially those with an interest in history will enjoy this and it’s a good one to add to primary school libraries too.

Granny Pip Grows Fruit / 2023 Nature Month-By-Month / The Earth Book

Granny Pip Grows Fruit
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

The focus for this fourth title in Deborah and Julia’s ‘Follow My Food’ series is fruit. It features a grandmother who grows various fruits in her garden, and the granddaughter who assists her. There’s lots of work all year round and we start in the autumn with composting the soil and planting – first raspberry plants and then a gooseberry bush.
Winter is the time to cut back apple tree branches and prune the pear tree. When spring arrives bringing showers and sunshine, there’s weeding to be done to create space for planting strawberry seedlings. Once in bloom these will need to be protected by netting to prevent marauding birds spoiling the fruits as they begin to form.

Watering the soil is vital in the hot summer or the plants will wilt and the crops be lost. Because various fruits ripen at different times, Granny keeps a watchful eye so she knows the perfect time to harvest each kind. Summer’s end is when the apples and pears are ripe and even the windfalls are delicious.
What a rich bounty and as well as consuming lots of fruits almost as soon as they’re picked, there’s plenty either to cook or use for jam-making.
The book concludes with a matching words to pictures spread and a final one with information about the importance of watering, a paragraph on sustainable eating and another on choosing the best place for planting.
With just the right amount of detail and Julia’s simple, bright, bold illustrations this is an ideal narrative non-fiction book to share with younger primary children around harvest festival time or as part of a food topic.

2023 Nature Month-By-Month
Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The National Trust, this backpack sized almanac is written by nature lover Anna Wilson and illustrated in bold colours by Elly Jahnz. With something to do on every day of the year, it’s bursting with exciting outdoor and indoor creative activities,

games, cooking and crafts, recipes, gardening ideas, wildlife to hunt for in various habitats, with relevant facts, and information on special events, festivals, celebrations and anniversaries.
Great for those youngsters already interested in the natural world as well as those you want to encourage to develop a connection with nature. For the latter, this fifth edition is a good place to start.

The Earth Book
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
Little Tiger

In his conversational, accessible style narrative, author Jonathan Litton takes readers on an extensive tour of our planet presenting topics such as how the earth was formed and its physical makeup; he examines forms of life tiny and enormous, both extinct and present now; investigates various ecosystems including rainforests, oceans, deserts and islands; and finally, looks at the impact humans have had and are still having on the planet through a focus on populations and migration.
Thomas Hegbrook’s soft-textured illustrations encourage readers to pause and marvel at Earth’s many wonders, an Earth that is way more fragile than many would acknowledge, let alone work to protect, for much too long. Whether you dip in and out or read it in its entirety, this is a book to add to home and school collections.

Darwin & Hooker

Darwin & Hooker
Alexandra Stewart, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This biography of two friends who became two of the most eminent naturalists of the 19th century is a fascinating exploration of their discoveries and of the birth of science as we know it.
Most people know something about Charles Darwin, his theory of evolution and his seminal work On the Origin of Species but I suspect far fewer know more than the name Joseph Hooker. This book published jointly with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, tells the story of Charles and Joseph (who was once Kew’s Director), linking Darwin with Kew.

Divided into four parts, the book takes us on a journey through the early lives of Charles and Joseph, their adventures on their respective voyages, the start and progression of their close friendship, and the amazing legacies they left behind. Little did either of them know that when an erstwhile shipmate of Charles introduced him to his companion in London one day as the latter was preparing to depart for Antarctica, this meeting would gradually evolve into one of the most important ever friendships for science.

It’s incredible to read that very soon after Joseph’s return from his voyage of what turned out to be four years, he received his first letter from Charles – a congratulatory one but in it he also asked the botanist to examine his Galapagos plants and over the next forty years 1,400 letters went backwards and forwards between the two.

A fascinating, compelling read that shows young readers the importance of curiosity, determination and teamwork in scientific endeavour. Joe Todd-Stanton’s enticing illustrations break up and illuminate the text, helping to make it accessible to older primary school readers.

Gross FACTopia!

Gross FACTopia!
Paige Towler, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

Prepare to be disgusted as you delve into this compilation of foul facts, every one of which is cleverly linked to the next and every one verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica. Should you choose to start at the beginning you’ll find yourself back in 1858 beside the Thames which at that time was clogged with utterly obnoxious smelling human waste so bad Government thought about moving. Follow the smelly trail and you’ll learn that that was not even the worst smelling place on planet earth. That award goes to Seal Island, just off Cape Town and home to 75,000 Cape fur seals whose poo pongs of rotting fish. There’s a whole lot more about poo

and sewers including that back in ancient Roman times, women sometimes used crocodile poo as make-up. To be sure your olfactory lobes are going to be subjected to an onslaught of gross aromas if you let your nose lead you through the pages.

Of course there are many other ways to go depending on your taste – oops! make that interest takes you. Assuredly you’ll find lots of funny things you didn’t know previously on such topics as gastronomic goriness, what seems like sporting stupidity and much, much more, all somehow connected.

Big Questions About the Universe

Big Questions About the Universe
Alex Frith and Alice James, illustrated by David J. Plant

Written in conjunction with experts from London’s Greenwich Royal Observatory this book addresses both the common and some of the less common questions children ask about outer space and the universe. Readers join two inquisitive children and a friendly robot programmed to do just that; though to answer ‘… where does gravity come from?’ help is required from Albert Einstein.

It starts with the basics: Where is space? What is in it? How far does it go? Where does it begin? Here and throughout the book, the bot is up front about the answers given, saying that it’s not always entirely possible to give a straight answer to such questions; then going on to show how to approach those that are unanswerable. To their question ‘How BIG is the universe?’ comes this opening to the response, ‘Unknown. Completely unknown.’ Further explanation follows of course including that the universe is constantly expanding. There’s a spread about telescopes of various kinds, another looking at the spherical nature, or not, of things in space, a look at how the universe began, big bang – or not?

The next chapter is devoted to the solar system. Did you know that 1300 Earths could fit inside Jupiter, or that astronomers have discovered over 200 moons in our solar system and that Jupiter has at least 80 of them? So far as we know Earth is unique in having so much water: why this is so is a tricky question and it leads on to a mention of what scientists call the Goldilocks zone – I love that name.

Stars and their secrets has a whole chapter, as does ‘People in space’ and ‘The Biggest questions’ are left to the last chapter. I like the way readers are left to answer for themselves whether or not the vast amount of money spent on space research is worth it; what the authors do is put forward the spin-offs such as air and water purifies, mobile phone cameras and instantaneous world-wide communication through satellite networks.

Though packed with information, its presentation with photos, diagrams, cartoon style illustrations, dialogue boxes and blocks of text, is never overwhelming and draws the reader in and through its pages on a fascinating journey of exploration and discovery. Perfectly pitched for upper KS2.

Finger Sports / Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain

Finger Sports
Anna Bruder

Fun and creativity at your fingertips is on offer in Anna Bruder’s second set of interactive and inventive activities inspired by a range of sports. I suspect with the success of The Lionesses in the European Championships that many youngsters will turn first to finger football; or enthused by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, perhaps finger athletics might be the first go to sport of the eight included. Make sure whichever one your participants engage in they remember to do some finger warm ups first as instructed by Anna.

Whoever thought that fingers could become so competitive – although that need not be the case; a challenge could be to make an activity co-operative if played with a friend or sibling. I wonder how that might work with the dog assault course. No matter what, a player’s dexterity is likely to be enhanced after participating in these playful sports be that at home or even in a school break. Anyone feel like an aerobics session?
A super little book to explore and share with and between youngsters.

Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain
Emily Hawkins and R. Fresson
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a large format interactive game book wherein the reader embarks on a survival adventure story that unfolds after an emergency landing high in a remote Alpine mountain region and thence must make a series of life and death decisions to make it home.
The location is fraught with dangers of all kinds: you have to deal with blizzards, altitude sickness, an avalanche, frostbite, a bear attack, raging torrents, cross a glacier and that’s not all. There’s the necessity to find food and water, and navigating so you don’t become even more lost.

The text is full of survival information such as making a snow hole shelter where you can be safe and keep warm during a blizzard, how to judge distances and what to do when hiking in bear country. 

Then there’s the inbuilt lesson on the risk/luck relationship and the vital importance of making good decisions when in a mountain region with life threatening situations to face. Having made your choice when faced with each threat, your decision is further tested by using the pop-out spinner provided, which acts as a pointer to the idea that there is always an element of chance in dangerous situations.

As well as Fresson’s Hergé-like illustrations showing the drama of the journey, each spread contains diagrams and there are insets of newspaper clippings featuring real-life survivors too. 

Very engaging, lots of fun and with a large amount of factual information, this book provides a great way to spend time away from screens.

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World / Human Kindness

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World
Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Otter-Barry Books

This book contains Elizabeth Laird’s lively retellings of seven folktales from various parts of the world – Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and China – each of which is intended to inspire hope and reconciliation following recent conflict or war; and each of which is elegantly illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. In view of the on-going Russian attacks on Ukraine it couldn’t be more appropriate and timely.

In the first story from Ethiopia a fight between two dogs, one small, one large quickly escalates into a battle between two clans wherein lives are lost on both sides. Can the words of a wise old man show the fighters the error of their ways?

It’s the discovery of buried treasure, and an act of forgiveness that ultimately lead to a reunion of a father and the younger of his two daughters in Allah Karim, the tale from Sudan.

A Palestinian shepherd tries and succeeds in showing a rich sultan what real kindness is; and a camel is fundamental in an ageing father’s choice of an heir to rule his kingdom in Yemen. There’s a selfish Emir ruling a great kingdom in Afghanistan: can the angel that appears in his dream cause him to change his ways and become a caring ruler? From Syria comes a tale wherein a woodcutter ventures onto an island, persuades the resident lion to allow him to take away some of the wood to sell thus saving himself and his family from starving, only to spurn the lion when he tries to join a party he’s hosting: what does that mean for the woodcutter/lion friendship? Finally in the Uighur story from China the Khan’s nine princess daughters eventually bring peace and happiness to the kingdom of Kashgar and best of all is the fact that it’s done without fighting.

Rich in pattern, the illustrations are infused with a gentle humour that subtly convey both the futility of hostility and fighting, and the joy brought about by peace.

Human Kindness
John Francis and Josy Bloggs
What on Earth Books

Starting with some examples from his own life, author and Planetwalker John Francis explores aspects of kindness before moving on to look at the history of kindness from the times of prehistoric humans to the present. He uses evidence from archaeological findings and ancient texts presenting a variety of versions of the ‘Golden Rule’ from different world views.
One section of the book is devoted to stories of kindness from all over the world and include such people as Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman, Harold Lowe (a junior officer on the Titanic), healthcare workers and healers, people who have raised money for various charities concerned with education, hunger prevention, healthcare provision and animal welfare. Did you know that there are inventions that arose out of the imaginations of individuals who saw the need for creating a means to make life better for humans, for animals or for the planet?

There’s also information on the science of kindness – how being kind and compassionate benefits our health and happiness, and some examples of ways children can be kind.

Be they large or small, acts of kindness make the world a better place so, with its warm, bright illustrations by Josy Bloggs, this is a book that I’d like to see in primary classrooms and on family bookshelves.