Made for Each Other

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some musicians have a paragraph,

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

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

Wild is the Wind

Wild is the Wind
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queens

Queens
Victoria Crossman
Scholastic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for school and home.

Fact and Fiction for your Early Years Bookshelves

All Kinds of Families
Sophy Henn
Red Shed (Egmont)

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that Meerkats live in communities.

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

Recommended for foundation stage settings and families with young children.

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Driving? / What a Ship Sees

Who’s Driving?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

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

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

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

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

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

What A Ship Sees
Laura Knowles and Vivian Mineker
Welbeck Publishing

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

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

and the changing weather.

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

safety, or ships and boats.

How to be a Bug Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline: Science & Technology

Timeline: Science & Technology
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Creatures

Counting Creatures
Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
Two Hoots

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

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

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

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

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

Why? / It Isn’t Rude to be Nude

Why?
Billy Dunne and Rhys Jeffreys
Maverick Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timelines From Black History

Timelines from Black History
Dorling Kindersley
illustrated by Lauren Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Wangari Maathai are included.

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

Climate Emergency Atlas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both primary and secondary schools need at least one copy.

The Secret Life of Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Oakheart for your special gift.

5 Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime

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

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

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

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

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

Then there are star stories and Moon Mysteries to enjoy

and lots more.

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

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

The Journey / Sounds of the Wild

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

The Journey
Jonny Marx and Hanako Clulow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds of the Wild
Moira Butterfield and Stephanie Fizer Coleman

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

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

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

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

and a tiger (Sumatra).

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

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

Nature in Focus – Home / Seasons

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

Home
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons
Hannah Pang and Clover Robin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Knit

Kids Knit
Kerry Kimber
GMC Publications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox: A Circle of Life Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While You’re Sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little People, Big Dreams: Captain Tom Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.