The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granny Pip Grows Fruit
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

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

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

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

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

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

The Earth Book
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
Little Tiger

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

Darwin & Hooker

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

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

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

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

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

Gross FACTopia!

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

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

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

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

Big Questions About the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finger Sports / Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain

Finger Sports
Anna Bruder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Kindness
John Francis and Josy Bloggs
What on Earth Books

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

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

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

It’s the Journey not the Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the Animals Were Sleeping / Amazing Animal Treasury

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

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

storks, a monitor lizard near the riverbank, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly and the Dolphins / I See the Sea

Molly and the Dolphins
Malachi Doyle and Andrew Whitson

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

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

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

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

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

I See the Sea
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

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

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

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

Maths is Weird! / The Periodic Table is Weird!

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

Maths is Weird!
The Periodic Table is Weird!

Noodle Fuel, illustrated by Luke Newell
Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

This Book Will Save the Planet

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

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

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

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

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

Britannica’s Word of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lands of Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powered By Plants

Powered by Plants
Clive Gifford and Gosia Herba
Wide Eyed Editions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Noodle Fuel and Rich Watson
Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

The Panda on PDA / The Red Beast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grow, Tree, Grow!

Grow, Tree, Grow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Tough to be Tiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passionate About Penguins

Passionate About Penguins
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Bee / Little Lion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientists are Saving the World!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals

The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

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

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

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

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

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

Lifesize: Baby Animals / My First Book of Minibeasts

Lifesize: Baby Animals
Sophy Henn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Book of Minibeasts
illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

Marvellous Body

Marvellous Body
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Seed Grows

A Seed Grows
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narwhal The Arctic Unicorn

Narwhal the Arctic Unicorn
Justin Anderson and Jo Weaver
Walker Books

Stunning illustrations by Jo Weaver grace every page of this awe inspiring narrative information book written by Planet Earth 11 producer Justin Anderson who, with the help of his team, captured the first aerial footage of narwhal migration for the Nature’s Great Events documentary.

The book takes readers to the frozen Arctic inviting them to dive down deep into the icy waters and follow some narwhals aka ‘toothed whales’, relations of killer whales and dolphins. I was previously unaware that it’s mostly males that grow the characteristic long, sensitive tusk suggesting their possible use as a display tool for attracting females.

In the murky waters we see right up close one narwhal that has reached its half century, chasing a massive flatfish for food.

We also follow the entire pod as the journey north continues for hundreds of miles and are shown the incredible jousting behaviour, that it’s been suggested might be to determine which male is in charge.

For the females, it’s time many miles further on, to pause their journey and having carried their babies inside for a whole year, to give birth. The calves then spend between two and three years with their mothers, after which time the young males grow a small tusk; one that will eventually grow more than two metres long; the occasional one perhaps becoming a ‘double tusker’ a phenomenon new to me.

Eventually the pod reaches its High Arctic Island destination where the sun has warmed the sea and melted most of the ice. That’s where a calf will grow rapidly, thanks to its mother’s milk. Sometimes however predatory killer whales may have tracked a pod and guided by that old narwhal, they have to escape to a safe hiding place. September heralds the end of summer when once again it’s time to move and the pod’s long journey south begins.

After the narrative is a page giving facts about the future of these wonderful animals, now sadly threatened by climate change and humans encroaching on their habitat. Other backmatter gives some websites giving more information on how to help secure narwhals a safe future as well as an index.

A must have for anyone who cares about the ‘Arctic unicorns’.

What Do You See When You Look At A Tree?

What Do You See When You Look At A Tree?
Emma Carlisle
Big Picture Press

Trees are my very favourite thing in the natural world and I most definitely see much more than the ‘leaves and twigs and branches’ referred to in Emma Carlisle’s opening question in this arboreal delight. In fact on our daily walks my partner and I always stop and sit in a quiet spot surrounded by trees and enjoy being there, savouring each one. 

As Emma points out in her rhyming narrative, every tree is special and unique, always has been and always will be. It’s incredible how many different shapes and colours there are, and the variety of locations where trees grow, be they solitary or forming part of a wood or forest. All of this and much more, readers experience through the voice and senses of a child, and of course, Emma’s beautiful mixed media illustrations.

We’re reminded of the crucial role a single tree often plays in supporting and providing a safe place for animals be they birds, squirrels, foxes or other mammals, that might be found safely curled up in the root system.

I suspect many young readers will be surprised to learn that trees communicate with one another and like the girl narrator may ponder upon a tree’s history: what has it seen over the centuries; did children of past times play beneath it, or feel its bark? And what might the future hold for any particular tree? This too is considered in the book. 

Books themselves (modern ones certainly), as we’re reminded, wouldn’t exist without trees.

All the thought-provoking questions posed encourage youngsters (and adults) to appreciate not merely trees, but the natural world itself and the book concludes with suggestions for some mindfulness – Listening to Trees and How to Be More Like a Tree.

Published in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, this is wonderful book to share and discuss either at home or in the classroom before or after a walk among trees.

Everything You Know About Minibeasts Is Wrong

Everything You Know About Minibeasts Is Wrong!
Dr. Nick Crumpton, illustrated by Gavin Scott
Nosy Crow

Adopting a gently humorous, entertaining style, the author explores common misconceptions about creepy crawlies in this highly informative, fascinating and entertaining book. Hands up all those who think that all bees die when they sting you: wrong! That’s just one of the almost thirty main myths cleared up in this book, but contained within each topic spread are several others, in the case of bees: not all bees live in hives, in fact over 90% are either solitary or live in small groups; nor is every bee black and yellow, indeed the orchid bee is actually green and some carpenter bees are blue.

Prepare yourself for another surprise (unless you are an entomologist): no centipede in the world has one hundred legs. It’s not possible because the number of pairs of legs a centipede has is always odd – try the maths.

Interestingly, minibeasts aren’t all small. Some – fairy flies for example – are microscopic, but there’s a species of stick insects that in adult form is, at around 64 centimetres, longer than an average cat. And the wingspan of a giant grasshopper is greater than that of a sparrow.

Another misapprehension is that all eight-legged minibeasts are spiders, but as the author tells readers, vast numbers of arachnids including scorpions definitely aren’t spiders; neither are tardigrades.

One particular erroneous piece of information that really annoys my partner who knows a considerable amount about butterflies, is that they all come out of cocoons. It’s a mistake fairly often found in books, especially those for young children. The spread entitled ‘Butterflies emerge from cocoons’ is particularly entertaining with its gentle dig at a very famous picture book creator.

No matter where you open this captivating book, you’ll find superb illustrations by Gavin Scott presented in a variety of ways to heighten visual interest. Including a wealth of statistics, it’s a terrific look at some creatures that are vital to human life. I’d strongly recommend it either for interested individuals to enjoy at home or as an addition to school STEM resources.

The Sea Below My Toes

The Sea Below My Toes
Charlotte Guillain and Jo Empson

Part of the Look Closer series and following on from The Ground Beneath My Feet and others, and also presented concertina style, extending to 2.5 metres, author Charlotte Guillain and illustrator, Jo Empson, take readers on an investigation into what goes on beneath the sea.

With wet suits on, our journey moves down through the various zones beginning near the surface in the Sunlight Zone. Here there’s a forest of kelp, an algae that is the food source and safe habitat for lots of different creatures. Among the kelp sea otters can be found swimming, diving, and perhaps using rocks to break apart the shells of animals it intends eating. Shoals of mackerel too, move through the water at the surface, as do Stellar sea lions and ghostly moon jellyfish. Then a little lower the surface-breathing orca might be found, hunting for food.

The next layer is the Twilight Zone and it’s there that the ocean begins getting darker and more shadowy. There all manner of strange and wonderful marine creatures can be seen, perhaps even an almost transparent glass octopus or a barreleye fish with its see-through head. Some of the creatures at this level are bioluminescent including the lanternfish and one kind – the swell sharks – emit a green light, possibly to attract a mate. One of the oldest animals – the vampire squid – has been around deep in the ocean for about 300 million years. Amazing! You’ll likely notice tiny particles drifting downwards from above : called marine snow this shower comprises poo and decaying flora and fauna from the upper layers, and is food for many creatures.

At a depth of about one kilometre the Midnight Zone begins; there the water is almost freezing and sunlight cannot penetrate. This level is home to some weird creatures including gulper eels, about 200 species of anglerfish, and chimera (ratfish). Beware of atolla jellyfish with their long trailing tentacles that might sting should you get too close. Go down further and there is the Abysmal Zone: very few fish live so deep due to freezing temperatures and enormous water pressure from above, but you might come across snailfish or the Kaup’s arrow tooth eel and there are tube worms.

There too is melted rock – magma – that sends bubbles out through hypothermal vents on the seabed: it’s there that the tube worms find the bacteria they feed on. it’s also where underwater volcanoes form from hardened magma.

In addition to the wealth of animals and plants, we also find out about the technology used under the sea, from scuba breathing equipment to oil pipelines and deep sea submarines; and come to know about the impact humans have had on under the sea.

With its informative text, this is a book that readers will want to revisit many times as they continue to be fascinated and awed by this incredible subaquatic world. A world that Jo Empson portrays so superbly in her richly hued painted, stencilled, and collaged illustrations that are teeming with life.
Definitely one for home and primary classroom collections.

Our Time On Earth

Our Time On Earth
Lily Murray and Jesse Hodgson
Big Picture Press

Authors are always looking for new and exciting ways to look at animals and how they live. Here, starting with the very shortest and ending with the longest, Lily Murray explores lifespans throughout the animal kingdom. The award, if there were one, for the shortest living creature goes to the wonderful-looking mayfly, the lifespan of which can last anything from five minutes (an American species) to twenty four hours during which time the adult form sheds its skin a final time and a female, having mated lays her eggs and dies in the water whereas the male flies to ground close by and dies there. It’s incredible to think that mayflies have been on Earth for at least 300 million years.

I was surprised to discover that a worker honey bee born in springtime, lives for only five to seven weeks; what a huge amount she packs into that short time, changing her roles as she ages, details of which are given on the relevant double spread. In contrast Periodical cicadas, one of the longest-lived insects might live for as long as seventeen years going through five stages of development deep down where they suck the sap from roots until the soil is sufficiently warm for them to emerge from the ground. In their adult form though, cicadas live for a mere five or six weeks; how they can tell when their seventeen year lifespan has passed, not even entomologist know.

Moving on to some small mammals: both the opossum and the Etruscan shrew live between one and two years, due in part to them being hunted by hungry predators.

There are examples of reptiles, including the thought-to be extinct Galapagos Giant Tortoise, one of which was reported in the news this month as having been found alive,

as well as arachnids, molluscs, large mammals and with a life span of 11,000 years the longest living creature of all and found in the deep sea, the Glass Sponge.

With a wealth of exciting information, this gorgeous book is engagingly written by Lily Murray and beautifully and realistically illustrated by Jess Hodgson who places each animal in its natural habitat. A book to keep and a book to give; a book for home and a book for the classroom.

The Invisible World of Germs / The Secrets of the Universe

The Invisible World of Germs
Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Geraldine Sy and Ana Seixas
The Secrets of the Universe
Dr Mike Goldsmith, illustrated by Adam Quest and Ana Seixas
Oxford Children’s Books

These are the first two in a new small format non-fiction series Very Short Introductions for Curious Young Minds. Full of fascinating information, it was written in consultation with one expert in the field (Alan Redford of Liverpool University) and contains easily digestible infographics, photos and dialogue boxes in addition to the explanations, and in each chapter there’s a ‘Speak Like a Scientist’ feature that provides readers with key terminology. If you want to discover what germs are, something about their history, key scientists and other ‘germ heroes’, how germs are transmitted, how our natural defences work,

the affects of medicines on germs, ponder the questions ‘Will there ever be a world without germs?’ and what might be the future of germs, then this engaging little book is definitely for you. It’s also one to add to KS2 class collections.

I was equally impressed by The Secrets of the Universe, this one being written by a doctor of astrophysics in consultation with Cambridge University cosmologist Sunny Vagnozzi. Again the writing style is engaging and lively and there are the same key features as The Invisible World of Germs – infographics, photographs and cartoons and most important the key questions such as What is the universe?; how was it discovered”; what are the important findings relating to the universe and who were the scientists responsible? …

how big is the universe and what is our place therein? are explored in bite-sized, easily digestible chunks. Find out about galaxies, gravity, the Big Bang, dark energy, consider the possibilities of life existing elsewhere in the universe and even of other universes in this exciting introduction to a mind-boggling topic that science-loving children will relish. 

Both books have a final glossary and index.

I’m The Train Driver / I’m The Bin Lorry Driver

I’m The Train Driver
I’m The Bin Lorry Driver

David Semple and Katie Woolley
Oxford Children’s Books

Young children have the opportunity to imagine themselves into the driving seat of both a passenger train and a refuse collection lorry as they share these books with an adult either at home or at nursery/preschool.

Having donned the appropriate uniform the train driver climbs into the cab, puts on a seatbelt, checks the controls, starts the engine and is responsible for taking a family to the city for some sightseeing. En route there are stations to stop at to allow more passengers to get aboard, a freight train to negotiate, a tunnel to drive through slowly and carefully,

then the level crossing gates are open so its full speed ahead until the signal controller radios to say ‘switch tracks’ and off you go to the city’s main station where the passengers are eager to get off. Finally, a train driver needs to log the train’s arrival before heading home

The driver of the bin lorry has two other team members who are also responsible for collecting the recycling from all the blue bins on their round and they start work early in the morning while it’s still dark. Having set the route, off they go, the driver taking care to stay within the speed limit. The team works hard all morning,

remembering to log each bin emptied into the hopper on the lorry’s computer screen and totalling up the final number. Then with all the blue bins duly dealt with it’s back through the now busy streets to the tip where the lorry’s contents is emptied onto the ground ready for sorting.

As with others in this series, teamwork is key in the roles presented; and there are lots of opportunities for developing vocabulary and other important early learning skills such as colour, number and shape recognition.

Curious Creatures: Working With Tools

Curious Creatures: Working With Tools
Zoë Armstrong and Anja Sušanj
Flying Eye Books

I wonder how many children know that using tools for tasks we do often, daily even, is not confined to humans. There are, so we read in this enormously engaging book, animals in various parts of the world that display amazing problem-solving skills and adaptability, recognised by zoologists as tool using.

One such is the sea otter: these animals sometimes make use of kelp for several mooring purposes and also use rocks as hammer and anvil, for example to break open a clam shell or mussel to extract what’s inside for food.

Did you know, several creatures use sticks as tools: elephants in Bangladesh have been observed waving twigs or branches to ward off troublesome insects while others sometimes use a spiky stick as a back-scratcher. Indeed so Zoë Armstrong states, ‘the elephants choose the right tool for the job.’ So too we learn, do several primates: mandrills clean the dirt from beneath their nails with a small twig; gorillas sometimes take a long stick as a measuring device to gauge the depth of water they wish to cross before wading right in; and chimpanzees in Tanzania smooth a stick and use it to extract insects from a termite mound, eating them as we might a lollipop. I’d have been so excited had I been Dr Jane Goodall who first noticed and recorded this phenomenon.

I was especially interested to read though that tool use techniques among primates such as Orangutans sometimes differ according to the particular habitat in which they live.

Indeed some living near a research camp in Borneo’s Tanjung Putting National Park have been observed in a boat paddling it around with their arms – just one of several clever habits they’ve worked out.
Birds too are skilled tool users and author Zoë and illustrator Anja Sušanj provide several examples of them. Crows in particular are known to forage and perform other tasks with sharpened sticks they shape in a variety of ways: indeed New Caledonian crows are among the most skilled toolmakers in the entire animal kingdom.

Altogether a fascinating tribute to creature ingenuity: children (and adults) will be surprised and awed by these clever animals in a book that conveys a wealth of STEM information. There are lots of potential cross-curricular links: I particularly like the way these animals encourage child readers to think creatively to solve problems, just like the exemplars herein have done.

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush
Patrice Lawrence, illustrated by Camilla Sucre
Nosy Crow

This wonderfully warm book follows Ava and her Granny as together they search Granny’s trunk one Sunday for a costume suitable for Ava to wear at her school dressing up event to represent someone she admires. Rummaging through the various items of clothing, jewellery and other objects Granny is reminded first of Winifred Atwell on account of the sparkling bead necklace, then Mary Seacole who sometimes wore a red scarf just like that in the trunk, a jacket makes her think of Rosa Parks. In each instance Ava’s grandmother tells her a little bit about each of the women mentioned: the glamorous pianist, the nurse who tended the wounded during the Crimean War, the brave woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus.

Then, hidden under all the clothes, Ava unearths something she’s not seen before: it’s a small cardboard grip in which Granny had carried presents she was given when she left her home in Trinidad and came to England on the Empire Windrush.

As she pieces together a story using the objects – a smooth grey pebble, an empty jar, a small blue hat and a pair of lacy gloves, we learn of the intense feelings of homesickness and loneliness her grandmother experienced; and how she built a life for herself in a new, chilly country, meeting and marrying the man who was to become Ava’s grandad. This woman – her own beloved Granny – is Ava’s real hero, the one she chooses to dress as.

With Patrice Lawrence’s perfectly paced telling and Camilla Sucre’s richly hued, vibrant art, this is a truly moving story that celebrates both the Windrush generation and their achievements, and the bond between Ava and her grandmother.

A superb book to share and discuss with young listeners at home and with primary children both in KS1 and KS2.

Kitchen Science

Kitchen Science
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
Button Books

This latest book by team Laura and Tia is a collection of science themed activities for children to do that will surely make them think of the kitchen in a different way: the place where a great deal of science happens every time some basic ingredients are mixed together, then baked or cooked in some other way.

The authors present thirty kitchen based STEM activities for youngsters to do, (under adult supervision if they require use of an oven or hob). Safety, as well as the basics needed are covered in the ‘Getting Started pages before the activities, each of which is clearly and concisely set out in illustrated steps, together with a list of ingredients required (most kitchen cupboards will already have the majority) and followed by a paragraph explaining the science involved. There’s also a final glossary of the scientific terms the experiments encompass.

How many children will have thought about generating electricity to light a bulb by means of four lemons, some copper wire and a few crocodile clips? That’s a possibility if you discover you’ve run out of battery power.

Have they tried making a cup cake in a single minute – using a microwave and a tea cup? One of my favourite cafes in Udaipur Rajasthan used to make chocolate ones for us when they’d run out of their other delicious cakes.

Like the previous titles from Laura and Tia, I strongly recommend this one: it’s huge fun as well as gently educational.

The Secret Life of Birds

The Secret Life of Birds
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Happy Yak

Following The Secret Life of Trees and The Secret Life of Bees, the same author and illustrator bring us a book on the world of birds. Readers are in the hands or rather wings, of Speedy the swift, that acts as guide and narrator on this varied glimpse into the world of our feathered friends.

Did you know – well so Speedy says – swift chicks do press-ups on their wingtips to make themselves stronger. This is just one of the cool facts Moira includes herein, along with some stories and Vivian Mineker’s splendid illustrations that really help bring both information and folk tales to life. One of the latter comes from India and is called How the Peacock got his Colours. We read how one peacock, full of self-importance despite his plain, dull feathers was tricked into paying a visit to the sky goddess and in so doing acquired not only his stunning tail plumage, but also some kindness and humility.

There’s information relating to avian anatomy, growth and development, feathers and their functions, survival, a close up on beaks;

we meet some nocturnal hunters, find out about bird calls and bird song, visit a variety of nests – swifts return to the same one each year repairing it if necessary, look at the stages in the development of a chick from egg to fledgling, there’s a spread on journeys on the wing, are introduced to some record breakers and discover sadly, that all over the world there are endangered birds and finally are some tips on how to help the birds that live close to our homes.

There’s something for everybody here; it’s a good introduction to the topic and a book to add to family shelves and primary classroom collections.

Amazing Activists Who are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who are Changing Our World
Rebecca Schiller and Sophie Beer
Walker Books

Having explained on the opening pages what activism is essentially about and the wide-ranging causes people devote themselves to, author Rebecca Schiller has selected twenty awesome activists, some familiar some less well-known, to present to younger readers. She chooses widely going back as far as the 18th century – William Wilberforce, and including several contemporary figures from various parts of the world, allocating a double spread to each one. Thereon is essential biographical information along with some words about their beliefs, the reasons they acted as they did and why each one remains important today. Included for each activist is a quote that acts as a subtitle to the spread and an activity for readers and a specially nice touch is three words describing the person’s activist powers; for Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a cyclist with a disability these are ‘optimistic, tough, active. 

For environmentalist, Aditya Mukarji, whose focus is reducing plastic pollution and who has prevented more than 26 million plastic straws being added to environmental waste, the words are ‘persuasive, responsible, methodical’ 

and attributed to biologist Wangari Maathai, creator (along with a team of helpers) of a tree planting project, The Green Belt Movement are ‘expert, hopeful, organiser’.

Visually alluring and with Sophie Beer’s striking illustrations, children will meet individuals who opposed racism, slavery, stood up for human rights, women’s rights, female empowerment, disability rights, LGBT+ rights, environmental causes, wildlife and freedom of speech. Offering a wealth of possible starting points for discussion as well as the ideas themselves, the book ends by asking its audience to think about the things they feel strongly about and to identify their own powers.

How To Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto

How to Teach Grown-Ups about Pluto
Dean Regas, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Britannica Books

If you’ve ever wondered why Pluto lost its status as a planet over fifteen years ago, then here’s a book for you. It’s written in an amusing child-friendly style by astronomer, TV presenter and more, Dean Regas, and illustrated with suitably funky, blue tinged, cartoon style art by Aaron Blecha.
Having briefly introduced himself and the work of an astronomer, in his tongue in cheek style, the author explores the contentious case of Pluto and its demotion from being one of the nine primary planets in our solar system, thus losing its status as a full-blown ‘planet’. This was something even he initially found hard to accept.

Before that though we read of Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto; how an eleven year old girl came to name it. But then comes it’s downfall – not literally of course. ‘so small, so far away, so alone, so off-kilter and so cold’ was it that ‘people rallied to defend Pluto against anyone who wanted to take away its planethood, … Never before had the public embraced such an inanimate space object as their underdog’, says Regas.

He then ingeniously goes on to explain how the constantly developing nature of space science means that many youngsters’ knowledge of our solar system is likely to be more accurate than that of lots of grown-ups. Having read this book such youngsters will be able to tell any doubting adults that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and one of five dwarf planets. They’ll be able to introduce them to Sedna too, as Regas does to readers herein.

So cool and utterly brilliant. If this book doesn’t get youngsters interested in astronomy then I might have to eat my own copy, timeline and all.

I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast

I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast
Michael Holland FLS and Philip Giordano
Flying Eye Books

‘Plants are essential to your world. Without them, no other living thing would be able to survive.’ So begins this absolutely beautiful book aptly subtitled ‘A Celebration of Plants Around the World’ that presents much about the truly amazing plants of our planet in glorious colour. With spring well and truly bursting forth around us now, what better time to pay tribute to botanical beauties (and some animals along the way) – were you aware that some plants – the carnivorous kinds – actually feed on insects?

Written in a child-friendly style by Michael Holland, the book is divided into four main sections that together comprise pretty much everything a youngster would need to know and more, starting with what plants are, their parts, their essential processes – photosynthesis, respiration and growth, reproduction (I’m sure readers will be amused to learn of the world’s largest seed – coco de mer, that looks remarkably like a gorilla’s rear) and why they matter. 

Then comes a look at the plant kingdom in general – evolution – did you know all plant species originated from just one type of plant, millions of years back? There’s a family tree, a look at adaptation, 

food chains and food webs.

The latter part of the book explores how plants sustain our everyday lives: there are plant extracts in medicines, in toothpaste, in clothes, cooking oil, soap, plastics and then of course there are all those delicious fruits and vegetables we consume as part of our daily diet.

Despite the huge amount of information in the book, it’s all split up neatly into small sections and paragraphs, making it super-easy to digest and there’s a glossary at the back should you come across unfamiliar botanical terms. Plus, there are a dozen suggestions for some simple plant-based science experiments such as creating cornflour slime and cultivating a wild weed bottle garden. Of course environmental pollution affects plants too so the last part covers that as well as a spread entitled The Future is Green.

Visually stunning with retro-style graphics that provide a perfect complement to the text, this is a must-have book for budding botanists, family bookshelves and class collections. Readers will surely want to dig into it time and time again.

Sam Plants a Sunflower / Tilly Plants a Tree / Shelly Hen Lays Eggs

Sam Plants a Sunflower
Kate Petty and Axel Scheffler
Tilly Plants a Tree
William Petty and Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, these lift-the flap books each with a strategically placed pop-up are just right for helping young children discover the delights of growing things for themselves.

As Sam cat basks in the sunshine a passing ladybird responds to his “Why can’t the sun shine every day?”with a suggestion that he should plant sunflowers. We then follow the process as he chooses a suitable day, a suitable spot in his garden, plants and waters his seeds and waits. And waits … Beneath the soil (and a series of flaps) an earthworm watches adding comments until a few days later, Sam discovers a row of sprouting leaves. As it gets hotter Sam worries about how to help his sunflowers grow and receives advice from the ladybird. The plants continue getting ever taller until eventually buds appear but still Sam waits for his big yellow sunflowers until at last there to his delight, that of his friends and of readers, they are.

As summer ends the petals fall, the leaves wither and there again is the reassuring ladybird telling Sam to remove the seeds, share them with his pals and plant them the following spring.
If by chance, the story hasn’t made youngsters eager to plant sunflowers, there’s a final page of helpful tips.

Tilly, the main character in the second story is a squirrel. One day she rushes home from school with exciting news; everyone in her class is going to grow an oak tree. Grandma takes Tilly to a woodland full of majestic oaks and beneath Grandma’s special tree the little squirrel finds an acorn. Gran knows just what to do to get the acorn to germinate and after more than a year, with the help of ladybird and worm too, Tilly’s sapling is ready to be planted out in the wood near her Grandma’s.

With its straightforward explanatory narrative and a final page of tips I’m sure many little humans will be eagerly collecting acorns for planting this autumn.
Ideal for sharing with foundation stage children and for home use, both books have bright, expressive illustrations from Axel Scheffler that young children and readers aloud will enjoy.

Shelly Hen Lays Eggs
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the third in the Follow My Food picture book series aimed at helping young children understand where their food comes from. We join a little boy as he watches Shelly a free range hen as she takes a dust bath to get rid of mites, feeds on bugs in the grass and herbs she comes upon, clucks with her friends in the flock, returns to her coop at sundown, settles down in the nesting box and at dawn, lays an egg ready for the helpful little boy narrator to collect along with the other eggs later in the morning. It might even be the one he eats for his tea.
After Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward narrative accompanied by Julia Groves’ bright, cut paper illustrations comes a trail-type quiz based on the facts of the story, where youngsters match words and pictures. There are two further information pages with paragraphs on ‘Happy Hens’, ‘Tasty Eggs’ and Chatty Chickens’.
Food is a popular theme in foundation stage settings so this would be a useful book to add to school and nursery collections.

Around the World in 80 Trees / Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments

Here are two titles in a Welbeck Publishing series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Around the World in 80 Trees
Ben Lerwill and Kaja Kajfež

Trees are crucial to life on Earth: they release oxygen. They also provide food, medicine, materials and shelter and since Stone Age times have been prized by humans, some cultures even seeing certain of them as holy. So says Ben Lerwill in his introductory spread for this book.

Then having explained the different kinds of trees (coniferous and broadleaf) and their various parts, with the help of Kaja Kajfež’s gorgeous, detailed illustrations, he takes readers, around the globe to find out about some of 60,000 plus species that are found in the Americas, followed in turn by Africa, Europe and Asia, and finally Oceania. Between each main geographical section are spreads on more general topics – leaves,

roots, pollination, flowers and seeds, and the importance of trees.
Do you know what the oldest tree in the world is, or where it grows? I knew that it’s been named Methuselah but not that it’s the bristlecone pine and has been growing in the White Mountains of California for over 4850 years. In the same state is another record breaker, the coast redwood, the tallest known tree. Other locations visited in this section are the tropical Amazon rainforest and the Andes.
Growing in several parts of the African continent is the mighty baobab, six of the seven species of which I read, can only be found on Madagascar.

Such is the strength of baobab bark that it can be used to make nets, ropes, bags, homes even; and happily the bark that’s ripped off is always replaced by new growth.
Whether you dip in and out of this book or read it straight through, you’ll likely learn something new and exciting; but in conclusion, the author provides a stark reminder that it’s important we all play our part in helping the future health of these wonderful plants.

Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments
Nancy Dickman and Sue Downing

No matter where on earth you might go, you’ll always come across people making music; we might call music-making a universal phenomenon. There are many hundreds of different musical instruments to be found all over the world and they are used for many purposes including for concerts, alongside dancers, in celebrations, for religious ceremonies, and even unfortunately, as a form of intimidation or aggression.

In her account for this book, author Nancy Dickman groups eighty of them under four main headings based on how the instruments make their sounds: percussion instruments, stringed instruments, wind instruments

and a miscellaneous assortment she calls ‘weird and wonderful instruments’. She’s also created a very helpful musical family tree discovered by opening a central gatefold.

We read about the various materials used in the making of the instruments featured in each of the four sections as well as the places in which they are played. Although I’ve seen and heard hundreds of instruments and collected a good many in my travels, I encountered many new to me in this fascinating book with Sue Dowling’s bold illustrations large and small; I’m sure other readers will too.

For school collections and interested individuals from around seven.

Do You Love Exploring?

Do You Love Exploring?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of this series Matt Robertson’s wildlife adventure takes readers to visit a variety of habitats all over the world.

First stop is the grasslands of Africa where on the savannah roam some grass grazing creatures including zebras, giraffes, black rhinos and elephants. However these have to keep alert as lions lurk, often with the female waiting to spring on unsuspecting prey which will act as food for herself and her family. By means of an illustrated strip we’re also introduced to grassland dwellers from other parts of the globe too. There are some less iconic creatures too including dung beetle; these almost unbelievably are said to be the strongest animals on Earth.

I was amazed to see how many animals, large and small make their home high up in mountainous regions and I’d not even heard of Blue sheep that reside in the Himalayas and other places (a weird name since the creatures are neither blue nor indeed sheep).

Other habitats, each allocated a double spread, include rainforests – one wherein gibbons communicate by singing, wonderful woodlands, islands including the Galapagos, the North and South Poles, searingly hot deserts – watch out for one of the world’s deadliest scorpions – aptly called the Deathstalker,

and a beautiful coral reef deep beneath the ocean.

The final spread presents some endangered animals and the ‘… which … can you spot?’ should send readers back to search for the nine featured thereon.

All of this should convince readers that it’s enormously exciting to meet so many creatures, albeit by means of Matt’s humorous, vibrant illustrations into which a considerable amount of factual information is set.

Sunshine at Bedtime / Let’s Go Outside

Sunshine at Bedtime
Clare Helen Welsh and Sally Soweol Han
Storyhouse Publishing

When inquisitive young Miki realises that despite being told it’s time for bed, the evening is still light and the sun shining. she’s puzzled. As her mum sees her to bed, she begins to explain and the two of them then embark on a journey of discovery that takes them soaring off into the sky far from Miki’s bedroom across land and sea and out into space.

As they travel Mummy explains how the earth spins on its axis once every 24 hours and slowly slowly orbits the sun during the four seasons that comprise a year. Miki notices Earth leaning towards the Sun giving summer to the people residing in the north and Mum fills in that in the south at this time, it’s winter and thus less sunshine and longer, darker nights.
They then watch as the north leans away from the Sun, which is then sharing its light with the south 

and after flying over all the places the sun shines, it’s time to return and for Miki to got to bed.

Told in Clare Helen Walsh’s poetic prose and shown through Sally Soweol Han’s illustrations – a mix of double page spreads, strip sequences and occasional vignettes showing views of earth and space, this story is one to share and discuss now as the days begin to draw out, for UK audiences at least. (More details about the earth and its tilt and the sun are given at the end of the story.)

Let’s Go Outside!
Ben Lerwill and Marina Ruiz
Welbeck Publishing

What joys there are waiting for those who venture outdoors suitably clad of course, no matter the weather. That’s what author Ben Lerwill and illustrator Marina Ruiz make evident in this foray through the seasons as we join the group of friends who make the most of every opportunity. There are hills to climb, forests with their wealth of wildlife to explore and if you venture close to the sea, then you’ll certainly notice the wind in your hair and face. 

It’s always great to feel the warm sun on your face, especially if like the children here you take a rest, lie back and just breathe. Minibeasts in abundance are there for the finding especially if like one or two of the nature detectives herein, you’ve remembered to take along a magnifying glass on your walk.
The gently sloping hills are great places for some roly poly romping and who can resist a chance for
dam making like these young co-operators.

I have to admit I often need to make myself go out when it’s raining hard: not so the group of friends herein. They’re quick to find lots of sploshy puddles to jump in. Whereas a snowy day means snow angels, creating snow sculptures and of course, a game of snowballs.

Whatever the season, there’s plenty to relish and most likely by the end of the day, as it is with the friends in the book who go their separate ways, a cosy home awaits.

The last two double spreads are devoted to some starting points for discussion and questions to tempt young readers, no matter where they live, to leave their screens and embrace the exciting outdoors.

Bella Loves Bugs / Billy Loves Birds

Bella Loves Bugs
Billy Loves Birds

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These two narrative non-fiction picture books are written by zoologist, naturalist and vet, Jess French whose passion for wildlife shines through in both Nature Heroes titles wherein she uses the titular children as narrators.

Bella is an aspiring entomologist who shares a day in her life with readers and it’s certainly a very exciting one with lots of discoveries. Her first task is to collect garlic mustard to feed her caterpillars and then with a few useful bug hunting items she sets out to look for minibeasts and to meet up with some of her fellow nature hero friends.
By following Bella’s interactions with her friends and the additional facts this becomes a learning journey for readers who encounter social insects – ants in particular – a honey bee collecting nectar and others around their hives,

several jumping bugs and then a “fluttery butterfly” (why a non-native monarch?). Their next stop is at a pond, absolutely alive with water creatures on and below the surface; time for some pond-dipping (with an adult close by).
As they go into the forest Bella makes several discoveries – woodlice, a wolf spider with her eggs, and inside her trap she finds a stag beetle and a stag beetle grub. Down comes the rain bringing out the slugs and snails, and then it’s time to head home where something else exciting happens inside her vivarium.
Look out for the spider that makes occasional comments along the way.

Bird loving Billy (in the company of a talking tit) spends a day at forest school, sharing his observations with readers and his friends about the wealth of birds they encounter. There’s a woodpecker, a dunnock nest with several eggs including one of a different colour and there’s great excitement when Billy spies a kingfisher and comes across a beautiful feather to add to his collection.

Eventually he reaches the tit nest box located high in a tree where there are little chicks just preparing to leave the nest.

Bursting with information engagingly presented in the words and in Duncan Beedie’s amusing illustrations, both books should encourage youngsters to go outdoors to investigate and one hopes, appreciate the wonders of nature that’s all around us.


Karen Romano Young, illustrated by Angela Hsieh
What on Earth Books

This book was written by polar explorer, author, artist and much more, Karen Romana Young.
Immediately engaging, her writing is a combination of personal narrative and facts about people, fauna and flora and of course, the land itself, as she takes readers on a trip across the melting continent. We meet her fellow scientists working at Palmer Station and the author’s responses to some of the questions they posed, form part of the narrative including, ‘As the ice retreats and Antarctica warms, what will happen to the seed clouds and the rest of the Antarctic food chain?’

It’s truly alarming to read of the 80% drop in Antarctic krill in the last half century, on account of both global warming and overfishing of the krill, a source of food for penguins.

There’s information on the continent’s geological history, how visitors can get to Antarctica, how researchers manage to stay alive despite the extreme cold and testing terrain,

what happens at a research station, and a look at some of the recent scientific discoveries.

Amazingly a lot of animals do live in this, the world’s coldest, windiest and driest continent, most in or near to the sea: readers are introduced to some of these including nematodes and microscopic tardigrades (nicknamed I discovered herein, ‘water bears’). However if your interest is in the larger creatures, then you’ll be fascinated to read of polar gigantism, a phenomenon still puzzling scientists and which has resulted in massive jellyfish and colossal squid; even the krill here, which form the foundation of the Antarctic food chain, are twice the size of those anywhere else on Earth.

Angela Hsieh (who has also visited Antarctica) provides the illustrations – a helpful complement to the text – and there’s a final, glossary, some source notes and an index.

An excellent resource for youngsters (and others) with an interest in the location, climate change and biology.

Once Upon a Big Idea

Once Upon a Big Idea
James Carter and Margaux Carpentier
Little Tiger

What a wealth of playful language poet James Carter uses in his story of inventions large and small., all the outcomes of bright ideas generated by human brains. he tells how for example the plentiful supply of rocks and stones beneath the ground have been used to create tools, bricks and walls with which the pyramids were built.
Animals too are a rich source of materials; they provide meat for some, wool to make into clothing and much more, and their bones were also used in the fashioning of more tools.
Homes, bridges and boats often have wood in their construction but what invention has had the biggest impact on lives ever? James suggests it’s the wheel and I’d probably go along with that. I wonder how many things you can think of that include wheels in their design: if you’re a primary teacher you might try asking your class that question when you share the book.
What a wealth of creativity came as a result of sand, clay and fire … 

‘Fire we learnt, was elemental – / heating working, smelting metal.’ we read; while modern materials – rubber, concrete, nylon and plastic have changed our lives, not always for the better. 

Finally, readers are reminded of the importance of recycling and reusing in James’ text as well as through Margaux Carpentier’s arresting visuals. Don’t forget to read the concluding four-letter acrostic.
Rich in STEAM classroom potential, this is a picture book to inspire young inventors of the future.