Argh! There’s a Skeleton Inside You! / A Cat Called Trim

Allen & Unwin offer some unusual ways of presenting information in these two non-fiction books

Argh! There’s a Skeleton Inside You!
Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost
Allen & Unwin

Quog (a blobbly armless thing) and Oort (a gas cloud) are in their spacecraft going to a party but mechanical issues hold things up. They need to get out and fix the problem but without hands or arms, opening the door isn’t possible. Or is it? That’s when the narrative becomes interactive – the reader turns the page and … out they come.

‘Give Quog and Oort a wave,’ we’re told and a page turn reveals Quog has grown arms and hands. That’s a good start but there are further issues.

Little by little youngsters are then introduced to the bones,

muscles …

and nerves of the hand – their form and function.

With simple, bright, lively illustrations, this, zany mix of fact and fiction is enormously engaging: little humans will love the idea of helping the little aliens reach their destination, and in so doing learning some basic human biology – anatomy and physiology – as presented by the clever human team Idan Ben-Barak (author/scientist) and illustrator Julian Frost.

A Cat Called Trim
Corinne Fenton and Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin

‘Trim was a cat born for adventure.’ That he surely was having been born aboard the sailing ship Reliance bound for Botany Bay and then not long after, finds himself hurtling over the side of the ship into the inky depths of the Indian Ocean.

Happily for the kitten and his saviour Matthew Flinders, a special relationship is forged, with Trim accompanying his master on all his expeditions until the fateful day when Flinders was accused of spying, his precious books, charts and journals confiscated and he became a prisoner on the Isle de France (Mauritius).

After a while Trim disappeared and his master never saw him again.

Both educative and entertaining, Corinne Fenton’s telling of this true story is compelling and accompanied by Craig Smith’s dramatic, detailed illustrations, and maps, makes for an absorbing starting point for primary readers interested in Australia and its history.

We Are Artists

We Are Artists
Kari Herbert
Thames & Hudson

For this splendid celebration of creativity, Kari Herbert has selected fifteen influential women artists from various cultures and different parts of the world who succeeded, often against considerable odds.

Each one is the subject of a chapter that includes a quote, a fantastic portrait (by Herbert), a short biography and one or two reproductions of their work.

I was thrilled to see Tove Jansson, especially her Moomins sketches. Kari Hebert’s ‘Back in 1950s Finland, for a woman to love another woman was illegal. But on the islands… they could live and love as they wanted.’ is an example of the sensitive manner in which this book is written.

Abstract Sea, Tove jansson 1963

As you might expect we meet Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo but there are also Corita Kent, Yayoi Kusama and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Among the few artists new to me, and despite my being a frequent visitor to India with two close friends who are artists, is Amrita Sher-Gil whose interpretations of the rich colours she saw in the everyday lives of India’s poor are enormously moving.

Group of Three Girls, 1935

‘In India the light spoke to her’, we read in contrast to the greyness of Europe where as daughter of a Hungarian opera singer mother and an aristocratic North Indian Sikh father, she spent her early years.

Another new discovery for me is Lyubov Popova, one of several avant-garde women artists in Russia in the early part of the 20th century. I love the quote that introduces her: ‘ Most important of all is the spirit of creative process.’

Engrossing and inspiring, this superb book is for youngsters with an interest in art and those who want to encourage creativity especially in young people.

Orchestra

Orchestra
Avalon Nuovo and David Doran
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a concise, engaging introduction to western music for young readers.

It’s divided into three parts, the first – The Orchestra – being the longest, and the parts are subdivided into double page sections.

The Orchestra looks at the arrangement of an orchestra, exploring its different sections (strings, woodwind, brass, percussion, guests – those instruments not always there such as the harp), and also looks at how representative instruments from each category work and how their sound is created. For instance of the clarinet representing the woodwind section, ‘When the player blows into the instrument it is the reed’s vibration against the mouthpiece that makes the sound.’

When we reach the percussion section we see how the author develops an idea when she says, ‘You may have started to see a pattern in how instruments work. Some use air, some are plucked or bowed, but all of them are doing the same thing to make sound: vibrating. With percussion, vibrations come from the force of a player striking the instrument.’

Part two Music and its Makers discusses music and composers. There’s a spread on reading music and one on musical composition after which the focus turns to individual composers with a look at Hildegard of Bingen, Vivaldi and the Four Seasons,

Amy Beach, Gustav Holst and The Planets, Duke Ellington, and six others – Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Ethel Smyth, William Grant Still and Michel Legrand are included in a Hall of Fame that spans the second half of the 18th century to the present.

The third part takes us Beyond the Concert Hall to look at the mythology of music, opera, there’s a look at music as the basis for dancing, in particular ballet (Orchestra and Dance) and then come pages talking about the differences between composing for musical theatre and cinema.

Orchestra and technology examines how digital technology has changed both the way music is performed and how it is written.

Encouraging young readers to learn music is the object of the last spread and the book concludes with a glossary and index.

David Doran’s stylised illustrations gracing every spread, reinforce the idea that music is cool, inclusive and fun: I love his colour palette.

Great for home or school use.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

With the continuous stream of books about animals, it’s great to see this large format volume about plants.

There’s an absolute wealth of information packed between its covers with each spread focusing on a different aspect of plant life. The author, Martin Jenkins is highly adept at presenting complicated topics in such a way as to make them accessible and enjoyable for children. Having explained what a plant is, he includes information about such aspects of plant life as photosynthesis, the carbon cycle and reproduction.

There’s a spread on the functions of xylem and phloem (tissues I didn’t come across until I studied A-level botany).

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

so too are plant hormones, and climbing plants – those with twining stems, tendrils, clinging suckers or roots, and hooks.

Symbiosis and other plant interactions are explored, as are carnivorous plants – I’m always fascinated by these when I visit Kew Garden – and parasitic plants.

Sacred and Symbolic Plants talks about the many thousands of plants used as medicinal herbs and stimulants, provide spices, flavourings and perfumes or for ornamental purposes. I knew that the sacred lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism but was surprised to read that it was also revered in Ancient Egypt on account of the way its beautiful pure flowers emerge from unclean waters.

There’s a look at plant defences: I was fascinated to discover that there are plants with ‘spikes’ (needle-like crystals of calcium minerals called raphides) in their tissues that can penetrate the lining of an animal’s mouth and throat releasing poison into its bloodstream.

In fact no matter which spread you choose to read, you cannot  but be excited by the manner in which Jenkins and illustrator/print maker, James Brown present the botanical world. The latter’s full page illustrations, double spreads and borders are absolutely awesome.

This book provides wonderful insight into the wide and varied world of plants.

Rise Up! The Art of Protest

Rise Up! The Art of Protest
Jo Rippon
Palazzo

Developed in collaboration with Amnesty International and with a foreword by Chris Riddell, Rise Up! celebrates the human right of peaceful protest. At the same time it encourages young people to engage in such protest for causes they believe in and to stand up for freedom.

Arranged thematically there are posters relating to the on-going fight for gender equality, civil rights, LGBTQ rights,

refugee and immigrant rights, peace, and the environment.

First come images of protest posters going back to the early decades of the twentieth century when women’s struggle for equality gave rise to the suffrage movement, which became popular across Europe at that time

coming right up to 2017 with the official poster for the 2017 women’s March on Washington but used around the world, in protest at comments made by Trump that many felt disrespected the rights of women.

Each theme is introduced by an apposite and powerful quote, such as this one from Nelson Mandela for the racial equality section, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

As you turn the pages you cannot help but feel both humbled and inspired. We seem to be living through a time when ever increasing numbers of people, especially the young, are politically aware, but there also seems to be more than ever to protest about. In the last couple of years I’ve carried pro refugees banners, anti BREXIT placards, of late proudly wear my pro EU sweatshirt and trainers, and have joined protests about climate change. I consider myself fortunate to be able to do so without any risk to myself, unlike many of those who carried some of the posters whose images are included in this enormously exhilarating, empowering book.

A copy, preferably several, should be in all schools and colleges; it’s a wonderful demonstration of the way in which a combination of creativity and bold resistance can help bring about positive changes that ultimately benefit everyone.

Earth Heroes

Earth Heroes
Lily Dyu
Nosy Crow

In this timely book from travel journalist Lily Dyu we meet twenty individuals – conservationists and inventors from around the globe who are actively engaged in their work to save the world, to counter climate change and save its humans and our precious wildlife.

Familiar names such as Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and Stella McCartney are present, and we read fascinating information about their backgrounds and what set them on their paths.

Alongside these are less well-known people whose work is also inspiring: these include Mohammed Rezan, architect of floating schools in Bangladesh; Isabel Soares from Portugal a pioneer of cutting down food waste by persuading people to use ‘Fruit Feia (ugly fruit)

and the ingenious Chewang Norphel who was responsible for the building of artificial glaciers in Ladakh that have transformed thousands of lives.

Great for individual reading or classroom use, Lily Dyu’s engaging text is readable and pitched just right for its intended audience of young readers and cover designer Jackie Lay has provided splendidly designed art with a relevant and inspiring quote to introduce each entry.

Lily’s final words speak to us all ‘ … we need to fight for the planet we love. The future is ours for the making. You too can change the world.’ A powerful rallying cry for sure.

Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best Self
Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai
Button Books

At a time when more and more youngsters are suffering from low self-esteem, Danielle Brown double Paralympic Gold medallist and five times world champion in archery and Nathan Kai, (just seven at the time of writing), a member of MENSA and an elite athlete, have joined forces, creating a book to empower children to become their very best selves.

Profusely illustrated and including motivational quotes from the authors as well as the likes of Dr Seuss and J.K.Rowling, Michelle Obama and Amelia Earhart, this certainly is an inspiring book.

With a straightforward, thematically organised framework children are told to dream big and then determine what steps they need to take to fulfil their dreams.

Aspects such as The Mind and Mindset, which looks at the importance of developing a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset,

Staying Focused, Learning How to Fail Well ( it’s a chance to learn), Self-Confidence,

People Skills, and the importance of eating well and getting plenty of sleep are included.

I have a teenage friend in Udaipur, Rajasthan who, one Christmas holiday four years ago announced she wanted to be sports captain of her school. She is a talented athlete but there is a tradition in Rajasthan for shooting and Karttiki decided she would try to become a shooter.

She started to practice in earnest and by luck one of the older girls fell sick at the last moment and Karttiki was given a chance to participate in an inter-school tournament. Thus began her shooting journey: one of determination and great focus.
Having researched several kinds of shooting, she decided that her best bet if she wanted to become a champion, was skeet. It’s a tough sport and very expensive but her father (my close friend) is very supportive. This year though still a junior, she has made the senior national team and in 2019, has represented India in the World Cup, World Championships and is about to go to the Asian Games (all this before A-levels). She’s had her downs as well as her ups along the way and feels tired a lot of the time, but as she says, “I’m doing it because I love it.”

Turning a dream into reality is just what this 17 year old is surely doing: she epitomises the spirit of this splendid book.