Our Time On Earth

Our Time On Earth
Lily Murray and Jesse Hodgson
Big Picture Press

Authors are always looking for new and exciting ways to look at animals and how they live. Here, starting with the very shortest and ending with the longest, Lily Murray explores lifespans throughout the animal kingdom. The award, if there were one, for the shortest living creature goes to the wonderful-looking mayfly, the lifespan of which can last anything from five minutes (an American species) to twenty four hours during which time the adult form sheds its skin a final time and a female, having mated lays her eggs and dies in the water whereas the male flies to ground close by and dies there. It’s incredible to think that mayflies have been on Earth for at least 300 million years.

I was surprised to discover that a worker honey bee born in springtime, lives for only five to seven weeks; what a huge amount she packs into that short time, changing her roles as she ages, details of which are given on the relevant double spread. In contrast Periodical cicadas, one of the longest-lived insects might live for as long as seventeen years going through five stages of development deep down where they suck the sap from roots until the soil is sufficiently warm for them to emerge from the ground. In their adult form though, cicadas live for a mere five or six weeks; how they can tell when their seventeen year lifespan has passed, not even entomologist know.

Moving on to some small mammals: both the opossum and the Etruscan shrew live between one and two years, due in part to them being hunted by hungry predators.

There are examples of reptiles, including the thought-to be extinct Galapagos Giant Tortoise, one of which was reported in the news this month as having been found alive,

as well as arachnids, molluscs, large mammals and with a life span of 11,000 years the longest living creature of all and found in the deep sea, the Glass Sponge.

With a wealth of exciting information, this gorgeous book is engagingly written by Lily Murray and beautifully and realistically illustrated by Jess Hodgson who places each animal in its natural habitat. A book to keep and a book to give; a book for home and a book for the classroom.

A Dress With Pockets

A Dress With Pockets
Lily Murray and Jenny Lovlie
Macmillan Children’s Books

Oh wow! Jenny Lovlie’s illustrations for this story are simply out of this world – every one of them is brimming with exquisite detail. Attention to detail is evident too in Lily Murray’s rhyming narrative; with its playful language it’s a brilliant read aloud.

Now without further ado let’s head over to the Fabulous Fashion Store where, on young Lucy’s birthday, she’s taken by her Aunt Augusta to choose a new dress. The shopkeeper brings out all manner of dresses: fancy ones, frilly ones, stripy ones, silly ones, sun dresses, fun dresses, blue dresses, green dresses and a host of others.
However, be they witchy, swirly-twirly-whirly, wispy-gauzy-floaty, or even twinkly, they don’t impress Lucy.

What she has in mind is something much more practical; something with places to accommodate the creepy crawlies, ‘fossils and flints and butterscotch mints,’ … with room ‘for skimming stones and mysterious bones’ and any other curious things that might take the fancy of this inquisitive child.

Can the shopkeeper come up with the dress of her dreams? He certainly has all the sales patter. Let’s just say that Aunt Agatha does make a purchase as we discover in the final reveal.

Gently whimsical and humorous, and underscored with a subtle feminist message, this is a joyous ‘read it again’ book and one that if shared with more than one child at a time, must be taken sufficiently slowly to allow for enjoying the wealth of detail and ongoing canine capers shown in every scene.

Chirp! / Five Little Chicks

Chirp!
Mary Murphy
Walker Books

As a new day begins, each bird adds its voice to the dawn chorus. The Thrush warbles, Blackbird whistles ‘Tooraloo’ and then in turn we hear a sequence of onomatopoeic contributions from the Wren, the Lark, the Finch,

the Robin, the Swallow, followed by Wagtails, a Starling, Magpies, the farmyard Goose, Duck and Hen, the Pigeon and the Cockerel.

Suddenly into the crescendo of early morning sound, from a tiny blue unnamed bird that’s been watching and waiting patiently, comes a “Hush! It’s my turn to sing.” It then adds a zippy-zippy-zippeeeeee that serves as a reminder that. ‘ … We all have something to say. / We all get to shout / for a brand new / day!’

As it is with our feathered friends, so it should be for humans: everyone deserves a chance to get his or her voice heard.
With its wealth of sounds that cry out to be echoed by little humans, this is a fun story with an important message at its heart. And what an abundance of sound/symbol associations to be enjoyed.

Five Little Chicks
Lily Murray and Holly Surplice
Templar Publishing

In Lily Murray’s version of the nursery song Five Little Ducks, she’s replaced the ducks with chicks and a Mama Hen and makes the entire text more interactive by asking after every foray over the hills, ‘Now how many chicks / can you see?’, as well as offering some seemingly irresistible bait to her offspring. It certainly has the desired effect and there’s a lovely final surprise for Mama Chick provided by her little ones.

Holly Surplice has included lots of other baby animals and their parents in her springtime illustrations of the chickens and their adventure that takes them through a flower-filled meadow, a bluebell wood, a field of gambolling lambs, a farmyard and beside the stream.

Every one of the scenes is absolutely bursting with bold images and bright colour; and ramping up the interactive nature of the book are the numerous flaps to explore on every spread.

Little humans will definitely enjoy sharing this with their own mother figures, particularly around Mother’s Day and Easter, though this is a book that youngsters will want to go back to time and again. With it’s predictable text it’s also a good one for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves.

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure / Jungle Adventure and I’m the Bus Driver / I’m the Tractor Driver

Let’s Tell a Story!: Pirate Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Stef Murphy
Let’s Tell a Story!: Jungle Adventure
Lily Murray illustrated by Essi Kimpimaki
Wide Eyed Editions

These books offer a way into those choose-your-own-adventure fiction series for solo readers as well as story making. They would have been especially useful during the periods of lockdown and school closures in the past couple of years when youngsters were stuck indoors much of the time and adults often struggled with home schooling. However they can act as fun prompts for story telling or writing at any time.
Each has an introductory spread telling how the book works and then follow fourteen pictorial spreads each one offering lots of options such as: Which hero will you be?; Which clothes will you dress in? What will be your destination? Why are you going? Who will accompany you? How will you get there? What will you take? There are potential disasters in the form of enemies who appear with ‘dastardly’ plans,

and finally, ways to end your chosen story. And, there’s a penguin that keeps appearing in both books adding a search and find element.
It’s possible to have fun creating hundreds of different stories though I suspect in the pirate adventure, some children (as well as this adult reviewer) would find the female characters somewhat stereotypical. On the other hand a hijabi doctor is a welcome possibility: indeed the crew members choice spread is definitely inclusive.

There’s a wealth of learning potential in these imagination sparkers be that at home or in the classroom.

I’m The Bus Driver
I’m The Tractor Driver

David Semple and Kate Woolley
Oxford Children’s Books

If you watch youngsters playing you might well catch sight of a child pretending to be a bus driver among them. Now with the first of these books they’ve got the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of bus number 4 on its 8am morning journey that takes among others children going to school and other passengers off to work or the shops.

In the second title, little ones can try their hand at driving a tractor down on the farm. It’s definitely an eventful day in the driver’s cab with Scally the sheepdog for company: the cows need their breakfast, there are empty barrels to collect from the barn, as well as a hay baler that has got stuck in the mud and needs assistance.
The bright stylised illustrations provide opportunities for colour and shape recognition, and simple counting in these interactive books for the very young.

Love is … / Sometimes I feel …

Love is …
Sarah Maycock and Lily Murray
Sometimes I feel …
Sarah Maycock
Big Picture Press

In the first book, using a variety of creatures great and small, furred, 

feathered or smooth and leathery, author Lily Murray and illustrator Sarah Maycock explore some of the myriad ways that we can experience love, both feeling it and giving it.

In each example, figurative language ‘Love is / BEAUTIFUL / like the sanctuary / a bowerbird builds for its mate -/ adorned with treasures.’ … – ‘love’s beauty comes / in many forms … / … a simple song, / a colourful dance, / a loving face’, and gorgeous painterly images extend across two double spreads whereon the artist makes use of vibrant hues and monochrome colour to great effect.

Having met a host of members of the animal kingdom the final spreads make the assertion ‘Love is a POWERFUL THING, / For with love … / We can do / ANYTHING.’

What better words to give a loved one: this large format book would send a powerful message to its recipient.

Presented in a small format, again using animal similes is Sometimes I feel … which looks at emotions. 

At the end of the book, in a note the artist explains that this had its origins as a project in her final year at university. She wanted to explore the ‘universal nature of animals and how we can relate them to our own (human) experiences and characteristics. She spent a considerable time studying animals both in zoos and in natural history documentaries on TV and as she painted it seemed that like us, wild animals display a gamut of complex emotional responses. Some of these she captures in this superbly executed series of watercolour and ink paintings.

A little book that offers children an unusual starting point for exploring their own feelings and emotions and those of others.

Beneath the Waves

Beneath the Waves
Helen Ahpornsiri and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Ocean life is a relatively popular STEM topic for authors/illustrators but if you are looking for a book with that extra wow factor then Helen Ahpornsiri’s Beneath the Waves has just that.

In four chapters we visit various watery locations – Coast,

Tropics, Open Ocean and Polar Waters

and for each one Helen has collected the natural materials to press and then create magnificent, intricately designed collage illustrations of the weird and wonderful creatures that live in the four habitats.

Sometimes books that are so beautifully illustrated as Helen’s are let down by a mediocre text, not so this one though. Lily Murray’s text is highly engaging and informative with each topic or marine animal being given two, or sometimes three paragraphs that include facts relating to size, feeding habits, breeding and more.

So for instance we read of sea krait ‘… Large lungs mean it can stay underwater for up to two hours at a time, and its flattened tail works like a paddle, powering the snake through the water. When the sea krait finds its prey, (eels) it strikes with deadly venom, swallowing it whole.’ Fascinating indeed.

With its clever fusion of art and science, this is a superb STEAM book that will delight and inform readers of a wide age range. I can envisage a fair number of them collecting a variety of flora and getting creative themselves.
It’s definitely one to add to your home bookshelves and to school collections, both primary and secondary.

There are Bugs Everywhere

There are Bugs Everywhere
Lily Murray and Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press

The title of this book proved all too true for this reviewer – an elephant hawk moth caterpillar crawled past my foot as I sat outside my favourite café this morning. This insect …

is one of over 100 ‘bugs’ Britta Teckentrup has illustrated in this colourful and fascinating book.

The term bugs is here used as a catchall to include six legged insects, eight legged arachnids and multi legged myriapods and collectively there are, we’re told, millions of different species.
With spreads devoted to bug anatomy,

feeding habits, survival techniques, social insects, the life cycle of the Madagascan Sunset moth and much more, there is a mine of information for the curious reader.

Did you know that Chan’s megastick which inhabits the Borneo rainforest is the largest bug in the world, growing up to 56cm.

There’s even a ‘can you find?’ challenge posed on the final end paper to track down the golden tortoise beetle from North America hidden somewhere in the book. This will surely encourage further close perusal of every one of Britta’s already inviting spreads.

Once Upon A Magic Book

Once Upon A Magic Book
Lily Murray and Katie Hickey
Lincoln Children’s Books

Entering out of the rain a toyshop that seems to have appeared from nowhere, best friends Sophie and Jack embark on an adventure that takes them, once they’ve located and turned the golden key, through the pages of a purple book.
Their journey takes them to all kinds of locations: a fairytale forest wherein a wicked witch might be lurking; a pirate island;

a city they reach on a flying carpet and a frozen mountainous region where the witch is at work on an avalanche-creating spell.
From there it’s on to a medieval castle where Sophie falls under that witch’s spell; then they dive beneath the sea to an underwater world.

The next magic door leads them to a jungle city from where they enter the land of sweets before stepping back in time to a cobbled city wherein the witch has let loose animals from a zoo.

At the fairground an old woman tempts Sophie with an apple and they spot a familiar-looking cottage.

Surely they haven’t been tricked by that wicked witch after all that? They’d better hurry up and find, with readers’ help, all the vital ingredients that will enable them to escape her clutches.

Intricately detailed illustrations of the various locations from debut picture book artist Katie Hickey, together with a story that draws readers in from the very start and holds them spellbound through to the final spread with so many items to search for and clues to solve, it will be a considerable time before not only Jack and Sophie, but those accompanying them on their journey, finally emerge from its pages.

The People Awards

The People Awards
Lily Murray and Ana Albero
Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s yet another book celebrating people whose achievements have made a significant contribution towards making the world a better place. This one however, unlike many of the other recent titles, includes both women and men.

It contains a lot of information served up in digestible portions about a wide variety of people from all over the globe and through history, from Sappho (a creativity award winner) to Malala Yousafzai, Pakastani human rights activist and youngest Nobel Prize winner (2014).

In total there are 50 awardees, twenty-nine winners who have been allocated an individual award and who each have a double spread devoted to them. These include Trischa Zorn, blind, Paralympic swimmer who won seven gold medals; she gets the Amazing Athlete Award;

Olaudah Equiano from Nigeria who wins The Kidnapped Hero Award;

David Bowie gets The Express Yourself Award; Frida Kahlo has The Painting Through Pain Award, my all time hero, Nelson Mandela wins The Fight For Freedom Award, creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee has ‘The Dot Com Award and – as a teacher/ educator, I have to mention Maria Montessori, who promoted learning through play and gets The Children’s Champion Award.

Then there are a further five awards categories: The Trailblazer Awards given to four people;

The Brilliant Ideas Award has four winners; The Creativity Awards: these go to a further four – Mozart, Gaudi, Sappho and Hans Christian Andersen; Bravery Awards are made to Antónia Rodrigues, Rigoberta Menchú, Muhammad Ali, Simón Bolivar and Rosa Parks; Inspiration Award winners are Ana Nzinga, Donald Bradman, Eva Perón and Joan of Arc.

There is SO much to like about Lily Murray (author) and Ana Albero, (illustrator)’s collaboration – the range of winners, the imaginative presentation, the names of the awards, the final Lap of Honour time line whereon all the winners take a bow; and I absolutely love the illustrative style and Ana Alberos’ chosen colour palette.

Hello Hot Dog!

Hello Hot Dog!
Lily Murray and Jarvis
Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s been a fair sprinkling of food-centred picture books of late – pizza and sausages immediately spring to mind and now comes this tasty offering which takes the form of a conversation seemingly between a busy bee and an indolent hot dog.

We first encounter the latter as it languishes on some “comfy bread, with some corn and a couple of fries” apparently totally oblivious of the approaching ketchup bottle nozzle.

Suddenly as splodges of the red stuff splatter in his direction the lazybones realises what his fate is, at any second, to be. It’s time to ‘Run, Hot Dog, run!’.

Lack of limbs forces the fellow to come up with a somewhat complicated escape plan only to realise almost immediately that triple backflips are not his forte and that his demise is looming ever closer …

As a set of human gnashers close over the bun Hot Dog makes a desperate roll, extricating himself from the bread and flying through the air…

Freedom at last or dog’s dinner? Which is it to be?

Totally ridiculous but this will make you splutter with delight – it’s certainly been the case with every one of my readers, along with cries of AGAIN!

With its spare conversational text and hilarious Jarvis illustrations, in addition to being a terrific read aloud, this is a great book to share with those in the early stages of reading, with the adult acting as Hot Dog and the child as his aid to escape.

Dinosaurium

Dinosaurium
Chris Wormell and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Dinosaur books seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. This one is the latest in the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series that includes Botanicum and Animalium, and, illustrated by Chris Wormell, it’s truly awesome: serious stuff in fact.
Like others in the series, the whole thing is presented as a museum, the author and illustrator being billed as its curators and the chapters, after the ‘Entrance’ that houses an extremely useful dinosaur evolutionary tree, as a series of galleries, six in all with a final index, some information about the book’s curators and a list of further sources should readers want to learn more.
Gallery 1 is Sauropodomorpha. Don’t worry, the meaning of this is explained at the outset. Every spread has a large full-colour plate, which even has a numbered key in addition to the informative paragraphs relating to what is shown in the plate. I should mention here that these are splendid digital engravings, each illustration being in predominantly earthy tones.

The galleries proceed through Theropoda, Ornithopoda, Thyreophora, (these include the well-known to children, Stegosauria and Ankylosauria);

then on to Marginocephalia and to the final ‘Non-Dinosaurs’, which includes petrosaurs, marine repliles, Mesozoic mammals and lastly, survivors; (those that escaped the catastrophe that wiped out the ‘non-bird dinosaurs’).
Going back to Maginocephalia, take a look at this stunning plate of Diabloceratops eatoni (yes the full scientific name is given).

This creature from the late cretaceous era is thought to have been a primitive ancestor of Triceratops and would, so we’re told, have used its beaked mouth to feed on low-growing plants in areas covered by lakes, floodplains and rivers.
In addition to the amazing exhibits of the galleries, each gallery is prefaced with a beautiful botanical plate featuring an original wood-cut of typical plants from the age of the dinosaurs featured.
A short review doesn’t really do justice to this outstanding book: it’s perhaps not, despite the ‘Admit All’ on the front cover ticket, for the very youngest dinosaur discoverers; although once any child has been inside, it’s likely to be a place that they’ll want to return to over and over, gradually taking in more of Lily Murray’s detailed text,  from each visit, perhaps early on, sharing their ticket with an adult who, I’m sure, will be more than willing to act as a guide.