Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth

Water: Protect Freshwater to Save Life on Earth
Catherine Barr and Christiane Engel
Otter-Barry Books

I was surprised to learn from this absorbing book that despite 70% of the Earth’s surface being covered by water only 3% of all of that is freshwater, most of it existing in polar ice sheets. These because of global warming, are starting to melt at an alarming rate.

Having given readers that information and more in the opening pages of this book, author Catherine Barr presents eleven further spreads, illustrated with lots of detail by Christiane Engel. These look at a variety of topics including the water cycle, freshwater habitats (some of the Earth’s most endangered environments); water power (the pros and cons); the impact of climate change on farming; the importance of careful usage of freshwater (there’s mention of the impact of large companies using more than their fair share of this precious resource).

It’s alarming to read the way in which polluted water – 80% of Earth’s wastewater – is adversely affecting freshwater habitats, killing wildlife and poisoning drinking water.

Of the final three topics: one explains that despite many women and girls still having to walk considerable distances from their village homes to access water, the provision of pumps and taps close to where they live is enabling girls living in some sub-Saharan African villages to go to school regularly and giving their mothers time to work.

Another calls on humanity to act now to protect vital freshwater; and this is followed by a look at some of the ways readers can use water judiciously: Take action to shrink your water footprint! urges the author. If those of us fortunate enough to have ready supplies of water at the turn of a tap followed the suggestions perhaps we can still make that all important difference in what is the UN’s Water Action Decade (2018-2028).

Let’s Save Antarctica

Let’s Save Antarctica: Why We Must Protect Our Planet
Catherine Barr and Jean Claude
Walker Books

This book is an urgent plea from author Catherine Barr and illustrator Jean Claude for readers and listeners to help in the vital task of protecting our precious planet, in particular Antarctica from climate change and plastic pollution, and all that means.

That vast white continent covering the South Pole – the most extreme environment on earth – is home to millions of Emperor penguins as well as safe waters for the enormous whales that live in the depths of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Losing these, thus far tough survivors just doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must.

Penguins though are just some of the awesome inhabitants of the vast icy wilderness, for eons ago it was home to dinosaurs, and fossils, footprints, teeth and ginormous bones have been discovered by scientists investigating the ancient volcanic ash of the Antarctic sea floor.

Other scientists have and still are investigating what Antarctica can reveal about how earth’s climate – the temperatures and wind patterns – have changed over hundreds and thousands of years.

But what are the secrets to the survival of the flora and fauna of this extreme environment? Yes they are all protected in this our last great wilderness.

However, it’s something biologists are studying while others are looking at what allows deep sea life to survive.

So too is the crucial work that scientists are doing to monitor the effects and speed of climate change, Antarctica’s greatest risk of all, and something that will also have a huge impact on all of our lives.

You don’t have to be a scientist to contribute to the saving of Antarctica and the final spread comprises things that we can all do to stop plastic pollution in the ocean and help slow down climate change. What Catherine has written will surely spark action to protect this incredible place; it’s up to us …

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book to amaze and inspire youngsters, one that looks at the invisible natural forces that have an enormously powerful influence on life on our planet. In it Catherine Barr covers such diverse topics as microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light waves, electromagnetism, ultrasound and smells.

Say the word ‘microwave’ to young children and most will think of the small oven in the kitchen used to heat food quickly. But there are also microwaves in space and scientists have invented machines that make microwaves that are put to many uses: in medicine, in computers and mobile phones, as well as in navigation by airports and ships.

Each topic has two double spreads, the first explaining how animals use these remarkable powers, the second discusses how humans too have learned to exploit them.

Did you know that some animals rely on UV light for their very survival? For instance it makes lichens glow enabling reindeer to find this much needed food in barren Arctic habitats of Canada, while Sockeye Salmon are able to spot the plankton they feed on when it shows against the UV light of shallow waters.

Much more familiar is the importance of UV in the creation of vitamin D, so vital for maintaining strong muscles and bones in humans.

In all there are fourteen alluring and wonderfully coloured spreads by illustrator Anne Wilson displaying the ways in which these unseen mysterious powers impact upon life on earth

– that ‘secret world beyond our senses’ – making this a book to fire curiosity and ignite the imagination of primary children.

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

Two new titles from Frances Lincoln each one part of an  excellent, established series:

The Story of Inventions
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Have you ever wondered how some of the things we take for granted such as paper and books,

clocks and watches, computers, electricity, vaccinations, cars, planes, the current pollution-creating scourge – plastic, as well as the internet came about? If so then this book will supply the answers.

Written in a reader friendly, informative style that immediately engages but never overwhelms, the authors will fascinate and inspire youngsters. Add to that Amy Husband’s offbeat detailed illustrations that manage to be both accurate and amusing,

and the result is an introduction to inventions that may well motivate young readers to become the inventors of tomorrow.

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

For all those incredible developments to happen, people needed to use their brains; now here’s a smashing look at how this wonderful organ of ours works:

The Great Big Brain Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s so much to like about this book, that is a great introduction to an amazing and incredibly complicated part of the body. How many youngsters will have thought about the notion that their brains are responsible for every single thing that they do, be it breathing, walking, chatting, eating, thinking, feeling, learning for instance. Moreover the brain enables us to feel happy, sad, powerful, and much more.

So how does this ‘control room’, this ‘miracle of organisation’ as Mary Hoffman describes the brain, actually function? She supplies the answer so clearly and so engagingly that young readers will be hooked in from the very first spread.

Each double spread looks at a different but related aspect such as the brain’s location and development;

another explains how the brain functions as a transmitter sending messages around the body by means of neurons. Readers can find out about how we’re able to move our muscles, do all sorts of tricky, fiddly things such as picking up tiny objects, a jigsaw piece for instance.

Lots of other topics are discussed including the two sides of the brain and what each is responsible for, as well that of neurodiversity. Some people’s brains develop differently, while others might have problems if something goes wrong with their brain.

Every spread has Ros Asquith’s smashing cartoon-style illustrations that unobtrusively celebrate diversity and make each one something to pore over.

A must have in my opinion.

How Colour Works

How Colour Works
Catherine Barr and Yuliya Gwilym
Red Shed (Egmont)

Right from its arresting endpapers, this book that investigates the science of colour and how we see it, simply explodes into a rainbow of bright hues.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how our eyes work, or why some things glow in the dark.

Or maybe you’re curious about how animals see colour – do they see what we see?

and how do they use colour?

Why is grass green, blood red, the sky sometimes blue, and why does the snow look white? The answers are herein.

This surely is a visual treat – Yuliya Gwillym’s dramatic illustrations arrest the eye at every page turn; but author Catherine Barr provides plenty of facts too, facts that will likely have readers wanting to go beyond the information given to learn even more.

Successfully combining science and art to present a veritable STEAM kaleidoscope, this is a book that offers something to youngsters from nursery age upward. What about awe and wonder? Yes, it definitely fits that bill too.

The Story of People

The Story of People
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I greatly enjoyed the two previous titles in The Story of … series and this new addition is another winner.

It’s a whistle-stop tour of the historical development of humankind that begins with the earliest humans – Homo erectus – two-legged hunter-gatherer apes that lived in Africa.
Did you know that the larger brained Homo sapiens also appeared first in Africa? Travelling out across Europe and Asia, these are the people we are descended from.

The account moves to early farmers, then the Bronze Age when cities grew; diseases were caught from animals and mark making in relation to harvests was used.
The Iron Age, trading voyages across oceans and land and decisions based on philosophy are also covered, taking readers to 1CE – 1000CE during which Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe were growing.

Thereafter came religious wars, trade routes opened up and between 1700-1800CE Islamic science experiments inspired new discoveries in science and nature around the world.
Technology as well as science then started to change how people lived and continues to do so. At this point the author acknowledges that in addition to the numerous changes for the good, human actions are damaging our precious world.

The book ends with a consideration of what might happen in the future ending on an optimistic note: ‘By sharing, polluting less, respecting wild places and farming alongside wildlife, there is hope for the future. We can all live in harmony with nature on our beautiful blue planet.’ Let’s hope it’s so for the young children who are the book’s audience.

Amy Husband’s alluring naïve, cartoon style collage and crayon illustrations together with Catherine Barr and Steve Williams’ highly accessible narrative provide a lively introduction to a fascinating topic.

10 Reasons to Love a Lion / 10 Reasons to Love a Penguin

10 Reasons to Love a Lion
10 Reasons to Love a Penguin

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Lincoln Children’s Books

The latest additions to this environmentally concerned series that introduces children to, and encourages their positivity towards, animals in the wild, takes readers to some highly contrasting locations.
In 10 Reasons to Love a Lion we discover that sadly, there is only one species of lion remaining in the wild, living in central and southern Africa

and the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India.
Unlike other big cats, lions are social animals, living in prides and in Africa, so we learn, huge territories of arid savannah are patrolled by each pride which might comprise as many as three magnificently-maned males, plus lionesses and their offspring.

I was unaware that despite their having quills that are potentially lethal to lions should their skin be pierced and become infected, the large cat predators – the females do the hunting – like eating these prickly creatures. Ouch!

In addition to this information we’re told about lions’ ability to see in poor light when hunting, thanks to their ‘glow-in-the-dark eyes; hear of the playfulness of cubs; their manner of greeting and becoming friendly towards, other lions using their individual oily scent; and their propensity to sleep, particularly after fully sating their appetites.

Other birds and animals are also featured in Hannah Clulow’s realistic-looking scenes; so for instance we can tell which location – African or Indian – it is by say, the presence of an Indian peacock, or ostriches.

Scattered throughout the book are 5 ways in which we all can show our appreciation towards lions and thus perhaps help in their preservation.

In contrast there are 18 penguin species, which, with the exception of the Galapagos penguin all live in or near Antarctica. Each one is pictured on the opening spread of 10 Reasons to Love a Penguin.

Ecologist and environmentalist, Catherine Barr adopts a similarly engaging style as she writes of these flightless birds as ‘super speedy swimmers’ using their ‘underwater wings’ to ‘twist and turn’ as they hunt for fish. She talks of their specially shaped eyes that help underwater vision while searching for ocean food, some of which unfortunately is being depleted by large floating nets that might also entangle the penguins.

We see and read of penguins tobogganing on their tummies,

sneezing salty water, some species huddling close together to fend off the chill – their feet still suffer though; discover the mating habits of adelies; the chick rearing of emperors penguins; the loss of waterproofing during their ‘catastrophic moult’ and more.

Again, interspersed throughout are 5 ways we humans can help the cause of penguin preservation.

Written in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, these are two to add to primary classroom collections, and for ecologically aware individual readers.

10 reasons to love a bear / 10 reasons to love a whale

10 reasons to love a bear
10 reasons to love a whale

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Lincoln Children’s Books

This engaging series of fun animal books for younger readers from Barr and Clulow, working in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, has two new titles.

The first features the eight bear species: the polar bear, the sun bear, the sloth bear, the American black bear, the brown bear, the Asian black bear, the spectacled bear and the giant panda.

Did you know that bears, with the exception of the bamboo only eating giant pandas, will consume pretty much whatever they can find be that fish, meat, berries or bark; and some honey loving bears will tear trees apart to access a bees’ nest and sometimes even lap up the bees. Ouch!

Have you ever seen a bear dance? I certainly haven’t but they rub their backs against tree trunks and do a kind of wiggle dance to leave a scent for other bears, either to attract a mate or scare off a rival.

Giant pandas so we’re told though will do a handstand to leave their mark.

Another way in which bears communicate is through sound: they might snort, growl, grunt or cough; and mother bears and their cubs hum if all is well. Panda bears on the other hand make a bleating sound.

All this ursine information and more, together with five ways humans can show they love bears, can be found in 10 reasons to love a bear.

The subject of 10 reasons to love a whale is the blue whale.
These enormous mammalian creatures are, when fully grown, around 30 times heavier than an elephant and have a heart the size of a small car. Amazing!

A blue whale’s mouth too, is gigantic, and its tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant.

Sadly these amazing animals are still a threatened species and their survival depends on we humans.

Most children, in my experience are fascinated by blue whales and so, I suspect, they’ll be eager to dive into this book.

Add these two to your primary school class collection or topic boxes.

10 Reasons to Love: an Elephant / a Turtle & Dolphin Baby

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant
10 Reasons to Love a Turtle

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Two titles published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum focus on what makes the particular animal special.
Each is sandwiched between two sturdy covers with a die cut of the animal through the front one and a double spread is devoted to each reason.
I didn’t need any persuasion to love elephants mainly because of frequent encounters with the Asian variety on my numerous visits to India. (I’ve never seen any with googly eyes however.) In addition to the reason that gives each spread its title, there is plenty more to enjoy. I was fascinated to learn that elephants ‘wrap their trucks around each other in warm greetings’ and that ‘they understand how other elephants feel.’ Here for example one can see a beautiful Indian swallowtail butterfly, a common rose butterfly and a common bluebottle butterfly among the flora.

Children will I’m sure be amused to learn that forest elephants eat seeds that pass through their bodies and out in their poo, and then the seeds start growing in their dung making them “good gardeners’ for their role in seed dispersal. Equally they might, having read the ‘Show You Love an Elephant’ badge, want to look online and find how to buy some paper made from recycled elephant poo.
Ecologist, Catherine Barr’s text is very reader friendly and Hanako Clulow’s illustrations offer plenty to observe and discuss.
10 Reasons to love a Turtle features the seven different sea turtle species and interestingly, ‘gardening’ features herein too,

with sea turtles acting like ‘underwater lawn movers’ grazing on the seagrass and keeping it the appropriate length for fish, crabs and seahorses to make their homes in.
At the end of the book, readers are reminded of the threat that pollution, fishing and hunting pose to these gentle animals.
With their environmental focus, these would be worthwhile additions to classroom libraries; as well as for interested individuals, who it is hoped, might turn into conservationists.

Dolphin Baby
Nicola Davies and Brita Granström
Walker Books
‘Tail first, head last, Dolphin POPS out into the blue.’ What could be a more engaging way to start a book of narrative non-fiction? But then this is zoologist Nicola Davies writing and she knows just how to grab the attention of young readers and listeners and keep them entranced throughout.
Here, through the story of Dolphin and Mum, she describes the first six months of a baby calf’s life as it learns to feed, to acquaint itself with and respond to her call, and to explore its world playing, making friends …

and all the while he’s growing and developing his very own whistle to communicate that he has at six months old, caught his very first fish.
The text uses two fonts: the large provides the narrative with additional facts given in smaller italics; and the final spread reminds readers that dolphins need protecting from pollution, from over-fishing and from the careless use of fishing nets.
Brita Granström’s superb acrylic illustrations grace every spread helping to make the book a winner for both early years and primary school audiences.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Story of Space / 100 Steps for Science

The Story of Space
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘A first book about our universe’ this follow-up to The Story of Life is an equally fascinating exploration of another ‘big’ topic: what is thought to have happened 13.8 billion yeas ago when the Big Bang created our universe; and what followed in space thereafter going right up to the present time …

even projecting future possibilities. We’re told how the sun came into being; how, over billions of years, stars ‘are born, grow old and die’; how the planets – and hence our solar system – were formed. As well as that, there is a spread on comets and asteroids; another on how/why the seasons vary in different parts of the Earth; and one looking at oxygen and how it supports life.

This awesome journey is taken in the company of two young space investigators who comment and ask questions alongside the authors’ main narrative. Both Barr and Williams have a science background and manage perfectly, to avoid talking down to primary school aged readers. Amy Husband’s vibrant illustrations have an exuberance about them, making the whole book all the more inviting for the target audience.
I’d most certainly add this to a home collection or primary class library.
The same is true of:

100 Steps for Science
Lisa Jane Gillespie and Yukai Du
Wide Eyed Editions
Ten STEM topics are explored in this fascinating book (written by a doctor of chemistry), that offers thoroughly digestible, bite-sized introductions to Space, Wheels, Numbers, Light, Sound, Particles, Medicine, Materials, Energy, and Life.
Each one is allocated several spreads wherein its evolutionary story is explored and the key scientists are introduced. In this way, what might for some, seem formidable topics, are given a human element making them more easily engaged with and intriguing. Add to that Yukai Du’s detailed visuals, which include some amazing perspectives …

and science becomes exciting for everyone.

I’ve signed the charter 

Elliot’s Arctic Surprise


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Rosa lost in the Arctic world of the story …

Elliot’s Arctic Surprise
Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
When a bottle is washed up before the eye’s of young Elliot as he lies at the water’s edge and he discovers a message inside, he knows his beach holiday is about to end: he has something far, far more important to do …

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His preoccupied parents barely acknowledge his “Can I go to the North Pole?” request and Elliot hitches a ride to his destination with a friendly sea captain.
Before long, they discover that they’re not alone: thousands of other tiny little boats have joined them,

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carrying children from all over the world.
The fleet sails past giant icebergs, polar bears and seals before the children hear an alarming roar

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and a sinister sight meets their eyes …
So, with Elliot as their leader, the children confront the man in charge of the rig that’s all set to begin its operation. “This is Father Christmas’s home, … Please don’t spoil it.” Elliot begs.

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And as the oil man ponders on the request, the sea captain reveals his true identity.
Catherine Barr, the story’s author formerly worked at Greenpeace International and her passion for environmental issues is evident herein. However, the fairytale type narrative means that the Arctic cause is delivered gently and appealingly, and is an excellent way to introduce a vital and complex issue to young children. (The final page provides a note from Greenpeace’s executive director about their Arctic campaign.)
Francesca Chessa’s acrylic paintings are arresting and those Arctic scenes, particularly powerful in their impact.
A thought-provoking book that provides something completely different from other seasonal offerings; it’s one that has relevance the whole year round and I particularly like the children’s ‘we can overcome’ spirit.

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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 http://www.franceslincoln.com/the-story-of-life.
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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