Once Upon An Atom

Once Upon an Atom
James Carter, illustrated by William Santiago
Little Tiger

James Carter successfully wears several hats: he’s a much loved, award-winning poet, a musician and a non-fiction writer; how he manages to fit in all his performances at schools and festivals too, is pretty amazing.

In this latest book, James fuses his poetry and non-fiction writing, this time to explore some of the really BIG questions that fascinate both children and adults alike; and they’re all of a scientific nature.

Starting with a mention of the Big Bang and tiny atoms, the poet wonders, ‘WHY do leaves turn red and gold? / WHY do fireworks explode. // WHAT are whizzes, bangs expansions? / They’re all CHEMICAL REACTIONS!’
That assertion certainly makes chemistry begin to sound exciting.

Next on the scientific agenda are electricity, followed by gravity,

both aspects of physics – for as we hear, ‘We live on one great universe / and PHYSICS tells us how that works.’

Evolution, medicine come next, followed by my favourite of the sciences – botany, all of which are aspects of BIOLOGY.

The final stanzas talk of the work of scientists, their experimenting and inventing, ending with the exciting thoughts: ‘Now WHO knows what / the FUTURE is? // Find out … / become a SCIENTIST!’ Now there’s a possibility.

On the last spread is one of James’ acrostics entitled It’s all a question of SCIENCE.

A fizzingly, zinging addition to James’ non-fiction poetry series, this one is a clever fusion of playful entertainment and STEM information. With each spread being embellished with William Santiago’s arresting, zippy art, the book becomes a STEAM title that is great to share in the classroom or at home.

Patricia’s Vision / Hosea Plays On

Here are a couple of books about enormously inspiring people from Sterling Books

Patricia’s Vision
Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris
Sterling Children’s Books

Here’s a super STEM picture book biography by Michelle Lord, of an inspiring African American woman, Dr. Patricia Bath, who followed both her passion and her vision to become a doctor and change other people’s lives by restoring their eyesight by means of tools that she herself had invented, tools that included lasers to remove cataracts.

From her childhood, (as a young child having seen a blind man begging on the street in Harlem in the 1940s, and pondered on how and why it could have happened), Patricia was a girl with a great and growing curiosity. After qualifying as a doctor, she “decided to get the training, education, skills set so I could achieve miracles” and that is precisely what she did, believing that “eye sight is a basic human right”.

She always looked for possibilities where others saw only insurmountable walls, and through her tenacity and determination managed to do what had never been done before often against her naysaying fellow doctors who hadn’t the imagination she possessed to look beyond the information given.

Through her entire life, even in retirement, this awesome woman kept her goal firmly in her sights and when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, she visited a school classroom wherein blind children received their education in a classroom without braille books. On her return home she sent computers to that Tanzanian school so that the pupils could use their fingertips to read braille computer keyboards; this she called “Computer Vision”.

What an incredible woman and what an awe-inspiring book, made all the more so by the inclusion of direct quotations from Dr Bath and animated illustrations that show both emotion and scientific details. A terrific tribute, and a splendid way to introduce young readers from all over the globe, to this medical hero who died last year.
(There’s also a timeline, a note from the author, a further page about Dr Bath and a bibliography.)

Hosea Plays On
Kathleen M. Blasi and Shane W. Evans
Sterling Children’s Books

Both author Kathleen Blasi and illustrator Shane Evans celebrate the street musician Hosea Missouri Taylor Jr. in their fictional homage of a story of a day in his life, when he boards the bus and goes to his favourite spot, Rochester Public Market.
There he would take out his saxophone and play amid the hustle and bustle. On this particular day we see him passing a boy raking leaves who pauses in his work to pretend play using his rake.

Once in the market passers by are entranced by his music and some drop money into his saxophone case; one girl is moved to dance,

their harmonious double act continuing until the rain comes down when she and the watchers, head for cover leaving Hosea to play alone.

At the end of the day, Hosea is thrilled to discover he has earned ‘enough money’ which we understand is the means to buy another instrument – a trumpet –

and in so doing, spread the love by donating it to the lad Nate, he’d spoken to in the morning. Then they play a lovely surprise finale duet.

The vibrant artwork is wonderfully uplifting: Hosea’s passion for music and its power shines out and the story is enormously, joyously heart-warming.

An author’s note explains how the musician’s goal was to keep the neighbourhood children in positive ways. To this end he bought instruments for youngsters and offered them free music lessons: a true advocate for learning through music.

Recommended for all who want to share, or inspire others with the joys of music and of giving.

In the Sky: Designs Inspired by Nature

In the Sky: Designs Inspired by Nature
Harriet Evans, illustrated by Gonçalo Viana
Caterpillar Books

Yet again, prepare to be awed by nature. This time at the way scientists and technologists have been inspired by things in the natural world, both animal and plant, as described in this book.

Did you know for example that the Wright brothers were inspired in part by pigeons when they designed and flew their first successful plane; or that the wingtips of the Airbus A350 XWB are curved like a bird to help it fly faster?
As well as such information, readers can learn how forces affect the speed of flying objects, be they birds or aeroplanes.

I was fascinated to read that the Japanese engineer Eiji Nakatsu was an avid bird watcher and when faced with the challenge of lessening the noise of the Shinkansen bullet train, he took inspiration from the Adélie penguin for the bottom half of the pantograph (device connecting the train to the overhead wires), and was able to make it more streamlined.

Architects too, have used nature as designer to influence creations such as the apartment building, Arbre Blanc in France, while Vietnamese architects have covered the roofs of some houses with trees to help lower the temperature of the locality and improve air quality. Other architects have drawn upon the hexagon shapes created by bees’ honeycombs in designs including the British HiveHaus homes, while the Slovenian social housing in Izola comprises hexagonal modules and the Sinasteel skyscraper in Tianjin, China will have hexagonal windows.

I was interested to learn scientists have copied the rough coating of moths’ eyes, using microscopic bumps on the surfaces of phone screens and other electronic devices to reduce glare;

while in the USA designers have created special screens for such devices, which bend light like butterfly wings. Amazing.

All this and other intriguing topics are covered in Harriet Evan’s text. Gonçalo Viana’s dramatic illustrations make it all the more alluring, exciting and imagination stirring. There’s a glossary too and I love the endpapers.

All in all, a super STEM book.

The Book of Time

The Book of Time
Kathrin Köller and Irmela Schautz
Prestel

To say that this fiction/picture book obsessed reviewer spent hours engrossed in this captivating factual book, rather than reading a story, would say that it’s definitely worth getting hold of a copy.

After its introductory page entitled ‘Time! What Is It?’ there are four main sections in this look at the hows and whys of thinking about time.

The first deals with the philosophical aspects: here we meet Chronos, the god of time as well as a number of other mythological deities and creatures. The cyclical nature of time in some cultures is considered as is the notion of living in the here and now – that immediately brought to my mind the opening lines of TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton, “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past. / If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.”
How many of us have actually stopped to consider what he really meant in the 1930s when he wrote those profound lines?

Another section that immediately caught my interest was ‘Birds, Bees and Bloom’ that looks at how certain animals appear to have a precise internal clock that tells them when it’s time to hunt for their food, to seek a mate, to migrate, pollinate and hibernate. Did you know that Hummingbirds are able to remember the precise time a flower produces fresh nectar? How incredible is that?
Flowers too have specific times for blooming (although global warming seems to be playing havoc here) so that their pollinators don’t have to pollinate them all at once. In this respect, through careful observations, Carl Linnaeus developed a flower clock.

The other three sections – Around the Year, Around the Day and Travels Through Time are equally interesting. Readers can find out how studying latitude and longitude are related to clocks;

take a look at some of the weird and wonderful clock designs, and ponder upon time travel and consider other fascinating chronos concepts.

Every spread is stylishly illustrated – it’s well worth spending time studying Irmela Schautz’s often sophisticated art, as well as Kathrin Köller’s text: how long I wonder will you spend on the vexed question of time, caught between the pages of their book?

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren
Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Linzie Hunter
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In the latest of this splendid biography series for youngsters Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara celebrates one of the world’s most favourite children’s authors, Astrid Lindgren, the creator of much loved character Pippi Longstocking.

Pippi Longstocking was the name given by Astrid’s daughter Karin who, when sick in bed asked her mother for a get-better story about a character whose name she had just thought up and those adventures are now children’s book classics that all readers should immerse themselves in.

Back now to Astrid: she had a happy childhood living on her parents’ farm in Vimmerby, Sweden and at a young age developed an insatiable appetite for books and reading, quickly working her way through the library’s entire collection.

She had a rather rebellious nature that became more evident as she began to grow up, getting her first job on a newspaper, and at age nineteen she became a single mother to her son, Lars.

Later she married and had another child, Karin. Always playful, Astrid frequently invented stories. As a 10th birthday present for Karin she put all the Pippi stories down on paper and before long the wise, wild character was famous the world over with Pippi being translated into over 100 languages and becoming a TV star too.

Astrid went on to create other popular characters including Lotta and Emil and was awarded two Hans Christian Andersen medals in recognition for her contribution to the book world.

There was even a planet – Planet 3204 – named in her honour by a Russian astronomer. Awesome! A legend indeed and now her stories live on inspiring new generations of young readers.

A time line and further information conclude this cracking book.

Linzie Hunter really captures the spirit of both Astrid and Pippi in her delightful, slightly wacky illustrations.

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

Two new titles from Frances Lincoln each one part of an  excellent, established series:

The Story of Inventions
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Have you ever wondered how some of the things we take for granted such as paper and books,

clocks and watches, computers, electricity, vaccinations, cars, planes, the current pollution-creating scourge – plastic, as well as the internet came about? If so then this book will supply the answers.

Written in a reader friendly, informative style that immediately engages but never overwhelms, the authors will fascinate and inspire youngsters. Add to that Amy Husband’s offbeat detailed illustrations that manage to be both accurate and amusing,

and the result is an introduction to inventions that may well motivate young readers to become the inventors of tomorrow.

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

For all those incredible developments to happen, people needed to use their brains; now here’s a smashing look at how this wonderful organ of ours works:

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

There’s so much to like about this book, that is a great introduction to an amazing and incredibly complicated part of the body. How many youngsters will have thought about the notion that their brains are responsible for every single thing that they do, be it breathing, walking, chatting, eating, thinking, feeling, learning for instance. Moreover the brain enables us to feel happy, sad, powerful, and much more.

So how does this ‘control room’, this ‘miracle of organisation’ as Mary Hoffman describes the brain, actually function? She supplies the answer so clearly and so engagingly that young readers will be hooked in from the very first spread.

Each double spread looks at a different but related aspect such as the brain’s location and development;

another explains how the brain functions as a transmitter sending messages around the body by means of neurons. Readers can find out about how we’re able to move our muscles, do all sorts of tricky, fiddly things such as picking up tiny objects, a jigsaw piece for instance.

Lots of other topics are discussed including the two sides of the brain and what each is responsible for, as well that of neurodiversity. Some people’s brains develop differently, while others might have problems if something goes wrong with their brain.

Every spread has Ros Asquith’s smashing cartoon-style illustrations that unobtrusively celebrate diversity and make each one something to pore over.

A must have in my opinion.

Welcome to Moomin Valley: The Handbook

Welcome to Moomin Valley: The Handbook
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’ve been an ardent Moomin fan since first reading Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll and Comet in Moominland as a child of primary school age. So, I was thrilled to receive this handbook for review. Written by Amanda Li, it’s based on the animated TV series that sprung from the wonderful world of Moominvalley that Tove created. I was fascinated to learn from the introductory ‘How it All began’ that there’s even been a Moomins opera made.

Essentially though this colourful book is a guide to the world of the Moominvalley animation, the illustrations being based on Tove Jansson’s classic art.  First we meet the family (that includes special friends who when staying in the Moominhouse, become temporary family members), after which Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpapa each have a page devoted to them describing their main characteristics and in the same section we’re provided with a brief Moomin history.

Next come the diverse group of the family’s visitors including the romantic Snorkmaiden who is besotted with Moomintroll.

The Moomin family residence is in the peaceful Moominvalley where they live in harmony with their environment. Due to their plethora of visitors they’ve had to extend their cylindrical home and it’s now the tallest building in the valley.

We read of their adventures, both at sea and on land, and

learn how they love to celebrate. We humans could do well to learn from them for they frequently ‘find meaning in the little things in life’. There’s magic too in the valley, especially at midsummer.

One chapter that immediately caught my attention was that called Rule Makers and Rule Breakers, the latter being of particular interest. There was of course Little My, rule breaker par excellence and a character after my own heart,

as is Snufkin, disliker of petty rules and regulations.

Further chapters are given over to ideas of the bright kind; kindness, the natural world of the valley and in Misunderstood Creatures we’re introduced to the likes of Groke and the hattifatteners. As anywhere there are seasonal changes in Moominvalley and these too are discussed. Then, beautifully rounding off the book, on the final 3 spreads, there’s ‘An A-Z of Moominvalley.

Tove Jansson died almost 20 years ago and since then there has been an enormous renewal of interest in her work. The Moomin books with their original artwork have been reissued as well as her fiction for adults. There have also been exhibitions and a biography in 2014 marking the centenary of her birth.

Moomins will never go out of favour so far as I’m concerned and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this book.