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.

One World: 24 Hours on Planet Earth

One World: 24 Hours on Planet Earth
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

With the clock striking midnight, a little girl and her even littler sister leave their bedroom and take a round the world trip visiting animals large and small. 

They see elephants and lions in Zambia, baby turtles on Gahirmatha Beach in Odisha, India, 

gibbons in a Chinese nature reserve, sharks in the warm waters around the Philippines, kangaroos in one of Australia’s national parks, emperor penguins on Antarctica’s Ross Island and encounter a humpback whale near a Hawaiian island. At the same time California’s Pinnacles National Park is a-buzz with bees and hummingbirds, 

owl monkeys wake up in a forest of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, jaguars hunt their prey in Pantanal Brazil where it’s 8pm and finally, in Southern Georgia an albatross sits huddled on her nest. 

The last stroke of midnight is the signal for the sisters to traverse land and sea while beneath them are numerous warning signs of global warming. As the first hour of Earth Day, 22nd April begins in London it’s time to reflect upon the amazing wonders the girls have seen and contemplate the multitudes of others they haven’t, in preparation to issue a rallying cry to the world; it’s time to make a difference before it’s too late. We can all help to halt climate change but the clock is ticking …

As well as celebrating our awesome planet, author Nicola and artist Jenni show the way actions of we humans are adversely affecting different ecosystems worldwide. 

Powerful words and stunning illustrations make this a must have book for families and primary school classrooms: Celebrate Earth Day 2022 by sharing it.

Live Like a Hunter Gatherer

Live Like a Hunter Gatherer
Naomi Walmsley, illustrated by Mia Underwood
Button Books

If you think that early humans were not very clever, or that they frequently said, ‘ugg’ and not much else, then this book will dispel those myths along with providing a considerable amount of fascinating information about how they lived, starting with a map of the Stone Age people’s movements and a timeline showing the three main periods of the Stone Age.

Readers are in the company of an eight-year old girl from a fictional tribe who at various times throughout the book, talks directly to us, sharing her feelings about such things as fishing trips and beginning to use her own bow and arrows. We also get a glimpse of how our stone age ‘friend’ might have passed her time during a typical day, sharing her feelings too,

and realise that the everyday needs of our Stone Age ancestors’ were quite similar to ours – how to keep warm, where to sleep safely and what to eat and drink.

There are spreads on how those basic needs were met, and we learn how they made use of everything from an animal hunted; such a creature provided food yes, but also the means of making weapons, tools, jewellery, clothes and more. Constant danger surrounded these ancestors of ours and without doctors or hospitals, they had only the knowledge of healers in their particular tribe and the medicines nature provided; it’s hardly surprising that the average life of a typical Stone Age person was just thirty five years.

It wasn’t however a life without any fun: early humans made music, engaged in occasional celebrations and made art in the form of small sculptures and paintings especially on cave walls.

Mia Underwood brings all these activities and more to life in her detailed illustrations large and small; while in addition to providing a wealth of factual information, author Naomi Walmsley (who is a forest school and bushcraft instructor), also gives step-by-step craft activities and recipes offering readers first-hand experience of some vital Stone Age skills including making a Mesolithic shelter, some fat lamps, a digging stick and creating cave art.

An intriguing, gently educative resource for home and primary school users.

If the World were 100 Animals

If the World were 100 Animals
Miranda Smith and Aaron Cushley
Red Shed

The total number of individual animals on Earth is around 20 billion billion. So says Miranda Smith, author of this book; but it’s exceedingly difficult to visualise such a number, so instead let’s use just one hundred: how does that look? Well, there are many ways of looking at that number; for instance how many are vertebrates and how many invertebrates; how do they differ?

What about mammals? It appears that of the 100, 94 are placental ( I was fascinated to learnt that baby dolphins are born with a moustache), 5 are marsupial and just one is a monotreme -an egg laying mammal) with all five species living in Australia and New Guinea. We’re also shown – by means of a pictorial map – the distribution of wild mammals across the continents.

I was astonished that when considering 100 marine animal species, a mere 9 are already known, the rest have yet to be discovered. I guess that’s not really surprising as we also read that 95% of our oceans haven’t been explored.

Flighted animals, mammals living in the wild,

pets, the animals most deadly to humans, extinct animals and those endangered are the remaining explorations based on that one hundred supposition, and this hugely thought-provoking exploration of biodiversity concludes with some key questions relating to human actions and how these endanger the world of animals, to consider, discuss and one hopes, act upon to ensure the survival of the creatures threatened.

With Aaron Cushley’s bright, eye-catching illustrations on each of the eleven double-page spreads, what is quite a difficult overall concept (that of percentage), with a fair number of biological terms used in Miranda Smith’s text, becomes much more approachable. However, parents of children under seven (the publishers state 5+ in their PR) who haven’t studied biology beyond the basics may well find it tricky to help youngsters grasp some of the content..

Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth

Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth
Catherine Barr and Christiane Engel
Otter-Barry Books

I was surprised to learn from this absorbing book that despite 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered by water only 3% of all of that is freshwater, most of it existing in polar ice sheets. These because of global warming, are starting to melt at an alarming rate.

Having given readers that information and more in the opening pages of this book, author Catherine Barr presents eleven further spreads, illustrated with lots of detail by Christiane Engel. These look at a variety of topics including the water cycle, freshwater habitats (some of the Earth’s most endangered environments); water power (the pros and cons); the impact of climate change on farming; the importance of careful usage of freshwater (there’s mention of the impact of large companies using more than their fair share of this precious resource).

It’s alarming to read the way in which polluted water – 80% of Earth’s wastewater – is adversely affecting freshwater habitats, killing wildlife and poisoning drinking water.

Of the final three topics: one explains that despite many women and girls still having to walk considerable distances from their village homes to access water, the provision of pumps and taps close to where they live is enabling girls living in some sub-Saharan African villages to go to school regularly and giving their mothers time to work.

Another calls on humanity to act now to protect vital freshwater; and this is followed by a look at some of the ways readers can use water judiciously: Take action to shrink your water footprint! urges the author. If those of us fortunate enough to have ready supplies of water at the turn of a tap followed the suggestions perhaps we can still make that all important difference in what is the UN’s Water Action Decade (2018-2028).

Goddess:50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief

Goddess:50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and other female figures who have shaped belief
Dr Janina Ramirez, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
Nosy Crow

With its more explanatory subtitle ’50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and other female figures who have shaped belief ‘ and published in collaboration with the British Museum, this book showcases the lives of female figures whose qualities and skills as creators, warriors, leaders, healers, and protectors of the mystical kind have helped shape belief today.

Organised into five sections – Ruling and Guiding, New Life, War and Death, Love and Wisdom and, Animals and Nature, cultural historian Dr Janina Ramirez presents stories of fascinating female figures some of which will likely be familiar to readers, others who probably will not.
First though comes an introduction that shares ideas about how the meaning of the word ‘goddess’ has changed over time.
Thereafter, each double spread presents a different character with associated legends and is brought to life by Sarah Walsh’s bold, bright illustrations together with photographs of objects from the collections of the British Museum.

You’ll read about figures from Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology, as well as those from further afield -West African,

Indian and Native American – mythology. From Ariadne, Asase Yaa and Anat to Sarasvati, Tiamat and Xiwangmu there’s a connecting thread – that of the power of the female – that runs throughout the book.

Both educational and entertaining, this fascinating celebration of woman power in its many forms should definitely find a place in school topic boxes, libraries, and home collections.

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s life in Prehistoric Times

So You Think You’ve Got it Bad: A Kid’s Life in Prehistoric Times
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

Book five in the Kid’s Life series published in collaboration with The British Museum and characterised by Chae Strathie’s chatty narrative style, takes readers into the deepest past to look at the lives of children in the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Are you ready to leave behind those jeans and trainers and instead don animal skins and perhaps a pair of itchy woollen pants you’ve had to make yourself, and then get on with a bit of stone clearing

or tool making? No, well that’s what a youngster in prehistoric times might have been faced with. A bit later, in the Bronze Age, in addition to gathering berries and nuts you could well have been told to spend a day cleaning up piles of animal pooh – Phoaw!

With sections on hair and clothing, the home, education and work, health and medicine (you might have been subjected to trepanning – the drilling of a hole into your skull to release the evil spirits causing your problem), religion and gods, myths and legends, fun and games (yes there were some occasionally) and finally, the beginnings of written history, each one brought to life by Marisa Morea’s amusing illustrations, this book presents information in a manner that’s both accessible and entertaining.
(Backmatter comprises a glossary and index.) Fun for school and home reading.

The Magic of Seasons

The Magic of Seasons
Vicky Woodgate
Dorling Kindersley

From this veritable cornucopia of a book about the changing seasons in our world, with Mimi the cat for company, readers can experience seasons- related science, history, geography, myths and legends.

First comes a scientific explanation about what exactly is meant by the seasons, after which is a quick generalised look at in turn, spring, summer, autumn and winter, as well as a spread explaining how for many places in the tropics, there are just the wet and the dry seasons, (these seem to be getting a bit blurred though for, according to my friends in Udaipur city in India, it’s rained every single month in the last year.)

My favourite part was the ‘Seasons in Nature’ section that gives more detailed information about the incredible changes and different delights that characterise each of the seasons – be they the four we have in temperate climes or the tropical two, rainy and dry.

This part also encompasses information relating to animal migrations by land, sea and air as well as seasonal effects on the world’s ocean life.

Throughout, Vicky Woodgate’s text uses language appropriate for most key stage two children, and visuals – illustrations, maps and charts that make every spread enticing, so that readers never feel overwhelmed. There are also occasional quizzes, tips and activities.

A book for classroom use as well as one parents and children can enjoy browsing together.

Return to Factopia!

Return to Factopia!
Kate Hale, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

This second book in the series that invites readers to choose their own paths is every bit as much fun as the first. Again it’s bursting with informative tidbits (more than 400 facts in all) relating to such diverse topics as libraries, lions and loud things, bees to blood and bananas, and morning to musical instruments (of the unusual kind of course). Did you know that certain bumblebees bite plants’ leaves to speed up the flowering process? I certainly didn’t.

Astonishingly, bananas are naturally radioactive? (You’d need to consume at least a billion in a single meal to receive a lethal dose though.)

Equally weird is that a species of ancient whale had four legs and webbed feet, and that scientists are able to tell the age of a whale from its earwax. I’d love to know how that’s done. Those are just a couple of the weird and wonderful things you can discover about various kinds of whales herein.
Equally astonishing and astounding is that ants have been around since the time of dinosaurs; perhaps even more amazing is that certain fungi are able to control the minds of ants, turning them into zombified insects.

No matter whether you decide to follow a jumpy trail, or read straight through, one thing is certain, you’ll put the book down knowing a multitude of things you hadn’t even thought about before.
Easy to read and engagingly illustrated in a variety of styles by Andy Smith, this clever web of information will assuredly bind you in.

The Extraordinary World of Birds

The Extraordinary World of Birds
David Lindo and Claire McElfatrick
Dorling Kindersley

Did you know that ‘birds are dinosaurs in the same way that humans are mammals’? So says David Lindo, aka the Urban Birder, at the start of this engaging look at birds from all over the globe.

The book is divided into five main parts: What is a bird?; Bird families; Bird behaviour; Bird habitats and finally, Birds and me. The author takes readers on a journey through the avian world providing information on fundamentals, through to the enormous variety of incredible adaptations of species in different locations.

The Bird families section presents different groups – the flightless kind, game birds, parrots – I was astonished to find there are as many as 350 species; the only ones I’m familiar with are those Ring-Necked Parakeet tree wreckers in Bushy Park. I was equally fascinated to learn in the behaviour section that songbirds are able to breathe through one lung at a time so they don’t need to pause for breath when singing.

The habitats we visit range from tropical forests that are rich in species, to deserts where, in the most extreme conditions, highly specialised birds such as the difficult to detect, Crowned sandgrouse live. Amazingly the males’ belly feathers have become adapted to soak up and hold water.

In the final part, we encounter some of the birds that are now at risk of extinction on account of human action and the author stresses the importance of nature reserves as well as describing ways in which all of us can help our neighbourhood birds.

By the time readers reach the ‘Birding’ spread, some will need little encouragement to become birders themselves and David gives some helpful tips about so doing.

No matter the section, Claire McElfatrick’s alluring, detailed, often dramatic illustrations, in combination with photographs, really bring each spread to life.
(Backmatter comprises a list of the national birds of over 100 countries, a glossary and index.)

Given the broad scope of its content, I see this as a book for school collections, either for dipping in and out of, or to use as a project resource, rather than for budding ornithologists who would require something with a more specific geographic focus.

Women Who Led The Way

Women Who Led The Way
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

Herein, team Mike and Brita celebrate 21 inspiring women adventurers and explorers from all over the world, going back as far as the 9th century. Speaking for themselves, these women are exemplars of the huge amount of courage, determination and sheer power their achievements demonstrate against the odds: boundary breakers all for sure.

A new name to me, the first to tell her story is Aud (the deep-minded), daughter of a Viking ruler of the Hebrides, who, after her warrior son was killed in battle, secretly had a ship built and then together with a loyal crew of twenty warriors, captained a voyage of escape and discovery, eventually starting a Christian settlement on an Icelandic hillside.

French woman Jeanne Baret, disguised herself as her beloved husband’s manservant in order to accompany him on a voyage that eventually took them around the world, exploring and collecting specimens of plants, shells and stones for study, retiring to her native France ten years later, after the death of her husband.

Not all the women travelled so far from home though: In the 18th-19th century Caroline Herschel whose vision was damaged by childhood Typhus, became an astronomer who not only discovered eight comets, but was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Astronomical Society, even being elected an Honorary Member.

Some of the others featured will likely be familiar names to readers – adult ones at least. There’s Mary Anning, Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery to become an army scout and political freedom activist, undercover journalist Nellie Bly, Bessie Coleman the first African-American and Native American female to hold a pilot’s licence, Amelia Earhart (first woman pilot to fly the Atlantic), archaeologist Mary Leakey and nature conservationist Jane Goodall.

It’s impossible in a short review to name all those included herein but we meet Barbara Hillary polar explorer;

the first woman to climb to the top of Everest, and the first female amputee to climb both Everest and Mt. Vinson. Wow! “Set your goals high in life and don’t stop until you reach there.” are words spoken by this inspirational mountaineer on the final spread.

Set into many of Brita’s arresting scenes along with the main narrative, are small illustrated fact boxes, some giving dramatic moments in the life of the featured woman, others providing brief details of another one or two who followed in her footsteps.

One can’t help but feel awed by the achievements of every single one of those exceptional women. Adults who want to inspire children, either in school or at home, to reach high and never stop believing in themselves, should make sure they read this book.

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure / Jungle Adventure and I’m the Bus Driver / I’m the Tractor Driver

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Stef Murphy
Let’s Tell a Story!: Jungle Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Essi Kimpimaki
Wide Eyed Editions

These books offer a way into those choose-your-own-adventure fiction series for solo readers as well as story making. They would have been especially useful during the periods of lockdown and school closures in the past couple of years when youngsters were stuck indoors much of the time and adults often struggled with home schooling. However they can act as fun prompts for story telling or writing at any time.
Each has an introductory spread telling how the book works and then follow fourteen pictorial spreads each one offering lots of options such as: Which hero will you be?; Which clothes will you dress in? What will be your destination? Why are you going? Who will accompany you? How will you get there? What will you take? There are potential disasters in the form of enemies who appear with ‘dastardly’ plans,

and finally, ways to end your chosen story. And, there’s a penguin that keeps appearing in both books adding a search and find element.
It’s possible to have fun creating hundreds of different stories though I suspect in the pirate adventure, some children (as well as this adult reviewer) would find the female characters somewhat stereotypical. On the other hand a hijabi doctor is a welcome possibility: indeed the crew members choice spread is definitely inclusive.

There’s a wealth of learning potential in these imagination sparkers be that at home or in the classroom.

I’m The Bus Driver
I’m The Tractor Driver

David Semple and Kate Woolley
Oxford Children’s Books

If you watch youngsters playing you might well catch sight of a child pretending to be a bus driver among them. Now with the first of these books they’ve got the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of bus number 4 on its 8am morning journey that takes among others children going to school and other passengers off to work or the shops.

In the second title, little ones can try their hand at driving a tractor down on the farm. It’s definitely an eventful day in the driver’s cab with Scally the sheepdog for company: the cows need their breakfast, there are empty barrels to collect from the barn, as well as a hay baler that has got stuck in the mud and needs assistance.
The bright stylised illustrations provide opportunities for colour and shape recognition, and simple counting in these interactive books for the very young.

Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life / Dinosaurs Rock!

Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life
Greer Stothers
Wide Eyed Editions

If you thought that dinosaurs were just brown and green, then this book will make you think again.
By means of fossil evidence and modern scientific information that uses examples of living species, author/illustrator Greer Stothers, presents a fascinating, vibrant array of prehistoric creatures like we’ve never seen before’ showing them as they might have been with colours and patterns.
Some of the ideas are speculative and based on what is already known about modern equivalents:

the author visits different locations – polar regions, the sea, forests, deserts – for instance, as well as using art from such places as the Ice Age Americas, ancient Africa, the cave paintings in France from which to hypothesise. We’re also given a look at primeval plants some of which died out alongside non-avian dinosaurs while others survive today.

The ‘Mighty Melanin’ spread is especially rich in detail explaining how this pigment is contained within tiny melanosomes that can be preserved in fossil feathers, scales and skin, thus offering information on the original colours. However every single spread offers plenty of food for thought: What would mutant dinosaurs have looked like? Would a dinosaur living in a snowy region have been super-white?

What role did camouflage play in the time of dinosaurs?

With the countless young dinosaur enthusiasts out there, always hungry for more, the approach taken by Greer Stothers (who studied evolutionary biology at university) offers something stimulating and exciting.

Dinosaurs Rock!
Dougie Poynter
Macmillan Children’s Books

Dino fanatic (eco-warrior and bassist from McFly) Dougie Poynter turns his attention back to dinosaurs, but in a non-fiction book for older primary readers this time. He adopts a light-hearted style but this doesn’t mean that the writing is light on information, far from it. Dougie introduces readers to a wealth of dino-related topics. Before that though, we’re taken right back to the dawn of life on earth for a brief history of how these creatures evolved.

We get up close to a variety of dinosaurs with several profiles including the author’s favourites and then meet five experts on the topic some of whom work in the field of palaeontology. There’s a section on fossil evidence and we read something about Mary Anning and her discoveries in the field, as well as two Americans who started out as friends but then become arch rivals both making lots of mistakes in their efforts to become top palaeontologist.

Also included are a scattering of dino jokes, some historical errors, a sprinkling of true or false statements including this one – Dinosaurs were cold-blooded – that scientists still have different opinions on, with the majority currently thinking that most were warm-blooded.

Lots of the content is presented infographics style, which makes it more easily digested.

World of Food

World of Food
Sandra Lawrence and Violeta Noy
Templar Publishing

Ask a child, ‘where does food come from?’ and the most likely reply would be the supermarket or the name of the one their family shops in. Turn to page twelve of this fascinating book however and you will learn that many of the items found thereon had their origins in distant lands all over the globe.
Before that, the first thing Sandra Lawrence explores is the role food (including vitamins) plays in providing energy, in nutrition, and in the functioning of the immune system. We’re then taken back to look at how the earliest humans – hunter-gatherers – sourced and cooked what they ate; as well as finding out something of the feasts rich ancient Romans indulged in.

Next explored are various kinds of vegetables – tubers, then the edible parts that grow above the ground, followed by fruits and nuts, fungi and finally in that section, some dishes from around the world – sweet, savoury and spicy – are presented.

Grains and cereals make up section three

and then for this vegan reviewer, things get somewhat less tasty for several spreads are devoted to eggs and dairy produce, followed by meat and seafoods.

No matter what you eat, the addition of seasonings is likely to enhance your enjoyment and it’s these that are presented in the sixth section.

The next part comprises the sweet stuff. I have a weakness for dark chocolate, the fruit of the cacao tree being the topic for one spread here. Now I call myself a vegan but I have to hold my hand up to adding honey to my daily porridge every breakfast time.

There’s a short focus on festive foods using the tables of in turn, Christmas, Diwali, Passover, Eid-al-Fitr, Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year. Finally comes a brief look at some of the thorny environmental, social and economic problems food production causes; and the final spread explores food in the future.

Food is a popular theme in primary classrooms and this book, enticingly illustrated by Violeta Noy, is one certainly I’d recommend adding to school topic boxes.

The Little Spacecraft That Could

The Little Spacecraft That Could
Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli

From the title of this book you might expect a story somewhat similar to the Watty Piper classic The Little Engine that Could. Not so. This book is essentially a non-fiction story that, beginning in January 2006, chronicles the journey of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft travelling towards Pluto, a destination that will take a decade to reach, by which time astronomers have down-graded Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. (This is covered in the text)

The author tells how having burst forth from Earth, the first engine is allowed to fall away leaving, encased in gold foil, the spacecraft ‘no bigger than a small piano’ whizzing through space at over 10 miles per second. (Illustrator Simona Ceccarelli bestows a big grin on the face of New Horizons as this happens and thereafter she becomes a quirky character with personality.)

Now tasked with many questions to answer: what is Pluto made of? What colour is its sky? Are there creepy-crawlies? being just three, New Horizons will fly 3 billion miles to collect close-up photographic evidence and other kinds of data and transmit it all back to scientists on Earth.

On route the spacecraft receives a massive gravity speed boost from ‘ginormous’ Jupiter, after which follows a very long period of hibernation during which time a weekly signal is sent back to Earth. Eventually on 6th December 2014, the probe reawakens and soon begins transmitting photos of Pluto,

photos that hugely enlarged scientists’ understanding of the dwarf planet and its moons. 

A few years later, on New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons reaches another object called Arrokoth that had been discovered since her launch.  Photos of this far distant world helped scientists understand more about the solar system’s early years.  New Horizons continues to travel further out in space and the hope is there’ll be a visit to the Kuiper Belt sometime during this decade.

Altogether an absorbing book that, in addition to conveying a huge amount of information about space exploration and the solar system, makes scientific discovery highly engaging and accessible for readers who might not otherwise be inclined to explore this topic. It also includes a timeline, glossary, and resources for further investigation. 

Not Your Average Maths Book

Not Your Average Maths Book
Anna Weltman and Paul Boston
Wide Eyed Editions

Wherever we go, wherever we live, maths is a part of our lives: just look around, we’re surrounded by it. It’s in our homes and gardens.

Yet at school it tends to be a love it or hate it subject and I have to admit that although I didn’t actually hate it, maths was one of my least favourite subjects. Now perhaps had I owned this book back then I might have felt rather differently.

Have you ever wondered why bubbles are always round – or rather spherical; why planets are never cube-shaped, , if and how animals use maths, or thought about where the plus, minus and equals signs came from. You’ll find the answers herein, along with a wealth of other fascinating mathematical facts and insights into numbers and their origins, shapes, patterns and much more. There’s a spread on mathematicians who made important breakthroughs in their fields, with thirteen men and women making up the Mathematician Hall of Fame.

We’re shown some of the many, many ways in which maths is useful in everyday life – in sports,

in the computer algorithms used to calculate plane ticket prices, the algorithms used by meteorologists in predicting the weather, the wealth of mathematical measurements needed in the erection of a building. There’s a brief history of maths going way, way back to the very first written numbers 43,000 years ago in Africa and taking us all the way to today’s unsolved problems still waiting for somebody to find solutions.

You might find you start looking at the world through different lenses if you read Anna’s book, it’s illustrated by Paul Boston whose visuals make the subject all the more inviting and accessible.

Epic Adventures

Epic Adventures
Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Sam Brewster
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tickets ready! Sam Sedgman, co-writer of the Adventures on Trains fiction stories, turns his attention to capturing that same sense of excitement as he invites readers aboard twelve iconic trains to undertake railway journeys through some thirty four different countries and six continents.

For each journey, he and illustrator Sam Brewster, conjure up for the reader some of the history, culture and wildlife of the countries visited or passed through. Such is his enthusiasm for the subject that I will now seriously consider, when I plan my next trip to Amsterdam (one of my very favourite cities in the world) the possibility of travelling the 355 km. not by plane but through the Channel tunnel on the Eurostar.

While going from Kolkata to Darjeeling, if you change at New Jalpaiguri Junction, you can take a trip on the ‘toy train’ that uses the narrow gauge mountain railway. Or maybe you’d rather have An African Adventure, savouring the sights from Dar Es Salaam to Cape Town and imagine being on safari in Botswana en route.

By contrast you’ll definitely need to wear your thermals if you take the sleeper train from Stockholm on a journey to the remote Norwegian town of Narvik, that will take 19 hours and make eighteen stops.You might even think about sampling some warm reindeer stew as the train nears the Arctic Circle –

think I’d stick to anticipating the appearance of the Northern Lights and pass on that stew.

Informative and filled with that special sense of wonder, the illuminative narrative – verbal and visual really makes you want to try some of those journeys for real.

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations
Martin Howard and Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Migration has been very much in the news for the past several years with stories of people fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan, overcrowded and flimsy craft undertaking hazardous crossings of the Mediterranean and the English Channel and refugees attempting to cross land borders of eastern European countries to reach the European Union. This book chronicles that migration is not a recent phenomenon but something that began 70,000 years ago when the first people started to spread out from Africa to inhabit the whole globe.

Author Martin Howard and illustrator Christopher Corr explore some fifty instances through history, continent by continent covering a large variety of relevant topics. These include navigational journeys of discovery by Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus, as well as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki,

which emulated primitive vessels of ancient peoples; forced migration of slaves such as those of African peoples from their homelands to American colonies; colonial journeys for power and profit including those of the British to India and many European countries to Africa and various other parts of the world. Also included is an excellent example of what humans can do for those on whom great suffering is inflicted, the Kindertransport British people set up to bring Jewish children to Britain to prevent them being sent to concentration camps by the Nazi regime.

What is key no matter the reason, is that with the movement of people comes a wealth of new, potentially enriching ideas. The author acknowledges that in a book such as this it’s impossible to cover everything and it’s an amazing thought that as he says, inside everyone of us is a ‘kaleidoscope of human history and thousands of stories of travel and adventure.

Christopher Corr’s distinctive illustrative style is ideal for the book making what would otherwise be quite a demanding subject much more accessible.

Earth-Saving Acts for Eco-Warriors / Great Lives in Graphics: Shakespeare / Great Lives in Graphics : Albert Einstein

Earth-Saving Acts for Eco-Warriors
Ammonite Press

By now pretty well everyone must be aware that our world is getting hotter and that this is having a devastating environmental effect Yes ,we had COP26 in Glasgow towards the end of last year, but how many of the promises made will actually come to anything and how much will remain just rhetoric? If you want to help fight climate change – and surely hand on heart, everybody does – then here’s a helpful little book bursting with ideas and practical suggestions on how individuals can make a difference and thus be part of the drive to halt the catastrophe that is fast approaching.

None of its contents is really new: essentially the message is resist constantly buying the latest thing and when you do buy, go for quality rather than quantity; reuse and recycle, avoid single plastics whenever possible, spend more time outdoors rather than on screens, switch off lights and appliances when you don’t need them, walk, cycle or use public transport rather than travelling by car, read labels and eschew unsustainable palm oil products, eat a plant-based diet and don’t waste food.

The final quote made by Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ is apposite and one hopes a spur to activism in readers of this timely publication.

Great Lives in Graphics: Shakespeare
Great Lives in Graphics: Albert Einstein
Button Books

The first of these additions to the innovative infographics series features, I believe, the best-known playwright ever, William Shakespeare. Living in Tudor England much happened during his lifetime including outbreaks of the plague, the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot and execution of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators.
As regards the bard himself, I was reminded that he left school at age fourteen, having learned only Latin and married Anne Hathaway when he was just eighteen and remained wedded to her till his death 34 years later. There is also information about other important people and places that feature in the life of the subject.

Being something of a rebel myself, I was excited to learn that Albert Einstein, subject of the second book was made special by his rebellious streak, liking to do things his own way and hating to be told what to learn or do. And I absolutely love this quote of his, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.’

These are just a few of the defining facts, thoughts, achievements and legacies of these two influential figures brought to life in these books. There are also timelines and glossaries and everything is in a form easily digested by most children in key stage two.

Amazing Animals

Amazing Animals
Sabrina Weiss and Paul Davis
What on Earth Books

Author Sabrina Weiss and illustrator Paul Davis take readers on an amazing tour of our planet’s wildlife in this addition to the Our Amazing World series.

After a general look at the relevant terminology, some double spreads focus on particular animals – leopards for instance and leafcutter ants, while others look at the fauna of specific habitats such as the Pantanal freshwater wild wetlands – a region in South America, and Africa’s Namib desert wherein live some creatures including oryx that have adapted to the harshest of landscapes.

In addition to the themed double spreads, half way through the book there’s a gate-fold world map that also gives fascinating facts about such things as the longest animal migrations, the ten biggest animals and those that live the longest.

We’re also introduced to stinky creatures, nocturnal ones, those with unusual parenting skills: did you know that there’s a female African cichlid fish that carries its eggs in its mouth for three weeks and doesn’t eat during this time? Amazing! Moreover, the hatched fry can return to their mother’s mouth should danger arise.

The final spread looks at some examples of endangered animals including the black rhinos from southern Africa, and the Chinese pangolin.

Back-matter includes a glossary and index. Subtitled ‘100+ Creatures That Will Boggle Your Mind’, stylishly illustrated and containing a wealth of information, this is a book for budding zoologists as well as school collections.

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space
Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

Space suits on? Professor Astro Cat, along with his sidekick Astro Mouse is ready to take us on a journey through space: it’s a skyrocket tour of the solar system and plenty else too.
First he informs us about the Big Bang and the birth of the universe, and then with a spread each, goes on to explain the formation of stars and how they collected together to form galaxies.

Next we whizz past the sun, after which our feline prof. presents in turn, all eight planets of our solar system, Earth and the Moon.

The practical aspects of space travel are covered in spreads on the early astronauts – animal and human. We meet the first moon-walkers, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, as well their colleague Michael Collins who remained in the command module, while the others explored the moon’s surface. There’s a pause to discover some lunar information – did you know that due to lack of a wind and hence no erosion, the footprints those astronauts left will remain there for millions of years – wow!

There’s a chance to take a look at their Apollo spacesuits and some more modern ones, see some modern rockets, pay a visit to the International Space Station (ISS).

Then comes a consideration of what life in space might be like

and a whirlwind visit to each planet in turn starting nearest to the sun with Mercury and working outwards

and much, much more.

There’s also some speculation about possible ways the end of the universe might come about, the future of space and on the possibilities of alien life. Finally we have a fascinating factoids spread, followed by a glossary and index.

A whirlwind exploration indeed but it’s hugely informative and thanks to the Professor’s gently humorous, yet authoritative voice, accessible to young readers. Made all the more so by Ben Newman’s retro-style illustrations and the scattering of jokes throughout.

Talking History

Talking History
Joan Haig and Joan Lennon, illustrated by André Ducci
Templar Publishing

Words have the power to move us whether addressed directly to a live audience in a formal setting – political, judicial or in a demonstration, broadcast through the media (TV, radio or social media) or, in printed form such as in newspapers or pamphlets.

The authors and illustrator introduce readers to sixteen speakers from all over the world – eight women and eight men – who over the past 150 years have made historic speeches, each of which has in some way helped to shape the societies we live in today.

Arranged chronologically the orators featured have spoken out on such fundamental issues as civil rights, war, women’s rights, (Emmeline Pankhurst and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti) gay rights (Harvey Milk) and climate change. The contents of their speeches along with facts about the events that led up to each one, as well as what happened thereafter, are presented in infographic style in this inspiring book.
It’s good to see two not one double spread allocated to each (apart from the two ‘youth voices on the environment’, Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Greta Thunberg, who share four pages.)

Most of those included will be familiar to readers and I was thrilled to see my all time hero, Nelson Mandela with his 1964 ‘statement from the dock’, 

as well as Barack Obama’s 2015 ‘remarks by the president at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches’ both featured.

A new name to me is Pearl Gibbs who spoke out for justice for the aboriginal peoples of Australia and was involved in 1939 in the very first major Aboriginal civil rights demonstration. 

This is more than just a history book, it’s essential reading for children who will one hopes feel empowered to speak out for the causes in which they believe.

Britannica’s 5 Minute Really True Stories for Family Time

Britannica’s 5 Minute Really True Stories for Family Time
Britannica Books

Authored by Alli Brydon, Catherine D. Hughes and Jackie McCann and illustrated by four artists – Anneli Bray, Vivian Mineker, Sophia Moore and Syklar White – are thirty true stories about things families do together. More than two thirds relate to humans whereas the final seven feature animal families, both sections starting with a look at homes in different parts of the world including for the former, Australia and Bangladesh.

Breakfast is the topic for the second story and I was fascinated to discover the varieties and ways families eat their porridge, whereas the thought of consuming some of the items such as those in a Japanese breakfast first thing in the morning (or at any time) turned my vegan stomach right over.

Whether the reader’s particular interest is in things scientific, or related to technology, sociology – festivals or weddings perhaps, history or art of some form there’s something to discover herein. I particularly like that ‘Storytime’ includes the fact that stories can be told in different ways including through paintings, drawings, dance or music.

Each topic is allocated three double spreads and some incorporate more than one interest area.
The question(s) embedded in each story and occasional practical possibilities provide an interactive element to the book.

For this reviewer using the term ‘true stories’ for this kind of narrative non-fiction is something of a misnomer. There’s a wealth of fascinating information in this attractively illustrated book,

but it’s one I see being used in a primary classroom as part of a topic (there are many possibilities), rather more than a family read together as suggested by the title.

Cool Technology

Cool Technology
Jenny Jacoby, illustrated by Jem Venn

The latest addition to the “Cool’ series takes a look at world changing technological inventions through the ages.

As a teacher who has always championed the importance of developing children’s imaginations, I love its opening quote from creator of curious contraptions Keith Newstead: ‘With a little imagination and a lot of patience you can make anything come to life.’ It’s clear from this book, which starts by going right back to stone age times with the invention of stone tools, needles etc, that this statement is spot on.

In addition to presenting bite size chunks of information about a variety of inventions from clockwork, the compass, clothes fastenings to contactless payments, photography to plastics, keyboards of various kinds, X-ray machines, toilets 

to TV and many other things we now take for granted, the author includes concise biographies of key technologists such as Johannes Gutenberg, rocket scientist Annie Easley, Bill Gates and architect Shigeru Ban who is famous for creating buildings including homes from low-tech materials.

Every spread has a clear layout with illustrations by Jem Venn. There are also some projects for readers themselves to try, a look to the future, a contents page and a glossary. And, what better way to finish that with these words from Daniel Bell” ‘Technology, like art is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.’

Primary schools should certainly add this STEM title to their book collections.

How To Be An Explorer

How To Be An Explorer
Tiger Cox
Button Books

Tiger Cox, is a paragliding instructor and lover of outdoor actives. To encourage youngsters to acquire the know-how and the confidence to become adventurers in the great outdoors, he has written this, his debut book.

His introductory spreads focus on thinking like an explorer, what a basic explorer kit comprises, how to read a map and how to create one.

There are seven other parts: risk, skills (how to make cordage, knots to learn, using a knife and whittling a peg; how to light a fire,

cook on it, how to make a paper boiler and a couple of campfire recipes. The foraging section looks at edible insects, edible plants and those not to eat because they are poisonous; then comes a section on creating shelter followed by one on aspects of water and another on weather.

Also included in each chapter is information about a real-life explorer: map maker Muhammad al-Idrisi, female mountaineer Junko Tabei,

Matthew Henson (the first person to reach the North Pole), seafarer Bungaree, Jeanne Baret who disguised herself as a man which enabled her to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, and aviator Amelia Earhart each have a spread. In addition, the author includes some anecdotal snippets from his own expeditions.

Colour photographs help guide readers through the 25 activities step-by-step, whereas artistic impressions are used for the explorers’ biographies.

With the author’s enthusiasm for his subject shining through in his writing, this is a super book to encourage children away from their screens and outdoors for some adventuring.

Walrus Song

Walrus Song
Janet Lawler and Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books

In this narrative non-fiction picture book with its lyrical rhyming text and brilliant paintings, author Janet Lawler and illustrator Timothy Basil Ering present a superb portrait of a walrus in his icy environment, taking readers right up close to the creature .

He plays on an ice floe, flopping and plopping into the chilly water where he twirls and whirls with swirling flippers, kept warm by the layer of fat beneath his coat. Then, having found some clams on which to feast, he slurps until he’s full when it’s time to tease that playful puffin before, using his powerful tusks, he heaves himself out of the water and onto the ice. 

‘Waddle. Walk. Slap! Slap!’ he lumbers, till he meets up with a pack of fellow walruses, snuggling up among them.

Sometimes however he get involved in a crashing, tusk-bashing fight with another walrus till fight over, he emits a variety of exciting sounding calls and songs that echo across the frozen landscape. 

I imagine young listeners will love to copy these sounds as you read.

Come the spring, baby walruses are born. Noting is said in the main narrative about mating but the author includes information about this in a final double spread of additional walrus facts.
Thanks to his chosen colour palette, you almost feel the chill as Ering’s paintings zoom in on the action documenting every move the creature makes and its every change of mood, holding readers totally captivated throughout.

Shine, Star, Shine!

Shine, Star, Shine!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

This is the latest in the excellent Wild Wanderers series about various aspects of the natural world and it’s another wonderful book.

Deep in space from the heart of a nebula many stars are born: big stars and small stars each shining forth from millions of miles away across the universe, reaching out to us with their rays of colour. And so it is with our star, the Sun, enabler of life on planet Earth that shines down from 93 million miles away. She keeps us warm, causing changes in the weather; she makes the crops grow all over the world from Idaho to the Punjab, as well as all other planet life;

she pumps air from floating green ocean gardens giving rise to wind and creating clouds and sometimes, rainbows.
Beware though, sometimes the strength of her rays can cause damage for our star can also be a ‘world-burner’ but the world she reveals is mostly one of rich life and potential.

I love the way in which both poet author Conlon’s lyrical language and illustrator Izlesou’s atmospheric art both focus on this single star of ours, turning the otherwise ordinary into the truly extraordinary: truly a painting of words and pictures. Or rather a series of paintings that remind us of how our Earth moves around our Star and what that means for different environments; or shows the gradual change from day to night,

from season to season, through countless lives and trillions of years. It’s not until the final spreads that we are shown the night sky with its ‘trillions of stars with planets of their own whose stories are yet to be heard’. That too is something to ponder upon and perhaps dream about along with the small boy and the cat that we see throughout this powerfully beautiful book. It’s one that’s sure to provoke awe and wonder in young listeners.

Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We All Celebrate

We All Celebrate
Chitra Soundar and Jenny Bloomfield
Tiny Owl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely a book for school collections and topic boxes.

The Same but Different

The Same but Different
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Pet Goldfish

My Pet Goldfish
Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

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

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

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

Sandy shows the narrator his pond with its assortment of goldfishes

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

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

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


Teagan White and Loveday Trinick
Big Picture Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Large As Life
Jonny Marx and Sandhya Prabhat

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

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

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

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

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

from the same author and illustrator is:

Hide-and-Seek History: The Greeks

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Up to Us

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

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

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

illustrations by Estelí Meza and Mehrdokht Amini

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

illustration by Rutu Modan

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

illustration by Black Douglas

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

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

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

Microbe Wars

Microbe Wars
Gill Arbuthnott and Marianna Madriz
Templar Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

The World Book

The World Book
Joe Fullman and Rose Blake
Welbeck Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Book of Microbes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britannica First Big Book of Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘why do cakes puff up in the oven?’;

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

Time to Move South for Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stardust That Made Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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