The History of Prehistory

The History of Prehistory
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

Team Manning and Granström present another first-rate non-fiction book for young readers.

We join their two child protagonists as they set off on an incredible adventure that takes them back 4 billion years to the time when Earth was volcanic and still way too hot to support life.

To travel from those fiery beginnings of Earth and Moon right through to the Bronze Age (5.300 to 3,200 year ago) is an awesome journey that encompasses a stop to investigate the explosion of life during the Cambrian period,

followed by a canoe trip to view the giant fungi of the late Silurian Period.

From then animal life proliferates and the time travellers encounter an incredible array of creatures including giant dragonflies, the first completely land-based reptiles; and even more awesome they get to fly on the backs of Pterosaurs above such dinosaurs as Diplodocuses.

Having investigated the Periods when dinosaurs ruled, they pause to spend a while with tree-dwelling mammals before they join the clever apes of the Miocene Epoch as they swing above the forest floor and on to the Pliocene Epoch to meet our earliest two-legged human ancestors.

With a lively narrative that respects young readers by using the correct terminology and splendid, gently humorous scenes of the various creatures, as well as a glossary and timeline game, this exciting book will be avidly read by individuals fascinated with past times as well as being welcomed by teachers using it to support the primary curriculum.

The Yum Yum Tree

The Yum Yum Tree
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third story to feature the Five Flamingos begins with a cry for help from Monkey. Her baby is stuck up in a Yum Yum Tree.

While the other animals are debating the unlikelihood of such an event on account of its difficulty to climb, evidence of the baby’s position comes in the form of a cascade of fruits from above.

That precipitates a series of rescue operation proposals first from Hippopotamus (his bouncy belly is offered as a soft landing); followed by an attempt to use said belly as a springboard by Zebra, which fails even more dramatically.

Crocodile gets his just desserts (not the baby monkey) for his wily attempt leaving just the Five Flamingos to show the way and they’re pretty convinced their idea is going to work.

Seemingly the quintet know something about baby monkey psychology

and not long after all the animals are participating in a celebratory party thrown by a grateful mum Monkey; or maybe not quite all the animals …

Absolutely bound to induce instant delight is the surprise finale of Jonnie’s smashing tale of problem solving and community.

Brita’s comical illustrations are a treat making every spread a giggle worthy delight for both listeners and adult readers aloud. If you’ve yet to encounter this particular group of African animals then start here, but be sure to catch up with their previous adventures.

The Mud Monster

The Mud Monster
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What on earth is the terrible mud monster that is sending all the animals into a panic? Despite the fact that not a single one of them has seen it, they know for sure it’s huge and horrible.

One day as the monkeys are playing among the creepers they spy something: “Help! It’s the mud monster!” comes the cry. Despite being covered in mud, it isn’t a monster, merely five flamingos, mire-bespattered and desperately in need of a bath in the river. The monkeys are happy to carry them there.

They’re not the only animals to ‘see’ the Mud Monster though. Warthog and rhinoceros also mistakenly identify the moving creature as that which they fear before they too join the throng heading to the river.

When they finally reach their destination, there before them is something huge and exceedingly muddy: surely it couldn’t be that which they dread …

Hilariously illustrated and full of fun, this second tale set in the African rainforest to feature the five flamingos, is one of teamwork and overcoming imaginary fears, and comes from Jonnie and Brita, two people who have a special interest in Africa and its wildlife. Jonnie’s royalties are donated to support conservation projects in Africa, details of which are given at the back of the book.

The Carnivorous Crocodile

The Carnivorous Crocodile
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What would you do if you were a thirsty creature desperate for a cooling drink from the waterhole, but the animals warned you of a carnivorous crocodile lurking within and claiming ownership of its waters? Probably you’d stay safely on the bank, but that is not what the five flamingos do.
We’re not frightened of a silly old croc,” is their response on hearing about the likelihood of being crunched by said croc. as they sally forth into the water.

As expected the resident crocodile happens along, jaws agaping and threatening, “I’m a carnivorous crocodile who crunches creatures like you. And this is MY waterhole.
Did those flamingos flinch or show any other signs of fear? Oh no; instead they responded thus: “We are flamingos. WE are pink and beautiful. And WE are NOT FOR EATING! If you eat us, you will have horrible hiccups!
This possibility does not appeal to the crocodile and off it swims.

Heartened by this display of bravado, and encouragement to “Be brave”, three giraffes gingerly enter the water. Before you can say ‘snap’ who should be there repeating his threat but that crocodile, only to be greeted by the same “We are flamingos …” mantra and amazingly off swims the jaw snapper.
Next comes a family of monkeys and off we go again.

This time though the crocodile is a tad suspicious but he swims off nonetheless.

Two eager elephants march confidently forwards and they too claim to be flamingos – pink and beautiful.
The crocodile may not fall for this subterfuge again but he’s certainly in for a surprise, for elephants have other, shall we say, more weighty characteristics …

This learning to share story certainly appeals to children’s (and adults’) sense of the ridiculous; and readers aloud will relish the opportunity to ham it up – certainly this reviewer did. Debut author Jonnie Wild, is passionate about environmental issues and is donating his royalties to charities supporting African wildlife conservation.

Brita Granström’s scenes of the various animals shape-shifting attempting to emulate the flamingo pose and take on the flamingo characteristics are highly inventive and delightfully droll; even the elephants make a brave attempt.

A highly successful collaboration and a great book to share; don’t forget to check out the information on some of the animals and conservation on the final page.

Emmanuelle engrossed in the antics of the animals

For Your Information Shelf: Books Books Books / Taking Flight

Books Books Books
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books
Award-winning team, Mick Manning and Brita Grandström takes readers on an exploratory journey around London’s British Library, a library that holds over 150 million items in all, going right back to the earliest printed books and coming bang up to date with some printed this year.
First stop is the St Cuthbert Gospel, an ancient hand-made volume that was found in the saint’s coffin at Lindisfarne Priory some time after he died in the 7th century and which was sold to the British Library in 2011 for £9,000,000.
We’re also shown the Lindisfarne Gospels; a copy of Beowulf written in Old English …

and eighteen other landmark publications from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Alice in Wonderland, including the gigantic Klencke Atlas, dating back to the time of Charles 11, that needs six people to lift it …

handwritten sheet music and newspapers.
Mick makes the whole place sound absolutely fascinating and Brita’s visuals really bring each and every entry to life. I haven’t visited this enormous library for many years but reading their book sent me first to its website, and from there to planning my next visit in the near future.

Taking Flight
Adam Hancher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Adam Hancher tells in words and pictures , the amazing story of the Wright Brothers and how through determination and fearlessness, they brought their childhood dream to fruition.
From humble beginnings in Ohio, the boys, inspired by the gift of a toy helicopter from their father, worked tirelessly on project glider. Starting with observations of birds in flight, then working on designing and making, they built their first glider, which they then tested in one of the wildest parts of the US. The machine was a failure, so it was back to the drawing board to work on Mark 2.
Finally a powered machine was ready for testing and … yes, the first journey of a Wright flying machine took place.

It still needed perfecting however and patience was needed until in 1908, everything was ready but …

‘ … something was wrong.’

Fortunately the brothers had kept the promise they’d made to their sister never to fly together, so although Orville was badly injured, he recovered and meanwhile Wilbur had been hard at work flying and breaking records. Fame at last for the Wright Brothers and thoroughly deserved it was.
A mix of superb double page spreads of key scenes, single pages and small scenarios, Hancher’s illustrations really do evoke a sense of their late 19th century settings.
An inspiring, beautiful book for KS1/2 readers at school or at home.

I’ve signed the charter  

Amazing Information Books

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Nina (who does like snakes) enjoying the book.

I Don’t Like Snakes
Nicola Davies and Luciano Lozano
Walker Books
On a visit to Kerala (India) a couple of years back I was beguiled by the resident naturalist into showing the local housekeeping staff that there was nothing to fear from the snakes that were found in the grounds and occasionally found their way into the guest cottages. There I was inwardly quaking and having what looked to me a huge snake dangled about my person.

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So, the girl narrator of this wonderful orphidiological extravaganza has my sympathies when she declares, “I really, really, REALLY don’t like snakes!” to her incredulous family members who immediately counter her statement with “WHY?
Every reason she proffers is met with an informative rejoinder that serves to weaken her case; and it isn’t long before her protestations about slithering, icky, slimy skin or flicky tongue have fueled her interest in their sidewinding, twining or flying methods of locomotion, their wonderful mosaic patterned, renewable skins

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and the scent-smelling organ used in locating their prey. Oh and those staring eyes are so informative about their hunting habits too.

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We really know she’s been won over however, when having turned to a large book, our narrator informs her brother about the reproductive habits of snakes

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and finally says – well what do you think?
My subsequent real-life experiences with snakes certainly haven’t won me round but I have to admit that the book has gone some way towards so doing. Davies’ chatty, gently humorous narrative style and Luciano Lozano’s superb illustrations of both human and reptilian characters work so well together. The combination of almost cartoon-like humans and zoologically accurate snake drawings together with the differing type-faces used for the text is enormously effective.A must buy for budding zoologists and for the primary school library.

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Surprising Sharks
Nicola Davies and James Croft
Walker Books pbk
Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, the smallest being not much larger than a bar of chocolate and comparatively few of them have attacked humans. And, did you know that ‘Sand tiger sharks give birth to just two live young— which is all that’s left after those two have eaten the other six babies in their mother’s belly.’
These are just a few of the interesting facts youngsters can discover between the covers of this highly readable, gently humorous re-issue.

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Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books pbk
This inviting book, published in association with the Natural History Museum, features ten dinosaurs, each having a double spread within which the creature – illustrated in watercolour- introduces itself with a rhyme telling of its dietary habits alongside which is an inset of additional information including name pronunciation, size and geological dating. One of the Brachiosaurus spreads (it has two because it’s so long) includes details about its poo too;

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I didn’t know that fossil poos are called coprolites before I read it here. The book also includes a time line and glossary. A fascinating book for young addicts and one that will likely kindle an interest in those new to the subject.
Equally fascinating and informative and from the same team is

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Woolly Mammoth
In this one, mammoth narrator, gentle giant and ‘veggie warrior with bull-neck power’ takes readers back to the ice-age when these huge shaggy beasts roamed free, sometimes hunted by hungry wolves, bears or hyenas and sometimes by humans.
Both titles would make excellent additions to a family or primary school collection.

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The Story of Life/Wild Life Adventures

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Wild Adventures
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
From making shelters to lying in a tent listening to the dawn chorus or evening serenade, and creating a beach sculpture to cloud watching, there is something to interest and capture the imagination of seasoned ‘outdoorers’ and would-be discoverers of the natural world.
Instructions for all these activities, along with safety warnings and information about the various flora and fauna one might encounter is provided,

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as well as some questions and other comments to prompt further investigations.
The children in the exciting and detailed watercolour illustrations are clearly having great fun and one suspects, learning a lot about the great outdoors at the same time. The whole book made me want to go and join them: I think it will inspire children to do likewise.

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The Story of Life
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Evolution is a daunting subject to tackle, especially in just 32 pages. The time scale involved- 4.5 billion years, the hostile nature of the newly-formed earth,

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the formation of ‘tiny bits’ – cells in the ocean three billion years ago is so fantastical it is difficult to get one’s head around. However, without talking down to them, Barr and Williams (both of whom have a biological background) have managed admirably to weave together the basic elements of the story of the evolution of life on earth as presently understood into a very accessible, readable narrative for primary school aged readers. It’s certainly not a topic I was introduced to until I began studying zoology at A-level but ‘Evolution and Inheritance’ is now a part of the KS2 science National Curriculum.
There is an abundance of labels and speech bubbles in Amy Husband’s brightly-coloured, mixed media illustrations,, which have a gentle playfulness about them.

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There is also a time line and a glossary and teacher’s notes are available to download at
All in all, a book to excite its readers and perhaps lead them on to further exploration of this engrossing topic.

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