Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Things That Go!
Pavilion Books

This book brings together three of William Bee’s much-loved titles – Trucks, Trains and Boats and Planes, and Tractors and Farm Machines, in one bumper volume. I’ve already reviewed each of them on this blog so I won’t repeat myself; rather I’ll suggest that if you have a young child with an interest in things mechanical (or perhaps even yummy sounding breakfast cereals such as those sold down on William’s farm), then unless they already own the individual books, a copy of this totally immersive publication narrated in William Bee’s chatty style with his detailed, gently humorous illustrations, would make a smashing present.

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford Children’s Books

This large format, beautifully produced new edition of a classic has been brought up-to-date with terrific contemporary illustrations from Lauren Child and a new translation by Susan Beard.

We follow Pippi Longstocking on her amazing adventures as she moves, sans parents, into Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase of gold coins. Despite well-meaning adult villagers’ attempts to guide Pippi, she’d far rather be a wild spirit. She meets Tommy and Annika who very soon become her best friends. These new friends join her on her amusing escapades – leading the police a merry dance, going to school – briefly, joining the circus taking on a strong man and wowing the crowd, dancing a polka with thieves and celebrating her birthday.

Young readers and listeners will delight in their encounters with this intrepid, sometimes outrageous heroine while older ones and adults will rekindle their love of her with this bumper book that would make a super Christmas present.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll & Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

It’s always interesting to see new visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and although for me none can outdo those of Tenniel, assuredly Grahame Baker-Smith’s distinctive illustrations, breathe a different kind of life into Carroll’s story.

Every chapter has full page, richly coloured detailed spreads as well as several smaller pictures executed either in blues or sepia. 

One I lingered long over was the double page colour spread of the Mad Tea-Party and an amazing spread it assuredly is. There’s a large iced cake, the upper surface of which is crammed full of liquorice all sorts and what look to be those flying saucer sweets that contain sherbet. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of an egg cup containing an egg and peeking through the crack in its shell is the face of a chick. It’s details such as those that the new generation of readers who go down the rabbit hole , as well as those familiar with the story taking the descent again, will remember.

With illustrations full of mystery and magic and a superb design, this is a terrific gift book.

The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales
edited & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
NYR Children’s Collection

This anthology contains a dozen ‘literary’ fairytales selected by the husband and wife team to illustrate with their own whimsical touches.

Among those included are Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Oscar Wilde’s literary The Happy Prince, The Three Wishes told by Barbara Leonie Picard, Arthur Rackham’s classic version of Beauty and the Beast, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Prince and the Goose Girl, a reworking of Grimm’s Goose Girl, Parker Fillmore’s retelling of the Finnish story The Forest Bride, and a tale new to me, A.A. Milne’s Prince Rabbit. With an unexpected final twist, this is an amusing story of a childless king who is urged to name an heir. To that end the king arranges a series of contests for would-be heirs who meet certain criteria; one of which is a rabbit.

I found it fascinating to have such a variety of storytellers side by side in one volume, with the Provensens’ humorous, sometimes dark illustrations and I suspect this is a book that will appeal more to book collectors and older readers with a particular interest in fairy tales, than to child readers.

We All Celebrate

We All Celebrate
Chitra Soundar and Jenny Bloomfield
Tiny Owl

Probably somewhere in the world, no matter the month or the date, there will be people celebrating something or somebody, a birthday perhaps. This insightful book acknowledges that and introduces young readers to some of the less often mentioned festivals and celebrations from around the world, as well as presenting some that are well known such as Deepavali and Christmas.

Chitra Soundar uses both a global and a seasonal approach that starts with people wishing one another ‘Happy New Year’. and perhaps if they’re living in parts of Canada, jumping into the chilly sea doing the ‘Polar Bear Plunge’. However not all calendars begin on January 1st. Nowruz – the Persian New Year – celebrated in many countries including Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan is in March.

I think we all welcome the arrival of spring when we can begin to cast off our heavy winter clothes and blossoms start to burst forth. Blossoms – in particular those of the cherry trees or sakura – are a cause for celebration in Japan where people gather together for Hanami under the trees all pink with delicate sakura.

In contrast in India, the spring festival of Holi is anything but a quiet occasion to appreciate nature; it’s a time to join the throngs in the streets throwing coloured powder and water, and dancing to loud music. When in India at Holi, I hide away as I break out in a rash if I get the powder on my skin.

Summer, especially midsummer is another cause for celebration; I learned from this book that in Sweden families get together in the countryside and parks where they make garlands of flowers, adorn a maypole and dance around it, as well as feasting.
Sometimes the first day when Muslims celebrate the breaking of their Ramadan fast, Eid-al-Fitr, falls in the summer: Chitra devotes a double spread to fasting. giving brief details of some other fast days for other religious traditions.

No matter the time of year, food, music and dancing often play a big part in celebrations. It’s certainly true for carnivals and for some Pacific Ocean island festivals.

Autumn seems to be a time for honouring dead ancestors; people do so in South East Asia and in Mexico.

Strangely for UK readers, people in Peru celebrate the winter solstice (Inti Raymi) in mid June. Much more associated with winter is the Jewish festival of Chanukah celebrated over eight days and nights.

It’s important to remember, as Chitra reminds readers on the final spread, that like humans, celebrations change and evolve over time, but despite our differences, everybody celebrates.

Debuting as a picture book illustrator, Jenny Bloomfield’s vibrant, detailed spreads really do evoke the spirit of the celebrations.

Definitely a book for school collections and topic boxes.

The Same but Different

The Same but Different
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings

This is the latest in the excellent series written by Molly Potter and illustrated by Sarah Jennings that are used by so many teachers to stimulate thought and discussion.

Herein youngsters are invited to recognise, explore and celebrate both the things we have in common with other people and those that make us different. After all, every single one of us is a unique human being and our differences need to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated. Imagine a world wherein we are all identical in every way: how dull and boring life would be.

Sarah Jennings’ splendid illustrations portray a diverse mix of children (and some adults) and Molly’s narrative focuses largely on differences including how people look – skin colour, hair styles and colours, eye colour, whether or not we wear glasses, height and clothing styles.
There’s a page on talents and skills, another explores preferences such as foods, favoured times of day and another on personality.

That everyone is entitled to have his or her own opinions and beliefs is acknowledged and these should be respected (provided that nobody is harmed, that is.) The concept of family and that of a home are both presented and some of the ways families and homes can be different, mentioned.

However, in addition to the differences, there are spreads that look at some things that are likely to be same or nearly the same as other people –

things that are part of our shared humanity such as the need to eat, a desire to be loved, a felt discomfort at excessive cold or heat, a brain that enables decision making and an imagination.

The book concludes with some helpful tips for adults sharing it with children to help in their understanding of various forms of diversity and the celebration of difference. There’s also a final glossary. All in all a very useful starting point for discussions on inclusion both at home and in the classroom.

My Pet Goldfish

My Pet Goldfish
Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

The young narrator of this gorgeous book is thrilled to receive when four years old, the gift of a goldfish. Naming it Richard, child and fish gaze at one another, one in its watery world the other without. Then Richard is put into a big tank along with lots of other fish so it has sufficient space to grow and after school our narrator talks to Richard about the day, convinced the fish recognises the speaker.

Little by little the child learns much about Richard, as do we readers. This information comes in part from the narrator’s observations, part from friend and fish expert Sandy, who lives next door and has a pond in his garden; and part from the factual information presented in a smaller font throughout the book. ‘Goldfish can remember things for up to five months’; seeing more colours than humans, they have very good eyesight that they use along with their sense of smell to find food; they breathe by means of gills; they lack eyelids

and the term for a group of goldfish is.a ‘troubling’ – I didn’t know that before.

Sandy shows the narrator his pond with its assortment of goldfishes

and offers the pond as a home for Richard, should he grow too large for his tank. Something that at age four-and-a-half Richard does, but there’s a long way to go for him to reach the age of the oldest ever goldfish – 43 years – wow! Sandy’s pond is then the perfect place for the narrator and Richard to continue their regular meetings.

Catherine Rayner’s narrative nonfiction account is based on her own real goldfish, Richard. Her delicately detailed, mixed-media illustrations are stunning, making every spread a place to linger and delight in the beautiful fishes, the often bubble-surrounded, aquatic plants in their watery world, and Sandy’s tranquil garden.
(There’s a final author’s note that includes some tips for fish care and an index.)

A splendid introduction to the joys of having a goldfish as a pet.


Teagan White and Loveday Trinick
Big Picture Press

This outsize volume is part of the Welcome to the Museum series that uses the interactive gallery style of a museum, in this instance taking readers to meet the amazing life found in and around the seas. 

As always the presentation is superb: a large clear, well leaded font is used for the text, there are awesome full page illustrations by Teagan White opposite each page of text, and marine biologist Loveday Trinick’s explanations are fascinating, educative, and likely to encourage youngsters to wonder at ocean fauna and flora.

First we are given a general introduction to the historic oceanic divisions and the ocean zones before proceeding to the first gallery wherein the microscopic plankton – both phytoplankton and zooplankton – are to be found.

Gallery 2 exhibits fauna that inhabit coral reefs; there are examples of wandering jellyfish; the Portuguese Man o’War, (a venomous predator) actually a colony comprising four different kinds of polyps that all work together to act as one animal. and examples of some of the 1000 known anemone species. (I never knew before that there was a Venus flytrap anemone). The gallery also includes a full page illustration of a coral reef and some descriptive paragraphs, the last of which states that they ‘may also hold the key for the treatment of infections, heart disease and even cancer.’

Moving on, readers meet next inhabitants of the deep sea – molluscs and echinoderms, the outer shells of some of the bivalves shown may well be familiar to those who wander beaches at low tide.

No matter which of the nine galleries you wander through, the other habitats are: a rock pool, a mangrove forest, a kelp forest,

the Poles, the Galapagos islands you’ll encounter a wealth of stunning images of, and facts about the marvellous life inhabiting the deep. 

The final one draws attention to the human impact upon the ocean as a whole emphasising the vital importance of its contribution to many aspects of our lives, as well as highlighting the adverse impact we humans have already had on this watery world. However, with ever more people becoming aware of this damage, there is still time to make changes to our behaviour that can conserve, protect and restore this essential component of Earth’s ecosystem.

Marine biology isn’t just for specialists; this wonderful book can be enjoyed by anyone from primary school onwards (it might well encourage some observational drawing) and for those who want to learn even more, try the Ocean Conservation Trust and the other organisations listed on the final page.

As Large As Life / Hide-and-Seek History: The Greeks

These are 2 non-fiction books from 360 Degrees an imprint of Little Tiger: thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

As Large As Life
Jonny Marx and Sandhya Prabhat

Author Jonny Marx takes readers on a somewhat capricious world journey from Peru to the north American Chiuahuan desert, the Australian outback to the Arctic and the Black Forest to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, visiting various habitats both aquatic and on land. We meet about 250 animals (and occasional plants) – between eight and a dozen large and small on each spread, all drawn to scale. Part and parcel of each spread too, for comparative purposes, is a human figure, part of one or a footprint.

Sandhya Prabhat’s richly coloured scenes of the creatures in their natural habitats contain recognisable images of an insect as tiny as the mosquito and as mighty as the blue whale for instance ;and scattered around the images – each of which is named – are succinct comments by Jonny Marx. Did you know for instance that an Atlas moth can have a wingspan as wide as a dinner plate; or that in the case of Australia’s largest bird, the common emu, it’s the male that looks after the eggs, incubating them until they hatch. While so doing the bird doesn’t eat for drink and might lose almost one third of its bodyweight – that’s dedication. 

Mentions of poison crop up fairly frequently and youngsters will doubtless delight in the also fairly frequent mentions of poo especially this: ‘Jackrabbits are coprophagic, which means they eat their own poo when hungry!’ (By the way the antelope jackrabbit mentioned is, we learn, actually a species of hare with ears around 20 cm. long.) This reviewer was amused to read that those wombats in the Australian outback have cartilaginous backsides and they take advantage of their ‘hardened buttocks’ when biting predators threaten, by diving into their burrows head-first. Then of course there’s the fact their wombat poo is cube shaped, which I actually did know.

Talking of being threatened, on another continent Short-horned lizards shoot jets of blood from their eyeballs when under threat from predators. 

In addition to having a better understanding of relative size, there’s certainly plenty for readers young and not so young to enjoy detail-wise; and youngsters will doubtless want to impress their peers with some of the information they’ve gleaned from this book which unfortunately lacks an index, although there is a contents page.

from the same author and illustrator is:

Hide-and-Seek History: The Greeks

This is an addition to the Hide-and-Seek History series presented on large, thick card pages that have flaps (sometimes double ones) to explore on each of the half dozen spreads.

It starts with a visit to the Acropolis and environs to see a group of archaeologists busy at work; this acts as an introduction to Greek civilisation in general, saying that the ancient Greeks were the creators of democracy as well as great thinkers, artists and inventors.

Then come spreads on the Greek gods and goddesses; some of the heroes and heroines from their stories including Daedulus and Icarus, Ariadne and Heracles. 

we’re introduced to some of the trailblazing mathematicians, scientists, architectural pioneers and sporting greats; next is a look at war and combat, and finally, there’s a look at everyday life in ancient Greece

Vibrantly illustrated, interactive and written in an engaging style, this is a fun way to introduce fascinating facts to youngsters, one bite at a time.

It’s Up to Us

It’s Up to Us
Christopher Lloyd
What on Earth Books

Thirty three award-winning artists from around the world have each contributed a terrific illustration for this book, which is subtitled A Children’s Terra Carta for Nature, People and Planet. It’s based on the 13 point Terra Carta – a kind of roadmap created by HRH The Prince of Wales (who contributes a foreword) and his initiative Sustainable Markets, which aims to ‘put nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation’ set out at the back of the book using the original language of the Terra Carta’s preface).

The main text comprises four parts. In Nature, the first, we’re reminded that we humans are living our lives surrounded not only by other people but also by an incredible wealth of flora and fauna; and it’s likely that no matter where one looks there is evidence of this, be it from the tiny wild plants poking out between the cracks in the pavement, or the birds singing in the trees we walk past on the way to school or the shops.
However not all life is visible to the naked eye: there are millions of tiny microbes living in every conceivable place on Earth – even in between our toes – but you’ll only see them with the aid of a microscope.
Did you realise that all life is dependent upon three things: the air, the soil and the oceans; from these come oxygen, food, water and the wind? Immediately recognisable, Poonam Mistry’s intricately patterned illustration surrounding this information pays tribute to her love of nature. Nature – Earth’s circle of life – has been around billions of years before human life first existed, and indeed Earth is the only planet on which we can be sure, life exists.

illustrations by Estelí Meza and Mehrdokht Amini

The Nature surrounding us is so amazing that from it we derive everything we humans need (and much more), of this we’re reminded at the start of the People section of the book.
There’s a downside to this though – the pollutants released into the air and the water, poisonous emissions that cause immense harm to myriads of tiny living things that keep our soil healthy.
But that’s not all: stop and consider the vast amounts of pollutants now found in our oceans and rivers due to our consumerist lifestyle. The result? The extinction of ever more plant and animal species. Catastrophic indeed. Due in part to the fact that we have forgotten that we too are Nature.

illustration by Rutu Modan

That is why our attention is drawn in Planet to global warming. something that is now impossible to deny. Its impact is chronicled in searing illustrations of forest fires, blackened landscapes due to CO2 emissions,

illustration by Black Douglas

melting ice-caps and disastrous floods, all of which have been so much in the news during this past year.

However it’s not too late quite yet; but we need to act quickly to bring Nature back into balance and the ways so to do are set out in the Terra Carta. Herein seven ‘WE WILL’ intentions are stated. It’s no good though if they stay as intentions; actions are crucial and as the banner held by one of the young people on the final spread says, IT’S UP TO US! Young people from all over the world have been at the forefront of the movement to put Nature first but it’s up to adult individuals, businesses, politicians and governments everywhere to recognise the urgency of the situation and take decisive action, NOW!

With its dedication to life-long activist and pacifist Satish Kumar, this is a timely, must have (sustainably printed) book for families, school classrooms and libraries as well as delegates to COP26.

Microbe Wars

Microbe Wars
Gill Arbuthnott and Marianna Madriz
Templar Publishing

Despite this book not being a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changing our lives considerably, said pandemic seems to have spawned a number of books for children on the topic of microbes. But we humans have waged war on these micro organisms – only visible by means of an electron microscope – for thousands of years as they’re responsible for the spreading of the most deadly diseases in history. However it’s not only humans that fight microbes, sometimes it’s a case of microbes versus microbes, or humans fighting each other with microbes. Did you know that there are around a trillion microbe species in all, many of which are as yet unknown?

After a couple of introductory spreads mentioning some of the microbes from Protozoa to the bird flu virus, there’s a double page on the Black Death aka the plague, 

followed by another with information about several other diseases caused by microbes: Spanish flu, malaria and smallpox – it’s possible that Pharaoh Rameses V died of smallpox, a disease which happily, thanks to Edward Jenner’s vaccination, and the determination of the WHO, has since 1980, been exterminated.

As yet this isn’t so for COVID19 despite the vaccines now being rolled out, and perhaps never will be; but not all microbes are bad. Indeed there are many helpful ones: we wouldn’t be able to digest our food without those microbiomes in the gut. 

Other microbes help in the production of popular foods such as yogurt and cheeses, while still others are used in medicines for the treatment of diabetes and even some cancers. Indeed, the scientific innovations continue to bring hope and one never knows what the next amazing step on this life-changing journey will offer. That’s the message that emerges from this fascinating, sometimes funny book by one time science teacher, author Gill Arbuthnott, and illustrator Marianna Madriz whose lively, often gently humorous illustrations infuse the information with drama.

The World Book

The World Book
Joe Fullman and Rose Blake
Welbeck Publishing

This book arrived at a tantalising time when India, the country I most want to visit in the near future isn’t issuing tourist visas. So like most readers of this chunky book, for the time being, I’ll have to remain an armchair traveller and make a whistle-stop tour of the countries of the world (and some territories) finding out something about each one.

Having acknowledged in his introduction that the recognition of countries isn’t universally agreed, author Joe Fullman takes readers, one continent after another, starting with those in North America, to stop at 199 countries, plus Antarctica and the Overseas Territories.

Each country is allocated a double spread, single page, or occasionally, a half page whereon we have a key facts box showing the flag, a location map and 5 facts: capital, official language or languages, (surprisingly the USA doesn’t have one while Bolivia has 37), currency, population and area. There’s an introductory paragraph for each stop off and paragraphs of salient information and observations as well as a handful of Rose Blake’s stylised vignettes.

We read about culture, food – you get nigh on perfect hummus in Lebanon, and Germany has more than 300 varieties of bread,

natural wonders, festivals and celebrations and wildlife – India is one of the most biodiverse countries with animals including elephants, peacocks, flamingoes, king cobras, tigers, rhinos, sloth bears and snow leopards.

However, Fullman doesn’t hold back from mentioning civil wars or political tensions. Syria we read is sadly, ‘currently in the midst of a traumatic civil war which has resulted in many Syrians losing their lives or taking refuge in other countries.’

While of South Sudan, Fullman writes, ‘South Sudan is one of the world’s newest countries. It broke away to become independent from Sudan in 2011 following a war of independence. It then entered a period of civil war from which it has only recently emerged. The future looks more hopeful, as the people move towards peace.’ Apparently the popularity of wrestling is something that is helping bring the country together.

All in all, this volume, as well as being interesting in its own right, will perhaps prompt readers who have alighted in a country that particularly interests them, to widen their explorations. (Index and glossary are included.)

My First Book of Microbes

My First Book of Microbes
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

From the award-winning team whose previous titles include My First Book of Quantum Physics, this new STEM title explains the intriguing world of microorganisms – good and bad -to upper primary children and beyond.

They start by saying that these minute organisms come in all manner of different shapes and sizes, and using a rice grain for comparison show alongside it, a bacterium and a virus; then go on to explain the role of electron microscopy in observing such things as viruses.

Diving deeper into the hidden world of microbes, viruses, bacteria, fungi and more, they explain what these things are, where they are found, why many of them are vital to our very existence, as well as looking at the infections some microbes can cause, with a historical overview of the major epidemics and pandemics – including one we all know about, the devastating effects of COVID 19, which has its own double spread.
A number of topics are explored including algae, protozoa, phages,

archaea (only discovered in 1977), how viruses cause infections, the importance of hand washing, the role of antibiotics

and how some bacteria can develop a resistance to them, the way our immune system protects us, vaccines and their role in immunisation and the eradication of some diseases such as Smallpox.

A number of key scientists – Louis Pasteur (who pioneered modern microbiology), Robert Koch who discovered the bacteria causing tuberculosis and Edward Jenner developer of the first vaccine are featured, and the important role of teamwork in this area of science is discussed.

As always with this series, every spread is well-designed with a clear layout, diagrams and fact boxes that augment Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón’s thoroughly engaging text; and Eduard Altarriba’s colourful, sometimes playful illustrations help bring to life in an accessible manner, a topic that is sure to excite many youngsters, be they budding scientists or not.

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet
James Carter and Alisa Kosareva
Little Tiger

‘Beneath our feet / way deep and down / are beasts asleep / in the cold, dark ground … / They’re skeletons now … they’re fossils, bones. / They’re silent, still; / in a prison of stone.’
Poet James Carter then invites us to dig down deep, visit the various layers of the Earth while also being a time traveller able to meet all kinds of exciting creatures on our prehistoric adventure.

First come the trilobites, erstwhile crawlers on the ocean floor. Next come the scary-looking pointy-toothed metoposaurus, a fish-eater somewhat resembling a crocodile. None the less, I wouldn’t fancy a face-to-face encounter. More to my liking is the Meganeuropsis, the biggest ever bug, buzzing around – an early giant dragonfly this.

Next are the dinosaurs be they the herbivores such as Diplodocus; the bones crunchers such as T.Rex and the winged Archaeopteryx that may have been able to take to the air on its feathery appendages.
Moving north to chilly climes of everlasting winter lived herds of wooly mammoths with heir super-thick coats and ginormous tusks.

All these beasties have become extinct, wiped out on account of earthquakes, floods, disease, comets maybe, or even the poisonous lava of volcanoes.

All this information has been unearthed thanks to the work of palaeontologists investigating fossil evidence and now as James reminds us in the final part of his rhyming narrative, we can see some of these fossils in a museum; or perhaps find our own by taking a spade and digging deep.

The last spread is a kind of visual timeline of our prehistoric adventure showing all the creatures mentioned in the text.

The countless young dinosaur lovers will relish this time-travelling foray into Earth’s ancient past with James’ lyrical descriptions that really bring the creatures back to life, and illustrations by Alisa Kosareva, whose magical, dramatic scenes of all those mentioned in the text and more, are superbly imagined.

Britannica First Big Book of Why

Britannica First Big Book of Why
Sally Symes and Stephanie Warren, illustrated by Kate Slater
Britannica Books (What on Earth Publishing)

Children are forever asking ‘why’ questions and adults quite often scratch their heads to give appropriate answers; now comes this jumbo book that should help both questioners and responders. It contains a lot of information and seemingly being aimed at slightly younger children than usual, with a single question per spread, is far less overwhelming than is often the case.

Organised into eight sections: minibeasts, pets, wild animals, the body, food, how stuff works, earth and finally, space, each part has fourteen questions of the kind youngsters might well ask. In addition to the question, every spread has a paragraph of text in response, accompanied by either a ‘wacky fact’ or a ‘who knows?’ bubble, one or two large illustrations – some are photographs, others are bold bright art work by Kate Slater.

And, each section concludes with a “Wow! What’s that?’ spread containing half a dozen coloured images for children to match with their names from the six listed.

Back mattter comprises a comprehensive glossary and index, source notes in case readers want to know more about a topic, as well as a ‘meet the Why team’ page and the answers to the matching game.

So, if you know a child who might ask such questions as ‘Why do flies like poo?; ‘why do frogs croak?’; ‘why does music make me want to dance?;

‘why do cakes puff up in the oven?’;

‘why don’t skyscrapers fall over?; or perhaps ‘Why does Saturn have rings?’ then you definitely need to keep a copy of this book to hand, be that at home or in your KS1 classroom. It will also go down well with slightly older, visual learners.

Time to Move South for Winter

Time to Move South for Winter
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

This gorgeously illustrated book follows the migratory journey of a tiny Arctic tern from the chilly northern climes to a warmer location in the south where it will spend the winter.

During this flight we also encounter several other creatures also moving south for winter. The first are whales, then as the tern flies over land it follows the tracks of caribou also seeking a warmer place. Also taking flight is a flock of geese riding the wind on their giant wings, wanting to find a summery lake location.

Next, as it flies over the coast the tern sees a turtle looking for jellyfish and summer in the ocean

and moving upwards once more the tiny tern finds herself surrounded by Monarch butterflies on the move to their mountain forest destination in Mexico. After a rest the tern takes flight eventually sighting a colony of fellow black cap terns that have also moved south for the winter and are now nesting. Time at last for our tiny winged traveller to rest in the sun on the shore of the Antarctic for the next few months before returning to start her own family back in the north.

With additional factual information at the end of the lyrical main text, map and Jenny Lovlie’s gorgeous textured, detailed illustrations, this is a lovely narrative nonfiction book to share with young listeners at home or school.

The Stardust That Made Us

The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía
Big Picture Press

Written by Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and illustrated in Ximo Abadía’s show-stopping surreal style artwork, this visual exploration of chemistry is the third STEM collaboration by this pair.

Despite chemistry being one of my a-level subjects I was totally bored most of the time and certainly never really got to grips with the periodic table: I certainly could have done with this book back then: the author’s explanations and the visuals really bring the elements and that table to life. I love the way he defines them as ‘ingredients’ in nature’s ‘unseen cookbook full of recipes for making everything …’ from fish to fingernails.’ Now that’s the way to get children intrigued. These ingredients aka chemical elements are currently 118 in number, some of which occur in nature, others – the synthetic ones -26 we read, were made by scientists during experiments.

Nor did anyone ever tell me that the inventor of those bunsen burners we used in so many lessons were invented by Bunsen the German scientist who also discovered two alkaline metals as well as a spectroscope. This information is part of the ‘alkali metals’ spread on which we also read that caesium, one of the elements Bunsen discovered is important in our everyday lives: it plays a crucial role in GPS satellites, and caesium clocks are used in our mobile phones.

All this is getting a bit ahead of things though. The very earliest element came into existence when the Big Bang occurred almost 14 billions years ago, followed very quickly on account the fusion process, by helium, lithium and beryllium.

No matter which spread you read, you’ll surely find something exciting and much of the information is presented with a gentle humour that makes it all the more enjoyable. I laughed at the paragraph about making the synthetic elements being incredibly difficult – ‘Aiming the particles at the target is a hard thing to get right – a bit like trying to throw marshmallows into someone’s mouth.’

Despite the significant part women played in the discovery of elements, only two are named after women, one being curium (after Marie Curie and her husband), the other meitnerium named after Lise Meitner.

This enormously engaging book is an excellent one to give to older primary children and beyond; it will surely inspire them, and who knows where their enthusiasm might lead – perhaps one of them will add a new element to the five heavy elements discovered in the last 20 years; especially once they discover, as the title says, it’s stardust that made us..

A Natural History of Magick

A Natural History of Magick
Poppy David and Jessica Roux
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

To provide an element of authenticity, a letter at the beginning of this book introduces it as a ‘precious scrapbook’ from 1925 by one Conrad Gessner, grandfather of Alfie to whom his opening letter is addressed.

There follows a first person narrative from the professor, purporting to be his research into magick practices starting with that in Ancient Egypt and going right through to modern magic in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s a look at magick from the African continent, used still to this day for such purposes as healing the sick and helping crops to grow. However, magick knows no boundaries and respects no borders, so we’re told on the ley lines pages whereon there’s a world map showing how they all connect. Also referred to briefly on the same spread is Machu Picchu.

After the brief history come spreads devoted to overviews of single magickal forms including divination, cartomancy, numerology, alchemy and the making of potions. (Should you wish to try it, there’s even a recipe for a potion from one Guilla Tofanus who fled to France, said to conjure up fairies and sprites.)

Then you might need a wand, in which case the kind of wood from which it’s fashioned makes all the difference: for example if you happen to be a healing wizard, then a wand from a restorative tree is what’s required but so I read, it’s not entirely up to you for ‘in wand lore, it is magic that pulls a wand and its bearer together.’

It’s useful to have an amulet or talisman, an object containing magical power, to keep close at hand all the time, they’re popular even today; some examples are shown here …

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Roux in pencil and watercolour, with a muted colour palette, this book is assuredly a fascinating read but I’m not sure who the target audience is. I suspect you might find it in the Hogwart’s lending library so fans of the Harry Potter stories may well go for it.

A History of the World in 25 Cities

A History of the World in 25 Cities
Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg
Nosy Crow and The British Museum

If you want to be a time traveller as well as a world tourist, then this is for you.

In collaboration with experts from The British Museum, authors Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, present a brilliantly conceived and executed large format book, superbly designed and illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg. Featuring 25 detailed city maps, it takes readers on a historic world tour visiting locations from every continent at a specific moment in time, and in so doing offers a look at the development of humankind.

‘Cities are full of possibilities.’ say the authors in their highly thought-provoking introduction, ‘… They are where big ideas are born, because they welcome people from far and wide, bringing them together to live and work, and to swap skills, inventions and thoughts.’

We’re taken first to the walled city of Jericho around 8500 BCE and as well as a map (carefully researched), there are pages vividly illustrating life then(and now) as well as bite-size paragraphs giving details of same. (for instance ‘Being close to the salty Dead Sea meant that the people of Jericho could trade salt for other goods.’ There’s also, bordering one page an ‘In Numbers’ feature.

Other cities featured are Memphis circa 1200 BCE, Athens 500 BCE,

Xianyang 212 BCE , Rome 100-200 CE, Constantinople, Baghdad, Jorvik, Beijing, Granada, Venice, Benin City, Cuzco, Tenochtitlán circa 1520, Delhi, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, Bangkok, London, Saint Petersburg, New York City, Berlin, San Francisco and finally, Tokyo of today – now the world’s most densely populated city and originally a small fishing village.
Through the wonderful visuals and text it’s possible to imagine walking at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the ornate gardens of 1400s Islamic city kingdom of Granada; wandering the beautiful palm-oil lamp-lit streets of medieval Benin in the West African rainforest; or roaming within the walls of capital city Delhi in 1660 with those packed bazaars of Chandni Chowk and its impressive buildings such as the Red Fort. (it’s not all that different today).

Another of the featured cities I’ve visited is one of my very favourites, Amsterdam, where in the 1670s the 100km canal system was key in transporting goods to buyers around the city and beyond.

With a final look forward to the cities of tomorrow in the hope that they will become increasingly green, this amazing book bursting with historic detail, maps and engrossing illustrations, is one for class collections and for giving to youngsters who want to broaden their horizons.

My Green Cookbook / Polly Bee Makes Honey

My Green Cookbook
David Atherton, illustrated by Alice Bowsher
Walker Books

Hot on the heels of his excellent My First Cook Book, Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton offers around forty vegetarian recipes. No matter if you’re looking for a tasty meal, snacks, a sweet treat or an attractive cake (several, even), there’s something here.

Like the author, I love walking in the forest and looking up at the trees so was immediately drawn to the yummy-looking Autumn Woodland Cake, though as a vegan, I’d want to make one or two slight tweaks to the ingredients list.

The Curry Korma Bowl too caught my eye right away. Indian food is one of my favourite kinds of cuisine. Having been unable to travel to India since fleeing that country at the start of the pandemic I can’t wait to go back but with all the necessary ingredients for this dish already in my cupboards, this is one of the recipes I’ll try first.

And, having requested a large amount of haldi from an Indian student studying here the last time he returned to the UK, I have lots of turmeric and so next week intend to have a go at making the Bread Crowns – they look really fun and tasty too.

Among the Sweet Treats, I was attracted to the lemon and pear muffins as the young relations who often visit, are fond of muffins of many kinds. We can try making those together. (Maybe we’ll do two batches with me using a vegan egg substitute in one).

David’s enthusiasm shines through in this recipe book wherein he also explains the impact ‘eating green’ can have on health and well-being, and on the environment. With occasional touches of humour, Alice Bowsher’s illustrations add extra allure to the recipes.

Buy to keep and buy to give.

Honey was used in several of David’s recipes, now here’s a book all about that delicious ingredient/food.

Polly Bee Makes Honey
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the second book in the Follow My Food series. Here, a girl follows worker bee Polly as she (and her ‘sisters’) work hard first collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers in a meadow

and then taking it back to the hive where the nectar is squirted into the honeycomb and some of the pollen acts as food for the baby bees inside the hive.

During the narration we also meet the drones (Polly’s brothers), the queen (the egg layer) as well as the beekeeper who cares for the hive and harvests the honey,

helped by the girl narrator who is shown happily and appreciatively tucking into a slice of bread spread with delicious honey.

After the main narrative come a ‘pollen trail’ and a factual spread giving further information about bees.

With Deborah’s straightforward narrative and Julia’s bold, bright illustrations, this is a good starting point for youngsters especially if they’re working on a food (or perhaps even minibeast) theme in a foundation stage classroom.

How It All Works

How It All Works
Adam Dant and Brian Clegg
Ivy Press

There’s a mind-blowing amount of information broken into bite size portions packed between the covers of this chunky book, revealing to readers the ways in which complex science laws and phenomena affect our daily lives. Science in action it surely is.

Divided into thirteen chapters (plus an introduction and reference section of key figures and an index of the laws) it starts in the kitchen, gradually spreading out into the house, the garden, the Science Museum, and other places that may be found on a walk along the street from the town square.

It then moves into the countryside and to the coastline, the continent, the earth, the solar system and finally, the entire universe with every chapter starting with one of Adam Dant’s incredibly detailed illustrations.

Embedded within each of these are forty six different laws and phenomena behind the featured objects and activities. In his introduction Brian Clegg puts it thus: ‘What these illustrations and their short descriptions will show is the way that everything we do, in everything we experience, we are witnessing and taking part in scientific phenomena, guided and linked by scientific laws. Science is not just something we do at school or that professionals undertake in laboratories, it is at the heart of how everything works.’

Following each large illustration are close-up labelled sections taken from it, every one accompanied by a paragraph in which Clegg succinctly describes the relevant phenomenon (P) or law (L)

I really wish I’d had this book when I was studying science at school for it makes complicated principles/ laws easy to understand, something that spending hours every week in a physics or chemistry lab, failed to do: nobody even tried bringing in a bicycle pump and relating it to Boyle’s Law for instance.

Of course you don’t have to work your way straight through this book section by section. There are lots of ways to enjoy it: you might take one law illustrated in a section and then search for other examples throughout the book. You could use something that sparks your interest as a jumping off point for further research using other sources. Alternatively some might enjoy spending ages poring over just one of the large scenes, each of which has a different colour or hue.

The potential audience for this unusual book is wide – from KS2 through to adult and it’s most definitely one to add to a family collection as well as those of primary and secondary schools.

Journey to the Last River

Journey to the Last River
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Teddy Keen edits a spin-off from The Lost Book of Adventures, an Amazon adventure presented in the form of a scrap book journal belonging to ‘The Unknown Adventurer.’ Smudgy, apparently finger-marked pages and ‘handwritten’ text add authenticity.

Again the written account grips the reader from the start as you learn that the adventurers (the writer, and Bibi who grew up somewhere in the region) are staying in a wooden outhouse belonging to a local villager, preparing for their six week canoe trip into the rainforests. They’ve got the original map ‘borrowed’ from The Geographical Society to help them search for that Last River and discover its secret. The writer hasn’t mentioned this to his companion; instead he’s led her to believe that he’s an artist adventurer.

There’s certainly drama aplenty including an unexpected encounter with a man who draws the supposedly non-existent river in the sand with a stick and Bibi recognises a few of his words including ‘wait’, ’rains’ and ‘guide’ before disappearing again. The two travellers are heartened and eager to continue however.

Continue they do and just over two weeks into their journey they acquire a new crew member, a squirrel monkey that they name Nutkin.

The days pass and the two begin to despair of ever finding what they’re searching for; but then comes the lightning followed by torrential rain.

Suddenly a realisation dawns: perhaps their journey isn’t in vain after all …

Brilliantly illustrated with powerfully atmospheric scenes of the Amazon flora and fauna,

as well as the elemental spreads, there’s a lot to learn from this book with its important final conservation message. Readers will be enthralled by the detail included in both the words and visuals, as well as by seeing the transformative effect the trip has on the ‘writer’.

A superb book that offers huge potential to upper KS2 classes in particular.

Where is Everyone? / The Day Time Stopped

These are two quirky books from Prestel – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Where is Everyone?
Tom Schamp

Herein Tom Schamp invites little ones to discover the unexpected in the expected as they lift the flaps to find what is hiding beneath in turn the bushes, a toadstool, a small car,

a washing machine, a fridge, a toaster, a cup and saucer, a sofa, a toilet, a sink, a bath, a bed, a gift-wrapped box and a tiered decorated cake. The text on each page comprises a ‘who question’ and the answer hidden under the flap – a peacock, Puss in Boots or a tortoise raring to go, for instance.

Now who would expect to find a racoon inside the washing machine or a hamster getting rather heated in the toaster? And I suspect nobody would anticipate there being a monkey on a surfboard lurking behind that cup containing that cuppa, nor a napping camel tucked away behind that comfy couch.

Full of whimsical ideas, this playful board book with its duck commentator surely will encourage youngsters to go beyond the information given and look at things with a fresh, creative mind and eye.

The Day Time Stopped
Flavia Ruotolo

If you’ve ever stopped to wonder what your friend in another part of the world is doing right now, perhaps because you want to call them on your mobile, then here’s a fun book for you.

The young narrator who happens to be in Genoa, Italy is just taking her first bite from an ice-lolly (she calls it a popsicle) at 5:33pm her time when inexplicably, time stops.

At that exact time in another part of Europe – Berlin – Selma and Nora bring their scooter to a sudden halt – just in time to prevent a small creature getting run over.

In La Paz (Bolivia) however it’s 12.33pm and Rosa’s grandmother has just finished knitting a sweater while in New York City two children discover their tube of toothpaste is empty – it’s 11.33 am their time.

At that moment too Kimo’s underwear pings off the washing line in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) where the time is 2:33am and in Sapporo, Japan Yuki’s cat is woken by a noise. (The clock there would say 1:33am).

Concurrently, Makena, way off in Nairobi proudly shows her first ever self portrait to her dad, the time there being 7:33pm; whereas in Maurituis’s Port Louis it’s 8:33pm and Carl the canary wants his dinner.

And so on …

Then, suddenly time restarts and things seem normal once more: now for our narrator back in Genoa, it’s 5:34pm.

Flavia Ruotolo’s seemingly simple playful presentation of people, animals and their activities is essentially a philosophical reflection on the notion of time and place that takes readers across two dozen time zones and on a lightning visit to twenty six countries. These are shown on a world map on the penultimate spread and the book concludes with an explanation of why it isn’t the same time the world over.

When Plants Took Over the Planet

When Plants Took Over the Planet
Chris Thorogood, illustrated by Amy Grimes

Reputed botanist and field guide writer, Chris Thorogood presents a clear, concise evolutionary history of plants from the very earliest green alga called a charophyte that first appeared around 500 million years ago.

From those minute algae, plants moved onto land some 30 million years later, the first being mosses, liverworts and hornworts.Readers can then follow that land journey through various historic periods (a time line is given).

It’s amazing to think that some of the plants found millions of years ago in prehistoric forests are still found today some equisetum species for instance, one of which I frequently see on walks in the part of Gloucestershire where I currently live. Who’d have thought they’re now what’s termed ‘living fossils’.

Every spread is full of fascinating information on various plant groups and species; we discover when seed plants emerged – those that forever transformed the planet – and again some of these gymnosperms are still around today, the ginkgo (or maidenhair tree) being one. I was astonished to read that such forms existed well before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

There’s an explanation of the difference between moncots

and dicots (as I was taught to call them) but now referred to as eudicots; a look at powerful medicinal plants that can heal ailments, boost health and flavour food and drinks, and some examples of carnivorous plants.

Most people know that plants are crucial to our existence but nonetheless many species are in danger of extinction and the author gives a timely warning about the effects of human damage. It’s still not too late and the final spread offers some ways everybody can play a part in preserving the rich diversity of plant life.

With Amy Grimes’ bold, bright illustrations thoughtfully arranged around the detailed factual information, this is a superbly presented book as well as a fascinating and exciting one for individuals or class collections.

Beetles for Breakfast

Beetles For Breakfast
Madeleine Finlay and Jisu Choi
Flying Eye Books

Fundamental to all scientific discoveries is the imagination and so it is in this book wherein Madeleine Finlay explores the imaginative new technologies scientists are developing to help make our planet greener.

There’s absolutely no getting away from the drastic effects that climate change and global warming are having on planet earth and Finlay’s book is bursting with ideas – including those of the weird and wonderful kind – suggesting ways that humans might reduce the adverse impact of we humans.

The backdrop is a day in a child’s life and as we follow it through from the breakfast table, the bathroom, into the city, to school, the park, then onto a farm and pay a visit to the beach before returning home, we learn how some of the cutting edge inventions could become part and parcel of everyday life.

Imagine cleaning your teeth by means of edible capsules of toothpaste made from slimy seaweed that you’d pop into your mouth and brush your teeth squeaky clean; perhaps brushing with a biodegradable bamboo-handle toothbrush. Think of the plastic saved!

Being almost entirely vegan, I certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of eating beetle burgers however.

What about wearing a PE kit that contains bacteria and when you start to sweat, these microorganisms swell, opening flaps for a refreshing breeze and shrink again once the sweat has dried. Clever stuff.

Indeed, other scientists have discovered bacteria in fermenting yogurt and in our guts that can produce electricity: maybe in the future, it’s suggested, musical speakers could be powered by harnessing such microbes.

We all know of the damage caused by the exhaust fumes from cars and other vehicles; however with some clever chemistry it might be possible to turn toxic black carbon soot into ink you could use for art projects or writing.
With bright, often intricate, infographic art and a wealth of facts, some still a tad far-fetched but you never know, and exciting ideas aplenty, this is a book that could inspire youngsters to become the cutting edge scientists and technologists of the future.

Play Like Your Football Heroes

Play Like Your Football Heroes
Seth Burkett and Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tom Jennings
Walker Books

Former pro football player Seth Burkett co-authors this book with friend and writer Matt Oldfield. It’s broken down first into four parts with tips on how to: Train Smart, Think Smart, Live Smart and Play Smart, and then into chapters each featuring five or six star players. It’s great to see both men and women included, one of the latter being American icon and political activist Megan Rapinoe, winner of two World Cup winner’s medals as well as both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot trophies. But what makes her even more inspirational to this reviewer is her peace message: “We have to love more, hate less, listen more, talk less.’

Self belief is key if you’re to become a successful soccer player, or indeed succeed at pretty much anything: Kevin De Bruyne is a shining example of a player who believes in his ability, in his case to ‘pull off another amazing assist’. He started having to find the courage to step outside his comfort zone (a requisite if you’re to develop self confidence) age fourteen when he left his Drongen home and family to join the Genk academy 100 miles away. Just one of the incidences of his awesome self-belief.

Incredibly skilful ball dribbler, Messi, didn’t gain that outstanding ability in a vacuum; rather he needed to work on a whole lot of inter-linked skills to become the amazing ball master that he is. Training, training and more training in different conditions: constant, variable and random. Don’t worry if this sounds a bit technical; explanations are given in the very first chapter, featuring of course, Lionel Messi.

Another star who believed in himself, no matter what is Harry Kane who scored that crucial goal in the final minutes of the first group game against Tunisia in the 2018 World Cup. A real smart hero assuredly..

When it comes to playing smart, somebody who personifies the five ‘P’s – ‘proper preparation prevents poor performance’ is French midfielder N’Golo Kanté, he of outstanding stamina.

However, no matter where you open the book you’ll likely find something that will speak to you: and sometimes challenge you.

With both authors’ passion for the game shining through all that they’ve written in this inspiring, interactive book, as well as some 80 black and white illustrations by Tom Jennings, there’s lots in here for readers from around seven, be they enthusiastic watchers/team supporters of the game, or a young player and would be football star, .

What the Elephant Heard

What the Elephant Heard
Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher
Welbeck Publishing

Charlotte Guillain tells this rhyming non-fiction story from the viewpoint of a young elephant that lives on the African savannah with her herd.

We learn of the wisdom and knowledge of the narrator’s grandmother always able to find water just like the grandmothers before her. Those that could tell of roaring lions, zebra herds and the activities of humans with their smoke belching machines,

their aeroplanes and their cars bringing tourists.

Worse than all those though, are the sounds of buzzing, whining tree destroying monsters that carried the felled trees off to people in towns,

and then that tragic shot from a poacher’s gun which killed the young elephant’s own father.

Now, as Sam Usher’s watercolour illustration shows, with the land dusty and parched, the herd awaits the welcome sounds of thunder and rain. With Grandma as leader, they lumber across the denuded savannah in the hope that once more, their leader wiii be successful in locating a waterhole …

After the elephant has finished speaking, come three prose spreads, the first giving basic information about elephants, their features and habits, the second discusses the work of elephant rescue teams and wildlife rangers and the third presents worrying facts about the declining numbers of elephants and some ways in which humans can help support these amazing creatures.

Equally lyrical in their own way as Charlotte’s words, are Sam Usher’s scenes of both the beauty and the harshness of the elephants’ environment over time and place. Altogether a heartfelt and timely presentation of pachyderm plight and majesty.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes
Silke Vry and Finn Dean

Cleverly framing the topic as a metaphor for life, author Vry (who has a background in archaeology and art history) and illustrator Dean, present a survey including both historic and modern world mazes and labyrinths from various viewpoints. In so doing they encourage youngsters to ponder upon what fascinated those in bygone times and still does make these puzzles so appealing.

One thing that’s important to know at the outset of this journey is that a labyrinth is not a maze and a maze is not a labyrinth: the difference being that you cannot get lost in a labyrinth whereas you can in a maze. I vividly recall getting lost in Hampton Court maze on more than one occasion.

Have you ever thought about labyrinths in relation to the human body? that’s one of Vry’s considerations, offering the human brain, the ear and our entrails and intestines as exemplars.

Another theme looks at the the historical and mythological labyrinths and mazes; there’s the labyrinth Daedalus designed for King Minos in the ancient city of Crete, so the story goes.

Children will likely be amazed by the grand labyrinth with its rounded sides and eleven concentric circles, rich in symbolism, that is set into the floor stones in Chartres Cathedral.

Then there are labyrinths in nature too: the other day young relations of mine were thrilled to discover ammonite fossils in a Cotswold stream near where we live. There’s a spread devoted to natural world examples herein too.

There is SO much more than at first meets the eye – this is a philosophical book that can act as a kind of sacred space wherein time slows right down offering readers the opportunity of ‘being in the moment’, a meditative mode wherein there is potential for change and growth: in life, like a labyrinth, the path shifts in unexpected ways, sometimes diverting you from your goal, but ultimately leading you to the centre or your own centre. Try running a finger slowly along the lines of a labyrinth and feel its calming effect.

I could go on at length about this engrossing, alluringly illustrated book with its facts, exciting ideas and participatory invitations for maze/labyrinth drawing, but I’ll now just encourage you to get a copy for your family bookshelves, and classroom. collections – you’ll find lots of opportunities across the curriculum to share it with youngsters.

Hooves or Hands?

Hooves or Hands?
Rosie Haine
Tate Publishing

Following her debut picture book, It Isn’t Rude to be Nude, author/illustrator Rosie Haine invites readers to ponder on the possibilities that being a pony instead of a human might offer.

Taking by turn a series of parts of a pony’s anatomy – hooves, legs, face, hairy parts and then moving onto topics such as pooing, movement, diet and mode of communication, she presents the alternative equine /human scenarios starting with the title hands or hooves, followed by being four or two legged, having a long or short face, possessing a mane, tail, forelock and fetlocks or not, pausing for a dump wherever you are or having to hold on,

galloping or running, whether or not your bum is furry,

whether you dine on a variety of foods or have to stick to hay and whether you utter words or a neigh (yes the text does rhyme).

The key question is ‘… would you rather be a pony or a person?’ Which would bring more fun? There’s even the prospect of being both. The key thing however, is individual choice and making the most of what you choose.

Playful, clever, quirky and thought-provoking.

Share this in a classroom and you might find children trying their own versions using a different animal of their choosing.

What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World
Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and Lydia Hill
Templar Books

In this compilation, author Leisa Stewart-Sharpe takes readers to various parts of the world – the top of mountains, through rainforests, across deserts, over grasslands, along rivers, to both icy poles and deep down into the ocean – presenting the amazing flora and fauna of a large variety of habitats. In so doing, she shares stories of over thirty “‘Earth Shakers’ – activists young and not so young who have worked tirelessly for the cause of nature. The youngest mentioned is Romario Valentine (aka Romario Moodley) fundraiser and talented artist who on his 9th birthday asked for donations to an endangered bird sanctuary nearby rather than presents or a party.

Let’s go now to the foot of Mount Everest to meet Priti Sakha and learn about her fight for clean air in and around her home city of Bhaktapur. As a volunteer for the group Nepalese Youth for Climate Action, this nineteen year old participated in street clean-ups, protests and visited schools to help students understand the terrible dangers of air pollution and talking about ways in which everybody can work towards cleaner air in the Himalayan region. “The mountains are our pride. I’m taking a stand” she said. The spread devoted to this young woman and each of the other people featured includes a relevant ‘green tip’.

Trees are crucial to our world and several people included in this collection have espoused their cause. There’s German schoolboy Felix Finkbeiner who’s started a tree planting project in his school. It quickly spread to other schools and within a year, some 50,000 tree seedlings had been planted across the country. He set up the ‘Plant-for-the-Planet’ organisation to involve children the world over and to date there are over 91,000 child participants representing 75 countries.

Trees were also Julia Butterfly Hill’s cause. This young woman visited the redwood forests of California intending to stay for just a week, However on discovering that the forest was to be cleared by a lumber company, she lived peacefully in the branches of a tree named Luna for two years until finally the company agreed to leave a 60 metre protective zone around that tree and others in the vicinity.

Another tree planter was Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai who planted 50 million trees across Africa and started the Green Belt Movement to that end, a movement that continues to transform both people’s lives and the landscape.

Doing his utmost for the cause of Antarctic seals, is polar scientist/conservationist Prem Gill. Studying these creatures in the field is a massive challenge and Prem uses space satellite technology to do so.

There’s no room in this review to mention the awesome work of everyone spotlighted in this hugely inspiring book but I must introduce sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen who took on the huge task of both cleaning up the beaches of Bali and setting up the organisation Bye Bye Plastic Bags to help tackle the island’s massive plastic problem. I was amazed to learn that Indonesia has become the second worst plastic polluter in the world.

With Lydia Hill’s striking illustrations of activists and wildlife and a foreword by Lee Durrell MBE, this surely is a book to motivate youngsters to get involved, both by making small changes and joining in with a project or two that particularly interests them. (Suggestions are given at the end of the book, and there’s a glossary and letter from the author too.)

Let’s Save Antarctica

Let’s Save Antarctica: Why We Must Protect Our Planet
Catherine Barr and Jean Claude
Walker Books

This book is an urgent plea from author Catherine Barr and illustrator Jean Claude for readers and listeners to help in the vital task of protecting our precious planet, in particular Antarctica from climate change and plastic pollution, and all that means.

That vast white continent covering the South Pole – the most extreme environment on earth – is home to millions of Emperor penguins as well as safe waters for the enormous whales that live in the depths of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Losing these, thus far tough survivors just doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must.

Penguins though are just some of the awesome inhabitants of the vast icy wilderness, for eons ago it was home to dinosaurs, and fossils, footprints, teeth and ginormous bones have been discovered by scientists investigating the ancient volcanic ash of the Antarctic sea floor.

Other scientists have and still are investigating what Antarctica can reveal about how earth’s climate – the temperatures and wind patterns – have changed over hundreds and thousands of years.

But what are the secrets to the survival of the flora and fauna of this extreme environment? Yes they are all protected in this our last great wilderness.

However, it’s something biologists are studying while others are looking at what allows deep sea life to survive.

So too is the crucial work that scientists are doing to monitor the effects and speed of climate change, Antarctica’s greatest risk of all, and something that will also have a huge impact on all of our lives.

You don’t have to be a scientist to contribute to the saving of Antarctica and the final spread comprises things that we can all do to stop plastic pollution in the ocean and help slow down climate change. What Catherine has written will surely spark action to protect this incredible place; it’s up to us …

Earth is Big

Earth is Big
Steve Tomecek and Marcos Farina
What on Earth Books

Every one of the eighteen topics in this large format book explores the notion of absolutes in relation to planet Earth.

The author has an impressive science background and in his introduction he uses measurement and comparison to talk about this planet calling it in the final paragraph a ‘big, small, heavy, light, cold, hot, wet, dry, fast, slow, round, jagged planet, Earth.

Then follow double spreads, the titles of which are for the most part seemingly contradictory – Earth is Big followed by Earth is Small, Earth is Cold then Earth is Hot and so on.

So is Earth big, or is Earth small? What we learn is that in comparison to the inner and dwarf planets, its diameter is big whereas when compared with the outer ones, Earth is small.
When it comes to a consideration of roundness, Earth is an almost perfect sphere though it’s not without imperfections; 

however despite appearing spherical, the surface is rough and jagged on account of such things as mountains and canyons.

Sometimes changes take place on Earth quickly or suddenly on account of such phenomena as earthquakes, moon phases or wind; at others it changes slowly. The relevant spread briefly explains tectonic plates and like all the other explanations is accessible, no matter the scientific field. 

An amazing amount of always readable information encompassing such topics as mass extinctions, 

the Sutter’s Hill meteor strike in 2021 and climate change, which is mentioned several times, is packed between the covers of this book.

There’s a slightly retro look about Marcos Farina’s stylised illustrations and each page layout is different, helping to maintain the general reader’s interest in this unusually conceived scientific book. It also has a a glossary, contents, index, conversion tables and source notes.

One to add to KS2 collections and family bookshelves.

Everything Under the Sun

Everything Under the Sun
Molly Oldfield
Ladybird Books

This is an exciting compendium of 366 questions (one for every day of the year plus 1 for a leap year) posed by inquisitive children from all over the world, that has its origins in the podcast from Molly Oldfield aka QI Elf.

Written contributions, some factual responses others opinion-based, come from a wealth of experts such as scientists, authors, poets, politicians, conservationists and the twelve illustrators who provided the visuals. Interestingly Rob Biddulph gives an answer (as does author Abi Eplhinstone) to “Where do ideas come from?” but he isn’t among those illustrators (Laurie Stansfield did the art for that one); neither is Oliver Jeffers who responds to “Why do people make art?” I particularly love this part of Rob’s reply, probably because he endorses my feelings: “… My children are a really good source for my ideas. They are big readers, and they have really vivid imaginations! And no idea is too silly!”

Some of the spreads have a theme, for instance there’s one with four wild animal questions, three relating to big cats, the other being “What noise does a zebra make?” Another has three penguin questions.

Others devote a double spread to a single question “Why do butterflies have patterns on their wings” being one for August.

There’s a splendid illustration of an owl around which a question of head rotation is discussed.

On a completely different topic, Nick Ross explains why the Tower of Pisa is leaning.

Not something this reviewer has ever considered but I was interested to learn why nonetheless. That’s another way this book works. You can just dip in randomly and discover something that perhaps you didn’t know before and no matter your particular interests, you’re pretty sure to come upon something illuminating.

Or you might have a question binge and spend hours browsing and you could formulate a few questions of your own. I wondered why there are relatively few ‘where?’ questions compared with those asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ and it’s great to see such a wide age range of inquiring children (2-18) included as the source of the questions.

I’d strongly recommend both families and primary schools adding this engrossing book to their shelves.

Amazing Rivers

Amazing Rivers
Julie Vosburgh Agnone and Kerry Hyndman
What on Earth Books

Author Julie Vosburgh Agnone starts by giving a general description of a river and then takes readers on an exploration of freshwater waterways all around the world. She and illustrator Kerry Hyndman then present more than a hundred rivers explaining as they go subjects including measurement, source and flow,

as well as what is to be found in and also around rivers, and the humans living and working in their vicinity.

Crop growing has long been an important activity with dates and other fruits, grains and vegetables having been watered by water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers since ancient times when Sumerian farmers designed irrigation methods to divert the river water.

Many rivers, we’re told, contain fish species in abundance including perch, catfish and trout while others yield freshwater crabs and shrimps that can make a tasty meal.
I was fascinated to read about pancakes – not the edible variety but ones made of ice that are occasionally formed in the River Dee in Scotland.

In contrast the Boiling River in Peru has water hot enough to cook an egg.

Some rivers – the Amazon, the Yangtze and another Chinese river, the Li – are allocated a spread each while other spreads are topical including treasures found in rivers, industry, feats of engineering and threats to divers with short titled paragraphs presenting the facts set into or around stylised illustrations.

Kerry Hyndman uses a variety of visual layouts that include vignettes,

close-ups, arial views and broad river scenes as well as making good use of texture and shadow to help maintain readers’ interest throughout. There’s also a central foldout map showing the location of each river mentioned as well as giving some fun river-related lists. A glossary, index and resource list comprise the four final pages.

Altogether a fascinating and informative resource book for individual browsing and KS2/3 school collections.

Inside Animals

Inside Animals
Barbara Taylor and Margaux Carpentier
Wide Eyed Editions

Back in the day when I was studying zoology at A-level and beyond I always felt extremely uncomfortable having to do animal dissections to get a close look at an animal’s innards. Now here’s a book containing twenty one cross-sections of a variety of animals large and small, all illustrated in vibrant colours by Margaux Carpentier. 

In the introductory section, detailed pictures show how skeleton, muscles, organs and nerves fit together inside the featured creature – a snake, a camel and a shark.

Then come several focus topics – Muscles and Moving, Skeletons, Lungs and Breathing, Brain and Senses, Heart and Blood, and Amazing Organs.

Written by one time Science Editor at London’s Natural History Museum, Barbara Taylor and set out around each internal view, are factual paragraphs and an introduction, for all the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, spiders and other invertebrates spotlighted herein.

I was fascinated to see the honey stomach of the honeybee – a storage organ for nectar – shown and mentioned in one of the paragraphs and part of what helps this creature survive and thrive.

No animal would be able to survive without oxygen to breathe but not all have lungs, or gills like fish and oysters. Within a parrot we see both lungs and additional air sacs that keep oxygen-supplying air flowing throughout its body so the energy for flight is available. 

Other creatures including we read, land-living earthworms, breathe through their skin.

What about brains? It’s not every animal that has one of those although all rely on sensory information sent via electrical signals along nerves. Such information might be gathered through an animal’s sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Without a brain, jellyfish for instance use a simple nerve network to detect touch, light, smells and to respond to their surroundings; amazingly these graceful creatures can still sting after they’re dead.

Turning to animals having more in common with humans, a giraffe for instance possesses lungs (around eight times the size of ours), and a heart – also enormous and roughly the weight of your average two year old. I was surprised to learn that despite its very long neck, a giraffe has only seven neck bones, linked we read by ball-and-socket joints enabling that neck to be super-bendy.

I suspect that any youngster, especially those with a scientific bent, will discover some surprises in this engrossing book. It’s one I’d recommend adding to family bookshelves and KS2 classroom collections.

Run Like a Girl

Run Like a Girl
Danielle Brown, illustrated by Robin Shields
Button Books

With an illustration by Robin Shields on every spread, 2x Paralympic Gold Medallist, able-bodied Commonwealth Games medallist and champion of inclusion, Danielle Brown presents a look at the lives and achievements of 50 incredibly talented women from around the world of various ethnicities, ages and abilities.

No matter the sport, what these women all have in common is passion and perseverance and these qualities are what matter most of all. Resilience too is key, for success doesn’t come without something of a struggle.

Some of those featured have been honoured by their countries. For instance Olympic gold medal winning boxer Nicola Adams has an OBE,

while hockey player, captain and Olympic gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh has received an OBE and carried the TeamGB flag at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Triathlete, cyclist and rock climber Karen Darke not only has an MBE and a paralympic gold medal, but she also studied the gold content in rocks for a geology doctorate. She’s never let a fall down a cliff while climbing that left her paralysed and unable to walk again, hold her back. ‘Ability is a state of mind, not a state of body’ is her mantra.

Defying both terrorist threats and cultural restrictions, squash player Maria Toorpakai from Pakistan dressed like a boy when she was four in order to play outside and when she began playing squash she was often bullied and bruised by other players, received death threats from the Taliban at sixteen but has now, thanks to support from Canadian squash player Jonathon Power, become Pakistan’s top female squash player. She’s also set up a foundation that aims to create opportunities for children in remote communities to reach their potential: “I want to tell girls that fear is taught. You are born free and you are born brave,” she says.

Tracey Neville has been a netball player and England coach; Stephanie Frappart a soccer referee of women’s and men’s matches, and the first woman to officiate at a major European men’s match are also featured.

No matter the sporting interest of the young reader, they’ll likely find it represented in this inspiring book that is essentially all about following your dreams and exceeding expectations and goals. With the Olympics just over and Paris 2024 to look forward to, youngsters can browse the narrative information and biographical details of the spotlighted women herein. Never say never … for as swimmer Yusra Mardini who became a member of the 2016 Refugee Olympic team says, “I want everyone not to give up on their dreams. Even if it’s impossible, you never know what will happen.”

Sing Like a Whale

Sing Like a Whale
Moira Butterfield and Gwen Millward
Welbeck Publishing

Previously Moira Butterfield invited youngsters to lessons that would help them Dance Like a Flamingo. Now in this spirited book their voices are the focus as they take delight in joining in with this exploration of the variety of sounds made by creatures large and small.

First to perform its song is the male humpback whale as he swims through the ocean with a long low Hoooooooo Hoooooooo.

Back on land we meet shaggy maned father lion ready and waiting to make his loudest Roar! Roar! – the ideal sound for little ones to stand proud and tall ready to give vent to their feelings.

Next to use its vocal organ is an owl Hoot, hoot! it goes as it perches on a branch. Make sure youngsters are ready to emulate its turning head movements as well as its hooting before spreading their wings and gliding off.

Also enjoying a moonlit singing session are a pack of wolves, each one A-woooooooo-ing and waiting for little humans to creep, sit and create an echoing A-woo! A-woo!

A further eight creatures, some feathered, others furry and one scaly are all eager to give renditions and encourage children to copy them

and then it’s the turn to the children to issue an invitation to “Sing with me!”

Whether you share this book with one, several or an entire foundation stage class prepare yourself for a very noisy and thoroughly enjoyable story/movement session. Make sure you allow time to let your audience see Gwen Millward’s humorous illustrations of the various animals, and the animated child mimickers clearly enjoying themselves.

Mummies Unwrapped

Mummies Unwrapped
Tom Froese
Nosy Crow (in collaboration with The British Museum)

Ancient Egypt is a popular topic for the KS2 History curriculum but the subject of mummies is given relatively little attention.

Now illustrator Tom Froese reveals their mysteries in this book unravelling both those of humans and animals. To allow them to remain together in the afterlife, sometimes pets were mummified at the same time as their humans.
First of all is an explanation of what a mummy actually is, and the origin of the word. We then learn how a mummy was made. It was crucial to start the embalming process as soon as possible to prevent the body rotting in the hot sun.

An embalmer’s toolkit is depicted and the entire process is described.

If you’ve ever wondered what the wrappings were made of, they were generally linen torn into long strips that look a bit like bandages.

We learn the grisly details of what was done with internal organs (only the heart was left in place as this was thought to be needed in the afterlife), as well as reading of the outcomes of embalmers’ errors.

There’s information about the funeral procession (after 70 days) to the tomb and what took place thereafter. There’s also a spread introducing some of the most famous mummies including Tutankhamun and one called the ‘unlucky mummy’ said to have been cursed.

Unearthed too are stories of tomb robbers, and what took place when archaeologists discovered mummies thousands of years after their burial; there’s mention of fake mummies and other shenanigans. Apparently the French King Francis 1 always carried a packet of powdered mummy with him in case he was ever in need of urgent healing. Bizarre!

Froese’s stylish illustrations have touches of gentle humour, plenty of detail and pattern making this a book I would definitely recommend adding to primary school collections and the bookshelves of youngsters with an interest in ancient history.

What a Wonderful Phrase

What a Wonderful Phrase
Nicola Edwards and Manu Montoya
Little Tiger

Nicola Edwards and illustrator Manu Montoya take readers on a world tour looking at idioms from far and wide, including such places as Sweden, South Africa, Korea, Nigeria and Greece. There’s even this: ‘Nuces relinquere’, Latin for ‘To Give Up Nuts’ which to the Ancient Romans meant to give up childish ways. Fascinating, as are all the other idiomatic phrases in this book, each of which is explained in a gently humorous manner in this compilation of curious utterances.

We learn the cultural and historical facts behind for instance, ‘Putting Watermelons Under Someone’s Arms’. Originating in Iran (then Persia) and also found in Azerbaijan and Turkey, it translates as ‘conning someone into doing a tiresome or stupid task for you’.

I was surprised at how many of the idioms mention food.

Can you guess the meaning of ‘To split open the crocodile’s intestine’ a phrase sometimes said by Izon speakers living around the Niger Delta. If your home language is English you’ll surely be familiar with ‘to butter someone up’ and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ but unless you speak Dutch you aren’t likely to have come across ‘a monkey sandwich story’.

I couldn’t help but laugh at this Icelandic one that translates as ‘peeing in your shoes will only keep you warm for a short while’. Really? However the accompanying bit about an unusual delicacy said still to be consumed by some did not appeal to my vegan sensibilities. Gross!

As well as being amusing, this delightfully illustrated book is an exploration of the diversity of language and a presentation of snippets from many different cultures that readers of all ages can enjoy sharing and discussing.

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries
Jonathan Litton and Wenjia Tang
Little Tiger

If you lack an open inquiring mind, open eyes and imagination, it’s unlikely that you’ll discover anything new or shed fresh light on something that’s already known.

In this book Jonathan Litton takes a look at all kinds of amazing discoveries from both long ago and recent times, history being the first theme with dinosaur remains the first topic along with what some key palaeontologists have discovered. I was astonished to read that on account of several factors including improved technology and more trained palaeontologists, dinosaurs are ‘being discovered at a faster rate than ever … a new species per week on average.’

Ancient civilisations and some of their artefacts are presented next including a visit to some entire cities that were lost.

The second section ‘Introduction to Earth’ takes readers to both the Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as deep down into oceans

and right into the earth’s core. We read of extinct species and new ones that are recent discoveries: I’d not heard before of the psychedelic frogfish that usually walks on the ocean floor but can make itself into a ball and jet propel itself from one place and another.

Section three presents discoveries of a scientific and mathematical kind, some like penicillin, accidental, others the outcome of experimentation either simple or incredibly complicated and costly.

Perhaps your interest is space. That is Litton’s next theme, about which humans have discovered relatively little despite it being a source of fascination for well over 1000 years. It’s good to see Vera Rubin and her work on galaxy rotation getting a mention herein

and I’m pleased that the author devotes a double spread to women whose remarkable discoveries gained them scant credit at the time. This forms part of the final ‘nature of discoveries’ section that considers some philosophical questions – what makes a discovery a discovery?

The world is a dynamic place and it’s likely in the time that I’ve taken to read this book and write these words, fresh knowledge is being uncovered. That truly is an incredible idea …

A thoroughly engrossing and inspiring book, alluringly illustrated by Wenjia Tang to add to individual and school collections.

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece
James Davies
Big Picture Press

However famous the Greek myths might be, retellings of these ancient tales for youngsters can sometimes be pretty dull, turgid even; now here’s a book that makes them anything but.

In a dramatic comic book style James Davies presents half a dozen tales making them highly accessible to primary age readers wherein they will find bravery, loss, love,

greed and envy. Interspersed between the stories are thematic spreads on various topics that offer a broader look at such aspects of Greek mythology as the Greek gods and how the Greek myths explained the world; there’s a presentation of heroes and heroines including Atlanta, Achilles, Penthesilea and Odysseus. We also take a journey through the Greek underworld, a place that could be downright scary or delightful depending on your actions during your life.

James Davies’s bold graphic artistic style means that he manages to make even the most terrifying monsters such as the many-headed Scylla and the gigantic Hydra look amusing.

Right now I think we definitely need that tiny little shining insect that popped out of Pandora’s Box spreading light wherever there was darkness and hope wherever there was despair. Definitely now would not be a good time even to contemplate hiding away inside that ginormous wooden horse like those Greek soldiers did when Helen was rescued in The Trojan Horse story. However there’s much to learn from all six stories: that of Theseus and his quest to defeat the horrendous Minotaur,

the Twelve Labours of Heracles, Orpheus and Eurydice and Perseus and Medusa.

With Ancient Greece being one of the oft used topics in KS2 history, a couple of copies of this enthralling book would make a worthwhile, up to the minute addition to primary school topic resources as well as the school library.

Curious Creatures: Glowing in the Dark

Curious Creatures Glowing in the Dark
Zoë Armstrong and Anja Sušanj
Flying Eye Books

Author Zoë Armstrong and illustrator Anja Sušanj take us close up to some of the world’s most incredible animals – some of those that are bioluminescent and others that are biofluorescent.

The former use chemical reactions to create sparkles, flashes and flickers of light within their bodies by mixing together two chemicals luciferin and luciferase plus oxygen. This is then shown in a variety of ways. Some creatures including two earthworm species one from New Zealand, the other from the American South ooze a gooey gunk. The New Zealand species dribbles orange goo, the American, blue.

In contrast there are sea creatures such as Flashlight fish that use the bioluminescence of glow-in-the-dark bacteria they carry around and can switch on and off in the blink of an eye. Amazing! Amazing too is the fact that beneath the sea around the Florida coast over three-quarters of the marine creatures glow in the dark, using light to communicate.

It’s not only marine animals that use light to signal to one another. I once spent hours over many evenings in the hills near Dharamshala, fascinated by the myriads of fireflies flickering in the evening dark after a rainy day. In this book, the author focuses on those found at the forest edge in Japan; apparently there are over 2000 species of firefly around the world.

Biofluoresent creatures such as scorpions that are nocturnal, need to absorb invisible ultraviolet light from the Sun (or Moon) in order to glow.

However, so we read, this whole phenomenon is ‘something of a mystery’ and increasing numbers of familiar creatures, so scientists are discovering, are able to glow in the dark.

Having presented all these amazing animals, it’s exciting to read that scientists are making use of both bioluminescence and biofluorescence to research new ways to track diseases moving around the body, as well as looking at ways to save energy and to test for pollution. WOW!

Beautiful illustrations and a highly readable text make this a book for KS2 readers either in the classroom or at home.

Amazon River

Amazon River
Sangma Francis and Rômolo D’Hipólito
Flying Eye Books

The author of Everest now invites readers to join her on an exploration of a river that starts as a tiny trickle high up in the Andean Mountains of South America, flows across seven countries and 6,400 km. and has more than 1,100 tributaries.
I was previously unaware that the Amazon comprises three different kinds of water: the fast flowing clearwater, the slowly churning blackwater that moves almost imperceptibly across forested land (the dark colour is the result of leaves that fall and rot at the bottom), and the milky whitewater that looks rather like flowing caramel, the colour coming from a mix of sand, silt, minerals, floating sediment and broken down bits of rock.

Having described the geological features, Sangma Frances moves on to talk about the fact that in the Amazon basin there are three different kinds of river, one aerial, the surface river that is visible, and four km. down and recently discovered by scientists, the Hamza.

There’s a wealth of information about the flora (including 16,000 tree species)

and fauna – great and small – 3000 fish species, 1,300 species of birds, 2.5 million species of insects, assuredly the world’s most incredible ecosystem.

After this comes a legend about a tribal warrior said to have been turned into a huge fish called the pirarucu.

Did you know that the Amazon has been home to human life for 12,000 years, since the last ice age? Or that there are more than 400 indigenous societies in the Amazon, each of which has its own culture, language and traditions and folklore. The story of Naia, queen of the lilies is retold here.

Having described next human life along the river, the author ends by discussing some of the terrible threats faced by the Amazon,

how activists are doing their utmost to protect the precious space and a final plea to all readers to do their bit to help.

The amazing illustrations of Rômolo D’Hipólito really help readers to feel immersed in the wonders of this mighty waterway.

Altogether a smashing cross-curricular resource for schools as well as for individuals interested in learning more about an incredible ecosystem.

Wild Child

Wild Child
Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is such a beautiful book written by award-winning author of Diary Of A Young Naturalist and gorgeously illustrated by rising star, Barry Falls.

With his distinctive voice, Dara McAnulty invites readers to take a close look at the world around, journeying into and exploring with all your senses, the five different locations that he describes both poetically and scientifically.

First off is a look through the window, after which we go outside into the garden, wander in the woods, saunter up onto heathlands and meander along the riverbank. At each location we pause while Dara provides a lyrical introduction to the habitat followed by a wealth of factual information about the wildlife – both flora and fauna – to be found there.

This includes a discovery spread where in turn, you can learn the collective nouns for eleven different birds,

take a look at classification, find out how various trees propagate

and about migration and metamorphosis.

An activity to do once you get home concludes most sections: make a bird feeder, make a terrarium, create a journey stick (I love that).

Assuredly this will help any reader, young or not so young, connect more deeply with the joys and wonders of the natural world, and find their inner wild child.

The author finishes with some sage words about the fragility of nature and caring for the countryside, plus a glossary.

Altogether a smashing book for families and schools.

Everybody Has Feelings / Respect / I’m the Fire Engine Driver

These are recent titles from Oxford Children’s Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Everybody Has Feelings
Jon Burgerman

Through his exuberant style illustrations depicting colourful characters of all shapes and sizes in a play park setting, together with a narrative of rhyming couplets, Jon Burgerman presents over twenty feelings that youngsters (as well as zany blobby beings) are likely to experience.

In so doing he acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to feel say anxious, disappointed,

embarrassed, frustrated, sad or scared as well as confident, calm, proud, and joyful and offers the vocabulary for young children to open up and discuss their emotions as well as listen to others talking about how they feel.

With lots of starting points for circle time sessions, this is just right to share in foundation stage settings especially.

Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

This new title in the Big Words for Little People series shows the importance of acknowledging and accepting individual differences and respecting them. It gives examples demonstrating that all lives matter no matter what people look like or believe: that means showing kindness, politeness and abiding by rules. Everybody should feel safe to speak out about their feelings and their lives in general.

Cristina Trapanese illustrates each of the key ideas enacted by a lively cast of characters and Helen Mortimer concludes by suggesting ten things adult sharers can do to get the most from this little book, be that at home or in an education setting.

Add to early years collections.

I’m the Fire Engine Driver
illustrated by David Semple

Here’s a book that allows little ones to switch to imagination mode and step into the shoes of a firefighter, donning the rest of the protective gear, meeting your crew and with siren sounding and flashing lights turned on, driving the fire engine to the scene of the fire in the bakery kitchen.

Part and parcel of the narrative are opportunities for number recognition and counting, joining in with sounds, vocabulary building, following instructions, describing a scene and more.

Through David Semple’s bright, stylistic illustrations and a narrative that makes youngsters feel as though they’re in control, this is a fun book to share either one to one or in a group.


Andrew Pettie, illustrated by Andrés Lozano
Britannica Books

This is a cornucopia of a book that is so easy to get totally immersed in that before you know where you are, a couple of hours have gone by.

Divided into eight chapters on various aspects of our world – space, nature, dinosaur times, animals, the body, being human, inventions and game changers – it’s written in a humorous style, and absolutely bursting with amazing, bite size portions of information and I’m sure the majority of adults as well as children will learn a considerable amount.

Did you know for instance that a corned beef sandwich was smuggled onto NASA’s Gemini 3 space mission by astronaut, John Young? I don’t think much of his taste.

On the topic of taste, I was astonished to read in the Being Human chapter that the average person in Switzerland eats 176 chocolate bars in a year while in China, the average person eats a mere two. I wonder where they have better teeth?

There certainly have been some amazing inventions but this book contains 8 of the weirdest ever made. These include a motorised ice-cream cone that automatically rotates your ice-cream to save you having to turn the cone around to lick the ice-cream on the other side – totally bonkers. I know many people rely on their mobiles for lots of things but did you know there’s a mobile that doubles as an electric beard trimmer? Yes really. On the other hand, I might just have to seek out some of the smart underpants I read about as being in development and give a pair to my partner: these measure how much your buttock and leg muscles are moving and then tell you if you need to up your exercise regime.

You really can’t beat nature as designer though: look at these incredible examples of the Fibonacci sequence found in plants.

In all Andrew Pettie has stashed over 300 lists between the covers of this weighty tome, many with quirky illustrations by Andrés Lorenzo; there are also a fair number of photographs too, plus a glossary and index. Love the playful list headings.

Add to family bookshelves (so long as they’re strong enough it carry its weight) to KS2 collections and beyond, and libraries.

Kids Fight Climate Change / So you want to be an Owl / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest

There are 3 recent Walker Books publications about various aspects of the environment – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

Kids Fight Climate Change
Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Following on from Kids Fight Plastic, from the same team comes a second book containing sixty six ways in which children can become two minute superheroes.

There are sixteen major missions focussed on helping to save the planet and in particular on climate change, starting with powerful facts about global warming and the hugely harmful effects it’s having on ecosystems both large and small. 

Many people will have heard about the terrible effects of the Canadian heatwave that has killed hundreds of people in the west of the country. There have also been huge numbers of wildfires putting both humans and wild life in danger in Australia especially. The latter as well as the other effects of climate change are presented around a world map early in this little book.

Then comes the first of the main missions, how to count your carbon footprint, that includes a bitesize ‘2 minute mission’ to compare inside and outside temperatures on a sunny day, as well as finding one small action you could do tomorrow to reduce your carbon footprint.

With the added interest of collecting points along the way youngsters must complete such challenges as using ‘an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning up the radiator’,

making a bee hotel in your garden or a reusable face mask from an old cotton T-shirt or persuading parents to let you use an airer or washing line for drying the wash rather than an electric drier.

This is a smashing, highly readable little book with lots of funky illustrations from Tim Wesson. It gives young eco-warriors plenty of information, incentive and inspiration to be active in their homes/gardens, schools and local community. Very much a book of our time and young followers of Greta Thunberg (I know a fair few of those) will love it. An empowering read likely to produce lots of young activists.

So you want to be an Owl
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Author Jane Porter places Professor Olaf Owl in the classroom to deliver a sequence of nine lessons and an initial assessment should readers (despite being a fair bit larger than the featured creatures.) want to consider the possibility of becoming an owl alongside the trainees.

There’s a strict code to live by: ‘Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!’ Then come the questions that start each lesson: Can you fly? Can you merge into the background environment? What about seeing in the dark. What’s your hearing like? and so on before giving her assessment to each class member and whoo hoo! they’ve all gained a certificate.

Skillfully engaging readers by the aforementioned questions and others about hunting and feeding, 

hooting, tree dwelling and chick rearing, Jane Porter imparts key facts to young readers with gentle, playful humour while Maddie Frost’s inviting and endearing illustrations further enhance that humour and the scientific information.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest
Stephanie Fizer Coleman

With scenes of several rainforest locations in different parts of the world, youngsters can encounter some of the fauna and flora of these steamy habitats as they search for hidden animals, help a chimpanzee find her way to her friend, match up pairs of gorgeously patterned South American butterflies, add colours to some birds of paradise and to Amazon rainforest snakes. They can also use the 100 or more stickers to further adorn the various spreads and learn some amazing facts along the way.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this latest time travelling adventure of Tom’s sees him back in Ancient Greece after handling his archaeologist Granny Bea’s ancient amphora, decorated with battle scenes.

As usual, Tom’s not only lost in time but he’s also lost his mischievous cat, Digby and readers need to help him find the creature as well as all the other items mentioned in the ‘Can You Spot’ boxes, that are hiding in plain sight as Tom dashes across the pages in pursuit of the elusive Digby.

During his search he visits the Acropolis, a bustling market place – the agora where a philosopher can often be heard giving a speech

and nearby, the cylindrical tholos wherein the council (all male) would meet to debate important issues.

Other locations he visits include a pottery workshop, the school (wealthy boys only attended that), a doctor’s surgery, a street of houses, a gymnasium

and a theatre before heading out of town to the fields as farmers finish their day’s work. Then it’s on towards the port before finally discovering the whereabouts of both Granny Bea and Digby and then being transported back to the present.

As with previous books in the series, this one is superbly interactive and packed with fascinating facts. Each of Fatti Burke’s alluring, highly detailed scenes offers much to pore over including an athlete who has dropped a javelin, another who’s fallen over and a sleeping member of the theatre audience.

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons
Sara Hurst and Ana Seixas
Happy Yak

Authors are always looking for new ways to present dinosaurs to young enthusiasts who seem to have an insatiable appetite for these prehistoric creatures.

Herein Sara Hurst compares dinos. with vehicles, predators, humans and modern day foods among other things. With a body longer than a tennis court, Diplodocus needed to munch through around 33kg of ferns daily – that’s the equivalent of a human gobbling 66 boxes of cereal every single day – imagine that!

First though come an explanatory spread explaining comparisons, a pronunciation guide to dinosaur names and a time line.
The comparisons start on the Fossil Clues pages where readers learn for example, that one of the largest fossil poos ever found was around 70cm long and weighed more than a bowling ball.

I was fascinated to discover that a dinosaur’s age is calculated by counting the growth rings inside its bones (in a similar fashion to trees I imagine).
Other spreads look at the super skills of a variety of dinosaurs – Dromiceiomimus was about as speedy as an ostrich and twice as fast as the fastest man sprinter. Other spreads explore defence, food, weight

hunting ability, self defence and more, concluding with what was the likely cause of dinosaurs dying out.

In addition there’s a scattering of quizzes (answers at the back) and the entire book is brightly and dramatically illustrated by Ana Seixas.

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

Babies, Babies Everywhere!
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

An absolutely gorgeous and inclusive celebration of babies during their first year of life. Now I’m no lover of babies, (though I have particular fondness for one particular little girl, now a toddler, a few months beyond her first year), but this book is a delight from cover to cover.

We follow the ups and downs of that first year with five families all of which welcome a new little one (or two) into their lives. To start with there’s a lot of sleeping, crying, milk drinking, burping and naturally, pooing and weeing. Then comes limb waving and laughing,

followed after a few weeks with facial recognition of those they see daily. Next is the grabbing, grasping stage often accompanied by much gurgling and cooing,

after which sitting and rolling ensue. By around six months the infants are usually ready for some solid foods – often a very messy time as can be the mobile stage when bottom shuffling and crawling, and beginning to get onto two feet, frequently leads to the little ones opening cupboards, etc and enjoying scattering the contents everywhere.

That’s nothing compared to what they can get up to once they start toddling …

One thing’s for sure though, there’s never a dull moment as Ros’s wonderfully detailed, amusing illustrations show (I love the soft toy’s thought bubbles). Mary’s straightforward narrative has a gentle playfulness with lots of baby sounds and comments from family members. (There’s a reminder on the dedication page, that babies develop at different rates and not all of them do things at the same age.)

Great fun for sharing with babies. toddlers who will enjoy spotting things at every page turn, not least the purple elephant, as well as for including in a ‘Families’ topic box in the foundation stage.

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

Author/illustrator Philip Bunting presents an irreverent look at some of the world’s most weird and wonderful creatures that we’re fortunate (or sometimes less so) to share our planet with. Take leeches for instance: I don’t consider myself particularly fortunate to have to live with those (despite their use by doctors) but like all the other animals from axolotls to zooplankton included herein, these hugely successful sucking parasites have undergone adaptations that have enabled them to survive, indeed to thrive. And as the author says in his introduction ‘Each creature is an illustration of Darwinian evolution, and, every animal has a unique yet important role to play on our precious planet. I was amazed to read that a leech has 32 brains. But what does it use them for?

Let’s get right up close to some of the others then starting with the capuchin monkey (Cebus imitator renamed here ‘Peepee stinkipawas). These particular primates – the most intelligent of all known New World simian species –
use simple tools to procure foods they want to sink their teeth into. You certainly wouldn’t want to share their seeds or insects though, for the males make a habit of peeing on their hands and washing their feet in their urine. Yuck!

Seemingly the only raison d’être for Daddy longlegs (other than to scare some people silly) is to act as a ‘valuable source of food for birds on every continent, except Antarctica. WIth more than 15,000 species of these spindly-legged insects, that amounts to a vast number of satisfied birds.

Turning to ocean dwellers, jellyfish are hugely successful medusozoa, sorry ‘wibblious wobblious ouchii’ that are about 95% water. Apparently of the possible 300,000 species estimated by scientists, so far only 2,000 have been found including moon jellyfish that can clone themselves, and immortal jelly fish. The latter can reverse its life cycle reabsorbing its tentacles becoming a blob-like cyst again which then begins over … Awesome!

Bursting with facts presented in a manner that’s huge fun and highly accessible including quirky labelled illustrations – Bunting clearly enjoyed creating these, not least inventing daft new names for every creature included – this book has a more serious mission too; To celebrate the diversity of the animal kingdom and to remind us of the fragility of the ecosystems that together make up Planet Earth.

Give a child this book to get immersed in and you could put them on the path to becoming a zoologist. I’m off to see how many Lumbricus terrestris (aka Squiggleous wriggleous) I can spot brought up after the recent rain shower – I might even be able to make a clew – that, I learned from the spread featuring same, is the collective name for a group of earthworms.

Let’s Go For a Walk / Look What I Found at the Seaside

Let’s Go For a Walk
Ranger Hamza and Kate Kronreif
Ivy Kids

In the company of Ranger Hamza, any walk will be an experience that engages all the senses. No matter where or when you go there’s sure to be a wealth of interesting sights, sounds, smells and exciting tactile things to feel with our hands. Best to do as Ranger Hamza advises though and take a copy of this book along, then suitably attired and with eyes and ears open, everyone is ready to sally forth.

The first focus is colour and youngsters are encouraged to spot red things and of course, what is found will depend on the season and to some extent the surroundings.
Then what about trying to spy things tall, wide or small; or feeling various things like these walkers are doing on the sea shore.

Not all smells are to be savoured; we all enjoy different ones. I for instance would not want to be in close proximity of fresh fish or chimney smoke but would love to inhale the aroma of lavender or baking bread. The important thing is to do as the ranger suggests and ‘use our noses’.

Each double spread has a new focus: there are shapes, minibeasts, sounds,

letters and numbers, pairs of objects, different materials that things are made of. The dark makes everything look different, shadowy perhaps, or you might spot some nocturnal creatures or star patterns if you walk at night.
To see other things up high though, it’s better to walk in the daytime when the clouds sometimes look amazing; while focussing on the ground can be equally rewarding with plants popping up in unexpected places and all kinds of patterns created either by humans or by nature.

With wildlife photographer and CBeebies Ranger Manza as guide and Kate Kronreif as illustrator, this guided book walk is sure to make youngsters want to undertake the real thing. Nature and being able to get outdoors are what have kept so many of us – young and not so young – sane over the past year and now I’m pretty sure that henceforward, none of us will take these things for granted. Are you ready, ‘Let’s Go For a Walk’ …

Look What I Found at the Seaside
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

There are wonders aplenty waiting to be found if you take a stroll on the seashore with the characters in this smashing book (a companion to Look What I Found in the Woods), also published in collaboration with the National Trust).

Every spread is packed with exciting things to discover, the first being the wealth of different shaped seashells, be they curly and shining bright ‘like a pearl’,

long and curly, opening like a pair of wings or perhaps a purse.

The rock pools too are full of exciting patterned pebbles, fish and other small sea creatures; among the seaweed too are more treasures and sometimes foraging seagulls. Watch out for crabs scuttling among the fronds or peeping out of shells.

It’s interesting to imagine what a mermaid might keep in one of those mermaid’s purses close to the cave mouth …

There’s much more too if you follow the cliff path; maybe some fossils, butterflies, bees and seaside flowers; and if you are quiet you just might come upon some wonderful sea birds tucked away among the rocks.

Yes, the seaside is a veritable treasure trove but it’s important to collect thoughtfully, doing no harm and leaving nothing but your footprints behind.

Told through a gentle rhyming narrative and also bursting with fascinating facts, and illustrated with alluring scenes of the children investigating the natural world, this will surely get youngsters enthused to get out and explore nature.

Curious About Crocodiles

Curious About Crocodiles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

Book seven of Owen Davey’s splendid series explores members of the weird and wonderful Crocodilia order. The order includes crocodiles as well as alligators, gharials and caimans, all of which are strong, armoured reptiles with four short legs, powerful jaws – beware! long, flattened snouts and long tails. Each kind spends some time on land and some in the water.

After his general introduction, Owen looks first at design using the Orinoco crocodile to which he takes us right close up and decidedly uncomfortable. I was more than a tad jealous to read that when one of these creatures loses a tooth, another one replaces it and a single croc. can go through as many as 4000 teeth in its lifetime. 

Dinosaur enthusiasts in particular will be interested to learn that millions of years ago crocodiles and dinosaurs shared the earth.

The other dozen topics, each given a double-spread, take a look at movement – sometimes crocodilians walk low to the ground but more frequently adopt a ‘high walk’ and some of the smaller species can break into a run, while others might climb trees. Most although excellent underwater swimmers, tend to stick mainly at surface level.

Did you know that a crocodile’s gender is determined by the temperature of the nest at a crucial point in the development of the egg with high and low temperatures tending to result in female babies, though due to varying layers of a nest having different temperatures, it’s likely that a clutch will have hatchlings of both sexes? First of course, a male has to attract a mate and to do so, some blow bubbles and produce a water dance with vibrating bodies and water droplets ‘that dance around them’. 

As with his previous guides, Owen has packed this with a wealth of engrossing biological information as well as some mythology; and last but definitely not least, a look at conservation including some things readers can do to help preserve both the creatures and themselves.

Truly something to chomp on and bound to scale up the interest of budding young zoologists.