Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Nicola Davies has a rare skill when it comes to explaining sometimes quite tricky concepts to young readers and Emily Sutton’s illustrations are always superb.

With the opening statement ‘All living things grow’, award-winning team Emily and Emma then explore for young readers, the mysteries of DNA, the genetic code that determines the characteristics of every plant and every animal including we humans.

First are examples of different speeds of growth ranging from the desert four o’clock plants that grow from seed to flower in ten days

to the guahog clams found in the chilly depths of the Arctic Ocean that take 500 years to grow to the size of the palm of a child’s hand. WOW!

The importance of how much things grow is considered next followed by another aspect of growth, that of change,

and that leads neatly into DNA.

We find out about its four bases and how they can be combined in different ways creating a genetic code pattern, comprising for we humans, 20,000 genes.

Everyone has a unique genetic code half of which comes from their biological father and half from the biological mother (identical twins however share a genetic code).

There’s follows a spread showing the relative closeness of the human genetic code to various plants and animals; another points out that thanks to DNA all living things are connected. DNA also provides a connection that can be traced right back to the beginning of life on Earth – awesome – and all on account of the fact that as Nicola concludes ‘all life has always been written in one language’.

This is just the kind of book I would have relished as a child; it will surely inspire as well as educate youngsters.

Buy for home and for KS2 primary classrooms.

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …

Lots: the Diversity of Life on Earth

Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books
Subtitled ‘The Diversity of Life on Earth’ the enchanting large-sized book looks at biodiversity and interdependence on our planet.
The ‘LOTS’ herein encompasses over a hundred different animals as well as numerous plants and one enthusiastic little girl narrator.

By giving voice to the child, Nicola Davies cleverly explains what would otherwise be an abstruse topic in words that pre-school and KS1 age children can engage with and enjoy.
We visit a variety of locations from deserts to tropical islands; and zoom right in to such microbial habitats as beneath the feathers of birds, on the backs of lichen beetles

and even boiling volcanic pools. Counting all the different kinds of flora and fauna is far from easy on account of sheer numbers; but sometimes it’s a very difficult task due in part to the comparative inaccessibility of particular habitats – the tops of tall jungle trees or the bottom of the coldest seas for instance. But also there’s the fact that some young creatures – the Queen Angelfish – for one, look quite different from the adult; or alternatively things that look virtually identical are entirely different species such as here:

The Viceroy Butterfly and the Monarch look almost identical

All this is explained in a straightforward narrative that as well as providing youngsters with a wealth of information, is likely to engender awe and wonder in the ‘almost two million different kinds of living things’ already identified; and the millions that probably are yet to be found.
In the three final spreads, crucial ideas about extinction and the importance of preservation of living things are introduced, leaving readers much food for thought about the vital stewardship role humans have in the whole scheme of things.
This follow up to Tiny also has wonderful detailed, painterly illustrations by Emily Sutton. A must for primary school classroom collections and family bookshelves.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Christmas Eve Tree

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The Christmas Eve Tree
Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton
Walker Books
The author, of this book, Delia Huddy, who I knew as an editor at Julia McRae Books, was working on the story at the end of her life and it’s wonderful to see it in print as a beautiful, moving picture book illustrated by Emily Sutton.
The story begins with a ‘carelessly planted’ little fir tree growing yes, but crookedly, so that when finally the trees are cut years later, it is stunted and tangled with its neighbour. Nonetheless it’s taken along with all the others to be sold, this ‘bottom of the pile’ tree. As the rest are sold one by one, the little tree fears for its fate until on Christmas Eve, a boy comes into the shop and the shopkeeper gives him the sad-looking object. A better fate than the black rubbish sack assuredly.
Indeed once outside the shop, the boy heads for the river,

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plants the tree in a box he discovers at the waterside and heads off back to his own, larger box shelter.
The Christmas spirit begins to descend upon both boy and the tree, that now feels a sense of belonging.

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Soon others join them and before long the traffic’s at a standstill as everyone gathers to listen to the Christmas song. And suddenly …

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Eventually, as rough sleepers do, the boy moves on. And the tree? It’s put into a road sweeper’s barrow and taken off to the park, planted in a corner and now against all the odds there it still stands ‘cheerfully stout’

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and giving pleasure to so many all year round.
Giving pleasure to many is assuredly what this wonderful story will do to what I hope will be its many readers and listeners, all year round too.

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Nina engrossed in the wonderful story

Emily Sutton’s retro-modern scenes portray an almost fairytale atmosphere of a wintry London.

Previously reviewed in hardback, but now out in paperback is a totally contrasting presentation of Christmas:

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A Stork in a Baobab Tree
Catherine House and Polly Alakija
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘An African Twelve Days of Christmas’, this book is far more than just a reworking of the traditional English version of the song. Readers are treated to a superb experience of African village traditions and customs, animals, food and clothing, and much else. Christmas in southern Africa, we are told, comes during the rainy season. …

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when the grey branches of the Baobab are covered in leaves and white flowers.
Each of the twelve days, portrays a different African country and is given a double page spread where,

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in addition to the main text, there is a paragraph in smaller print explaining the particular scene. There are many allusions to the biblical story of the nativity woven into Polly Alakija’s fine illustrations;

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in fact the more you look the more you see. Indeed the whole book is one to be revisited over and over allowing considerable time to be spent exploring each setting.

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