Category Archives: information books

Sea: A World Beneath the Waves / Dolphins

Sea: A World Beneath the Waves
Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty
Little Tiger

In her latest non-fiction, die-cut peep-through picture book, in a series of wondrous scenes Britta Teckentrup plunges us beneath the ocean waves, way, way down to view the wonders of the deep.

Amid the corals and seaweed fronds we see small fish, sponges, tiny graceful sea horses; a baby dolphin and its mother chirping and clicking in communication, a Lionfish with its poison spines ready to use should it be attacked.

Suddenly there’s a feeling of fear: the fish sense danger as a great white shark casts its shadow. The other sea creatures though, employ their defence mechanisms while the tropical fish swim in formation and all is well.

Night comes and the ocean is a-glow with light;

his song echoing far the humpback whale sings for all to hear, the manatee glides through sea grasses and the corals provide safe spaces for small ocean creatures.

Patricia Hegarty’s lyrical text ends with a plea to protect ocean life by keeping the oceans clean and free from rubbish.

Dolphins!
Laurence Pringle and Meryl Henderson
Boyds Mills Press

Pringle immediately grabs readers’ attention with his introductory ‘If you were a young dolphin, your mother would keep you close, feed you milk and teach you’ that could almost be referring to a human mother. The remainder of the paragraph however negates that with its ‘Soon you would learn to swim fast and catch fish to eat. And sometimes you would leap from the water, high into the air!’ while his final statement on the first page “People would be very curious about the secrets of your life beneath the surface’ sets the scene for the remainder of this fascinating book.

It covers many aspects of the thirty or so dolphin species including classification, morphology and physiology. There’s a fascinating account of dolphins’ use of echolocation;

another of feeding – dolphins are predators, consuming huge amounts of food daily –

and communication. I learned that in addition to sounds, dolphins send messages with their bodies, sometimes by rubbing skins, at others, by touching flippers.

All this and more is related in the author’s highly readable prose that is superbly illustrated by Meryl Hendersen in watercolour and pencil.

Although it’s likely that this will be read by individuals, this book also works really well if read aloud – a testament to the quality of the author’s writing.

The Butterfly House

The Butterfly House
Katy Flint and Alice Pattullo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Judging by the number of containers housing butterflies in the various stages of their development my partner has scattered about the place, I rather think my own home at present ought to have the same name as this book, although unlike Katy Flint’s ‘welcome’, it doesn’t have never-ending ceilings, nor does it contain the various habitats she names that provide homes for many of the world’s major butterfly and moth families. I was surprised to learn that these winged creatures make up 7% of all Earth’s forms of life.

We then visit the Hatchery, which explains the life cycle of a butterfly with reference to the Monarch as well as containing a number of unusual-looking caterpillars.

The next two spreads explain the differences between butterflies and moths,

what various adult butterflies like to eat and that caterpillars are fussy eaters usually preferring one particular host plant.

In the subsequent pages over 100 species of moths and butterflies from all over the world grouped in their various scientific families, are displayed in Alice Pattullo’s alluring, finely detailed brush and Indian ink illustrations. Some like the Small tortoiseshell

and the Orange-tip will be familiar to UK readers (and to me as their caterpillars are presently munching away on their food plants in our downstairs bathroom).

To see others such as the Crimson rose swallowtail, the Owl butterfly or the spectacular Luna moth,

you’ll have to visit a butterfly house like that at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire or the one in Stratford-upon-Avon.

No matter where you live or visit, this book is sure to whet your appetite to get to know more about these beautiful creatures.

Tony T-Rex’s Family Album

Tony T-Rex’s Family Album
Mike Benton and Rob Hodgson
Thames & Hudson

The stream of dinosaur books is never ending and it’s tricky to find new angles but who better than vertebrate palaeontology professor Mike Benton to come up with a novel way of presenting one of children’s favourite topics.

Using Tony-T-Rex as dinosaur family album writer, readers are provided with rip-roaring authentic information about dinosaurs from the tyrannosaurus’ mouth. And Tony really does grab the readers’ interest and grips them between those 20cm long ridged gnashers of his throughout.

First of all he digs deep, unearthing for us just how a dead dinosaur becomes fossilised and how scientists such as the prof. differentiate between a dinosaur and a ginormous lizard. We’re then plunged back 201 million years to the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs rose to power.

Next it’s time to introduce the creatures themselves, starting in the UK with Megalosaurus Big Liz, one of the first dinosaurs and the first to be discovered, surprisingly by one, William Buckland who had no idea of the existence of dinosaurs, mistaking his find for a massive lizard. Happily though scientists soon identified differences between dinos. and lizards.

Thereafter, we travel the world meeting a host of awesome, mind-blowing relations of Tony’s, each of which has a funky name and an extraordinary body.

There’s Tony’s distant ancestor pigeon sized Crash-Test Dex (aka) Epidexipteryx with its long claws and sharp buck teeth. Dex had to perfect tree scrambling for it was a favourite nibble for young dinos with near ground level noses.

We meet the familiar Diplodocus (Dippy herein), Cowboy Spike (Stegosaurus) and then it’s Cruella the Flesh-Eater hailing from Portugal, with 70 dagger-like teeth just right for attacking unsuspecting stegosaurs and diplodocuses – EEEK!

Big Bellied Bill – Tony’s great-great-great-grandpa is memorable for his insatiable appetite for leaves that made him one of the heaviest ever land animals; unsurprisingly he suffered from horrendous wind – PHOOOAH!

It’s impossible to mention all Tony’s Cretaceous relatives here but the fossil of winged Flighty Aunt Nyx is extinct proof of a dinosaur with the ability to fly.

Moving forward to the Cretaceous Period (between 145 and 66 million years ago) we meet another creature with the ability to propel itself through the air: part lizard, part bird, Sinornithosaurus or Crouching Glider, with its alarmingly long teeth and upper jaw pocket was, reputedly, a terror.

I had a good giggle at Dead-Weight Diana (Titanosaurus), Tony’s Argentinian cousin, the heaviest dinosaur in the world, scoffer of the trees’ topmost, juciest leaves. Roamers these, for fossils have been found on every one of Earth’s continents.

You simply must meet the most elegant of all the dinosaurs, Siegfried the Swan (Olorotitan), which I have to admit is new to me. I was fascinated to learn that it had a penchant for dancing and despite its 8m length and 5 tonne weight, this crested beauty loved to demonstrate its ground-shaking prowess to all around.

Two T’s bring the family album to a close, Triceratops and finally our presenter, Tony T-Rex Tyrannosauarus. He’s excited to inform us that his poo might weigh as much as a 6-month old human baby.

The final spreads are devoted to how the dinosaurs died out; a visit to the Great Hall of Fossils; a world map showing where fossil evidence has been unearthed (and might still be); how to go about a fossil hunt and some useful dinosaur lingo for those who want to impress their friends.

This splendiferous tome is a must for family bookshelves and classrooms; all the more so as Rob Hodgson has provided the funky illustrations with the delicious wry humour of his that I loved so much in The Cave.

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque
Mark Llewelyn Evans, illustrated by Karl Davies
Graffeg

The author of this book, professional opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, is the founder and creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a company that tours the UK introducing children to the stories and glories of the opera through music and storytelling.
His enthusiasm shines through this, his debut children’s book, the first in The Academy of Barmy Composers series. Herein readers follow the fabulous story of best friends Megan and Jack who climb over the gate of Pontirgorffenol village music hall, (long since fallen into disuse and said by some to contain treasure), and discover Trunk. They’re amazed to learn that this Trunk into which they’d both fallen is able to talk – in 43 languages what’s more.

Thus begins an awesome adventure with Trunk, taking them back to 1597 to the country of its origin – ‘shaped like a boot’ – and there to discover ”The ABC of Opera” and the Academy of Barmy Composers.

After something of a crash landing in Florence, Megan and Jack find themselves face-to-face with golden-haired Professor Peri,(aka Golden Locks) inventor of Opera who leads them into the academy hall; there to meet the ‘Baa-rockers’ – Florence’s cool “arty fartys” as the composers introduce themselves.

There is so much to discover but the prof. is a passionate teacher

and the children avid listeners who cannot help but be swept up in the crazy but enormously exciting learning experience,

which ends all too soon.

And so it will be I have no doubt, with child readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on this exuberantly presented, thoroughly engaging book. I love the characters, Karl Davies’ zany illustrations are a joy, and there are concluding spreads giving information on instruments of the time, voice types and the composers. If the whole experience doesn’t leave youngsters eager to experience baroque music, especially opera, then nothing will.
Bring on the next musical adventure.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray
Walker Books

Nicola Davies is a champion of wildlife; and the creature she has chosen here is a tiny one, smaller than a thumb and lighter than a penny, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Using the framework of the loving relationship between a Mexican grandmother and her granddaughter, we experience the migration pattern of such birds that are soon to depart, bound for the north, perhaps as the grandmother tells the child, “they’ll visit you in New York City?”
Seated in her Grandmother’s lap, the girl is asked to “Keep still” as they proffer bowls of water to the birds; and come they do ‘Tz-unun! Tz-unun!’ flashing their feathers and beating their wings.

We then follow the birds’ migration route over several double spreads all the way from over the Gulf of Mexico,

through the USA and all the way to Canada. And there they set up home and later in the summer,

a little girl walking towards the park spies on the grassy verge, evidence of ‘a visitor from Granny’s garden’.

The days get shorter and it’s time once more for the hummingbirds to fly south though not all will make it safely to their destination. Granny however is anticipating their arrival as she sits in her garden reading a special letter from her granddaughter now far away, while in her lap is a tiny eggshell wrapped in cotton wool and a newspaper cutting telling of hummingbirds nesting in Central Park for the first time.

Jane Ray’s, stunning – as jewel-like as her subjects – detailed watercolour pictures almost vibrate with the Tz-unun! Tz-unun! of the hummingbirds’ wings, while tiny lines in her illustrations inject movement into the flight path of their long journey, 3000 kilometres northwards, and back.
Dropped into the spreads are such facts as what hummingbirds feed on; their nest size, and other details of their journey; and there’s a final page on which Nicola explains in detail how ornithologists have ringed and tracked hummingbirds over the years. I was intrigued to learn that they can live to be nine years old – incredible!

Altogether a fascinating book.

A Brief History of Life on Earth

A Brief History of Life on Earth
Clémence Dupont
Prestel Children’s Books

Wow! This story of life on earth truly does unfold in dramatic concertina style – to the length of one of the dinosaurs included herein, a triceratops. That though is getting ahead of things for the book begins around 4.6 billion years ago in the Hadean Age when the Earth was mega-hot and very young, the first eon of Earth history.

Thereafter comes a whistle-stop tour of the fifteen subsequent geological periods, each of which has a factual paragraph and a superb illustration.

It’s at the end of the Proterozoic Age, in what’s called the Ediacaran Period, the first (soft-bodied) organisms appeared.

Next, the Cambrian Period was when aquatic life exploded around the coastlines of continents and evolution of life gave rise to a huge variety of forms including some with a skeleton, digestive system, eyes and gills.

Aquatic life developed a-pace through the Ordovician Period (-490 to 445 million years ago) and plant life began to move onto the mainland in the form of mosses and fungi.

Then came the Silurian Period and the Devonian period, the latter being a time of extreme heat during which life diversified even more. The first sharks appeared and animal life began to make the move towards land.

We’ve now reached the Carboniferous period with its great trees, huge insects and a wealth of plant life, which eventually became buried and over 1000,000s of years compressed to form deposits of coal.

By the Permian Period, the land masses had come together creating a vast super-continent when reptile-like mammals roamed only to die out and become replaced in the Triassic Period by mammals, the first amphibians and the soon-to-be dominant dinosaurs.

Did you know that the continental split began in the Jurassic Period, the golden age of dinosaurs including Diplodocus, Ankylosaurus and Archaeopteryx. The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods saw a further drifting apart of continents and the appearance of Tyrannosaurus as well as bees and flowering plants.

Moving forwards to the hot, humid Paleogene Period, there was a huge diversification of birds and mammals around the globe; then again the climate cooled and during the Neogene Period apes, ancestors of the elephant appeared, and ungulates became widespread.
Humans evolved into their modern form during the Pleistocene Epoch becoming hunters and fishers; they also began to develop language and artistic expression.
We’re now in the Holocene Epoch, which began 11,700 years ago and readers will recognise the modern landscape shown on this penultimate spread.

Phew – such astonishing changes and so beautifully presented in this zigzag style book. A-MA-ZING!

Beetles, Butterflies and other British Minibeasts / Look and Say: What You See at the Seaside / Queen Victoria

Beetles, Butterflies and other British Minibeasts
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow & the National Trust

In all my time teaching under 7s, I’ve probably never come across a child, however lively or challenging who, when outside (or sometimes in) failed to become engrossed in watching such minibeasts as woodlice, ants, ladybird larva or caterpillars.

This beautifully illustrated Nature Sticker book takes users to several locations where minibeasts are likely to abound: the vegetable patch – several, but not all of the minibeasts therein are likely to be pests.

Anything but pests are bees, hugely important garden visitors that have a vital role in pollination, as do some butterflies like the beauties shown herein.

The shed is a likely place to find spiders and their webs in abundance as well as daddy-long-legs and perhaps other less desirable kinds of flies.
You’ll probably hear grasshoppers and crickets before you see them as they’re often camouflaged in the long grass they like to frequent.
Tree trunks like this one are good spots for discovering and observing beetles.

What better time that now to get outside, look for small creatures and then come back and enjoy hours of learning and fun with this beautifully illustrated book?

Look and Say: What You See at the Seaside
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow & the National Trust

Whether you’re building sandcastles at the water’s edge, swimming in the sea, looking at the boats in the harbour, walking on the cliffs, rock-pooling, fishing, exploring the estuary, strolling on the sand-dunes, or perhaps diving down beneath the waves, there’s always plenty of interesting things to see. when you visit the seaside.

This is what Sebastien Braun shows in his engaging scenes of the various locations, each of which has an introductory sentence and another pointing out a particular feature of note. At the bottom of each spread is a row of named objects to find in the large illustration and say together, if sharing the book as intended with an adult (or older child).

A fun way to develop vocabulary and observational skills with little ones.

Queen Victoria
Illustrated by Nina Cosford
Puffin / V&A

Readers with an interest in the past will enjoy this mini-hardback book that looks at the life of Victoria and her legacy.
It tells how, when the young Victoria became queen she was determined to break free from the controlling influences of her mother and her courtiers and rule Britain on her own, even if she didn’t always get things right. It was against royal protocol for her cousin Albert, with whom she fell in love, to propose marriage to her; instead she did the honours and was accepted.

As well as information about the Queen, there are spreads about the industrial revolution; the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, the royal couple’s work in support of the arts and science,

their interest in the latest technological developments as well as Albert’s popularising of the Christmas tree and Victoria’s golden and diamond jubilees.

Illustrated with a mix of photographs and finely detailed illustrations by Nina Cosford this is one to add to primary school classroom shelves, or for young readers wanting an introduction to a fascinating period of great change.

In Focus: Forests

In Focus: Forests
Libby Walden et al
360 Degrees (Little Tiger Group)

Ten exciting illustrators showcase some of the world’s most famous forests in this smashing book that’s been put together under the stewardship of Libby Walden.

Herein is a wealth of information about the natural flora and fauna of these stunning green places as well as associated facts on such things as, in the first and hugely biodiverse location – The Black Forest – things to do, the Brothers Grimm and more. Grace Easton is the illustrator of this place.

Gate fold flaps are employed by each artist, the second being Julie Colombet who explores The Anatomy of Trees;

Suzanne Washington takes us to the Rainforests; with the artistic work of Sol Linereo we visit National Parks.

Stephanie Fizer Coleman dives deep to the Kelp Forests to show us the sea otter and many more amazing inhabitants.

Forest Mythology is the next focus, illustrated by Irene Montano;

the Amazon Rainforest wherein we ‘meet two famous British naturalists, is illustrated by Marc Pattenden;

Alfred Wallace & Henry Bates

Alessandra Santelli portrays peoples of the Forest; Aaron Cushley, Mangrove Forests and the final topic is Produce and Preservation (including the tree hugging, Chipko movement) illustrated by Jenny Wren.

Each spread is totally absorbing and the entire chunky volume is sure to draw you in to what are probably my favourite places – forests – and hold you there for a considerable time.

The Big Book of Birds

The Big Book of Birds
Yuval Yommer
Thames & Hudson

This is a cracking series and Yuval’s bird book is an absolute beauty.

Each and every spread, starting with the opening Bird Family Tree is full of fascinating facts and illustrated with that wonderfully playful, ‘twinkle-in-the-eye style the artist has.

Despite my partner being an avid bird spotter, I’d not realised before that there are almost 10,000 bird species and here they’re divided into family groups: birds of prey, owls, woodland and forest birds, seabirds, perching birds, water birds and the flightless kinds.

After spreads on being a bird-friendly spotter, feathers and their role in flying, and bird migration, each introduced by a question, we’re given examples of members of each family, zooming in first on great grey owls. Did you know that these are the tallest owls in the world and have special feather-formed discs around their eyes acting as satellite-like dishes directing sounds into their ears; or that with seven more neck vertebrae than humans, a great grey owl can turn its head almost completely around? (The teacher part of me loves that idea.)

Flamingos (pink feathered on account of their diet) and magpies – not thieves of shiny things – come next and then one of my favourites, kingfishers. Currently living much of the time very close to the Nailsworth Stream along which if I’m lucky, I see a kingfisher flash by, or occasionally spot perching on a overhanging branch, these birds always make me feel uplifted; and so it was here.

I don’t think I’ll go and investigate the bank for a stinky fish bone and poo-filled burrow though.

With introductory questions, there are spreads on flightless birds, secretary birds, parrots, bald eagles, puffins, albatrosses, hummingbirds, peacocks – I love to see these on walks in parts of India – robins, swans, hoopoes and red-crowned cranes. Interspersed there are pages looking at nests of various kinds,

eggs – I was amazed to learn as ostrich egg is 16cm long; beaks – their shapes and feeding functions; bird calls and songs – we’re probably all aware of the early dawn chorus these light mornings; city birds and making your garden a bird-friendly place.

If you really want to impress others, there’s a spread on specific vocabulary and as I should have mentioned at the outset, the solution to the ‘can you find the same egg 15 times’ poser from the title.

Absolutely avian-electable; and my copy came with a wonderful pictorial treat – thank you Yuval – before the title page.

If this book doesn’t get your young ones enthusing about our feathered friends, then I’ll be forced to spend a whole day doing various yoga poses like peacock or crow.

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life / Dreaming in Code

 

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life
Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu
Sterling

Elegant film star Hedy Lamarr’s first love wasn’t in fact for making movies – she wasn’t at all interested in glitz and glamour – rather her passion was science and technology. It’s this lesser known side of her that’s the focus of this book.

Her greatest invention was ‘frequency–hopping spread spectrum’ a wonderful technological idea developed in collaboration with musician George Antheil, that helped allow the communication devices of torpedoes to change frequency quickly cutting down the opportunities for radio signals to be altered, intercepted or blocked completely; sadly it wasn’t used by the US navy during WW2 though.

Still relevant today, their invention now helps to keep our mobile messages private and defends computers from hackers.

Hedy’s various inventions are described and each spread includes a quote from her: here’s one I particularly love.

We also learn of her childhood in Austria in the early 1920s and how her father, who also had a love of science and technology was such an encouragement to her curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and her creative ideas.

Laurie Wallmark’s engaging text is both inspiring and concise; and Katy Wu’s stylish, retro feel illustrations transport readers to the time when women’s achievements were under played and often undervalued (it took 50 years for her awesome brilliance to be fully recognised). However when Hedy and George finally received in 1997 the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their contribution to computers, Hedy commented thus.’” It’s about time.” … “My life was full of colours, full of life … I don’t regret anything … I learned a lot.” Brilliance recognised at last.

So too will readers of this picture book, which also includes a timeline, bibliography, suggestions for further reading about women in STEM, a list of her films and an explanation of her secret communications system.

Equally inspiring, for older readers is:

Dreaming in Code
Emily Arnold McCully
Walker Books

This is a fascinating biography of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron, who is celebrated for being the first computer programmer.

Ada’s childhood was anything but conventional; she never got to know her father and was brought up by her domineering mother who, despite showing little emotional warmth, provided for her daughter through private tutors, an intellectually stimulating education, a protection in part from any instincts towards developing her father’s poetic talent. Thus Ada developed a terrific thirst for mathematical and mental puzzles and scientific discovery.

At age seventeen, the young aristocrat Ada, was introduced at a party to widower and famous inventor and mathematician, Charles Babbage, who was to transform her life. We learn of their collaborative friendship and how Ada’s leap of imagination took her pioneering thinking beyond that of her friend and his ‘Analytical Engine’. This is what she wrote, ‘Many persons imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols.’

We read of her marriage to William King who admired Ada’s intellect as well as being rich and handsome; her motherhood years, her addictions and death at an early age from cancer.

Beautifully written by Caldecott-Medal winning author, Emily McCully this carefully researched, accessible portrait of Ada Lovelace is likely to inspire future groundbreakers to follow their dreams and not let anyone or anything stand in their way.

(There are also photographs from archives, illustrations, source notes, a glossary and a bibliography.)

My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats
Mia Cassany and Marcos Navarro
Prestel Publishing

This large size book showcases earth’s wildernesses that are the ‘habitats of rare animals and plants’.

Readers are taken to sixteen locations around the world, the planet’s wild regions such as Nioko-Koba National Park in Senegal; Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Qinling Mountains of China; the Sundarban islands (an Indian national park).

There are forest regions – that of Skihote-Alin National Park in far eastern Russia being a mix of subtropical and taiga and hence contains a mix of animal species not normally found together; the tropical rainforests of Malaysia where it’s estimated that some species are more than 100 million years old – awesome! See how stunning some of its butterfly and moth species are …

The unique Madagascan tropical rainforests wherein live almost 300 species of frogs and huge numbers of geckos, are sadly we read, under enormous threat from human actions.

Happily however, the Sri Lankan Sinharaja Forest Reserve is unspoilt since it’s almost impenetrable to humans and contains numerous rare and endangered animal species including the long-nosed whip snake and the purple-faced langur.

In addition to several other rainforest locations, we visit Tortuguero National Park on the Costa Rican coast that is a mix of beach, freshwater creeks and lagoons and surrounding rainforest. In complete contrast is the boreal (taiga) forest wilderness of north Canada, Alaska and Russia and is the most northerly of the world’s nature reserves.

Each of the landscapes is stunningly illustrated by Marcos Navarro, making each spread a visual delight before one even starts to explore closely, the fauna and flora depicted; or to read Mia Cassany’s informative paragraph(s) giving geographical and biological facts on the native species.

The final pages home in on some of animals, drawing attention to their characteristics and habits in brief paragraphs of text alongside small, labelled pictures of the featured habitats.

The book’s large format serves to draw readers in to each stopping place, making one want to linger long and explore the beauty of every spread.

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

Science is cool, it’s exciting, and creatures are endlessly fascinating, as this book demonstrates. It’s full of wacky and funky facts on beasties large and small from minute bugs to massive creatures of the deep, presented in an accessible manner by James Olstein.

So prepare to be fascinated by the likes of the praying mantis, which can turn its head around by 180 degrees to see what’s happening behind – particularly useful should they want to be teachers –

or the fact that in Tokyo, pigeons have been trained by scientists to distinguish between the works of Monet and Picasso; now why would they want to do that?

You might wish to know the answer to the time old ‘chicken or egg, which came first?’ question: the answer from some British scientists is revealed herein.

I was fascinated to discover that although sloths hang around in trees most of the time, they come down once a week for a poo; also, that yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on giraffes when they go to sleep at night often settling in the giraffe’s ‘armpit’.

Did you know that Egyptian plovers clean crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for some extra food? Risky!

The information is presented in sections such as dinosaurs, whales, octopods, cats, stripes, tongues, defences and so on.

Olstein’s retro-style, quirky pictures bring further funkiness to his array of facts.

This is ideal for dipping in and out of, though readers who find it hard to become engrossed in a book might just find themselves so doing in Incredible Creatures.

When the Stars Come Out

When the Stars Come Out
Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright
360 Degrees

With the coming of darkness, everything looks different, everything feels different: night is mysterious, night is magical.

Find out what makes it so in When the Stars Come Out.Into this book the author has packed illuminating information explaining first how night works due to the constant orbiting of the sun by planet Earth, and then putting mankind’s desire to understand the night into a historical context that can be traced right back as far as the Bronze Age.

Thereafter comes an upward-looking section called The Sky at Night. This encompasses topics such as being scared (or not) of the dark and things associated with it;

some facts about the Moon – its cycle, Armstrong’s moon landing and more. Did you know that the largest stars burn for tens of millions of years before running out of energy whereas medium-sized ones including our sun can continue burning for 10 billion years. WOW!

Moving our sights down somewhat, The Earth at Night homes in on different environments – the city, the desert, the Amazonian rainforest, the mountains,

the African savannah where should you happen to visit and listen very carefully, you might just hear the squeaks of yellow-winged bats, the slithering scraping of rock pythons or even the defensive growls of aardwolves. The woodland and the ocean also have spreads allocated.

The next focus is on what animals get up to at night – how are they adapted? Did you know that there are creatures that can sleep on the move, for instance the Swainson’s thrush which power naps frequently, and the albatross? We’ve all heard of sleepwalking but sleep-flying –awesome!

Although many humans spend the night (or most nights) in sleep, or attempted sleep, the length of this depends upon where on the globe you happen to be at a particular time of year; or perhaps whether you are attending an occasional night celebration such as New Year’s Eve.

Like all living creatures, we humans have a body clock, though ours with five sleep cycles, is far more sophisticated that say plankton. I was interested to learn that there is no word for insomnia in the languages of the non-industrial societies – the Hadza people of Tanzania, the San people of Namibia and the Tsimane people of Bolivia whose general pattern of sleep is from three and a half hours after sunset to just before sunrise, with no daytime naps.

Nowadays, those of us living in the Western world tend to choose a single overnight sleep, although some who help keep the night-time economy afloat such as bakers, as well as for instance hospital staff, carers and the police work in shifts and sleep during the day.

Nicola Edwards’ fascinating and wide-ranging interpretation of night is well served by Lucy Cartwright’s enthralling, richly detailed illustrations.

A book to keep readers awake at night should they start exploring it late in the day.

The Lost Book of Adventure

The Lost Book of Adventure
edited by Teddy Keen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Those with a thirst for wild adventures in particular will be immediately attracted to this stupendous tome. Others of us will perhaps take a little more time to be enticed in, but will likely become equally immersed in this amazing collection of notes, sketches and factual snippets that have been drawn, so we’re told by the editor, from the notebooks of the Unknown Adventurer.

Whether or not the claim by Teddy Keen to have discovered these items in a metal container while exploring a remote part of the Amazon, is a beguiling means of interesting readers in the book, or a fact, is immaterial.

What he has produced is a veritable treasure trove detailing all you need to know to flourish living in the wild, be it how to construct a wikiup shelter like those of the Nenet people of Arctic Siberia;

how to make a bottle raft to navigate ancient waterways; or, what the best techniques are for ‘pooing in the great outdoors;

or crucially important, first aid.

Prepare to be conveyed to various parts of the globe as you read lyrical accounts of such adventures as a narrow escape from the jaws of a crocodile in Sri Lanka, surviving a roaring dust storm, or an eye-ball to eye-ball encounter with one of the planet’s most dangerous snakes, a venomous bushmaster. Each of these is gloriously illustrated in a coloured pencil drawing.

Keen certainly succeeded in arousing the spirit of adventure in this reviewer; I’m sure that will be the case for many readers of this totally immersive volume.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare –

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.

Scratch and Learn: Human Body / The Great Big Book of Life

Scratch and Learn: Human Body
Katy Flint and Ana Seixas
Wide Eyed Editions

I’ve loved some of the EtchArt books from Quarto but this is the first science title I’ve seen, essentially an introduction to how the human body works.

It comprises two main elements: ‘Scratch to Discover’ where the reader uses the stylus to find ten things on each of the seven spreads: the skeleton, muscles,

organs, eating and digestion, the senses, the brain

and, lungs and heart.

Then there are activities – one per spread – to demonstrate how different parts of the body function. For example the muscle-related one says, ‘With your palm facing up, touch your thumb and little finger together. This shows one of your flexor tendons working in your wrist.’

There’s also an invitation to play a search-and-find memory game.

Each topic has an introductory paragraph and some also include additional bite-size snippets of information.

Spencer investigating the skeleton

Graphic designer/illustrator Ana Seixas brings a gentle humour to the pages of this fun, interactive book to use at home that is relevant to the KS1 science curriculum.

The Great Big Book of Life
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The 6th in The Great Big Book of … series looks at life from conception and birth to death and memories.

The early years are allocated several spreads – infant physical development,

sleep, feeding, staying healthy, learning to use the loo and how language develops.

Subsequent topics are school (including home schooling), the teenage years, work, partners,

the middle years, old age, death and finally a spread advocating living life to the full no matter who we are, which includes thinking of other people as well as ourselves.

As in previous team Hoffman and Asquith titles, diversity is a key element. Mary’s light-hearted narrative style combined with Ros’s wonderfully witty illustrations make for an informal and explicit read.

A book to add to your home or school collection.

Sunflower Shoots and Muddy Boots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen! – The Flute / World of Forests

The Flute
Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca
Tiny Owl

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

and bright ones; that sometimes speaks very softly …

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

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

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

World of Forests
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions

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

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

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

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

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

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow
Esther Coombs
Button Books

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

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

Spring seed growing suggestions include salad leaves, tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanatical About Frogs

Fanatical About Frogs
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

Communication,

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

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

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

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

The Brontës / Along Came Coco

The Brontës
Anna Doherty
Wren & Rook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Along Came Coco
Eva Byrne
Abrams Books for Young Readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow your dreams is the message herein.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For an older age group is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoroughly recommended for upper primary readers and beyond.

Dance, Dolphin, Dance

Dance, Dolphin, Dance
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

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

then as the sea becomes rougher, the tuna.

As he dances over a big Blue Whale …

he suddenly encounters a Great White Shark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth / The Story of Flight

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

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth
Rachel Ignotofsky
Wren & Rook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which he did, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add these to your primary school collection.

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop-up Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of the Dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

The back endpapers show an illustrated time line.

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

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

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

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

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

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

Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

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

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

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

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A super addition to the series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Whales Walked / Rivers

 

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

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

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

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

Rivers
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find My Rocket / Elephants on Tour / Egypt Magnified

Find My Rocket
Aleksandra Artymowska
Laurence King Publishing

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

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

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

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

Elephants on Tour
Guillaume Cornet
Laurence King Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt Magnified
David Long and Harry Bloom
Wide Eyed Editions

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

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

Forgotten Beasts / Dictionary of Dinosaurs / Dinosaur Bingo

Forgotten Beasts
Matt Sewell
Pavilion Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

Awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinosaur Bingo
illustrated by Caroline Selmes
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

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

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

Perfectly Peculiar Plants

Perfectly Peculiar Plants
Chris Thorogood and Catell Ronca
Words & Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clue is in the Poo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret of the Egg / Amazing Animal Babies

The Secret of the Egg
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Animal Babies
Aina Bestard
Thames & Hudson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moon

The Moon
Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook
Stripes Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Pictures for Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

and ‘Mirrors and Reflections’ chapters

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

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

Never Too Young!

Never Too Young!
Aileen Weintraub and Laura Horton
Sterling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everest

Everest
Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the legendary Yeti also makes an appearance.

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

Where Happiness Lives / One Day So Many Ways

Where Happiness Lives
Barry Timms and Greg Abbott
Little Tiger

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Me

Peace and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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