Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren

Little People, Big Dreams: Astrid Lindgren
Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Linzie Hunter
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In the latest of this splendid biography series for youngsters Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara celebrates one of the world’s most favourite children’s authors, Astrid Lindgren, the creator of much loved character Pippi Longstocking.

Pippi Longstocking was the name given by Astrid’s daughter Karin who, when sick in bed asked her mother for a get-better story about a character whose name she had just thought up and those adventures are now children’s book classics that all readers should immerse themselves in.

Back now to Astrid: she had a happy childhood living on her parents’ farm in Vimmerby, Sweden and at a young age developed an insatiable appetite for books and reading, quickly working her way through the library’s entire collection.

She had a rather rebellious nature that became more evident as she began to grow up, getting her first job on a newspaper, and at age nineteen she became a single mother to her son, Lars.

Later she married and had another child, Karin. Always playful, Astrid frequently invented stories. As a 10th birthday present for Karin she put all the Pippi stories down on paper and before long the wise, wild character was famous the world over with Pippi being translated into over 100 languages and becoming a TV star too.

Astrid went on to create other popular characters including Lotta and Emil and was awarded two Hans Christian Andersen medals in recognition for her contribution to the book world.

There was even a planet – Planet 3204 – named in her honour by a Russian astronomer. Awesome! A legend indeed and now her stories live on inspiring new generations of young readers.

A time line and further information conclude this cracking book.

Linzie Hunter really captures the spirit of both Astrid and Pippi in her delightful, slightly wacky illustrations.

Queen of Physics

Queen of Physics
Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang
Sterling

Subtitled How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secerts of the Atom, this is a fascinating exploration of the life of a woman who overcame the barriers of gender and race to become a ground breaking experimental physicist.

Born in China in 1912, Wu Chien Shiung (meaning Courageous hero) was fortunate in having forward thinking parents. Her mother even opened a school in Liuhe to encourage parents to educate their daughters, so it was waiting by the time her own daughter was ready to start.

But it wasn’t long before Chien Shiung had outgrown her parents’ school

so they sent her fifty miles away to the city of Suzhou. There, despite opting for teacher training, she developed a passion for science, especially physics. Not only that but she became her fellow students’ leader in an underground group to fight against the injustices of the oppressive Chinese government.

Eventually her talents took her far from home, first to Berkley and then to New York’s Columbia University to continue her studies in beta decay.

Three times her outstanding work deserved the Nobel Prize but it was those men who had enlisted her help in their research, not Chien Shiung who won the award.

Not only that but she was passed over for jobs she wanted  ‘because she was a woman, because she was Asian’.

Sadly she never saw her parents again but Chien Shiung continued achieving amazing things in physics while continuing to fight prejudice against woman and Asians and in 1963 was declared ‘Queen of Physics’ by Newsweek.

Robeson explains scientific concepts in a straightforward, accessible manner, providing at the end of the book a summary of her subject’s life and there’s also a glossary and suggestions for further reading. Rebecca Huang’s mixed media illustrations add further inspiration to this biography that is rich in potential for classroom discussion as well as for aspiring young scientists.

Counting On Katherine

Counting on Katherine
Helaine Becker and Dow Phumiruk
Macmillan Children’s Books

There is so much to like about this splendid picture-book biography of Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician.

We first meet the young Katherine as a lover of numbers and everything to do with counting, and an insatiable curiosity– about the universe in particular.

An excellent student, she jumped three school years but her US hometown high school was racially segregated and barred Katherine from attending. As a consequence, her family moved to a town that had a black high school and there the girl flourished, excelling at all subjects although still liking maths the best.

Despite there being no jobs for women research mathematicians at the time, Katherine was tenacious, holding fast to her dream while becoming a primary school teacher.

In the 1950s she finally secured a post with NACA, which was later subsumed into NASA although the job she and other women did was one the men deemed unimportant. Undaunted, Katherine knew that her role was crucial: she was able to determine the trajectory of a spaceship.

Eventually her skills in mathematical accuracy, leadership as well as her creativity and intellectual curiosity led to a promotion to Project Mercury a programme designed to send the first US astronauts into space. She won the trust of the project’s lead astronaut and promised him, “You can count on me,”.

Again it was “You can count on me” when she calculated the flight path for Apollo 11, Apollo 12 and when she ensured the safe return of Apollo 13.

Having overcome much in the way of racism and sexism, on the way, Katherine had earned her place among the stars.
Helaine Becker’s direct telling is highly readable and she makes clever use of the word ‘count’ along the way; while Dow Phumirik’s excellent uncluttered illustrations, some with background computations subtly underline Katherine’s passion for things numerical.

What a splendid partnership this is; and the resulting book will surely inspire and empower youngsters, especially girls to pursue what they love.

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali & Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Brosmind
Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Matt Hunt
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following the huge success of titles celebrating amazing and inspiring females, the publishers have decided to add positive male role models to their picture book biography series and these are the first two.

First on the list is Muhammad Ali who as a boy known as Cassius had his new bike stolen and was told by the police officer that if he wanted to face the thief as he’d said, he had better learn to fight. So begins his journey to becoming a champion boxer.

Having taken a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics he was determined to turn professional and win the world heavyweight championship,

which he did, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

Cassius however was not just a boxer; he was fierce defender of African-American rights speaking out against racial discrimination. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

His refusal to fight in the Vietnam war, a war he considered unjust, resulted in him being stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years.

However he came back and won three more heavyweight titles; and after his retirement spent his time in the service of others.

With their illustrations, the Mingarro brothers, aka Brosmind, bring a gentle humour to the account of this legendary man.

Published in March is a second title, Stephen Hawking, about the scientific genius who overcame THE most enormous odds and went on to become the most brilliant scientist of our time.

We read how while studying physics at Oxford University Stephen first began to be clumsy and then having moved to Cambridge University to do a PhD, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told, aged 21, that he had just a few years left to live.

Rather than spending his time dwelling upon his lack of control over his body, he decided that in order to study the universe, he needed only his mind.

Black holes became the focus of his attention and Stephen proved that rather than being wholly black, there was a tiny light escaping from them; this was named ‘Hawking radiation’.

We’d all do well to remember Stephen’s words, “however difficult life may seem, there is always something that you can do and succeed at.” An inspiration he truly remains and this is what writer Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrator Matt Hunt convey so well herein.

Add these to your primary school collection.

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery / Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery
Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Anuska Allepuz
Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an excellent series of books each featuring a woman who made a significant contribution to society. The latest features L.M.Montgomery whose books I loved as a child.

Maud, as she was called, had a rather sad, lonely childhood. After her mother died, her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was forced to create her own happiness and books became her best friends. She dreamed of becoming a writer, something her grandparents discouraged, but nevertheless at night Maud began writing in secret, creating both stories and poems.

As an adult, Maud first became a teacher, a job that gave her time to continue with her writing and later on she was offered a job on a newspaper.

In less than a year, her grandfather died and she was forced to return home and care for her grandmother.

However she continued writing combining it with working at the local post office; before long 30 of her stories had been published in the newspapers.

One day she found an old newspaper with a story that became the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables. Through this story, Maud rewrote her own childhood as she wished it had been and after numerous rejections and a period of two years, Anne of Green Gables was finally published.

The illustrations of Anuska Allepuz are an absolute delight – wonderfully expressive and bringing out Maud’s joy in simple things and her determination to become a writer.

A super addition to the series.

For those with a particular interest in writers especially, is another of the series that I missed earlier:

Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou
Lisbeth Kaiser and Leire Salaberria
Lincoln Children’s Books

Maya Angelou grew up in the American South in the 1930s – a time of racial tension and segregation.
The hardships she endured – racism, gender prejudice, and abuse by her mother’s partner which resulted in the child losing her will to speak,- would have been too much for many people. Not so Maya who found her voice again thanks to a friend of her grandmother and the power of reading aloud.

At school Maya was told she wouldn’t amount to anything but her determination “There’s nothing I can’t be.” was proved right.

She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, poet, novelist, and eminent Civil Rights campaigner. Her fortitude and compassion changed the lives of countless people the world over: her legend lives on.

Like all titles in the series, the book concludes with a time line.

Eloquently illustrated by Leire Salaberria, Lisbeth Kaiser’s pen portrait of Maya is a must have for primary schools.

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History
Kate Pankhurst
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Perhaps 2018 is going to be the year of women. So often children are presented with books about what men have achieved in the past; now it’s time to redress the balance and hear it for the women.

Kate Pankhurst celebrates fourteen, managing to provide a great deal of information about them in this slim volume.

We start with Harriet Tubman whose double spread features a plethora of ‘Wanted’ posters displayed around the ‘Underground Railroad’ tracks. This, like all the other spreads, is illustrated with a wealth of delightfully humorous details.

Next come warrior queen, Boudicca, followed by Flora Drummond the Manchester suffragette who joined and became a leading light in the Women’s Social and Political Union (SPU). Not only did she breach Downing Street security, but also led Scotland’s first march in the name of women’s rights.

There’s Qiu Jin, who during her short life, campaigned against the tradition of foot binding in China and wrote powerful poems and articles that continue to inspire today.

Also fighting injustice was Sayyida al-Hurra who came from a Muslim family living in 15th century Granada. They were forced by Spanish rulers to flee to Morocco where she married a sultan and after his death became allies with the fearsome pirate Barbarossa of Algiers. In her determination to get her own back on Spain, Sayyida’s rule as pirate queen lasted more than three decades.

Others included are Noor Inayat Khan, the first WW2 female radio operator in Nazi-occupied France whose codename. Madeleine, was taken from a character in the book of traditional Indian children’s stories she wrote; Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman ever to gain a degree in medicine; Pocahontas; Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Ada Lovelace who made a great contribution to computer science; Josephine Baker, the amazing dancer who fought against segregation,

and writers Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame.

Kate Pankhurst does all these women proud.

The book concludes with a “Bookshelf of Brilliance’ and a ‘Great Words’ glossary.
In a word, it’s inspirational; in another, uplifting; in a few more – every primary classroom should have a copy and every child should read this.

I’ve signed the charter