Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

The Cook and the King

The Cook and the King
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books

In this tale the king, being of a hungry disposition is desperately seeking not a handsome rich prince to wed his daughter but, a cook.

Having eliminated almost all of those who apply – supposedly the finest in the land, but serving up runny eggs, tough meat and worse, he’s left with just one pretty desperate looking fellow going by the name of Wobbly Bob. Yes, he’s dressed in cook’s gear but his name is far from promising and he’s a self-confessed wimp. Masterchef material he most definitely is not. But could he be?

The guy lacks the courage to tackle any of the tasks needed to ensure his highness gets his favourite fish and chips meal.

No prizes for guessing who does more than the lion’s share of the work.

Finally though, the two sit down to dine together, but does the meal pass muster, or must the king keep on looking for a cook?

Splendidly funny: Julia Donaldson serves up yet another winner. With its inbuilt 3Rs – rhythm, rhyme and repetition, this is a splendid read aloud, join-in story.

There’s plenty of food for thought: why are those courtiers pinning up the ‘Wanted Royal Cook’ poster? And what has happened to make the king resort to unappetising pizza deliveries? Both of these questions spring to mind in the first few pages, both scenarios being shown in David Roberts’ fine equally winning, hilarious illustrations of same.

(The story is, so we discover on the credits page, based on one the author’s son made up for his daughter– the story telling prowess is seemingly, in the genes.)

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Ada Swift is back with a STEM activity book that’s packed with exciting projects related to both the physical and the biological sciences.

With Ada’s help, it takes readers through the entire scientific process and using the headings ‘Scientists are Curious’, ‘Scientists Think’, ‘Scientists Keep Thinking’, ‘Scientists are Observant’ and ‘Scientists use details to describe things’, ‘Scientists Learn from Others’, ‘Scientists look at things in new ways’, ‘Scientists are Patient’ and ‘Scientists are Persistent’ introduces the essential characteristics of a scientist.

All the time the text encourages children to add their own ideas, as in this tree observation page.

Or in the ‘Decomposers’ spread whereon readers are asked to write their own responses to ‘Why don’t colourful leaves pile up, year after year, until the trees are buried beneath them” Why do they turn brown?’
This is followed by practical activities and observations.

I could go on at length talking about the various activities, which are many and varied (over 40 in all) but will just mention a few: there are word searches, an energy game, tracking the phases of the moon, designing a vehicle that uses wind or solar energy or another form of renewable energy and watching seeds grow and recording related observations.

Very much hands-on, this is an ideal book to inspire youngsters from around 6 to become scientists like Ada Twist, indeed Ada’s very own story is told at the outset.

Thoroughly recommended even if you haven’t yet encountered Ada or her friends, Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

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The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes

The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes
Ying Chang Compestine and David Roberts
Abrams & Chronicle

Many people are familiar with the Hans Andersen classic fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and here it’s given a clever Chinese twist that sheds a different light on the whole matter of that vain emperor and his tricky tailors.
Set in Imperial China it tells how in fact this particular emperor, one Ming Da, is not vain at all; indeed he is a boy trickster who comes to the throne at the tender age of nine and there are no tricky tailors at all. Instead, as the young emperor discovers, it is his ministers who are the dishonest ones, stealing the country’s food, gold and other resources and leaving Ming Da with scant resources to feed his people and run his kingdom.

What can the boy emperor do to outsmart his perfidious ministers and thus avoid rebellion against him on their part? He ponders hard.
Then as Chinese New Year draws close, Ming Da decides to engage the help of his loyal tailors to dress him in rice sacks rather than the splendid finery expected for a new year celebration.
Honest people will see their true splendour, while the dishonest will see only burlap sacks,” a young tailor asserts as the emperor shows the ministers his new ‘magical’ outfit, setting in action his plan to recover some of the kingdom’s riches.

In an author’s note at the end of her story, Compestine explains how she has drawn on her personal experience as a child growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution and her efforts to outsmart the officials in order to obtain ‘forbidden literature’.
David Roberts (who has illustrated several other fairy tales as well as Ada Twist Scientist, Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect) uses watercolour, pen, and ink for his wonderfully detailed, witty artwork.
An enchanting story to share over Chinese New Year or at any time, this will have a wide age appeal.

There is even a final page giving step by step instructions for making a Chinese New Year parade robe; a great starting point for a class celebratory parade.

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story
Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts
Walker Books

I think I’ve just found my favourite ever picture book take on a new sibling. This one had me spluttering at every turn of the page; both words and pictures are utterly priceless.
Let’s meet the Happy Family: there’s a mum, a dad and a little princess: ‘the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long flowing wondrous hair’ is how the young miss describes herself. (“That’s her tights,” one of my listeners was quick to point out.) Oh! and there’s a gerbil too.
All is peace and harmony in the kingdom aka The Land until one fateful day, a new ruler is born: His Royal Highness, King Baby. Let right royal disaster commence for, from that day forth for a whole year thereafter, the increasingly chubby babe rules The Land, not to mention the household. A certain young Princess’s nose is well and truly out of joint, but come infant’s first birthday, things get even worse.
Relations gather from far and wide to celebrate, fawning and fussing over the infant, and totally ignoring big sis. Seemingly the prince has cast a spell over The Whole Land.
Time for some drastic action: our innocent Princess knows just what to do – a disguise and a cunning plan are called for.

Before she’s barely even begun however, the sight of birthday cake and the sound of singing …

spark off horrendous screams, drooling dribbles and a tremendous tantrum from young King Billy.

Can anyone console the poor little chap?
Surprisingly, yes. But to find out exactly who and how, you’ll need to read the story for yourself …
Let’s just say that peace and harmony are finally restored and from a most unexpected quarter.
David Roberts must surely be king when it comes to pen and watercolour illustrations. Herein his distinctive illustrative style is retro 1970s (mum with frizzy permed hair and dad wearing bell-bottoms) ; but running in tandem with that are crayoned images showing the Princess’s version of events taken from Princess Marigold’s Drawing Book– a brilliant comic counterpoint if ever there was one. All this, alongside Sally Lloyd-Jones’ terrific fairytale pastiche and the result? A new dream team is launched.

Here’s one little princess totally loving the story.

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever thought about creating a house entirely out of rubber balls, or building a bridge using only 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti and 20 miniature marshmallows?

These are just two of the challenges to be found in this treasure trove of STEM activities. I’ve done the latter with many classes and it’s always enormous fun and a superb co-operative learning activity.

Altogether there are more than 40 projects and activities that help develop observation, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; and almost all are open-ended.

I especially liked ‘Thinking About Others’ wherein the reader is asked to walk through their home and list the improvements/modifications that would help a person in a wheelchair get in, around inside, cook, bath, relax, sleep and play.

It then asks for modifications for a blind person .
An excellent companion to Iggy Peck Architect; but even if you haven’t read the original story, this is well worth getting hold of; but I urge you to make the acquaintance not only of Iggy, but also of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist.

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