What Do You See When You Look At A Tree?

What Do You See When You Look At A Tree?
Emma Carlisle
Big Picture Press

Trees are my very favourite thing in the natural world and I most definitely see much more than the ‘leaves and twigs and branches’ referred to in Emma Carlisle’s opening question in this arboreal delight. In fact on our daily walks my partner and I always stop and sit in a quiet spot surrounded by trees and enjoy being there, savouring each one. 

As Emma points out in her rhyming narrative, every tree is special and unique, always has been and always will be. It’s incredible how many different shapes and colours there are, and the variety of locations where trees grow, be they solitary or forming part of a wood or forest. All of this and much more, readers experience through the voice and senses of a child, and of course, Emma’s beautiful mixed media illustrations.

We’re reminded of the crucial role a single tree often plays in supporting and providing a safe place for animals be they birds, squirrels, foxes or other mammals, that might be found safely curled up in the root system.

I suspect many young readers will be surprised to learn that trees communicate with one another and like the girl narrator may ponder upon a tree’s history: what has it seen over the centuries; did children of past times play beneath it, or feel its bark? And what might the future hold for any particular tree? This too is considered in the book. 

Books themselves (modern ones certainly), as we’re reminded, wouldn’t exist without trees.

All the thought-provoking questions posed encourage youngsters (and adults) to appreciate not merely trees, but the natural world itself and the book concludes with suggestions for some mindfulness – Listening to Trees and How to Be More Like a Tree.

Published in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, this is wonderful book to share and discuss either at home or in the classroom before or after a walk among trees.

Our Time On Earth

Our Time On Earth
Lily Murray and Jesse Hodgson
Big Picture Press

Authors are always looking for new and exciting ways to look at animals and how they live. Here, starting with the very shortest and ending with the longest, Lily Murray explores lifespans throughout the animal kingdom. The award, if there were one, for the shortest living creature goes to the wonderful-looking mayfly, the lifespan of which can last anything from five minutes (an American species) to twenty four hours during which time the adult form sheds its skin a final time and a female, having mated lays her eggs and dies in the water whereas the male flies to ground close by and dies there. It’s incredible to think that mayflies have been on Earth for at least 300 million years.

I was surprised to discover that a worker honey bee born in springtime, lives for only five to seven weeks; what a huge amount she packs into that short time, changing her roles as she ages, details of which are given on the relevant double spread. In contrast Periodical cicadas, one of the longest-lived insects might live for as long as seventeen years going through five stages of development deep down where they suck the sap from roots until the soil is sufficiently warm for them to emerge from the ground. In their adult form though, cicadas live for a mere five or six weeks; how they can tell when their seventeen year lifespan has passed, not even entomologist know.

Moving on to some small mammals: both the opossum and the Etruscan shrew live between one and two years, due in part to them being hunted by hungry predators.

There are examples of reptiles, including the thought-to be extinct Galapagos Giant Tortoise, one of which was reported in the news this month as having been found alive,

as well as arachnids, molluscs, large mammals and with a life span of 11,000 years the longest living creature of all and found in the deep sea, the Glass Sponge.

With a wealth of exciting information, this gorgeous book is engagingly written by Lily Murray and beautifully and realistically illustrated by Jess Hodgson who places each animal in its natural habitat. A book to keep and a book to give; a book for home and a book for the classroom.

Love is … / Sometimes I feel …

Love is …
Sarah Maycock and Lily Murray
Sometimes I feel …
Sarah Maycock
Big Picture Press

In the first book, using a variety of creatures great and small, furred, 

feathered or smooth and leathery, author Lily Murray and illustrator Sarah Maycock explore some of the myriad ways that we can experience love, both feeling it and giving it.

In each example, figurative language ‘Love is / BEAUTIFUL / like the sanctuary / a bowerbird builds for its mate -/ adorned with treasures.’ … – ‘love’s beauty comes / in many forms … / … a simple song, / a colourful dance, / a loving face’, and gorgeous painterly images extend across two double spreads whereon the artist makes use of vibrant hues and monochrome colour to great effect.

Having met a host of members of the animal kingdom the final spreads make the assertion ‘Love is a POWERFUL THING, / For with love … / We can do / ANYTHING.’

What better words to give a loved one: this large format book would send a powerful message to its recipient.

Presented in a small format, again using animal similes is Sometimes I feel … which looks at emotions. 

At the end of the book, in a note the artist explains that this had its origins as a project in her final year at university. She wanted to explore the ‘universal nature of animals and how we can relate them to our own (human) experiences and characteristics. She spent a considerable time studying animals both in zoos and in natural history documentaries on TV and as she painted it seemed that like us, wild animals display a gamut of complex emotional responses. Some of these she captures in this superbly executed series of watercolour and ink paintings.

A little book that offers children an unusual starting point for exploring their own feelings and emotions and those of others.


Teagan White and Loveday Trinick
Big Picture Press

This outsize volume is part of the Welcome to the Museum series that uses the interactive gallery style of a museum, in this instance taking readers to meet the amazing life found in and around the seas. 

As always the presentation is superb: a large clear, well leaded font is used for the text, there are awesome full page illustrations by Teagan White opposite each page of text, and marine biologist Loveday Trinick’s explanations are fascinating, educative, and likely to encourage youngsters to wonder at ocean fauna and flora.

First we are given a general introduction to the historic oceanic divisions and the ocean zones before proceeding to the first gallery wherein the microscopic plankton – both phytoplankton and zooplankton – are to be found.

Gallery 2 exhibits fauna that inhabit coral reefs; there are examples of wandering jellyfish; the Portuguese Man o’War, (a venomous predator) actually a colony comprising four different kinds of polyps that all work together to act as one animal. and examples of some of the 1000 known anemone species. (I never knew before that there was a Venus flytrap anemone). The gallery also includes a full page illustration of a coral reef and some descriptive paragraphs, the last of which states that they ‘may also hold the key for the treatment of infections, heart disease and even cancer.’

Moving on, readers meet next inhabitants of the deep sea – molluscs and echinoderms, the outer shells of some of the bivalves shown may well be familiar to those who wander beaches at low tide.

No matter which of the nine galleries you wander through, the other habitats are: a rock pool, a mangrove forest, a kelp forest,

the Poles, the Galapagos islands you’ll encounter a wealth of stunning images of, and facts about the marvellous life inhabiting the deep. 

The final one draws attention to the human impact upon the ocean as a whole emphasising the vital importance of its contribution to many aspects of our lives, as well as highlighting the adverse impact we humans have already had on this watery world. However, with ever more people becoming aware of this damage, there is still time to make changes to our behaviour that can conserve, protect and restore this essential component of Earth’s ecosystem.

Marine biology isn’t just for specialists; this wonderful book can be enjoyed by anyone from primary school onwards (it might well encourage some observational drawing) and for those who want to learn even more, try the Ocean Conservation Trust and the other organisations listed on the final page.

Ratty’s Big Adventure

Ratty’s Big Adventure
Lara Hawthorne
Big Picture Press

In the rainforests of Papua New Guinea is Mount Bosavi, the collapsed cone of a volcano that hasn’t erupted for more than 200, 000 years. This is the setting for Lara Hawthorne’s book which is a flawless fusion of fact and fiction and the home of Ratty, a giant woolly rat and one of the biggest creatures residing in the volcano.

Ratty lives a peaceful slow-paced life until one day while climbing up to the top of a tree to procure a juicy-looking fruit he sees before him the most awesome sight he’s ever set eyes on: the world beyond his crater where there surely must be more delectable fruits, sweeter-singing birds and larger, brighter, better dancing insects.

Eschewing the invitation of his friends to join their games Ratty hurries off in search of more interesting playmates. Following the stream to the wall of the crater, he finds himself swept into a dark cave and eventually out of the crater, leaving the warning echoes of his friends behind. Finding himself in a fast flowing river, Ratty clings to a piece of floating bark as he passes fruit trees, birds and insects not very different from those in the crater.

Eventually Ratty finds himself face to face with the biggest creature he’s ever seen: a huge, sharp-toothed, almost overly friendly animal that invites the traveller to join her for dinner.

At this point Ratty realises that after all, it’s a case of east, west, home’s best; assuredly there’s no place quite like his own. Back he goes but what will he say to his friends?

This gorgeously illustrated story was inspired by recent scientific breakthroughs at Mount Bosavi, in which over 40 new species of flora and fauna including amazing butterflies and exotic birds, were identified. many of which are included in Lara’s superbly detailed scenes.

Additional factual spreads at the end give details of the Bosavi woolly rat, a pictorial map of the researchers’ journey and ‘did you spot … ? showing more than ten of Mount Bosavi’s unique animals.

The richness and diversity of life are something we all should celebrate and this book will encourage young listeners and readers to do just that as they follow Ratty’s journey, which outlines the journey of the team of researchers that found their way into the volcano.

The Stardust That Made Us

The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía
Big Picture Press

Written by Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and illustrated in Ximo Abadía’s show-stopping surreal style artwork, this visual exploration of chemistry is the third STEM collaboration by this pair.

Despite chemistry being one of my a-level subjects I was totally bored most of the time and certainly never really got to grips with the periodic table: I certainly could have done with this book back then: the author’s explanations and the visuals really bring the elements and that table to life. I love the way he defines them as ‘ingredients’ in nature’s ‘unseen cookbook full of recipes for making everything …’ from fish to fingernails.’ Now that’s the way to get children intrigued. These ingredients aka chemical elements are currently 118 in number, some of which occur in nature, others – the synthetic ones -26 we read, were made by scientists during experiments.

Nor did anyone ever tell me that the inventor of those bunsen burners we used in so many lessons were invented by Bunsen the German scientist who also discovered two alkaline metals as well as a spectroscope. This information is part of the ‘alkali metals’ spread on which we also read that caesium, one of the elements Bunsen discovered is important in our everyday lives: it plays a crucial role in GPS satellites, and caesium clocks are used in our mobile phones.

All this is getting a bit ahead of things though. The very earliest element came into existence when the Big Bang occurred almost 14 billions years ago, followed very quickly on account the fusion process, by helium, lithium and beryllium.

No matter which spread you read, you’ll surely find something exciting and much of the information is presented with a gentle humour that makes it all the more enjoyable. I laughed at the paragraph about making the synthetic elements being incredibly difficult – ‘Aiming the particles at the target is a hard thing to get right – a bit like trying to throw marshmallows into someone’s mouth.’

Despite the significant part women played in the discovery of elements, only two are named after women, one being curium (after Marie Curie and her husband), the other meitnerium named after Lise Meitner.

This enormously engaging book is an excellent one to give to older primary children and beyond; it will surely inspire them, and who knows where their enthusiasm might lead – perhaps one of them will add a new element to the five heavy elements discovered in the last 20 years; especially once they discover, as the title says, it’s stardust that made us..

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece
James Davies
Big Picture Press

However famous the Greek myths might be, retellings of these ancient tales for youngsters can sometimes be pretty dull, turgid even; now here’s a book that makes them anything but.

In a dramatic comic book style James Davies presents half a dozen tales making them highly accessible to primary age readers wherein they will find bravery, loss, love,

greed and envy. Interspersed between the stories are thematic spreads on various topics that offer a broader look at such aspects of Greek mythology as the Greek gods and how the Greek myths explained the world; there’s a presentation of heroes and heroines including Atlanta, Achilles, Penthesilea and Odysseus. We also take a journey through the Greek underworld, a place that could be downright scary or delightful depending on your actions during your life.

James Davies’s bold graphic artistic style means that he manages to make even the most terrifying monsters such as the many-headed Scylla and the gigantic Hydra look amusing.

Right now I think we definitely need that tiny little shining insect that popped out of Pandora’s Box spreading light wherever there was darkness and hope wherever there was despair. Definitely now would not be a good time even to contemplate hiding away inside that ginormous wooden horse like those Greek soldiers did when Helen was rescued in The Trojan Horse story. However there’s much to learn from all six stories: that of Theseus and his quest to defeat the horrendous Minotaur,

the Twelve Labours of Heracles, Orpheus and Eurydice and Perseus and Medusa.

With Ancient Greece being one of the oft used topics in KS2 history, a couple of copies of this enthralling book would make a worthwhile, up to the minute addition to primary school topic resources as well as the school library.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Creature Features Oceans / I thought I saw a … crocodile!

Creature Features Oceans
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

For the third in her Creature Features series Natasha Durley plunges beneath the ocean to present some spectacular sea creatures. Organised onto eleven double spreads, all have an attention-capturing, alliterative heading.

Each spread has an explanatory introductory paragraph relating to the specific characteristic – for instance in Gorgeous glow, ‘In the darkest depths of the ocean, there is still light to be found. Some animals, like the toothy anglerfish, create their own light to lure in prey. Others, like the hawksbill turtle, soak up light and reflect it back as a different colour.’ There’s a also a question that leads neatly into the next double spread; here it’s ‘Which creature glows and has a shell?’

Among the gorgeously glowing, youngsters will love encountering the likes of the Atlantic footballfish and the Cookiecutter shark, along with the only one familiar to me among the array, krill.

Animals with Super shells – molluscs and crustacea – show themselves on the next spread, the only one where some of those included can be seen on the beach.

Other than at Bold black & white, no matter where you choose to open the book, super-bright colours as well as incredible shapes meet the eye.

So, be prepared for youngsters to be wowed and linger long to observe the Spectacularly spotty, those with Funny faces, perhaps made so by bulging foreheads or long snouts, an array of Amazing arms, a host of animals sporting Stylish stripes, Fantastic fins or Terrific Teeth. Did you know that those of a Great white shark are about 7cm long? Yikes!  Definitely a lot more alarming than the incredible four-eyed fish on the final spread that are able to see both above and below the surface of the water at the same time.

This sturdy, large-format board book isn’t just for the very young: it would be great for small groups of slightly older children to sit and discuss the weird and wonderful.

Imagine what a smashing jumping off point for some oceanic art it would make too.

I thought I saw a … crocodile!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing

A playful crocodile inhabits this fun little book. Supposedly it’s part of a team of builders but the creature has abandoned the drill and gone AWOL.

Using the slider mechanism on every spread, little ones can engage in a game of hunt-the croc. as they listen to the repeat “I thought I saw a crocodile … Is it …?’ spoken by other members of the crew at the building site.

But does that mischievous creature ever get back to work? What do you think?

Clever, stylishly portrayed interactive fun for tinies who will likely learn some new location specific words and hone their fine motor skills too.

There are Bugs Everywhere

There are Bugs Everywhere
Lily Murray and Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press

The title of this book proved all too true for this reviewer – an elephant hawk moth caterpillar crawled past my foot as I sat outside my favourite café this morning. This insect …

is one of over 100 ‘bugs’ Britta Teckentrup has illustrated in this colourful and fascinating book.

The term bugs is here used as a catchall to include six legged insects, eight legged arachnids and multi legged myriapods and collectively there are, we’re told, millions of different species.
With spreads devoted to bug anatomy,

feeding habits, survival techniques, social insects, the life cycle of the Madagascan Sunset moth and much more, there is a mine of information for the curious reader.

Did you know that Chan’s megastick which inhabits the Borneo rainforest is the largest bug in the world, growing up to 56cm.

There’s even a ‘can you find?’ challenge posed on the final end paper to track down the golden tortoise beetle from North America hidden somewhere in the book. This will surely encourage further close perusal of every one of Britta’s already inviting spreads.

Alice in Wonderland: A Puzzle Adventure

Alice in Wonderland: A Puzzle Adventure
Aleksandra Artymowska
Big Picture Press

When it comes to totally breath-taking puzzle adventures, Aleksandra Artymowska is your artist.

This one, again inspired by a classic novel, has mazes to tantalise, hidden objects to locate – not as easy as you might think (unless you’re familiar with Aleksandra’s work) – and a wealth of clues to ponder upon as we join Alice on her awesome subterranean adventure that begins as she tumbles down that famous Rabbit Hole.

According to the White Rabbit whose invitation to the Mad Hatter’s tea party is on the opening spread, there are 80 puzzles in all to solve; but if you get totally lost you can always turn to the back of the book for help.

Much better though to spend ages pouring over such out of this world wonders as the floating islands,

the carousel ‘caucus race’, the potted mushroom, the flying cutlery, the plethora of pepperpots, the funky teapots, the crowns of the Red and White Queens,

the incredible card constructions or the beguiling flower faces, until you finally come up with the solutions.

In fact this isn’t just one visual story, it’s an absolute wealth of them, all seamlessly woven into a totally immersive narrative.

This is most definitely a book to enchant readers of all ages, whether or not they are familiar with the Lewis Carroll classic. Alice’s Day is celebrated on 6th July but with this stunning book you can make every day one to celebrate Alice.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.

Wide Awake / Creature Features:Dinosaurs

Wide Awake
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is Rob Biddulph’s third in the Dinosaur Juniors series that’s bound to delight your dino-littles.

The stars of this particular nocturnal show are Winnie – the wide awake one and Otto whom she wakes up to tell she cannot sleep.

Otto once roused has a simple plan in the form of a soothing lullaby and it goes like this:

Easy peasy: job done! Not quite; Winnie is still wide awake, so maybe a memory game that requires recalling everything they did during the day … a doddle surely.

But no; wide eyed she remains.

Third time lucky then? Counting sheep never fails … success! One deeply sleeping twin sister. Shame she snores ….

Hilarious, and delivered in Rob’s faultless rhyming and priceless pictorial style, this is the perfect read-to-your-little-ones tale, be it or be it not bedtime; and you certainly won’t find yourself nodding off as you share it; rather you’ll end up hoarse after repeated re-reads. Bring on the fourth book say I.

And if your dino-tinies can’t get enough of their favourite creatures then try:

Creature Features:Dinosaurs
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

This over-sized board book is brimming over with prehistoric beasties of the ‘Humongous horns’ variety, as well as those with ‘Terrifying teeth’, ‘Wonderful wings’, ‘Hefty head crests’, ‘Brilliant beaks’, ‘Amazing armour’,

not to mention ‘Fabulous flippers’, exceedingly long necks, ‘Super sails & spines’, ‘Creepy claws’ and ‘Fantastic fur’.

Illustrated with super-bright colours and splendid shapes, these creatures will make your little ones pause and linger over every spread to learn lots of new names, hone their observation skills and learn some dino-facts along the way.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Aleksandra Artymowska
Big Picture Press

Graphic designer and illustrator Aleksandra Artymowska has taken Jules Verne’s novel and created an absorbing picture book puzzler.

At the invitation of Captain Nemo, readers are invited to set sail seeking adventure and a treasure beyond price. All they have to do is to enter the hatch of the Nautilus and descend, then search the seven seas for seven locks with which to open his secret sea chest.

Easy enough surely? Not quite, especially as there’s a giant squid lurking somewhere ‘neath those seas.
Those who embark on the treasure hunt will however be participants in a unique sub-aquatic experience taking them deep, deep down under the sea..

First of all there’s the correct button to find that will get the submarine started and of course, the steering wheel, to make sure you stay on your chosen course.

With a variety of challenges including hidden symbols and keys to detect, mazes to navigate, art works to locate, corals and shells to compare,

a reef to steer through, weird and wonderful creatures aplenty to surprise and perhaps alarm, all of which are part and parcel of the host of strange seascapes and labyrinthine mazes explorers encounter. Surreal sights abound.

Dive down in Nautilus and you’ll more than likely remain submerged for several hours, before you surface, with or without having spotted the compass hidden in plain sight in each and every scene. And just in case you haven’t solved all the posers, the author/artist has provided the answers at the back of the book. Happy exploring.

Birds and their Feathers / A World of Birds

Birds and their Feathers
Britta Teckentrup

Following on from The Egg, Britta Teckentrup has created another bird book with a difference, approaching the subject via plumology – bird feather science.
Its ninety or so pages are packed with fascinating feathery facts.

Each double spread is devoted to a particular aspect including feather development, structure, types of feather, colour – did you know flamingos are pink thanks to the carotenoid pigment in the crustacea they eat?

She also looks at wing types, flying strategies, heat regulation and many more topics relating to form and function,

with the final pages devoted to how humans have been inspired by, and exploited, feathers in creating myths, dreams of human flight, for decoration and warmth, a feather was even taken to the moon.

The subject allows full reign to Britta’s amazing artistic talent and her beautiful paintings are a delight to peruse and gaze upon in wonder.

A book for the family bookshelf, for bird lovers, art lovers and school collections.

Taking a more conventional approach but also well worth getting hold of is

A World of Birds
Vicky Woodgate
Big Picture Press

In her follow up to Urban Jungle wildlife enthusiast Vicky Woodgate starts with some general ornithological information giving facts about classification, anatomy, flight and eggs.

She then takes readers on a whistle stop tour of seven locations around the world – North America, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica – wherein we learn about different bird species, some resident, others migratory. Every one of the 75 birds selected is representative of its wider family, the author explains.
Each geographical section begins with a map of the location along with a brief description of the climate, habitats and conservation issues.

The first location is North America, which, with habitats as varied as tropical rainforest, hot deserts and frozen plains has a huge number of different species, partly because it encompasses four major migration routes.

All the other sections too have both resident and migratory species, though Antarctica, has the most challenging conditions for its wildlife and thus fewer avian species.

Central and South America in contrast has an enormous variety of birds and new species are still being discovered although sadly, due to human action, some of the most beautiful such as the Macaws are now on the endangered species list.

The same is true of some of those featured in the African section the continent of Africa being home to some of the world’s largest and most colourful birds.

Europe is home to many species that have adapted to urban environments; Asia, with its varied climates and habitats has, despite the fact that many Asian cultures revere birds, a big problem with the pet trade and hence a fair number of threatened species, whereas the biggest threat in Oceania is that from introduced and invasive bird species – an issue conservationists are earnestly tackling.

Beautifully illustrated and packed with fascinating information, this is a book pore over, to immerse yourself in and enjoy.

Meet the Ancient Romans

Meet the … Ancient Romans
James Davies
Big Picture Press

This is one of a new history series. It’s an engaging look at the Ancient Romans, presented with an exuberance that young readers will find both highly entertaining and illuminating.

Small chunks of information are delivered with a gentle wit, on almost thirty topics. These range from The Birth of the Roman Empire (a comic strip rendering of the Romulus and Remus myth), through emperors …

writing and number systems, home life, clothing, inventions, food and farming, bathing, theatre, building (the Romans were superb builders and engineers) …

medicine (herbs and healing baths were prescribed for most illnesses);

entertainment, (the Romans pitted animals against animals as well as humans; and entry to the Colosseum was free, sometimes even the food came gratis), and ending with the fall of the empire, and a spread on Rome Today.

Throughout, the emphasis is on the visuals: Davies has an off-beat style, uses limited colour to great effect and peppers his illustrations with amusing speech bubbles.

All in all a great introduction for a younger audience, to a fascinating ancient civilisation, the legacy of which is still evident today.

Check out the companion volume ‘Meet the Ancient Egyptians’ too.


Chris Wormell and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Dinosaur books seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. This one is the latest in the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series that includes Botanicum and Animalium, and, illustrated by Chris Wormell, it’s truly awesome: serious stuff in fact.
Like others in the series, the whole thing is presented as a museum, the author and illustrator being billed as its curators and the chapters, after the ‘Entrance’ that houses an extremely useful dinosaur evolutionary tree, as a series of galleries, six in all with a final index, some information about the book’s curators and a list of further sources should readers want to learn more.
Gallery 1 is Sauropodomorpha. Don’t worry, the meaning of this is explained at the outset. Every spread has a large full-colour plate, which even has a numbered key in addition to the informative paragraphs relating to what is shown in the plate. I should mention here that these are splendid digital engravings, each illustration being in predominantly earthy tones.

The galleries proceed through Theropoda, Ornithopoda, Thyreophora, (these include the well-known to children, Stegosauria and Ankylosauria);

then on to Marginocephalia and to the final ‘Non-Dinosaurs’, which includes petrosaurs, marine repliles, Mesozoic mammals and lastly, survivors; (those that escaped the catastrophe that wiped out the ‘non-bird dinosaurs’).
Going back to Maginocephalia, take a look at this stunning plate of Diabloceratops eatoni (yes the full scientific name is given).

This creature from the late cretaceous era is thought to have been a primitive ancestor of Triceratops and would, so we’re told, have used its beaked mouth to feed on low-growing plants in areas covered by lakes, floodplains and rivers.
In addition to the amazing exhibits of the galleries, each gallery is prefaced with a beautiful botanical plate featuring an original wood-cut of typical plants from the age of the dinosaurs featured.
A short review doesn’t really do justice to this outstanding book: it’s perhaps not, despite the ‘Admit All’ on the front cover ticket, for the very youngest dinosaur discoverers; although once any child has been inside, it’s likely to be a place that they’ll want to return to over and over, gradually taking in more of Lily Murray’s detailed text,  from each visit, perhaps early on, sharing their ticket with an adult who, I’m sure, will be more than willing to act as a guide.

Explanatorium of Nature / Urban Jungle

Explanatorium of Nature

This definitely isn’t a book to carry around in your school bag unless you want to do a bit of weight training; it’s an extremely heavy tome (more than 2Kg) with over 350 pages including contents, glossary and index.
Its conventional structure takes readers through ten sections starting with The Basics of Life, followed by a journey through living things from Microorganisms and Fungi right through to Mammals and taking in, by turn, Plants, Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and finally, Habitats.
As you might expect, The Basics of Life covers the origins of life, reproduction, cells and how they work, DNA, evolution and classification, each being allocated a double spread.
Thereafter, each section is further broken down into one or two double page spreads per topic, ‘Algae’ for example or ‘How chemical defences work’, and includes a main photographic illustration and information surrounded by smaller pictures, labels and additional facts.
The photography is amazing and the book is packed with a great deal of fascinating information presented in a manner that makes the whole thing feel inviting without being overwhelming.

There’s even a superb die-cut cover.
It works well as a book to browse through or to seek specific information from, and would be great to give a budding young biologist.
One for the family bookshelf or school library.

Urban Jungle
Vicky Woodgate
Big Picture Press

My goodness, this is a large volume but it’s one animal lovers in particular will enjoy spending time exploring, along with author/illustrator, Vicky Woodgate, who is passionate about wildlife and travel. Herein she takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of 38 cities on six continents exploring the plethora of animals to be found there.
Each of the enticing city maps depicts fauna large and small, some commonly seen, others seldom sighted. Barcelona for instance has a wealth of birds – peregrine falcons in the bell tower of the Sagrada Familia for instance – something I’ve not appreciated in my numerous visits to the city and its environs.

I was however aware of the presence of leopards in Mumbai, another city I’ve visited on many occasions, although I’ve never seen a leopard roaming. I have though seen the three-striped palm squirrels whizzing around, and the beautiful purple-rumped sunbirds.

Most familiar to me is the rich variety of birds and animals in London and the suburbs that it’s all too easy to take for granted wandering through say, Richmond Park with its herds of deer and those pesky parakeets; or the red foxes that roam the streets looking for rodents, or rubbish bins to rummage. Then there are those majestic swans one frequently sees on the Thames; but I’ve never seen, or was even aware of there being a short-snouted seahorse living in its waters.
I found myself getting drawn into this stylish book, turning first to the 8 maps of the cities I’ve spend time in, and then going on to explore other urban jungles. I’m sure children will love browsing its expansive pages, enjoying the portraits of the animal residents of each city, as well as discovering the fascinating facts about them. An expert from each location has fact-checked the information to ensure that this walk on the wild side of the world’s busiest cities is accurate as well as exciting.

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission / Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase / Animazes

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission
Sophie Guerrive
Wide Eyed Editions
In his plane, which looks more like an inflatable toy than anything capable of carrying a dinosaur, famous Dinosaur Detective sets forth on a mission: to find five missing items as requested by the likes of a dog, a princess, a teacher and a distraught wife, hidden somewhere in eleven different locations including what looks like a Medieval European village, an underground cave network, atop a mountain,

a funfair, a forest, a completely crazy-looking outer space neighbourhood and a city.

It’s difficult to know where to start each search as your eyes keep getting drawn to features of interest – mine did anyway – and some of the spreads are so densely packed, it’s mindboggling, and easy to get absorbed in the surreal nature of the whole thing rather than the task in hand. It’s just as well there’s an answer spread at the end.
Dinosaur Detective’s plane transforms into a kind of tank (to find the missing toad) and a flying saucer – another fun feature.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase
Little Tiger Press
Herein we meet natural history explorers Wilfred and Olbert and follow them on a quest to discover a new animal and thus win the coveted Nature Discovery Prize. And when an unidentified butterfly just happens to float through the window, they decide their chance has come. Off they go in hot pursuit but who will be the one to claim the prize?
Their journey has them dashing through forests, diving into oceans, crossing deserts, and wild grasslands,

scaling mountains and delving into tropical jungles …

as they battle to reach the butterfly first.
In the end teamwork wins out and mission complete, they claim their trophy.
The whole adventure is perilous and it’s something of a task to keep track of the two competitors and their antics en route – almost being the next meal of a lion, or being engulfed by ice, for instance – but the whole crazy drama is totally engaging, full of funny moments, things to search for, and of course, wild animals.
Wild too are Lomp’s hilarious, cartoon-like illustrations, full of daft doings and silly speech bubbles making every spread a treat to linger over.
Action-packed they surely are!

illustrated by Melissa Castrillión
Big Picture Press
This unusual book of mazes follows the journeys of fourteen animal migrants from Antarctic krill and Monarch butterflies to Humpback whales and Mali elephants.
For some of these creatures such as reindeer, finding food is the reason for their journey; for others, such as Rockhopper Penguins, it’s to seek a suitable environment for the survival of the next generation.
In tracing their journeys, the aim is to discover the one safe path for each animal and in so doing, readers will discover a host of fascinating facts about the creature. Did you know for instance that Mali elephants all pass through one narrow passage, The Porte des Éléphants on their migratory travels? Or that Wildebeest participate in the largest mass migration of mammals on earth?

It’s Katie Howarth who provides these and the other interesting snippets of information that support Melissa Castrillión’s intricately detailed illustrations through which the mazes are woven.
Absorbing, fun and educational.

Look, Look and Look Again

Where’s the Baby?
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
Baby animals are the objects of the search in Britta Teckentrup’s latest ‘spotting’ book, which, once again is intended to develop visual perception in the very young.
A rhyming text accompanies each digitally composed spread and the challenge is satisfyingly demanding for youngsters: I had to search for a while to locate the gosling on the pond.
With their matt colours and wallpaper style patterns, the artist’s visuals really demand that you look closely savouring the pleasing design of each one be it the vibrant parrots,

the farmyard hens, the kangaroos, the zebras or the seahorses to name just some of the fourteen creatures featured.
The final challenge in the book is different asking, ‘can you see the mother/ whose babies are TWINS?’
Alluring, absorbing and enjoyable.

Have You Seen My Lunch Box?
Steve Light
Walker Books
Morning chaos reigns as a small boy gets ready for school: the clock is ticking but he wants help locating all the things he needs: his socks, his pencil case, a crayon, his book,

a ball, marbles and particularly important, his lunch box. Mum and Dad are on hand to hunt but essentially it’s down to the reader to save the day and ensure he boards the bus on time.
The text, delivered as a first person narrative, appears on each verso, set against the same colour as the missing item to be located on the recto among the plethora of items inked in detail against a predominantly white background. This pattern continues throughout until the last object is safely in the hands of its owner. The final page shows all eight things.
Essentially this is a game for adult and toddler to play together: there’s plenty to talk about in addition to those misplaced items, and that’s in the hands of the adult sharer; in fact every spread is a possible starting point for some adult/child storying.

Double Take!
Susan Hood and Jay Fleck,
Walker Books
We’re in the company of a little boy, his cat and a friendly elephant being asked not to take things at first sight. Assuredly, we’re told, some opposites – in/out, asleep/ awake for instance, are pretty straightforward, albeit orchestrated herein; but others are totally dependent on one’s frame of reference.

Subtitled ‘A New Look at Opposites’ and published under the imprint Walker Studio, this rhyming invitation certainly demands that readers think about opposites with regard to perspective.

I’ve signed the charter  

Botanicum Activity Book/ Under Earth Activity Book & Under Water Activity Book

Botanicum Activity Book
Katie Scott and Kathy Willis
Big Picture Press
If you loved Botanicum and who wouldn’t, then this from the same team, is definitely for you: it’s an activity book par excellence and is billed as 5+. However, as an early years teacher, I’ve seen 4 year olds do amazingly detailed observational drawings of plants, so I’d bring this down to 4+.
This one took me right back to my ‘gap year’ working as an assistant in the herbarium at Kew where I was awed by the work of the, then resident artist.
Back to this book, which has equally stunning illustrations and is probably best used alongside its ‘parent’ volume. There are pages of flowers and plants to colour; and those who would rather draw have several opportunities: there’s a cycad tree with step-by-step visual instructions, ditto a pineapple fruit. Those who require a little guidance can complete algae patterns,

draw mirror images of a buttercup half, three half leaves, add stem and foliage to four bulbs, for instance. For more confident drawing enthusiasts there are opportunities to create a cactus; complete a Carboniferous forest; add details to some leaves and create your own leaf , to name just some of the more open ended drawing activities.
Spot-the-difference enthusiasts will also be satisfied with the four pages each with ten differences allocated to that activity: this one’s truly beautiful. (You can always cheat by looking at the reverse side if you can’t find them all.)

Should you want to test your botanical knowledge there are pages for that too including .. .

There’s even a maze, which looks quite forbidding, but I managed to do it – eventually – without cheating.
With over 35 activities in all, this superb book offers hours of gently educational pleasure.
Also inspiring are:

Under Earth Activity Book
Under Water Activity Book

Aleksandra Mizielińska & Daniel Mizieliński
Big Picture Press
These two are based on the Mizielińskas’ awesome Under Earth, Under Water and 70 activities can be found in each book. Their design is clever with a wide range of activities on each recto and, in the Earth book, a superbly detailed, underground creature to colour on the verso;

each page being easily detached from the binding. You can find activities as diverse as following instructions for growing your own tubers (potatoes herein)

and completing the drawing of an Aztec stone.
Under Water is similarly presented but with underwater creatures to colour.
Activities herein range from designing a deep-sea diver’s costume, to spotting and drawing 16 pieces of rubbish that have found their way into a lake scene.

Fun learning and creativity bound together and absolutely ideal for holidays, rainy days and times when children (or you) want some relaxing no-screen time, these beauties take activity books to a whole new level of excellence.

I’ve signed the charter  



Marc Martin
Big Picture Press
Prepare for a visual tour that takes in places as different as Delhi and Antarctica, Alice Springs and the Amazon rainforest,


Tokyo and the Galapagos Islands and the wonderful and exciting things to be found at each destination. There’s a plethora of people to meet, amazing and common or garden animals to encounter – the inevitable abundance of dogs in Paris, and the elephant shrews of Cape Town. Tokyo seems almost over-run with vending machines and Kawaii (cute things), whereas cats are curiously common in Cairo;


and Delhi is replete with rickshaws of various kinds; and chai wallahs are always on hand to provide you with a cuppa.

chai wallhas at work

All this and much more, is contained within Marc Martin’s vibrant, jam-packed illustrations printed on beautifully matt spreads – one per location.
There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to his choice or arrangement of destinations: Ulaanbaatar with its ubiquity of yaks and Reykjavik, home to lots of Annas and Jóns clearly interested him so there we are.
Amusing snippets of information are scattered over the large pages, some such as Lenin almost ‘accidentally’ being an honorary member of the Beatles are funny, or that New York is sometimes called ‘The City that Never Sleeps’ (probably on account of the coffee!) Martin suggests.
So, if you want to be an ‘armchair traveller’, this is for you; better still, get hold of the book, be inspired by one of the destinations herein and then pay it a visit, to learn more about its people, wildlife, buildings, food, transport and landmarks for real.

Secrets of the Sea

Secrets of the Sea
Eleanor Taylor and Kate Baker
Big Picture Press

It is in the oceans that all life on Earth began, yet they are one of the least explored and least understood places on the planet.’ So writes Kate Baker in her introduction to this stunningly beautiful book that takes us from ‘In the Shallows’, through the ‘Forests of the Sea’and the ‘Coral Gardens’, into ‘The Wide, Wide Blue’ and down ‘Into the Deep’.
Venture beneath the waves and there’s an amazing variety of plant and animal life from single celled organisms such as ‘Sea sparkle’ …

to the Giant pacific octopus an enormous cephalopod that resides in the depth of the ocean and has an armspan of up to 4 metres. Not all octopus species are deep sea dwellers though: Coconut octopus is to be found in the shallows of tropical waters. This amazing creature is able, we’re told, to hide itself not only by changing its colour, texture and form to blend in with its surroundings, but also it can pick up an empty coconut shell, crawl inside and hide. Unsurprisingly it is considered the ‘master-mind’ of invertebrates.
Dive down to the kelp forests and discover minute algae and other fascinating creatures like this Hooded nudibranch:

The coal reefs are home to almost 25% of marine life much of which is brightly coloured such as these Pygmy seahorses …

It’s in the open oceans where such as the Sea angel can be found. This graceful dancer is a predatory sea slug, another deadly hunter …

Dive deeper and at depths of about 2000 metres are thriving communities of squat lobsters, white crabs, mussels, snake-like fish, anemones and these giant tube worms …

This is a book that opens the eyes to the staggering beauty of marine life in all its forms. Every illustration is a celebration of the wonders of the oceans and focuses on the intricate shapes, structures, patterns and colours that are revealed when the marine flora and fauna are examined in extreme close-up. Kate Baker’s accompanying text provides a broader picture describing habits and habitat of each organism and some basic facts including Latin name, size and other fascinating snippets of information.


Botanicum & Destination: Space – Awesome Information Books


Katie Scott and Kathy Willis
Big Picture Press
I was fortunate to spend a year working in the Kew Herbarium in a kind of gap year after science A-levels and have retained an interest in Botany ever since. It was like being in another world and so I was especially interested to receive a copy of this large, lavishly produced book for review.
Published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, it is essentially, a guide to the world’s flora, illustrated by Katie Scott (who also illustrated Animalium) with text from co-curator, Professor Kathy Willis (Kew’s Director of Science).
Before entering the seven galleries we’re given a wonderful introductory spread of the different types of plants that sets the scene for the whole thing …


Gallery 1 contains the most primitive plants in habitants of the Carboniferous Forests: from single celled diatoms



to ferns.
Trees (and shrubs) comprise gallery 2 and from there we move to Palms and Cycads, Herbaceous Plants,


Wild Flowers

then Grasses, Cattails, Sedges and Rushes; followed by Orchids and Bromeliads in Gallery 6 and the final section looks at Adapting to Environments.
The detailed illustrations are superb – look at these pitcher plants …


and the variety of page layout adds extra visual interest as the thick pages are turned and we gaze transfixed at some hundred colour spreads that provide a veritable visual feast.


Each entry is numbered and factual snippets are provided in a key. I’m pleased to see the Latin names are used – I often find these coming to mind more easily than the common ones, but I guess that’s my botanical background.


There’s something to interest everyone from primary school browser and information seeker to adult reader as the text ranges between chatty – in reference to the giant sequoia ‘it takes sixteen adults holding hands to reach around one‘ to the more challenging (of lichens): ‘They are a collaboration between a fungal element and photosynthesising algae.’ Having said that, I know that children at least, are able to absorb challenging vocabulary in context.
A terrific collaboration and a fine volume to accompany Animalium.

Information-hungry youngsters should find much to interest in:


Destination: Space
Dr Christoph Englert and Tom Clohosy Cole
Wide Eyed Editions
Herein readers can join five astronauts and embark on a journey of discovery through our Solar System to galaxies beyond. During the course of the mind-boggling journey, they can find out about such topics as ‘Stars’,’Earth’s Cycles‘ …


‘Black Holes’, ‘The Solar System’ and ‘Earth and its Magnetic Field’ . They can read about telescopes ancient and modern …


Unmanned Space Exploration’ that uses probes and contemplate ‘Life on Other Planets’. Each of these (and other fascinating subjects) is given a large, mostly visual double spread illustration by Tom Clohosy Cole onto which is superimposed an introductory paragraph and other snippets of information from lecturer in astronomy and physics, Dr Christoph Englert.
The grand finale is a fold-out page that when open becomes a large, double-sided poster.
Just the thing for a topic on space in the primary school or for interested individuals.


A Pandemonium of Parrots & An Acorn


A Pandemonium of Parrots and other animals
illustrated by Hui Skipp
Big Picture Press
Essentially what we have here in this super book is a series of spreads featuring collective nouns for a dozen or so animals large and small, each one playfully and alluringly illustrated by a talent new to me, Hui Skipp; and embedded within each illustration is a descriptive quatrain (presumably written by Kate Baker), such as this:
With nimble legs and pinching claws,
     they run across the forest floor.
Their gleaming armour shimmers bright,
    while fragile wings prepare for flight.
… as well as questions to answer by exploring what’s depicted on the spread.


Representing the feathered ones are the parrots of the title, flamingos (a flamboyance), penguins in a huddle and these Hummingbird dazzlers …


There are tigers – an ambush, a Lounge of Lizards basking in the sunshine …


       Casually they lie around
slouched on rocks or on the ground.
       Suddenly one spots its prey
       and in a flash it darts away.

and on the river banks ‘An Army’ of frogs – croaking, singing wonders every one. The mammals are represented by a Sloth of Bears, An Ambush of Tigers, A Troop of Monkeys, A Conspiracy of Lemurs …


and A Caravan of Camels – beauties all.
The final two spreads are a “Did You See?’ array of all the animals with questions, followed by a concluding Who’s Who that gives snippets of information about each animal included.
Altogether this book is a treat for the eyes, an opportunity to learn some collective nouns and a chance to discover a few facts about thirteen fascinating groups of creatures. One for the primary classroom or family bookshelf.


Because of an Acorn
Lola M.Schaefer, Adam Schaefer and Frann Preston-Gannon
Chronicle Books
This is a simple, but wonderfully effective look at a forest habitat and the interconnectedness of the flora and fauna that are a part of the ecosystem.
Because of an acorn, a tree grows; this in turn provides a nesting place for a bird, an insect-eating one that happens to aid seed dispersal.


The seed in turn grows, producing a flower that fruits, providing a chipmunk food. A snake with its beady eye upon the chipmunk …


is in turn seized in a hawk’s talons and when the hawk lands on the branch of, yes, an oak, down comes an ripe acorn and more until ultimately, there’s …


a forest

Circles and cycles of life are evident in this cleverly conceived, unassuming little book that packs a powerful punch.
In addition to being a super little book to share with a class or group of young children, the fact that the text is simple, patterned, and perfectly matched to the pictures on each page, beginning readers can try reading it for themselves and feel empowered having done so.
There’s so much to see and to discuss in Frann Preston-Gannon’s lush foresty illustrations. UK readers will find some of the animals less familiar and the oak species is different from the British ones but this could be a good talking point.

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The World-Famous Magical Numbers & Peekaboo Wild


The World-Famous Book of Magical Numbers
Sarah Goodreau
Big Picture Press
Wow! This is a bobby-dazzler. Superbly designed in a gloriously retro, vintage style, it’s a truly magical presentation of numbers (0 to 0), with opportunities for counting aplenty, rendered in bold, bright colours and a myriad of patterns, by 1 master magician …


(and, of course, Sarah Goodreau) You’ll be astounded for sure!
There’s excitement on every page: prestidigitation abounds as we see sleights of hand, grand illusions and out-of-this world wizardry all done through ingenious paper-engineering that employs flaps …


tab-pulls, pop-ups …


and a truly splendiferous grand finale …


which is followed by a farewell from our magician extraordinaire. – when he makes an appearance that is …


It’s as well this whole performance is sturdily constructed to stand up to the enthusiastic handling and countless re-reads it’s absolutely bound to receive: oh yes – youngsters may well improve their counting skills too, thanks to this show-stopping treat of a book.


Peekaboo WILD
Walker Entertainment
The very young can delight in a playful Peekaboo game (based on The Peekaboo Wild app.) First stop is the jungle, where we’re asked who lives therein and by lifting the flap we discover two of the inhabitants. The question and answer format continues with ‘Who else lives there?’ and two more animals hide beneath the flaps.
The second destination is the bush wherein kangaroos, a platypus, an emu and a koala have hidden themselves among the foliage. We move on to the sunny savannah, which has two spreads and herein are lions, a giraffe and a zebra …


Jagged ice peaks greet us in the Arctic, home to all these beauties …


Then it’s on to a bamboo forest home to two species of panda: the black and white one and a red panda as well as a tiger and a pangolin.
The two final spreads show first, a pictorial world map setting the animals in their continents and on the second, each habitat has a flap under which its respective inhabitants are hidden.
Through an enjoyable shared experience babies can learn so much about the animals in this board book; but even more important is the ‘books are fun’ message this will convey. In addition older siblings just starting to read can demonstrate their developing skill by reading it to a baby brother or sister.

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One Is Not A Pair & Who’s Hungry?


One Is Not A Pair
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
This is the third of Britta Teckentrup’s ‘spotting’ series that encourage and develop visual perception in a playful way that children (and many adults) delight in. Here she takes fourteen objects and presents them in spreads where everyone has a pair except one – the odd one out. All interests are catered for: there’s food  – yummy-looking ice-cream cones, sweet shiny cherries –


machines are represented by huffing puffing tractors and a ‘squadron of planes’, wild life has strutting magpies, spotted toadstools upon which spotty ladybirds crawl; there are birds in bird houses and in trees: ‘Each tree has a pair/ where matching birds call, / but one has a guest/ that is no bird at all.’ Can you find it?’


There are wonderfully coloured autumn leaves upon which insects crawl. We visit a toy shop with a host of cuddly bears …


and there are wooden blocks, built into towers and houses, a cacophony of yowling black cats, a richly hued pack of colouring pencils and last but definitely no least, washing lines of socks …


And the final spread is a mix of all the things to pair up and find the odd one.
Characteristically stylish, bold bright graphics grace every page and Britta’s rhyming text trips off the tongue nicely.
Look, look and keep looking: it’s such fun.
There’s also a set of Where’s The Pair? spotting postcards from Britta:


every one a diverting visual charmer and like the book, beautifully patterned in Britta’s inimitable style.


Who’s Hungry!
Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
Walker Books
The split page format is cleverly used to put young readers in control of feeding some hungry animals. By turning the half pages they can bring the food right to the animal’s mouth each time. The book starts with the straightforward, all-important ‘Time to eat. Who’s hungry?’ to which seven animals respond in the affirmative, starting with a rabbit who declares, “I am! I’m hungry.” A quick flip of the flap delivers a crunchy carrot almost straight into Bunny’s mouth. This is followed by ‘Glad you like it, Bunny. Who else is hungry?’ And thus the refrain is repeated and responded to, next by Seal who hastily slurps up a fish leaving only the bones behind.


Monkey unsurprisingly, snatches up a banana, dropping the peel; Horse chomps through a pile of hay, Squirrel consumes a large acorn, Panda some scrummy bamboo shoots, and lastly Mouse politely requests and nibbles on a chunk of cheese.
The off-screen narrator is always on hand to make certain each animal is duly satisfied: ‘There’s plenty more, Panda!’ he says …


And, the final spread offers a plate to the reader – I’d certainly relish the vegetables particularly that broccoli.
The eyes of each animal have that ‘come on’ appeal that seems to be directed straight at the reader (or listener) who will take great delight in responding by delivering the food to each member of this alluring-looking menagerie.
In addition to providing opportunities to discuss healthy eating, asking and receiving politely, caring for animals, and animal habitats with the very young, this is a great ‘have a go yourself’ book for those in the early stages of becoming a reader. All in all, it’s cleverly conceived, all-involving enjoyment for children and adults.

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Under Earth Under Water


Under Earth Under Water
Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizielińska
Big Picture Press
First from this duo there was Maps and now back they’ve come three years later with another wonderful non-fiction offering, an exploration of what lies beneath the ground, or – if you turn this massively fascinating book around and begin at the other end – what lurks beneath the surface of the oceans. Even the contents pages are ingenious journey maps.
Let’s start with going under the earth where pretty much everything from bacteria, beetle larvae, burrowing animals, storage roots and the like …


natural gas …


cables and pipes, sewers, to metro lines are delved into.
Flip the book over and readers are plunged into lakes, the oceans, and richly coloured coral reefs. Topics such as underwater pressure, diving, submarines, oil platforms and deep-sea fish …


are covered. The whole thing is a veritable treasure trove chock full of delights scientific …


geographical, cultural and historical …


to fascinate and be pored over.
Totally engrossing, lavishly produced, brilliantly designed, visually staggering, this is a volume to be dipped into, enjoyed, cherished: what an amazing journey to the centre of the earth no matter from which end you begin.
It’s beyond brilliant and a must for family bookshelves and class libraries no matter what the age or stage.

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Richard Wilkinson and Jo Nelson
Big Picture Press
This handsome, outsized volume offers a virtual museum experience within hard covers. The opening pages – the ‘Entrance’ provide a brief rationale for what is included, ‘ only a selection of the civilisations that have ever existed, but we hope it will inspire future exploration.’ and a short explanation of archaeology. Next comes a timeline that illustrates the objects featured in the six galleries: Africa, America, Asia, Europe, The Middle East and Oceania.
Gallery 1 includes Southern Africa, Western Africa …

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and Ancient Egypt with each culture being given a short overview followed by a key to the artefacts that includes description, cultural context and anthropological significance.
In Gallery 2, America, five civilisations feature: The Olmec, The Maya,

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The Aztecs, The Hopewell (I hate to admit my ignorance about this one), and the Pueblo.
Enter Gallery 3 and you’re taken to Ancient Asia – India (the ancient culture I’m most familiar with),

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China, Japan and Korea.
Gallery 4, Europe encompasses The Celts, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome …

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and The Vikings.
The Middle East is the location for Gallery 5 and here Jo Nelson offers readers five Mesopotamian objects, another five from The Ancient Levant, a frieze from Ancient Persia; and Early Islam has fragments of a woven tapestry, wall painting fragments and an earthenware bowl.


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The 6th Gallery, Oceania includes items from the Indigenous Australians,

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Melanesia, Polynesia and The Maori.
Wilkinson’s digital illustrations are not photos though they have a considerable degree of photorealism in the detail and some truly stand out from the page.

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Moving from early Stone Age (a hand axe) right through to the 19th century (a Polynesian head of a staff god) is indeed an ambitious enterprise and of course, it can never take the place of a real museum visit; but you would need to visit a great many to see everything Historium presents. There is a final index citing the museums (with locations) of the artefacts displayed in the whole fascinating enterprise. It certainly does give the next best thing: a basic introduction to a number of ancient cultures (mostly no longer in existence) and an exciting visual experience that will one hopes, inspire readers to go (coining a phrase from Bruner), ‘beyond the information given’

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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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Look, Talk, Do …

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One Thousand Things
Anna Kövecses
Wide Eyed Editions
There is a synergy of contemporary and retro feel about this vocabulary-developing book. Little Mouse has helpfully divided it into seven sections and invites participant toddlers to spot her in every scene of the thematic organization that begins with First Things to Learn. This includes spreads of shapes, colours, numerals and counters to 10, some opposites and times of the day. In Things in nature there’s a spread of tasty-looking fruit,

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another of equally mouth-watering vegetables, three of animals in different habitats and one of extinct creatures. Things you can do includes both outdoor and indoor activities and some to aspire to, desirable everyday ones

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and the two final sections look at objects inside your house – everyday things in different rooms and lastly, Things outside your house such as vehicles, buildings and natural features.
The final spread asks us to imagine, and shows pictorially, 1,000.
Absorbing and fun for the very young to share with an adult or older child: I like everything about this one including its smell and feel.

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Stephen Biesty’s To the Rescue
Rod Green and Stephen Biesty
Templar Publishing
Biesty has selected eight vehicles from different parts of the world that carry out rescue operations by land, sea and air to be the subjects of his latest info-graphic picture book. Given the close-up treatment herein are a Hi-Tech Police Car, a Fire Truck,

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a Flying Firefighter, a Submarine Rescue vehicle (part of a NATO Submarine Rescue System), a Giant Fireboat, the Agusta Westland AW139 Air Ambulance, a 27 Tamar lifeboat and an ambulance.
As with the earlier, Giant Vehicles, a plethora of facts written by Rod Green surround each of Biesty’s amazingly detailed pen/ink and watercolour washed illustrations, and there are numerous flaps (engineered by Andy Mansfield) under which more information is to be found.
It’s a good job that this book is sturdily built: I envisage it being read to destruction having provided countless hours of fascination to child (and perhaps adult) readers. Assuredly, a great way to interest young readers in applied science/ technology: My only quibble is an almost total absence of female personel; I know many girls who aspire to such roles as piloting a plane or driving a fire truck.

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The Odd One Out
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
This is actually a cardboard wallet containing fifteen gorgeous animal postcards of artwork that featured in the book of the same name by one of my favourite contemporary-style artists. Spot the surprise on every page – some are easier to find than others – have fun.
I would find it almost impossible to part with any of the postcards, which presumably are intended for sending.

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Zip It
Patricia Hegarty and Fhiona Galloway
Little Tiger Kids
Subtitled ‘A fancy book of fastenings’ this largish board book is indeed that. Herein we have a frog with a zip mouth to open and shut, a pig with a button nose, a duck with a Velcro fastened down wing that lifts to reveal a small duckling hidden beneath, Kitty with a popper collar to ‘Pop’ and ‘snap’ and finally two squeaking mice whose tails are tied in a bow. In addition to developing their fine motor skills small children can enjoy listening to the simple rhyming text with its carefully chosen words including animal sounds and action words.

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Close Encounters


First Words and Pictures
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Frances Lincoln pbk
From the opening spread, this whole book is an irresistible invitation to join the lovable Chimp and Zee on a joyous extravaganza of language learning and fun.


We see the chimps as they explore the contents of the dressing-up basket, have something to eat, visit Jungletown – look carefully and you’ll see what they are up to there, try all manner of vehicles, explore the possibilities of a pet, wield paintbrushes dipped in brightly coloured paints,


introduce different kinds of weather, fill each and every day with alliterative activities, learn to count to ten, romp about in the bathtub and finally snuggle up with a book at bedtime –


what better way to end a day?
All this is presented through amusing rhymes, with the final sentence on each double spread being a child-involving question, and wonderfully detailed, witty and often, action packed illustrations large and small. Guaranteed hours and hours of pleasure for toddler and adult together lie within (even on) the covers of this one.
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The World of Mamoko in the Year 3000
Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
Big Picture Press
Printed on sturdy card pages to withstand the heavy handling this is likely to receive, is this unusual picture book that puts the reader in charge of the direction of the story; indeed they become one with its inhabitants.


A large cast of characters participate in the seven futuristic scenes, indoors and out, which include a rock concert, a rocket race and naturalistic locations such as a water park. The identities of the various characters are developed as one follows each from the apartments scene in the first spread to the various busy settings in the city and its environs.


It is enormous fun to visit this multi-hued civilization, so cleverly crafted and portrayed by the Mizielinska/Mizielinski partnership. For those who like full-on visuals from which to create their own dramatisations,, this is a must-have book.
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Mi and Museum City
Linda Sarah
Phoenix Yard Books pbk
Meet Mi; he resides in a tiny blue hut in the middle of the River Weary in the middle of Museum City. All the buildings save Mi’s home are museums. The place is dull to put it mildly and Mi is very lonely; but two things save him from utter depair – his pebble collection and the sounds made when they fall onto different surfaces, and STARLIGHT.
Then one day when out hunting for additions to his collection, Mi hears a different kind of sound, one that fills him with happiness. He follows it to its source and discovers a Big, Tall Thing playing on an enormous single stringed instrument, the most wonderful music he’s ever heard. Thereafter things change, not only for Mi but also for Yu, for that is the musician’s name and also later, thanks to Yu’s wonderful music, for the Mayor of Museum City



and ultimately for the whole city. All manner of marvellous museums begin to spring up all over the place; there’s the Museum of Donkeys that Roar, the Museum of Rain (that houses three billion raindrops), the Utterly Irrevelant Museum of Creatures that do not Exist and have Never Existed, the Museum of the White Bits on Waves and many, many more, each one created by a quirky resident of the city.


All this of course, results in a whole new wonderful way of seeing the world, or rather life, for Mi who becomes, at the end of each and every day, a visitor to the very best place of all: the Museum of Starlit Benches Arranged at Different Heights for Pebble-Dropping and other Fun Things and guess who sits there beside him? Yu of course. Amen to that!
What a wonderfully uplifting and crazy experience it is to visit Museum City along with Mi, not forgetting Yu too. It’s absolutely brimming over, well actually perfectly contained within the covers of this joyous book. Moreover, there is a large fold-out map of Museums from A to Z attached to the inside back cover – another fine feature. If you are fascinated by the minutiae of life then lose yourself within the pages of this one; you’ll feel different when you emerge.
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