I Am Human: A Book of Empathy / Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books

The team who gave us I am Yoga and I am Peace now explore what it means to be human.

Humans have a playful side and find joy in relationships, we hear; but on the negative side sadness brings a heavy heart. This though, is countered by a reminder that part of being human is the ability to make choices.
Positive actions – such as compassion and helping others, being fair and treating all people equally, bring a feeling of connectedness with fellow humans.

In keeping with the child narrator’s mood, Reynolds changes his colour palette from bright to a dull bluish grey as the actions switch from positive to negative.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes but Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s little book of empathy is perfect for starting a discussion with young children about making good choices. To this end, there’s also a loving-kindness meditation to share.

Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Featherstone (Bloomsbury)

Most young children will bring up the subject of death either at home or in school, or both, and many adults are unsure of how to engage in a discussion about it. This book, written in child-friendly language by a teacher, will for those adults especially, prove extremely helpful.

Each double spread – there are a thirteen in all – takes a different aspect and almost all start with a question such as ‘Are there different words for death?’; ‘What might you feel when someone dies?’ …

‘What do people believe happens after death?’ and, the only one that isn’t prefaced by a question, “To remember a person who has died, you could …’.
There’s a brief ‘It’s important to know’ paragraph at the end of most sections and Sarah Jennings has provided bright, appealing illustrations (often including speech bubbles).

The tone of the entire book – both verbal and visual – is spot on for the primary audience and is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure


Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure
Jennifer Thermes
In this introduction to the work of Charles Darwin, the author focuses on his five-year long voyage aboard HMS Beagle, the ship on which he served as naturalist. Before that though we’re given brief details of his earlier life leading up to his departure on the ship whose mission was making maps of South America.
The young man was absolutely fascinated by the sights and sounds around. He kept a journal, writing in it detailed daily observations of what he saw and heard –‘big observations about the tiniest of creatures’ we’re told.


So delighted by the wild life was he that Charles would often choose to remain on land while the Beagle sailed up and down the coast. This delight is portrayed in Thermes’ detailed watercolour portraits of the young man at work, work that set his imagination on fire and would later contribute to his ideas and writings on evolution. Her narrative fills in other details, particularly that of Darwin’s observations on individual creatures: ‘He saw a rare bird called a rhea that used its wings to steer as it ran, but could not fly’, and later in Tierra de Fuego, on the interconnectedness of all wild-life, indeed all of nature itself.


The stop on the volcanic Galápagos Islands particularly amazed Charles with its 200 pound tortoises big enough to ride on, but most notably the different kinds of finches he came across.


In addition to a detailed cross-section of the departing Beagle, there are large, colourful maps charting the exciting voyage for readers to enjoy …


Further information is given about Darwin’s life and work, and other related facts in the two final spreads.
All in all this does a very good job of capturing the excitement not only of the voyage, but of the wonders of nature as a whole. Definitely one for the primary school bookshelves and for individuals interested in wildlife in general.

Bother with Babes

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Wild Child
Steven Salerno
Abrams Children’s Books
Time was the biggest and strongest ruled the jungle; but that was before the arrival of a new creature: a small soft-skinned one with just two teeth. It terrorized the other animals: it was …

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Time to “tame that wild thing”, decide the other animals, sick and tired of all the grabbing, pinching, pooping, pulling, kicking, biting, hitting and howling.
Various taming strategies ensue: Giraffe feeds it leaves, Elephant sprays it with water,

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Vulture perches it upon a tall tree, Anteater feeds it bugs, Hippo rolls it in the mud and Lion roars at it, all of which only serve to fuel its fury.

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Gorilla however, tries an altogether different tack. – a much gentler one and after some sweet banana and a clean up, followed by a cuddle, the holy terror is a wild child no longer, it’s a mild child, well temporarily.

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After which it’s a case of ‘let the wild rumpus’ commence … At least the animals are smiling now.

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Dramatic, action packed cartoon style jungly scenes combined with punchy prose make for a storytime treat with plenty of potential for wild joining in – vocal and physical.
Fun, fast, forceful and furious.

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The Baby That Roared
Simon Puttock and Nadia Shireen
Nosy Crow
Mr and Mrs Deer are desperate for a baby and when they discover one on their doorstep: it seems their dream has at last come true.

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However, the infant starts to cry, or rather ROAR and no matter what they offer, it won’t stop. Time to call in the reserves suggests Mrs Deer. First to come is Uncle Duncan. His warm milk suggestion doesn’t produce the desired outcome but Uncle Duncan is nowhere to be seen. And, there’s a decided aroma around the place.
Auntie Agnes is next with advice: a nappy change is her suggestion and off go the Deers to collect nappies, towels and ointment. They’re soon back, but where is Auntie Agnes?
The roaring continues so Doctor Fox is consulted. His arrival is swift but his action ineffectual: Still the baby roars but as for the doc, he’s nowhere to be seen.
Thank goodness then for Granny Bear who decides a burping will do the trick.

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She applies several hearty pats and then …

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And out come the missing helpers (along with a whole lot of gunk!).

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Granny bear of course can see what delighted readers will have known from the outset: “That’s not a dear little baby!” … “That is a LITTLE MONSTER!” she cries. And off it dashes. Time to get a pet …
Nadia Shireen’s wickedly subversive humour (first evident in Good Little Wolf) is perfect for Simon Puttock’s tongue-in-cheek, fractured fairytale (a re-issue). I love the way all we see of the consumed characters are the odd accessories – a hat, a scarf, a stethoscope.
The repeat phrases: “ “A baby?” said (character’s name) “A dear little baby? I shall come at once!”; and ‘… when Mr and Mrs Deer came back – how very peculiar! — had disappeared, and the baby was still roaring!’ are used to great effect and listeners soon take great delight in joining in with them
Enormously engaging and imminently re-readable.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Walter’s Wonderful Web
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Walter is a spider with a mission: he wants to spin a perfect web, not a wibbly- wobbly one that is whisked away whenever the wind blows.
His first effort – a triangular one is destroyed by the first puff of wind so he tries another – a rectangle, but with no more success.

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The diamond meets a similar fate but what about his circular-looking one, could that be the answer?
But three wooshes and Walter plus web hit the ground. Nearing despair, Walter stops to think before making one last attempt and by nightfall it looks as if he’s got it the design just right –

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WOW! Walter, you certainly deserved to succeed – top marks for perseverance and a wonderfully intricate web.
This delightful story for the very youngest provides a great opportunity to introduce ideas about not giving up when things get tough and of course, built into the narrative are those six basic 2D shapes.

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The Butterfly Garden
Laura Weston
Big Picture Press
Twenty words and a sequence of half a dozen super-stylish, beautifully patterned black and white illustrations: nothing much to get excited about – right? Wrong: look closely at the first of those black and white spreads.

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How many caterpillars can you spot? Look again at the silhouetted leaves and blooms and you notice there are flaps to lift. Open the top left-hand flap to reveal …

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And then the other four flaps and you’ll see a whole lot going on in vibrant colours …


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The subsequent spreads show the life cycle and life journey of the Monarch butterfly. (In North America, the Monarch migrates en masse to Mexico during the course of its life.)


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Essentially that’s it and every spread is beautifully designed and arresting first in black and white and then with its flashes of flamboyant colour.
Although the Monarch isn’t a breeding British butterfly, this book is a striking visual account of a butterfly’s life cycle.

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The Tiger Prowls
Seb Braun
Simon & Schuster
It’s hard to choose a favourite from the five animals that pop out from the pages of this seemingly simple yet impressive book. I love the shape and feel of the whole thing – its arresting cover, the way it whizzes through the various habitats the colour palette used and the clever paper engineering. Then there’s the elegant prose of the sentences used to describe each of the iconic creatures that grace the spreads.
First off is that tiger from the cover described thus:
‘The tiger prowls, stalking the jungle. Paw after heavy paw crunches on the forest floor. And so he does emerging from a gentle hint of vegetation straddling that first spread across which slides a muted snake.
Turn over and meet a graceful whale with its cleverly upturned tail and snout;

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the brown bear padding slow through the forest, the mighty elephant taking a shower in the hot sun (If I’m fussy I’d like to have seen an upturned trunk and slightly sharper tusks here ) and finally …

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Gentle, elegant, treetop nibbling, cloud-high grazer giraffe ‘pitching his way across the savannah, like a ship adrift on the open plain.’ (love those bird silhouettes)
Aimed at the very young but I can also envisage older children who get hold of this being inspired to try their hand at making their own pop-up animals.

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Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams & Chronicle
MEET THE DINOSAURS says the sign across the museum doors and on opening them readers (and the two child investigators) find two key questions ‘Who are the dinosaurs?’ and ‘Where are the dinosaurs?’
From then on the book’s clever design really comes into play with a formula that is used to great effect for the next ninety or so pages using a mix of cleverly crafted cutaway pages and a series of similes likening each of the twenty three dinosaurs introduced to something a young child is likely to be familiar with, followed by another spread showing the particular dinosaur in its natural habitat and a sentence giving the dinosaur’s name with its phonetic pronunciation. Thus we have for instance, ‘I have a neck like a goose …

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turn over to ‘I am a Coelophysis (SEE-low-FYE-sis)’…
Or this one:

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The grand finale comprises a spread of drawn-to-scale dinosaurs on a gate-fold that opens out into a farewell display of skeletons of all the dinosaurs featured.

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Of those a fair number are relatively uncommon in books for young children and indeed a few such as Micropachycephalosaurus and Edmontosaurus) were new names to me.
Assuredly a block-buster for the very young but also a book that offers a great opportunity for them to see and think about a favourite topic in an exciting and imaginative new way. And, a jumping off point for further investigation and children’s own creativity.

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A Tree Climbing Cow and a Mowing Toad

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The Cow Who Climbed a Tree
Gemma Merino
Macmillan Children’s Books
The sight of a cow perusing a book and wielding a magnifying glass on the first spread immediately predisposed me to like this book and endeared me to its chief protagonist. Tina is her name and seemingly she has an insatiable thirst for discovery. Her sisters however remain unimpressed by the wonderful things that occupy their sibling’s mind.
One day as she explores the woods, Tina takes it upon herself to climb a tree and there at the top a rather large surprise awaits her in the form of a vegetarian dragon. The two forge a friendship

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and spend the afternoon in dreams and stories.
Comments of “IMPOSSIBLE! RIDICULOUS! NONSENSE! are thrown at her by her sisters as she regales her adventure. But the following morning Tina is notable by her absence though she has left a message.

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Off go the disbelievers to track her down and as they venture out of their comfort zone something unexpected overtakes them – literally – and so up they go …
Then all it takes is an invitation from Tina and …

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a leap of faith. And after that? Well, who can say…
I love the understated humour in both words and pictures of Gemma Merino’s latest offering. Her colour palette is mouthwateringly delicious too.

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McToad Mows Tiny Island
Tom Angleberger and John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Subtitled ‘A Transportation Tale’, this wacky book is certainly that in more ways than one. Its one and only character is McToad, mower of islands; one is Big Island– that occupies his time every day but one.

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The other’s small and is aptly named Tiny Island; it’s here McToad spends Thursdays, his favourite day of the week. There’s nothing exciting about that I know, but it’s all about the getting there. Having driven his mower from the shed, McToad drives it onto his truck, drives to the train loading it thereon with a forklift. The train heads to the airport where a plane flies to the opposite side of Big island and from there it’s a helicopter journey to the docks, onto a steamboat and across to Tiny Island where a crane deposits the mower onto its destination. Back in the mower Mc Toad proceeds to mow the island pausing only briefly for a drink and refuel.
Then job done and it’s erm, back from whence he came.

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Utterly bonkers with its anti-climactic finale but there are so many unanswered questions: Is McToad a transport magnate? (His logo is brandished across each and every vehicle in the story.) Are there no other inhabitants on either island? Does he own both and everything thereon? Where’s the crane while McToad is mowing Tiny Island? Isn’t he lonely? These are a few that immediately come to mind. Children will come up with many more I’m sure.
Even for those who aren’t big machine enthusiasts, there is plenty to appeal in the illustrations. The plethora of witty details are bound to make anyone smile – the row of objects behind the steering wheel in McToad’s truck

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and this …

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not forgetting that patched straw hat of course.

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Ursine Talent: GRRRRR! and One Bear Extraordinaire

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Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Grizzly bear Fred is the star of the show: he’s been Best Bear in the Wood for three years and is unbeatable at growling. Or is he? Well, he’s determined to be champ once again and so training becomes his everything; there’s just no time for friendship, he declares.
Enter Boris, new bear in town reputed to have a GRRRRR to beat all GRRRRs and determined to knock Fred off his throne.

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And, he seems to be taken with nocturnal wandering …

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Come competition morn and disaster has struck, Fred awakes roarless. But despite his strict training regime, it seems he’s not without friends after all. First there’s Eugene a young owl ready and willing to help Fred track down his missing roar.

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A search ensues but it yields a big zilch.
The hour of the contest arrives. Despite being roarless, Fred has his supporters and after three rounds the contest is neck and neck …

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But then comes that crucial round with Boris, having first growl and it looks like a winner …

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That is definitely not the end of this corker of a book, but without spoiling the story finale let’s just say it ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
I just love those bits of throwaway humour in Biddulph’s splendid rhyming text
The sound is so loud that it makes Boris jump –
And look what just fell to the ground with a bump!
which, when combined with his visuals are just priceless. What a talent.

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One Bear Extraordinaire
Jayme McGowan
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Meet Bear, an itinerant entertainer of legendary repute, known for his ‘honey harmonies and twinkle-toed grace.’ One day when working on a new song however, he decides “Something is missing,” and sets off in search of this elusive ingredient. As he travels, he encounters a whole host of musicians one after another and each one joins him “wherever the tune leads”.

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Eventually the ever-growing band discovers a Wolf Pup has tagged along. He too is keen to become a band member but lacks an instrument. Bear offers something from his sack but Wolf Cub just cannot get to grips with any of them …

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and as a last resort Bear suggests the kazoo: “Anyone can play it.” he mistakenly tells the despairing little chap.
But it’s as the others practise in the moonlit campsite that night, that Wolf Cub suddenly discovers he has a vocal talent like no other

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and, it’s just what’s needed to make everything finally sound ‘just right’.
There’s a pleasing musical lilt to Jayme McGowan’s text: ‘he watched the music SWIRL and HOVER across the ridge … ECHO through the canyon … and fill the sky as he and his wayfaring band whooped and hollered their song to the stars.’ But it’s her wonderful illustrations – three-dimensional scenes composed from individual painted cut-outs, that are arranged and photographed in situ – that are the real show-stealers.
A picture book debut of great promise.

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T-Veg / Peanut Butter & Brains


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Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Katerina Manolessou
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Having the courage to be different is the nub of this delicious prehistoric tale of a carrot-crunching dinosaur.
Reginald ate BROCCOLI, Reginald ate BEANS,
Reginald ate bowls and bowls of GARLIC, GRAPES and GREENS.  

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Reginald’s diet is a disaster so far as his parents are concerned: “For goodness sake what’s wrong with you?” a despairing Papa T-rex demands to know and at school, despite being their equal in speed and toughness, Reg becomes the laughing stock of his schoolmates. Consequently – and who can blame him for it – Reg packs his dino-sack and leaves home determined to find some more understanding friends and discover more about vegetarianism. “The truth might be that actually I am a HERBIVORE! I’ll try and do some herbie things. “
However, it appears herbie style activities aren’t quite Reg’s thing …

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So it’s time to consult with those in the know. Befriending them though doesn’t go to plan at all …

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Back home meanwhile, Hugh and the other T-Rexes are starting to see the error of their ways when it comes to Reg; perhaps his differences aren’t a bar to friendship after all. Off they hurtle to find him. But disaster in the form of an enormous rock, strikes – or does it?

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Bright, appropriately veggie coloured illustrations combine with a rhythmic rhyming text that’s a gift to the reader aloud to make a sure fire storytime favourite that celebrates individualism, difference, being brave enough to stand up for your beliefs and admitting when you’re wrong. As the final line reminds us, ‘the best thing in the world is being happy being YOU!
Tasty stuff says this veggie reviewer.

With similar themes and starring another Reginald is

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Peanut Butter & Brains
Joe McGee and Charles Sanatoso
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Herein it’s his penchant for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that single Reginald out from his fellow zombie residents of Quirkville and he has more than a little trouble getting hold of his favourite food

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until he comes upon little Abigail Zink. This young lass just happens to have exactly what he’s looking for in her lunch bag and as the other (brain-eating) zombies are about to seize the young miss, Reginald’s quick-thinking averts a crisis

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and saves the day causing the marauding zombies to discover something even more delicious than brains. And from then on everything is different in the town of Quirkville.
Quirky this one surely is, but it too delivers a powerful punch when it comes to daring to be different.

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