The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

In this large format book you can learn all about the life of the domesticated honey bee and much more. The bee’s life cycle, anatomy,

life in a hive including the tasks undertaken by workers – cleaning, care of the bee nursery, making honey and wax, guard duty and finally, foraging for nectar and pollen outside; plus facts and figures about other species at home and abroad, honey thieves,

pollination, what bee keepers do and how to create a bee-friendly environment are all explained by our narrator worker guide, Buzzwing the honeybee.

There are also five bee tales from various parts of the world including Greece, India and Australia.

Vivian Mincer’s enticingly colourful, gently humorous child-friendly illustrations with Buzzwing’s invitation to spot various creatures hiding within many of the scenes, are likely to be pored over at length by young readers. Author, Moira Butterfield even invites budding poets to write their own bee poetry as did the character in the Indian tale she retells. Indeed, there are activities relating to each of the tales included.

The health of our natural ecosystems is intrinsically linked to the health of our bees (and other pollinators) but their numbers are in decline. Let’s hope this fascinating book will enthuse youngsters to do whatever they can to halt this potential catastrophe.

Altogether a super introduction to the world of bees.

How to Change the World / Climate Rebels

How to Change the World
Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest
Puffin Books

In her follow up to How to be Extraordinary, Rashmi Sirdeshpande presents a companion book in which she shows what a large impact can be made by people working together. There are fifteen stories of teamwork that start way back in sixth century BCE Athens with the origins of the very first democracy and is followed by a look at the incredible human engineering collaboration involved in the building of the Great Pyramid in the desert of ancient Egypt.

Then come the campaigns for change – well known and less so – in various parts of the world. Thus among environmental campaigners we have not only the universally known Greenpeace and the Montreal Protocol banning CFCs, but also the Treeplanters of Piplantri that I know of only because a friend took me to visit the village in Rajasthan a few years back. (Every time a girl is born 111 trees are planted in honour of the chief’s daughter who died during a drought around fifteen years ago).

Then, as well as the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered by Rosa Parks’ action, there is the Singing Revolution in Estonia where people used song to tell the world that this small country had always been a free nation.

Following the spread about the abolition of slavery campaign in the British Empire is one about the 1965 Freedom Ride campaigning for justice for the indigenous people of Australia.

Alluringly illustrated by Annabel Tempest and attractively laid out, each spread with its well-written text offers an example of high quality narrative non-fiction for primary readers.

The same is true of

Climate Rebels
Ben Lerwill
Puffin Books

‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. Robert Swan’s quote at the beginning of this book is a powerful reminder that the terrible effects of climate change can only be arrested through our individual and collective actions.

Award winning writer Ben Lerwill presents twenty five inspiring and fascinating stories of individuals (and some groups) who have worked tirelessly and continue to do so for the causes in which they believe so passionately.

Among those featured are Dr Jane Goodall (who wrote the book’s introduction), Sir David Attenborough, the Greenpeace founders, Rachel Carson and Greta Thunberg. Alongside those are accounts of less famous names – The Guajajara Guardians –

who often risk their lives while working to protect the Amazon Rainforest; and William Kamkwamba who built a windmill in a small village in Malawi and went on to build more that pump water to the crops in the fields, thus improving the life of his entire community through renewable energy.

Not only is this book a powerful call to action; it’s also a reminder that we need to stand together – there might just be time to make those crucial changes to the climate change story.

Compellingly written in a lively style and illustrated by Masha Ukhova, Stephanie Son, Chellie Carroll, Hannah Peck and Iratxe Lopez de Munain, this book is strongly recommended for home and school reading.

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
Dr Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón
Walker Books

Talking to nine year olds about nano particles? Surely not, you might at first think. However the author of this book knows just how to do it.

This is a totally captivating look at materials and the uses scientists make of them by physicist Dr Jess Wade from Imperial College, London and illustrator, Melissa Castrillón.

Right from the opening spread containing the words, “Look around your home. Everything is made of something … “ readers are drawn in, all the more so as the text then goes on to use the book itself as an exemplar to remind us of some basic descriptions of materials as well as introducing the importance of microscopy. 

That leads neatly in to a spread on atoms – those building blocks from which ‘every single thing on this planet is made …’ and molecules.

A great thing about this book is that every new term that’s introduced – elements for instance- is immediately then related to something familiar to its target audience:. So we’re told, the human body comprises eleven different elements including carbon. This element is part of the make up of every living thing, but sometimes existing solely as layers of carbon atoms; graphite (the lead in pencils) is given as an example.

By moving on to graphene (created by removing a single layer of carbon atoms from graphite) the author takes us into unfamiliar territory with a new material: or rather, a ‘nanomaterial’ that has taken countless experiments and many years to make.

Graphene, we’re told, already has many uses in technology but because nanotechnology is a dynamic field of study, there are further possibilities, some not perhaps even dreamt of yet. Neatly bringing the narrative full circle to the reader, the author concludes ‘There are so many secrets left for scientists to unlock, And who knows the key person might just be … YOU.’

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Do You Love Dinosaurs?

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

Ask a group of children the title question and almost certainly the vast majority will answer in the affirmative, so this book, brimming over with awesome, roarsome dinos is set to be a winner.

Accompanied by some young palaeontologists, Matt Robertson takes readers way way back in time to meet these incredible creatures large and small. First though come ten ‘must obey’ dinosaur rules to help ensure that youngsters get the maximum from their experience.

It’s then time to introduce in turn, the theropods – meat eating, terrifying two-legged beasts; then the sauropods (gigantic vegetarian, gentle creatures) among which were the diplodocuses.

Prepare to hide, for Tyrannosaurus rex comes next – AAARRRHH! those gaping jaws. Much less alarming are the herbivores including several new to me, as are some of the omnivores with which they share a double spread.

Horns and spikes were great protectors and the armoured dinosaurs also show their skills and how they used their incredible armour; and last we meet the deadly bird-like raptors.

The final spreads look at dinosaur fossils, development from egg to adult, there’s a dino sports event, a look at some other prehistoric creatures and last of all, annotated portraits of extra special dinos in a hall of fame.

The author takes a light-hearted approach and his illustrations are huge fun, while there’s a considerable amount of information packed into each spread.

Chickenology / Milly Cow Gives Milk

Chickenology
Barbara Sandri and Francesco Giubbilini, illustrated by Camilla Pintonato
Princeton Architectural Press

This introductory book contains everything you ever wanted to know about chickens and probably a lot more too. There are five sections (listed on contents page but not mentioned thereafter) into which is packed an incredible amount of information presented in a highly readable manner with well-designed, stylishly illustrated spreads, every one of which has just the right amount of text so that at no time does the reader feel overwhelmed.

It starts with pages on identification; how to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster, courtship and mating, a spread on shape and size – astonishingly a Jersey Giant is almost the height of a three year old child. Communication is given a double spread; feathers have two and the Leghorn spread presents a dozen different varieties of the same breed, something I didn’t know.

Last in the first section is an exploration of the question ‘Can chickens fly?’

The next part begins with a look at the anatomy – internal and external and then comes a section comprising an egg-sploration of eggs.

My favourite section is ‘Chickens and Humans’ that encompasses some history, symbolism, folktales and more.

And last of all is a presentation of just some of the estimated 300 different breeds.

There’s likely something of interest to readers of all kinds here.

For a younger audience is:

Milly Cow Gives Milk
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

Ask a group of young children where milk comes from and if my experience is anything to go by, some of them will name a supermarket. Now here’s a simple picture book (endorsed by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers), the first of a series, that goes right back to grass roots, to Farmer McBean’s farm to be precise.

There, in the company of a child, we meet Milly, one of a well cared for, ’happy herd’ and learn the basic facts about her daily life as she grazes on tasty grass in summer and is fed lots of hay to see her through the winter. Molly has to chew and chew what she eats to help its passage through her system, as well as drinking large amounts of fresh water, inevitably making lots of cow pats in the process.

Readers get right up close to her swollen udder as it bulges with milk and watch her being led to the milking parlour (which happens at sunrise and sundown). I was astonished to learn that Molly’s daily yield is around sixty pints and that along with the milk from the rest of the herd, is made ready for drinking and eventually once packed, it does reach the shelves of supermarkets and other outlets.

The final pages gives some further, basic facts about cows, milk and dairy farming. Julia Groves’ clean, bold illustrations and Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward account show that milk production involves a lot of hard work and for many people, it’s a vital item in their daily diet, unless like me they happen to be vegan.

For foundation stage and KS1 topic boxes.

Fossils From Lost Worlds

Fossils From Lost Worlds

Fossils From Lost Worlds
Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt
Gecko Press

Immerse yourself in the world of palaentology with this large format book that provides youngsters with an accessible way to learn about fossils and geological periods.

The first spread is devoted to the diagrammatic representation of the geological periods after which readers travel through time from the very beginnings of animal life looking at the likely first organisms with each spread featuring a different prehistoric creature selected for its special contribution to scientists’ learning of palaeontology.

Yes, there are some of the expected familiar favourites including Archaeopteryx the oldest bird, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and the iconic Tyrannosaurus; but many of the less well-known species are new to me and probably many other readers. There’s the invertebrate Anomalocaris: since 1978 palaeontologists agree on what it looked like, but its behaviour is still the subject of discussion.
Another creature – Hallucigenia – has been the topic of much dispute in particular which end was the tail and which the head 

and there was also confusion as to what were tentacles and what were legs. Happily now thanks to electron microscopy these mysteries have been resolved.

The fossilised footprints found in Thuringia (Germany) were a mystery to scientists for over 130 years and it’s since the 1960s that it was decided that these were made by the reptilian Ticinosuchus. 

The last animal we encounter is possibly the largest ever land mammal Paraceratherium, the hornless cousin of the rhino thought to have a flexible upper lip which it used to pluck leaves and grass in similar fashion to rhinos of today.

Every one of the animals represented is allocated either one full page depiction or a full page illustration opposite which is a sequence of smaller panels adding to the overall visual appeal of the book. Each is also accompanied by a written description as well as helpful bullet points setting out where the fossil remains were found, crucially, its size and when it lived.

Alongside the animals, we also meet some of the associated palaeontologists including Georges Cuvier, Othniel Charles Marsh, Clive Forster-Cooper and the person whose name is familiar to most readers, Mary Anning, each of whom is introduced in amusing graphic style comic strip format.

The final two double spreads comprise a time line of palaeontology from the 5th century to 2017.

Most young children are dinosaur and prehistoric animal mad; this book will take those with an abiding interest in the topic, deeper in and further back in time.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef
Helen Scales and Lisk Feng
Flying Eye Books

Located off the coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, the subject of this large format book, truly is one the world’s natural wonders. We read first about how the reef was formed and are introduced to the different types of coral, their structures, and how corals can multiply and spread. In order to discover the reef close up though, it’s necessary to be a qualified diver and scientists now have sophisticated equipment allowing them to spend longer and to go down deeper than ever, as is explained in one of the early spreads.

The second of its five sections is entitled Reef Dwellers and therein readers are introduced to the inhabitants both fauna and flora – of the reef and its environs. 

It’s truly amazing just how many fascinating species live on and around the reef from small molluscs to mammals such as whales, some of them in symbiotic partnerships; one tiny reef island, Michaelmas Cay is home to thousands of birds. I was surprised to discover that night is often the most active time on the reef when a wonderful array of nocturnal creatures are hunting.

It’s not only the reef ’s natural history we learn of though. There’s also information about the culture and traditions of the Aborigines and Torres Straight islands.

Unfortunately however the reef is under threat, due largely to climate change as a result of the burning of fossil fuels : an increase in ocean temperatures and acidification endanger its very survival and that of the marine life that depends on it. The book ends with a look at what has already happened and what can be done to save the reef.

Throughout, the author, marine biologist Dr Helen Scales shares her knowledge and enthusiasm writing in an accessible style that will enthral primary age readers. Arresting illustrations by Lisk Feng showcase the awesome array of life of this remarkable World Heritage Site, while the entire design of the book is of the exemplary quality one associates with Flying Eye publications.

Turtle Rescue

Turtle Rescue
Jonny Marx and Xuan Le
Little Tiger

I suspect the burgeoning of picture books telling of the plastic pollution of the oceans is indicative that the problem is on many people’s minds. Sadly though, not those who continue to throw rubbish onto the beaches or in the sea. One can but hope that Jonny Marx and Xuan Le’s Turtle Rescue will help in this hugely important environmental cause.

Flora, marine biologist and ace underwater swimmer, Fauna, inventor and turtle lover, and their child, Baby Bud, are holidaying at the seaside intending to take it easy for a while. That isn’t what happens however.

Soon they find themselves helping with a rubbish collection during which they’re told it’s hoped it will help bring back the turtles to lay their eggs on the sandy beach once more. Before long the three of them have packed supplies, chartered a boat and are sailing off to investigate the lack of turtles.

As they sail towards the reef, Bud is excited to see all the different sea animals and plants and keeps pointing out what he calls ‘jellyfish’ – the floating plastic bags he insists on counting. Eventually Flora sights a turtle

and carefully follows it until she runs out of air. Back on board the boat again, it’s obvious a storm is looming but eventually it blows itself out and there ahead is an island. Just the place to stop and let Fauna’s queasiness subside. Imagine their delight when Bud notices tracks in the sand leading right across the dunes at the end of which are …

After an eventful and hugely exciting trip, with sail duly repaired, it’s time to head home.

There’s an amazing amount of information about turtles and other marine wildlife packed between the pages of this fascinating part fact, part fiction book.

Science and Me

Science and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

Following their Creators of Peace, author Ali Winter and illustrator Mickaël El Fathi present profiles of thirteen more Nobel Prize winners, this time for their work in medicine, physics and chemistry.

Coming from all over the world and starting with Marie Curie (1903) and concluding with Donna Strickland (2018 winner for laser technology), each of the laureates is given just one double spread so there’s only space for a brief biography that focuses as much on the dedication and challenges overcome as the individual’s discoveries / achievements and the social impacts thereof. For example, it took decades for the discovery of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar relating to ‘black holes’ to be recognised.

Michaël El Fathi takes a key moment or element from each featured life as the basis for each collage illustration: for Youyou Tu it was the ancient book mentioning ‘Qinghao’, the Chinese name for herbs in the Artemisia family. From these could be extracted Artemesinin, the drug that has subsequently prevented over two hundred million people worldwide dying from malaria.

I particularly like the way in which the author involves readers in considering what science contributes to making the world a better place for us all; she does so both through the title lead in to each of the scientists as well as through the summation on the final spread, the last line of which asks “What does science mean to you?

Look What I Found in the Woods

Look What I Found in the Woods
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

‘Follow me. I know the way. / We’re walking in the woods today.’ So says the child narrator of this book.
The woods are my favourite place to walk and during the pandemic I’ve spent a lot of time so doing in woodlands close to my home, always returning home feeling considerably uplifted. Consequently I was more than happy to take up the invitation to participate in this woodland foray with the three child adventurers shown on the first spread.

Readers are immediately engaged by means of an insert in the bottom right-hand corner that asks us to find one signpost, two butterflies and three bright yellow flowers.
The second spread shows the children making observations while the text provides facts about the trees and a sidebar showing labelled tree shapes.

The subsequent spreads alternate between these two styles of layout

as readers learn about leaves, bark,

fruits and seeds, fir cones and shells while the children continue their exploration discovering exciting ‘treasure’ throughout their walk; treasure that they present on the final spread once back indoors.

This highly engaging nature book published in collaboration with the National Trust, successfully mixes story, non-fiction and search-and-find. Jesús Verona’s illustrations are an absolute delight. Each one offers an immersive scene to linger over and wonder at the fine detail included; and the final endpaper shows the children’s creative efforts with some of their findings.

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor , Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu
Words & Pictures

If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me you have probably been noticing beautiful wild flowers – snowdrops, daisies, celandines and primroses springing up, an abundance of catkins, blossom starting to open on trees, pussy willow buds bursting; as well as the occasional bee and butterfly. We even saw frogspawn a couple of times last week (the end of February). Definitely spring, with its promise of so much, is my favourite season and this year it seems even more important than ever to celebrate its arrival.

That is exactly what the two children in this beautiful book (written by children’s author Sean Taylor and ecologist Alex Morss) are doing. The older girl acting as narrator, tells us how what starts out as a hunt for Dad’s fork so he can plant some carrots turns into an exploration of the family’s garden. ’Everything smelled like wet earth and sunshine.”

“The spring sunlight is nature’s alarm clock,” Dad says, taking the opportunity to mention pollination.
Both girls are observant, asking lots of questions and noticing signs of new life all around – tadpoles,

a bird building its nest and a wealth of minibeasts – ants, woodlice, worms and beetles and several species of butterfly, as well as playfully emulating some of the creatures they discover.
Throughout, Dad subtly provides snippets of relevant information concerning life cycles, habitats

and what causes the seasons; and throughout the children’s sense of excitement is palpable.

Cinyee Chiu’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, beautifully composed and carefully observed.

At the back of the book are several pages of more detailed information about spring and how it affects the flora and fauna, as well as some suggestions for ways children can get involved in helping nature in its struggle against climate change.

A must have book for families with young children, as well as foundation stage settings and KS1 classrooms.

Cool Engineering

Cool Engineering
Jenny Jacoby and Jim Venn
Pavilion Books

This latest in the Cool series looks at the various branches of engineering, provides short pertinent biographies of key engineers through the centuries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Frank Whittle, Hedy Lamar and Tim Berners-Lee, as well as the history of engineering from the invention of the wheel right up to today’s technology as used in such things as clean energy. 

There’s even a look at some future projects including innovative new building materials – whoever would have thought that encouraging mosses to grow on concrete (bio-receptive concrete) would become a good thing to do.

There are plenty of interesting experiments to try at home or school – the marshmallow tower is a fun example and can include an element of competition.

There’s so much to like about this engaging little book including the clear layout, ‘Cool facts’ boxes, quotes from the engineers featured, a timeline and alluring contents page, glossary and Jem Venn’s slightly quirky illustrations. It’s especially good in a STEM book such as this to see importance given to the sketching of ideas.

If you want children to think like engineers, then include this book in your classroom or family collection – it’s a good place to start.

When We Went Wild

When We Went Wild
Isabella Tree and Allira Tee
Ivy Kids

This is prize-winning author, conservationist and rewilder, Isabella Tree’s first book for children. Herein she describes what happens when farmers Nancy and Jake decide to convert their failing farm (the animals and even the trees look sad), and whereon they use chemicals for crop growing and machines for milking and harvesting, for something totally different – a haven for wildlife.

Nancy’s idea so to do means they can sell off all the machinery and pay off their debts. Then it’s a waiting game: soon the bare earth is covered in wild flowers, brambles and bushes,

and their animals now roaming free seem much happier.

Their neighbours though, are far from pleased and write to the local paper complaining about the messy vegetation spoiling their view.

Will Nancy and Jake have to abandon their plans and return to conventional technology-led, intensive farming? Happily not. When a storm and torrential rain hits the village everyone prepares for the worst as flash-flooding strikes across the country but that messy vegetation helps to slow and absorb the rainfall and the village is spared. A lesson learned thanks to a near disaster,

and soon everyone is going wild.

Allira Tee’s digital illustrations for this thought-provoking, important book are beautiful and from the alluring cover, every page full of engaging detail.

On the final spread, the author explains what rewilding actually is and talks a little about its importance and her own experience. (The book itself is sustainably produced).

The Good Germ Hotel

The Good Germ Hotel
Kim Sung-hwa and Kwon Soo-jin, illustrated by Kim Ryung-eon
What on Earth Books

What an unusual and entertaining way of presenting information is this dialogue between the main narrator – Colon Bacteroides – and the nine year old girl – the hotel within which it lives. This bacterium describes its role and those of its fellow bacteria explaining the various tasks they perform in the body. I wonder how many children realise that there are microbes all over the body, many good – the superheroes – and some bad too.

The narrator takes readers on a journey through the digestive system talking about what happens when food is eaten and how gut bacteria help provide energy by removing nutrients from the food consumed, and thus helping the body work and grow.
Protection from bad germs is another job for the ‘good’ bacteria but if those baddies do invade then the hotel’s army of immune cells are called into action.

At this point in the narrator’s explanation there comes, (along with the likes of stomach bugs, strep throat and cold, a brief, timely mention of the virus Covid-19.

Next is an explanation of the role of antibiotics and a discussion of how important it is that they are only prescribed when absolutely vital in case all those good bacteria are destroyed too, or the nasties learn how to become antibiotic resistant.

Alongside such examples of serious scientific topics, young readers will definitely enjoy the references to farts and poo, especially that farewell final spread from the narrator so graphically illustrated.

Indeed all the illustrations are comical and huge fun to peruse, helping to make the entire topic accessible to primary school age readers. Who ever would have thought that talking with a bacterium could be so enlightening. There’s a final glossary in case readers need to check the meaning of any of the terms used during the conversation.

Veggie Power

Veggie Power
Olaf Hajek and Annette Roeder
Prestel

Award-winning illustrator, Olaf Hajek serves up a veritable feast of deliciously inventive visual stories to relish alongside author, Annette Roeder’s taste-bud tingling verbal platters of mind-boggling textual information. Just the thing to satisfy this vegan reviewer despite her aversion to several of the root vegetables that grace the pages of this large playful book. One of them being the parsnips that along with carrots, are the subject of the first spread. I was amazed to discover that members of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra make use of these (as well as quite a few others featured herein) as musical instruments: imagine playing a carrot recorder or flute, for instance.

Over twenty vegetables are included in this culinary offering, but the author produces more than mere cooking related information: there are garnishings of historical and botanical tidbits, as well as sprinklings of health and healing- related facts.

One of my very favourite veggies is broccoli and I was vastly amused to read that it’s celebrated on not just one but two days: there’s St. Broccoli Day on March 18th and National We Love Broccoli Day just four days later on 22nd. 

I’m also extremely partial to both spinach and chard which share a spread, as well as a place in our garden. My mouth is watering at the prospect of those yummy leaves that take centre stage in Hajek’s energetic illustration of same. 

If being strictly accurate, there are a few interlopers at this veggie fest. for the tomato, as well as the peppers and chilli are botanically classified as fruit. However why exclude them when they’re usually served as vegetables?

A bountiful harvest is assuredly the result of this collaboration, albeit a lusciously quirky one. Food fun for everyone.

Planes

Planes
Jan Van Der Veken
Prestel

Whether or not you are an aviation enthusiast you can’t help being wowed by Jan Van Der Veken’s retro, futuristic style illustrations in this absorbing book that takes a look at the design (and much more) of planes from the tiny Wright Flyer of 1903 to the giant Airbus A-360-800 of 2005.

The first section – Aircraft Design, explores the principles of flight, the forces at work and the aircraft’s power and controls,

making reference to a number of specific planes as exemplars such as the Northrop YB35 Flying Wing.

Then follow, sections on Atmosphere and Weather, Communications and Navigation and The Future of Flight, which includes the prospect of the flying car.

If, like me you’ve ever sat in a plane and wondered about the flaps and ailerons on the wings that suddenly go down or up, there’s a whole spread on how each of these function complete with diagram.

I’ve been a lifelong flier, short and long haul, and have been a passenger in some small planes in weather such as dense fog, that caused me to be concerned we’d ever land safely anywhere when all we seemed to be doing was going round in circles using up precious fuel. I learned from this book that thanks to GPS, pilots can use global positioning equipment and/or radio beacons to find their way in difficult conditions.

With so much information packed between its covers, it’s pity there is no index. A great many pilots and designers are mentioned and it would have been good to have a roll call of them all; and perhaps the fact that the book’s creator is Belgian might explain the omission of such iconic planes as the Spitfire and the Harrier Jump Jet. Nonetheless this is a smashing book for older readers both at home and in school.

Antarctica: A Continent of Wonder

Antarctica: A Continent of Wonder
Mario Cuesta Hernando and Raquel Martin
Prestel

If you’ve ever wondered about taking a trip to Antarctica, then now is your chance if you accept a once-in-a-lifetime invitation from the United States Antarctic Program to accompany a research team on an expedition to the continent of penguins and the world’s lowest temperatures. You’ll sail on an oceanographic research vessel – the Polar Star – bound for the McMurdo Research Station. The subject of this large format book truly is a continent of wonders and it’s exciting to spend time with the researchers and discover what happens during their six month stay.

Many children will have heard about work being done studying the penguins, 

seals and whales that are able to thrive in the harsh climatic conditions, but are less likely to be aware that scientists are also investigating the fossil record of the continent and the secrets of life locked in the ice of its glaciers. There’s also an observatory for astronomers and research continues into the impact of global warming.

Did you know that one of the few open lava lakes is to be found at the heart of this continent, in the crater of Mount Erebus, an active volcano some 12448 feet high? I certainly didn’t. 

There is mention of the first known individuals to make landfall on Antarctica as well as details of the explorers including Amundsen and Scott who tried to reach the South Pole. 

Who owns this incredible area, you might be wondering; the answer is that it belongs to nobody, or rather no country can claim it as theirs; it belongs to everyone, including readers of this book. Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty (1959), this should ensure that international teams of scientists can continue their research for the good of all.

The book’s author, Mario Cuesta Hernando, a journalist with a special interest in adventure and nature, has himself, visited Antarctica and his enthusiasm for his subject is evident in this narrative. Raquel Martin’s dramatic land- and seascapes as well as the animal portraits capture the awesome nature of the continent.

Ideal for budding scientists and school collections in particular.

Meet the Oceans

Meet the Oceans
Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Like Caryl and Bethan’s previous collaboration Meet the Planets, this one is both full of fun and informative. Speaking in rhyme, Caryl’s young narrator invites youngsters to participate in an underwater adventure to visit the seas and oceans of the world.

The first destination is the decidedly chilly Arctic Ocean that like the other marine locations tells us directly about itself, mentioning such things as giant jellyfish, narwhals, beluga whales and walruses, as well as polar bears that pad on the ice floes.

Next to introduce itself is the Atlantic – a huge ocean so we hear, full of undersea caves, subaquatic mountains and teeming with salmon and silver swordfish, while less easy to spot, swimming among the sea grass are occasional wild manatees.

If warm waters are more to your taste, then you might decide to have a longer float around the tropical islands of the Caribbean Sea. Beneath its surface you’ll encounter all kinds of wonderfully patterned fish, as well as myriads of starfish. We can’t spend too long counting them though, for six watery worlds remain to be seen.

There’s the Pacific with its plastic pollution problem, the South China Sea with its plethora of ships and seabirds, the wonderful coral sea around the Great Barrier Reef, the Indian Ocean alive with gloriously coloured creatures waiting should you have time to step ashore …

before heading down to the Southern Ocean of the Antarctic. BRRR! Watch out for biting gales if you plan stopping at one of the research stations.

Much more frequently visited is the final watery wonder, the Mediterranean Sea: a great place for a spot of snorkelling as I recall.

With pops of day-glo colour Bethan’s distinctive visual style successfully personifies each of the watery worlds that Caryl has given voice to on this splooooshing, whooshing foray aboard a submarine.

Great for pre-bathtime sharing with youngsters as well as for foundation stage storytime sessions.

Funny Bums, Freaky Beaks

Funny Bums, Freaky Beaks
Alex Morss & Sean Taylor, illustrated by Sarah Edmonds
Welbeck Publishing

Here’s a clever idea for presenting animals to youngsters: the authors of this alluringly titled book have grouped them by their distinguishing features. In addition to bums and beaks however, there are plenty of other creatures with something special that makes them stand out from the crowd. Moreover those strange features all have a purpose and a story behind them. Those are recounted herein.

Facial features – noses – of the odd kind, extraordinary eyes, ears – weird ones, terrific teeth, so chosen for their size, shape or function, as well as tongues (the stranger the better) are explored. Sun bears, ( they’re the smallest of all bears), have dangly tongues the length of which is a quarter of the creatures’ height. Why? you might wonder. As well as it being essential for obtaining food, a sun bear uses its tongue for grooming purposes.

So what do a blue bird of paradise, a luna moth, a scorpion rattlesnake, a Willani sea slug and a young hoverfly have in common? They all have ‘stunning tails’ – I certainly would never have guessed that. Strictly speaking though, the baby hoverflies’ ‘tails’ are actually breathing tubes used during their early underwater lives.

Necks (perplexing) and toes (puzzling) are also presented. We probably all know about the very long neck a giraffe has but I was amazed to know that it has the same number of neck bones as a mouse; and imagine having toes that you can stretch wider and longer than your entire body like a jacana – very useful if you want to appear to be walking over water.

The authors have found at least ten creatures to include in each of their ten groups and every one has an explanatory paragraph and a gently humorous illustration – some of them are downright alarming-looking.

Compelling reading for wild animal enthusiasts, as well as for budding zoologists and celebrators of difference.

I am a Fish / Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants

I am a Fish
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin
Little Tiger

This is a companion volume to I am a Bird from the same team. Using an un-named fish, youngsters are introduced to the general characteristics of a fish and then dive underwater to discover a variety of aquatic habitats and learn something of fishes’ habits (we meet both herbivores and carnivores),

shapes, size and distinguishing features. Mention is made that ‘rays don’t have bones’ but that they and the sharks illustrated alongside, are cartilaginous fish is not stated.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not fish sleep, this subject is discussed on another of the vibrant spreads while another spread introduces seahorses, which some little ones might be surprised to discover are actually classed as fish.
The chatty narrative and arresting subaquatic scenes make this a book for early years audiences and foundation stage topic boxes.

Birch Trees, Bluebells and other British Plants
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow

Here’s a gorgeous ‘Nature Sticker Books’ to lift the spirits. Published in collaboration with the National Trust, it contains eleven beautiful scenes by Nikki Dyson that are brimming over with the bounties of nature whatever the season.

It starts with spring and its gorgeous insect-attracting blossom and wild flowers aplenty. Summer scenes show gardens are full of bright flowers and butterflies, as well as meadows of poppies, daisies and other composites. Summer’s a good time to visit a pond or perhaps the coast: those locations too, have a wealth of beautiful wild plants and birds. Come autumn ripening berries are waiting to be gathered and the deciduous trees take on their yellow, orange and red hues while in gardens and allotments there are vegetables aplenty as well as herbs to pick and you’re likely to come across lots of minibeasts that also like to have a nibble.
Finally winter comes around when there is much less colour but there are still wonderful flora and fauna to discover when you brave those chills.

Each spread has a couple of introductory factual paragraphs as well as suggestions for adding some of the relevant stickers provided in the centre of the book. There’s also a checklist of the plants in the book so young naturalists can enjoy an additional I-spy element.

So You Think You’ve Got it Bad: A Kid’s Life in the Aztec Age

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

This the latest in an excellent fun history series written by the award winning Chae Strathie and developed in consultations with British Museum experts, reveals what it was really like to be a child in the Aztec age..
Covering the topics one’s come to expect of the series – clothing and hairstyles, education, diet, the home, family life, health and medicine as well as some you might not, such as human sacrifice (it could happen just for being a member of a losing team), this truly is horrible history made highly visual.

Imagine – or preferably don’t unless you want to puke – being fed maggots, tadpoles, lizards and the like, or a cake made with blue green algae containing masses of water fly eggs – gross! It wasn’t all revolting though; there were occasional tomatoes and beans. This vegan reviewer would surely have gone hungry much of the time.

Can you contemplate being stretched by the neck in a special ceremony every four years – a very strange way to demonstrate parental love but it happened; and then being likened to jade, a precious gem stone: talk about mixed messages.

As for schooling, modern youngsters might love the idea of not starting school until you’re in your teens, but it happened to Aztec children, who were home schooled up until then – sounds familiar! As does the dual system of one kind of school for the rich, another for the poorer families.

When I taught KS2 classes, children were always especially fascinated by the Aztecs and I have no doubt if I’d had this book there would have been a queue of eager readers waiting to get their hands on it. Marisa Morea brings all the gory details to life in her wealth of illustrations that illuminate the text.

Eco Craft Book / The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself

Eco Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

In their latest book, Laura and Tia offer some cool ideas for using bits and pieces that might otherwise end up being thrown away.

Instead of consigning that old T-shirt or other no longer worn garments to the rubbish or recycling bin, why not suggest your children try a project like the T-shirt friendship bracelets here.

Alternatively, if the T-shirt is white, it can be dyed using a natural plant dye and refashioned into a ‘no-sew tie-dye bag’. Those are just two of the fabric projects.

Getting even closer to nature, youngsters can make a collection of interesting shaped leaves, grasses or perhaps feathers and use them to make some printed cards (or perhaps wrapping paper)

and if you want to attract more wildlife into your garden, there are instructions for creating a bug hotel using for example, old tin cans.

Each mini project is succinctly explained with step-by-step guidance and clearly illustrated with colour photos. In addition there are spreads that talk about climate change, what youngsters can do to help protect the environment and why it is important to immerse children in nature.

This book would be a boon to parents who are coping with home schooling, but all of us who work with children have a duty to nurture their creativity and to encourage them to think about the impact on the environment of all they do.

The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself
Susan Hayes & Penny Arlon, illustrated by Pintachan
Red Shed ((Egmont)

If you’re looking to engage a child or children in some environmental projects here’s a book to try. It’s packed with eco-projects – thirty in all – and each page (as well as the cover) is cleverly designed to be used in an activity – hence the title.

It’s amazing just how much difference simple everyday actions such as turning off the lights when you leave a room, and at night can make, not only for the safety of animals but to reduce electricity consumption. Ditto, saving water by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or using your bath water to ‘feed’ your plants (of course that takes a bit of effort but every drip and drop counts). There’s a Make a Difference in your home’ page with additional suggestions .

One of my favourite projects is Throw a seed ball to rewild a built-up area, something I’ve never tried, although I have scattered plenty of packets of wild flower seeds. This is really clever though and all that’s needed in addition to wild flower seeds are water, flour and soil to make your mixture. Can’t wait to have a go at this.

(The reverse side suggests making seed paper for writing a message on – another clever idea.)

Whether or not home schooling continues, this is certainly worth getting hold of.

What Did the Tree See?

What Did the Tree See?
Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher
Welbeck Publishing

Oak trees are wondrous things. With its spreading branches to climb and a resident owl, I was endlessly fascinated as a child by the large one growing in our garden. They’re also well known for their exceptionally long life spans.
Not primarily a natural history book but rather, using the oak as a chronicler of the landscape wherein it grows, Charlotte Guillain has written a sequence of verses telling how an unnamed place somewhere in the UK has grown from a small village in the days of yore

to a vast industrial coastal city.

From its beginning ‘I was first an acorn, so tiny and round, / I fell from a branch and sank into the ground. / Then as I grew up, I turned into a tree … / over hundreds of years! So what did I see?’ Sam Usher’s fine illustrations make evident what it did see, showing just how much a landscape is altered by the action of humans,

in stark contrast to the oak, the life cycle of which we witness both in words and pictures.

The final few pages chronicle significant events in world history and their dates occurring during the life span of our narrating oak, the life cycle of an oak tree and suggestions for children to investigate the history of their own locality, as well as finding out more about trees and the life they might support.

With its unusual approach, this is an engrossing book to share and talk about with primary age children. I particularly like the way the oak’s own story comes full circle.

Moreover it could be an absolute boon for home-schooling parents (COVID even gets a mention in the timeline.)

Kaleidoscope of Creatures

Kaleidoscope of Creatures
Cath Ard and Greer Stothers
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a fascinating look at the reasons underlying the amazing hues, patterns and textures (feather, fur and scales) of members of the animal kingdom.

After a general introduction, the opening spreads are devoted in turn, to an animal family tree that gives information about the characteristics each group has in common, followed by a close-up look at different examples of body coverings – fur, scales – reptilian and fish – and feathers.

Thereafter come a series of spreads where animals – both well known and unusual species – are grouped by the colour of their outer covering (brief explanations are given) be that red,

orange or pink, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet, black, white, black and white.
Red for instance may act as a warning as in the red velvet mite whose silky hairs indicate to predators ‘I taste horrible’, as does the body of a scarlet lily beetle. Whereas being green often helps a creature remain unseen be it a forest dweller or one that lives in the sea.

Also helping some animals to stay unseen are designs such as spots and stripes and these are the titles of two further spreads.
Most of us know male peacocks have those amazing tail feathers that open into a stunning fan shape in order to attract a mate, but did you know that to attract a mate, male green iguanas turn carrot-coloured?

Every spread is visually arresting thanks to Greer Stothers’ pleasingly arranged arrays of fabulous fauna each one of which is labelled, with most having accompanying salient facts.

For budding zoologists and school topic boxes, I suggest.

Amazing Treasures

Amazing Treasures
David Long and Muti
What on Earth Books

In this the second in the Our Amazing World series David Long presents a veritable wealth of amazing things in his mind boggling assortment of 100+ objects and places.

Some are naturally occurring, others are not and the author’s definition of treasure is sufficiently broad to encompass personal items such as a photograph and a favourite book; the tulip fields of Holland, the Lascaux cave paintings, the Amazon Rainforest, moon rocks (some of which have gone missing) and Bugatti cars from the Schlumpf collection.

Items such as the cars, and the abandoned city of Machu Picchu in the Andes are given just a paragraph, whereas Tikal the ancient Mayan site,

and China’s Forbidden City each have an entire double spread devoted to them. There’s also a world map gatefold as the centre spread that when open shows a list of all the 105 items included.

No matter whether your interest is in architecture, fossils, rocks and gems or the natural world, readers will likely find something new to wonder over here.

The Muti team has used a relatively subdued colour palette for their illustrations most of which are relatively close up depictions; others including Windsor Castle,

Machu Picchu and Masada are shown in aerial views of different sizes.

With topics both ancient and modern (ownership for instance), this fascinating book is one to include in KS2 class collections particularly.

Marvellous Machines

Marvellous Machines
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

This book comes with a detachable ‘magic lens’ embedded inside its front cover that enables readers to look into buildings and the inner workings of all manner of mechanical things large and small, relatively simple as well as highly complex.

This is achieved by focussing the lens on the areas of red patterning (stippling, cross hatching or brickwork) which then disappears to show such things as the energy connections powering all kinds of machines in the kitchen, robots at work,

the insides of a container ship, a submarine, a space station …

and even a human body.

The book concludes with some thought-provoking questions.

Mechanically-minded youngsters especially will love the opportunity to peek into various components of a space station and to use the lens to hunt for the dozen items listed in the ‘find it’ panel on the relevant spread, or to do likewise in and around the cyclists on the jet aeroplane and “Bicycle’ spreads.

As well as anything else, this book reminds younger users of the enormous wealth of machines we rely on in our daily lives and to discover something about how they function.

Made for Each Other

Made for Each Other
Joanna McInerney, illustrated by Georgina Taylor
Big Picture Press

Joanna McInerney explores the symbiotic relationships – evolved interactions – that exist between different organisms living close together often for their mutual benefit. Using examples between animal and plant, and between two kinds of animal, she takes readers to various forest locations, beneath the waves, onto the plains and to tropical jungles and rainforests presenting different kinds of symbiotic relationships.

One instance of mutualistic symbiosis is that between the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and cardinal flowers. These red flowers are one of the birds’ favourite sources of nectar, while their tubular shape is well-suited to accommodate the birds’ beaks. A hummingbird hovers in the air, wings beating and as well as feeding on their nectar, the birds collect pollen from the cardinal flowers, transferring it to another on the next feeding stop. Over time these two species have become almost entirely dependent on one another for survival.


Another example of non-insect pollination is that of the balsa tree flowers carried out by the white-headed capuchin monkeys living in the Ecuadorian rainforest treetops. The process of evolution has ensured that as much pollen dust as possible is transferred when the monkeys feed from flower to flower.

Moving under water, we learn that remora fish have a specially adapted dorsal fin that functions as a sucker by which the fish attach themselves to sharks and thus conserve energy while at the same time feeding on the leftovers of their carrier sharks. In return the hosts receive what the author terms ‘a type of exclusive spa treatment’ with the remoras nibbling at dead skin and shark parasites.

On the Serengeti plains of Eastern Africa can be found one of the most well-known symbiotic relationships: that between the little oxpecker birds and giraffes. The former tend to spend much of their time close to their hosts and use their curved beaks to remove giraffe parasites. Using their two backward-facing toes to cling even to moving giraffes they also keep a watch for predatory animals. The oxpeckers make use of giraffe hair that which they pluck from their hosts to line their nests.

Each of these examples, as well as the other seventeen, are strikingly illustrated by Georgina Taylor. Every one of her artful watercolour compositions of her subjects are reminiscent of Audobon, the 19th century ornithologist and painter.

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé / If You’re Going to a March!

Little People, Big Dreams: Pelé
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Camila Rosa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This new addition to the best-selling series stars one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players, telling of both his awesome skills on the field and his sterling work off the pitch in helping children in need, not only in his home country Brazil, but the world over.

From modest beginnings in a poor neighbourhood in Brazil, young Edson aka, Pelé fashioned a ball from a sock stuffed with paper and tied with string and used it to work on his footie skills.

Fuelled with a determination to lead his country to a World Cup victory, he was selected at age sixteen to play for the national team in Sweden where he became known as the player of ‘Jogo Bonito’ (‘beautiful game’)

Pele went on to take his country to another two World Cup victories. He’s now recognised as the top footballer who ever lived as well as a voice for unity and for the most needy.

With additional facts at the back of the book, set out along a timeline, and Camila Rosa’s striking illustrations, this is a book to inform and inspire young sports enthusiasts especially.

If You’re Going to a March
Martha Freeman and Violet Kim
Sterling Children’s Books

Although this book originated in the USA, there are plenty of young activists and would-be activists in the UK and in many other countries too; this book with its reader-friendly advice and instructions, will speak to them all, whether their cause is civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, gay rights, peace or whatever. And, children start very young: during my participation in pro EU marches I encountered babes in slings accompanied by parents and young siblings.

There’s advice on such practicalities as making your own sign,

appropriate clothing (check the weather forecast), transport to starting point; plus warnings about such possibilities as getting a bit bored if lots of people want to make speeches; feeling free to let go and dance should the opportunity arise; how to interact with the media; even visiting the loo is covered; (perhaps the spread with the smiling police officers ‘their job is to keep people safe’ is probably more apt for the UK than that of the book’s origins).

The author and illustrator also present the ‘why’ behind marches, rallies and protesting – ‘they are showing they care about their country and want to make things better’, as well as pointing out the possibility of seeing people who disagree with your cause – ‘sometimes democracy looks like disagreement’ and advising politeness. With its focus on the practical and positive elements of activism, this book is a good starting point for adults wanting to introduce the possibilities of political involvement, peaceful protest and community action to youngsters.

I love the way Violet Kim conveys a community feel to her scenes throughout.

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History
Nicholas O’Neill & Susan Hayes, illustrated by Ruby Taylor
What on Earth Books

This large format, concertina book is published in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Essentially it opens up the entire world of music to all whether or not they have a specific interest in music and is written by Nicholas O’Neill, himself an acclaimed musician and composer and author Susan Hayes. Together with illustrator Ruby Taylor, they present a superb illustrated timeline that unfolds to double-sided 2.5 metres beginning in prehistoric times with the use of bones, gourds, and hooves, and culminating in contemporary music of Björk, Adele, Beyonce and Grime artist Stormsy.

Pretty much everything one can imagine relating to music as well as more that you can’t, is included in the densely packed pages. Truly international in perspective, the presentation begins with a world map showing prehistoric sounds emanating not only from instruments from the aforementioned materials but also perhaps, from wood.

We meet music makers of all kinds – maestros and more – mainly in national or period dress. There are pithy paragraphs about such things as written music from 1000 CE, the first printed music (1501), styles of music, the use of technology in playing and recording

and various innovations including the Chinabot platform that showcases Asian music both modern and traditional, as well as MuseNet – an online tool that uses AI so create songs of different styles.

The book covers orchestral music, opera, rock -‘n’-roll, protest music and there are some lesser known mentions such as opera founder Wei Liangfu; and American composer Amy Beach and English composer Ethel Smyth whose March of the Women became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.

Some musicians have a paragraph,

while the Beatles have a whole page devoted to them, and there’s a double spread entitled the Royal Albert Hall of Fame.

There’s no way you can read, let alone digest, the entire contents of this inclusive and highly visual offering in a single sitting. It’s engrossing; and in addition to the index and glossary, the authors provide personal notes and even, a final playlist. All in all, a truly amazing collaboration and a book to add to primary and secondary collections, as well as family bookshelves.

Wild is the Wind

Wild is the Wind
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

This is a story of a journey or perhaps, several journeys – that of young Cassi in her hot air balloon, that of the little swift she has nursed until its wings are strong enough to take to the sky and join its fellows on their path across land and sea, a journey of eight thousand miles, that takes three months to complete; and of course, there’s the path of the wind.

As the morning sun rises in Southern Africa, the world is temporarily on hold until a breeze stirs the leaves and the seeds in the butterfly trees. Then with the strengthening of the wind, it’s time to let go of the tiny winged creature and allow it to join its fellow travellers on a prodigious migratory journey

as a cyclone swirls, spirals and howls, whipping the waves into wild white horses.

Then on over deserts and rocky terrain sculpted by windstorms until at last, the swifts are nearing their destination on the other side of the ocean. And there, without pausing once, Cassie’s little swift and the others are greeted in China by Kûn who has long awaited their appearance.

There too, will they build their nests and rear their young until, once again the wild wind calls them to make their return journey to that little girl so far, far away on distant shores.

With Grahame Baker-Smith’s spare lyrical prose in combination with his equally lyrical, breath taking, powerfully atmospheric, detailed illustrations, Wild is the Wind is narrative non-fiction at its memorable best.

Queens

Queens
Victoria Crossman
Scholastic

From pirate queens to elephant hunters, and spanning thirty centuries, this book is a celebration of strong, fearless women from all around the world who ruled in one way or another. There are some, such as the Indian Queen Nur Jahan, said to have saved a whole village from a man-eating tiger by shooting it, and the third century ruler in Japan, Empress Himoko believed to have been a magic practising shaman, who are the subject of folklore. Then there’s the mysterious Queen of Sheba (Queen Makeda) who is mentioned in the Qu’ran and the Bible with both Ethopia and Yemen claiming to be her birth country.

There are alternating focuses on an individual – the Queen of Sheba, Lady K’Abe; Mayan warrior queen whose rule was from 672 to 692

and Yaa Asantewaa who led a rebellion against British colonists trying to expand into Ashanti country (1840-1921) – for instance.

In between are topical spreads that include information about queens depicted on money, their clothing and footwear,

make-up, pets, hobbies and more. I was fascinated to discover Rani Lakshmibai reportedly had a pre-breakfast regime of weightlifting and wrestling, while Queen Rania of Jordan has written a children’s book.

The author’s style of writing is chatty and full of interesting facts, while the illustrations are inviting, vibrant and detailed.

The last few spreads are devoted to a visual timeline of the rulers, a world map showing their homelands, a glossary, and a list of places to visit should readers be interested to discover more about the featured women.

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t
Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay
NorthSouth Books

You’ll find it hard not to fall for the racehorse that stars in this true picture book story; I say stars because despite expectations Zippy Chippy never won a single race. Thoroughbred from champion genes, Zippy loved to run but his behaviour on the track was totally unpredictable: sometimes he merely stood and never ran at all, on another occasion he stopped dead in the middle of the track to enjoy the wonderful smells in the air.

After nineteen losses his owner trades him for a truck and then – new trainer not withstanding – fuelled by sweet goodies – Zippy is relegated to the second-rate races breaking the record for the most consecutive losses. However, Felix (the new owner/ trainer) doesn’t give up easily and a year later, Zippy (apparently a lover of being a racehorse despite his ineptitude) is given yet another chance and another and …

Winner he might not be, but Zippy certainly caught people’s attention including his trainer’s young daughter and later on, press sportswriters and the crowds that came to cheer him on. Determined to make the horse a winner, Felix sets up a race against a baseball player and guess who wins …

Down but not entirely out, Zippy comes in second in race number ninety-eight but come race one hundred, he brings up the rear – again! But does Zippy go out quietly and unobtrusively? Absolutely not, for after the starting bell, before taking a single step in the race, he entertains the crowd with a final farewell, bowing out gracefully to tearful onlookers.

A legend indeed, but what he showed not only those involved in horse racing, but readers and listeners too, as author Artie Bennett writes, ‘you can lose and lose and lose and still be a winner.’ Zippy’s attitude is ultimately what counts: you don’t need to be a winner to be loved, being best isn’t THE most important thing, taking part is. In other words, be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to walk your own path: such a great message to give children.

With their changing perspectives, Dave Szalay’s zany illustrations will surely make readers chuckle, capturing both the spirit of the horse, and the heartfelt humour, love and perseverance inherent in Artie’s writing about Zippy.

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery
Eugenia Cheng and Aleksandra Artymowska
Big Picture Press

There are challenges aplenty in mathematician and maths advocate and demystifier Eugenia Chen’s picture book for older primary children. In collaboration with illustrator Aleksandra Artymowska she presents a plethora of mind-boggling mathematical ideas in a creative and enormously alluring mystery story that involves readers who join Molly in a series of challenges as she ventures forth into a weird world where everything is other than it appears.

If you are one of those people who when somebody says the word ‘maths’, thinks of times tables and numerical problems, then this interactive journey will surely show you that it’s about SO much more, most importantly about imagination.

With letters to read, clues to find, flaps to explore, wheels to manoeuvre, and an absolute wealth of mathematical information at the end of the story, this incredible book will have you confounded, bemused, astonished and absorbed.

Aleksandra Artymowska has packed so much into every double spread scene, be it the impossible staircase,

the garden of hidden shapes with its tessellations, that hall of endless doors with their intricate patterns, the steam room with its plethora of pipes, wheels and vents, the room adorned with carpets of awesome designs. Then come the mixed-up library where you’ll love to linger among the books of all sizes, the beautiful symmetry garden,

the high-walled fractal garden or the scene that shows Molly all the places she’s visited or even her very own bedroom at home wherein the adventure starts and concludes.

Highly recommended for school and home.

Fact and Fiction for your Early Years Bookshelves

All Kinds of Families
Sophy Henn
Red Shed (Egmont)

No two human families are exactly alike but assuredly each of them is special in its own way. So it is for animal families and that’s what Sophy explores in this picturebook as she portrays various ways of parenting in the animal kingdom.

Orang-utan mothers are solely responsible for looking after their young and look after their offspring longer than any other animal parent. In contrast, it’s the emu father that tends the eggs and raises the chicks. 

Clownfish males and females share the care of the little ones – sometimes a mother can lay as many as 1000 eggs, so it’s no easy task, and that’s alongside keeping the home clean for the eggs.

I was interested to learn that in a Long-tailed tit family as many as twenty birds might live together with older infants helping to care for the younger ones. Come winter they can all snuggle together to keep warm. 

Elephants do things completely differently living in large family groups. A senior female takes charge, sharing her knowledge with younger members of the family and all the elephants look after the babies.

Young humans will also find information about the long-living Orca whale families, learn that sometimes two female albatrosses pair up and raise chicks, as well as that for example among cheetahs, little ones without a family might be adopted and reared by two males 

and that Meerkats live in communities.

The final spreads are devoted to first a family portrait gallery and then a double page giving a factual paragraph about each of the animals whose family has been featured. Sophy emphasises that love is key, no matter what in this gorgeously illustrated, first celebratory look at the diversity of family life.

Recommended for foundation stage settings and families with young children.

The Golden Treasure
Marie Voigt
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

As young Max considers whether or not to take his soft toy dog, Toffee to school for show and tell, he spies something glowing high up on the ‘Unreachable Shelf’. It looks like a treasure chest and having wished he could reach it the boy finds himself and Toffee embarking on a magical quest to reach the Golden Treasure. First they convince a knight of their worthiness to continue on their way through the Land of the Brave, 

then comes a challenge by a racing car driver in the Land of the Fast, followed by another from a scornful unicorn in the Land of the Shiny. 

With Toffee’s morale-boosting support and his own bravery, the two finally reach the chest and open it. Then comes a surprising revelation: the greatest of all treasures isn’t what Max was expecting. Now though he has no doubt as to what he’ll be taking for that show and tell session.

This simple fantasy is essentially a tale of friendship, valuing and appreciating what you already have, self-belief and not letting others influence your confidence to make your own decisions. Marie’s glowing illustrations are suffused with warmth, light and a feeling of magic. Young listeners will especially enjoy the various characters Max and Toffee encounter on their journey.

Who’s Driving? / What a Ship Sees

Who’s Driving?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

Toddlers and pre-schoolers will absolutely love playing this matching /prediction game wherein Leo Timmers invites them to guess ‘Who’s driving …’ – in the first instance the fire-engine – from the animal character line up on the verso each clutching a key and hastening towards the vehicle shown on the recto. Turn the page ‘wheeooh wheeooh wheeooh’ and the answer is revealed along with the vehicle’s destination. (Sharp-eyed youngsters will likely have spotted some of the clues as to the driver on the first spread.)

A different four animals appear as possible drivers for each of the new vehicles depicted – the limousine, the racing car,

the tractor, the convertible, the jeep and finally, the aeroplane.

There’s an element of the Hare and the Tortoise fable here too, though probably only appreciated by adults. Little ones will love the explosive onomatopoeic, sound-making opportunities that seemingly make the vehicles whizz right off the pages; and the unlikely drivers depicted in Timmers’ acrylic illustrations. Both visual skills and observation skills will certainly have been stretched too after sharing this.

What a wealth of learning potential there is in this fun little book: it’s a must for nursery/preschool settings and enormous fun for home too.

What A Ship Sees
Laura Knowles and Vivian Mineker
Welbeck Publishing

In this cleverly designed concertina book, we follow the journey of a little red ship as it sets out from the jetty on a voyage across the sea. This is no smooth journey though as a storm blows up shortly after the boat has passed a desert island, but all is well and the sailors pause for a while to help remove some of the floating plastic litter before continuing to move north to chilly waters and finally reaching home shores once more.

During the unfolding trip guided by Laura Knowles chatty style narrative, youngsters can enjoy spotting in Vivian Mineker’s illustrations, various sea craft – fishing vessels, a tanker and an enormous cruise ship, as well as dancing dolphins, a shoal of flying fish,

and the changing weather.

There’s a wealth of talk and story-telling potential in the 2.5 metre long unfolding drama, on the reverse side of which is a cutaway of the little red boat, as well as individual elements of the journey along with further information about each one be that ocean fauna, nautical communication,

safety, or ships and boats.

How to be a Bug Warrior

How to be a Bug Warrior
written by Stephanie Stahl, illustrated by Loyal Kids
Little Steps Publishing

Young Danny Dino is fed up. His mum insists that if he wants to go and play with his pals in the park, he must wear a mask since many Dinoville residents have been ill recently. Off they all go: his friends don masks but not so Danny who claims he is uncomfortable and he can’t breathe.
Then along comes another friend who sneezes sending her germs all over the other little dinosaurs.

Back at home Danny’s Dino Mummy serves up some yummy chocolate muffins; his pals all go off and wash their hands; Danny merely starts stuffing cake into his mouth.

A few days later, Danny feels poorly – he’s sneezy, feverish and has a sore throat. Dr Pterosaur pays a call and hears about Danny’s maskless foray to the park. Flu is his diagnosis and a stay in bed to rest.

Once he’s somewhat recovered his friends pay a visit as does the doc. who explains why it was only Danny who caught the virus. He goes on to tell them all about the importance of correct hand washing – the ‘seven-step super handwash’ and other ways to help prevent the spread of any viruses that might be circulating. After a week Danny is up and about and determined to stick to his hand-washing regime.

After the story – yes, it’s didactic – but extremely important and full of wise words, come several spreads about viruses,

with reference to Covid-19 as well as a quiz and a page of tips on protecting oneself and others.

With those sure to be popular characters, and a highly relatable story, this is a book to share with youngsters both at home and in foundation stage classrooms and nurseries.

Timeline: Science & Technology

Timeline: Science & Technology
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

If you’re looking for a book that presents the scientific accomplishments of humankind, from Paleolithic times to the present day, then this large format offering should fit the bill. Concisely written, it’s absolutely packed with exciting information starting right back in the Stone Ages when mankind learned how to make fire, moving on to the Copper or Chalcolithic Age (copper being the first metal humans made use of) when people were starting to develop farming techniques such as crop-growing, and when towns began.

Then come the first civilisations and Peter Goes shows the contribution of each to the evolution of technology and science. There’s Mesopotamia with a medical manual from ancient Babylon,

the Americas, the Indus Valley civilisation or Harrapan Culture – when there were some large cities with brick houses and sophisticated sanitation and drainage systems. (I was pleased to see this having once visited and written about, the Lothal site in India’s Gujarat state.)

There’s a look at Ancient Egypt, the first Chinese, Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires with both general information and some closer detail about each era.

By now some readers might be thinking, surely technology is about computers, mobile phones and satellites? But the roots of all these technological wonders lies way back in the Stone Age.

Each double spread displays an era, century or, once we get to the 20th/21st centuries, a decade,

ending up with a look at the development of artificial intelligence (AI).

With each spread having a different colour background, Peter Goes’ graphic art is alluring and playfully immersive, making it overall more of a visual history presentation. It’s good to see a fair number of women included such as German astronomer Maria Margaretha Kirch (18th C), mathematician and first computer programmer Ada Lovelace (early 19th C), Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin (1950s) and Stephanie Kwolek (1960s). (Wish there’d been an index.)

Recommended for home and school use. Browse for hours: You’re sure to learn something wherever, whenever you stop.

Counting Creatures

Counting Creatures
Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
Two Hoots

Gorgeous illustrations of adult animals and their young by Sharon King-Chai accompanied by an expertly constructed rhyming narrative by Julia Donaldson make for a terrific book to share with young humans who will want to spend ages pouring over the wonderful details on every spread. There are cut-away pages, die-cuts, fold-outs and flaps that are part and parcel of such scenes as the flying bat with a wing covering just 1 baby, a sheep with 2 baby lambs (one eating, the other bleating), a leopard with 3 tottering, swaying, punching, playing cubs.

Particularly striking is the seemingly lone wild dog behind which are hidden 4 pups, two nosing and nestling the other two writhing and wrestling.

Having reached 10 (piglets) the numbers go up in 5s, so next comes a turkey with 15 poults either peeping or cheeping and the question (repeated each time), ‘Who has more babies than that?’. In this instance the answer is ‘This butterfly’ whose wings cover 20 munching caterpillars, followed by a frog on a lily pad where beneath another there are 25 wriggling squiggling wiggling tadpoles.

The final two spreads serve to send readers hunting back through all the pages to locate ‘LOTS of spiderlings that Julia informs are ‘all over this book.’ (Surely not literally! I hear you cry!) Plus another quite challenging question to answer.

Hours of pure pleasure for adult sharers and their young ones, who will certainly need no persuading to peruse the pages that show the various animals, their habits and their habitats, as well as doing the intended counting on their wildlife journey.

Why? / It Isn’t Rude to be Nude

Why?
Billy Dunne and Rhys Jeffreys
Maverick Publishing

Young children are innately curious about the world around them, always asking questions and wanting to discover new things. So it is here with the girl who is out walking with her dad when he points out a rainbow in the sky saying, “You get them when the rain has passed and the sunshine comes instead.”
“Why?” comes the girl’s softly spoken response. This precipitates a sequence of further questions “Why?” followed by explanations from Dad who speaks first of colours in a light beam being split when they pass through rainy weather;

then the fact that blue light bends a little more than red.
The next “Why” invokes an explanation of this fact. The girl’s whys intensify and Dad moves on to more sophisticated talk. After which the poor fellow is feeling somewhat frazzled and in need of a rest. But still comes another “Why?”

What the guy says in response gets right to the crux of the complex matter but story spoiler I won’t be, so I’ll leave you to wonder or ponder upon this – unless of course you’ve sufficient knowledge of physics to answer for yourself. Whatever the case, his daughter is delighted, and all ends satisfactorily – just about!
Just right for youngsters eager to find out about their world (rainbows in particular) and their weary adult responders.

Billy Dunne’s rhyming narrative making accessible some tricky science, is easy to read aloud (great final throwaway comment from the daughter) and is well complemented by Rhys Jefferys’ illustrations. I love the way he shows the changing expressions of the father as he does his utmost to keep up with and ahead of, his daughter’s “Why”s and his wordless spread showing ‘The complex composition of the photon field’ is a complete contrast to the relatively spare previous ones.

It Isn’t Rude to be Nude
Rosie Haine
Tate Publishing

Open this debut book of Rosie Haines and almost immediately you’re faced with this spread with bums

after which we see nipples (normal things), ‘willies’ (not silly) and vulvas. Thereafter come changes to some parts – boobs might grow, and hair (don’t be scared).
On view too are bodies of all kinds and a variety of body colours and markings

as well as hair (or lack of it). We’re shown people whose bodies stand, sit, or leap and dance, and sometimes strut across the spreads

all with one object in mind – to promote body positivity and to show how bodies change over time as we grow and get older.

Children for the most part do have a positive and healthy attitude to nudity; it’s often the attitudes of adults that trigger those feelings of shame about the naked form and being naked. So, it’s three rousing cheers for Rosie’s book illustrated with a wonderfully warm colour palette and a pleasing fluidity of line.

Timelines From Black History

Timelines from Black History
Dorling Kindersley
illustrated by Lauren Quinn

In her foreword to this powerful and important book, Mireille Harper states, ‘Black history has been overlooked and minimised in every area of society, and even worse often erased. Yet, the contributions of Black people to society influence every part of how we live, from the art and culture we consume,

to the rights we have.’ How true and how shameful that our society has allowed the continuing hostility, racism and discrimination to continue; thank goodness then for the Black Lives Matter movement and for all the awesome people featured and celebrated in this book. Now more than ever it’s time for change and we can all be a part of that change.

What an absolute wealth of information is packed between the covers of this inspiring book that features both the people and the vital events that have shaped and embody, Black History.

We start right back at the origins of the human race with information explaining how the whole human story began in Africa and the journey takes us from this prehistory through to modern times.

Did you know for example that, thanks to the exceptionally brave empress, Taytu Betul, Ethopia was one of only two African countries not colonised? Or that inventor, engineer and writer, Lewis Howard Latimer invented and patented a carbon filament that allows a light bulb to last much longer than did the paper one used in Edison’s design? (That was something I learned from this book).

There are more than thirty visual biographical timelines that present writers, scientists, activists, royalty, singers and musicians, sportsmen and sportswomen some famous, others less so, as well as those explaining the experiences of black people in the United States and in Africa through to post-colonial times. You can find out about some of the achievements of ancient African kingdoms as well as those of the Civil Rights movement in the United States including the father of that movement, Frederick Douglass. Some of my all-time heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama

and Wangari Maathai are included.

This is a book that should be used in all KS2 classrooms and secondary school history departments.

Climate Emergency Atlas

Climate Emergency Atlas
Dan Hooke et al.
DK (Penguin Random House)

There is no getting away from it: Planet Earth is facing a horrifying climate emergency and we humans have only a few years in which to act before the destruction we are wreaking is irreparable.

Divided into four sections, it’s first explained to readers How Earth’s climate works, this is followed by a look at the causes of climate change; then comes the impacts of climate change. This part really is a wake-up call with pages such as those on the Burning of fossil fuels (though it’s good to read that Germany’s emissions of greenhouse gases have decreased over the last 30 years).

We also see the effects of extreme weather in both humans and the natural world where sea levels are rising, and with the oceans getting warmer there’s devastating coral bleaching and danger to enormous numbers of marine fauna and flora.

There’s a spread on the Australian bushfires, another looking at and locating endangered ecosystems the world over, while Livelihoods in peril explores the impact of climate change on countless numbers of people who are forced to leave their homes on account of storms, drought, rising sea levels and fires.

The final section, Action on climate change, demonstrates that there is much we can do to halt this catastrophic climate change, stressing that we have to act quickly to cut greenhouse emissions, not only at a government level but also as individual humans. We can all play our part by becoming activists, changing to diets that help reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, (there’s a Planet-friendly eating spread) by recycling and reusing rather than buying new unnecessarily, by planting more trees (the right kinds) and much more.

I was awed by reading about what the city of Copenhagen has done and is doing as part of it mission to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. The book ends with a look at how by saving energy, growing green, and other acts we can all play our part. All is not lost; it’s both our individual and our collective responsibility; with a foreword by environmental scientist, Liz Bonnin, this book is surely another rallying cry to ACT and keep on acting today, tomorrow and every day …

Both primary and secondary schools need at least one copy.

The Secret Life of Trees

The Secret Life of Trees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

Oakheart the Brave, oldest tree in the forest wherein it stands, acts as narrator of this revealing look at what happens beneath the bark and ‘neath the branches, below the roots even, of trees –arguably THE most important life form on our planet. Some of what we read contains truth in the form of fiction, some is fact.

To begin this fascinating book, Oakheart tells of how a marauding mouse seizes the acorn containing the very seed from which emerges the little shoot that is to become our enormous narrator.

He goes on to regale readers with arboreal tales including a version of an Indian one, The Banyan Tree, as well as The Sky-High Tree from Hungary

and some season-related stories: from Scotland comes The Fairy Tree, from Norway, The Summer Storm and with its autumnal setting we have The Tree of Life from Persia, while the final tree tale Magic in the Forest comes from Britain and is a legend about the wizard , Merlin.

There’s plenty of science too, relating to photosynthesis;

facts and figures about the oak’s growth; information about its animal inhabitants – small and very small; how trees communicate; seasonal change is discussed and much more, concluding with the all-important How to be Tree-Happy that explains briefly how to care for our precious trees and how you might grow one yourself.

Moira’s mix of information and story works wonderfully so the book should have a wide appeal; every spread offers an exciting visual experience too. I love the different viewpoints and clever ways of presenting information such as that of Secrets Inside Us.

Thank you Oakheart for your special gift.

5 Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime

5 Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime
Sally Symes, Jackie McCann, Jen Arena, Rachel Valentine & various illustrators
Britannica Books

This is an unusual take on bedtime reading: an assortment of thirty narrative non-fiction stories each one with a bedtime connection.
From a hospital visit to see what happens in an accident and emergency department, the maternity ward and other parts where people are busy at work, to hibernation (the winter sleep of ladybirds, a queen bee and North American painted turtles are described).

We’re introduced to Sleeping Champions – including a group of Brownies who got into the Guinness World Records book, a little brown bat that sleeps for almost 20 hours a day and elephants that only grab two hours of shut-eye;

and Gherman Titov, the first person to sleep (and puke) in space – fascinating!

Or you might choose to do a spot of Stargazing like the Italian scientist Galileo who made his own telescope to look at the night sky and who by discovering that Earth revolves around the Sun, also changed our understanding of Earth’s place in the universe.

Then there are star stories and Moon Mysteries to enjoy

and lots more.

The writing style of the various authors is chatty and engaging, and reads aloud well, while the illustrations are alluring – well maybe not that of the goliath bird-eating tarantula, which is downright alarming and in stark contrast to that of the jerboa – with its huge ears that looks like a creature I’d be happy to meet.

It’s said that just before sleep is a good time to internalise new learning so why not try sharing a non-fiction story from this intriguing book.

The Journey / Sounds of the Wild

Here are two books from Little Tiger featuring amazing wildlife from different parts of the world

The Journey
Jonny Marx and Hanako Clulow

Nature’s greatest journey begins on the parched Serengeti plains and follows the herd of zebras as they make the arduous, annual migration across the dusty, sandy terrain. It’s a long trek, battered sometimes by wind, before they reach the waterhole where they stop to quench their thirst.

The zebras are not the only animals to undertake the journey; there are elephants, boars, birds and giraffes too, all bound for the watering place eager to drink their fill.

Ahead though, lie green pastures and that is where these animals are heading. but first there’s a swim ahead across crocodile infested waters.

Once safely on dry land again the verdant grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see and then down comes the rain – in huge torrents. Ahhhh!

There (so the author’s note on the title spread tells us) they remain for two months feasting on the abundant grass before it’s time to make that long, long journey back once again.

After his rhyming narrative that really conjures up the landscape of the journey, Jonny provides more information about plains zebras. I was amazed to learn that each zebra’s striped pattern is unique and that a zebra’s kick is so strong it can kill a lion. Hanaka Clulow’s illustrations too capture the sandy plains and the animal inhabitants, and have an almost photographic quality.

Sounds of the Wild
Moira Butterfield and Stephanie Fizer Coleman

Immerse yourself in the pages of this book and you can visit nine island locations where you can see and listen to a variety of their animal inhabitants.

Each double spread introduces a different habitat and its wildlife be that a jungle in Madagascar with ring-tailed lemurs, its predator if it catches one, the fossa, tomato frogs and stunningly coloured birds. By pushing the ‘Press Here’ button readers can hear the lemur’s call.

You can also hear an elephant seal (South Georgia Island),

a bellbird (Isla Escudoo de Veraguas), sooty terns (Ascension Island), a Komodo dragon (Flores), polar bears on Svalbard, a humpback whale (around the Azores), marine iguanas,(Galapagos)

and a tiger (Sumatra).

After the eco-system island tour, there’s a world map showing each habitat’s location., an index and finally, an ‘animals under threat’ page mentioning the endandered status and threats to six of the animals whose sounds were heard. Warning cries indeed.

Each spread is beautifully and brightly illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman and Moira Butterflied provides short factual paragraphs on each of the animals shown. Those who love wild animals will enjoy this and doubtless wear out the battery, leaving the animals voiceless until it’s replaced.

Nature in Focus – Home / Seasons

Here are two books from Little Tiger that focus on nature and the changing seasons

Home
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

‘All of us need a place to rest – / A cave, a warren, a pond, a nest … // Wherever we may choose to roam, / We need a place to call our home.” So says Patricia Hegarty’s introduction to this look at the forest that is home to all kinds of creatures large and small.
In the company of little bear, we visit a variety of animal homes starting with the cub and her family’s cave, dark and deep.

With the advent of spring, the cub ventures out watched by an owl in her tree. He visits the place where squirrels are gathering leaves for their drey; beavers are also building a shelter; a bird is busy nest building.

Further afield salmon spawn in the glistening river, multitudes of minibeasts are hard at work, and underground rabbits are safe in their warren.

As night begins to fall, a pack of wolves begin to prowl, hunting for food; while a flock of arctic terns make ready to begin their long journey before another winter sets in.

Finally as the cold arrives, it’s time for little bear and his family to hibernate ‘til spring comes round once more.

In her lyrical text Patricia takes us through the changing seasons and to the various animal homes. Britta Teckentrup’s signature style collage scenes, with their die-cut pages, follow the action and the bear cub, highlighting the importance of each home mentioned in the narrative as well as showing the seasonal changes in the forest.

Seasons
Hannah Pang and Clover Robin

Author Hannah and illustrator Clover take us to half a dozen different locations in the world to experience the natural world in all its glory through the seasons.

We observe the changes that each season brings, starting with a focus on a mighty European oak tree that stands majestically in a meadow, its spreading branches and roots providing shelter and food for countless creatures – birds, insects and other minibeasts, small mammals and some larger ones too.

Spring, summer and autumn with their flowers, fruits and fungi are times of abundance for the various animals. Come winter, the branches are bare and it’s a hard time for animals, many of which hide themselves away in order to survive. Indeed, change through every season is vital for survival of the tree and the associated wildlife.

The other natural habitats are the chilly Arctic where the change in length of day and night is dramatic,

the wilds of Alaska where rivers freeze in the coldest months; a boggy mangrove in northern Australia – one season teeming with land animals, another with fish; then comes the Yellow Dragon Valley, home to some of China’s rarest animals including the giant panda.

The last stop is on the grasslands of the Kenyan Maasai Mara with its wonderful richness of awesome animals and plant life.

As in the oak tree’s location so it is with all the others: change is vital for survival and the Great Migration of the animals of the final location is, so we read, ‘one of the most dramatic events on Earth. For the animals, … a journey of life and death.’

Since the pandemic struck, I think huge numbers of us have become much more aware of the importance of nature in our lives: this book, with Clover Robin’s richly detailed illustrations and Hannah Pang’s factual text, sings that song loud and clear.

Kids Knit

Kids Knit
Kerry Kimber
GMC Publications

I’ve never really got to grips with knitting – just the odd (very) scarf, a jumper that I abandoned and numerous blanket squares for charitable causes over the years. And, rather than making me feel relaxed, something my mum used to say about knitting, I always ended up having tense shoulders from trying to go fast, so I was interested to see these listed in the “Ten Great Things About Knitting’ at the front of the book:
#2 Feel Good, #3 Relax,  #7 Cheer You Up  – failure on my part with those.

What about the others? #1You Can Make Stuff – sort of; #4 Improve Your Maths – yes possibly; #5 No Screens – absolutely! #6 Banish Boredom – perhaps for a short time #8Make Friends – I definitely never joined a class; #9 Start a Movement – I was never sufficiently proficient to be enthusiastic to teach anybody else #10 Gifts From the Heart – yes hurrah!
However a book such as this with its upbeat, encouraging tenor and emphasis on creativity might well have made all the difference.

After talking about the basics: what you need, needle sizes and yarn selection, comes the part I really love that starts with ‘Get Creative’ …

and there’s a lovely traditional rhyme, (new to this reviewer, certainly in a knitting context) “In through the door / Once round the back / Peep through the window / Off jumps Jack.” And an invitation to young users to invent their own version with the key words ‘in, round, through off’.

There are tutorials on the basic stitches, casting on and off. Then comes “Sewing On’ bits and pieces so that you can make cute creatures such as Frog,

monster hand puppets, a sweet tufty owlet (its instructions come with an owl joke).

Things step up a level then as readers learn about colour changing; that results in patterned items including a rose, bunting, a cup cuddler and beanbags.

After this section of tutorials you might be sufficiently proficient to start on the “Star Knitter Tutorials’. Herein you can find out how to make your very own stylish beanie,

a funky field mouse and several, a ladybird, a crown or even a cactus.

The book concludes with information about the origin of different yarns and being a responsible kids knitter, a bit of history and some useful templates.

There’s a wealth of photographs to provide further inspiration should you need it and the children shown with their creations look really proud of what they’ve made.

With the shorter days and less time to be outside, this is the ideal Kids Knit time.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Fox: A Circle of Life Story

Fox: A Circle of Life Story
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This beautiful book sent me straight back to my copy of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, to the opening line of East Coker, ‘In my beginning is my end.’

As the story opens in early spring in a still frozen forest life is astir: we follow fox as she sets out to find food for her three cubs.

We meet them a few weeks later – bigger, bolder and playful close to the safety of their den. They too decide it’s time to try being hunters as they follow their parent on the hunt.

Suddenly danger appears in the form of a car; the three cubs dash safely across the road but not so their mother. She is hit, tossed into the grass and dies.

The cubs return home leaving a decomposing body that little by little, over almost a year, returns to the earth, to the plants and to the air.

Her remains provide food and shelter for other creatures and a place for new life to be nourished and flourish. For death is not merely an end, it’s a beginning too.

The powerful, beautifully written non-fiction narrative of Isabel Thomas and the stunningly gorgeous illustrations of Daniel Egnéus combine to make a book that answers one of the ‘big’ scientific questions children ask, ‘ What happens when we die?’ and provides a perfect starting point for talking about the cycle of life and death or, as the subtitle says ‘A circle of life story.’
(There’s also a final spread that has separate paragraphs explaining ‘The building blocks of life’, “What is death?’, What is decomposition’, ‘The cycle of life’ and ‘Death is not just an end’.

There’s no need to wait for the death of a beloved pet or human before sharing this book with youngsters though: I’d suggest reading it with a class or in a family at any time, particularly at a time when the seasons change.

While You’re Sleeping

While You’re Sleeping
Mick Jackson and John Broadley
Pavilion Books

Interestingly this collaboration brings together Booker Prize shortlisted author Mick Jackson and illustrator John Broadley, both well known for their books for adults, in a first book for a child audience; and what a superb enterprise it is.

Herein children will discover that during the time they spend sleeping, a myriad of humans are wide awake actively engaged in their world. So too are countless creatures be they owls on the hunt, foraging foxes, bats or hungry hares searching for food.

Imagine what it would be like if those cleaners hadn’t been busy on the buses and trains people take to work and school, while others clean the offices, shops and streets.

Then there are lorry drivers delivering their loads of food and other goods; post-office workers busy sorting all the mail; bakers cooking;

firefighters ready to answer emergency calls; those twenty-four hour shops and cafes; dedicated hospital staff on night duty; and ships with their crews under starry skies.

There’s a reminder that elsewhere in the world, while some children slumber, others will be in their classrooms or perhaps doing sporting activities and when their day is over, the sleepers wlll awake.

Speaking directly to young listeners/readers in a friendly tone, the narrative is a wonderful read aloud be it at bedtime or during the day. While with echoes of Eric Ravilious, John Broadley’s incredibly detailed illustrations are truly beautiful works of art (I’d love any of them as an original print on my walls.)

To open this book is like opening a gorgeous box full of jewels – each page is stunning – so too are the endpapers, the cover: the entire production in fact and to read it is like being shown around a gallery by a wise, gently spoken curator eager to open our eyes to how the world works.

Little People, Big Dreams: Captain Tom Moore

Little People, Big Dreams: Captain Tom Moore
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Christopher Jacques
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

We surely all know of the selfless fundraising achievement of national treasure, Captain Tom Moore, on behalf of NHS Charities Together and of his subsequent knighthood. How many of us though, know anything of the rest of his incredible life? Relatively few I suspect.

Now this new addition to the superb Little People, Big Dreams picture book biography series written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, children who followed him in the media , as he took his daily walk during lockdown, have the opportunity to read about the earlier life of this awe-inspiring veteran.

Tom was a Yorkshire lad who from a young age was passionate about engines of all sorts. At around twelve years of age he discovered an old, broken motorcycle, paid two and six for it, determined to repair and ride it on the road.

Having become an apprentice engineer he was called up to join the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and was sent to India, a country he found initially strange, but to which he quickly adapted. Determined and brave, he rose to become a Captain and a spirit raiser of his team.

A team that also became his friends for many years until only he remained.

A slip while on his daily walk resulted in a hospital stay, a hip replacement and two knee replacements.

Still his spirit never faltered: he bought himself a treadmill online to strengthen his legs, and installed it on his drive.

As he approached his century, Captain Tom decided to celebrate with a pre-birthday 100 laps walk around his garden. Then the global pandemic hit the UK and Captain Tom had a new goal … the result of which was not the £1000 pounds he’d hoped for but a whacking £30,000,000. A-MAZ-ING!

Dream big and never give up: that’s what he did and that’s what we must all try to do, today, tomorrow and …

3% of the cover price of every sale goes to NHS charities – another reason to get hold of this terrific tribute to an incredible person, sensitively portrayed in Christophe Jacques’ illustrations.