Build Your Own Mars Colony

Build Your Own Mars Colony
illustrated by Jana Glatt
Laurence King Publishing

What better way for youngsters to spend some lockdown time than trying out a bit of space exploration? By means of the contents of this nifty box of cardboard sheets they can do just that, blasting themselves into the deepest depths of beyond in a rocket and then coming to land on the red planet aka Mars.

The scope for imaginary play is terrific once all the pieces from the ten sturdy sheets have been assembled and the colony constructed. What does it feel like enclosed in a space ship hurtling through the pitch-blackness? How does life on a new planet feel compared to that on earth?

The laser cut, double-sided pieces pop-out easily providing all that’s needed for an entire mission Mars colony to be built.

Survival and all that entails have been considered here: there’s a dome-shaped habitat that can provide shelter, half a dozen human characters and some animal ones, a variety of vehicles and the ‘technical manual for interplanetary pioneers’ giving basic plans, unfolds into a base on which to put all the splendidly detailed parts once slotted together.

For adults looking for ways to keep their children engaged, this has great potential; it ticks a host of educational boxes but best of all, it’s terrific fun and encourages those all important flights of fancy.

Samuel (just 5) enjoyed assembling the pieces

and once he’d done so, he and his sister (7) played together with them, and Emmanuelle, having added a few items of her own, wrote a chapter of her story about one of the characters setting up a school on Mars.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this is another Fatti Burke search-and-find story that plunges young Tom and his adventure-loving archaeologist Granny Bea’s mischievous cat Digby back in time, on this occasion, by means of a coin from the time of Hadrian.

As with his previous adventure, Tom visits all the major sites and his first stop in Rome is the bustling market forum. Where though are Granny Bea and Digby? The search is on but there’s so much else to spot at the forum before moving on to the next location – Circus Maximus where there’s a chariot race under way.

From there Tom tries the beautiful Pantheon building,

a sculptor’s studio; a busy aqueduct building construction site, blocks of flats called insulae (Latin for island); then further up the street, the public baths.

Still Granny and Digby remain illusive so he tries the harbour, two villas – one with a banquet under way,

and even catches sight of the emperor in a chariot as he searches the street, finally ending up at the huge Colosseum amphitheatre. Could it be that here he’ll finally catch up Granny and her cat?

All ends happily of course with the three reunited and back in their own time.

Every alluring spread is packed with fine details to pore over as well as a list of items to find (from a bird nesting in a centurion’s helmet to a fainting lady) and plenty of facts in bite-sized chunks.
Also included – solutions (in case you can’t find all the 100+ items), a glossary and index.
Especially worth getting hold of if your child or class is studying Ancient Rome but it’s lots of immersive fun learning in any case. Perhaps just what’s needed right now.

Only a Tree Knows How To Be a Tree/ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons

Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree
Mary Murphy
Otter-Barry Books

There are SO many things about a tree to appreciate and take delight in. First and foremost is its inherent and unique beauty, but it also provides shelter for all manner of insects, birds,

and other small animals, for as the author says ‘Only a Tree knows / how to be a tree.’

In similar enthusiastic fashion, Mary talks of and celebrates other things in the natural world – birds, dogs, water with its plethora of fish,

Earth whereon all the things mentioned have their homes, but also for its turning that brings both night and day, and the seasons; and there’s the universe with its multitude of planets … “But Earth is our home / and only Earth knows how to be Earth.’

There are people too of all kinds to celebrate every one special and different: these are represented by a host of joyful children

playing, talking, pretending, one even meditates. Indeed children feature in all but one spread. I love Mary’s inclusive, brightly hued, detailed pictures of them all. These alone offer plenty to look at, enjoy and talk about.

Nothing is too insignificant to celebrate here from the tiniest creature to the entire universe. Share, pause, reflect and feel awe.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons
illustrations by Max Williams/ Bear Hunt Films Ltd. Susanna Chapman
Walker Entertainment

No matter the weather or the season, youngsters will find something of interest in this interactive seasonal guide. There are a number of weather related investigations some of which can be done at home, others will involve going out doors. You might make your own rain gauge; or perhaps find a good spot for some cloud spotting.

On a clear wintry night, what about some moon spotting or looking at the stars? Or on a fine spring day, why not take the opportunity to get outside and look for signs of new life – there might be baby animals around.

Then once back indoors you can adorn a field with spring flowers using some of the stickers provided at the back of the book.

There are also seasonal recipes, crafts and I particularly like the idea of ‘Go green lucky dip’ where you can use the discs provided but also add you own counters.

With plenty of fun, learning opportunities, certainly this is a sticker activity book and much more.

Build A Castle

Build a Castle
Paul Farrell
Pavilion Books

Young children are continuously sensing, relating, observing, investigating, thinking and communicating. In so doing they research and create theories about how and why the world and things in it, work. We adults – teachers, parents, playworkers and others – have a unique opportunity to support this through our work and our play, through the arts and our relationships with children.

One such opportunity is presented in this Build a Castle kit that Samuel (age 4) was enormously excited to investigate.
The kit comprises 64 cleverly designed, slot-together building cards (105 x 69mm) – turrets, arrow-slit windows, portcullises, roofs, walls, flags and other things which can be assembled both upwards and outwards, to create a medieval wonder, or many.
Samuel spent a couple of hours completely absorbed, finding out how to slot the pieces together and working on ways to construct.

Having unpacked the pieces he unfolded the ‘Basic Building guide’ booklet and perused it, trying to match the various different cards with the design illustrated. He then began building, trying things out, and altering his design until he’d both used all the pieces and was satisfied with his creation.

His concentration never wavered

and having partly completed his castle he went and got two wooden figures from his toy box and added those, playing and storying with them inside the various rooms as he built.

What a cool way in which to play and learn. I thoroughly recommend Build a Castle for individuals, families, foundation stage settings and schools.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Grown-ups Never Do That / What’s Going On Here?

Grown-ups Never Do That
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

‘Adults never misbehave.’ So says the opening line of well-known collaborators Cali and Chaud’s latest offering.
But there’s a team of young sleuths at work who might just disprove the veracity of that statement and we then accompany them through the book.

Of course, they’re absolute paragons of virtue these mature people. So much so that following Cali’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Adults are always good’ on the penultimate spread he concludes with the sound advice, ‘So you really should be just like them.’

However those youngsters who have been spying on the yelling, bad temperedness, cheating, sulking, messiness, lateness,

bad manners, time wasting and the other grown-up behaviours they’ve witnessed, may well think otherwise.

The brevity of Cali’s ironic narrative is countered by Chaud’s detailed comical visuals

making for a diverting book that will please readers young and not so young.

What’s Going On Here?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books

This is a mix-and-match book wherein Tallec, in his typical skittish manner, invites readers to engage in storying with a weird and wonderful cast of characters – animal and a couple of human ones – all of which are sporting rather ridiculous headwear.
You can smile at the attire of each, as you read the related plot piece and ponder the question posed before flipping to and fro to try the plethora of possible permutations that the split pages offer.

I’ve used similarly designed books (three-way split pages) with under-confident readers of all ages needing a morale boost, and I’d do the same with this somewhat more sophisticated one.

Deep in the Ocean / The Big Sticker Book of Birds

Deep in the Ocean
Lucie Brunellière
Abrams Appleseed

In this large format board book, readers follow Oceanos, a shiny silver submarine, as it takes an exploratory voyage into the depths of the oceans.
From the first opening, we’re immersed in the ocean’s waters along with the submarine’s scientific crew

but as their craft dives deep and travels through a deep abyss, a fierce storm blows up, whisking the little shiny submarine right off its intended course.

Instead, eddying whirlpools cause it to journey to the polar waters of the Arctic; then it’s pulled by a blue whale towards tropical waters of a coral reef, travelling on until one imagines, it resurfaces, with the crew having collected a wealth of information.

There is a free accompanying 10-minute, atmospheric sound track available to download, though to get the most out of the dual experience, you need to synchronise the track timings with page turns.

It’s easy to get lost in the colourful ecosystems with their standout bright flora and fauna depicted in Brunellière’s multi-layered, finely detailed spreads that do a splendid job of capturing the awe and immensity of our ocean ecosystems.

Dive in and be amazed at the riches therein.

The Big Sticker Book of Birds
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

Following Yuval’s wonderful The Big Book of Birds comes an activity book on the same theme.

Readers are in the company of Polly the Pigeon. She guides us through as we’re told, ‘the feathery world of birds’ and all that’s needed for the journey is a pencil, some colouring pens and ‘a flighty imagination’. Some of the latter might be used in deciding how to adorn the pages with the 200+ stickers provided at the end of the book.

There’s a wealth of fascinating facts embedded within the spreads that are allocated either to specific kinds of birds such as albatrosses or puffins, or to avian topics including feathers, nesting, and migration.

Children might accept Yuval’s invitation to complete a maze,

design a feather for a new bird species, spot the difference, design a bird box, imagine and draw what a dozen magpies might have picked up in their beaks and more. Or what about playing a game of Blackbird bingo or adding foliage to a tree for wild birds to hide among?

I love the way all Yuval’s creatures be they birds or other, have a slightly mischievous look in their eyes, which adds to the allure of the already engaging pages.

Immersive and fun while unobtrusively educating the user(s).