Great Lives: Martin Luther King JR, Anne Frank, Stephen Hawking & Cleopatra

Martin Luther King JR
Anne Frank
Stephen Hawking
Cleopatra

Button Books

These are four titles in the publisher’s new infographic biography series Great Lives in Graphics aimed primarily at older KS2 school readers.

Whether their interest is in human and civil rights, the holocaust in the German -occupied Netherlands as a member of the Frank family desperately trying to avoid being detected by the Gestapo; an awesome scientist and cosmologist who refused to let his ALS diagnosis hold him back; or, the woman in ancient Egypt who first married her brother, became a wise political figure and writer of books on medicine and science, going on to make a famous match with Antony,

then one of these will definitely be worth seeking out and putting their way.

Martin Luther King’s story is one that, despite his awesome achievements, and his “I have a dream” speech “… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”, which inspired America to end segregation, the world changing, peaceful protests he used in overcoming enormous obstacles, is conveniently and sadly forgotten by a certain element of the population of the US today.

I had to laugh when I read that Anne Frank was dubbed a ‘chatterbox’ by some of her teachers in her Amsterdam school, something that I was also often called at school.

Each book has an introductory page of narrative, a timeline, details of family life and spreads detailing the subject’s key achievements; and each brings to life through its stylish, easily understood infographics, the person and the accomplishments of a memorable human being.

Well worth adding to primary school topic boxes and libraries.

A Trio of Activity Books

Viking Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

The latest in the series of Button Books unobtrusively educational, history activity books, illustrated by Jen Alliston, has a Viking theme.  If you have a child in the lower part of KS2 this may be part of their history curriculum. Whether or not this is so, books such as this are a particular boon in these days when many youngsters are not at school full time, if at all; and the activities and illustrations in this particular book are more appropriate for a younger (under 8) audience anyway.

It’s packed with a wide range of over 70 Viking related, fun things to do such as making a Viking helmet, beard and shield,

baking some cupcakes to decorate with Viking runes, and using maths to work out your Viking name. There are plenty of puzzles, mazes, counting, matching, anagrams, codes, jokes and more.

Also included are four pages of stickers.

All in all this will engage and entertain youngsters who, along with some Viking learning, will also hone their observational and fine motor skills.

Keep Calm!
Studio Press
Dr. Sharie Coombes, illustrated by Katie Abey & Ellie O’Shea

Aimed at primary age children, this is an activity book written by Sharie Coombes an educationalist and psychotherapy expert, that aims to help youngsters stay calm and cope with uncertainty during, and following, the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are a variety of creative ideas to help with the emotional roller-coaster we’re all sharing, including drawing, writing, and crafty activities.

There’s also mindfulness, calming breathing techniques and yoga (I know from experience they work).

The final few pages comprise tips for parents and carers on self-care and managing children’s emotions.
This little book could well be a boon during these tricky times.

For the same age range, to help combat boredom, especially if your child is stuck indoors, is:

Beano Puzzle Book
Studio Press

Dennis, Gnasher and Minnie the Minx have dug into the 1990-1994 Beano archives and unearthed a host of fun things such as word searches and other word games, mazes, drawing, comics and maths challenges that will help turn young users into word WHIZZ-ARDS and number GNASH-ERS.

Nothing required other than a pencil (or 2) and a switched on brain.

My First Book of the Cosmos

My First Book of the Cosmos
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

Team Ferrón (physicist and writer) and Altarriba (graphic designer and illustrator) have a special skill of presenting highly complex topics to children in a manner that is accessible, entertaining and educative.

Their latest book, My First Book of the Cosmos again does just that, managing to compress the vast Universe between 56 pages taking us on a trip through the life of the Cosmos from its birth to its possible end time. Incredible!

What then is this Cosmos or Universe? The author sums it up thus ‘the Universe is everything that exists: it is all space and time, and it is where all mass and energy is found’: awesome and mysterious for sure.

First off is a look at gravity and we’re presented with the gravitational models of Newton and Einstein, followed by a look through ‘Gravitational Lenses’, the first being thought of by an amateur scientist, Rudi W. Mandl. A gravitation lens, as defined here is one that ‘works like a powerful telescope that magnifies and distorts light’.

Having examined beginnings, topics include Galaxies, and the vexed question of The size of the universe.

Then there’s an explanation of How a star is born; it’s formed from interstellar clouds of cold gas and dust called nebulae.

Next comes a look at the different types of stars – I didn’t know there were so many – as well as the life of a star from its birth to its death including how and why these happen.

Plus if you’ve ever wanted to peer into a black hole or discover the mysteries of dark matter – a very tricky matter indeed,

and those of dark energy – that which ‘separates galaxies instead of bringing them together’ – in other words, it causes the Universe to expand ever faster, you can do so here.

Mind-blowing, imagination-stretching stuff!

Kids Can Cook

Kids Can Cook
illustrated by Esther Coombs
Button Books

During the lockdown period many more people have taken to cooking, be they adults or adults and children together. If you’re looking for an introduction to cooking then this is a good starting point. Similar in style to Plant, Sow, Make & Grow, it’s very visual and really does get down to the basics with techniques such as how to crack an egg, how to beat it and how to test if a cake is cooked.

Before any of that however comes a contents page, a vital page of safety instructions and another showing and listing essential equipment for the recipes included.

The main part of the book has three sections – Breakfasts, snacks and breads; Main meals and sauces, and Sweet treats.

All the recipes are straightforward starting with a list of ingredients, are clearly illustrated and provide step-by-step instructions.

A word of caution however, if you’re a vegan family then some of the recipes won’t work for you unless you adapt them; but in other cases vegan alternatives are suggested. For example in ‘Breakfasts, snacks and breads’ the fruit smoothies,

tofu skewers and the easy-bake bread are definitely suitable

and the veggie sliders in the second section are really tasty. However, no self-respecting Indian cook would tell you they are serving up ‘Curry’ as such – veggie or otherwise.

I have to admit that my favourite section is the ‘Sweet treats’, which includes fruit lollies and scrummy flapjacks (I’d want to use a non-dairy spread instead of the butter though).

If you’re currently home schooling Kids Can Cook ticks a lot of educational boxes: there’s maths in the weighing, measuring and counting; science, and of course, literacy, not forgetting fine motor skills such as pouring, kneading, chopping, whisking, rolling out and more.

Puzzles and More

Nature Activity Book
Alain Grée
Button Books

The natural world is Alain Grée’s theme for his latest activity book suitable for those from about 5. There’s also a seasonal element: the things to do relate to spring, summer, autumn and winter.

With mazes, dot-to-dots, spot the difference, jokes, scrambled word puzzles, things to count and match, simple maths, things to colour, life cycles and more, there are hours of fun learning to be had from this compilation. Another thing – most little ones love using stickers and there are 4 pages of them included that are part and parcel of some of the activities.

There’s fun learning aplenty here. If you can’t get outdoors into the real natural world on these dark days then try this in the meantime.

For slightly older users are these two:

Jumbo Pad of Word Puzzles
Highlights

Youngsters from around 6/7 can have lots of fun and exercise their brains with the 120 plus puzzles in this bumper pad.

Contained therein are crosswords, codes, word searches, hidden words to discover, riddle Sudoku and mixed-up hidden pictures. Answers to all the puzzles are supplied on the back of the pages, which, with the pad’s tablet format, are easily removed.

Guaranteed hours of screen free fun from this and not just for the owner: family and friends can join in the puzzling too.

Word Search Puzzles for Your Backpack
Eric Berlin
Sterling

From camping to crafts, and summer time to sweet things, there’s a word search and more to suit the interest of any young reader among the 58 included in New York Times crossword compiler, Eric Berlin’s new puzzle book.
Some of the puzzles aren’t entirely straightforward however: the compiler has thrown in what he calls some ‘curve balls’ such as ‘Opposite Day’ where the words to find are the opposites of those given in the list below the puzzle.
That’s not all though: for every search there’s a hidden message related to its theme that is made from the letters not circled.
There’s some pretty funky stuff between the covers of this little book. It’s just right for tucking into your bag or snuggling under a blanket on the sofa with – with your favourite hot drink and of course, a pencil to hand.

Discovering Energy

Discovering Energy
Eduard Altarriba, Johannes Hirn & Veronica Sanz
Button Books

In his characteristic bright, retro illustrative style, Eduard Altarriba in collaboration with writers Hirn and Sanz, both of whom are experts in physics, explores the vital topic of energy and its effects on all our lives.

After a spread on the sun’s energy, the book looks at what energy actually is including the difference between potential and kinetic energy.

It goes on to investigate the interrelationship between energy and power, exploring wind power, water power, electricity, fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar power and much more.

Historical pioneers including Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, James Watt of steam engine fame, Alessandro Volta who created the first battery and Einstein

are all introduced in relation to their contributions to our understanding of the topic.

In the light of the drastic effects of climate change on the planet and life thereon, there is a spread on the all-important area of ‘clean and green energy’ and the crucial developments that will make safe, clean, sustainable energy now and in the future.

This vast subject is one we all need to come to grips with and it’s never too soon to start learning. This enlightening book, although aimed at young audiences, could also be useful to adults who have no background at all in physics.

The Magical Underwater Activity Book / Roman Adventure Activity Book

The Magical Underwater Activity Book
Mia Underwood
Button Books

Following on from her Secret Woodland Activity Book, Mia Underwood has created another exciting volume that combines fantasy and reality – merpeople and microplastics. It starts with an invitation from the sea creatures to become an ‘ocean hero’ and help save the planet.

On the reality front, there are such diverse activities as meeting microscopic creatures like phytoplankton and zooplankton (their roles are explained),

and finding out some things to do that will help our planet.

There’s a challenge to design an ocean-cleaning gadget; maths and language challenges; ideas for lunch box snacks to prepare, crafty things to make, ideas for getting creative with pens or crayons and scissors, and much more.

There are also four pages of stickers to use in some of the scenes.

Guaranteed hours of engagement of the enjoyable and gently educational kind; just the thing for some screen free, dark evenings.

Roman Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

Youngsters can find out about the world of Ancient Rome as they engage in the wealth of fun activities between the covers of this book. There are such diverse ideas as making a Roman bracelet (not the solid gold kind popular in Roman times)

and discovering some of the remedies ancient Romans used for common ailments: I reckon consuming raw egg yolks would increase my digestive problems rather than curing an upset tummy; and imagine being told to kiss the nose of a mule to cure a cold. No way!

Puzzles – both word and maths, codes, mazes, spot the difference pages, colouring, search and find, and crafty things to make such as a gladiator shield. You can even, with adult help, bake some libum (a special bread made as an offering to the household gods).

Skills of several kinds are developed while engaging in these activities and there are pages of stickers to use along the way. Almost without exception, the Romans depicted in Jen Alliston’s illustrations look like children but I guess that’s part of the allure for young users.

Be Your Best Self

Be Your Best Self
Danielle Brown and Nathan Kai
Button Books

At a time when more and more youngsters are suffering from low self-esteem, Danielle Brown double Paralympic Gold medallist and five times world champion in archery and Nathan Kai, (just seven at the time of writing), a member of MENSA and an elite athlete, have joined forces, creating a book to empower children to become their very best selves.

Profusely illustrated and including motivational quotes from the authors as well as the likes of Dr Seuss and J.K.Rowling, Michelle Obama and Amelia Earhart, this certainly is an inspiring book.

With a straightforward, thematically organised framework children are told to dream big and then determine what steps they need to take to fulfil their dreams.

Aspects such as The Mind and Mindset, which looks at the importance of developing a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset,

Staying Focused, Learning How to Fail Well ( it’s a chance to learn), Self-Confidence,

People Skills, and the importance of eating well and getting plenty of sleep are included.

I have a teenage friend in Udaipur, Rajasthan who, one Christmas holiday four years ago announced she wanted to be sports captain of her school. She is a talented athlete but there is a tradition in Rajasthan for shooting and Karttiki decided she would try to become a shooter.

She started to practice in earnest and by luck one of the older girls fell sick at the last moment and Karttiki was given a chance to participate in an inter-school tournament. Thus began her shooting journey: one of determination and great focus.
Having researched several kinds of shooting, she decided that her best bet if she wanted to become a champion, was skeet. It’s a tough sport and very expensive but her father (my close friend) is very supportive. This year though still a junior, she has made the senior national team and in 2019, has represented India in the World Cup, World Championships and is about to go to the Asian Games (all this before A-levels). She’s had her downs as well as her ups along the way and feels tired a lot of the time, but as she says, “I’m doing it because I love it.”

Turning a dream into reality is just what this 17 year old is surely doing: she epitomises the spirit of this splendid book.

A Clutch of Activity and Craft Books

Scratch and Learn: Space
illustrated by Victoria Fernández
Scratch and Learn: Animals
illustrated by Natasha Durley
Wide Eyed Editions

These are new additions to the series, both of which have seven interactive spreads and an attached stylus for young readers to do the scratching.

Each spread explores a different theme and in the Space title, these start with the Big Bang and the scratching reveals 10 galaxies. Then come a look at the solar system, the Moon, ‘Spacecraft’, which has the Space Shuttle as a featured image, a peep at life on board the International Space Station, an account of the life cycle of a star, and finally, a constellation map.

Spencer investigating the map

There are 10 ‘scratch and discover’ shapes to investigate with the stylus on every spread as well as a lead-in, easy to understand, factual paragraph (or two), clearly labelled objects and an additional ‘fact’ most in speech bubble form, for example ‘The light from the closest star still takes 4 years to reach us.’

The Animals featured in the second book come from different habitats around the world and as in the previous title, Lucy Brownridge supplies the succinct text.

Ten animals have ‘hidden’ themselves in each of Natasha Durley’s alluringly illustrated locations: the Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sundarbans Mangrove forest, (between India and Bangladesh), the grasslands of the African Savannah, a coniferous forest of northern Canada, the arid Gobi Desert and Antarctica.

Both titles are appealing early interactive books that can be brought out anywhere especially on a journey or a rainy day.

The Mermaid Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

Prolific craft book creators, Laura and Tia have added a new title to their series, this time with a mermaid theme.
It’s filled with ideas for making things to use, things to wear and tasty things to eat.

Having provided a list of what is needed, the authors give step-by-step instructions for such diverse projects as creating a seashore garden, making aquarium puppets and a theatre to use with them,

and you can even bake a mermaid cake or throw an ‘under-the-sea’ party serving only sea themed food and serve up that cake then. Young merpeople will love it.

Youngsters will also be enthusiastic about the book as a whole though they’ll require adult support with several of the activities.

Ancient Egypt Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

Historical fun aplenty Ancient Egyptian style is found in this activity book.

Little ones can immerse themselves in the world of mummies, pyramids, pharaohs, hieroglyphics and ancient gods as they engage in mask making, maze manoeuvring, maths, message decoding, crafty creations, unscramble muddled up words and more. There are more than 100 activities in all as well as 4 pages of stickers to use to complete some of the scenes.

While engaging in these activities youngsters will likely learn some Ancient Egypt related language and facts too, as well as developing their fine motor and observational skills.

Jen Alliston has provided the illustrations and where relevant, answers are provided at the back of the book.

Discovering Architecture

Discovering Architecture
Eduard Altarriba and Berta Bardí I Milà
Button Books

The urge to build structures is seemingly, a universal human trait. I spent some of the Easter break constructing a den in a quiet woodland glade in Bushy Park, from a fallen tree trunk and branches, with 6-year old Emmanuelle and her soon to be 4, brother Samuel.

When they are ready to discover more about the build environment, this tremendous introduction should prove invaluable.

The graphic designer and illustrator Eduard Altarriba has already introduced young readers to Quantum Physics and now in a similarly engaging manner presents a look at iconic buildings through history, their creators and some of the items that might be found inside such buildings.

Starting with the earliest known building projects, the pyramids of Egypt, Iraq and Mexico, Classical Greek, Roman and Byzantine places of worship, domestic and vernacular architecture from many parts of the world, information on architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Zaha Hadid …

readers are given a superb presentation of things and people architectural.

The final spreads focus on architecture’s basic elements – there’s a cut-away diagram of the principal parts of a building; what being an architect entails and lastly a look at what buildings might be like in the future (it’s good to see sustainability given a paragraph here).

University lecturer at the School of Architecture, UPC, Barcelona, Berta Bardí I Milá packs a wealth of absorbing information into the uncluttered spreads, so finely designed and illustrated by Altarriba.

Perfect for KS2 readers and perhaps adults wanting a starting point for the topic.

My First Book of Relativity

My First Book of Relativity
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

We had My First Book of Quantum Physics and now for a companion volume, its creators have turned their attention to another potentially complex science topic, that of relativity.

However, in the hands of this partnership, Einstein’s theory of relativity and other related aspects of connections between space and time are explained in such a way as to make them accessible to young readers. For, as it says on the back of this book, ‘it’s never too early to start exploring big ideas.’ So, how does one start?

The space-time theory, we read, can only be properly understood by first understanding what the two concepts mean in themselves; and then we’re in a position (like Einstein) to understand ‘the world through relativity’.

Time is succinctly explored – how it’s measured, by what means and the various units used.

Speed,

movement and the vital importance of frames of reference are explained, the latter using the example of a moving train and then a person in space.

There are spreads on adding up speeds and the speed of light, leading into Einstein’s two theories, special relativity and general relativity (his theory about gravity).

I love the ‘thought experiments’ relating to time dilation and clocks; and the wonderful spread whereon ten year old Alice travels to our nearest star Proxima Centauri, leaving her same aged friend  waiting for her on Earth and returning to find she’s still  ten whereas he is now almost 19, put me in mind of T.S. Eliot’s famous lines from Burnt Norton ‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past.’

If only physics had been made this fascinating back in the day when I was studying it at A-level (albeit only for a few weeks before deciding it wasn’t for me).

I’d not heard of muons before reading this book – a muon being an elementary particle of the electron family weighing around 200 times more than an electron, but again found the spread using a muon to check time dilation and length contraction totally engrossing.

The book concludes with how speed increases the mass of an object; the imaginings of the young Einstein (note the word imagined is used by the author, highlighting the crucial importance of the role of the imagination in scientific discovery) and a look at the mathematical equations Einstein used to describe his ideas of special relativity, the former taking mere weeks to find, whereas he took ten years to understand the ideas themselves.

The entire topic is mind-stretchingly incredible and brilliantly explained in this book, with the aid of Eduard Altarriba’s vibrant, graphics. Strongly recommended for budding scientists either for home reading or in school.

My City / In The City

 

My City
Joanne Liu
Prestel Children’s Books

A small boy, Max, is given the job of posting a letter and sets off to the post box.
His route through the city takes him past a launderette where he stops to watch the swirling whirling clothes in the machines;

then he stops at a crossing to look in a puddle (in stark contrast to the other people many of whom have their eyes on their phones)

and has an encounter with a rubbish collector and his truck. He chases after a leaf as it’s whooshed by the wind, catches it and eventually presents it to a man on a bench.

Each of these small happenings is followed by a shift in perspective that puts the reader as it were, behind the boy’s head as he meanders, ever watchful through the bustling city and through the day, all the while open-armed as though embracing each and every new experience until finally, he arrives back home to his watchful mother, and the mail box right by their house.

Almost wordless, Joanne Liu allows her vibrant, textured paintings to tell the story while allowing readers to create their own too, perhaps about the spotty dog that appears in several scenes.

A visual delight to explore and re-explore making new discoveries on each reading.

In The City
Dominika Lipniewska
Button Books

Dominika Lipniewska takes readers on an exploratory journey from the stirrings of early morning through twenty-four hours back to another sunrise.

Her graphical style urban landscapes have the playful appearance of a construction block city, comprising Lego-type figures, buildings and vehicles.

The streets and railway are full of hustle and bustle as commuters hurry on their way to work or perhaps take a more leisurely walk with a dog.

Noise is at times overwhelming, but not everywhere is so frenetic; there are green leafy spaces where wild life abounds, and quieter spots to pause and partake of some rest and repast.

Different as people may be, they share much in common including a love of ice-cream and engaging in fun activities as well as shopping – be that in a shopping centre

or smaller shops on the street, as well as the market, a great location for buying fresh produce.

Like most cities this one has other places of interest: a large variety of eating places, museums and art galleries, a zoo and more; and it’s both ever-changing and never still for some people work through the night to provide essential services.

Every spread offers enormous potential for observing and talking; in fact the whole book is visually appealing and immersive.

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow

Plant, Sow, Make & Grow
Esther Coombs
Button Books

Absolutely bursting with helpful gardening information whatever the season (the book is divided into four seasonal sections), the enthusiastic author, who started a gardening club at her daughter’s primary school and still runs it, has created a super book that introduces children to the wealth of opportunities being involved in a gardening project offers.

Before the seasonal sections, readers learn what the essentials are to get started, including the idea of creating a planting plan – all vital if you’re to make a success of your garden. Re-using and recycling are a part of the former and I like the idea of using loo rolls to make seed pots (I’ve frequently cut the tops from cardboard milk cartons but never tried this idea before).

Spring seed growing suggestions include salad leaves, tomatoes

potatoes, strawberries (the purchase of a few small plants initially is suggested here), root vegetables such as carrots and beetroot, peas and sweetcorn make up the edible kinds. Growing some flower seeds is also suggested because flowers will attract pollinators to your veg patch.
Then come a page on thinning out seedlings and another on wildlife – good and not good.

The summer section focuses on pumpkin growing, companion planting and lots of ideas for making useful items including a hanging-bottle container for tomatoes, a protective cover for strawberries, a watering can out of a screw top plastic bottle, as well as some creative activities, the suggestion of measuring some of the especially tall-growing plants

and some bee-related info. Then of course, there’s the important ‘summer harvest’.

Autumn is the season when much is ready for harvesting: sweetcorn, potatoes, root crops should all offer rich pickings and diggings at this time.

Compost, potting on strawberries, harvesting wild flower seeds, carving a pumpkin, creating a seasonal wreath and a bug home are also covered in this section.

Winter is the shortest section and again it’s packed with great tips such as saving seeds to plant the following year as well as stems for next year’s canes; creating a bird feeder from a sunflower head and more.

Motivating and thoroughly down to earth, this alluringly illustrated book is one I wholeheartedly recommend for school and home.

Non-Fiction Miscellany: Ambulance Ambulance / Weird Animals / Castle Adventure Activity Book

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

An ambulance crew responds to an emergency call out: a boy has come off his bike and ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar …’ off goes the ambulance to the scene of the accident.

On arrival the paramedics make the necessary checks, put a splint on the child’s broken leg and carefully lift him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

Then with horn honking and lights flashing, off they go racing to the hospital, “Quick, quick quick. ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar … ‘

Once the boy is safely inside and the hand-over complete, the crew are ready for a rest, but it’s not long before another emergency call comes and so off they go again …

Team Sally and Brian are already well known for their previous picture books such as Roadworks and Construction. Non-fiction loving little ones delight in these books and will doubtless relish this one with its bright illustrations, especially since its rhyming text comes with opportunities for joining in all those ‘Nee nar’ sounds. Share at home or in a nursery setting and watch the response …

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

The world of nature is full of strange and wonderful creatures, large and small, a dozen or so of which are featured in Mary May Carson’s Weird Animals. The author specialises in writing non-fiction for children and those with an insatiable appetite for the fantastically weird will enjoy her latest book.

It explains the whys and wherefores of some amazing adaptations, those odd characteristics that help these creatures survive and thrive.

Take for example the Pink Fairy armadillo with its oversized feet and fluffy underside that helps keep the creature warm through cold desert nights.

The frightening-looking fauna from different parts of the world include insects, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, with explanations for their appearance. Weird and wonderful they surely are.

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

Children should find lots to explore in this engaging historical activity book. There are mazes, matching games, word searches, colouring pages that include things to spot of a medieval kind. Observation skills are also required for matching games, determining the winner of a joust, searching for rats in the castle kitchen and more.

There are medieval scenes to complete by drawing and adding stickers as well as a number of crafty projects. Some, such as making a sword or a conical hat for a princess, require additional items – paper, card, scissors etc. and may also need adult assistance.

Some simple maths, words to unscramble and a scattering of jokes are also part and parcel of this themed compilation that’s a fun alternative to constant screen use.

The Secret Woodland Activity Book

The Secret Woodland Activity Book
Mia Underwood
Button Books

A wealth of activities await those who foray into the magical world created by Mia Underwood.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes inhabit this Scandinavian-style woodland: numbering among them are Stardust (snail), Hopper (a bird) and Nisse (a bearded sprite). There are also a forest spirit (an invisible magical being with a protective role), trolls, minibeasts, owls, bears, foxes, an occasional baby dragon; you might even come upon a unicorn or a yeti.

These feature in such activities as mazes, story writing, maths, word searches,

mobile making; there’s also a recipe to make bird feed balls and lots of opportunities for imaginative thinking.

Wonderfully quirky and engaging, this 64-page book includes a plethora of stickers to add to some of the woodland scenes.

With the darker nights upon us, and holidays fast approaching, it’s a super way to distract youngsters from their screens for a while.

Spot the Difference in the Park / Dinosaur Adventure Activity Book & Pirate Adventure Activity Book

Spot the Difference in the Park
Naomi Wilkinson
Lincoln Children’s Books

Five scenes show in turn, a host of playful dogs some accompanied by a walker; animals engaged in various sporting activities such as soccer, tennis, skate-boarding, badminton and cycling; a boating lake;

the flower beds; the playground and finally a downpour that sends all the animals homewards, with each offering five spot the differences per spread. The answers are found by looking beneath the flaps on each recto.
Set against subtle background colours, each busy scene, with its rhyming introduction, provides young spotters plenty of detail to peruse and enjoy, in addition to identifying the differences.
Also available is Spot the Difference on the Beach.

For slightly older children are:

Dinosaur Adventure Activity Book
Pirate Adventure Activity Book

illustrated by Jen Allison
Button Books

Following on from her Space Activity Book, Jen Alliston has two new eye-catching titles.
Each of the chosen themes have an enduring allure for young children and in both are to be found games, dot-to-dots, mazes, crafty things, word puzzles, riddles, spot the difference, colouring in, the odd joke or two, even a little bit of maths, as well as 4 pages of stickers (pictures and some labels).
Entertainment is the main focus, although users will likely acquire some new vocabulary and the occasional fact too, as well as developing their skills in observation, manipulation and concentration.
(The answers are supplied at the back of the books for those inclined to check.)

My First Book of Quantum Physics

My First Book of Quantum Physics
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

‘A children’s science book to educate and inspire’ says the press release of this book. Does it live up to the claim? Let’s take a closer look.

In the introduction the author explains that everything we see around us is composed of minute subatomic particles and as scientists began to discover more about them, they realised that a new set of theories was needed because the laws of physics as they stood, did not apply.

Thus new theories were generated and these are what we now know as quantum physics. Moreover without this science of subatomic particles none of our favourite electronic devices, so important in our everyday lives, would exist – now there’s a thought.

I remember very little about the content of the O-level physics I studied at school – it’s amazing I managed to pass – but one thing I can recall is being told about Plank’s quantum theory: this is one of the topics discussed in the book after the
introductory pages about ‘classical physics’ and its limitations; it makes much more sense to me now than it ever did back in the day.

Niels Bohr, another physicist whose name I came across in my limited physics education is also featured here with an explanation of the first ever vision of the ‘Quantized atom’.

What this highly illustrated book does is take key concepts and ideas

and explains them in a way that is comprehensible – no easy task – to both upper primary and lower secondary age children, but this is entertainingly written and invitingly presented with lots of diagrams and illustrations including a quantum timeline.

With my basic knowledge of the topic I would say this is an excellent introduction; author Ferron and illustrator Altarriba have done a great job to make it accessible and exciting.

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Welcome to London / Jane Foster’s London & Jane Foster’s New York

Welcome to London
Marcos Farina
Button Books
London seems to be a very popular picture book destination at present and Marcos Farina’s quirky, retro style illustrations certainly make it look an exciting one.
Surrealism abounds right from the arrival at a station whose platform will be familiar to fans of Harry Potter. From then on it’s a case of spot the literary references; chortle at the crazy cast of characters or giggle over the multitude of other visual anomalies scattered throughout as we visit the various famous London landmarks and encounter the multitude of characters that make it such a dynamic and vibrant city.

If like me, you know London, you’ll likely never look at it in quite the same way again: you’ll always be on the lookout for a storybook character lurking somewhere, or an animal emerging from the next taxi that stops close by one of its famous stores.

Marcos Farina’s London encompasses parks, sporting venues, bridges,

palaces, galleries, shopping venues, iconic buildings and much more. His clear, graphic, design led illustrations make almost every page a potential poster for the city.

Jane Foster’s London
Jane Foster’s New York

Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
In bold bright colours, designer Jane Foster introduces the very youngest children to two of the world’s most popular tourist cities.
Set against vibrant, sometimes patterned backgrounds, she places famous landmarks, objects and occasional less likely images such as the red squirrel (I wish there were more of those in London), although New York includes a grey squirrel.

Her intricately patterned imagery is sure to engage both toddlers and adults as they enjoy such iconic London sights as the red bus, Big Ben, the London Eye and Tower Bridge but also fish and chips and a pair of wellington boots. New York boasts the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park as well as Broadway theatre and Staten Island ferry. Interestingly both cities have pigeons.
Foster’s characteristic eye-catching mix of strong colour, pattern and retro-styling do these famous cities proud.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday / Travel Activity Book

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday
Marianne Dubuc
Book Island
Mr Postmouse is back – or rather, he isn’t: he’s off on a holiday trip with his family and like many of us, is taking some work to finish. First stop is the forest where they set up camp, oh! and there just happens to be a parcel to drop off for forest resident, Aunt Maisy.

The mice then head to the seaside for some relaxation before boarding a cruise ship, which stops off at a volcanic island for another parcel delivery and for Pipsqueak, provides an opportunity to toast some marshmallows – yummy!

A camel ride in the desert, a jungle safari, a hasty, town stopover, a mountain sortie, a polar stop-off, an air-balloon flight all follow; and as you might expect, Mr P. has parcels to drop off at all the locations.

Eventually though, the globe trotting is over and the mouse family return home where unsurprisingly there’s a whole pile of letters needing to be delivered by Mr Postmouse.
This sequel is every bit as full of delicious details as Here Comes Mr Postmouse. It’s hard to show these on photos; but for instance, the forest scene has elements of a Hansel and Gretel type story being acted out by various characters. A mouse is picking up the pebbles that a small boy is using to leave a trail and hand-in-hand, two small children are heading towards a gingerbread house, there are boy scout bunnies and a whole host of minibeasts –

one toasting what looks like a sausage, over a bonfire.
If you share this with a group of youngsters – and I hope you will, as it offers so much to discuss, then ensure you build in lots of time to peruse each spread.

No matter where your holiday destination is, this might well be a worthwhile book to take along:

Travel Activity Book
illustrated by Charlie Brandon-King
Button Books
Starting with, on the inside front cover, a host of ideas for games to play on the journey, youngsters are offered a wealth of removable sheets of things to do from ‘Get Packed’ with its empty case, ticket and blank passport waiting to be filled; airport related activities, to a spot the clouds page, followed by a world map page. This just covers the first half dozen pages. There follow: all kinds of puzzles, problems to solve, drawing, writing and other creative activities and more.
No matter if you’re travelling to a jungly location or island far away, or somewhere much closer to home, there should be something to keep children from around 4 to 10 involved.

I’ve signed the charter 

A Handful of Animal Board Books

The Safari Set
The Jungle Crew
The Polar Pack

Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here we have the first three board books to be added to the Mibo series and they’re some of the best board books I’ve seen in a long while. Each one features a different natural location and all have rhyming texts and some brief, attractively presented snippets of information inside the back cover.
The Safari Set takes us to the dusty, sun-scorched African plains where lions laze, giraffes graze

on high-up leaves, elephants roam, zebras flash past and hippos wallow for hours in the cool water.
In the dappled, leafy jungle we encounter members of The Jungle Crew: a troop of lively monkeys, screeching macaws with their dazzling plumage,

a fearsome-looking tiger stalks, toucans chomp on tasty fruits and tree frogs hop, and drop (when it’s time to lay eggs).
Members of The Polar Pack live in either the far north or far south; many are under threat and need protection. The South Pole is home to Emperor penguins: mighty-tusked walruses, polar bears,

huge-hooved reindeer and snowy owls reside in the North Pole.
Superb, beautifully patterned illustrations and rhyming texts that are a pleasure to read aloud make these top quality little books for the very youngest.

Really Feely Baby Animals
Really Feely Farm

Polly Appleton and Dawn Sirett
DK
A host of animals (5 per book) introduce themselves and invite toddlers to participate in a variety of sensory experiences such as ‘Rub my tufty fur. Then choose a shiny red apple for me to eat.’ or …

Feel my fuzzy feathers. And touch my smooth, pointy beak.

A kitten, a playful puppy and a baby rabbit also want to be similarly explored in Baby Animals.
In Farm Animals we meet first a chicken, and go on to encounter a sheep, a piglet, a duckling …

Feel my soft, fluffy tummy. And touch my smooth, shiny beak.

and a calf.
In both books the photographic images on each recto really seem to leap out from the page, heightening the whole visual experience. On the baby rabbit page for instance, its whiskers glisten as the light catches them. However it isn’t only the animals that are tactile; every item on the page provides a lovely feely experience and a whole lot of language learning possibilities.

Fun and Games / Migloo’s Weekend

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Fun and Games
Alain Grée
Button Books
This is chock-full of playful activities –over 50 altogether – all devised and illustrated by artist Alain Grée. There is something that should appeal to a wide age range from around 3 up to 6 or 7. Each activity is given a single page printed only on one side and glued so that it can be removed for use. There’s a variety of matching games, find the odd one out, true or false games, calendar cubes, spot the differences pages …

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and other games to develop visual perception as well as activities that entail cutting, folding and creating objects including a tiny puppet theatre

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and a sentry box. You can even make a stand-up Santa chain.
All the pages are attractively presented and full of details that are the hallmark of Alain Grée’s illustrative style. It’s just perfect for indoor days and likely to keep a child or two engaged for hours at a time. An ideal diversion from endless screens too.

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Migloo’s Weekend
William Bee
Walker Books
A day spent in the company of dog, Migloo and his Sunnytown friends is tiring: a whole weekend is totally exhausting, from an adult perspective as least. Youngsters tend to delight in rushing from one venue to another and there’s plenty of that herein. We join Migloo as he accepts a lift in Noah’s fish van and head for the market where Mrs Luigi has just opened a new café but it doesn’t look as though he’s going to be served any time soon judging by the queue, so off they dash to the farm instead. That too is very busy, but Farmer Tom has plenty on offer: Migloo’s spoilt for choice.

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Appetite sated, the next stop is the museum, followed by the cinema to watch the latest movie, and guess what – that too is action packed. After all the fun, it’s bedtime for Migloo and all his pals. Phew!
Sunday is equally busy and Migloo manages to pack in a visit to the car races and a funfair extravaganza where he gets involved in an exciting rescue of a film star.
There are fold-out pages and things to spot aplenty; there’s even a spread called ‘Busy Page’, though I thought every page was pretty busy .
If you have or know children who like to be involved in a picture book that isn’t (despite what we’re told) a story, this could be just the thing. With plenty to explore and discuss, it’s likely to will keep youngsters amused for hours.

Take Flight: The Sky Guys & Treats for a T.Rex

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The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers and Jason Hook
Button Books
Cleverly conceived and beautifully designed and presented – a simple rhyming text by Jason Hook and strikingly bold illustrations by Madeleine Rogers – combine to make a book that will attract young readers but more than that, one that will keep those readers engaged throughout. It presents basic information about five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican …

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and the tiny hummingbird, each of which is given two double spreads to display itself in all its glory.

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Did you know that an owl’s head can turn to face backwards  – impressive, or that the hummingbird uses its long beak like a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers?
And if that’s not enough to bring these wonderful creatures to life, inside the back cover is an envelope containing press out templates of the five birds that are easy to make with a bit of folding and sticking (the youngest fingers might need a little adult support). Then once constructed, these can be used, along with the basic scenery, similarly made, to act out the narrative using the inside back cover as a fold-out backdrop.

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What a cool idea for a book that is bound to result in maximum young child-involvement.

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Treats for a T. Rex
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish
Egmont Books
George embarks on his sixth adventure with his doggie pal, Trixie and he’s hoping to discover a real live T. rex. Off the two fly on a hang-gliding contraption, soaring above cities and far out over oceans to their destination, a volcanic island.

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Thereon Trixie spots what she thinks is a ball but turns out to be a huge dinosaur egg. It’s not the T.rex though, but a baby pterodactyl. This is only the first of their alarming dinosaur encounters; but after some tricky teaching by Trixie, the two friends finally find themselves face to face with the object of their search …

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Can they pull off one more trick or will George and Trixie become the next meal for that hungry T.rex towering above them?
George already has many young fans who follow his adventures eagerly; this latest will please them and likely win him more. There’s plenty going on in Lee Wildish’s bold, bright illustrations to entertain; and the Guillains’ rhyming text is a fun listen to.

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Odd Bods & an Animal Alphabet

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Odd Bods
Steven Butler and Jarvis
Puffin Books
We’ve all got our little quirks and foibles, and this is just what is celebrated in Butler and Jarvis’ crazy A to Z of weird and wonderful child characters. Let me introduce a few, starting with these two:

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With those never-trimmed nails, Duncan’s certainly not somebody I’d want to encounter. Then there’s Franklyn; now he would be pretty useful on occasion …

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Iris’s special skill is something I once got given a detention for at school, when eating, or rather not eating, my disgusting school lunch. Now that proves I was (and still am) something of a wild child

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I blame the quality of the cutlery though I’m sure the adults here would say it’s all down to those children.
Let’s mention a few more: there’s Kitty who loves nothing better than to flash her knickers, bogey-filled Larry and leaking Mathilda. Skipping a few letters takes us to Stanley though heaven knows where he might be now …

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Will is something of a yogi …

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and Yasmine is extraordinarily adept at fishing on account of her slight stickiness, which takes us almost to the end; and that’s where we’ll say farewell to the whole crazy cast …

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Take a long look and see how many you can identify already. For the rest, you’ll need to get hold of your own copy of this hoot of a book and enjoy encountering each and every character yourself.
And teachers, you don’t need me to point out the tremendous classroom potential of this one.

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Animal Alphabet
Kay Vincent
Button Books
Alliterative alphabet fun is what we have in this retro style A to Z of creatures great and small. Each animal has its own double spread and there’s an adjective starting with the same letter to describe it. Thus Bb ‘busking bear’ shows a banjo-strumming brown bear playing to a couple of birds. Here’s another musical animal …

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and a rather sporty one …

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Kay Vincent manages to give each and every animal a real personality in her stylised depictions.
This one’s definitely a visual treat but at the same time there’s plenty of space for youngsters’ own flights of verbal fancy: What is that ‘jolly jellyfish’ with the yippee flag celebrating for instance? Or, how is the xylophonist X-ray fish able to play under water and what is the music? Each letter offers storying potential – an added bonus and one that makes this more than just an ordinary animal alphabet book. And, if that’s not enough, the removeable dust jacket becomes a mini frieze to adorn your early years writing area, or child’s bedroom, perhaps.

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Small and Perfectly Formed

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Open Up, Please!
Silvia Borando and Lorenzo Clerici
Walker Books
I strongly recommend you read the blurb of the latest, Minibombo book very carefully before you start: it contains a warning …
On the first page we are presented with six different colour keys, nothing else just white space. Turn over and there’s a cage with a locked door just waiting to be opened …

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and of course, we decide upon a key and do the necessary whereupon the grateful animal within speaks …

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The next five spreads allow readers to release five more small creatures from captivity and then comes this …

 

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so I hope you did as I suggested before embarking on the story. There’s no key here, of course so best to leave it closed or …
Now of course, nobody really expects you to follow my instructions, nor those on the back cover, or the whole thing wouldn’t be the playfully satisfying delight that it is.
This is a brilliant example of small and simple equating to perfection where books for the very young, and beginning readers, are concerned.

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A Cat Called Panda
Melanie Arora and Charlie Brandon-King
Button Books
This is the kind of small, unassuming book that could easily be overlooked which would be a shame; it’s well worth seeking out. The text takes the form of a rhyming dialogue between a little girl, Amanda – an inquisitive young miss, and Panda; no not the conventional kind of panda. This one is a cat, albeit a black and white one and he does have a particular penchant for bamboo. He has something of a superior attitude too, as he proceeds to prove himself worthy of his Panda name; “My eyes are bright green, / I can see in the dark. /My whiskers are long, / and I make dogs BARK! …
Eventually the two do come to an understanding of one another – yes truly …

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and this provides a satisfying conclusion for both protagonists, and young listeners who will all the while, have been delighting in the minutiae of detail in the charming illustrations and the quirky rhythmic conversation.
And, for those teachers of young children working on philosophy with their classes, there’s potential for a community of enquiry type discussion with this book as a starting point.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Clive and his Art/Clive and his Babies
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play
Preschooler Clive, as portrayed by Jessica Spanyol, is a total delight. In the first book he shares his love of being creative, something that takes many forms including printing, drawing, constructing and collage making. He also loves looking at other people’s art and sharing his own, especially with his cat, Moshi.

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Clive has a particular penchant for googly eyes (don’t most youngsters of his age) and loves to adorn his works with all things glittery and sparkly (ditto).
In the second book we meet Clive with his two ‘babies’. These certainly do get the full range of experiences: play …

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feeding, potty training, baths (with the help of friend Asif) rides, stories – very important, hugs and plenty of TLC.

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I love the slightly oblique, almost child-like views of Clive that Jessica often gives us. Her straightforward present tense narrative is such that beginning readers can also enjoy Clive and his world when they share these enchanting books with their younger siblings.

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Littleland Around the World
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
The animal friends from Littleland pack their bags and set off to explore the world. First stop is London and they finish up in New York City – in Central Park to be precise. There are five other European destinations, then they head to Egypt and the pyramids followed by a safari in Kenya (that’s Africa taken care of). Next port of call is India and the Taj Mahal in Agra – a very hot place indeed so we are told, not always so in my experience though. From there it’s to China for a dragon festival , Tokyo at night …

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Australia to visit the outback and sunny Brazil for a spot of beach fun and games.
Running below every spread is a “Can you see …?‘ strip with nine labeled items (the national flag, animals, foods and more) for lap-tourists to spot. Yes there is the odd bit of mild stereotyping: ‘In Italy, people often eat pizza for their lunch.’ but the illustrations are cute, there’s so much to discuss, and toddlers will love to play I-Spy on this whistle-stop global tour.

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My First Book of Opposites
Alain Grée
Button Books
Ten spreads playfully illustrate basic opposites such as big/small, short/tall, up/down, fast/slow
Most of the concepts are either mathematical or scientific – hot/cold, day/night with the exception of one relating to feelings – happy/sad. We know that children acquire concepts through life experiences but books such as this board book can help in the reinforcement of same, and provide a talking point for adult and child together.

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Bizzy Bear DIY Day
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Bizzy Bear is having a DIY day. He’s busy measuring, sawing, drilling; but what are he and his pals making?

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TADAAH! Somewhere they can all have fun together …
Toddlers can enjoy the surprise ending and hone their fine motor skills as they push and slide the tabs to assist Bizzy as he wields his tools.
Bizzy Bear already has many fans among the very youngest; this one could win him even more.

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Animal Babies in the River/Animal Babies on the Mountain
Julia Groves
Child’s Play
Adult animals and their offspring from two different habitats – the river and mountains – are presented in life-like, collage style illustrations. The half dozen river animals portrayed are swan/cygnets, crocodile/hatchlings …

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otter and her pups, frog/tadpoles, salmon/fry and duck/ducklings.
The mountain dwellers include the alpaca/cria, lynx/kittens, eagle/eaglets and wolf/cubs.

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Julia Groves really does capture the essence of each species in her portrayals; her graphic style certainly doesn’t dumb down her illustrations: she clearly believes that the very youngest children deserve quality artwork and this is what she provides here.

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