Category Archives: information books

Sunflower Shoots and Muddy Boots

Sunflower Shoots and Muddy Boots
Katherine Hallligan and Grace Easton
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust this is a super introduction to gardening for youngsters no matter whether they have available a large outdoor space or a tiny one.

In a dozen spreads author Katherine Halligan includes pretty much everything you need to know when starting out as a gardener, from the kinds of plants that are easy to grow; making an indoor garden (you might use welly boots or old suspended hats);

constructing a garden den; composting, tasty things such as radishes that can be grown in a variety of containers, and raspberries, that need more space.

Also included are ways to deter pests by gardening organically; encouraging desirable wildlife such as birds and butterflies by planting some trees

and/or sowing wild flower seeds. There’s a page on the kind of gear you’ll need, another on safety, one on pressing flowers and a final page of tips for adults.

Each spread is highly visual and there are instructional paragraphs, tips, ‘did you know?’ questions; appropriately placed lists of what’s needed for individual projects, as well as a list of useful gardening definitions.

Bursting with ideas, activities and facts to get children interested, with its wipe-clean pages, and Grace Easton’s eye-catching illustrations, this is a book to use at home, in a nursery/early years setting or a school gardening club.

The Story of People

The Story of People
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I greatly enjoyed the two previous titles in The Story of … series and this new addition is another winner.

It’s a whistle-stop tour of the historical development of humankind that begins with the earliest humans – Homo erectus – two-legged hunter-gatherer apes that lived in Africa.
Did you know that the larger brained Homo sapiens also appeared first in Africa? Travelling out across Europe and Asia, these are the people we are descended from.

The account moves to early farmers, then the Bronze Age when cities grew; diseases were caught from animals and mark making in relation to harvests was used.
The Iron Age, trading voyages across oceans and land and decisions based on philosophy are also covered, taking readers to 1CE – 1000CE during which Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe were growing.

Thereafter came religious wars, trade routes opened up and between 1700-1800CE Islamic science experiments inspired new discoveries in science and nature around the world.
Technology as well as science then started to change how people lived and continues to do so. At this point the author acknowledges that in addition to the numerous changes for the good, human actions are damaging our precious world.

The book ends with a consideration of what might happen in the future ending on an optimistic note: ‘By sharing, polluting less, respecting wild places and farming alongside wildlife, there is hope for the future. We can all live in harmony with nature on our beautiful blue planet.’ Let’s hope it’s so for the young children who are the book’s audience.

Amy Husband’s alluring naïve, cartoon style collage and crayon illustrations together with Catherine Barr and Steve Williams’ highly accessible narrative provide a lively introduction to a fascinating topic.

Listen! – The Flute / World of Forests

The Flute
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

The second in the Children Music Life series showcases a reedless woodwind instrument, the flute. Here flautists from different parts of the world come together to celebrate its magic. It’s a colourful magic that conjures up mellow sounds …

and bright ones; that sometimes speaks very softly …

or blows icily.
It might be a scream of pink, a sigh of lilac that is …

The voice through which the flutes speak is pure poetry; now why not try to discover its sounds for yourself … Where will it take you? What will you hear and see: how will you feel?

With rainbow bright illustrations from Catell Ronca and Ken Wilson-Max’s poetic words, prepare to be transported and perhaps to dance with your little one like some of the characters herein. Through music is a wonderful way to introduce very young children to stories: this little treasure of a book will help you do just that.

World of Forests
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions

Robert Hunter follows his World of Birds with a new Sounds of Nature title in which he explores ten different forest habitats from various parts of the world – Europe (including the UK), the USA, South America, Africa, India, Socotra Island (Yemen) and China.
Each habitat is given a double spread wherein are showcased the animal inhabitants (with a factual paragraph on each one) as well as a general introduction to the particular forest be it of the coniferous or deciduous kind.
Six or seven creatures are included in each location be that the German evergreen forest; the Redwood forest of California; England’s New Forest; the Amazon rainforest; a cloud forest in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa;

a desert forest of Socotra Island; a beech forest of Brussels;

the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal (I don’t think this is at ‘the southern tip of India’ as stated in the book though); the coniferous taiga (snow) forest of Alaska; or the bamboo forest in the mountains dividing North and South China.

Pressing the sound button on each spread produces a ten second burst of the natural sounds of 60 or more animals. You’ll need to listen very carefully to identify such creatures as the squawking macaws of the rainforest or the call of the Northern wren in the beech forest.

The whole thing is splendidly atmospheric: with its beautiful panoramic illustrations and fascinating soundscapes it’s a book that is likely to appeal across a wide age range.

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow
Esther Coombs
Button Books

Absolutely bursting with helpful gardening information whatever the season (the book is divided into four seasonal sections), the enthusiastic author, who started a gardening club at her daughter’s primary school and still runs it, has created a super book that introduces children to the wealth of opportunities being involved in a gardening project offers.

Before the seasonal sections, readers learn what the essentials are to get started, including the idea of creating a planting plan – all vital if you’re to make a success of your garden. Re-using and recycling are a part of the former and I like the idea of using loo rolls to make seed pots (I’ve frequently cut the tops from cardboard milk cartons but never tried this idea before).

Spring seed growing suggestions include salad leaves, tomatoes

potatoes, strawberries (the purchase of a few small plants initially is suggested here), root vegetables such as carrots and beetroot, peas and sweetcorn make up the edible kinds. Growing some flower seeds is also suggested because flowers will attract pollinators to your veg patch.
Then come a page on thinning out seedlings and another on wildlife – good and not good.

The summer section focuses on pumpkin growing, companion planting and lots of ideas for making useful items including a hanging-bottle container for tomatoes, a protective cover for strawberries, a watering can out of a screw top plastic bottle, as well as some creative activities, the suggestion of measuring some of the especially tall-growing plants

and some bee-related info. Then of course, there’s the important ‘summer harvest’.

Autumn is the season when much is ready for harvesting: sweetcorn, potatoes, root crops should all offer rich pickings and diggings at this time.

Compost, potting on strawberries, harvesting wild flower seeds, carving a pumpkin, creating a seasonal wreath and a bug home are also covered in this section.

Winter is the shortest section and again it’s packed with great tips such as saving seeds to plant the following year as well as stems for next year’s canes; creating a bird feeder from a sunflower head and more.

Motivating and thoroughly down to earth, this alluringly illustrated book is one I wholeheartedly recommend for school and home.

Fanatical About Frogs

Fanatical About Frogs
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

For this fifth book in the series Owen Davey has chosen to focus on our amphibian friends the frogs.

Frogs in all their glory (and here Owen includes toads) can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Thus far about 7000 species have been discovered but that number is not static especially since many are very small and well camouflaged. All this and more we learn on the first spread.

On the second spread, (Warts and All) focusing on the northern leopard frog, the author discusses the particular abilities and features of Anurans – their eyes and eyelids, the tympanum, legs, feet (sometimes with sticky pads) and where appropriate, their warty bumps.

Other topics each given a spread concern the skin; feeding;

colours, pattern camouflage and other means of self-protection; ectothermic regulation (the means by which frogs regulate their temperature).

Communication,

metamorphosis; a focus on the Red-eyed tree frog, some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ varieties each occupy a spread. Next there’s a look at size – the biggest and smallest species – and a gallery showing the actual shape and size of 19 different frogs, each one having its own unique beauty.

Then, as in all Owen’s titles in this series comes ‘And the award goes to …’ show-casing the most transparent frog, the loudest, the best impersonator, the creepiest, the best jumper and the most dangerous frog. Hmm, I wouldn’t like to encounter that golden poison arrow frog; it exudes a lethal poison 20 times more deadly than any other frog.

Also characteristic of the books, along with the playful topic and paragraph headings, is a spread of associated mythology that gives paragraphs on four folklore frogs. The vital topic of conservation is the final focus and there’s a concluding index.

Informative, fascinating, absorbing and as always, stupendously well illustrated and enormously enjoyable, is this excellent non-fiction book for home or school.

The Brontës / Along Came Coco

The Brontës
Anna Doherty
Wren & Rook

According to the cover claim this is the ‘fantastically feminist (and totally true) story of the Astonishing Authors’ of the title. It’s certainly a smashing short biography of three of the most gifted female writers ever.

We start with a pictorial spread that introduces the family and other members – human and animal of the Bronte household.

Thereafter, starting in 1822, the story looks at family life in Haworth, where father Patrick was a priest and the children loved to explore the moors, using them as inspiration for their own stories and poems.

Thrown back on their own company, the four youngsters become incredibly creative and when Branwell is given some toy soldiers, they use them to create their own imaginary world. This leads to dramatic productions, story and poetry writing, illustration and 3D maps all based on Glass Town.

The young people work as teachers or governesses while daydreaming a lot of the time.

Then over the next three years, books of poetry and the three novels – one each – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey are published under the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell., followed by Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Sadly during the next two years Branwell, Emily and Anne fall sick and die leaving Charlotte who lives only another six years during which she publishes Shirley and Vilette.

The final spreads comprise annotated portraits of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne, followed by details of how wonderfully feminist were these Victorian sisters. Their legacy lives on and continues to inspire readers today: I can’t imagine being without their awesome novels.

Youngsters will be fascinated to learn of these strong-willed writers and their achievements against the odds, in Anna’s highly readable narrative style biographical account. Her illustrations are a quirky delight

Another truly creative spirit was that of Coco Chanel celebrated in this biography:

Along Came Coco
Eva Byrne
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Born in 1883, Coco’s early life was spent in a French orphanage where she found the rigid discipline of the nuns very hard to abide by

although she was fascinated by their dramatic, mysterious demeanour as they walked about the convent in their habits.

The young rule transgressor did however learn the sewing skills that later on led to her fame, while at the same time nurturing her dreams, her imagination and her sense of style and fashion.

As soon as she was old enough, Coco left the orphanage determined to follow her highly individual fashion sense and talent for sewing. Taking inspiration from everything she saw,

she soon opened two shops, one selling quirky hats, the other stylish yet comfortable clothes. Her designs though were not to everyone’s taste, but Coco with her understanding of what women wanted, was undaunted.

Her simple, rule-breaking designs became however, a huge trend-setting success.

Popular too were her new short hairstyle and her eschewing of restrictive corsets, both of which were practical and revolutionary, changing forever how women dressed and looked.

While this story is incomplete, it’s fascinating and inspiring, especially to divergent thinkers; and at the end of the book, the author gives additional background information, mentioning her subject’s wild imagination and difficulty in distinguishing fact from fiction, along with a select bibliography for those who want to dig deeper.

The author’s suitably stylish watercolour, pen and ink illustrations capture the spirit of her subject throughout and the inky endpapers are great fun.

Follow your dreams is the message herein.

What’s Going On Inside My Head? / Step Into Your Power

What’s Going On Inside My Head?
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Bloomsbury Featherstone

Developing and supporting emotional literacy is, or should be, a crucial part of young children’s education in school and most teachers consider it so.

However, parents/carers can at times feel inadequate when it comes to talking to and supporting their children’s mental health, and at an increasingly younger age children come under enormous pressure be that through the education system (I could rant at length about that) or out of school in clubs and activities in which they participate, as well as through social media and advertising. What parents need to do is to love and support children not for what they can achieve but for who and what they are.

To this end Molly Potter, a teacher who specialises in PSHE has written a very helpful book to share with young children.

By means of twelve questions she explores a range of topics: how to think about oneself; the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind (how the former feeds into the latter);

the notion of happiness; dealing with emotions; coping with feelings of anger, sadness and fear; coping with negative thoughts that seem overwhelming (suggestions to prevent ‘ruminating’ and instead focusing on being in the moment); dealing with upsets triggered by another person (forgiving is important here).

There’s also a spread on meditation and its potential benefits;

another on who to ask for help when it’s needed; the role of family and friends as a supportive network; being a better friend and finally, improving one’s own thinking habits – being proactive when something is upsetting you.

Many of the topics includes a ‘top tip’ or ‘It’s good (or important) to know that …’ paragraph and I particularly like the coping plan

and the invitation to hold up a mirror to oneself and think about which behaviours ‘you like’, ‘don’t mind’ and ‘really do not like’.
The book concludes with three pages of guidance for parents and carers.

Throughout Sarah Jennings’ inclusive illustrations both support and extend Molly’s straightforward, sensible, practical words.

For an older age group is:

Step Into Your Power
Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins
Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s a book I wish I’d had when I was growing up. Both author Jamia Wilson (executive director of the Feminist Press) and illustrator/designer Andrea Pippins act as mentors in this, their guide to helping girls to grow into confident young women, cognisant of their strengths (and the areas they need to work at), and sufficiently empowered to step out and follow their dreams.

Subtitled ‘23 lessons on how to live your best life’, the book offers exactly that and made me want to go immediately and seek out some young females to share it with.

After an inspiring introduction, said lessons are organised into five sections entitled: Power, Community, Choices, Act! and Self-Care and all sections comprise several key elements each of which is allocated a double spread (or two) illustrated in vibrant colour by Andrea.

Thinking outside the box, abandoning old habits that are no longer appropriate in today’s richly diverse society, and not always following the rules, are explored and the author mentions as examples some visionary rule-challenging individuals.

Each topic has an encouraging and uplifting ‘Step into your power’ section.

Thoroughly recommended for upper primary readers and beyond.

Dance, Dolphin, Dance

Dance, Dolphin, Dance
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

Out in the surging, swishing swooshing ocean, deep down in the kelp forest, is playful Dolphin. He dances with a shoal of sardines and the sea lion;

then as the sea becomes rougher, the tuna.

As he dances over a big Blue Whale …

he suddenly encounters a Great White Shark.

The shark attacks but moving faster, Dolphin evades its jaws but the chase is on.

Where can he hide: not in the deepest depths of the forest for there lurks a Killer Whale.

Now with two huge predators hunting him, Dolphin must dance for his life. Dance, Dolphin, dance.

Then, bang! A huge wave hits the hunters, ‘boom-boom boom-boom.’ Dolphin has a chance to make an escape …

Set in the Western Gulf of California, this dramatic deep sea chase involving a Bottlenose Dolphin, provides a wonderfully rich experience for both ears and eyes – try a telling with an ocean drum. Patricia MacCarthy’s poetic text is full of action and excitement, and her illustrations are amazing.

After an initial reading to savour those illustrations and another to search them for the 36 sea creatures and birds, shown in the final spread, this book, which blurs the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, offers a superb dance/drama opportunity for a class or group.

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth / The Story of Flight

Wren and Rook, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Books, prides itself on high quality non-fiction titles; here are a couple of recent examples:

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth
Rachel Ignotofsky
Wren & Rook

This is a super book that showcases the ecosystems of our planet organised under geographical regions – Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia and The Polar Ice Caps, and then Aquatic Ecosystems.

The author packs a terrific amount of information into her text and her meticulous illustrations, maps and infographics

as she highlights our incredible ecosystems large and small with their huge varieties of flora and fauna, and different climatic conditions.

Did you know that an ecosystem can be as huge as a coral reef or as tiny as one drop of water? What an incredible thought.

A disturbing thought in contrast is that unless we take urgent steps to halt mankind’s destructive actions and strive to eliminate climate change the damage to our beautiful world will be beyond repair. We can all play our part as Rachel tells us in her ‘Protecting Our Planet’ spread, which is an optimistic way to end this splendid, beautifully designed opus.

One to add to your book collection at home or school, or indeed anywhere there are readers who love nature.

The Story of Flight
Jakob Whitfield and Us Now
Wren & Rook

This book traces the history of flight from George Cayley’s glider, flown by his coachman, to the pilotless drones of the 21st century.
This fascinating story shows how each new breakthrough paved the way for the next development

as well as explaining how social developments, war, women’s equality and endeavours to combat climate change have influenced the directions of air transport.

The book concludes with a look to the future and how new technologies could help reduce the environmental impact of aviation, and a final time line showing the history of the aeroplane.

Inevitably in a book such as this, the information Whitfield provides is not comprehensive, but there’s sufficient to whet the appetites of young readers and the dramatic Us Now illustrations are alluring and exciting.

Your Mind is Like the Sky / The Go Yogi! Card Set

 

Your Mind is Like the Sky
Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Psychologist and mindfulness teacher, Bronwen Ballard has written a book to introduce children to mindfulness. She uses similes and metaphorical language to show that our difficult thoughts and feelings are an integral part of everyone’s life and demonstrating that we all have the power to deal with them.
Sometimes she says, the mind can be like a clear blue sky but at other times it might be ‘fizzy, stormy, black and crackly’; or perhaps a ‘bit grey’.
Thoughts come and go constantly; they’re likened to the clouds – sometimes positive, pleasant white ones but at other times they become dark and negative.

For example ‘raincloud’ thoughts may well make one feel sad, cross, irritated, confused perhaps.

However there are ways to deal with them, even those that seem at first to be overwhelming and this is what the second part of the narrative discusses. The important thing to do is to acknowledge the thought but realise it’s only one of many, many in the entire sky of your mind and that way you can let that dark thought slip gently away.

The more one practices being mindful, the easier it becomes to take control and choose which thoughts to attend to.

The main narrative ends on an upbeat note reminding the young reader that, like the sky, his/her mind is bursting with amazing thoughts each one different in shape, colour and size.

There are two final spreads aimed at adults explaining concisely what mindfulness is and offering some basic ideas to try together at home.

Award-wining illustrator Laura Carlin’s soft focus, smudgy, mixed media illustrations are the ideal complement to Bronwen’s gentle narrative. Together they offer parents and carers a really helpful book to help youngsters overcome their worries.

The Go Yogi! Card Set
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon

Using little humans rather than animals this time, the author, very experienced yoga teacher, Emma Hughes and illustrator, John Smisson, of the Go Yogi! book have created a set of 50 cards of popular yoga poses; and Emma has written an accompanying explanatory booklet.

The latter briefly gives the benefits of yoga for children, sets some ground rules to use and talks about how to work with a group, the names of the poses, some words on pranayama and suggests ways the cards might be used in a session – in games or for storytelling being two ideas.

It’s concise and especially useful for those who aren’t practiced in teaching yoga to children. One proviso though, I was taught that young children (under 7) should not attempt headstands as the skull may not be fully hardened.

The ‘flash cards’ themselves have a child showing a yoga asana (pose), (or in the case of paired poses, two children) set against a brightly coloured background on one side, while the reverse side shows how to get into the pose. Each card has a coloured border that suggests a possible emotional or physical benefit doing the pose might bring. Orange signifies energising; green is for calming; red for strengthening and yellow for balancing.

All in all, and I speak from experience as a specialist early years teacher and teacher of yoga to children (and adults), this little box is a real treasure for those wanting to introduce yoga to young children. I thoroughly recommend it.

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali & Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Brosmind
Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Matt Hunt
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following the huge success of titles celebrating amazing and inspiring females, the publishers have decided to add positive male role models to their picture book biography series and these are the first two.

First on the list is Muhammad Ali who as a boy known as Cassius had his new bike stolen and was told by the police officer that if he wanted to face the thief as he’d said, he had better learn to fight. So begins his journey to becoming a champion boxer.

Having taken a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics he was determined to turn professional and win the world heavyweight championship,

which he did, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

Cassius however was not just a boxer; he was fierce defender of African-American rights speaking out against racial discrimination. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

His refusal to fight in the Vietnam war, a war he considered unjust, resulted in him being stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years.

However he came back and won three more heavyweight titles; and after his retirement spent his time in the service of others.

With their illustrations, the Mingarro brothers, aka Brosmind, bring a gentle humour to the account of this legendary man.

Published in March is a second title, Stephen Hawking, about the scientific genius who overcame THE most enormous odds and went on to become the most brilliant scientist of our time.

We read how while studying physics at Oxford University Stephen first began to be clumsy and then having moved to Cambridge University to do a PhD, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told, aged 21, that he had just a few years left to live.

Rather than spending his time dwelling upon his lack of control over his body, he decided that in order to study the universe, he needed only his mind.

Black holes became the focus of his attention and Stephen proved that rather than being wholly black, there was a tiny light escaping from them; this was named ‘Hawking radiation’.

We’d all do well to remember Stephen’s words, “however difficult life may seem, there is always something that you can do and succeed at.” An inspiration he truly remains and this is what writer Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrator Matt Hunt convey so well herein.

Add these to your primary school collection.

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things
Libby Deutsch and Valpuri Kerttula
Ivy Kids

Children, especially young ones, are tremendously inquisitive, asking endless questions about how the world works. What happens to my luggage when I catch a plane to go on holiday? Where do those bananas mum’s bought at the supermarket for my lunch box come from?

Or What happens to my poo when I flush the loo?

The entire processes that answer these questions and seventeen others are presented, one per double spread by means of Valpuri Kerttula ‘s flowing style graphics and Libby Deutsch’s succinct paragraphs of text.

Not all though are physical processes: ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ follows the journey of a film idea right through to shooting.

Where does the water in the tap come from?’ presents the water cycle while ‘The invisible Movement of Millions’ takes readers through the change from commodity trading, through coin currency to bring it right up to date with the electronic transfer of money via computer.

With its engaging visual and verbal narrative, this is just the book to have on the shelf to answer some of those How? … posers your children bombard you with be they at home or school.

Pop-up Moon

Pop-up Moon
Anne Jankeliowitch, Olivier Charbonnel and Annabelle Buxton
Thames & Hudson

Earth’s moon has long been a source of fascination and inspiration to both children and adults, and with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing later this year, as well as the Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January, this is a timely publication.

In just eight spreads, engineer and scientist Anne Jankeliowitch has packed a considerable amount of information, but it’s Olivier Charbonnel’s four spectacular pop-up visuals that steal the show.

Readers can find out about how the moon came into being; what its surface and atmosphere are like; why it apparently changes shape and how it can have an effect on the tides.

There’s a look at eclipses and their cause; as well as space exploration including the Apollo landings.

Non-scientific ideas considered by many to be mere superstition, receive a mention too.

Space enthusiasts or not, children will be excited when they open the book and images such as this leap out at them from Annabelle Buxton’s illustrations.

The spectacular nature of some of the paper engineering is likely, I think, to result in such enthusiastic handling that this is perhaps more suitable for home than classroom use.

The Song of the Dinosaurs

The Song of the Dinosaurs
Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Hegbrook
Caterpillar Books

Dinosaurs are endlessly fascinating to young children and for every book on the topic published there’s a new audience ready to lap it up.

This one with its rhyming narrative and alluring die-cut illustrations immediately transports readers back to the prehistoric world with Patricia Hegarty’s opening lines, ‘I am the song of the dinosaurs, / For millions of years my tune filled the air … / In the whisper of leaves, caught up on the breeze, / Travelling unseen, but I was still there.’

They are introduced to a line-up of dinosaurs set against richly coloured landscapes and the cleverly placed die-cuts on each spread invite the reader to turn the page forwards.

Thomas Hegbrook’s vibrant scenes are a visual treat for your little dino. enthusiasts as they follow the evolutionary story from the depths of the sea, up into the skies and over land, ‘through rocks and sand.’

The back endpapers show an illustrated time line.

Patricia’s lyrical text is both atmospheric and factual; and in combination with Thomas’ illustrations, creates an exciting educational adventure to share at home, nursery or school.

Non-Fiction Miscellany: Ambulance Ambulance / Weird Animals / Castle Adventure Activity Book

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

An ambulance crew responds to an emergency call out: a boy has come off his bike and ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar …’ off goes the ambulance to the scene of the accident.

On arrival the paramedics make the necessary checks, put a splint on the child’s broken leg and carefully lift him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

Then with horn honking and lights flashing, off they go racing to the hospital, “Quick, quick quick. ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar … ‘

Once the boy is safely inside and the hand-over complete, the crew are ready for a rest, but it’s not long before another emergency call comes and so off they go again …

Team Sally and Brian are already well known for their previous picture books such as Roadworks and Construction. Non-fiction loving little ones delight in these books and will doubtless relish this one with its bright illustrations, especially since its rhyming text comes with opportunities for joining in all those ‘Nee nar’ sounds. Share at home or in a nursery setting and watch the response …

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

The world of nature is full of strange and wonderful creatures, large and small, a dozen or so of which are featured in Mary May Carson’s Weird Animals. The author specialises in writing non-fiction for children and those with an insatiable appetite for the fantastically weird will enjoy her latest book.

It explains the whys and wherefores of some amazing adaptations, those odd characteristics that help these creatures survive and thrive.

Take for example the Pink Fairy armadillo with its oversized feet and fluffy underside that helps keep the creature warm through cold desert nights.

The frightening-looking fauna from different parts of the world include insects, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, with explanations for their appearance. Weird and wonderful they surely are.

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

Children should find lots to explore in this engaging historical activity book. There are mazes, matching games, word searches, colouring pages that include things to spot of a medieval kind. Observation skills are also required for matching games, determining the winner of a joust, searching for rats in the castle kitchen and more.

There are medieval scenes to complete by drawing and adding stickers as well as a number of crafty projects. Some, such as making a sword or a conical hat for a princess, require additional items – paper, card, scissors etc. and may also need adult assistance.

Some simple maths, words to unscramble and a scattering of jokes are also part and parcel of this themed compilation that’s a fun alternative to constant screen use.

Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Let me introduce Peter, although as narrator of Helen Bate’s debut graphic novel, he introduces himself in this true story of a six year old Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War 2.

Peter always makes the best of things; he trims the sides off newly baked cakes and frees buttons from his mother’s coat to use in his play

but when his beloved Roza (who lives with the family and helps his mother) has to leave as she’s no longer allowed to work in a Jewish household, the lad is bereft.

That though is only the start of the upsetting things that happen but Peter’s story is not all dark and bleak. Despite the fact that under Nazi rule, Peter’s family were forced to leave their home, split up and had then to live in hiding in constant fear for their lives, there’s humour too; it’s rightly subtitled ‘Courage and Hope in World War Two’. Indeed with its fine balance between horror and humour, it’s pitched just right for 9+ children.

Thanks to enormous good fortune and the amazing kindness of individuals including a soldier,

Peter and his parents escaped a number of nightmarish situations and survived, although (as we learn in the afterword) his grandmother, aunts and uncles were killed in concentration camps.

Moving, accessible and offering a less well-known perspective on WW11 and the Holocaust, with its skilful balance of illustration and text, this is definitely a book to include in a primary school KS2 collection.

With Holocaust Memorial Day coming shortly, if you missed this poignant book when it was first published, it’s worth getting now. It could also open up discussion about other children, victims of more recent horrific events, who on account of their ethnicity or religious faith for instance, find themselves victims of persecution and perhaps forced to become refugees.

Particularly in the light of recent and on-going conflicts in various parts of the world and the current upsurge of nationalism, we would all do well to be reminded of Amnesty International’s endorsement statement on the back cover, ‘ it shows us why we all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety.’

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

Chae Strathie knows just how to make history interesting and fun for children as he demonstrates in his latest So You Think You’ve Got It Bad title published in collaboration with The British Museum.

The first topic (of ten) Clothes and Hairstyles contains some tasty or perhaps rather yucky, snippets of information such as the fact that one source of purple clothes dye was insect larva (maggots to most of us); though actually, yellow was a favourite with girls.

Suppose you were a boy in Ancient Greece; you’d wear merely a short tunic; yes it was probably pretty warm much of the time but even so a sudden gust of wind, especially in winter, would probably expose your nether regions. Brrrr!
Moreover, young men training in the gymnasium or participating in a sporting event did so in the altogether and it was considered absolutely normal so to do.

Young girls fared slightly better; they too wore only a single garment – an ankle length dress called a peplos but at least it was belted.

Zips or buttons hadn’t been invented although people used brooches, pins, cord or belts as fasteners.

Girls had a pretty grim time of it back then and female babies were often left to die on account of the dowry system, which meant that it could cost parents a fortune when a girl married, something that could happen as young as thirteen and to a complete stranger.

Girls fared badly too when it came to education: boys went to school when they were seven but girls –rich ones only – were home educated, the focus being how to run a home.

Inequality was everywhere with slaves making up around a third of the population of Athens.

Talking of education, tablets were used for note taking in lessons – no not the electronic kind; these were made of wax-covered wood on which you wrote with a stick-like stylus.  Sticks were employed for another reason too – for beating those boys who didn’t learn quickly enough in class. Yeouch!

Pets were popular with families with snakes, goats, swans, ducks and geese numbering among the favourites along with dogs (the very favourite). Try taking geese out for a walk!

Oh my goodness! Even the homes of the very richest were without a loo. Imagine having to poo in a pot every single day. No thanks. There’s even a depiction on a painted vase of a small boy sitting having a dump on a tall potty-like object that apparently doubled as a high chair. Hygienic it surely wasn’t.

The largest room in a typical Greek house was devoted to partying – men only again. Female readers are probably fuming by this time.

Health and medicine introduces physician Hippocrates, often called the founder of modern medicine but before he came along much of ancient Greek medicine relied on magical prayers and charms.

Diet, myths and legends, ancient gods and fun and games complete the thematic sections.

The layout of almost every spread differs with information presented in paragraphs of text, in speech bubbles, via diagrams, and through Marisa Morea’s amusing illustrations, which make the book even more engaging.

Readers will surely finish reading this with a big smile and almost without noticing will have gained insights into an important ancient civilisation as well as a greater appreciation of their own lives today.

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

A Year in Nature
Hazel Maskell and Eleanor Taylor
Laurence King Publishing

Subtitled ‘a carousel book of the seasons’, this opens out into a four-part carousel that is sure to engage and impress.
Detailed scenes of a woodland in spring, summer, autumn and winter leap out from finely cut out pages revealing the glories of each season.

These woods are home to a family of foxes and we share the growth of the tiny cubs over a year as they explore their surroundings.
In spring there are nesting birds in the branches of the trees and new life begins everywhere.
Come summer, visiting birds have arrived; there’s an abundance of butterflies recently emerged, as well as bees, dragonflies and grasshoppers to find.

By autumn the young foxes are almost full-grown; now they hunt for their own food among the fungi under the golden brown canopy while squirrels are busy overhead gathering nuts to store.

Winter sees many of the trees without any leaves but berries still add brightness to the forest-scape.

Eleanor Taylor’s lush artwork is absorbing, bringing a place of beauty to life – the next best thing to visiting a forest for real, and Hazel Maskell provides brief snippets of information that are set among the forest branches along with things to hunt for in each scene.

This book would look great as part of a display in schools, no matter the season and would also make a great gift for a young child, particularly an urban living one.

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

Thanks to David Hawcock’s amazing paper-engineering, Owen Davey’s prehistoric creatures literally leap back into life as you open the pages of this sturdy little book. Showcasing fifteen popular and less well known beasts from Pachycephalosaurus to Pterodactylus, Ichthyosaurus to Iguanodon and Ankylosaurus to Tyrannosaurus,

Davey’s illustrations with their designs of spots, splodges and stripes are arresting in their greys, tans, browns, greens and blues.

A smashing introduction to the world of dinosaurs, with the name and pronunciation of each provided for each one. Doubtless adult sharers will delight in the book almost as much as the young target audience of aspiring palaeontologists.

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

No matter whether Ingela P Arrhenius is working in large or small format, her retro-modern style is always eye catching.

In her latest large scale offering Ingela has chosen to explore London. She takes readers on a whistle-stop tour to visit all the popular tourist destinations in the capital showcasing each with a double spread of labelled images and an introductory sentence or two.

First stop is Buckingham Palace after which we visit the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and its neighbour. Tate Modern.
Then, it’s on to London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park – a great place for a picnic; followed by the London Eye (taking in the National Theatre). Phew!

If shopping is your thing, then you might take a stroll to the famous Carnaby Street, or perhaps take a trip to Harrods, Liberty or Hamleys toy shop, by which time afternoon tea will be the order of the day.

Covent Garden, with its street performers, stalls and cafes (one of my favourite parts) is the next venue.

You can enjoy a virtual visit to all these and other famous places, including Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory, which is slightly further out that most of the other locations Ingela has chosen to showcase.

A great book to use in nurseries, or to give to a young child who is from outside the capital before a visit.

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery / Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery
Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Anuska Allepuz
Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an excellent series of books each featuring a woman who made a significant contribution to society. The latest features L.M.Montgomery whose books I loved as a child.

Maud, as she was called, had a rather sad, lonely childhood. After her mother died, her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was forced to create her own happiness and books became her best friends. She dreamed of becoming a writer, something her grandparents discouraged, but nevertheless at night Maud began writing in secret, creating both stories and poems.

As an adult, Maud first became a teacher, a job that gave her time to continue with her writing and later on she was offered a job on a newspaper.

In less than a year, her grandfather died and she was forced to return home and care for her grandmother.

However she continued writing combining it with working at the local post office; before long 30 of her stories had been published in the newspapers.

One day she found an old newspaper with a story that became the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables. Through this story, Maud rewrote her own childhood as she wished it had been and after numerous rejections and a period of two years, Anne of Green Gables was finally published.

The illustrations of Anuska Allepuz are an absolute delight – wonderfully expressive and bringing out Maud’s joy in simple things and her determination to become a writer.

A super addition to the series.

For those with a particular interest in writers especially, is another of the series that I missed earlier:

Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou
Lisbeth Kaiser and Leire Salaberria
Lincoln Children’s Books

Maya Angelou grew up in the American South in the 1930s – a time of racial tension and segregation.
The hardships she endured – racism, gender prejudice, and abuse by her mother’s partner which resulted in the child losing her will to speak,- would have been too much for many people. Not so Maya who found her voice again thanks to a friend of her grandmother and the power of reading aloud.

At school Maya was told she wouldn’t amount to anything but her determination “There’s nothing I can’t be.” was proved right.

She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, poet, novelist, and eminent Civil Rights campaigner. Her fortitude and compassion changed the lives of countless people the world over: her legend lives on.

Like all titles in the series, the book concludes with a time line.

Eloquently illustrated by Leire Salaberria, Lisbeth Kaiser’s pen portrait of Maya is a must have for primary schools.

When the Whales Walked / Rivers

 

When the Whales Walked
Dougal Dixon and Hannah Bailey
Words & Pictures

By means of thirteen case studies, readers can discover how for example, dinosaurs evolved into birds and how whales were once four-legged creatures that walked on the land. These are just two of the fascinating evolutionary journeys told through a mix of annotated illustrations by Hanna Bailey, superbly illustrated scenes and family trees.

Did you know that way back in time snakes too had legs and crocodiles were warm blooded?

Written by evolution and earth sciences specialist, Dougal Dixon, this is a book that will broaden the horizons of dinosaur mad readers and, with evolution now a topic in the KS2 science curriculum, it’s one to add to primary school collections.

Rivers
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

In his follow up to Timeline, Belgian illustrator Peter Goes takes readers by means of a series of large size maps, on a continent-by-continent tour of all the world’s great rivers.

Those featured flow across  predominantly monochromic double spreads that are illustrated with images of iconic structures – bridges and buildings, vehicles, people, deities, monsters, wildlife and physical features.

Factual information – historical, geographical, biological, mythical, cultural – is provided in snippets (the book is translated from the original text by Bill Nagelkerke) through and around which each river meanders from source to sea.

I’ve visited relatively few of the rivers featured (though various parts the River Thames have always been part and parcel of my life and I’ve visited locations along the Ganges). Some including the River Onxy in Antarctica that flows only in summer, I’d never heard of.

This super-sized book has made me want to do some more river exploring; perhaps, like its creator I’ll start closest to home, in Europe.

A fascinating book for young would-be travellers and school libraries in particular.

Find My Rocket / Elephants on Tour / Egypt Magnified

Find My Rocket
Aleksandra Artymowska
Laurence King Publishing

Aleksandra Artymowska is a terrific illustrator; I first came across her amazing work through another maze book, Amazed. Now it looks as though the same boy from that book has returned needing help in another puzzling adventure. This time having sent his red rocket jetting off into space he needs our help to locate it in eleven differently themed maze scenes. It’s easy enough for readers to spot the whizzing spacecraft but finding the right way through the intricately detailed possible pathways presents a real puzzler.

Every one of Aleksandra’s scenes be it the paper cranes, the building blocks, the toolbox or the teddies,

is packed with wonderful small objects, visual jokes and more – love the alliterative manoeuvres the lad performs during his search– catapulted through the cars, dodged all the dominoes, for instance, before he finally succeeds in retrieving the object he launched.

A great book to immerse oneself in as the evenings draw in; if you’ve yet to discover Aleksandra Artymowska, then this is a great place to start.

Elephants on Tour
Guillaume Cornet
Laurence King Publishing

Having packed their trunks, five elephants are ready to embark on a world tour and we’re invited. First though we need to get to know something about our fellow adventurers: there’s the highly organised guy with his bags full of maps and tickets. He’s accompanied by a food connoisseur; the arty one, the photographer and the energetic one who insists on taking his skateboard along.

Having done London aboard a red double decker, the next port of call is Amsterdam with its canals and cycle lanes to explore. No doubt they sampled the syrupy waffles, a speciality of the city.

I’m sure they would also have tried the blinis in St. Petersburg and kayaked along one of the rivers or taken a ride on the Mongolian railway.

After visiting sixteen locations on five continents the final stop in their frenetic journey before returning to home shores, is Paris.

Along the way we receive a running commentary from the five travellers and for each location a fact file and other useful information. We’ll definitely need all that because at the outset, we are asked to make sure we find each of the elephants and their favourite belongings at every stopping place. No easy task with so much to look at. (Answers are supplied at the end of the tour.) My head is spinning after that.

With Guillaume Cornet’s intricately detailed scenes, this search and find journey is totally engrossing; those cityscapes are mind-boggling.

Egypt Magnified
David Long and Harry Bloom
Wide Eyed Editions

One possible way to get youngsters interested in times past, especially those who can’t get enough search-and-find books is this offering from Long and Bloom. Readers are invited to travel back through the centuries and visit sixteen Egyptian scenes, including the Great Pyramid and Tutankhamun’s tomb that are absolutely teeming with tiny figures.

Once in ancient Egypt, there are  ten items or people to spot in each illustration and on reaching the end, readers are encouraged to go back and hunt for another 57, plus a hidden mummy on every spread. (There’s a magnifying glass to facilitate the search inside the front cover, because, so we’re told, every Egyptologist needs one.)

Forgotten Beasts / Dictionary of Dinosaurs / Dinosaur Bingo

Forgotten Beasts
Matt Sewell
Pavilion Children’s Books

If you’ve ever wondered about the strange animals that were concurrent with, or followed in the footsteps of, the dinosaurs, then Matt Sewell’s sumptuous new book is the place to go. ‘Welcome to the amazing world of forgotten beasts!’ announces the introductory line of the book’s blurb. Of the over forty astonishing creatures large and small, most are completely new to this reviewer. Matt supplies readers with a note on his illustrations and there’s a double spread with a time line and other introductory matter before the animals are showcased.

First, we’re introduced to some of the very earliest ones that made their homes in the water: there’s the Ordovician marine dwelling Cameroceras with its 9-metre-long conical shell and the Dunkleosteus from the late Devonian period with its razor sharp teeth that it used to crack open shells of the creatures it fed on.

Two of my favourites though come much later, from the late Pliocene – late Pleistocene era.: meet the herbivorous rhino-like Elasmotherium that weighed between 3,500 and 4,500 kg.

Despite being only around a metre tall, the horn of the male sometimes grew to a length of 1.8 metres.
Another, the enormous owl Ornimegalonyx, is also from the late Pleistocene era. Over a metre tall, it weighed nine kilos.

Awesome!

Written in consultation with vertebrate palaeontologist, Dr Stephen Brusatte from Edinburgh University, this fascinating book will broaden he horizons of dinosaur enthusiasts. Every one of Matt’s magnificent paintings is a stunner.

Dictionary of Dinosaurs
illustrated by Dieter Braun, edited by Dr. Matthew G.Baron
Wide Eyed Editions

Wow! Every dinosaur that has ever been discovered is featured in this pictorial dictionary and who better to grace its pages with his awesome illustrations than Dieter Braun.

After a short introduction explaining the what, when, the demise and evidence of dinosaurs, comes a timeline and a page explaining how the book might be used.
Then we meet each one from Aardonyx and Abelisaurus to Zhuchengtyrannus and Zuniceratops, none of which I’d previously heard of.
There’s a brief informative description that includes  how to pronounce the name, length, diet, when it lived and where found – just sufficient to whet the appetite and perhaps send eager readers off searching for additional information about some of particular interest.

For dinosaur addicts and school libraries or topic boxes I suggest.

For those who can’t get enough of things prehistoric, is a game for the dino-mad:

Dinosaur Bingo
illustrated by Caroline Selmes
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

In the sturdy box are a folded caller’s game board, eight double-sided players’ game boards, 48 dinosaur tokens, 150 circular counters and a dinosaur head box to contain the tokens.
Between three and eight people can participate in what is likely to be a popular take on the classic game. Players might even learn some new dinosaur names such as Maiasaura or Therizinosaurus along the way. I certainly did.

Great for families or a group of friends, and it would make a good present for a dinosaur-loving child.

Perfectly Peculiar Plants

Perfectly Peculiar Plants
Chris Thorogood and Catell Ronca
Words & Pictures

Books about animals seem to drop into my post box in relatively large numbers, not so ones featuring plants. It’s fantastic then, to see botanist Chris Thorogood’s title, superbly illustrated in vibrant style by Catell Ronca, which goes just a small way towards redressing the balance.

After all, without plants, where would we animals be? Despite the fact that some of those featured herein actually devour creatures from the animal kingdom we’re dependent on plants for oxygen and need them for food.

In addition to insectivorous plants, some species appearing here make use of insects in ingenious ways, often for pollination or seed dispersal, while others steal their food from the roots or stems of other plants. Still others – the Queen of the Night Cactus being one – absorb nutrients from bird poo.

Another poo feeder (animal faeces in this instance) is the tree shrew toilet pitcher found in Borneo.

I was amazed to learn that Entada gigas, the sea bean has large brown seeds that can sometimes travel across oceans for thousands of miles before they reach a place to germinate.

Between the pages featuring the astonishing plants themselves are more general spreads introduced by questions such as ‘How do plants get energy?’ and ‘Can plants move?’ Each of these sets the scene for the showcasing of individual species; and it’s great to see the final ‘Protecting plants’ spread though perhaps some information could have been included for how those motivated by the author’s ‘they all deserve a place on planet Earth’, might help towards protecting threatened habitats or species.

The Clue is in the Poo

The Clue is in the Poo
Andy Seed and Claire Almon
QED

The author of this book is passionate about getting children (and their teachers) enthusiastic about reading and a great one for making non-fiction fun. Here’s his latest and let’s say, enticingly titled offering  that as well as investigating their faecal matters, looks at animals’ footprints, homes, nests, skulls,

coprolites (fossilised dung to you and me), and more. And yes, it’s terrific fun.

Poo, so we’re told is a good indicator when it comes to clues regarding which animals you’re likely to come across on your foray into the wild; and generally speaking the larger the animal, the larger its poo. Hmm! A rhino for instance leaves deposits of between 50 and 90 cm whereas that of a wolf is only 12 to 15 cm and shrew poos are a minute 2-4mm.

For those interested in classifying things we’re given half a dozen different turd types – tubular, lumpy, pea-like, pancake, shiny blocks/clumps and twisted/hairy, deposited by various mammals to start us off.

Bird droppings, you’ll be interested to learn, are generally more tricky to identify than those of mammals and should you want to become a bird poo detective, illustrations of seven types of bird plops are provided.

Now who would have thought that an adult reviewer could become completely engrossed in a book that focuses on excretory matter? It was certainly so where this one is concerned: my next forest expedition will perhaps take on a completely different focus; and yes, I’ve read the rules of tracking provided at the front of the book along with the annotated list of things needed on an expedition.

I must mention the illustrations: bear in mind that Claire Almon whose watercolours grace the pages is from the USA; thus her blue robin’s egg is of the North American robin whereas the European robin lays creamy eggs with light reddish-brown markings.

The Secret of the Egg / Amazing Animal Babies

The Secret of the Egg
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

What a cracking book this is; the first one I’ve seen in this series by zoologist, poet and author, Nicola Davies and illustrator Abbie Cameron.

Through a highly engaging rhyming narrative, Nicola introduces children to animal eggs of all shapes and sizes;

eggs that might be found in puddles or high in a tree; those you might have to dig for, or search in the sea or pond to discover. There are reptiles’ eggs, birds’ eggs, amphibians’ eggs, fishes’ eggs, even mammalian eggs.

With the exception of the platypus, none of the creatures featured are named so identifying whose eggs are whose is left to Abbie Cameron’s richly detailed, painterly pictures so adult assistance or some additional research may be needed.

This would make a great way to introduce a ‘new life’ topic to young children.

Amazing Animal Babies
Aina Bestard
Thames & Hudson

Animals large and animals small, from various parts of the world feature in Aina Bestard’s book.
Using as many as six intricately detailed transparent overlays the author/illustrator documents in words and aptly coloured visual images, how each animal produces and rears its young.

Herein readers will discover that the penguin parents, as well as the other members of a penguin colony play a part in the rearing of penguin chicks but it’s the Dad penguin that keeps the egg warm while Mum penguin goes off searching the ocean for food. After a chick is hatched however, both parents take turns to find food until their little one can care for itself.

In contrast, having found a safe place to lay her eggs, a mother tortoise leaves them alone to hatch and feed on the surrounding vegetation.

Once they’re laid it’s the father seahorse that takes care of the eggs inside his pouch, whereas with the kangaroo, the baby kangaroo is kept safe in its mother’s pouch.

The monarch butterfly and the common toad never meet their parents and grow up entirely on their own.

The final animal, the blue whale is reared on its mother’s milk, sometimes with the help of other whales.

The illustrations are exquisite and the narrative chatty: prepare to be amazed as you turn the pages of this fascinating book.

The Moon

The Moon
Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook
Stripes Publishing

It was the non-scientific chapters of this superbly illustrated volume that attracted me most, rather than those on the space race, lunar exploration and moon missions.

Earth’s moon has inspired countless people – artists, poets, mathematicians, astronomers and a great many others have aspired to investigate it scientifically and some have even managed to pay it a visit. It’s truly a source of awe and wonder to us all, no matter what our predilections.

There is an enormous amount of fascinating information in this book published to coincide with the anniversary of the moon landing, as well as myths and legends, poetry, folklore and Thomas Hegbrook’s wonderful, wonderful full-page illustrations of such things as  the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

On this spread we learn that the festival was long ago a celebration of a successful harvest of wheat and rice, when food was offered to the moon; this has been celebrated since the Shang dynasty around 1600-1046BCE.
Other aspects of the celestial calendar are covered in this chapter including paragraphs relating to some religions that follow a lunar calendar including Buddhism, although I saw no mention of Hinduism.

The Moon features in many myths, some being concerned with the Man in the Moon; we learn of such from the Haida people who live on the Pacific coast of Canada; from Germany, including residents of Rantum a small village on the German island of Sylt. It’s said there, that the Earth’s tides are controlled by the Man in the Moon, a giant responsible for pouring water onto Earth creating high tides, and resting as the waters die down.
There are also many Moon Rabbit myths from as far afield as Japan, Korea and Africa.
I especially liked The Fox and the Wolf fable and the way it’s set within a beautiful moonlit scene.

Other parts I found fascinating were The Moon and our Bodies, sleep being one aspect affected by its cycle, as well as the chapter on how a full moon is thought to make people do strange things, even perhaps having an effect on such diverse things as the stock exchange and emergency service call outs.

Numerous artists have included the moon in their paintings. In traditional Chinese art it’s most often shown as a tiny object in the distance; whereas Japanese paintings frequently show a large, partially hidden moon.

Architects too have been inspired to use the moon in their building designs.

There is SO much to learn from this book but it’s impossible to cover everything in a review such as this. Instead I suggest you treat yourself to a copy of Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook’s magnificent moon-filled compilation.

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky
Stuart Atkinson and Brendan Kearney
Laurence King Publishing

I love this idea: an introduction to astronomy courtesy of Felicity the cat. With those alluring eyes, it’s hard to resist the offer of a guided tour around the universe from this enthusiastic stargazer who acts as our nocturnal companion.
Suitably prepared with essential stargazing gear, under her expert guidance, readers will receive a terrific introduction to the wonders of our solar system and much more.

The book is absolutely packed with information presented in such a manner that the reader never feels overwhelmed. Stuart Atkinson’s enthusiasm for his subject shines out from every page, his explanations are clear and lucid and he imparts an amazing amount of information almost without you noticing through the down-to-earth voice of the feline Felicity.

I’ve never been able to grasp the concept of star constellations – those pattern in the sky –

but thanks to Felicity’s descriptions and Brendan’s silvery outlines of the likes of Cygnus: the swan,

Sagittarius: the archer and Aquila: the eagle superimposed on the star patterns, I can’t wait for the next dark cloudless night for a spot of stargazing.

They’ll be all the more easy to spot now I know about the seasonal differences in the night sky.

A super book for your little, and not so little, stargazers.

A History of Pictures for Children

A History of Pictures for Children
David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake
Thames & Hudson

It’s great to see so many art books for children published in recent months particularly since the creative subjects – art in particular – are being side-lined in the curriculum; a ridiculously short-sighted act I believe. We need to foster, nurture and develop children’s creativity rather than stifling it. Being able to think outside the box, to say, ‘what if ? …’ is the root of all development including scientific and technical. The current tick-box mentality and constant testing of children does absolutely nothing for their true development; hoop-jumpers are not what is desirable at all.
Hurrah then for such books as this.

Essentially it is a totally enthralling and immersive conversation between artist Hockney and art critic Gayford, wherein through eight chapters they look at, discuss and ponder upon works of art, providing a condensed history of art that encompasses Hockney’s art, those who influenced his works and some awesome work from others through the ages.

Rose Blake provides terrific additional illustrations of her own that cleverly bring the whole enterprise together.

I opened the parcel containing my review copy the day before I was leaving for 3 weeks in India so I tucked it into my laptop bag to take with me. I showed it to my friend Shahid Parvez, an artist and assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts, at Mohanlal Sukhadia University – Udaipur.
He also shared it with his artistic 11-year-old daughter Saba.
Here in brief are their comments:
Shahid: ‘What a lovely book – very readable and absorbing. It certainly makes you curious to know more about art and you don’t want to put it down until the end. I wish we had books such as this one in India to give our kids exposure to art in such an interesting, easy to understand way.

Saba: ‘Such an interesting book telling me about art history and the different aspects of art. I specially liked the “Light and Shadows’

and ‘Mirrors and Reflections’ chapters

and the Timeline of Inventions. I would love to read more books like this one.’

Altogether an excellent enterprise that will assuredly engage and excite both young readers and adults.

Never Too Young!

Never Too Young!
Aileen Weintraub and Laura Horton
Sterling

Fifty people from different parts of the world and from different times who by the age of 18 have made a difference to society are featured in this volume, each person being allocated a spread.
Their contributions are diverse and range from some well known contemporary figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Serena and Venus Williams, as well as equally well-known individuals from other times such as Joan of Arc who lived in the early part of the 15th century, Helen Keller (activist for the deaf and blind who was born in 1880), artist Pablo Picasso from the same era and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Some of those featured were new to me. One is Yash Gupta, a young philanthropist who after breaking his specs. found it hard to cope in school without them until his new ones arrived and consequently came up with the plan to start Sight Learning, an organisation that collects and distributes old spectacles to students all over the world.

Another new name so far as I’m concerned is Nkosi Johnson who lived only twelve years. The boy was one of 70,000 children born HIV positive, something only discovered when his foster mother tried to enrol him in school aged eight and was told he couldn’t go. However the boy fought against this discrimination and eventually won the right to attend. In a conference speech, aged eleven he said this, “ Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk. We can talk, we have needs just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.” Sadly the boy died not long after and his funeral was attended by Nelson Mandela. An organisation called Nkosi’s Haven was created in the boy’s honour. Wow. Talk about an inspiration to the young (and not so young).

Young women include Muzoon Almellehan, a Syrian activist for girls’ rights and education who became the youngest Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and now lives in the UK.

Another is US trans activist Jazz Jennings, co-founder of Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation; her featured words (there’s a quotation from each person included in the book) are: “Equality is what unites our society, and everyone needs to understand that not only do we all deserve to be loved, but we deserve to love ourselves for who we are.”

All these young people and the others featured herein accomplished amazing things and their achievements will surely inspire young readers to seek ways to help their own communities wherever they are.

Everest

Everest
Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng
Flying Eye Books

The closest I’ve ever come to the world’s most famous mountain, Everest, is a couple of visits to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj and environs, in the Himalayan foothills. It was truly memorable to walk in the forest areas and see some of the incredible wildlife – langurs and other monkeys, rhododendrons growing wild, beautiful birds, many of which are illustrated in two of the early spreads of this superb book –

and which I learn herein are sadly now in danger on account of deforestation.

Yes, many climbers are drawn to climb Everest each year, aiming for its summit, as they follow in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. That in itself is amazing but there is much more in the way of the mountain’s associated history, mythology, wildlife, religion and culture to find out about as Sangam Francis and Lisk Feng tell and show readers of this beautifully presented book.

We’re taken right back to the formation of the Himalayan range out of which, in Tibet and Nepal, Everest rises. Each of these countries has a name for the mountain: for Tibetans it’s Chomolunga or ‘Mother Goddess of the World’; in Nepal, she’s Saramatha ‘goddess of the Sky’.

For many cultures Mount Everest is a sacred place: in the valleys and passes leading to its peak are places of worship and prayer for both Hindus and Buddhists

and travellers will often see strings of prayer flags hanging from chortens such as this one –

Unsurprisingly there are a great many legends associated with the mountain, an especially famous one being that of the hidden kingdom of Shambhala, a place only the pure of heart can enter. The entire legend is outlined in the book.
Higher up the mountain, the landscape changes; the flora and fauna have adapted to survive the extreme cold and wind. Unfortunately though, climate change is affecting crucial habitats so that small, cold-loving creatures such as the furry-footed pika

will be forced to move and perhaps be unable to find the vital food they need for survival.

Everest is the home of five goddesses each of whom rides a different animal and wears a dazzlingly coloured robe. More about them is included on ‘The Five Sisters of Long Life’ spread.

Thereafter comes information about the sometimes perilous, climatic conditions; facts about those who have attempted to reach Everest’s summit including their equipment and climbing garb; the problems of waste is mentioned

and the legendary Yeti also makes an appearance.

Here is the Sanskrit word for Himalaya हिमालय, which translates as ‘the home of snow’: Everest is surely that and thanks to the creators of this cracking book, readers will likely be sucked into its multitude of wonders. Who knows, some may even be inspired to pay it a visit.

Where Happiness Lives / One Day So Many Ways

Where Happiness Lives
Barry Timms and Greg Abbott
Little Tiger

What is your idea of a perfect house; perhaps it’s similar to one of the three we visit courtesy of their mouse owners each of which thinks they have the perfect home, to begin with that is.

First off we visit Grey Mouse’s residence: it’s just the right size for him and his family and it’s built in the shade of a wonderful oak tree. In short, it’s just perfect.

 

But then out walking one day, he comes upon an impressive-looking residence with a balcony belonging to White Mouse. What more could any mouse want, thinks Grey Mouse. But he’s soon to find out, for his new acquaintance too has his sights set on a bigger, better residence.

Together the two set off to climb the mountain whereon this amazing place is to be found. Herein lives Brown Mouse who is quick to invite her visitors in for a guided tour of her luxurious home.

A surprise is in store though, for Brown Mouse has a telescope and what she shows her visitors through its lens causes them to stop and rethink the whole notion of home and contentment.

Greg Abbott’s mice are truly enchanting and there’s a plethora of cutaways and flaps to explore and delight little ones in the splendid illustrations that accompany Barry Timms’ engaging, gentle rhyming narrative.

One Day So Many Ways
Laura Hall and Loris Lora
Lincoln Children’s Books

None of us adults spends their day in exactly the same way and so it is with children and the latter is the focus of Laura Hall and Loris Lora’s splendidly diverse close up on the lives of some 40 children from different parts of the world over 24 hours. Readers will be able to compare and contrast as they follow the youngsters as they wake up in their various homes, have breakfast and go to school.

We watch them as they learn, play, get together with friends, enjoy quiet times;

eat lunch, engage in sports, participate in creative activities and more.

After school there’s the inevitable homework for many; but there’s also time to spend with the family; time to read, to sleep and to dream.

Every spread in this lightning world tour focuses on a different aspect of the day with bright engaging artwork and brief descriptions. It’s a great book for opening up discussion among primary children and enormous fun to pore over particularly with another person.
Good to have on a family bookshelf or in your classroom library; either way it’s engaging and delivered with style.

Peace and Me

Peace and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

Inspired by a dozen winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Ali Winter and illustrator Mickaël El Fathi celebrate the lives of these amazing people, allocating a double spread each to the recipients.

The first award was made in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel himself who designated five categories for the award he instigated; and brief background information is provided about him at the outset.

We then embark on a chronological journey of the inspiring prize-winners, starting in 1901 with Jean Henry Dunant who founded the organisation that became the Red Cross,

and ending with Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 winner who stood up to the Taliban in the cause of girls’ education. (There’s a visual time line at the beginning, and a world map at the end showing in which country the recipients live/d.)

We meet familiar names including Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu

and my all time hero Nelson Mandela, as well as some perhaps, lesser known recipients, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Fridtjof Nansen and Wangari Maathia to name three.

Information about the life and times of each is provided, along with an outline of their contribution to peace.

Mickaël El Fathi illustrates the characters beautifully using textured, patterned digital artwork, cleverly embodying the essence of the recipient’s life’s work into his portrayal of each one, and incorporated into which is an appropriate catchphrase.

The book concludes with a list of actions that together might form a definition of peace and a final question to readers: ‘What does peace mean to you?’
These provide a great starting point for discussion with a class or group as well, one hopes, as an encouragement to lead a peaceful life. After all, peace begins with me.
From small beginnings, great things grow: that is what each of the wonderful exemplars featured herein demonstrates.

I’d like to see a copy of this book (it’s endorsed by Amnesty International) in every primary classroom collection and in every home.

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions

Daniel discovering some amazing inventions …

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

What struck me immediately while reading about the amazing inventions in this book, is the crucial role of the imagination in each and every one of them; something all too many of those who’ve played a part in side-lining or cutting completely, creative subjects in schools seem to have overlooked or disregarded.
Without the power of imagination none of these ground-breaking ideas would ever have been conceived let alone come to fruition.

Weird and wacky-seeming, for sure: this book is brimming over with quirky, illustrated facts about all kinds of inventions and discoveries from penicillin to plastic-using pens; the matchstick to the microwave.

What about a nanobot so tiny it could swim inside a human body to perform medical procedures;

or non-melting ice-cream that retains its shape for hours .You can buy the stuff – it’s called Kanazawa – in Japan.

How super to have a pair of super-light, super-strong trainers made from spider silk that can be composted once they’re finished with.

Or perhaps a garment made of fabric that can be cleaned by holding it up to the light. Aussie scientists have manufactured such a fabric and it contains tiny structures that release a burst of energy that degrades stains; yes please.

Certainly the roads around the country could do with making use of the self-healing concrete developed by Dutch microbiologist, Hendrik Marius Jonkers. It uses bacteria to heal cracks in buildings and roads.

Even more surprising than some of the inventions themselves is the fact that they were accidentally discovered, penicillin being one, superglue another.

Hours of immersive, fun-filled learning made all the more enjoyable by author James Olstein’s quirky, retro-style illustrations on every spread.

Once Upon a Raindrop

Once Upon a Raindrop
James Carter and Nomoco
Caterpillar Books

With his opening lines, ‘Do you know why the Moon’s so dry / and yet our world is wet?’ poet, James Carter invites readers to dive into a watery world of oceans, rivers, streams, snow and ice, clouds and steam.

How did it all begin, this wet stuff: was it a single raindrop, or flake of snow; or perhaps an enormous wave braking on the shore? Nobody can be certain, we’re told.

It might perhaps have come as huge blocks of ice from distant outer space, born by meteorites that crashed down to Earth …

and became liquid, then gas, then clouds that sent forth rain to form the oceans that preceded the land that contained rivers and lakes.
As in Earth’s eternal dance around the Sun, so it is with the endless water cycles:

it’s those that produce that amazing life-supporting, life giving element we all rely upon for keeping ourselves and our clothes clean, for cooking, to swim in, sail on and refesh ourselves; so it is too for plants and other creatures.

Our very survival depends on it as it drips, drops, gushes and pours, endless shape-shifting, sometimes flooding, sometimes a trickle, but always on the move.

Our planet Earth, so James reminds us, is the wettest of all and we all are a part of that “WORLD WIDE WET!’

Wellies on everyone. I’m just off to India to catch the tail end of the monsoon.

This verbal celebration of water and its story is made all the more wonderful by Japanese artist, Nomoco’s watercolour washes, swirls, meanders, blobs, drips, drops and splashes.
A beautiful seamless amalgam of words and watery inks, it’s a must have if you’re going to explore any water-related topic with a class, as well as for individual readers who will find the book immersive and informative.

Cooks’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook

Cooks’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook
Gavin Bishop
Gecko Press

In 1768 Captain Cook and his crew set forth on a journey aboard H.M.S. Endeavour. In this wonderful book, published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Endeavour’s voyage to Australia and New Zealand, the New Zealand author/illustrator Gavin Bishop takes readers along with the crew of 94 aboard, on an amazingly tough voyage full of hardships telling the story from the viewpoint of one-handed cook, John Thomson, a rather parsimonious chap.

He uses a chronological diary form along with recipes including some pretty unpleasant ones (especially if like me you’re a vegetarian,) such as stewed albatross with prune sauce.

Unsurprisingly, bad-health and such afflictions as scurvy in addition to the perils on the high seas are regaled with lots of grim details from one below deck, make for a truly fascinating and at times witty read.

We also learn something of the way the gentlemen explorers spent their time and of their encounters with the people whose lands they travelled to.

Clearly Bishop has researched his topic thoroughly, and no matter how one views historic colonisation, the delectable, sometimes troubling, tale of adventure he tells, is totally absorbing.

So too are his splendid painterly watercolour illustrations. Don’t miss the longitudinal section of the Endeavour on the front endpapers along with all who sailed; and a map (plus ‘Tidbits’) of its voyage, at the back.

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear / Terrific Tongues!

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear
Jess French and Angela Keoghan
Nosy Crow

It’s never too early to get your children interested in, and involved with, conservation and helping to care for our planet and the amazing creatures that share it with us.

Jess French, a zoologist, naturalist and vet, demonstrates that small-seeming actions can be significant and each one contributes to the whole huge conservation task. For each of the dozen habitats – gardens, hedgerows,

heathlands, woodlands, highlands, wetlands, bodies of freshwater, coastlines, oceans, savannahs, jungles and mountains, she suggests straightforward everyday things we can all do to help protect these precious ecosystems and contribute towards making them places where the fauna and flora can thrive.

We might for instance create a bee-friendly wild part of our garden or build a log pile so lizards or insects have a warm, safe place to survive the winter chills.

Or perhaps when out and about we might participate in a butterfly or dragonfly count in a local wetland area. All these things can make a difference to the bigger picture as well as being thoroughly enjoyable.

Angela Keoghan’s splendid illustrations add to the pleasures of this absorbing and inspiring book that’s just perfect for young aspiring conservationists either at home or in school.

Terrific Tongues!
Maria Gianferrari and Jia Liu
Boyd Mills Press

Here’s a smashing little book that demonstrates the enormous versatility of animal tongues presenting the information in a really fun interactive way for young children who will delight at being asked, as they are on the opening page to ‘Stick out your tongue!’ as well as trying to imagine it as a straw, a mop and a sword.

Courtesy of a monkey presenter, we follow the creature as it tries out the various possibilities: for instance a sword-like tongue, as used by a woodpecker, becomes a sharp tool with which to stab insects especially beetle larvae that burrow beneath the tree bark.

The pages work in pairs with the recto asking the question and using a common object

and the verso providing an illustration of the kind of animal with that particular sort of tongue as well as some interesting relevant facts.

The final pages look at human tongues with some amusing things to try, as well as further information on the animal tongues featured (I love the rhyming spread) and where the creatures live.

The entire book is great fun to use with a group who will eagerly anticipate what’s coming; and its patterned text also makes it a great one for learner readers to try themselves. All will enjoy Jia Liu’s playful digital illustrations.

Raise the Flag

Raise the Flag
Clive Gifford and Tim Bradford
QED

Traveller Clive Gifford and nature enthusiast Tim Bradford have created a fascinating books absolutely jam-packed with information, stories and other tidbits.

Herein you can find out about the history of flags including their use in heraldry.

Then comes a look at the national flag of every country in the world.
These are grouped under regions, first the Americas and Canada, then a glance at local and regional ones. Thereafter it’s on to Asia, the continent with the largest human population, where we find out about frags from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan to Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen. Some countries such as India, have a whole spread devoted to its flag.

There’s a look at flag usage – in sport,

to commemorate amazing feats such as the conquest of Everest,

the Apollo moon landing, pirate flags, flags in semaphore and much more.

In total 268 flags are explored including that of New Guinea, designed by a 15 year old schoolgirl; at one time, and until it was discovered at the Olympic Games of 1936, two countries Liechtenstein and Haiti, had exactly the same flag design. Now Monaco and Indonesia share a design; these fascinating facts I learned from the book.

Comprehensive and totally absorbing; I certainly never imagined that vexillology could be so interesting. My only issue is that I’d have liked to see the ‘Union Jack’ called the Union Flag.

This book is very well written and the visual presentation excellent; no spread looks like another and none will overwhelm primary age readers. There’s even a quiz and a final glossary and index.

Well worth adding to a school or family bookshelves.

Voyage Through Space

Voyage Through Space
Katy Flint and Cornelia Li
Wide Eyed Editions

In the company of a little astronaut and her dog, readers are taken on a journey of adventure in space starting at the Sun, the centre of our solar system.

So it’s space suits and helmets on and off we go exploring the planets, our first stop being Mercury, closest to the Sun and the smallest planet in our solar system. We learn that its surface is covered in craters on account of the meteors that have crashed into it over millions of years; we discover that its temperature varies dramatically; it’s ‘blisteringly hot’ by day and very cold at night. Did you know that on Mercury a year is a mere 88 days long?

Venus is next closest where temperatures can go as high as 460 ℃ – OUCH! This is the hottest planet, has no moon and is impossible to explore.

Next stopping place is the moon, whereon American astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were the first to land, a good place from which to observe Earth.

The red planet, Mars is the next stop; a place prone to fierce dust storms . A sol (Martian day) is approximately 39 minutes longer than an Earth day.

Passing through the asteroid belt takes the explorers to the largest planet in our solar system and fifth from the sun. NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently studying Jupiter with its liquid surface and clouds of toxic gases.

The ringed planet, Saturn is the next destination. There strong hurricanes rage and the surface is mostly liquids and swirling gases. I was amazed to learn that a year on Saturn is more than 29 Earth years.

Uranus glows blue when seen in the distance from Saturn. That’s the next place viewed. Its surface is the coldest in the universe and the explorers are unable to stand thereon as its surface is gaseous, although beneath the blue-green gas clouds, scientists believe enormous gems are to be found. If only …

The final planet on the journey is Neptune, even windier than Jupiter and the furthest from the Sun. Voyager 2 took a whole two years to reach Neptune from Earth. Thereafter the adventurers reach the ‘frisbee-shaped Kuiper belt … Time to head home.

All this information is provided in easily digestible bite size chunks scattered on the relevant spread, most of which is taken up with Cornelia Li’s powerful and intriguing illustration. You can almost feel the intense heat coming from some of the pages and taste with swirling gases from others.
In addition there’s a glow-in-the-dark, fold-out poster at the back of the book to further excite young readers.

Three Cheers For Women!

Three Cheers for Women!
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Richly detailed, funny illustrations and accompanying information on seventy remarkable women from all over the world is presented in comic strip format in Marcia Williams’ (Dot) signature style.

The amazing achievements of these women are diverse and presented, with their stories, chronologically. We start in ancient times with Cleopatra V11 Queen of Egypt and warrior queen Boudicca, ending with the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, children’s and women’s rights activist.

Along the way we are introduced to among others, Mary Wollstonecraft (radical feminist and writer),

Marie Curie, human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart,

artist Frida Kahlo,

environmentalist and peace activist Wangari Maathai, Mae C. Jemison the first African-American woman in space, and Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman.

Look out for the wonderful tiny animal and bird characters that drift around the margins of the spreads along with narrator Dot and her friend Abe, adding to the fun and biographical information given in the main frames – love that narrative device.

There are also three final spreads – ‘Leaders and World-Changers’, ‘Sportswomen & Creatives’, and ‘Scientists, Pioneers & Adventurers’, containing paragraphs on around sixty other amazing women.

Memorable, inspirational, accessible and enormously enjoyable.
Children reading this, in addition to celebrating these awesome women, will surely come to know that where world changing achievements are concerned, there are, if you have a passion and self-belief, and think beyond the limits, no holds barred.

Biographic: Kahlo

Biographic: Kahlo
Sophie Collins
Ammonite Press

I’ve long been a fan of Frida Kahlo – her art and her spirit – so was thrilled to receive this new addition to the Biographic series for review.
It takes us first, through her life. Born in 1907 and growing up in Mexico, Frida caught polio when she was six, leaving her with a limp in her right leg; then at eighteen she was in a terrible bus accident that left her with many broken bones and in constant pain for the rest of her sadly short life.

During her recovery period, so the first part of her timeline informs us, Frida started to paint.

Three years after the accident she met Mexican artist Diego Rivera and in 1929, (a year after Frida joined the Communist party), they married for the first time.

Several operations, three failed pregnancies and a couple of affairs later, in 1935, Frida and Rivera separated: “A marriage between an elephant and a dove” is a what Frida’s mother is reputed to have said about the couple and she was certainly dwarfed by him bodily though certainly not in spirit or artistic talent.

Her first exhibition was held in 1938 and much of her work was intensely personal reflecting what was happening to her and how she felt at the time. She painted in oils, often using pastels and coloured inks for sketching. One of her most famous works, is the heavily symbolic ‘Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’.

Another is  ‘The Wounded Deer’:

Frida’s clothes were always distinctive as this self-portrait shows:

This, and others in the series that includes Biographic: Hendrix, and Biographic: Sherlock, all of which include maps,flowcharts and bubble-diagrams, are examples of infographics at their best.

See the V&A exhibition (a collection of personal possessions – clothing and artefacts) and buy this book. They can work in tandem.

Treasure Hunt House

Treasure Hunt House
Kate Davies and Becca Stadtlander
Lincoln Children’s Books

When a brother and sister receive a letter from their Great Aunt Martha inviting them to go and stay at her incredible house their mother urges them to accept.
They pack a weekend bag and off they go only to discover on arrival that their aunt isn’t there. She’s been unexpectedly called away but in her stead is her kindly looking housekeeper who introduces herself as Jo. She informs the children that their aunt has planned a treasure hunt to occupy their time until her return.

We join them in the hallway as they attempt to solve the first clue, ‘I have a heart of stone. And a head of stone, too’ and lifting the various flaps on the spread will reveal the solution along with further instructions, as well as cultural and historical information about some of the objects therein.

Thereafter we follow them around as, accompanied by Jo, they visit the rest of the rooms: the kitchen; the bedroom, where we read of the making of the first denim jeans;

the bathroom (this has a trickier riddle and a famous painting reproduction on the wall);

the living room – the cat introduces itself there); the library with its floor to ceiling bookshelves (Aunt Martha is evidently a Shakespeare enthusiast); the olde-worlde dining room; the sub-tropical  conservatory wherein butterflies flittered around the flowers;

the enormously fascinating Cabinet of curiosities packed with biological specimens including a velociraptor skeleton and a shelf of corals; a wonderful art gallery; a hall of inventions (Aunt Martha is an avid collector of incredible inventions, we learn); a music room packed with instruments of all kinds; and finally, a child’s paradise of a toy room. Therein too the final clue is solved and the secret of Jo’s real identity revealed.

Each room is exciting, packed with history and in all there are over 50 flaps to explore.

This is a fascinating and magical book that is likely to engender an interest in both history and art; it’s perfect for all who enjoy playing with or collecting doll’s houses, or have an interest in old houses, and would make a super present.

DIY Circus Lab for kids

DIY Circus Lab for kids
Jackie Leigh Davis
Quarry Books

Did you know that this year is the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK; I certainly didn’t although I live in an area of Gloucestershire that regularly hosts the wonderful Giffords Circus.

This book is written by mime artist, educator, teacher and founding member of the American Youth Circus Organisation, Jackie Leigh Davis, who provides an absolute wealth of circus skills for children; and she makes it clear in her preface that circus sees all colours, all kinds of bodies: it’s inclusive, it’s for everyone. I like that.

Readers are given an overview of the various circus skills: Acrobatics, acrobalance and pyramids, Aerial arts, (for safety reasons, this are not covered in the book), Balance arts, Clowning, Gyroscopic juggling and Toss juggling.

This is followed by a ‘What’s in this book?’ spread that begins with the words, ‘This book empowers you to take your first steps in circus.’ I like that too. Herein are included some wise words on safety, a crucial element, and it also includes a ‘Proceed at your own risk’ disclaimer.

Next come the individual units wherein as well as instructions for learning the skills, Poi for instance,

readers are invited to make their own circus props such as hoops, juggling sticks and balls, poi, stilts and clown hats and nose; T-shirts even.

The instructions are always easy to follow and there are photos to help.

While the particular skill under discussion might at a beginners level, the author also includes fascinating historical references,

the positive impact of each skill learned and, where appropriate links to on-line tutorials.

The section entitled Partner Acrobatics and Human pyramids took me to Udaipur, Rajasthan where on Janmasthami, I regularly see some terrifying-looking human pyramids at a cross roads near a famous temple. I was recently interested to read that this year, a high court in Mumbai has banned those under 18 years old participating in this ‘Dahi Handi’ festival as well as banning pyramids above 20 feet high.

Back to the book, the pyramids taught herein are of an altogether safer type and include vital words on warming up and, crucially, safety, as well as the concise instructions for several pyramid styles. (There’s a whole language of pyramids: I didn’t know that!)

Putting on a show is addressed too and in the final pages are information on additional resources, recommendations for further study and more.

Intended to engender and foster a child’s enthusiasm for circus arts, but in addition think how important skills of balance and co-ordination are for adults as we grow older.

I can even envisage some of the activities being tried with an old folks group.

All in all, this is an excellent book, comprehensive and done superbly: it’s well worth investing in for families, schools and other groups that have an interest in exploring and fostering the circus arts and their potential.

The People Awards

The People Awards
Lily Murray and Ana Albero
Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s yet another book celebrating people whose achievements have made a significant contribution towards making the world a better place. This one however, unlike many of the other recent titles, includes both women and men.

It contains a lot of information served up in digestible portions about a wide variety of people from all over the globe and through history, from Sappho (a creativity award winner) to Malala Yousafzai, Pakastani human rights activist and youngest Nobel Prize winner (2014).

In total there are 50 awardees, twenty-nine winners who have been allocated an individual award and who each have a double spread devoted to them. These include Trischa Zorn, blind, Paralympic swimmer who won seven gold medals; she gets the Amazing Athlete Award;

Olaudah Equiano from Nigeria who wins The Kidnapped Hero Award;

David Bowie gets The Express Yourself Award; Frida Kahlo has The Painting Through Pain Award, my all time hero, Nelson Mandela wins The Fight For Freedom Award, creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee has ‘The Dot Com Award and – as a teacher/ educator, I have to mention Maria Montessori, who promoted learning through play and gets The Children’s Champion Award.

Then there are a further five awards categories: The Trailblazer Awards given to four people;

The Brilliant Ideas Award has four winners; The Creativity Awards: these go to a further four – Mozart, Gaudi, Sappho and Hans Christian Andersen; Bravery Awards are made to Antónia Rodrigues, Rigoberta Menchú, Muhammad Ali, Simón Bolivar and Rosa Parks; Inspiration Award winners are Ana Nzinga, Donald Bradman, Eva Perón and Joan of Arc.

There is SO much to like about Lily Murray (author) and Ana Albero, (illustrator)’s collaboration – the range of winners, the imaginative presentation, the names of the awards, the final Lap of Honour time line whereon all the winners take a bow; and I absolutely love the illustrative style and Ana Alberos’ chosen colour palette.

My Book about Brains, Change and Dementia

My Book about Brains, Change and Dementia
Lynda Moore and George Haddon
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

In picture book form, author Lynda Moore (a family counsellor who works with children impacted by dementia in Australia) and illustrator/cartoonist George Haddon, deliver an explanation in straightforward terms that will help young children understand something of the sensitive subject of dementia.

Starting generally, there’s an explanation of brain function; how it is a vital organ involved in everything we do.

The author then moves on to say that like other parts of the body, a person’s brain can also get sick and we generally call the disease dementia.

Youngsters are reassured that the changes that may happen to someone with dementia, (a relative perhaps)

are not their fault or indeed that of anybody else.
The importance of care and kindness are stated, as is the fact that dementia is incurable.

Readers/listeners are then given the option to skip the next few pages, which explain that ultimately, dementia can end in death.

Finally and also reassuringly, the book concludes by saying that if you know someone with dementia it is acceptable to feel happy, sad, scared or angry (mad) but it’s important and helpful to share your feelings.

Concise, compassionate and young-child friendly, with amusing illustrations, this is an excellent book that should be in  all early years settings, every school, nursing home and when appropriate, a family library.

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets
Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

With Brian Cox-like charisma, Walliman and Newman’s Professor Astro Cat blasts off on a new adventure, launching us into space courtesy of the prof. It’s he that describes first, in easily comprehendible terms for young readers, the workings of rockets.

Next comes a brief (and selective) ‘History of Space Travel’ that begins in 1947 with fruit flies, and is followed by Laika (her reportedly ‘painless’ death in orbit is not mentioned), monkey Albert and then in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the first human space traveller who managed to orbit the earth.

The huge Appollo 11 features thereafter with the famous first moon landing of two of the crew’s three astronauts in 1969.

Readers also hear of ‘Modern Space Shuttles’: Columbia, Discovery (that carried the Hubble Space telescope), Challenger that was especially memorable for carrying Sally Ride the first American woman, in space and the first African American, Guion Bluford.

Looking to the future, the final spreads are devoted to NASA’s work in progress, Orion and the Space Launch System; the possibilities of space tourism for ordinary mortals, a brief mention of star travel and on the last page, a short glossary.

In all this, the Prof. is accompanied in Ben Newman’s characteristically stylish retro looking illustrations, by his two pals, the similarly clad feline and sidekick mouse.

Sufficiently powerful to send the youngest of primary children rocketing on their way towards becoming ardent space enthusiasts, and into potential science careers I suspect.

Really Remarkable Reptiles / Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles

Really Remarkable Reptiles
Jake Williams
Pavilion Children’s Books

Award winning designer, Jake Williams introduces us to an amazing assortment of reptilian creatures in this his first picture book.
He provides us first with an introductory spread with paragraphs explaining what reptiles are biologically, their evolution, egg laying and habitats. Next come a reptile timeline, which goes back as far as the age of the dinosaurs, and a life cycle.

Thereafter are four sections, one each devoted to – ‘Lizards’, the carnivorous ‘Snakes’, ‘Turtles and Tortoises’ and ‘Crocodiles and Alligators’.

Included in the first group are chameleons and many people probably tend to think of those as just one kind; I was aware of different species but surprised to learn that there are over 200 chameleon species, nearly half of which live only in Madagascar.

I was also fascinated to read that the Sailfin water lizard is a metre in length, has a fin 7cm tall and can be found in a variety of colours – brown, green and yellow, adult males often turning bright blue to attract a potential mate.

Most people shudder at the mere mention of snakes; I’m certainly no snake lover but apart from the poisonous ones, am not frightened of them. I even once had to demonstrate (at the request of the hotel naturalist),their harmlessness to a group of female workers who were scared to go and clean the cottage rooms after one discovered a snake had got into one. Having it wrapped around me was I thought, over and above the cause of nature.

It happened to be a variety of tree snake, not the South American Emerald kind featured here,

as this was in Kerala (south India). I would however have been exceedingly alarmed to come upon a live and highly venomous, Sea snake on the beach or ocean’s edge there (although I did find a number of dead ones).

The domed-shape shelled Turtles and Tortoises form the next section. Did you know their shells have a web of nerve endings and a tortoise or turtle is sensitive on every centimetre of its shell? One fascinating fact I learned about female green sea turtles is that they often choose the same beach on which they were hatched to lay their eggs.
The last section includes the largest of all living reptiles, Saltwater crocodiles that can grow as long as 7m.

Did you know that crocodiles swallow stones as a food grinding aid in their stomachs? Ouch!

The final pages of this absorbing book are devoted to Habitats and environments, (reptiles are found on every one of the continents except Antarctica, residing in such diverse places as deserts, rainforests, mountain parks and cities but sadly some species have been lost or are under threat due to human action. We can all do our bit to help conserve them: using less packaging and recycling can help.

Also on the same theme is a much smaller book:

Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles
Amy-Jane Beer and Alice Pattullo
Lincoln Children’s Books

This handy Pocket Guide, written by natural history expert, Dr Amy-Jane Beer introduces the four main reptilian groups and after introductory spreads entitled ‘What is a Reptile?’ and ‘Reptile Life’ come several spreads devoted to the different families with representative examples.

Did you know for instances that Sea turtles are able to sleep holding their breath underwater for hours? That Komodo dragons have gums that bleed easily, turning their saliva pink; or that Blind snakes hunt their prey using their sense of smell?

This is a good, get-up-close look, finely illustrated by Alice Pattullo, at the various species and an introduction to a fascinating topic that may well get young readers hooked on biological science.

Need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Foods of the World / Transport and Travel

Foods of the World
Libby Walden and Jocelyn Kao
Transport and Travel
Sandra Lawrence and Jem Maybank
360 Degrees

Aimed primarily at KS2 (7-11) readers these are two of the Mini Hardback series, neatly packaged, alluringly illustrated with spreads playfully subtitled..
In the first book Libby Walden takes a broad view of what we eat, rummaging around in kitchens around the world and unearthing all manner of diverse and delicious dishes and tasty treats, from tagines

to turnips – albeit ones used as lanterns in Richterswil near Zurich in November,  shark meat (served in Iceland as Hákarl) to strudel, cannali to chewing gum and bubble gum – yes even those are included, despite having no nutritional value, on account of needing to be chewed.

In addition to the vast array of culinary delights, readers can find out about unusual utensils and absorb a range of fascinating food-related facts.
Cooking techniques too are covered, (my favourite of those here is the tandoor used in Indian cuisine).

So too are food terms, in particular those coming from the French language.
There’s also a look at the notion of ‘good manners’: not finishing everything on your plate is impolite in China, while Middle Eastern (and also in my experience, on the Indian sub-continent) people often eat with their fingers, but it has to be the correct (right) hand; to use the left hand would be a faux pas.
When you travel abroad are you a person who relishes the thought of sampling the cuisine of the country you’re visiting or do you seek out places to eat that serve as nearly as possible what you’re used to at home.
I’m one of the former although in some places it’s less easy to find suitable eating places since I’m a vegetarian who also tries to avoid anything dairy so I eagerly devoured this book. So too will young readers who enjoy a good nosh.

Fascinating factual Transport and Travel related snippets are presented in the second title, some historic, some present day and one or two. looking to the future.

Moving around on land, through water, in the air, under ground and undersea are all covered though the book is divided into four main parts: travel on wheels, on rails, through the air and water.

We’re given a look at the great lengths people all over the world have gone to in order to get from one place to another as effectively as is humanly possible. Inviting illustrations offer readers a passenger’s eye view of such diverse modes of transport as tuk-tuks,

a gondola, a life boat, a bi-plane and a bicycle. What’s your favourite means of travelling?

Caterpillar and Bean

Caterpillar and Bean
Martin Jenkins and Hannah Tolson
Walker Books

Here’s a beautifully illustrated, narrative information book that cleverly combines two life cycles, that of a runner bean and an unnamed butterfly. (I’m not aware of a butterfly whose food plant is the runner bean.)

Written by conservation biologist and author, Martin Jenkins it’s the latest in the Science Storybook series for young children with growth and change as its themes.

Starting with a wrinkly bean seed ‘neath the ground, readers can follow its development as first a tiny root emerges, followed by (above ground) green leaves, then more green leaves onto one of which a white dot of an egg appears.

From this hatches a caterpillar that nibbles and grows, nibbles and grows,

shedding three skins, almost stripping the plant of its foliage.

Fortunately though, the plant too continues growing apace, but of the caterpillar there is no sign. Instead, dangling on a thread is a chrysalis.

Meanwhile bean pods have replaced the flowers and are swelling ready to shed new bean seeds after which, come winter the plant dies.

Not so the chrysalis however, that is awaiting spring when …

Simply and effectively told in a reader-friendly chatty style, alongside growing your own beans and caterpillars this is an excellent introductory book.

Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World
Isabel Otter and Margaux Carpentier
360 Degrees

The world is a truly amazing place and its wonders, some of which were formed naturally and others made by humans, are really a sight to behold. In this book author Isabel Otter and illustrator Margaux Carpentier present them for us all to see and appreciate without even moving from our seats. Better still is being able to see them with your own eyes but I as a fairly well travelled individual have visited only two of them, India’s Taj Mahal

and The Colosseum in Rome and some of them I think are no longer in existence.

In all we pay a vicarious visit to twenty one wonders thanks to the stand out bright images, descriptive text and lift-the-flap details.
We’re shown seven ancient wonders including the Temple of Artemis in Turkey, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Hanging Garden of Babylon.

Look out for the wheel feature on this page.

Those representing the modern world include the Great Wall of China, which was actually started in 221BCE and said to be the longest structure ever built by humans, having grown over 2000 years to it enormous present (21,196km) length.

Sadly of those presented on the final spread of Natural Wonders one, the Great Barrier Reef, is in great danger on account of global warming caused by we humans.

Each of these wonders could be a starting point for further exploration by interested readers and the whole book would make a great discussion topic with groups or individuals presenting their particular favourite to the rest of the class.

I personally would love to see those Hanging Gardens but there isn’t any chance of that since no trace of them has ever been found. Instead I’ll just have to do with imagining them.