Grow

Grow
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.

Every Child a Song / Like the Moon Loves the Sky

Every Child a Song
Nicola Davies and Marc Martin
Wren & Rook

This book was written in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Sensitive and thought-provokingly Nicola Davies uses the idea of every child having a song to explore some of the things contained in the 54 rights that all children should have.

Easily understood, her beautiful words highlight the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to an education; the right to relax, play and participate in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities indoors and out, to be both an individual and part of a loving community.

Nicola’s is a song of love indeed and a vitally important one that reminds us all that there are still children whose access to these rights is limited by the chaos of hatred and war

yet still they are able to sing and to have their songs heard by people the entire world over.

Marc Martin’s illustrations don’t shy away from the darkness but the bright light of hope prevails as the final spreads show how by raising our collective voices we can make sure that ALL children, wherever they are, can sing their own song; a song that starts from the day they are born – a song of love, of joy and of freedom ‘–unique and tiny. Fragile. But never quite alone.’

Truly an inspiration to children everywhere.

Just now in the present difficult situation that are all share, think about what you can do at home with this book as your starting point.

Like the Moon Loves the Sky
Hena Khan and Saffa Khan
Chronicle Books

‘Inshallah you are all/ that is gentle and good // Inshallah you feel safe, / like all children should.’
These are the opening lines of Hena Khan’s lyrical text (each verse being based on a verse of the Quran) expressing new parents’ hopes for their tiny child to show gentleness, be safe, kind, reflective, to seek knowledge,

to stand strong, to embrace change and much more, prefacing each one with the “Inshallah” (in Arabic – if God wills it).
Debut illustrator Saffa Khan has created exquisite ink textured, digitally rendered scenes in rich, vibrant hues for every spread. I particularly like her carefully considered, inclusive one for ‘Inshallah you travel / to thrilling new places.’

Throughout, not only does she imbue the book with a sense of security, contentment and happiness, but also with hope and kindness, and feelings of awe and wonder,

perfectly complementing and extending the author’s over-arching tender, peaceful message of unconditional love.

This is a book that will resonate with people of all faiths and none, for as the author reminds us ‘Inshallah is used … to reflect the idea of a greater force or power beyond ourselves’.
Gorgeous!

Ariki and the Island of Wonders / Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds

Ariki and the Island of Wonders
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books

Nicola Davies’s sequel to Ariki and the Giant Shark is equally rooted in island life, the natural world and the Pacific Ocean.

Strong-minded Ariki and her good friend Ipo, who live on Turtle Island, ignore the advice of Ariki’s guardian to learn about wave behaviour from a bowl of water and set sail on Sea Beauty. “We’ll be in trouble, ” says Ipo as they discover the wind is rather stronger than expected and Ariki has to agree.

It isn’t long though before there’s a storm brewing and it’s impossible to turn back: the only option, they realise, is to let the storm blow them where it will.

After several days without food and virtually nothing to drink, they encounter a wounded whale that has become separated from its family, which the children help. The whale then assists them by towing them towards an unfamiliar island that looks like paradise.

On the island they meet a strange man calling himself Crusoe McRobinson and learn of a dangerous creature the man calls “Dog”. There are in fact a number of these ‘dogs’ lurking and because of them the other island residents – humans and animal – as well as the two children, are in jeopardy.

Is there anything Ariki can do and if so will the two friends ever get back safely to Turtle Island?

Zoologlist story weaver, Nicola Davies cleverly entertains and educates at the same time in this gripping tale. Her affinity with the natural world shines through in her narrative with its vivid description of wildlife showing the interconnectness of human beings and the natural world.

To add to the magical mix, Nicola Kinner’s black and white illustrations perfectly capture the relationship between the human characters and nature.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

Combining magic and wonder with facts about birds is this latest story in Anne Booth’s series of chapter books for young readers that began when its main protagonist, Maya was made keeper of a very special colouring book that could draw her into the Magical Kingdom of Birds.

The picture that appears to draw her to the Kingdom (where in addition to being a schoolgirl she is the Keeper of the Book) in this adventure is this one.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular kind of bird, songbirds from many parts of the world are featured; the reason being there’s to be a special singing gala so her friend Willow tells Maya. But can they really trust Willow’s wicked Uncle, Lord Astor, who claims to have become a reformed character wanting only to bring everyone together in friendship?

Of course not: he has set his sights on stealing the songs of all the participants in the event and using them for his own nefarious purposes.

Maya certainly has a big problem on her hands and she also has to face up to singing in her school concert if she succeeds in saving the songbirds.

Another exciting episode, with Rosie Butcher’s enchanting black and white illustrations, this is certain to excite Maya’s established fans and capture some new enthusiasts for the series too.
(The final pages contain fascinating facts on the real birds that inspired the story, plus fun things to make and do as well as additional information about the plight of endangered Indonesian songbirds).

Hummingbird

Hummingbird
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray
Walker Books

Nicola Davies is a champion of wildlife; and the creature she has chosen here is a tiny one, smaller than a thumb and lighter than a penny, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Using the framework of the loving relationship between a Mexican grandmother and her granddaughter, we experience the migration pattern of such birds that are soon to depart, bound for the north, perhaps as the grandmother tells the child, “they’ll visit you in New York City?”
Seated in her Grandmother’s lap, the girl is asked to “Keep still” as they proffer bowls of water to the birds; and come they do ‘Tz-unun! Tz-unun!’ flashing their feathers and beating their wings.

We then follow the birds’ migration route over several double spreads all the way from over the Gulf of Mexico,

through the USA and all the way to Canada. And there they set up home and later in the summer,

a little girl walking towards the park spies on the grassy verge, evidence of ‘a visitor from Granny’s garden’.

The days get shorter and it’s time once more for the hummingbirds to fly south though not all will make it safely to their destination. Granny however is anticipating their arrival as she sits in her garden reading a special letter from her granddaughter now far away, while in her lap is a tiny eggshell wrapped in cotton wool and a newspaper cutting telling of hummingbirds nesting in Central Park for the first time.

Jane Ray’s, stunning – as jewel-like as her subjects – detailed watercolour pictures almost vibrate with the Tz-unun! Tz-unun! of the hummingbirds’ wings, while tiny lines in her illustrations inject movement into the flight path of their long journey, 3000 kilometres northwards, and back.
Dropped into the spreads are such facts as what hummingbirds feed on; their nest size, and other details of their journey; and there’s a final page on which Nicola explains in detail how ornithologists have ringed and tracked hummingbirds over the years. I was intrigued to learn that they can live to be nine years old – incredible!

Altogether a fascinating book.

A Boy’s Best Friend / The Mountain Lamb

These are books five and six in Nicola and Cathy’s Country Tales short fiction series about young people growing up in a rural environment, published by Graffeg who kindly sent them for review.

A Boy’s Best Friend
The Mountain Lamb
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher

A Boy’s Best Friend starts with young Clinton reluctant to leave his tropical island home, his gran and his fisherman Uncle Cecil to join his mother in London where she’s lived for five years. He feels anxious about meeting his step-father, eager to meet new little sister and very unhappy at the prospect of having to leave behind his much loved dog, Rufus.

But leave the island he does arriving in England as spring approaches. At first, despite the family’s best efforts, he feels lost and as though all the light has been leeched from him in this chill, drear place called London.

Then comes news of a school trip by minibus to a castle in Kent and despite there not being the intended farm visit, Clinton joins the party. But when the minibus meets with an accident and ends up partly in a ditch, Clinton takes the opportunity to help an old man, David with his stampeding cows, scared by the crash.

From then on, despite being in big trouble at school and at home for running off after the accident, things start to look brighter for young Clinton who readily takes up the farmer’s subsequent offer to visit his farm and lend a hand.

Beautifully told and full of warmth, Nicola’s short tale of love, change and adjusting to a new life, will speak to everyone, especially those who have had to leave much of what they love to start a new life elsewhere. Cathy Fisher’s delicately worked black, white and grey illustrations further add to the atmosphere of the telling.

Young Lolly in The Mountain Lamb is faced with tremendous challenges too. Her mother has died and now Lolly lives on a sheep farm with her grandparents. It’s lambing time and up on the moor, she finds an orphaned baby lamb so small it fits inside the woolly hat she uses to carry it home.

Fearing that it won’t live through the night, Lolly is surprised to hear its tiny bleat next morning at breakfast time: seemingly the lamb wants feeding. Lolly decides to call it Susan after her mother.

Grandpa encourages the girl to take responsibility for rearing the little creature. She rapidly forms at attachment to it, knowing though that it will eventually have to become part of the flock.

After months of not leaving the farm and its surroundings, it’s time for Lolly to return to school but fog causes Gran to abort the journey and they go back to the farm.

Time passes with Lolly staying back rearing the lamb and helping her grandparents indoors and out. One day Susan goes missing and despite a blizzard, Lolly embarks on a perilous search. Is she to meet a fate similar to her mother whom we learn had died in an accident on a Himalayan climb?

Happily not, for her Gran is experienced in Mountain Rescue.

The lost lamb makes its own way safely back and finally Lolly returns to school after a long, hard but rewarding few months.

This tale of courage and love is potent and moving throughout; I couldn’t put it down.

The Secret of the Egg / Amazing Animal Babies

The Secret of the Egg
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron
Graffeg

What a cracking book this is; the first one I’ve seen in this series by zoologist, poet and author, Nicola Davies and illustrator Abbie Cameron.

Through a highly engaging rhyming narrative, Nicola introduces children to animal eggs of all shapes and sizes;

eggs that might be found in puddles or high in a tree; those you might have to dig for, or search in the sea or pond to discover. There are reptiles’ eggs, birds’ eggs, amphibians’ eggs, fishes’ eggs, even mammalian eggs.

With the exception of the platypus, none of the creatures featured are named so identifying whose eggs are whose is left to Abbie Cameron’s richly detailed, painterly pictures so adult assistance or some additional research may be needed.

This would make a great way to introduce a ‘new life’ topic to young children.

Amazing Animal Babies
Aina Bestard
Thames & Hudson

Animals large and animals small, from various parts of the world feature in Aina Bestard’s book.
Using as many as six intricately detailed transparent overlays the author/illustrator documents in words and aptly coloured visual images, how each animal produces and rears its young.

Herein readers will discover that the penguin parents, as well as the other members of a penguin colony play a part in the rearing of penguin chicks but it’s the Dad penguin that keeps the egg warm while Mum penguin goes off searching the ocean for food. After a chick is hatched however, both parents take turns to find food until their little one can care for itself.

In contrast, having found a safe place to lay her eggs, a mother tortoise leaves them alone to hatch and feed on the surrounding vegetation.

Once they’re laid it’s the father seahorse that takes care of the eggs inside his pouch, whereas with the kangaroo, the baby kangaroo is kept safe in its mother’s pouch.

The monarch butterfly and the common toad never meet their parents and grow up entirely on their own.

The final animal, the blue whale is reared on its mother’s milk, sometimes with the help of other whales.

The illustrations are exquisite and the narrative chatty: prepare to be amazed as you turn the pages of this fascinating book.

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 …