Human Journey / Prehistoric Pets

Human Journey
Professor Alice Roberts, illustrated by James Weston Lewis
Red Shed

Readers may recall the BBC documentary series researched and presented by biological anthropologist, Professor Alice Roberts about a decade back called The Incredible Human Journey and now at last we have this superbly presented illustrated book Human Journey for children.

In a dramatic telling, that includes sufficient but never an excess of detail, we’re taken on a journey way, way back to the beginning of time to trace our ancestors. Did you know that at the Dawn of Humankind, our early human ancestors lived on the grasslands of Africa some two and a half million years ago?

It’s those people whose migrations it’s possible to trace to other parts of the globe, and that’s what this fascinating, highly accessible book does. We follow the spread of humankind to Asia, then to Australia; then around 50,000 years ago to Europe where Homo sapiens encountered the Neanderthals.

Then come several spreads on the Ice Age after the peak of which, human hunters began to colonise the Americas – first North and then South.

There’s a map at the end tracing the entire human journeys; journeys where there were perils to face in the form of deserts, climate change, oceans, volcanoes, enormous creatures, floods

and even more. Incredibly however, the people adapted and invented, survived and thrived.

If you’ve ever pondered upon what it means to be part of the human race, this book is one to read. It’s one too where, with their wonderful details, the illustrations of James Weston Lewis merit close attention. There’s also a useful timeline and glossary.

For family bookshelves and school collections from KS2 on.

Prehistoric Pets
Dr Dean Lomax and Mike Love
Templar Books

If you’ve ever wondered what your moggy or your pooch’s ancestors long, long ago were like, then this book is for you. And even if you haven’t or perhaps don’t own a pet but are interested in the branch of science that is concerned with fossil animals and plants, called palaentology as is the author Dr Dean Lomax, then this book will fascinate you.

Herein Dr Lomax has selected seven animals, four of which are mammals: representing the rodents is Ernest the guinea pig, the Felidae is Flossy the cat; there’s Toby whose Canidae family first evolved some 40 million years back,

while horse, Pippa with her thick keratin hooves to help her run on both hard and soft ground, is the Equidae representative.

Each of these creatures, as well as budgerigar Lucky, Jasper the corn snake and Goldfish, Bubbles that belongs to a group of ray-finned fish that first appeared some 415 million years back – wow!

Every one has a double spread with a gatefold that opens to reveal, not only lots more fascinating paleontological information including a fossil file, but also an exciting, sometimes alarming pop-out creature, its prehistoric ancestor, which virtually springs to life before you.

Illustrator Mike Love provides the visuals and has done a terrific job in making every page alluring and exciting; indeed the design of the whole book is terrific.

Interview with a Tiger

Interview with a Tiger
Andy Seed and Nick East
Welbeck Publishing

Ever fancied getting close up and chatty with some clawed creatures? Probably not but nevertheless, the creators of this book, author Andy and Nick (illustrator) would have readers believe that is just what they’ve done. Courtesy that is of a unique invention named a tranimalator that enabled Andy at least, to speak directly with ten creatures of the chelate kind. (Maybe Nick had his own ‘viewing from afar’ machine to facilitate creating his funky illustrations.)

Now, without further delay, let us too meet the interviewees, starting with a Bengal tiger hailing all the way from the wild grasslands and jungles of India.

The questions are tailor made for each animal, so our tiger is asked about her stripes, hunting, food preferences and catching thereof, offspring, her partner, her ideal day, dislikes, adversaries and rivals. Oh! And apparently, Def Leppard is her favourite band.

Other big cat interviews are with an extremely rare Snow Leopard; a (don’t call me spotted, call me rosetted) Jaguar from the Mexican wetlands, (3rd biggest in the cat ranking order); and the mighty African lion(ess).

There’s a yellow-eyed wolf that only howls to keep in touch with pack members or scare off other wolves. Apparently, such animals eat not only the flesh of their catches but also pretty much every other part too. Cheeky creature this one, talking of the online ordering habit of humans.

If you prefer bug-munchers then head straight to the Giant Anteater pages where you’ll discover how they extract their next meal – ants or termites – by licking up the tasty treats from their holes with their long, sticky-spit covered tongues. Interestingly anteaters lack teeth and have tiny mouths.

Or, why not try meeting the tough, fearless Honey Badger (though it will eat all manner of plant and animal fare) but it’s pretty small (think little dog size).

Don’t miss the chat with a Polar Bear, or the Giant Armadillo and the final, Three-toed Sloth either. The last one clearly has a sense of humour and will make readers laugh at his responses. Tee hee!

This is such a fun, hip way of presenting information – a considerable amount of it – in a memorable fashion that will appeal particularly to young humans that prefer a touch of light-heartedness to their learning.

How Do You Make A Baby?

How Do You Make a Baby?
Anna Fiske
Gecko Press

‘You were a baby once.’ But how do you make a baby? That’s what this wittily presented, forthright, highly informative, graphic book details. No words were minced in the making of this one!

But it does more than merely provide the facts; it’s also a celebration of life and of difference.

Twins, IVF (for ‘couples who can’t make babies when they have sex’) and the unpredictability of fertilisation after coitus, are all presented before the descriptions of pregnancy,

preparations for, and the actual birth.

Value judgements are never made; same sex couples are presented in both words and pictures, but it’s a pity they’re not in the very brief mention of adoption near the end of the book. ‘Children born to parents who can’t look after them can be adopted. Parents who adopt a child have been waiting a very long time.’

Anna Fiske’s book offers a great starting place for conversations about birth, sex, and families with children from around 4+.

However the final two spreads that include the words, ‘A new baby in the world is one of the most brilliant and beautiful things there is. Every child is different. There’s only one like you.’ move it beyond mere biology to the uniqueness of every individual.

I was reminded of this when the arrival of this book for review coincided with a brief stay of my nephew who brought his baby daughter, Faith, born just before the pandemic restrictions. I watched her very closely over the time she was visiting, realising how truly amazing she is at this preverbal stage when she’s just about to start propelling herself across the floor.

Welcome to Ballet School / Pop Art

Welcome to Ballet School
Ashley Bouder and Julia Bereciartu
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this book, we follow a diverse group of beginners from their first day at ballet school where they excitedly don their colourful dance attire and ballet shoes before warming up.

They then learn the five basic positions for arms and feet ready to approach the barre.

With the basic steps mastered and key techniques acquired, the children are introduced to a special guest who helps them use their learning to tell a story (Sleeping Beauty) with costumes

and a surprise finale.

A firm believer that ballet is for everyone, the author, Ashley Bouder is a principal ballerina and in addition to the concise instructions in the lessons, she’s added a useful glossary of the terms used at the back of the book. But would a teacher, however welcoming s/he wanted to be, really greet children such as those entering the class, as “ little ones”?

Julia Bereciartu’s illustrations are beautifully done and will be a great help to new learners as they zoom in on the five positions and show details of the leg movements in the steps.

I especially like the assertion that ballet is ‘an art form but requires an athlete to perform the steps’ said as the children pause to look at the final gallery of great dancers from various parts of the world.

A book for aspiring dancers and those experiencing their first classes; could that be your child?

Pop Art
Emilie Dufresne
BookLife Publishing

Courtesy of art specialist Chloe, an employee of the gallery, readers are given a preview of a Pop Art Exhibition to be held in her place of work.

Before that though comes an explanation of what Pop Art actually is, when it became popular and why.

We meet several artists – Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and Yayoi Kusama –

and as well as an introduction to their particular techniques, there are activity spreads.

These give instructions on, in turn, trying your hand at collage, creating a comic strip and captions; painting a portrait pop art style and painting a pumpkin after the fashion of Yayoi Kusama.

The book concludes with a quiz, encouragement to visit a gallery and a glossary.

Pop Art is a style less frequently explored with primary children; this title in the In My Gallery series provides a useful starting point for home or school.

I am a Bird / Colours of the World: Green Planet

Here are two recent books about the natural world from the Little Tiger Group

I am a Bird
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin

Through a text narrated for the most part by an eponymous bird and illustrated throughout in a vibrant colour palette, readers share in the world of birds, large and small from various parts of the globe.

We discover some intricately built nests;

find out why birds sing, what they eat and how they obtain their food. We learn why migration happens and read something about the process with reference to specific birds as well as discovering that not all birds including kiwis, kakapos and penguins are unable to fly.

There’s a spread about birds that live near water; one about the ostrich – the world’s largest bird and another about the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world.

The text is written in a chatty, highly readable manner and is accompanied by stylised, simplified yet totally recognisable images of the avians featured.

Colours of the World: Green Planet
Moira Butterfield and Jonathan Woodward

This is a companion volume to Blue Planet and is subtitled ‘Life in our Woods and Forests’.

Having shown on a world map the forested areas and explained briefly the different kinds of forests, (did you know that forests are home to more than 50 % of the world’s plants and animals?) the book goes on to explain the anatomy of trees and to discuss their importance.

Double-page spreads discuss Extreme Trees – the widest, tallest, oldest, fastest growing and smallest; how trees obtain nutrition from their leaves as well as how they provide food and hiding places for certain animals.

Much of the rest of the book then focuses on the kinds of forests starting with boreal forests with their moose, eagles, cats, wolves, hares, minibeasts and of course, bears.

We then move to the hot steamy rainforests and in particular, Amazonia with its wealth of incredible fauna both large and small.

Third are the temperate forests where the trees lose their leaves in autumn and grow new ones in the spring. These places are home to deer, mice, squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers and hunters such as pine martens and owls.

The final pages look at forests as sources of materials for human homes; as well as some of the uses of wood and a brief mention of sustainability.

With Jonathan Woodward’s visually appealing graphics and Moira Butterfield’s succinct paragraphs, this book like Blue Planet offers a good, highly readable introduction to a vital aspect of our planet. It’s one to add to classroom libraries and family book collections.

Fashion Conscious

Fashion Conscious
Sarah Klymkiw, illustrated by Kim Hankinson
Red Shed (Egmont)

This book is aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults but I too learned a fair bit from it. Indeed, families, educators, everyone really, needs to become more aware of all the factors surrounding clothing and its manufacture.

We’ve all been hearing recently of the horrors happening to people working in the garment industry, particularly those employed by suppliers to the fast fashion sellers.

One of the good things that’s come out of this pandemic is that we’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate the relationship we  have with the natural world; and considering the impact our clothing choices have on the planet is a vital element of that rethink.

Many of us have been taking stock and looking at what we have stuffed into our wardrobes and drawers. I was shocked at how many items I discovered with labels still attached. Since shops re-opened I’ve bought nothing new to wear, nor did I order anything on line during the lockdown and having read Sarah Klymkiw’s book, do not intend to any time soon.

Hurrah for Sarah and Kim’s creative guide to sustainable fashion. It’s packed full of practical, positive (never preachy) advice on how to become a more sustainable consumer of fashion, as well as the facts and figures we need to know.

There’s never been a better time to change your wardrobe ways – to re-use and repair what you have (step-by-step instructions are provided) or to swap it;

and if you really need something new, then this book will help you make a wise choice.

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch
Matt Ralphs and Núria Tamarit
Flying Eye Books

If you only ever think of witches in relation to Halloween, folktales, Macbeth’s ‘weird sisters’ or perhaps the ducking stools used to supposedly identity those who practised witchcraft in the 16th and 17 centuries, then Matt Ralphs and illustrator Núria Tamarit will most definitely enlarge your witchy horizons considerably.

It will most definitely do so where children are concerned.
Right from its alluring cover you’ll be held in its power, but make no mistake, author Matt has definitely done his homework when concocting this splendid brew of fact and fiction.

We start way, way back in 3100-500 BCE with Ancient Mesopotamian Magic as practised by the ‘ašipu’ as the scholars and doctors (male only) were called.

They tried to cure illness by fighting the evil magic they believed was the cause by a mixture of medicine, spells and prayers (to their god, Ea).

There’s also a look at the magic of Ancient Egypt, that of Ancient Greece, Slavic magic, Norse magic, the magic of the Middle Ages, of South Africa from prehistoric times until now, and Japanese magic.

Magical accoutrements of various kinds from wands

to potion ingredients, grimoires (spell books to you and me), charms and more are covered.

There is information about real people who used magic – the Russian monk Rasputin, Mother Shipton the seer from Yorkshire,

Marie Laveau, a healer and fortune teller from New Orleans and Gerald Gardner who developed Wicca in England are each given a double spread.

You can also find out about the Salem trials and the Witchfinder General and, read a brief version of the folktale about Baba Yaga who lived in a house that stood on chicken legs and supposedly ate children (cooked naturally).

All in all this is a veritable treasure trove of witchy enchantment, beautifully presented as one expects from Flying Eye, and you’ve plenty of time to get hold of a copy before Halloween.

Over and Under the Rainforest

Over and Under the Rainforest
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
Chronicle Books

This beautiful book immerses readers deep in the South American rainforest in the company of an adult (Tito) and a child narrator as they trek the entire day, from early morning to evening.

They observe with all their senses enjoying the ‘symphony of sounds! Chatters and chirps and a howling roar’ of monkeys, insects and birds in the treetops.

As they continue hiking along the trail we share the sights and sounds of particular animals, ‘Up in the trees’ and ‘Down in the forest’. There are toucans that ‘croak and bicker over breakfast’; a row of bats ‘sleeps away the daylight’;

… ‘A poison dart frog makes his way up a trunk with a tadpole on his back and they find themselves ‘eye to eye with capuchin monkeys as they cross a hanging bridge.

With the afternoon comes the rain, time to snack on dried fruits alongside snacking monkeys. The rain falls more heavily causing a blue morpho butterfly to fold her wings and tuck herself away close to a sleeping mother sloth and her baby.

When evening comes, the rain lets up and the darkness falls all around, there are lots of silent hunting animals such as a parrot snake and an eyelash palm pit viper, and some new sounds too, as up in the trees howler monkeys “Rrrowf! … Rroooooaaaahhhhhh!” in response to Tito’s roar.

Night is the time for jaguars to be on the prowl so perhaps the sudden scary snap is a sign one’s on the move.

It’s also the time for the two trekkers to cross that last bridge and, with thoughts of Abuelita’s supper awaiting, to head for home to the sounds of a choir of insects and raindrops.

Kate Messner’s poetic text really does capture the atmosphere of the rainforest and the changes that happen over a day, while Christopher Silas Neal’s mixed media, matt illustrations, with their alternating views of ground level, the sky and the treetops showing the rich variety of the flora and fauna, imbue this particular ecosystem with a magic of its own.

If you want to discover more about the fauna, Kate has included notes on twenty creatures at the back of the book, along with some paragraphs about her own Costa Rican rainforest forays.

Colours of the World: Blue Planet / Sounds of the Skies

Colours of the World: Blue Planet
Moira Butterfield and Jonathan Woodward
Little Tiger

Author Moira Butterfield provides both an introductory look at the water cycle and then an exploration that takes young readers to a variety of watery environments, both fresh and salty, to look at some of the life forms therein.

We visit the planet’s five oceans and the marine biomes where can be found such creatures as great white sharks, blue whales, pygmy seahorses and ocean sunfish; and deeper down among the corals we view clownfish, lobsters and eels as well as scary-looking anglerfish and viperfish,

whilst much nearer the shore whelks, mussels and hermit crabs lurk among the various seaweeds.

Next comes a look at various water-craft from container ships to rescue boats. That and a later spread on different kinds of aquatic homes including houseboats in Kerala and houses built on stilts by the Bajau people of Malaysia; and another showing a reservoir, a water-treatment plant and a communal well recognise human usage of this precious ‘sparkling treasure’.

In between we visit rivers, including the world’s four biggest,

and then half a dozen lakes, surprisingly two of those included are in the UK.

Throughout the text, in simple language is presented in single or two-sentence blocks around which are Jonathan Woodward’s mostly close-up, collage style illustrations, appropriately patterned and textured.

This book would make a useful addition to a primary topic box with a watery theme or as an introduction to a class water topic.

From the same team comes:

Sounds of the Skies
Moira Butterfield and Jonathan Woodward
Little Tiger

32 amazing creatures from nine different locations around the world are presented in this book as well as 13 birds, the calls of 9 of which readers can hear at the press of a button on each double spread vibrantly illustrated by Jonathan Woodward.

From the Amazon rainforest comes the noisy call of a fast flying scarlet macaw, while in the eucalyptus forest of eastern Australia, sounding similar to a human laugh, comes the kookaburra’s call.

For each bird soloist, Moira Butterfield has written a short verse.
Here’s the one for the Chinese nightingale in the Black Mountains of Bhutan:
A Chinese nightingale / sings for his love, / and sweet notes / float up / between the trees. / Up and up into the sky.’ In addition there’s a short paragraph giving information about each of the animals featured.

Other locations include British Columbia where bobcats and bald eagles roam; the Sonoran Desert of North America where the Gila woodpecker that makes a drumming sound in the sizzling environment it shares with such creatures as coyotes and rattlesnakes.

The last stop is Serengeti in Tanzania where among the lions, zebras, giraffes and gazelles can be heard the booming sounds of ostriches.

There’s a final map of the world showing each of the locations, a list of the birds and other animals mentioned; and inside the back cover we discover which of the birds featured are under threat in our changing world.

Beneath the Waves

Beneath the Waves
Helen Ahpornsiri and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Ocean life is a relatively popular STEM topic for authors/illustrators but if you are looking for a book with that extra wow factor then Helen Ahpornsiri’s Beneath the Waves has just that.

In four chapters we visit various watery locations – Coast,

Tropics, Open Ocean and Polar Waters

and for each one Helen has collected the natural materials to press and then create magnificent, intricately designed collage illustrations of the weird and wonderful creatures that live in the four habitats.

Sometimes books that are so beautifully illustrated as Helen’s are let down by a mediocre text, not so this one though. Lily Murray’s text is highly engaging and informative with each topic or marine animal being given two, or sometimes three paragraphs that include facts relating to size, feeding habits, breeding and more.

So for instance we read of sea krait ‘… Large lungs mean it can stay underwater for up to two hours at a time, and its flattened tail works like a paddle, powering the snake through the water. When the sea krait finds its prey, (eels) it strikes with deadly venom, swallowing it whole.’ Fascinating indeed.

With its clever fusion of art and science, this is a superb STEAM book that will delight and inform readers of a wide age range. I can envisage a fair number of them collecting a variety of flora and getting creative themselves.
It’s definitely one to add to your home bookshelves and to school collections, both primary and secondary.

I Am Not A Label

I Am Not A Label
Cerrie Burnell & Lauren Baldo
Wide Eyed Editions

‘Everyone deserves to see someone like them in a story or achieving something great.’ So says the author of this book, actor, author and erstwhile CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell.

In short biographical accounts, she highlights the diverse achievements of 34 people from different parts of the world and from present and past times (covering a time span of some 250 years) who have all defied the odds and achieved great things despite having a disability or mental health issue of some kind.

Her choice in terms of accomplishment is wide ranging and includes artists, authors, activists, performers, scientists and mathematicians, people in fashion, and more. Some such as Beethoven, Matisse, Helen Keller, Frida Kahlo, Stephen Hawkins, Stevie Wonder and Lady Gaga will probably be familiar names to many readers.

Others may be unfamiliar, such as mathematician John Nash who had a challenging mental health condition,

Wanda Dîaz-Merced the astronomer who became blind due to diabetic retinopathy and went on to develop sonification – a way of turning visual information into sound pictures

and Arunima Sinha, an international volleyball player who after being attacked, thrown from a moving train and losing a leg as a result, took up mountaineering and became the first female amputee to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

Every one of the stories is enormously inspiring demonstrating that if you have a passion, self-belief, are absolutely determined and prepared to work hard then you can achieve amazing things.

Almost all of those included are allocated a double spread with a full-page portrait by Lauren Baldo, who manages to capture both the determination and jubilation in every one of her subjects. There are also three spreads headed Mental Health, Paralympic Stars

and Hidden Disabilities showcasing several people.

A powerful, uplifting and important book that deserves to be widely read and should be in every primary classroom collection.

Visiting the Doctor / I’m a Vegan / Rubbish and Recycling

Here’s a look at titles from three non-fiction series kindly sent for review from Booklife Publishing

Visiting the Doctor
Joanna Brundle

This is a title in the First Experiences series that seeks to allay the fears youngsters might have about facing something new such as a visit to the doctor.

Through a sequence of questions and answers, together with clearly labelled photographs, little ones are introduced to what a doctor does, why visiting the surgery might be necessary and then goes through the process of a visit – checking-in, what happens inside the doctor’s room, what a doctor might check on, the role of a nurse, prescribing and visiting a pharmacy, taking medicine and finally, the possibility of the need to book another appointment.

Simple, straightforward and reassuring: this is one for sharing before a first visit to a GP or to add to an early years setting’s book collection.

I’m a Vegan
Shalini Vallepur

Here’s a handy little book from the Diverse Diets series that starts by explaining what veganism is and then goes on to offer some suggestions for those who want to try swapping animal products with vegan alternatives.

To that end there are step-by-step instructions for making a vegan cheese from cashew nuts.

Some potential vegans worry about getting sufficient protein in their diet without meat and dairy, and reassuringly, there’s a page suggesting some protein-rich vegetable substitutes/ such as kidney beans, channa (chick peas) and tofu. The author includes a yummy-looking stir-fry recipe using tofu as its main protein source.

The final spread looks at a vegan life-style that eschews animal products in non-edible items, and is followed by a glossary of terms used and an index.

Succinctly written and illustrated with photographs, this is a useful starting point on the subject of veganism for young readers.

Rubbish and Recycling
Harriet Brundle

Rubbish and Recycling is part of the publisher’s Protecting Our Planet series, something that is crucial for all living things.

Having provided brief explanations as to what constitutes rubbish and what happens to our rubbish once it’s collected, the author explains what harm is caused by the items taken to landfill sites.

Much better than throwing things away though is recycling, and that’s the next topic in this book. Most of us nowadays, are much more likely to look carefully at materials we might once have thrown out without thinking, check to see if there’s a recycling symbol like the one shown herein,

and if so place it in the appropriate receptacle for collection. Then one hopes it can be made into something useful again.

With the world’s population growing ever larger, it’s increasingly important that we all play our part in preventing things ending up as landfill or causing harm to animals, as the author reminds readers; and she concludes by making some suggestions that if all readers followed, would make a great difference when it comes to protecting our precious planet.

With photographic illustrations on each of the ten spreads and a concise text with fact boxes, here’s a thought provoking book that one hopes will galvanise young readers into action.

A Trip to the Future

A Trip to the Future
Moira Butterfield and Fagostudio
Templar Publishing

The future is coming no matter what we do, and most of us are presently looking forward to the near future when things get closer to normal. But what role will science and technology play in tomorrow’s world?

Author Moira Butterfield takes readers on a virtual sci-fi odyssey to look at some of the future possibilities, as well as showing us some of the incredible things scientists and technologists have already achieved.

We start in the home – a smart home of course – where voice command technology will be pretty commonplace.

Each spread thereafter moves further afield and the next stop is the catwalk for a look at Powered Dressing. Imagine being able to charge your mobile with your trousers.

On a more serious note, the prospect of biodegradeable clothing is surely to be welcomed.

So too are the possibilities offered at this recycling centre

where bacteria-munching technology could be used to help break down much of what we presently call rubbish.

In spite of being vegetarian – vegan almost – I don’t think the notion of eating a meal made wholly from algae really appeals and a pondweed burger on an edible plate sounds gross!

A holiday of any kind away from home feels like a dream right now but did you know that already there are plans afoot for a space station hotel that will orbit Earth. I don’t think I’ll be reserving my ticket no matter how awesome the views might be.

And as for holidaying on Mars, I’m not an enthusiastic stargazer so I think I’d give that one a miss too, no matter how successful scientists might be at ‘terraforming’ the red planet.

I do find the notion of a space garden fascinating though. On the Space Garden spread I was interested to learn that already researchers from the University of London have altered the DNA of a lettuce to produce a drug that can treat bone weakening.
The book ends with a look at ethical considerations and the author puts forward 4 ‘future science rules’ for readers’ consideration.

Every one of the 27 Fagostudio designed spreads has its own allure, though it depends on a readers’ predilections which ones they find truly immersive, but the entire book is certainly fascinating, particularly for those with a scientific or technological bent.

The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism

The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism
Debby Elley & Tori Houghton, illustrated by J.C. Perry
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Everyone is an individual be they neuro-typical or neuro-diverse, so there are as many ways of experiencing autism as there are people on the autism spectrum. However there are three things that all those with autism have in common, albeit in different degrees – difficulties with speech and language, difficulties with social skills and rigidity of thought.

Here’s a handy little book to help youngsters, understand the complexities of the condition.

Its authors (both with a wealth of experience relating to neurodiversity) use the ice-cream sundae simile and its ingredients to explain autism in a non-threatening, non-judgemental way to young people, both those with autism and neuro-typicals.

They first did so as editors of AuKids magazine when they published an article called The Autism Sundae Dessert with an aim to show autism, not as a disability but a difference – a dynamically evolving condition.

Such was the response that their article evolved into posters, demonstrations and now, this book, The Ice-Cream Sundae Guide to Autism with its three different flavoured scoops (chocolate ice-cream for speech and language, vanilla for social skills, and strawberry for rigidity of thought; plus extras – chocolate sauce (sensory processing disorder) and a wafer (self-regulation).

Parents, teachers, and others working with youngsters can use the book with its clear, unambiguous illustrations and puzzles

to solve, either with an individual, or a class or group, depending on their personal circumstances. It might act as a starting point for a practical ice-cream sundae making session, or as something to refer to over and over, to help build understanding of the advantages and challenges of autism.

Meet the … Ancient Greeks Meet the … Pirates / Building a Roman Fort

Meet the … Ancient Greeks
Meet the … Pirates

James Davies
Big Picture Press

Now with sturdy flexible covers, are James Davies’ most recent Meet the … books.

As with the first two titles, what characterises these is James’ exuberant writing style and the way he presents a considerable amount of information in a way that is highly engaging, gently irreverent, funny and sometimes surprising.

In Ancient Greeks, definitely one of the greatest civilisations, we find out about buildings, battles, politics, the gods, education, language, festivals, games, arts, science and more, each topic having its own spread; and the book ends with a quick look at Greece today and a timeline.

Who could fail to giggle at his cartoonish comic-strip presentations of The Twelve Labours of Heracles

and Pandora’s Box, or chuckle over the depiction of Homer writing his epic blog? And all those speech bubbles are splendidly silly.

Which brings me to the illustrations in general: the Greek spreads are rendered in orange and black (with occasional use of blue) – let’s give the last words to the final panel of Pandora’s Box – highly pertinent today …

In Meet the … Pirates – equally bursting with facts and fun – we move forwards in time a fair bit (after a Viking encounter) and come face to face with some of the most famous and fearsome pirates, the likes of Blackbeard with his famously smouldering beard and hair. EEEK! You certainly wouldn’t want to come across him or his ship on the high seas.

I was unaware of Black Bart though – the most successful pirate of the Golden Age by all accounts. And we mustn’t forget the women: apparently they weren’t actually allowed to be pirates at all but some made a pretty successful job of it from the 1500s to the late 18th century.

We also discover what life aboard ship was like, – certainly not a life for me, booty or no booty, with the likelihood of scurvy, gangrene, lost limbs and worse.

No thanks! However hard James tries in his hilarious presentation, I’ll restrict my piratical fun to reading this splutter-inducing offering from the safety of my sofa.

Again the book concludes with a look at modern day piracy and a time line.

Building a Roman Fort
Robin Twiddy
BookLife Publishing

This is one of a history series Life Long Ago that uses a child narrator – in this instance Atticus, son of a Roman centurion in AD 46 – to help make the topic accessible to a young audience.

The boy describes the process of building a fort from the outside inwards; and in addition, readers will discover the answers to where and why. They’ll learn about the various materials used, the design and more.

The text comprises speech bubbles and fact boxes that present the information succinctly using the occasional Latin word. (I was surprised to discover that a centurion was in charge of 80 not 100 men.)

There are plans and diagrams, as well as illustrations of Atticus and his family, making for a clear and informative first guide to use in a primary school topic on the Romans.

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.