If I Were The World

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

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

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

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

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

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate With Me!

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

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

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

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

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

5 Minute Nature Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Whose Tracks in the Snow?

Whose Tracks in the Snow?
Alexandra Milton
Boxer Books

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

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

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

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

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

My First Book of Electromagnetism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended for budding scientists either at home or in school.

Little Elephant / Little Platypus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dinosaur A Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballet Kids

Ballet Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

History’s Biggest Show-Offs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Swans

Black Swans
Laurel van der Linde and Sawyer Cloud
Sunbird Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Polar Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africana: an encyclopedia of an amazing continent

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Invitation to the Ballet Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illumibugs

Illumibugs
Carnovsky and Barbara Taylor
Wide Eyed Editions

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

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

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

View through red lens

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

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

India Incredible India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Nights, Eight Lights

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

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

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

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

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

Every Word Tells A Story

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Stories for Nature Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invertebrates Are Cool! / Slow Down and Be Here Now

Invertebrates Are Cool!
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granny Pip Grows Fruit
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

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

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

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

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

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

The Earth Book
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
Little Tiger

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

Darwin & Hooker

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

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

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

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

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

Gross FACTopia!

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

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

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

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

Big Questions About the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finger Sports / Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain

Finger Sports
Anna Bruder
Graffeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Kindness
John Francis and Josy Bloggs
What on Earth Books

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

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

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

It’s the Journey not the Destination

It’s the Journey not the Destination
Carl Honoré, illustrated by Kevin & Kristen Howdeshell
Magic Cat

The author of this book urges readers who undertake any of forty adventures here to take their time. That’s the only way to discover what makes each place special and worth a visit. I’ll never forget one time I was staying in Jaipur when a group of tourists from the USA rolled up to the hotel and one of them said, “Hey, what country are we in now?” Their whistle-stop tour to several parts of the world certainly wasn’t about the amazing people, the sights, sounds and smells – the real things that makes each place special, which they were going to miss out on with this attitude. It’s a pity they’d not been able to read what Carl Honoré has to say before setting out.

The book has four main sections: Journeys on Foot, Journeys by Bike, Journeys by Boat and Journeys by Train. These slower modes of transport have been deliberately chosen by the author as being most suitable for those who want to savour the sights, sounds and smells both of the places they stop at and what they pass as they travel. Every section starts with a world map locating each journey.
No matter which of the Journeys on Foot you choose, doing it with mindfulness will make all the difference. Otherwise you’ll likely miss the possibility of seeing a sloth hanging upside down or even better, swimming in the blue waters of Costa Rica’s Tenorio Volcano Park, a dazzling tropical rainforest. And you’ll most certainly not feel the ancient spiritual power of the enormous Uluru stone monolith or notice how its colour changes with the angle of the sun.
I have visited India’s Rajasthan state almost every year for at least two decades doing a lot of exploring on foot but cycling from Jodhpur to Udaipur (my favourite of the three cities mentioned) to Jaipur is too great a challenge for me though I’ve met people who have done just that.

Each of the cities and environs offers an astonishing mix of ancient and modern; a sensory cornucopia for sure.

Another of my favourite cities, Amsterdam, is included in the Journeys by Boat section. Here you can explore the wonderful canals and elegant architecture, perhaps in a pedalo, savouring every moment of the experience.

When readers turn to the final section, in particular the ‘Hail the Highlanders on the Jacobite Steam Train’ spread they may well recognise the Glenfinnan Viaduct illustrated; that’s because the Hogwarts Express travels over it in the Harry Potter films. However the entire journey offers a visual feast with those amazing mountains and valleys.

No matter which of the journeys you put on your ‘to do’ list, make sure to read carefully the author’s 12 ways to travel ‘Slow’; it could make all the difference to your experiences. Till then you can become a world traveller without leaving your sofa by slowly reading this beautifully illustrated book; but think of what you’re missing.

All the Animals Were Sleeping / Amazing Animal Treasury

All the Animals Were Sleeping
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Author Clare and illustrator Jenny transport readers to the dry, grassy plains of the Serengeti where a little mongoose makes his way back to his burrow. As he scurries beneath the darkening sky he encounters in turn giraffes, vervet monkeys, zebras, a herd of elephants – ‘The Elephants’ ears draped like sails. Their trunks muzzled in the dry, dusty ground.’ 

storks, a monitor lizard near the riverbank, 

spotted butterflies and a cheetah family, all of which are sleeping, each in their own way. Finally under a star-filled sky, the little mongoose reaches the burrow where he joins his sisters and brothers curled up with a parent and then he too closes his eyes and at last it truly is a case of All the Animals Were Sleeping.

Lyrically written and strikingly illustrated with gorgeous details of the featured fauna and background flora, this is a gorgeous book to share at bedtime or indeed any time. (After the main narrative are three pages with information about each the animals featured in the story and about the Serengeti itself.)
Add to KS1 topic boxes and family bookshelves.

Amazing Animal Treasury
Chris Packham, illustrated by Jason Cockroft
Red Shed

This large volume brings together all three of Chris Packham and Jason Cockcroft’s titles: Amazing Animal Babies, Amazing Animal Homes and Amazing Animal Journeys.
Chris uses a simple, direct and clear writing style appropriate for the intended young audience and there’s an absolute wealth of information here as readers join a group of explorers who travel the world observing various creatures and in particular their young. There are froglets, baby Komodo dragons, albatross chicks as well as baby earthworms, tiger cubs and meerkat pups and we learn something of how they feed and attempt to stay alive.

Just like we humans, animals need somewhere secure and safe to be a family, a place that is home.
It might be in a building already constructed, it could be underground, in or near water, in a tree but some creatures – banded snails for instance – have ready-made homes. 

Certain animals live in colonies, African termites are one example but others have to work hard to create a safe place just for one (a Bark spider, say). There is so much to discover about Animal Homes and this is a great place to start.

With just the right amount of detail as before, Journeys explains why animals migrate and presents some of those that do including the ‘masters of migration’ – leatherback turtles, red crabs, wildebeest, free-tailed bats, the monarch butterfly and blackcap birds as well as others that make much shorter, but vital, journeys.

For young animal enthusiasts and school collections; it’s ideal for the foundation stage and just beyond.

Molly and the Dolphins / I See the Sea

Molly and the Dolphins
Malachi Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

In Molly’s sixth adventure she receives a very special present from her father: a lovely little dinghy that she names The Mermaid. Every morning the two set out in it and Molly learns how to read the wind, trim the sails and ride the waves; however her father begs that she doesn’t try sailing solo until he’s sure she’s ready. One day when out together Molly spies a pod of dolphins and they surround their boat. One dolphin Molly names Dot swims with them every day. Later on though, she’s joined by a tiny dolphin: Dot has a baby.

Eventually Molly’s father declares that she’s ready to sail solo and under his watchful eye off she sets, just her, her boat and the birds under the sky. Suddenly she notices that something untoward has happened to her dolphin friend: the baby is caught up in a fishing net.

Fortunately Molly’s father is able to free it, then throughout the summer Molly shows her human friends Dylan and Amina how to sail while the dolphins play around their boat. A wonderful season passes all too soon and then come the darker, shorter days and Molly realises there are no dolphins.

Suddenly the wind changes direction taking girl and boat far from home. Now Molly is in need of help: how will she find her way back to the safety of the harbour?

With dramatic illustrations and an important ecological message, this is another treat from team Doyle and Whitson.

I See the Sea
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

The eye staring out from the front cover of this book is repeated by use of a die-cut connecting hole, which builds up creating concentric circles that form a part of different sea creatures when the pages are turned as readers participate in a game of aquatic I spy discovering in turn a whale, dolphins, an octopus, rays, a turtle, lobsters – nocturnal hunters they, squid, shimmering seahorses,

more fish and finally plankton silently drifting. There is so much to see and enjoy in Julia’s illustrations for this ocean foray that truly captures its awesomeness and majesty while her lyrical narrative beginning ‘I SEE’ on each spread evokes the wonders of the diverse marine life and flows beautifully from one spread to the next throughout.

Backmatter comprises further information about each of the creatures depicted and about environmental threats to our oceans and many of the species completes this strikingly beautiful picture book. It’s surely one that will both capture the imaginations of child readers and at the same time, inspire them to find out more about the astonishing life beneath the waves.

Maths is Weird! / The Periodic Table is Weird!

These are new additions to Little Tiger’s Smash Facts series: thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

Maths is Weird!
The Periodic Table is Weird!

Noodle Fuel, illustrated by Luke Newell
Little Tiger

The creators of these two funky books employ the assistance of a robot and an alien respectively to present the wealth of information contained therein.


The droids at GigaSmartZ BrainBot Academy, the super-weirdest school in the entire universe guide human students through a mathematical maze, stopping to discuss a wealth of vital topics relating to numbers, number operations, numerical patterns and connections(this includes prime numbers); fractions, decimals, percentages and how to work them out, ratios, probability: did you realise that in a group of 75 people, it’s a 99.9% chance two of them will have the same birthday? There’s a look at both the metric and imperial systems of measuring. Recently there was talk of reverting to the imperial system in the UK – perish the thought!
Geometry is the next theme but clearly without being able to do number operations, much of this would be impossible. Both 2D and 3D shapes are covered

and we’re introduced to some of the ancient philosophers and mathematicians who made vital contributions to mathematics. and there are also ten very weird maths facts and finally some activities to try.

If you want to understand more chemistry, especially about the periodic table, then it’s worth enrolling at Floortlesnazz Grobblesnot Intergalactic Scientific Institute. I’m certain that had my A-level chemistry lessons at school been a fraction as interesting as this whacky book, I wouldn’t have spent a fair bit of my time throwing a netball across the back of the lab to a friend, instead of paying attention to what was being said. In The Periodic Table Is Weird! every element from actinide to zirconium is covered, starting with hydrogen,

which is pretty amazing as to date that means 118 in total and the way the table itself is explained on the opening spread makes a whole lot more sense than ever it did when the periodic table was just a large chart on the wall occasionally referred to in the lessons I attended. And, I’m pretty sure that one had 10 fewer elements than the present one.
Both books are zanily illustrated by Luke Newell: this is light-hearted learning that readers are unlikely to forget.

This Book Will Save the Planet

This Book Will Save the Planet
Dany Sigwalt, illustrated by Aurélia Durand
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

As I sit reading my copy of this book, (it’s part of the Empower the Future series), much of the UK swelters in temperatures of 40 degrees C, wild fires are raging in various parts of the world and people are dying as a result of the heat: it’s clear our planet is in crisis. So Dany Sigwalt’s thought-provoking look at climate change couldn’t be more timely.

Herein she shows how it’s the marginalised communities across the world over that are most affected, stating that it’s those of us among the more privileged who need to use whatever privileges we have to help less fortunate and hence, less powerful people.

All is not quite lost. There is still just enough time for every single one of us to make a difference; by pulling together – mutual support and aid is paramount – and by using Dany’s framework we can all further the cause of climate justice. In order for this to succeed, people must come before profit.
Our precious planet will be protected if all its inhabitants are protected; the people will be protected if the planet is protected.

The vibrant illustrations by Aurélia Durand add to the impact of this hugely pertinent, powerfully presented book. Read it, make sure you do the activities at the end of each chapter and act – NOW! Make that crucial difference.

Britannica’s Word of the Day

Britannica’s Word of the Day
Patrick & Renee Kelly, Sue Macy, illustrated by Josy Bloggs, Emily Cox, James Gibbs, Liz Kay
Britannica Books

If you want to become a word pundit or turn your child into a logophile, then this book should definitely be on your shelves, or better still, near at hand every day. It features a veritable menagerie of animals large and small, each amusingly portrayed and ready and waiting to introduce the word of the day, over 366 days. So in a single year it’s possible to boost your vocabulary by a sufficient amount to impress your family and friends and have fun so doing. Each word has been carefully chosen by the Britannica team and every one is certainly worth having in your vocabulary.

Along with the word of the day is a pronunciation guide, a definition, what part of speech it is, a sentence incorporating the selected word, and some trivia about its usage or etymology.

Each month concludes with a delightfully daft ‘story of the month’ that includes all the new vocabulary learned.

Be prepared to be surprised and delighted: what a great way to learn and to acquire some trivial information too. Did you know for instance that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards ‘defenestrated a TV during a stay in Hollywood in 1972; or that ‘chartreuse’ is named after a green drink created by a 16th century alchemist who claimed those who drank it would have long and healthy lives. And I’m pretty sure I have ‘pareidolia’ – the tendency to see a meaningful image in a random visual pattern –

though I wasn’t familiar with the word until I came upon it in this book.

Lands of Belonging

Lands of Belonging
Donna & Vikesh Amey Bhatt and Salini Perera
Nosy Crow

This splendid book written by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt, with input from Dr Rajbir Hazelwood, historian of South Asia and Modern Britain, is published for the 75th anniversary in August 2022 of the Partition of India. Its reference frame is that there are many ways to tell a story, depending on your viewpoint and experiences. I visit India at least once a year, once spent six months teaching and doing social work in Rajasthan, have made many close friends there and in other parts of the country, – people who have taken me into their homes and their hearts – and was born in Pakistan to British parents, so it is of particular interest to me. Indeed author Vikesh in posing the questions, What Makes You, You? and Where Are You Really From? at the start of the book really made me stop and think and essentially I go along with ‘you are the experiences you’ve had throughout your life’ as what’s made me what I am.

The book’s subtitle is ‘A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain, and this itself indicates that this is a complicated subject. It takes readers on a journey – cultural and historical – through India of the past (that includes today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh) showing how this ancient land was one of big thinkers, inventors and skilled craftspeople and traders, many religions, many kings, rulers and empires.

Next comes a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable – that of India under the English East India Company and the way in which the British gradually took over the entire land and how the British Raj treated those who called it their home. Then come Independence and Partition that resulted without due consideration of the long term effects, in the dividing of a nation and its people that still has repercussions today.

There’s also a look at the global impact of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh both on recent times and today, and at the contributions of some South Asians of today and yesteryear.

One of the things that strikes me anew every time I visit India is its cultural richness, its multitude of cuisines, traditions, (I learned to do and to teach yoga there), its languages, festivals, dance styles, music,

sports and the friendliness of its people. These topics too are covered, and all are vibrantly illustrated by Salini Perera whose art makes me want to jump on a plane, Mumbai- bound tomorrow.

An absolute must have book that makes a complex topic fascinating and approachable: it deserves a place in every school library in the UK.

Powered By Plants

Powered by Plants
Clive Gifford and Gosia Herba
Wide Eyed Editions

How many people I wonder are aware of the wealth of cutting edge science and technology of yesterday, today and the future, that involves members of the diverse plant world found in the many ecosystems on our planet? Some of this rich diversity is being increasingly studied and copied, inspiring innovations in design, science, engineering and technology. This third book about biomimicry introduces some awesome plant inventors. Prepare to be awed for as Tumbleweed says in the book’s introduction, plants are the experts and you’ll likely never look at flowers, trees or seaweed in the same way again.

There are six main sections: Structures, Robotics, Energy, Health, Sustainability and Materials and a final look to the future. Each plant is allowed to speak for itself and informs readers about such things as how it grows and why its particular structure is or was, so useful to humans. All this fascinating information is broken up into bite-sized chunks placed in fact boxes and embedded in a funky, colourful illustration by Gosia Herba.

If you’ve ever wondered what the fastest growing plant on the planet is, no it isn’t dandelions or that pesky Himalayan balsam that seems to be choking up so many of the UK’s waterways, it’s actually bamboo and there are more than 1,000 different bamboo species. With its high tensile strength bamboo has been used to build houses in Asia and is still used to make scaffolding. Perhaps more exciting though is that some scientists in China now know how to process the hollow fibres from its stems to make a soft, breathable, very fast drying fabric that is much more environmentally friendly than acrylic, polyester and even cotton.

Five other plants present their super powers in the Structures section including the ‘earthquake proof’ coconut palm, the fruit of which has a multitude of uses including in the production coir, a mosquito repellent, coconut milk and of course, coconut water.

No matter which section you choose to dip into you’re sure to be excited: from the fast-growing cottonwood trees with wind power potential, to the slick, slippery carnivores like the pitcher plant and the super-thirsty willow tree, the bark of which has healing properties thanks to salicin – a powerful pain-relieving substance, it will be a case of WOW! that is truly amazing.

An absolute treasure of a book for both home and school use.

Amazing Animal Tales: Little Tiger / Amazing Animal Tales: Baby Koala and Bugs / Space

Amazing Animal Tales: Little Tiger
Anne Rooney and Carolina Rabei
Amazing Animal Tales: Baby Koala
Anne Rooney and Qu Lan
Oxford Children’s Books

These, first of a new series, follow the survival stories of baby animals. You can use them either as narrative stories of each animal baby or, if you open the flaps (four per book) as a combination of story and information. Each has the additional interactive feature of a creature to look for on every spread and sometimes, a question which needs some investigation by the child to answer.
Little Tiger lives in the Asian tropical rainforest and when we first meet him, is snuggled up with his mother and fellow cubs in a safe warm den.
We then see the cub being suckled before venturing outside into the sunlight of the noisy habitat where there’s time for some playful fighting with the other cubs. There’s a near encounter with a noisy elephant after which Mama carries her tired cub back to the den. However this protectiveness can’t continue and Mamma Tiger must teach her cubs to hunt if they are to thrive.

That still leaves time for some playfulness and a quick dip before sleep time.

The Australian Bush is the setting for Baby Koala. This little joey, like other koalas, spends all its time in the eucalyptus trees sleeping and feeding, either suckled by its mother, or about nine months later, eating eucalyptus leaves. Dangers come in the form of hungry owls and forest fires caused by the intense heat but Mum koala still keeps a protective watch on her Baby Koala, even after it’s outgrown her pouch and instead is carried on her back.

The texts are engaging and will hold a young child’s interest and the illustrations from, in Little Tiger, Carolina Rabei and in Baby Koala, Qu Lan include lots of detail of the flora and fauna of the animals’ respective habitats to explore and talk about. Both titles would be good additions to foundation stage collections and home bookshelves.

Written in a totally different style and for an older audience:

Bugs
Space

Noodle Fuel and Rich Watson
Little Tiger

These two titles in a new Brain Bursts series are characterised by comical illustrations, simple, with quirky edge diagrams, and contained within fact boxes, a wealth of information is presented in a light-hearted style, complete with speech bubbles from the bugs themselves.

It’s incredible to read on the opening page of Bugs that insects make up almost three quarters of all animal species on Earth. Then after an introductory spread readers meet among others, bees, ladybirds, grasshoppers and crickets, damselflies and dragonflies, moths and ants. Can you believe that there are estimated to be ten quadrillion ants on our planet – 10,000,000,000,000,000 – that is indeed a ‘very big number’. I was amazed to discover that there are more than 10,000 different ant species.

Among the most bizarre facts though is one found on the ‘Top Ten Weird Bugs’ spread: did you know that honeybees have hairy eyeballs? There’s also a fun activities page, instructions on how to play Beetle – a game I’ve not played since I was a child – and a final glossary.

Space is similar in tone and covers such topics as stars and star maps, satellites, space travel, space junk (apparently there are such unlikely things as a pair of pliers and a spatula floating around somewhere in space), black holes and red dwarfs. Several space scientists and cosmonauts make an appearance and the book ends with some activities and a glossary. 

‘Boredom-free guaranteed!’ is claimed on the cover: I can’t imagine any child being bored by either of these books.

The Panda on PDA / The Red Beast

The Panda on PDA
Gloria Dura-Vilà , illustrated by Rebecca Tatternorth
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Explaining autism and especially PDA through the lens of ursine characters is an ingenious, highly accessible, child-friendly way of doing so. Both the strengths and the challenges of PDA are explained by the Panda narrator and co-author of the book, a positive, charming and honest character. who also offers some things that might be helpful to turn a potentially bad day into a good one, (Keeping calm is key to remaining in control, we learn.)
Underscoring the idea that each Panda and thus child, is unique, are opportunities to personalise the narrative helping to make this such an affirmative book.

With her wealth of experience, Gloria Dura-Vilà is a passionate advocate for neurodiversity and her enthusiasm is apparent on every page of this book; and Rebecca Tatternorth’s illustrations are a delight as they bring her main character to life.

Maybe though, the real show-stealers are the Pandas depicted on both front and back endpapers; these were drawn by children with Pathological Demand Avoidance, their siblings and friends.

Altogether a super resource: I strongly recommend it to any parent with a PDA child, other family members, all teachers and professionals who support such children, and indeed anybody who seeks to understand PDA. Read the book and join the Panda tribe (or see things from a Panda’s perspective) is the message.

The Red Beast
K.I. Al-Ghani, illustrated by Haitham Al-Ghani
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The main aim of this book – now in a new edition – is to help children who are neurodivergent to cope with and process their anger. It could however also work well with any child that has occasional outbursts of uncontrollable anger. But first they have to acknowledge this emotion, the ’red beast’ that lurks deep inside us all, dormant until something happens to awaken it. Said beast then starts to grow and grow and grow until it can’t be contained and out pour those hurtful words, “I hate you! I hate you!” accompanied by spiteful actions such as kicking, biting, swearing and spitting.

The story here is one of Danni and what happens when the Red Beast within him is accidentally woken up when a ball kicked by somebody in the playground hits him in the stomach. Despite Charlie’s apologies, the Red Beast rages alarmingly at him, 

until a teacher arrives on the scene to remove Danni from the situation. 

Once inside Danni is calmly given a stress ball to help diffuse his anger. Little by little with slow deep breathing and squeezes of the ball, Danni’s Red Beast grows smaller and sleepier until it’s fast asleep. Danni is then given cool water to drink, followed by some bubble wrap to pop and it’s not long before he’s ready to return to class where he apologises to an understanding, non-judgemental Charlie. Thereafter Danni knows what to do should that Red Beast reawaken.

Further helpful calming strategies are listed after the story. It’s good to see that the overarching idea in this accessible story is to deem the behaviour negative rather than the child. That is one all adults should remember to adopt when dealing with youngsters both at school and at home, so this is a helpful book for any primary school collection.

Grow, Tree, Grow!

Grow, Tree, Grow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg

The fifth in the Wild Wanderers series is every bit as good as the previous titles; in fact as trees are my number one thing in nature, this, with an Oak tree as its main focus is my favourite so far.

In his wonderful lyrical text Dom describes how in the forest as winter departs, an oak sapling is slowly growing to become Tree. All around minibeasts, rabbits and larger creatures are hunting for food to survive.

Many years later we see Tree has become a safe haven – ‘a canopy-guarder / a sanctuary for all to share.’ All being squirrels, woodpeckers, birds, bats, spiders and badgers. 

Growing in the forest too are other trees – chestnut, ash and beech, each helping to keep the atmosphere clean, … ‘and branch is to sky / as root is to earth so // grow, Tree, grow!’ urges the narrative.

Seasons come and go bringing changes in the form of acorns within each of which lies another potential oak, but squirrels have designs on these goodies so Tree must make more and yet more till they’re ready to fall. The ground though is shared with acorn-loving pigs but they are not the biggest danger: that is the people who chop down the precious trees to make room for towns full of houses, shops and traffic.

Is it possible that a thousand years have passed since Tree’s tiny sapling started to grow; it surely is, but nothing in nature lasts for ever. Even an oak as majestic, as awesome as Tree must eventually die and now its time has come so, ‘rest Tree, rest.’ while all around new life springs forth and the wondrous cycles of nature continue – each to each returns its need and life goes on.

The web of life that is harboured during the lifetime of an oak tree is brilliantly caught in Anastasia Izlesou’s intricate tracery of lines and shades of russets and greens. Simply gorgeous!

It’s Tough to be Tiny

It’s Tough to be Tiny
Kim Ryall Woolcock and Stacey Thomas
Flying Eye Books

Being tiny is tough, so the title of this book would seemingly have readers believe; but then it proceeds to show that this isn’t always the case. The reason being that some tiny creatures are able to keep safe or indeed get their food by means of a superpower. This can be anything from a protective armour to the gross use of poo some beetles use. There’s the horse mint tortoise beetle that carries a poo umbrella with its bum. Said umbrella is likely to be filled with toxic chemicals from the plants the beetle has eaten. Then there’s the palmetto tortoise beetle; this clever creature spins a protective thatch covering of dry poo threads to hide beneath. 

However, if you are a water scavenger beetle that has the misfortune to be consumed by a hungry frog, this clever bug makes use of its legs and on reaching the frog’s bum, it’s ejected in the amphibian’s poo just minutes later. 

Other tiny creatures have a secret weapon that is very useful when it comes to obtaining something tasty to eat. Tiny cone snails hunt speedy fish as big as themselves. They lie in wait, then out shoots their venom-filled harpoon tooth, which paralyses the fish which the snail then swallow whole. Velvet worms too, have a secret weapon, a sticky goo. Readers can find out how that works in this fascinating book. 

There’s an interesting spread on microscopic creatures that make no effort to get their food, they merely wait for it to come to them; these include the stretchy stentor and hydra, which are also very stretchy.

A super book for budding zoologists or anybody with an interest in small creatures.

Passionate About Penguins

Passionate About Penguins
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

Spending their time between land and sea, penguins are amazing creatures: I knew this, but I didn’t know that there are so many different kinds. Owen Davey talks of this on the opening spread of the eighth of his superb series. There are way more penguin species than that though, possibly as many as twenty it’s suggested here, and they are divided into six groups. Examples from each group show off their heads on the first page.

Ask a child where penguins live and they’ll likely tell you Antarctica; however that only accounts for some. Galapagos penguins might be found living north of the equator and there are lots of other kinds of terrain inhabited by penguins – beaches, rocky areas and coastal forests being some. Being carnivorous, they’re always fairly near the sea where they hunt, preying on such marine creatures as jellyfish, eels, crabs and tiny krill. 

On account of their ‘aquatic’ lifestyle, penguins have become specially adapted. Owen uses the example of a Humboldt penguin to zoom in on the special features – webbed feet positioned towards the rear of its body, countershading, making them tricky to spot, streamlined body shape to facilitate effortless swimming, wings – used not for flight but balance, thick blubber for warmth, a special gland to filter excess salt from their blood, dense skeletons for ease of swimming and diving, hooked beaks to catch and hold prey. This they swallow with the aid of fleshy spines on their tongues and inside of their mouths. There’s a spread further entitled Making a Meal of Things giving lots more information on food and feeding.

Other spreads are devoted to plumage, locomotion, self-defence, surviving in extreme conditions, the rearing of chicks – fancy having to eat partially-digested food regurgitated by a parent. Put it another way the adult throws up into the chick’s mouth and surprisingly the little ones love it.
There’s also information about love life, 

social life, size comparison – Emperor penguins can be as tall as 1.2 metres vs ‘Little’ penguins, two antipodean species being only just over 30 centimetres.

As with previous books in the series, there’s an ‘And the Award Goes To’ feature with six award winners, one each for swimming speed, the deepest divers, those that hold their breath longest (that’s two medals for Emperor penguins), the most aggressive, the most private and wait for it – the most fashionable – the feathery crowned Macaroni.

This fascinating book ends with a look at conservation, a vital topic since most penguin species are becoming endangered on account of human action and here you’ll find too what can be done to protect these creatures and their habitats. Finally there’s an index.

Imbued with Owen Davy’s gentle humour, and with a wealth of his signature style illustrations that make each page opening a treat, this fact-packed book is another must have for wild animal lovers, budding zoologists and classroom collections.

Little Bee / Little Lion

Little Bee
Anna Brett, illustrated by Rebeca Pintos
Little Lion
Anna Brett, illustrated by Carmen Saldaña
QED

These are the first titles in the new Really Wild Families series, each book being narrated by the titular Little animal.

Little Bee is a bumblebee, just a few days old that’sfreshly emerged from its cell in the nest ready to introduce its entire family. We meet first a few little brother bees and more than a hundred sisters (the workers) and the Queen, their mother. The babies’ first task of the day is to clean the wax cells in their nest: their very first lesson. They also help look after their mother so she has sufficient energy to lay more eggs. However their role changes as they age, the elder ones caring for the queen and her eggs; in addition they go out collecting pollen and nectar for food. What stories they have to tell about the wonderful aromas of some of the flowers they visit. In contrast, the young drones leave the home fairly soon and go off in search of young queens to mate with.

All the female bees need to be on the alert for intruders such as birds or small mammals that like nectar and if necessary they’ll defend themselves with venom-covered stingers.
The queen prepares the young females for the time they too will lay eggs and set up their own nests, giving them step-by-step instructions.

Our narrator tells readers about the nurse bees and the larvae that they feed with royal jelly and once they’ve grown sufficiently, seal them in separate cells by means of a wax cover and there each will pupate, eventually transforming into new queens. After that she talks more about nectar and pollen collecting.
A considerable amount of information is included in this chatty narrative but further spreads contain more ‘fun facts’ about pollination, a quiz and some other fun activities.

Little Lion works in a similar way with a cub reporting on life in the grasslands of the African savannah. We meet the pride that comprises mother, father, siblings and many relations, learning of the roles of the adults and how the cubs spend their time in a playful manner that helps prepare them for hunting in the future. She also says that lions are territorial creatures, explaining what that means and how lions keep safe; she tells readers about surviving through the dry season

and introduces some very young cubs belonging to another adult female. On this particular day, night brings a storm which serves to make hunting easier but after so much talking, our cub narrator is ready to curl up with other family members for some sleep.
Again there’s a ‘fun facts’ spread, information about white lions as well as the need to conserve lions, now classed as a vulnerable animal species, and other activities for little humans.

Both illustrators make the creatures they portray more endearing than realistic, but there are some photographs of bees and lions after the main narratives. Attractively presented, basic scientific information embedded in a story form easily absorbed by young children make this series written by Anna Brett, one to share in foundation stage settings or at home.

Scientists are Saving the World!

Scientists are Saving the World!
Saskia Gwinn and Ana Albero
Magic Cat

In this comic strip format book a little boy (with special interests in time travel and dinosaurs) and his mum spend time together talking about scientists and some of their amazing work.

First come the palaeontologists, one of whom was Mary Anning who inspired many others to search for dinosaur remains; another was Louis R. Purnell, an ex-fighter pilot who looked after fossils in, among others, the Smithsonian museum in the USA.

Their discussion then moves on to astronauts; it’s great to see Leonid Kadenyuk, the first Ukranian citizen to blast off into space, as well as Liu Yang who flew to a space station to undertake experiments to find out if it was safe for other astronauts to live there. Did you know though, that it takes thousands of scientists to launch a rocket?

Next up are the meteorologists and we’re introduced to two women, Joanna Simpson who discovered how hurricanes work and June Bacon-Bercey whose knowledge of Earth’s atmosphere meant she could predict when very hot weather was on its way.

The talk then focuses on acoustic biologists. It’s clever how this entire discussion is advanced by the boy’s question and his mum’s response at the end of the previous topic. In this instance the two biologists we meet are new to me: Deepal Warakagoda, an expert in bird sounds who, when walking in the Sri Lankan rainforest, heard an owl noise never before recorded. The other is Katy Payne, recorder of elephant sounds but not only that, for when out on the ocean with her husband, she discovered that humpback whales sing songs.

They move on first to robotic engineers, then in turn marine biologists, geologists, botanists, arthropodologists (scientists who study many-legged bugs), conservationists working tirelessly on save the world: Sir David Attenborough being one, another is Wangari Maathai who started a famous campaign to help more women plant trees in Africa.

Unsurprisingly there’s a spread devoted to those life saving inventors of vaccines including Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci two of those behind the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that protects against COVID-19.

We return to the boy’s thoughts about time travel: Mum talks of astrophysicists, introduces Neta Bahcall who studies dark matter, and the bedtime part of this awesome exploration brings the focus right back to the child who falls asleep thinking of the idea that all those incredible people were once small children like him who asked lots of questions, had big dreams and followed them.

What a wonderful way to inspire the next generation of scientists: this collaboration between author Saskia Gwinn and illustrator Ana Albero works really well, making this a book that can either be read right through, or with pauses at the end of whichever spread one chooses, so cleverly is it put together.

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

This is another of Philip Bunting’s playful, punning but highly informative books about animals, some of which, with their unique adaptations, you may never have come across before. Those adaptations, in case you’ve not guessed, are what make them ridiculous.

That Wattle-cup caterpillar (courtesy of the author aka Oucheus ouches) almost leapt off the page at me. It’s fortunate that it didn’t however for it has eight branches covered in pin-sharp spikes and that’s an awful lot of potential ouches. The moth stage (we’re shown all four stages) is by comparison a pretty dull specimen.

Also new to this reviewer is the Zombie snail (Zombie discofaecum). Now any child bonkers enough to contemplate tasting a morsel of bird poop will dismiss the notion instantly having read the concise paragraph giving graphic details of this snail’s life-cycle. On the other hand some youngsters like to set up snail races and this species would make a good participant in such an event as, so we learn, zombie snails tend to crawl a little faster than healthy ones. The very notion of having those eyestalks invaded by Leucochloridium, (a parasitic flatworm) and then being mind-controlled is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

Turning to a sea dweller, well maybe I wouldn’t relish turning to this one were I swimming in the shallows around Northern Australia, but anyhow this shaggy shark (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon, or Beardus weirdus if you prefer), has facial fronds that are thought to assist in camouflaging the creature and also sense its surroundings as the woebegone waits for its next meal.

No matter your preference among the world’s fauna – fish, insects, mammals, birds. molluscs or whatever, you’ll likely discover something new in this highly humorous book that makes learning terrific fun as well as an educational activity. With its funny but anatomically accurate illustrations, eyes notwithstanding, this is a book that will appeal to a wide age range and is definitely one to add to home and school collections.

Lifesize: Baby Animals / My First Book of Minibeasts

Lifesize: Baby Animals
Sophy Henn
Farshore

This is the third of Sophy Henn’s ingenious Lifesize series and right from the cover image, this slightly oversize book draws you in. The focus is on some of the world’s most amazing baby animals. We start by staring right into the eye of a baby blue whale, the world’s biggest baby, that when born is astonishingly about the same size as an ambulance and grows to be as long as two buses.

That’s just one of the wow moments Sophy provides along with the interesting facts and fun questions. Here’s an example relating to the baby flamingo: “What colour would you be if you turned the same colour as your favourite food?’ (not that humans are born grey like baby flamingoes)

Such questions are one of the interactive features of the book.

I had to look twice to spot the baby zebra seashores that at first glance looked like musical notes emanating from the adult’s pouch. Did you know it’s the male seahorses that give birth and there can be as many as 2000 born at one time. Alongside a wealth of other marine fauna including green turtles, these creatures live on Australia’s coral reefs.

An adorable-looking baby black bear stares straight at readers from another spread. Imagine a human baby growing to three times its birth size in three months – that’s something to consider. These bears are mostly found in the mountain forests of North America, a terrain they occupy along with wolves and raccoons.

Readers will also meet red panda cubs with their super-long tails, clouded leopards, golden snub-nosed monkey babies and then when they open a double spread showing an African waterhole and turn the book through 90% they’ll meet a baby African elephant that is likely to be taller than some younger child readers.

The final interactive element involves measurement: you can see, when measured in Lifesize books how large some of the babies are at birth and when fully grown. Readers are then invited to do the same kind of measurement with their own family members.

Cleverly designed, with stunning images at every page turn, this is a book to read and delight in over and over.

My First Book of Minibeasts
illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books


This new addition to the My First Book of series is, like its predecessors, a great place to start exploring the topic. Herein Zoē Ingram strikingly portrays twenty minibeasts, one per double spread. Each illustration is accompanied by a fact box containing its scientific name, lifespan, diet and habitat, another presents its size in silhouette form and in millimetres; there’s also a ‘did you know’ feature and a main paragraph giving basic facts.

Youngsters will meet the shade-loving garden snail and the gorgeous glow worm – did you know it’s only the females that have bioluminescent tail lights? There are among others, bluebottles, black garden ants that live in colonies,

the emperor dragonfly and the Red-tailed bumblebee. (0nce called a dumbledore, interestingly.)

An ideal book to share with young children before going out exploring be that in the garden, the park or further afield.

Marvellous Body

Marvellous Body
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

The focus of the second in the ingenious Magic Lens Book series is the human body and its inner workings.

Our bodies are amazing: that, emerges loud and clear from this book. The author confirms it in the opening spread 24-hour body where we read, ‘The body eats and drinks for energy. It learns and daydreams too. Then it sleeps. The body grows and keeps on changing.’ Even that straightforward paragraph gives young readers plenty to think about and it’s good to see the reminder that everyone is different too.

The rest of the spreads are more specific, the first being about the brain, the body’s HQ – what each part does and how it functions. There’s a ‘Find It Box’ in the bottom corner of this and on most other of the spreads, asking the reader to use the magic lens and find the items listed – that’s lots of fun learning. The function of each of the five senses is simply and concisely explained in a large fact box and smaller ones provide a considerable, but never overwhelming, amount of information.

Eyes, ears, then the nose and tongue are the focus of the next three spreads. I found Andrés Lozano’s illustration for Nose and Tongue particularly amusing.

Teeth (which includes dental health), then Skin and Hair come next, followed by bones. Prepare to be confronted by a large skeleton …

Did you know that over half the bones in the body are in the hands and feet? That’s more than one hundred: check the clear diagram.

No matter which system or part of the body you want to find out about, if you have an interest in staying healthy and happy, or in the medicines doctors are busy inventing right now, then there’s something on the topic here; and the clarity of each explanation given is first-rate. Enticing, exciting and a rewarding learning experience, and you couldn’t make a non-fiction book for children more interactive than this.

A Seed Grows

A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

Brilliantly simple and simply brilliant is Antoinette Portis’s new picture book documenting the life cycle of a sunflower. With its pleasing rhythmic pattern, the entire written narrative comprises just two sentences, that are ideal for beginning readers. The first, which presents ten stages, starts with a single seed and brings us almost full circle. The second, ‘ And a seed falls’ completes that circle, setting the reader up to turn back to the beginning and start all over again. There’s a pattern too, to the whole story with almost every verso containing a single phrase – ‘and the sun shines’ … ’and the plant grows’ with the key word colour coded to match the illustration on the recto.

Beauty and clarity sum up Antoinette’s science-based introduction to one of nature’s wonders, about which readers and listeners will feel a sense of awe and wonder as they follow the falling seed, that settles, sprouts, roots and pushes its way through into the air, growing and growing, forming a bud that, almost magically, opens into a glorious tall flower

the centre of which becomes filled with seeds. These seeds fall to the ground, provide food for the birds and they in turn facilitate dispersal and the process begins again.

Before re-reading however, adults will likely want to share the information pages with young children – two spreads, one giving straightforward facts about a sunflower seed and plant opposite which is a visual life cycle; the other provides some botanical activities and five true or false questions.

I think this one even outshines the creator’s previous presentations of nature and its wonders.

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat
Sean Taylor & Alex Morss, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu
Happy Yak

Like many of us, the little girl character in this narrative non-fiction book, is eagerly anticipating the summer. It’s coming, her nature-loving Grandpa tells her, mentioning some of the signs of seasonal change. He also says that close to his new abode is something exciting he wants to show his granddaughter, who acts as narrator.

Grandpa is right: summer with its blue skies and warmer days, does come. The girl reminds him of the thing he mentioned and together they pack a bag and set out along the track.

As they walk the girl notices the abundance of plants and minibeasts, wondering aloud if they want summer to last forever. Grandpa doesn’t supply an immediate answer but responds by suggesting they continue looking and then decide, although he does mention water as being a factor to consider.
Stopping by a stream Grandpa points out a golden-ringed dragonfly and tells his granddaughter a little about the insect. He also points out the mere trickle of water suggesting this could be a result of climate change, a topic the girl has learned about in school.

Further on in the increasing heat, the child expresses a wish to find some shade, and Grandpa likens her to many of the wild flora and fauna, explaining how some respond. They reach a place with trees blackened due to a fire the previous summer, talking of the pros and cons of such events.

Eventually they reach a spot at the edge of the seashore where they find what they’d come for.

Then they continue walking, on the beach now; Grandpa draws attention to some summer-loving Arctic terns, before with the ‘summer forever’ question duly answered, they cool off in the sea.

A companionable walk, and for the little girl, a wonderful learning journey with her Grandpa who educates her in the best possible way, never forcing, merely gently guiding.

Straightforward back-matter comprises an explanatory spread explaining “What is summer?, another giving facts relating to ways some land animals have adapted to better cope with heat. There’s one looking at the evolutionary changes of plants to cope with hot, dry summers and the final one looks at ocean life and how climate change is taking effect while the last page suggests some ways to get involved in wildlife protection.

With its wealth of ecological information and bright, detailed illustrations bursting with wonderful plants and animals to explore and enjoy. this is a terrific book to share either before or after a walk in nature, whether or not it ends on the beach. There’s lots to inspire awe and wonder here.