Urban Forest School

Urban Forest School
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

Wow! What an absolute treasure trove of ideas this is for anyone who wants to include forest school and all that this has to offer into an urban school or nursery setting. That, one hopes (unless it’s already embedded into their curriculum) includes all early years and primary teachers and other staff.

Equally during this time when many parents are faced with home schooling their children, this book by a husband and wife team totally dedicated to outdoor learning, offers a wealth of activities across the whole curriculum and most could be used with a very wide age range.

After an introduction explaining what urban forest school actually is and where to look for urban nature, why it’s important to do so, and giving instructions on how to tie some useful knots, the main body of the book is divided into four sections.

We start with In the park or garden (a quiet street or a porch would suffice) where one of my favourite activities is shadow painting. Strangely enough as I was walking with my partner the other day past a patch of stinging nettles I remarked that their shadows looked much more striking than the actual plants. Then two days later I found this idea in the book. I’ve had children draw around their own or a friend’s shadow many times but never thought of using plants – love it!

Moving further afield Around the city or town has a nature focus and includes such things as cloud spotting and I really like the idea of the city sit spot – an opportunity for mindfulness of whatever your surroundings might be. From that sit spot or walking around, children can begin to get to know about the trees and the flora and fauna close by.

The third section – Home crafts – offers a wealth of creative activities: the leaf watercolour printing can be fun in its own right but also the starting point for other arty projects. I can’t wait to try the leaf bunting activity with children – I have to admit to having a go myself with some leaves and hole punches.

Recipes comprise the final section and there you’ll finding such diverse ideas as stinging nettle smoothie – this one might be an acquired taste, and spiced blackberry sorbet – more up my street I think, but the blackberry plants are still at the flowering stage just now.

Packed with enticing illustrations and photos, and covering so many areas of the curriculum, this bumper book includes something for all ages from the very young upwards, and is a fantastic encouragement to get children outdoors learning about and through nature.

The Funny Life of Sharks

The Funny Life of Sharks
James Campbell and Rob Jones
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Full of gill-slittingly silly stuff unrelated to the particular elasmobranchs of the title as well as plenty of real sharkish information too, this bonkers book is one to dip in and out of – unless that is, you are a total shark addict and then you might go for total immersion.

Or perhaps you’d rather make your own way through using the different options signposted on almost all the spreads. Trying to do that left this reviewer’s brain starting to feel like not-properly-set jelly.

Another consideration is one of how to classify the book: is it non-fiction or fiction. It’s really hard to decide and anyway, does it really matter? It’s hilarious either way and cleverly interactive to boot.

Moreover it includes pretty much everything you would ever need to know about sharks and a whole lot more you definitely wouldn’t;

but you may well end up so befuddled that you’re unable to tell which is which.

Take for instance, that there are three main kinds of shark attack:  the hit and run variety (I can’t quite work out who or what might be doing any running however); the bump and bite type during which the decision is made about whether or not you become a shark’s dinner and thirdly, there’s the deadly sneak attack.

Apparently great white sharks catch seals using that method, approaching them at 50kmph.

Of course no self-respecting shark book would omit what is frequently child readers’ favourite topic – poo; so James Campbell has obligingly included a poo spread. Thereon you’ll discover that shark poo is ejected ‘like a liquid bottom burp.

Moreover shark poo is an important part of the ecosystem. Really truly.

To finish, let me just say, this whole inventive compilation – liberally littered with Rob Jones drawings – is cartilageniously crazy and particularly perfect for selachimorphaphiles as well as bibliophobes who need their reads in easily digestible bite-sized chunks.

My First Book of the Cosmos

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

Team Ferrón (physicist and writer) and Altarriba (graphic designer and illustrator) have a special skill of presenting highly complex topics to children in a manner that is accessible, entertaining and educative.

Their latest book, My First Book of the Cosmos again does just that, managing to compress the vast Universe between 56 pages taking us on a trip through the life of the Cosmos from its birth to its possible end time. Incredible!

What then is this Cosmos or Universe? The author sums it up thus ‘the Universe is everything that exists: it is all space and time, and it is where all mass and energy is found’: awesome and mysterious for sure.

First off is a look at gravity and we’re presented with the gravitational models of Newton and Einstein, followed by a look through ‘Gravitational Lenses’, the first being thought of by an amateur scientist, Rudi W. Mandl. A gravitation lens, as defined here is one that ‘works like a powerful telescope that magnifies and distorts light’.

Having examined beginnings, topics include Galaxies, and the vexed question of The size of the universe.

Then there’s an explanation of How a star is born; it’s formed from interstellar clouds of cold gas and dust called nebulae.

Next comes a look at the different types of stars – I didn’t know there were so many – as well as the life of a star from its birth to its death including how and why these happen.

Plus if you’ve ever wanted to peer into a black hole or discover the mysteries of dark matter – a very tricky matter indeed,

and those of dark energy – that which ‘separates galaxies instead of bringing them together’ – in other words, it causes the Universe to expand ever faster, you can do so here.

Mind-blowing, imagination-stretching stuff!

Amazing Islands

Amazing Islands
Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman
What on Earth Books

In this, the first in the new Our Amazing World series, author Sabrina Weiss and illustrator Kerry Hyndman present a gallimaufry of facts and scenes of islands of all sizes and their inhabitants both human and animal.

After spreads defining an island and giving some related terms such as archipelago and ait, and relating how islands are created, there’s a look at some environmental threats.

Thereafter readers are taken on a tour of individual islands in various parts of the globe starting with the Galapagos archipelago.

Madagascar is another stopping point, the world’s fourth largest island we read, whereon 90% of the animals including several kinds of lemur, and a wealth of plants, are endemic.

One of the topical spreads is devoted to islands that have been used as prisons including Robben Island where my all time hero Nelson Mandela was kept for 30 years.

Readers with a particular penchant for statistical information will enjoy the fold-out world map locating all the islands mentioned in the narrative and it also provides several ‘island top tens’ including the ten largest and those countries with the highest number of islands.

Of the islands I’ve visited, Hong Kong is featured fairly early and several spreads later, Sri Lanka

followed by Great Britain. These are the only ones I can claim to have spent any time on other than Mauritius, which merits only a brief paragraph that includes the fact that is was once home to the dodo.

Each spread is alluringly illustrated with realistic depictions of the relevant flora and fauna, and organised with sufficient variety to maintain the reader’s interest.

There’s also a glossary, pronunciation guide, an index and a final sources page that includes web sites, should readers wish to research further themselves.

A book to dip into, either in school or at home.

The Big Book of Football

The Big Book of Football
Mundial and Damien Weighill
Wide Eyed

I have several young relations who are ardent fans of the game and have taught countless soccer-mad children but  I have to own up to knowing very little about football and never watch it either live or on TV. However I know that this large format book will excite, entertain and perhaps educate a huge number of readers, be they football mad or merely somewhat interested in ‘the beautiful game’.

In over 100 pages, international soccer magazine Mundial has put fascinating facts to ponder and everything you need to know to talk about or play a good game of footie.

Divided into ten sections the book kicks off with two spreads dealing with the basics and the lingo, including illustrated definitions of such skills as nutmeg, cross and dribble, an explanation of the offside rule, red and yellow cards and such strange expressions as park the bus and Fergie time.

The History of Football includes a timeline and traces the origins of the game through to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which was watched by an estimated 1 billion people; there’s also a look at the evolution of boots

and the all-important ball.

Next comes Mundial’s pick of a ‘superteam’ of legendary players from history, both men and women with a short, illustrated biography of each player.

Of particular interest to aspiring players will be the masterclass How to … section giving instructions on iconic moves such as How to take the perfect shot like Ji So-YunHow to take the perfect set piece like David Beckham and How to do nutmeg like Luis Suárez

Weird and Wonderful the final section surely is with its look at some strange haircuts, celebratory gestures, and other bits and pieces of soccer stuff that make it SO much more than a mere game. All are illustrated with Damien Weighill’s bright graphics making for an informative and entertaining resource book to dip in and out of at home or in school.

Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book to amaze and inspire youngsters, one that looks at the invisible natural forces that have an enormously powerful influence on life on our planet. In it Catherine Barr covers such diverse topics as microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light waves, electromagnetism, ultrasound and smells.

Say the word ‘microwave’ to young children and most will think of the small oven in the kitchen used to heat food quickly. But there are also microwaves in space and scientists have invented machines that make microwaves that are put to many uses: in medicine, in computers and mobile phones, as well as in navigation by airports and ships.

Each topic has two double spreads, the first explaining how animals use these remarkable powers, the second discusses how humans too have learned to exploit them.

Did you know that some animals rely on UV light for their very survival? For instance it makes lichens glow enabling reindeer to find this much needed food in barren Arctic habitats of Canada, while Sockeye Salmon are able to spot the plankton they feed on when it shows against the UV light of shallow waters.

Much more familiar is the importance of UV in the creation of vitamin D, so vital for maintaining strong muscles and bones in humans.

In all there are fourteen alluring and wonderfully coloured spreads by illustrator Anne Wilson displaying the ways in which these unseen mysterious powers impact upon life on earth

– that ‘secret world beyond our senses’ – making this a book to fire curiosity and ignite the imagination of primary children.

The Big Book of Blooms

The Big Book of Blooms
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

How much joy can be packed between the covers of a book? An infinite amount when it comes to Yuval Zommer’s splendiferous botanical offering. I put my hand up to being a botany enthusiast having studied the subject at A-level and spending a gap year working in the herbarium at Kew so have an abiding interest in the subject but I defy anyone not to be bowled over by this visual stunner.

Topically organised the basics are covered in the first few spreads – floral families, plant anatomy,

pollination and reproduction, followed by a look at some of the useful things flowers provide.

Next is a zoom in to some specific kinds of flora: the carnivorous Venus flytrap (there’s just a single species and it grows wild in swamps and bogs on the East coast of the USA); roses – I was astonished to read that it takes 15.4 litres of water to produce a single flower; the ancient proteas that could be found as long ago as 90 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth; cherry blossom trees with their delicate pink and white flowers that delight so many of us in the springtime; tulips, giant water lilies and another carnivore– the Pitcher plants.

Some flowers, despite their striking, sometimes beautiful appearance, smell something rotten. That’s to attract carnivorous pollinators such as carrion flies; but to my vegetarian sensibilities, their ‘rotting meat smell’ would be a huge turn off: the ‘Stinking Flowers’ spread was the only one I didn’t linger long over: I could almost smell the odour emanating from that parasitic corpse lily that lacks roots, shoots, stems and leaves.

Despite the exotic nature of a number of the flowers featured I think my favourite spread of all is that devoted to wild flowers, some of which are flowering abundantly very close to my home as I write.

The final few pages are allocated to seed dispersal, plant defence, there’s a spread devoted to Kew Gardens and some of the work that goes on there both inside and out; a plea for the protection of vital habitats and some suggestions for becoming a gardener without a garden.

There’s also a final glossary and index.

With the wealth of fauna on every spread, Yuval injects just the right amount of mischievous humour into his illustrations.

To add further interest and to ensure that readers study every page with the close attention it merits, he’s planted a golden bulb to search for on fifteen of the spreads .

Written in consultation with experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. this is a must have for family bookshelves, classroom collections and anywhere that budding botanists might be taking root.

Absolutely BLOOMING BRILLIANT!

Ancient Games

Ancient Games: A History of Sports and Gaming
Iris Volant and Avalon Nuovo
Flying Eye Books

Here’s an interesting book that was probably intended to act as a prelude to the Tokyo Olympics due to open in July.

Most of us were eagerly anticipating this summer’s Olympic Games but I doubt if so many are aware that competitive sport goes way back as far as 3000 BCE or even earlier in Sumer (now Southern Iraq) when towns held boxing and wrestling competitions. The evidence for this is found on ancient Sumerian clay vases and tablets …

Ancient sports in other parts of the world too were largely linked to warrior skills for instance moving to Ancient Egypt (3100 – 30 BCE) boxing and wrestling, along with archery and spear throwing and weightlifting, were practised; so too were swimming races and rowing contests.

Special places for spectator sports go back more than 3500 years. Aztecs played a ball game in stone courtyards specially built for the purpose; it was a deadly serious game as the losing side may have been beheaded. Horrendous thought!

Moving forward in time to Ancient Greece 776BCE. This was the year in which the first known Olympic Games took place at Olympia. Interestingly the very first Olympic winner on record was Koroibos, a cook who won a running race called the ‘stadion’ and from that comes the word ‘stadium’. A spread devoted to these Olympics includes information on the duration, events, the consequences of cheating, if discovered and the rewards for winning an event.

Another spread features the legendary Milo of Croton a young wrestling super star.

This is just a taste of what’s in this fascinating book that also includes information on the Ancient Roman Games, the Asian Games, the European Games from Medieval times on, Viking Games and how the Modern Olympics evolved from 1896 to now.

A spread showcases some truly inspiring Olympic Champions who overcame enormous odds and achieved the seemingly impossible.

The book concludes with a timeline showing significant dates.

Avalon Nuovo’s powerful images of the athletes, warriors and participants rendered in a colour palette predominated by shades of ochre, and from a variety of perspectives, serve to take us as spectators into the ancient world of games and follow its unfolding history as described in Iris Volant’s narrative.

Building a Home

Building a Home
Polly Faber and Klas Fahlén
Nosy Crow

Most young children are fascinated with construction – their own and that which they see on a building site, especially all the big machines, so this book will certainly appeal.

It’s superbly illustrated by Klas Fahlén with just the right amount of detail and action,

and full of interesting characters – its great to see both men and women involved throughout – as readers follow the transformation of an old, edge-of-town office block into fine new homes for lots of people.

Writer, Polly Faber talks directly to her intended young audience including occasional rhyme and alliteration in her engaging narrative. She’s also included a pictorial glossary of the people and machines involved in the building’s transformation.

A thoroughly inclusive book with enormous potential for encouraging conversation and questioning, this is one to add to nursery, KS1 and family collections; especially the latter just now when one of the few things not completely closed down is building work, at least if my locality is anything to go by.

Pets and Their Famous Humans

Pets and Their Famous Humans
Ana Gallo and Katherine Quinn
Prestel

All kinds of people keep pets. Now here’s a rather quirky book that will appeal to pet lovers and those with an interest in famous people especially.

Author, Ana Gallo, introduces us to the pets of 20 artists, authors, scientists and the odd fashion designer.

Some were the conventional kind of pets such as cats and dogs.
Virginia Woolf for instance was a dog lover, her most famous pooch being her pedigree cocker spaniel, Pinka, given to her by fellow author, Vita Sackville West. Pinka even played a significant part in one of Virginia’s books.

Another dog lover was Sigmund Freud about whom we learn a fair amount alongside finding out about his helper in his treatment room for seven years, red coated chow chow, Jofi.

Other pets were rather more unlikely. Take the two crocodiles that Dorothy Parker kept in her bath; or Grip the talking raven owned by Charles Dickens. Thanks to his sons Grip became a leading character in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, the bird was also the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven.

Did you know that one of artist Frida Kahlo’s most loved pets was her fawn Granizo that appeared in two of her most famous paintings, once as a little fawn and then six years later as a fully grown animal in The Wounded Deer.

Each entry has a full page illustration of pet and owner by Katherine Quinn, opposite which is a page of biographic information headed by a small picture of the relevant pet or pets.

A fascinating and novel way of bringing the humans to life for primary age readers.

The Skies Above My Eyes

The Skies Above My Eyes
Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures

This follow-up to The Street Beneath My Feet uses the same double-sided format unfolding to 2.5 metres only now we’re directed to look at what’s above the Earth’s surface.

Standing alongside the child at the bottom of Zuval Zommer’s continuous concertina illustration readers are taken on an exciting journey from ground level, billions of kilometres up and right out to the farthest reaches of the solar system and back again.

We travel past high-rise buildings, through the layers of the atmosphere to the imaginary Karman line to where 400 kilometres above the Earth is the International Space Station and thence to the Moon and out into the Solar System where the planets are found.

Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt that includes Pluto and even further out beyond the Solar System we can see hundreds of billions of star-filled galaxies.

 

After a period of stargazing, it’s time to travel back earthwards. We might spy comets, meteoroids, the Aurora Borealis and lower down, migrating birds on the wing;

and if we look very carefully, ballooning spiders drifting parachute-like a few metres above Earth as well as, rather more easy to spot, mountain sheep on a rocky escarpment.

Our long, long journey comes to an end on a grassy hillock where alongside the little girl we saw as the start, we can relax and enjoy nature’s bounties that surround us.

Charlotte’s narrative is certainly fascinating and informative as her enthusiasm sweeps us up and away. However it’s Yuval’s richly detailed art that ensures that the reader is not only informed but filled with awe and wonder about so many aspects of the mind-stretching, The Skies Above My Eyes.

Why not step outside with your children and see that you can spy in the sky …

(I missed this super book when it first came out but thank you to the publisher for sending it out now.)

One Day On Our Blue Planet … In the Outback

One Day on Our Blue Planet … In the Outback
Ella Bailey
Flying Eye Books

Wow! I was absolutely astonished at the wealth of creatures large and small that have their homes on the great Australian outback, the location of Ella Bailey’s latest visit in her One Day on Our Blue Planet series.

Readers are invited to spend twenty four hours viewing the diurnal and nocturnal activities of, in particular, one of the little red kangaroos.

These animals seem to be on the go from sunrise till well into the night and like other marsupials, the does have a particular role in caring for and protecting their offspring in the dusty desert terrain especially when little ones become a tad too adventurous.

As we follow these fascinating animals, learning something of their habits, through the day and across the spreads to the billabong for a much needed drink, they encounter a huge variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.

(The endpapers show and name all the animals depicted as the gentle narrative unfolds).

Like previous titles, with its engaging illustrations and chatty narrative style, this is a super way to introduce youngsters to a location most of them are unlikely to visit for real; it will surely engender that feeling of awe and respect for the wildlife that inhabits the vast, remote interior part of Australia.

Planet SOS

Planet SOS
Marie G. Rohde
What on Earth Books

Our planet is under serious threat, most of us would acknowledge that and in her cleverly conceived book Marie Rohde presents 22 different aspects of this alarming crisis in a novel manner giving each a distinct persona – monsters inspired by mythology, fairy tale, folklore and popular culture, making the whole enterprise accessible as well as unique.

So let’s now hear from some of these dastardly creatures that speak directly to us.

The depletion of the ozone layer is the work of the Ozone Serpent chomping its way through earth’s protective gaseous layer.

Atmosdragon is a bragging beast that talks of human actions causing the release of greenhouse gases and global warming. Like all the others this speaker has relied on a close alliance with we humans, and is starting to fear for its continuing existence. Like all the others too, Atmosdragon is accompanied by an identity card ‘with a host of symbols (there’s a key for interpretation), icons showing the activities that can halt, or hinder further environmental harm.

Deforestation is the world of the Logre. This destructive beastie lays waste forests for agriculture, timber production and development, boasting that human efforts to halt its damage are futile. We must prove Logre wrong, for the absorption of carbon dioxide is crucial.

Monsters lurk in the water too; take the Plaken with its all-invading tentacles formed from thousands of tonnes of plastic debris – a massive threat to marine life and birds.

The illustrations are truly arresting and we’re also shown a small vignette of each mythical being that was the inspiration for the particular menacing monster sprawling across much of its double spread.

The three final spreads give a world map marking the locations of the various monsters with a time line indicating when the particular ecological threats were first recognised, a glossary and a card index of all the beasties and how they might be defeated.

There is a huge amount of information packed between the covers of this book that will surely galvanise young eco-warriors. It’s rich in potential for cross-curricular exploration in school too.

Grow

Grow
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Nicola Davies has a rare skill when it comes to explaining sometimes quite tricky concepts to young readers and Emily Sutton’s illustrations are always superb.

With the opening statement ‘All living things grow’, award-winning team Emily and Emma then explore for young readers, the mysteries of DNA, the genetic code that determines the characteristics of every plant and every animal including we humans.

First are examples of different speeds of growth ranging from the desert four o’clock plants that grow from seed to flower in ten days

to the guahog clams found in the chilly depths of the Arctic Ocean that take 500 years to grow to the size of the palm of a child’s hand. WOW!

The importance of how much things grow is considered next followed by another aspect of growth, that of change,

and that leads neatly into DNA.

We find out about its four bases and how they can be combined in different ways creating a genetic code pattern, comprising for we humans, 20,000 genes.

Everyone has a unique genetic code half of which comes from their biological father and half from the biological mother (identical twins however share a genetic code).

There’s follows a spread showing the relative closeness of the human genetic code to various plants and animals; another points out that thanks to DNA all living things are connected. DNA also provides a connection that can be traced right back to the beginning of life on Earth – awesome – and all on account of the fact that as Nicola concludes ‘all life has always been written in one language’.

This is just the kind of book I would have relished as a child; it will surely inspire as well as educate youngsters.

Buy for home and for KS2 primary classrooms.

Hey, Water!

Hey, Water!
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

In the company of young narrator Zoe, who speaks directly to water, young children can embark on a playful exploration of the element that can exist in different states.

She begins with introducing the variety of ways we might encounter this essential element in its liquid state – via the hose and its sprinkler, the shower, a stream, a river,

the sea, an ocean.

Then there’s a lake, a swimming pool, and much smaller but equally fun, puddles. Smaller still come dewdrops, tears and raindrops.
Water however isn’t straightforward for as she says, ‘Water, even when you try to fool me, I know you. You can blast and huff. You whistle and puff. You hide in the air and drift. You drift in the air and hide the world’

Then there’s that frozen form –ice cubes, icebergs, an ice rink and soft, frozen, feather-like snowflakes.

Indeed water is an essential part of every single living thing,

there to quench our thirst and help us keep ourselves clean; and for all that we need to be thankful.

It’s a kind of hide-and-seek game we’re involved in here, in Portis’ celebration of water that concludes with more in-depth explanation of water forms, ways to conserve water, a diagram of the water cycle and some simple experiments.

The author’s own illustrations accompany her chatty narrative making this a very useful book for parents and preschool teachers to introduce tricky science concepts to the very young. (alongside real experiences of course).

One World Many Colours

One World Many Colours
Ben Lerwill and Alette Straathof
Words & Pictures

Award winning travel writer Ben Lerwill takes readers on a journey to celebrate the wonderful colours to be discovered all over the world, demonstrating his opening line ‘We share one world. We share many colours.’

We travel from the desert of Oman with its white Arabian oryx, to icy white Antarctica whose ‘frozen land furls out forever’ and the Sydney Opera House glowing in the morning light,

all the way to the pyramids of Egypt glowing at the day’s end as the final rays of the sun bathe the ancient stones in a beautiful red light.

In between, the journey takes us to see the soft pink blossoms of the cherry trees in Japan and the lakes of Kenya with their pink hued flamingos.

Yellow stands out glowing and gleaming in a football stadium in Brazil, on the New York streets with their numerous taxi cabs and in the sunflower fields of Spain – silent save only for the wind’s whisper.

Blue is found not only in the deepest oceans and in the sky above Mount Everest but also on the beautiful feathers of the Canadian blue jay.

The wilds of South Africa, the countryside of Vietnam with its ripening rice fields and the Amazon Rainforest all glow with their gorgeous greens.

Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong are alive with red but equally bright is the London double-decker bus driving over Westminster Bridge during the rush hour.

Our magical journey shows that the same vibrant colours are found in nature, in culture and in our cities. Both Lerwill and illustrator Alette Straathof will surely open the eyes of young readers to the wonders of our world while also linking us all together through a shared colour spectrum. Connectivity indeed.

Alette’s colour palette is rich and vibrant; Ben’s writing lyrical and a breath of fresh air; together they’ve created a captivating book that is uplifting, and gently educational.

Once Upon An Atom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patricia’s Vision / Hosea Plays On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Sky: Designs Inspired by Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, a super STEM book.

The Book of Time

The Book of Time
Kathrin Köller and Irmela Schautz
Prestel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A time line and further information conclude this cracking book.

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

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A must have in my opinion.

Welcome to Moomin Valley: The Handbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as is Snufkin, disliker of petty rules and regulations.

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

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

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

How Colour Works

How Colour Works
Catherine Barr and Yuliya Gwilym
Red Shed (Egmont)

Right from its arresting endpapers, this book that investigates the science of colour and how we see it, simply explodes into a rainbow of bright hues.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how our eyes work, or why some things glow in the dark.

Or maybe you’re curious about how animals see colour – do they see what we see?

and how do they use colour?

Why is grass green, blood red, the sky sometimes blue, and why does the snow look white? The answers are herein.

This surely is a visual treat – Yuliya Gwillym’s dramatic illustrations arrest the eye at every page turn; but author Catherine Barr provides plenty of facts too, facts that will likely have readers wanting to go beyond the information given to learn even more.

Successfully combining science and art to present a veritable STEAM kaleidoscope, this is a book that offers something to youngsters from nursery age upward. What about awe and wonder? Yes, it definitely fits that bill too.

Flower Power : The Magic of Nature’s Healers

Flower Power: The Magic of Nature’s Healers
Olaf Hajek and Christine Paxmann
Prestel

In this glorious spring bouquet, illustrator Olaf Hajek and author Christine Paxman offer art and information about seventeen flowers.

Because of some of my personal interests and experiences I was immediately drawn to this large format book: the couple of pre-uni. years I spent working in the herbarium at Kew Gardens, as well as my interest in the healing properties of plants in relation to Ayurveda, and the courses I took in aromatherapy and massage. That’s as well as an abiding fascination with the botanical world in general.

Every one of Hajek’s full-page illustrations is simply stunning in its beauty and witty detail so it’s virtually impossible to choose favourites – there’s magic in them all. Indeed, as Christine Paxman writes ‘In many old children’s books, the bellflower is described as a magic flower.’

However as a frequent visitor to India, I was instantly attracted to the “ginger’ illustration with its stylised dancer reminiscent of Indian miniatures. We read of ginger’s origins in India, China and other parts of Asia and of its many uses in cooking, in drinks and as a medicinal plant. Perhaps you didn’t know (I certainly not even considered it)) that in addition to its many healing benefits for humans, ginger root can be used to treat horses and other animals.

Many of us think of the Dandelion merely as a nuisance weed that’s nigh on impossible to get rid of. We might have sampled the leaves of Taxacarum in salads but I was surprised to read that the flowers can be used to make a jelly and the roots eaten, if roasted first. Moreover, the latex if extracted, can be used in rubber making.

‘Can a flower cure almost anything?’ This is one of Paxman’s introductory questions to Common Mallow. She goes on to answer that, as well as discussing its culinary uses, its uses as a dye and as a potential source of green energy.

You can dip in and savour every one of the entries: the conversational style of the text and outstanding art will fascinate, and perhaps prompt readers to dig deeper into some of the mysteries of the plant world.

It’s a Great Big Colourful World

It’s a Great Big Colourful World
Tom Schamp
Prestel

Otto the cat wakes one morning wondering why everything is so grey. His chameleon friend, Leon is on hand to show him the delights of the various shades of grey and the multitude of beautiful grey things around.

Thereafter Leon takes him on a journey through the wonderful world of colour starting with grey’s components, the complementary black and white.

Moving on from those it’s a veritable riot of colours each represented by a plethora of characters and objects large and small. Yellow includes a yellow submarine, a big yellow taxi, a variety of cheeses, a butterfly and banana peel.

One orange spread is dominated by a magnificent tiger that’s found its way to Orange County and as yet, hasn’t consumed the tomato soup, clementines or orange juice on the previous spread.

There’s a wealth of transport on the red pages that also include Red Square and tulips – no not from Amsterdam but Turkey.
Flamingos strut their way across the pink spreads maintaining their colour courtesy of the pink algae and shrimps they dine upon.

Rather more restful on the eye the blues have a whale that swims through all four pages at once and the greens with dinosaurs, crocodiles, plants aplenty and the occasional caterpillar,

not forgetting Greenland.

Beer, cupcakes, tanned sunbathers, brownstone houses, a toffee even, are part of the brown spreads; and both the colour tourists Otto and Leon are hiding in plain sight on every spread, each  cleverly adapted to their surroundings. In the final pages the friends are thrilled by the coming together of all the colours for a glorious final journey through the four seasons.

However many times you look at this ingenious, intricately detailed offering from Tom Schamp, you’ll always find something new.

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, with his playful linguistic imagination and references, Schamp guarantees that this book will have a wide age appeal. No matter what you bring to it, you’ll emerge richer and wanting to dive straight back in, hungry for more.

 

Who is in the Egg?

Who is in the Egg?
Alexandra Milton,
Boxer Books

Kate Greenaway shortlisted artist, Alexandra Milton has created some absolutely gorgeous illustrations to answer her titular question as she explores what is going to emerge from the nest in the tree;

the bright, white egg in the sticky, muddy swamp; that mere bean-sized object which is waiting in the tunnel, underground; the almost sand-covered one on the beach.

Then what about that pear-shaped egg on a pair of feet that stand in the freezing snow and ice; or, moving to a hot sandy desert location, what could possibly come out of the simply massive egg, waiting there?

In addition to delighting in the stunning art portrayals of the infants and parents in their natural habitats, readers can learn some interesting facts in the brief paragraph that accompanies each animal featured.

The front endpapers depict a sequence of eggs from smallest to largest for readers to try and match with the illustrations on the pages, while the final endpapers show the relative size of the six  eggs from the smallest ‘platypus’ to largest ‘ostrich’, should you want to cheat, or perhaps check.

Quite simply, beautiful through and through.

They Did It First:50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World

They Did It First: 50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World
Julie Leung and Caitlin Kuhwald (edited by Alice Hart)
Macmillan Children’s Books

This book profiles 50 STEAM boundary-breaking trailblazers – pioneering artists, scientists and mathematicians – each of whom overcame enormous challenges to make incredible contributions in their own fields, and in one way or another, change the world for the better.

Some Julie Leung selected will already be familiar to readers – Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing,

Jane Goodall, Toni Morrison, Aretha Franklin, for example, but  that many others will probably not be.

It’s clear that the author has made an effort to feature men and women from around the world, as well as choosing from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Thus she highlights Nikola Tesla, the first person to invent the AC motor (1887) Johanna Lucht the first deaf engineer to help manage a crewed NASA flight from mission control – “Never give up” she advises aspiring deaf engineers and scientists” with time and patience … “you will gain hearing allies.” along with the first Chinese woman – Tu Youyou – to be awarded a Nobel Prize (2015) in Physiology or Medicine.

New to me are Alexa Canady who faced an uphill struggle as a woman of colour, to become the first female African American neurosurgeon;

she specialised in paediatric care, saving numerous young lives.

I’d not heard either of Riz Ahmed, first EMMY Award winner for acting (2017) who is of Asian descent;

and other than her name I knew little about Zaha Hadid, the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004).

The subjects, arranged chronologically, mostly came to prominence in the 20th or 21st centuries, although Isaac Newton (1668) is there, as are two 18th century people Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Italian mathematician, and German astronomer Caroline Herschel.

Like me, I suspect youngsters reading this fascinating and inspiring compilation, will be prompted (perhaps by their motivational quote) to do their own digging to discover more about some of these incredible people starting perhaps with some of those for who a vignette portrait with a sentence beneath and a brief paragraph on the next spread, are all we’re given. To that end there is a final list of books and other resources.

Also at the end of the book is a time line, as well as a note from the illustrator, Caitlin Kuhwald whose stylised portraits, painted digitally, are instantly eye-catching..

Role models for aspiring youngsters, all.

The Surprising Lives of Animals

The Surprising Lives of Animals
Anna Claybourne and Stef Murphy
Ivy Kids

The author of this look at animal lives talks in her introduction of the close link between humans and other animals, dividing the book into five aspects of behaviour that we all exhibit. She then goes on to explore elements of each one through a wide variety of animals both large and small, using playfulness (Having Fun), Thinking and Feeling, Everyday Life, co-existence and community (Living Together), and Settling Down and reproducing, as themes.

Adults as well as young readers will find plenty of interest: I was surprised to learn for instance that seagulls have been observed playing catch by dropping a stick or a stone from high up in the sky then swooping down to catch it before it reaches the ground – an aspect of playfulness so some scientists think.

Did you know that octopuses are highly intelligent and are able to work out how to undo screw-top jars and childproof containers to get their tentacles on tasty snacks?

Or that that an African grey parrot named Alex, studied by animal brain scientist Dr Irene Pepperberg was able to identify different colours, shapes and materials, and sort items into categories? This is just one of the numerous things she discovered during her 30 years of training and working with the bird.

Equally clever in their own way are the Army ants found in South America that are able to build bridges out of their own bodies. Then having done so they use the bridges to get across gaps and work co-operatively until all members of a colony have traversed the gap. That’s teamwork for you.

Anna Claybourne mentions the work of a number of animal scientists in her ‘Scientist Spotlight’ insets. Her narrative style makes the entire book highly readable as well as informative; and Stef Murphy’s illustrations illuminate not only the animals’ fascinating behaviours but also their habitats and characteristics.

Recommended for family bookshelves as well as primary school collections.

River Stories

River Stories
Timothy Knapman, Ashling Lindsay and Irene Montano
Red Shed (Egmont)

Prepare to immerse yourself in Timothy Knapman’s tales of five rivers.

Our travels begin on the African continent with a trip along the Nile, at 6,695 km. the world’s longest river. Rising in the African jungle it comprises two tributaries, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, and flows through forests, mountains, lakes and deserts before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

However its exact source is disputed. Timothy tells readers that one explorer John Hanning Speke declared the true source to be Lake Ukerewe (now called Lake Victoria).  During the trip we learn of festivals, historic events associated with the river, view some wildlife and visit the pyramids, tombs and temples of Egypt.

The second journey is along the Mississippi that extends the entire length of the US all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This river is home to over 1000 animal species and flows through the site, I was fascinated to learn, of Cahokia, a lost 12th C city.

We’re in Europe for the third journey that takes us from a glacier in the Swiss Alps to the Netherlands where the Rhine’s delta is located.

There are mentions of music and musicians, magic, myths and legends, and sightings of fairytale forests as well as castles, windmills and bulb fields.

High on a Tibetan plateau is where the Yangtze journey starts. We read of dragons and dolphins, glimpse pandas and if the timing is right, see the amazing Dragon Boat Festival.

The Amazon with its incredible rainforest flora and fauna is the river of the fifth trip. There’s so much to discover and I was astonished to learn of Ed Stafford’s walk along its entire length, making him the first person to do so, a journey of 6,992 km that took him 860 days – WOW! Awesome!

There’s much of interest whether yours is history ancient or modern, geography, mythology or something else Timothy includes, and illustrators Aisling Lindsay and Irene Montano show in the engrossing, vibrant spreads that unfold to show the entire length of each river journey.

World stories to wallow in for sure.

Neither of the rivers I’m personally familiar with – the Thames and the Ganges – are included in Timothy’s book; now’s that another story – or many.

Karate Kids

Karate Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

Holly Sterling teaches karate and competed for England in karate, winning many medals, so it was almost inevitable that she would eventually create a picture book on the topic and here it is.

Let’s meet Maya who narrates the book, announcing before the story starts that she aspires to be a karate kid.

We then join her one Saturday morning as she dresses in her special suit (a gi) and sets off with her dad and soft toy lion to the dojo.

There she and her friends are greeted by their sensei or teacher, and then having removed their footwear, they bow to her and the class begins.

They warm up, practise blocks, then try out

and perform a patterned sequence of moves called ‘kata’ and conclude with mokuso (meditative breathing).

It’s evident that Maya as well as the other learners thoroughly enjoy participating in the session

and as she leaves Maya pauses to watch and admire one of the older children, a black belt wearer practising her kata.

In addition to showing Maya and her friends’ joyful enthusiasm for what they are learning, Holly’s lively art reflects her own enthusiasm both for karate and for portraying young children.

Be sure you check out the end papers of this karate-enticing book.

Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.

My Pop-Up Body Book

My Pop-Up Body Book
Jennie Maizels and William Petty
Walker Books

Who doesn’t love a pop-up book especially when it includes SO much learning in such a fun way as this one written by William Petty and illustrated by Jennie Maizels.

It contains a wheel, flaps, even a handful of small books within the main book; and all in just five incredible spreads whereon David Hawcock’s paper engineering is awesome. Scattered throughout the spreads are simply masses of bite-sized chunks of information, some hand lettered by the illustrator.

The level of interactive opportunities is incredible: readers can follow the development of a baby in the mother’s womb by rotating the wheel;

the thoracic skeleton positively leaps out of the pages, and the chambers of a heart can be revealed beneath a flap. Did you know that the heart of a girl beats faster than that of a boy?

The central pop-up from each spread reveals in turn, a baby, the head and organs on and within – a nose mini book lets you emit green snot from the nostrils;

the chest, the tummy and intestines (you can even track poo on the move) and finally, the whole skeleton. There is SO much to explore and discover on every one of the spreads.

An absolutely superb introduction to the body and its biology – its form, functions, growth and repair; and a terrific production, creative, clever and totally fascinating. Delve into this and children will see that they share much more in common with one another than any superficial differences.

Strongly recommended for the family shelves and classroom collection.

New in the Biographic Series

Biographic Picasso
Natalie Price-Cabrera
Biographic Audrey
Sophie Collins
Biographic Marilyn
Katie Greenwood
Biographic Marley
Liz Flavell
Biographic Beatles
Viv Croot
Ammonite Press

Here’s a look at five new titles in the enormously engaging Biographic series that features great people and their lives through infographics.

Natalie Price-Cabrera looks at the life and art of Pablo Picasso dividing it into four sections, Life, World, Work and Legacy and this same structure is used for the other titles too.

Picasso was most definitely a boundary breaker and I love his comment quoted in the book, “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the pope.’ Instead, I was a painter and became Picasso.” We’re given a look at what was going on in various parts of the world in 1881 when he was born; a family tree (again a feature of all the books except the Beatles) and several time lines.

Pretty much everyone knows that Picasso was a pioneer of Modernism but did you know that his full name has 20 words in all? Or that he’s currently THE most stolen artist in the world clocking up 1,147 artworks that have gone missing ; that’s out of the total of more than 150,000 he created during his life. Wow!

Next is the totally cool fashion icon, movie star winner of an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy and a Tony, Audrey Hepburn presented by Sophie Collins. I was amazed to learn that she spoke 6 languages – English, Dutch, Flemish, French, Italian and Spanish, speaking in all of them on behalf of UNICEF. She was supposedly able to talk to animals too. She broke her back after being thrown from a horse while filming The Unforgiven, and she once had a pet deer called Pippin. Seemingly animals played quite a part in her life.

Katie Greenwood’s choice of icon is movie star Marilyn Monroe, born 3 years earlier than Audrey Hepburn but sadly had a much shorter life, dying at just 36 from barbiturate poisoning. Amazing to think that she was reading To Kill a Mockingbird at the time of her death, having been born in the same year as its author, Harper Lee.

On a happier note, Marilyn was at one time THE most famous movie star on the planet. Moreover, she performed 10 shows during the course of 4 days to 100, 000 troops serving in Korea in 1954.

I’m a huge fan of the music of singer/songwriter Bob Marley, Liz Flavell’s subject for her latest musician Biographic. As with the other titles, this one is full of fascinating bits and pieces including that his music inspired some 7,000 prisoners of war to escape and that he was shot at twice while trying to bring about peace between two political groups.

Marley was almost as much in love with football as he was with music and would organise his musical tours to coincide with football matches in various parts of the world. Bob Marley was another icon who died far too young – at just 39 – from a brain tumour. More cheerfully, in 1980 to celebrate the independence of Zimbabwe, Bob performed before 40,00 people including Prince Charles, Robert Mugabwe and Indira Gandhi, forfeiting his fee so the gig could be free to everyone who attended.

Last and definitely not least, the most famous pop group of all time, The Beatles are presented by Viv Croot. It was interesting to be reminded of the array of musical traditions represented by 8 performers/groups as diverse as Ravi Shankar, the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles that influenced them. Imagine doing a television performance that is watched by 400 million viewers; but that is exactly what happened with their performance (with friends) of ‘All You Need is Love’ in June 1967.

Pretty well everyone has a favourite Beatles album: which is yours? Could it I wonder, be the one (released in May 1967) that includes all the song lyrics in the album artwork.

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Tyrannosaurus Rex
Dougal Dixon and Rachel Caldwell
Templar Books

Subtitled ‘ A Pop-Up Guide to Anatomy’, this totally splendid book from Dougal Dixon and Rachel Caldwell, zooms readers right up close to and within what is possibly THE most fearsome of the dinosaurs.

Dougal so he would have readers believe, is in attendance at the dissection of one of these incredible creatures – ‘a world first’ so he says as we’re treated to the stripping away of its layers.

First there’s the integumentary system (outer covering), then a look at the musculature system

beneath which is the skeletal support system. All of these reveal just how amazing an anatomy these super-strong, speedy predators had. It is after all called by many, the lizard king of all the dinosaurs and Rachel’s stunning illustrations certainly make that evident throughout – oh my goodness those daggers of teeth and colossal jaws – bone crushers they surely were.

The book is designed to give the impression of a Victorian science tome with medical notes, masses of facts, sketches of the instruments used in the dissection and of parts of the creatures and much more. There are flaps aplenty, many revealing additional facts as well as visual information

and the back endpapers have a glossary and a superb view of a Victorian laboratory cupboard filled with scientific paraphernalia.

Awesome through and through – the book as well as the dinosaur; what superb innovation; what brilliant pop-up paper-engineering. A wonderful interactive offering that makes my zoological dissections back in the day look totally pathetic; and yes I still have the set of instruments tucked away so I might have to dig them out for my next reading of this stunner of a book.

Discovering Energy

Discovering Energy
Eduard Altarriba, Johannes Hirn & Veronica Sanz
Button Books

In his characteristic bright, retro illustrative style, Eduard Altarriba in collaboration with writers Hirn and Sanz, both of whom are experts in physics, explores the vital topic of energy and its effects on all our lives.

After a spread on the sun’s energy, the book looks at what energy actually is including the difference between potential and kinetic energy.

It goes on to investigate the interrelationship between energy and power, exploring wind power, water power, electricity, fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar power and much more.

Historical pioneers including Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, James Watt of steam engine fame, Alessandro Volta who created the first battery and Einstein

are all introduced in relation to their contributions to our understanding of the topic.

In the light of the drastic effects of climate change on the planet and life thereon, there is a spread on the all-important area of ‘clean and green energy’ and the crucial developments that will make safe, clean, sustainable energy now and in the future.

This vast subject is one we all need to come to grips with and it’s never too soon to start learning. This enlightening book, although aimed at young audiences, could also be useful to adults who have no background at all in physics.

Queen of Physics

Queen of Physics
Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang
Sterling

Subtitled How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secerts of the Atom, this is a fascinating exploration of the life of a woman who overcame the barriers of gender and race to become a ground breaking experimental physicist.

Born in China in 1912, Wu Chien Shiung (meaning Courageous hero) was fortunate in having forward thinking parents. Her mother even opened a school in Liuhe to encourage parents to educate their daughters, so it was waiting by the time her own daughter was ready to start.

But it wasn’t long before Chien Shiung had outgrown her parents’ school

so they sent her fifty miles away to the city of Suzhou. There, despite opting for teacher training, she developed a passion for science, especially physics. Not only that but she became her fellow students’ leader in an underground group to fight against the injustices of the oppressive Chinese government.

Eventually her talents took her far from home, first to Berkley and then to New York’s Columbia University to continue her studies in beta decay.

Three times her outstanding work deserved the Nobel Prize but it was those men who had enlisted her help in their research, not Chien Shiung who won the award.

Not only that but she was passed over for jobs she wanted  ‘because she was a woman, because she was Asian’.

Sadly she never saw her parents again but Chien Shiung continued achieving amazing things in physics while continuing to fight prejudice against woman and Asians and in 1963 was declared ‘Queen of Physics’ by Newsweek.

Robeson explains scientific concepts in a straightforward, accessible manner, providing at the end of the book a summary of her subject’s life and there’s also a glossary and suggestions for further reading. Rebecca Huang’s mixed media illustrations add further inspiration to this biography that is rich in potential for classroom discussion as well as for aspiring young scientists.

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

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

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

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

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

Little by little youngsters are then introduced to the bones,

muscles …

and nerves of the hand – their form and function.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Artists

We Are Artists
Kari Herbert
Thames & Hudson

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

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

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

Abstract Sea, Tove jansson 1963

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

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

Group of Three Girls, 1935

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

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

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

Orchestra

Orchestra
Avalon Nuovo and David Doran
Flying Eye Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great for home or school use.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

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

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

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

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rise Up! The Art of Protest

Rise Up! The Art of Protest
Jo Rippon
Palazzo

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

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

refugee and immigrant rights, peace, and the environment.

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

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

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

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

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

Earth Heroes

Earth Heroes
Lily Dyu
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best Self
Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai
Button Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain / Who Am I?

Our precious wild animals are under threat as these two books show:

Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain
Justin Anderson and Patrick Benson
Walker Books

Here we have the latest addition to the Nature Storybook series that Walker Books does so brilliantly.

Filmmaker Justin Anderson debuts as an author; his narrative is accompanied by award winning Patrick Benson’s awesome,  finely detailed illustrations. The result is a wonderful look at the animal the inhabitants of the high Himalayas call the “Grey Ghost’, a very rare and beautiful animal.

Patrick Benson takes us right up close to the creature as it weathers a blizzard,

then communicates with other snow leopards by squirting pee.

She uses her camouflage coat to sneak up close to her prey – half a dozen ibex – lower down. Her meal however eludes her on this occasion because her cub alerts them to the danger.

We then follow mother and cub as they seek the sun’s warmth, then briefly curl up together before as the sun sinks they wake and continue their climb, disappearing into the silence of the mountain.

A final note provides further information highlighting the vulnerability of the species and detailing conservation organisations, while accompanying the narrative, in a different font, are snippets of factual information not woven into
the main text.

One feels privileged to have met these stunning animals in this quietly beautiful book.

Who Am I?
Tim Flach
Abrams Books for Young Readers

The award winning photographer Tim Flach whose superb photographs grace the pages of this ‘peek-through-the-pages’ book of endangered and threatened animals is passionate about rewilding.

Here, using riddles, full page shots, small circular images of parts of animal faces, and die-cut peek-through windows,

he introduces youngsters to a dozen animals (or rather they introduce themselves) including the Bengal tiger, a white-belied pangolin,

an axolotl and a giant panda.

In the final pages we learn what makes each creature special and why it’s endangered, and the author ends by asking young readers to help save these amazing animals, indicating how best to get involved in so doing.

A rallying call indeed.

Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World

Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World
Emmanuelle Figueras and Claire de Gastold
What on Earth Books

Did you know that our noses can detect some 400,000 different smells, each one carrying its own message?

However, this large format book investigates the sense of smell – its detection and use – not only in humans but also in a variety of animals whose snouts, trunks, rostra, muzzles and beaks are given prominence in this thematically organised volume.

There are flaps that can be lifted to reveal inside views of such things as a snail’s two ‘noses’ that amazingly allow a snail to detect the smell of a lettuce from a distance of 100 metres.

I was fascinated to read that honeybees post guard bees at the entrance to a hive to check the scent of each arrival with their antennae, allowing only those carrying the scent of the colony to enter.

We read of the different uses of the olfactory sense – to identify mates and offspting, to locate prey or other food, to detect danger as well as to assist in finding the way when travelling long distances.

Moving from the general to the specific, the author presents difficult concepts in a manner that older primary school readers will find accessible (‘Polar bears have wide nasal cavities that allow them to inhale large amounts of air and detect odorant molecules over long distance’ for instance) and this is also facilitated by the layout of the pages where text never dominates.

There are also humorous touches both verbal – male giraffes smell and taste the urine of females to check out their hormone levels and thus ascertain the female’s readiness to mate – and in Claire de Gastold’s realistic illustrations (the blissful somnolent stretch of the cat on the armchair and the horses pulling funny faces (on account of their Jacobson’s organs.

An Informative book but  fun too, and there’s a final index, plus suggestions for further reading.

Africa: Amazing Africa

Africa: Amazing Africa
Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag
Walker Books

Nigerian-born storyteller Atinuke takes us on an exciting journey through the countries of Africa in her celebration of this incredible continent – its history, culture, religions, traditions and languages.

She divides the 55 or so countries into regions – Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and North Africa providing quintessential details of each country: the wild life for which Kenya is famous;

the irresistible drumming rhythms of Burundi – (who can fail to respond to the sound of those awesome Royal Drummers of Burundi, certainly not me),

the diamond industry and contrasting cattle-herding of Botswana for instance.

There are also maps, pages featuring hairstyles, football and religions.

Mounti Feddag’s vibrant illustrations are superb, exploding into colour and pattern on every page.

I’m fortunate in having many friends from different parts of this huge continent but have never visited it other than for a childhood holiday to the island of Mauritius, and occasionally in transit; brimming with gorgeousness, this book has made me want to change that.

Those with a thirst for finding out about life in different parts of the world will also enjoy this activity book:

This Is How I Do It
Matt Lamothe
Chronicle Books

The creator of This Is How We Do It, Matt Lamothe invites the reader to document his or her own daily life and compare and contrast it with children from over 50 other countries. Included in the book are punch-out postcards, sheets of stickers, a fold-out map and photos of members of four families.

Together / Insect Superpowers

Red Reading Hub looks at two interesting, unusual and very different ways of presenting non-fiction:

Together
Isabel Otter and Clover Robin
Caterpillar Books

By means of gorgeous collage style, die cut illustrations and a series of haiku accompanied by factual paragraphs, illustrator Clover Robin and writer Isabel Otter present a nonfiction nature book that looks at animal partnerships in the wild.

Beginning thus: ‘ A vast migration. / Cranes take turns to lead their flock: / The feathered arrow.’ and explaining that when cranes migrate and the leader of the group becomes tired, another takes its turn to lead and so on.

The migrating cranes fly above in turn, a pack of wolves; a herd of chamois deer; and a pod of pilot whales. They then pass above a shark that has its skin kept parasite free by remora fish that get a free lift;

anemones kept clean by goby fish; a badger that works with a honey guide bird; a crocodile that has its teeth cleaned by plovers; a herd of loyal elephants; giraffes with oxpecker birds that help keep down their fleas,

and finally, zebras and ostriches that use their complementary sense organs to alert each other to danger.

At last the cranes reach their winter feeding grounds and their journey is over – for the time being.

A fascinating way of presenting non-fiction that offers youngsters an introduction to an intriguing aspect of animal life.

Insect Superpowers
Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Chronicle Books

Taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending popularity of superheroes, author Kate Messner and illustrator Jillian Nickell present in action-packed, graphic novel format, an alluring array of eighteen insects with extraordinary abilities.

Before plunging readers into the specifics of the various insects’ superpowers, Messner provides an introduction to insect orders and using the Monarch butterfly as her example, shows how biological classification works.

Dramatic illustrations immediately snare the reader’s attention as they confront the bugs one by one starting with in the first FAST & FIERCE chapter, ‘Supersonic Assassin Giant robber fly – more like a supervillian – that uses its venomous spit to paralyse its prey.

Also in this chapter are The Decapitator aka the Asian giant hornet with its painful sting and fierce jaws that often rip bees apart before stealing their larvae and feeding them to their own hornet larvae.

Other chapters feature insects that use mimicry (the ‘Great Imposters’); the ‘Big & Tough’ bugs some of which are among the strongest creatures on earth; then come the ‘Masters of Chemical Weaponry’. I definitely wouldn’t fancy being sprayed by the hot noxious mist that the African bombardier beetle can emit from its abdomen when something bothers it. Yikes!

Further chapters are devoted to ‘Engineers & Architects’ and ‘Amazing Ants’ (although some of the insects in the previous chapter are also ants).

For each insect included there are facts about habitat, size, diet, allies and enemies, and of course, its superpower.

If you have or know children who are into superheroes but have yet to discover the delights of insects, this book that’s all a-buzz with superpowered bugs might just fire up their enthusiasm.

Child of St. Kilda

Child of St. Kilda
Beth Waters
Child’s Play

Here’s a part of British history about which I for one, had no idea before reading this book so a big thank you to Child’s Play for sending it for review.

In this fascinating tale of the last human inhabitants of the remote Outer Hebridean islands of St.Kilda, Beth Waters relates the story of those living on Hirta, the largest of the islands and in particular of Norman John Gillies, born there in 1925.

Dividing her narration into short sections – What People Did, School, St.Kilda Mail

and so on, she tells of the ups and downs of a subsistence community wherein everybody knew one another, crops often failed and there was no money; sheep were kept for the production of tweed, and wild birds or fish sometimes provided the food as supplies could only be delivered for half the year.

When John Gillies was not quite five his mother became ill, was taken to the mainland and there she died. This precipitated a petition from the remaining inhabitants of St. Kilda to the government asking to be moved to the British mainland and by 1930 the entire population was evacuated.

The islands are now a World Heritage Site.

Beth Walters’ monoprint illustrations of the sea, sky and cliffs, executed in green, blue and russet hues are superbly evocative of a long gone way of life; and she also includes some contemporary photographs and excerpts from her sketchbook.