Cordell Barker adapted by Sarah Howden
Firefly Books

This book, in graphic novel format is an adaption by children’s book author Sarah Howden, of Cordell Barker’s 2009 animated film of the same name.

It begins with a cow strolling on a railway track along which a passenger train is speeding. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The engineer, or Captain as he likes to be called, is distracted by a fuzzy object that has been found by the Fireman and belongs to the Lady. Keen to impress her, the engineer shuts the fireman up and fusses over the dog only to receive a bite on his finger.

The train continues dashing along the tracks now out of control. The fireman is concerned – where is the Captain? But nobody else is bothered. The fuel gauge is dangerously low: the passengers provide alternatives to coal; the train climbs

and slows …

Tension builds and builds; the Captain reappears

and saves the day – or does he?

What you get out of this allegorical tale depends considerably on what you bring to it and with re-readings new understanding emerges. Assuredly though it’s full of action and wry humour, and at least it appears there might be one happy ending.

That though, won’t save everyone – for that, collective love is required and as Auden said in September 1,1939, ultimately ‘ We must love one another or die.’

Meet the Gumboot Kids

The Case of the Vanishing Caterpillar
The Case of the Wooden Timekeeper
The Case of the Growing Bird Feeder
The Case of the Story Rock

Eric Hogan and Tara Hungerford
Firefly Books

These four nature story books feature a couple of soft-toy mouse characters Daisy and Scout and are a spin-off from a Canadian animated TV series The Gumboot Kids.

In The Case of the Vanishing Caterpillar the pair track down Scout’s caterpillar friend, following clues such as nibbled leaves and an empty chrysalis case on a branch before spotting the missing insect in the form of a butterfly.

Scout sets Daisy the puzzle of searching the forest to find The Missing Timekeeper in the second book. Even when she locates the tree stump, Scout has to point out the rings on the cut surface of the Douglas Fir and they head to the library to discover their significance.

In the Growing Bird Feeder story it’s Daisy’s turn to set the challenge, but her friend is puzzled to hear while they picnic in the woods that she has forgotten to water her feeders. “What kind of bird feeders grow?’ he wants to know.
Returning to Daisy’s garden they eventually see a bird land on one of her tall sunflowers for a seed feast.

In the fourth book the two friends unearth the Story Rock when they dig up an ammonite fossil; then back at the campsite Daisy’s book explains how fossils are formed and that fossils tell us stories about ancient plants and animals.

Each book has a similar structure  – a nature puzzle being set by one or other of the mice, with clues provided in their notebooks. Once the mystery is solved further information is sought from a reference or library book.

The characters then share a mindfulness moment when they  consider their findings and at the end of the book there are double spreads with field notes and a related craft activity.

I’m always advocating the importance of fostering a love of nature in the very young, so welcome this series which clearly aims to get young children outdoors and eager to discover more about the world around them; these stories are certainly engaging and contain just the right amount of information in the narrative to spark their curiosity.

Pinball Science & The Pen


Pinball Science
Illustrated by Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
The teacher part of me has always advocated putting scientific learning into a meaningful context: now here is an exciting project incorporating a whole lot of scientific principles that’s a tremendous learning opportunity. All you need to do is open up the box and follow the step-by-step instructions for assembling an 88 piece model complete with levers, plungers and flippers – awesome! In practice, I think it may prove a little more tricky.
Before plunging in though I suggest reading the pages describing the science behind the whole pinball wonder.


Here’s Jack working on the model

It’s fascinating stuff: I learned it in deadly boring, text book only O-level physics with nay a practical in sight, but only understood what some of it really means, for instance Newton’s third law of motion ‘Every action results in an equal and opposite reaction’ when messing around with toy cars while teaching infants many years later. Now, it’s explained along with a simple investigation with a balloon.


And the difference between kinetic and potential energy? I remember learning that off by heart with little understanding but here, it’s neatly explained through an investigation with a tennis ball.


These practical activities and many others, all relevant to the enterprise about to be undertaken, provided by authors of the project, Nick Arnold (of Horrible Histories fame) and Ian Graham, are all stylishly illustrated by the wonderful Owen Davey.


The Pen
Raphaël Fejtö
Firefly Books
This near pocket-sized book is one of a series called Little Inventions. It’s a fascinating and delightfully quirky look at the history and development of a writing implement from the beginnings of writing when sharp reeds were used to engrave on soft clay tablets. It takes us up right through to the advent of Biros and then, the disposable BIC pens we’re so familiar with. In Japan, brushes were used for writing and these led to the invention of felt-tip pens so popular today for writing and colouring.
That’s it briefly; and the final page is a memory quiz. With amusing illustrations on every page,


this is just the kind of book to fascinate those youngsters less keen to embark on fictional stories: a whole lot of information, delivered narrative style, is packed into just 32 pages. Having read this one, I suspect children will want to seek out the other titles in the series: The Fork, French Fries, Glasses, Pizza and The Toilet (I bet that one proves popular!).
Just right for a school topic box, home library – anywhere there are readers (and writers) actually.

Creature Close Up


Creatures Close Up
Philippe Martin and Gillian Watts
Firefly Books
If you’re at all interested in natural history, or know children who are, then take a look at the stunning photographic images in this book. Philippe Martin, captures his subjects in pin sharp focus by taking multiple close-up shots which are slightly different and combining them into a single image using computer software. The results are truly amazing. Most of the creatures were photographed in the Madagascan rainforest and some in the south of France where Martin lives. You can see every minute detail of the insects,


amphibians, reptiles, spiders, crustacea and mammals he has chosen as his subjects.
Every page evokes a sense of awe at the wonders of nature and nature as designer.


Please Be Nice To Sharks
Matt Weiss and Daniel Botelho
Over a dozen sharks introduce themselves in this photographic parade of one of the world’s threatened species; threatened partly because of their popularity as the chief ingredient of shark’s fin soup, a Chinese delicacy but they’re also hunted for sport. Their loss as a species would be disastrous for the food chain as a whole as they play a vital role in keeping the animal populations of the oceans in balance. From the largest Whale Shark to the Bamboo Shark, one of the smallest …


each variety represented concludes its personal resume with the urgent plea: Please be nice to … sharks” and the final spread offers further information about what this means for we humans. One for the primary school topic box I suggest.


Dinosaurs of the Upper Cretaceous
David West
Firefly Books
If you’re a child fascinated by dinosaurs – and that’s an awful lot of children – you probably can’t have too many books on the subject. This particular one is part of a series of six each of which covers a specific period, that together make up the Mesozoic Age. The twenty five dinosaurs included herein are from 89 to 65 million years back – the period known as the Upper Cretaceous and, after an introduction to the period, are arranged in alphabetical order. Among them are some of the most well known such as Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops but many of those featured are less familiar, certainly to me. I’d not heard, for instance, of the Deinocheirus whose name means ‘horrible hand’ and whose fossil remains have been discovered in Mongolia.


Helpfully there is a shadow image of either a human (child or adult) or a cat alongside each of the computer-generated dinosaur images to gauge their relative sizes.
Interesting facts such as what each one ate, the meaning of its name, a description of specific features and where fossil remains have been found are provided. Addicts in the 6-11 age group will probably want to collect the whole set.