Aaron Slater, Illustrator

Aaron Slater, Illustrator
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s such a joy to see a child whose neurodiversity is celebrated in the latest of the Questioneers series.

The titular Aaron D. Slater, of this rhyming picture book, is based on Aaron Douglas, the African American painter, muralist, and graphic artist, who was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement.

As a very young child there’s nothing Aaron loves more than to sit in the old garden swing and listen to others reading to him, and he aspires to be a writer of stories in the future.

First though he has to learn to read and to write, both of which on account of his dyslexia,
he finds challenging. ‘the words are just squiggles, and try as he might, even with help Aaron can’t get it right.’

Once he starts school, Aaron who also loves to draw, decides that rather than show his feelings, the best thing to do is to try to blend in with his classmates.

In his second year at school Aaron has a new teacher and she sets the class a story writing assignment. That night the boy spends all night attempting to write “a story. Write something true.” as his teacher has said.

Filled with fear the following morning, at Miss Greer’s behest he stands before his classmates and suddenly Aaron finds his voice: ‘beauty and kindness and loving and art / lend courage to all with a welcoming heart.’

So it is that he begins to find his own way of using visual images to create stories: ‘His art makes the difference. His art leads the way and helps him discover what he wants to say.’

This superb tale of creativity, acceptance and finding your own way to transcend insecurities and challenges, will be an inspiration to all youngsters, in particular those who like Aaron, struggle with reading and spelling. (The book is set in Dyslexie, a dyslexia-friendly typeface and David Roberts, creator of the stylish illustrations, tells in a final note how he himself has struggled with reading and spelling, making those superb spreads wherein Aaron’s images literally take flight, all the more powerful.)

Sophia Valdez’s Big Project Book for Awesome Activists

Sophia Valdez’s Big Project Book for Awesome Activists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

As the author says on the title page, ‘It’s a big world with lots of problems to solve. Just remember: No one can do everything. Everyone can do something.’ That’s very much the spirit of this project book from Sophia Valdez, the newest member of The Questioneers.

It begins with an introductory story about Sophia and how she was the inspiring spark behind the creation of a new park for the people of Blue River Creek.

Thereafter are a series of over forty activities, some related to that, all aimed to inspire even quite young children, suggesting how they can make a difference in their own communities through supporting causes close to their hearts, writing to local officials, and finding out how democracy and government are supposed to work.

There are puzzles, word searches, drawing and a wealth of other ideas connected to activism, some related to an imagined new town on planet Glorg, others to real world problems.

‘Activism begins with kindness’. I like that: it’s the introduction to one of the activities herein.

Indeed all the attributes that an activist needs are elucidated in this empowering, highly practical look at campaigning and activism.

Whether their cause is education for all, plastic pollution, affordable homes in your locality, or something else, this book could be a starting point for one of tomorrow’s leaders.

One Girl

One Girl
Andrea Beaty and Dow Phumiruk
Abrams Books for Young Readers

A little girl sits outside her home one night looking somewhat dejected when all of a sudden from the sky there falls a book, aglow like a falling star. It lands close to her feet. ‘One Girl. One spark.’ On opening it a flaming flower springs forth from the pages, igniting a spark that the girl follows to a wonderful land of possibility. As she continues her allegorical journey her lonely world is transformed into a bright place full of wonder and opportunity.

So impassioned is the girl that she takes her book into school to share with her classmates. Then, further inspired, she takes a pencil and her imagination takes flight as her own, original words flow through her writing, creating a story she also shares with her class.

This kindles a spark in them too and they appear not only to find their own voices but to discover joy and wonder in reading.

Now they too have a burning desire to share their wonderful new discovery with others and thus they send forth

‘Words like comets through the night. / Blazing streaks of blinding light. / Seeking out the darkest dark …’ and thus, the story comes full circle and another girl’s life begins a transformation.

This beautifully written and illustrated book spoke so powerfully to me. I could have been that girl whose life was totally transformed by the magical power of books as was the child in Andrea Beaty’s spare rhyming text, a text wherein every word is chosen for maximum impact. In my case though it was thanks not to what happened in my school, but to my wonderful father who took me every Saturday to our local library and also enrolled me in a book club at a young age, so I received new magic every month. It’s also a spark that in my role as a teacher, I’ve always strived to ignite in every single child I’ve ever worked with, and will continue to do so ad infinitum …

Although there’s complete harmony between the words and pictures, Dow Phumiruk’s radiant illustrations convey much of the story illuminating with their details the transformational power of books, of writing and of education.

Leaving much to the reader’s interpretation, this is a book to share widely, to ponder upon, to discuss, and one hopes, one that will ignite that spark in all who are open to the might of their own potential.

Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote

Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

The Questioneers – Sofia and her friends – return in a new chapter book adventure and just in time for the USA election. It’s also time for Sophia and her classmates to have an election to select what animal should be their class pet – another one of their teacher, Miss Greer’s ‘Learning Experiences’.

Clearly there won’t be a perfect candidate that everyone wants so the ‘best one’ will have to do, so says Abuelo as they walk home together; moreover, the pet must be small enough to fit (inside its home) on the bookcase. Eventually the list of possibles is whittled down to five contenders and then just two.

When Sofia is put in charge of managing the election (as election commissioner) things are tricky, as the candidates backed by two of her best pals are against each other.

Pretty soon Sofia learns that being i-c a fair election is more than a little challenging. It’s fortunate however, that she has both Abuela’s wise advice and assistance from the local library to act as guidance.

Highly entertaining and superbly explained, Andrea Beaty’s story contains a number of messages about classroom relationships and community, as well as imparting vital points about freedom of information, good journalism, a boycott, fake news, and that about there never being a perfect candidate in an election. And if things haven’t got spicy enough, there’s even a baking tip or two included and of course, all those smashing illustrations and diagrams from David Roberts.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

I can’t think of a better time than now for this continuation of the Questioneers series to appear: young Sofia Valdez has a vision to make the world – in particular her own neighbourhood – a better place.

From a very young age Sophia has been a caring, helpful child and one morning on the way to school with her much loved Abuela (granddad) a squirrel chasing dog precipitates the downfall of a huge mountain of rubbish, causing an injury to her grandfather.

Thereafter, Sofia decides to become an environmental activist leader who campaigns for the mess mountain to be cleared and a community park constructed in its place. Her neighbours are on board with ideas but then Sofia has a crisis of confidence.

However, despite feeling daunted she heads to the City Hall next morning and after being directed from one office to another,

she eventually rallies the support of all the employees including the mayor.

Operation Blue River Creek Citizens’ Park is underway.

A slight departure from STEM subjects, this fourth, rhyming story adds a social science/citizenship strand to the series: stand up for what you believe is right is one message in this tale of empathy, finding your own voice, courage, leadership, community spirit and creativity. For adults wanting to encourage any of those in youngsters, this is must have book. Along the way readers will enjoy meeting some old friends from previous books before David Roberts’ wonderful, uplifting final spread.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Ada Swift is back with a STEM activity book that’s packed with exciting projects related to both the physical and the biological sciences.

With Ada’s help, it takes readers through the entire scientific process and using the headings ‘Scientists are Curious’, ‘Scientists Think’, ‘Scientists Keep Thinking’, ‘Scientists are Observant’ and ‘Scientists use details to describe things’, ‘Scientists Learn from Others’, ‘Scientists look at things in new ways’, ‘Scientists are Patient’ and ‘Scientists are Persistent’ introduces the essential characteristics of a scientist.

All the time the text encourages children to add their own ideas, as in this tree observation page.

Or in the ‘Decomposers’ spread whereon readers are asked to write their own responses to ‘Why don’t colourful leaves pile up, year after year, until the trees are buried beneath them” Why do they turn brown?’
This is followed by practical activities and observations.

I could go on at length talking about the various activities, which are many and varied (over 40 in all) but will just mention a few: there are word searches, an energy game, tracking the phases of the moon, designing a vehicle that uses wind or solar energy or another form of renewable energy and watching seeds grow and recording related observations.

Very much hands-on, this is an ideal book to inspire youngsters from around 6 to become scientists like Ada Twist, indeed Ada’s very own story is told at the outset.

Thoroughly recommended even if you haven’t yet encountered Ada or her friends, Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

I’ve signed the charter  

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever thought about creating a house entirely out of rubber balls, or building a bridge using only 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti and 20 miniature marshmallows?

These are just two of the challenges to be found in this treasure trove of STEM activities. I’ve done the latter with many classes and it’s always enormous fun and a superb co-operative learning activity.

Altogether there are more than 40 projects and activities that help develop observation, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; and almost all are open-ended.

I especially liked ‘Thinking About Others’ wherein the reader is asked to walk through their home and list the improvements/modifications that would help a person in a wheelchair get in, around inside, cook, bath, relax, sleep and play.

It then asks for modifications for a blind person .
An excellent companion to Iggy Peck Architect; but even if you haven’t read the original story, this is well worth getting hold of; but I urge you to make the acquaintance not only of Iggy, but also of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist.

I’ve signed the charter  

Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers

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Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
From the same Beaty/Roberts team and using art from the original Rosie Revere, Engineer story, this splendid project book will surely motivate primary age children to involve themselves in all manner of exciting and creative science and engineering projects. There are opportunities to make a simple catapult (and analyse it); to design a ‘1000 Egg Picker-Upper’ to help Rosie and Uncle Fred in the zoo (there’s a related egg identification challenge too). I’m sure the marble run making will prove popular – lots of cylinders needed here; and there are projects to design a better bicycle

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Engineers make things better: design a bicycle for the future …

and make a solar oven. I love the improving Great, Great Aunt Rose’s walking stick challenge where her walking aid needs to be adapted as a tool carrier: superb stuff and perfect for developing those vital STEM problem-solving/creative skills,

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as are the reminders about the importance of failing and learning from it. There is even a word search and a story writing project, showing that the book’s creators clearly understand the importance of the development of the imagination.
Famous scientists are introduced too: for instance, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison – with his team of ‘Muckers’ (I’m pleased to see the whole question of teamwork discussed); and there’s Rube Goldberg (a famous cartoonist and engineer).
Empowering and inspiring at the same time. Brilliant stuff.

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Meet Ada Twist Scientist, Mira & Em

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Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Readers may well be familiar with previous titles Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck from the creators of this inspiring rhyming read; Ada is the third in the series and like its predecessors, it’s a MUST to add to primary classroom bookshelves.
Ada remains silent, observing, investigating and thinking much until she turns three and then quite suddenly things change. ‘Why?’ she demands to know (of the grandfather clock: “Why does it tick and why does it tock?” “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?

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And once she’s started, there’s no stopping this curious young lass. Her other favourite words are ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘When’. (the very ones that should fill the hearts of all early years teachers worth their salt with delight). Yes, this child’s curioslty and imagination have no bounds and thank goodness she has such encouraging parents to support her.

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Then, one spring day – the first in fact – a revolting smell reaches Ada’s nostrils, setting questions flying and her curiosity into over-drive. Could that stench be emanating from Dad’s cabbage stew perhaps? That’s hypothesis number one.

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No – then where? The cat maybe? Wrong again and now Ada’s parents have had enough seemingly and Ada’s banished, silenced. Silent she may be, but her mind’s still very active and pretty soon, so is her thinking pencil until
thank goodness, Ada’s parents have had a rethink and before long, are back in support.
Will she ever find the answer to that ‘stink’ question? I suspect she might, for despite all her failures and blind alleys, Ada is an unstoppable problem-solver and what’s more, she’s ready to enlist the help of others. If not, then she’ll find other equally fascinating questions to pursue.
Delivered through a rhyming text and brilliantly characterised in David Roberts’ stylish illustrations, this story is sure to please young audiences and readers aloud, especially those who want to encourage the spirit of curiosity and champion the cause of girls in science. Ada is a force to be reckoned with – long may she continue. Seek this out and share it wherever you can.
Also take a look at the tale of another young girl who becomes a scientist :

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Mira Forecasts the Future
Kell Andrews and Lissy Malin
Sterling Books
Mira’s mother is a fortune teller but try as she might, all that Mira sees when she gazes into the crystal ball is herself, “Telling the future is a gift,” her mother tells her. “You have it, or you don’t.” Mira most definitely didn’t; but one day she notices something – the wind whirring the blades of her pinwheel and fluttering the streamers of her windsock.

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That’s the start of her meteorological findings and before long she’s putting her scientific talent to good use in predicting the future; she’s a weather forecaster no less.
Creativity and the imagination are at the heart of all scientific discoveries: they all begin with someone asking ‘what if’ or ‘suppose that’ and now here’s a book claiming to inspire creative play:

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The Way to Outer Space
Jay Eunji Lee
Oxford University Press
Herein we meet Em who on this particular day is feeling bored until that is, she receives a mysterious parcel containing a book and a card. She’s on the point of tossing them aside when she notices some rocket-making instructions and pretty soon here she is …

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blasting off and hurtling through the solar system to a strange place – a place she’s told belongs to her; and it’s in serious trouble. A challenge is issued and, accepted …

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and off she goes creating …
Part story (told in comic strip style), part activities, this unusual book is likely to get young minds buzzing and fingers working on creating some of the ideas suggested herein – and one hopes moving on to projects of their own imagining.

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