Lottie Loves Nature: Bee-ware!

Lottie Loves Nature: Bee-ware!
Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown
Five Quills

In this second adventure young nature enthusiast and would-be wildlife presenter Lottie Boffin is engaged in a minibeast survey for her favourite TV show when she encounters Noah Parfitt who lives next door. Noah’s dad is anything but a lover of small wriggly, squishy creatures on account of the mini golf course he’s developed in his garden. So when Lottie and Noah burst in on his recreational activity in their search for minibeasts that might need rescuing, he’s far from pleased. Even less so when he’s flapped and buzzed by a bumblebee looking for a flower, of which there’s a distinct lack in the Parfitt garden.

Then to make matters much worse, Lottie’s insect attracting activities result in bees swarming in a tree in her garden that overhangs Mr Parfitt’s and he’s so furious he calls the pest exterminator.

Lottie’s mum calls a beekeeper who arrives almost simultaneously.

Now all Lottie has to do is to persuade Mr Parfitt to send the pest exterminator away and allow the bees to be collected and moved to a safe new hive.

Interspersed with Jane Clarke’s lively, humorous story are pages about insects, especially bees, from Lottie’s nature notebook

and some things readers can do (as well as notes of Noah’s whose interest lies elsewhere and who sees things through a different lens). In addition to the main narrative, this is a great way to get readers interested in the natural world and the delights it has to offer through first hand experiences.

With equally lively, humorous illustrations by James Brown this is a smashing book to foster curiosity about wildlife and the environment, either at home or school. Like their previous Lottie story, there’s plenty of parrot poop courtesy of macaw Nacho and Lottie’s energetic dog Einstein to add to the fun.

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy / Mermaid’s Rock: The Ice Giant

Here are two young fiction titles with ecological themes:

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy
Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown
Five Quills

I’d not met nature-obsessed Lottie Boffin in the Al’s Awesome Science series but was excited to make her acquaintance now in her very own-eco adventure series for young solo readers.

In a cleverly and carefully constructed story so that youngsters learn a lot about the natural world as they read, Jane and James include a wealth of information (verbal and visual) via such scrapbook pages,

activities and experiments about such things as ants, worms, the frog life cycle and other froggy facts, hydroponics, potential pond residents and visitors, and creating a wormery.

Lottie, inspired by her favourite wildlife TV show presenter, Samira Breeze, decides to make a pond in her back garden using an old dustbin lid, in the hope that frogs will come and inhabit it and perhaps, if she writes up and sends in her nature notes to the programme, she might even win the opportunity to be a presenter on ‘Every Little Thing’.

However, new next door neighbour, Mr Parfitt with his pristine fake grass putting green is definitely not going to be enthusiastic about Lottie’s plans and he’s far from happy about her pet parrot but maybe she can enlist the help of his son Noah who aspires to become an inventor and programmer of robots. That’s when he made sure that his dad’s back garden is totally minibeast free and it will help him keep fit.

With Mr Parfitt’s ant infestation (on a special cake for a special visitor) to contend with,

not to mention a lively dog, and a plethora of parrot poop, will Lottie succeed in her environmental enterprise?

I look forward to Lottie’s Bee adventure coming early next year. So too, I’m sure will newly independent readers who meet her in this first Lottie Loves Nature book.

Mermaid’s Rock: The Ice Giant
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger

There’s a decidedly chilly feel to the third Mermaid’s Rock adventure.

When Marina announces that she is to accompany her father to the Arctic so he can do his walrus research, her friend Kai is not happy. However Kai’s mum says she can stay with them so long as Marina’s father, Tarak, is agreeable. He is, and she does.

Before he leaves, Marina gives her father a bag of stones, each with an M on and he promises to keep in touch by dropping one each day through the whirlpool. In the meantime there’s the ‘most talented pet’ competition for Marina and her friends to think about.

On the sixth day of her father’s absence, when Marina goes to look for the stone, there isn’t one, nor the next day. Marina and her friends grab some necessary supplies and via the whirlpool, Operation Arctic Rescue is under way.

They soon discover that the ice has begun melting uncustomarily early, spelling danger. Can they find Tarak and get him to safety before it’s too late?

Newly independent readers, especially fans of the series will likely devour this story in a single sitting, enjoying Mirelle Ortega’s black and grey illustrations along the way, and afterwards can learn something about one of the important ecological issues our planet is facing.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

With the continuous stream of books about animals, it’s great to see this large format volume about plants.

There’s an absolute wealth of information packed between its covers with each spread focusing on a different aspect of plant life. The author, Martin Jenkins is highly adept at presenting complicated topics in such a way as to make them accessible and enjoyable for children. Having explained what a plant is, he includes information about such aspects of plant life as photosynthesis, the carbon cycle and reproduction.

There’s a spread on the functions of xylem and phloem (tissues I didn’t come across until I studied A-level botany).

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

so too are plant hormones, and climbing plants – those with twining stems, tendrils, clinging suckers or roots, and hooks.

Symbiosis and other plant interactions are explored, as are carnivorous plants – I’m always fascinated by these when I visit Kew Garden – and parasitic plants.

Sacred and Symbolic Plants talks about the many thousands of plants used as medicinal herbs and stimulants, provide spices, flavourings and perfumes or for ornamental purposes. I knew that the sacred lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism but was surprised to read that it was also revered in Ancient Egypt on account of the way its beautiful pure flowers emerge from unclean waters.

There’s a look at plant defences: I was fascinated to discover that there are plants with ‘spikes’ (needle-like crystals of calcium minerals called raphides) in their tissues that can penetrate the lining of an animal’s mouth and throat releasing poison into its bloodstream.

In fact no matter which spread you choose to read, you cannot  but be excited by the manner in which Jenkins and illustrator/print maker, James Brown present the botanical world. The latter’s full page illustrations, double spreads and borders are absolutely awesome.

This book provides wonderful insight into the wide and varied world of plants.

Jingle Spells / Meg’s Christmas

Jingle Spells
James Brown
Simon & Schuster

Unlike other witches, young Trixie is not excited at Halloween, it’s Christmas that she loves and she’s determined to show her fellow witches why.

Who better to help her in her mission to demonstrate that the magic of Christmas is the best of all than Santa himself?
Seemingly though witches have a bad reputation within the walls of Santa’s workshop so her letter receives a firm refusal from his head elf.

Determined to prove that she isn’t ‘naughty’, Trixie sets off to see Santa nonetheless.

What she discovers on arrival at the workshop isn’t the hustle and bustle she’d expected. Instead there’s a decided lack of toys on the elves’ shelves and worse still, it’s not only the elves who are suffering from bad colds, Santa too has succumbed to a very bad attack of the wheezes and sneezes.

Time to mix a special curative potion but will it work; in fact will the smitten even take so much as a sip of Trixie’s warming brew?

It appears to be the only way that Christmas can be saved …

A fun, elf-filled festive frolic featuring an endearing little miss who brings her own special brand of seasonal magic to the Christmas season: James Brown’s Trixie has an irresistible charm.

Meg’s Christmas
Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books

After all these years Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg, Mog and Owl star in their very first Christmas adventure and the magic still holds good.

When a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve flooding Meg’s residence, there’s only one thing to do and Meg does it: ‘Find us somewhere dry to stay but bring us home for Christmas Day!’ she chants.

Before you can say “magic spell” the broomstick whisks them up and away to …

Instead of hanging up their stockings in the comfort of their own home Meg, Mog and Owl do so in the very spooky room where they spend the night.

Come Christmas morning the three are anxious to be off to meet the friends they’ve invited to their Christmas party. Can they be ready in time for their guests? …

The magic of the threesome never wanes: this seasonal offering will be enjoyed by parents who loved the early Meg and Mog adventures, as well as by their young offspring coming new to the stories penned by David Walser.

Operation Bunny / Tally & Squill in a Sticky Situation

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Operation Bunny
Sally Gardner illustrated by David Roberts
Orion Children’s Books
Meet young Emily Vole, nine years old and, having been left abandoned in a hatbox believed to be ‘an explosive device’ at Stansted Airport, adopted by the Dashwoods, who subsequently had their own triplets. Emily is then relegated to the status of a servant and made to sleep on an ironing board in the laundry room. Fortunately for Emily however, kindly neighbour Miss String (a sort of fairy godmother figure) and her huge talking cat, Fidget, step in:

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(I was greatly amused to discover that Fidget liked nothing better than’ ironing while listening to cricket on the radio.’) and within a year, Emily has learned to read, write, do maths and speak both German and French, not to mention Old English. Not only that but her new friends introduce her to a whole new exciting life in a world of magic and danger, a world she’d never even dreamed about. But it’s Emily herself who inadvertently does something that results in her becoming the new Keeper of the Keys.
Subsequently Emily inherits a shop and, aided and abetted by Fidget and a pair of detectives, Buster – a grumpy individual, and James Cardwell – much more equable and sensible, turns detective herself and is determined to solve the mystery of Operation Bunny.
Sally Gardener’s writing style is delightfully quirky and contemporary: Mr Dashwood is a hedge fund manager and his wife has strawberry-blonde hair extensions and ‘trusted in her credit cards: silver, gold and platinum.’
This will make independent readers (not to mention adults) laugh out loud in places and David Roberts’ deliciously spiky illustrations are a real treat adding to the deliciousness of the whole experience. (That Harpella of his is enough to send shivers down your spine.)

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And, with Emily and her friends now running a detective agency, those who enjoy the slightly dark-edged humour in this can look forward to further cases of the magical kind.
The story would also make a great read aloud to share with those not yet confident to read it solo.

A servant girl is also the heroine of another new series, the first of which is:

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Tally & Squill In a Sticky Situation
Abie Longstaff illustrated by James Brown
Little Brown
This story features orphan and kitchen maid Tallulah (aka Tally) and her pet squirrel, Squill. Tally’s home is Mollett Manor, an old mansion; but she’s only to be found below stairs, so to speak in the scullery where she sleeps in a sink. However, Tally’s a very bright young thing and when she discovers first a plethora of spiders, some mysterious ancient carved cubes, an ancient tapestry and then a secret, magical library beneath the manor – a library wherein the books come to life, she’s in her element.
When Mollett Manor is burgled it offers a challenge to Tally who determines to catch the thieves; but can she do it? Well, she has Squill and those magic books …

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plus Lord Mollett’s endorsement, “You’re the most sensible person we have around here.” And what of those flashes of seeming recognition she keeps having: where do they fit in to all this?
Using plenty of short sentences, Abie Longstaff weaves a good tale; and this one’s likely to draw newly independent readers into its web and hold them spellbound throughout. There are touches of humour and James Brown’s illustrations plus the various lists, pages of rules,

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notes and other written items add to the fun of this magical book.

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