Everything Under the Sun

Everything Under the Sun
Molly Oldfield
Ladybird Books

This is an exciting compendium of 366 questions (one for every day of the year plus 1 for a leap year) posed by inquisitive children from all over the world, that has its origins in the podcast from Molly Oldfield aka QI Elf.

Written contributions, some factual responses others opinion-based, come from a wealth of experts such as scientists, authors, poets, politicians, conservationists and the twelve illustrators who provided the visuals. Interestingly Rob Biddulph gives an answer (as does author Abi Eplhinstone) to “Where do ideas come from?” but he isn’t among those illustrators (Laurie Stansfield did the art for that one); neither is Oliver Jeffers who responds to “Why do people make art?” I particularly love this part of Rob’s reply, probably because he endorses my feelings: “… My children are a really good source for my ideas. They are big readers, and they have really vivid imaginations! And no idea is too silly!”

Some of the spreads have a theme, for instance there’s one with four wild animal questions, three relating to big cats, the other being “What noise does a zebra make?” Another has three penguin questions.

Others devote a double spread to a single question “Why do butterflies have patterns on their wings” being one for August.

There’s a splendid illustration of an owl around which a question of head rotation is discussed.

On a completely different topic, Nick Ross explains why the Tower of Pisa is leaning.

Not something this reviewer has ever considered but I was interested to learn why nonetheless. That’s another way this book works. You can just dip in randomly and discover something that perhaps you didn’t know before and no matter your particular interests, you’re pretty sure to come upon something illuminating.

Or you might have a question binge and spend hours browsing and you could formulate a few questions of your own. I wondered why there are relatively few ‘where?’ questions compared with those asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ and it’s great to see such a wide age range of inquiring children (2-18) included as the source of the questions.

I’d strongly recommend both families and primary schools adding this engrossing book to their shelves.

Timelines From Black History

Timelines from Black History
Dorling Kindersley
illustrated by Lauren Quinn

In her foreword to this powerful and important book, Mireille Harper states, ‘Black history has been overlooked and minimised in every area of society, and even worse often erased. Yet, the contributions of Black people to society influence every part of how we live, from the art and culture we consume,

to the rights we have.’ How true and how shameful that our society has allowed the continuing hostility, racism and discrimination to continue; thank goodness then for the Black Lives Matter movement and for all the awesome people featured and celebrated in this book. Now more than ever it’s time for change and we can all be a part of that change.

What an absolute wealth of information is packed between the covers of this inspiring book that features both the people and the vital events that have shaped and embody, Black History.

We start right back at the origins of the human race with information explaining how the whole human story began in Africa and the journey takes us from this prehistory through to modern times.

Did you know for example that, thanks to the exceptionally brave empress, Taytu Betul, Ethopia was one of only two African countries not colonised? Or that inventor, engineer and writer, Lewis Howard Latimer invented and patented a carbon filament that allows a light bulb to last much longer than did the paper one used in Edison’s design? (That was something I learned from this book).

There are more than thirty visual biographical timelines that present writers, scientists, activists, royalty, singers and musicians, sportsmen and sportswomen some famous, others less so, as well as those explaining the experiences of black people in the United States and in Africa through to post-colonial times. You can find out about some of the achievements of ancient African kingdoms as well as those of the Civil Rights movement in the United States including the father of that movement, Frederick Douglass. Some of my all-time heroes such as Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama

and Wangari Maathai are included.

This is a book that should be used in all KS2 classrooms and secondary school history departments.

Climate Emergency Atlas

Climate Emergency Atlas
Dan Hooke et al.
DK (Penguin Random House)

There is no getting away from it: Planet Earth is facing a horrifying climate emergency and we humans have only a few years in which to act before the destruction we are wreaking is irreparable.

Divided into four sections, it’s first explained to readers How Earth’s climate works, this is followed by a look at the causes of climate change; then comes the impacts of climate change. This part really is a wake-up call with pages such as those on the Burning of fossil fuels (though it’s good to read that Germany’s emissions of greenhouse gases have decreased over the last 30 years).

We also see the effects of extreme weather in both humans and the natural world where sea levels are rising, and with the oceans getting warmer there’s devastating coral bleaching and danger to enormous numbers of marine fauna and flora.

There’s a spread on the Australian bushfires, another looking at and locating endangered ecosystems the world over, while Livelihoods in peril explores the impact of climate change on countless numbers of people who are forced to leave their homes on account of storms, drought, rising sea levels and fires.

The final section, Action on climate change, demonstrates that there is much we can do to halt this catastrophic climate change, stressing that we have to act quickly to cut greenhouse emissions, not only at a government level but also as individual humans. We can all play our part by becoming activists, changing to diets that help reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, (there’s a Planet-friendly eating spread) by recycling and reusing rather than buying new unnecessarily, by planting more trees (the right kinds) and much more.

I was awed by reading about what the city of Copenhagen has done and is doing as part of it mission to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. The book ends with a look at how by saving energy, growing green, and other acts we can all play our part. All is not lost; it’s both our individual and our collective responsibility; with a foreword by environmental scientist, Liz Bonnin, this book is surely another rallying cry to ACT and keep on acting today, tomorrow and every day …

Both primary and secondary schools need at least one copy.

The Secret Explorers

The Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision
The Secret Explorers and the Lost Whale
The Secret Explorers and the Tomb Robbers
The Secret Explorers and the Jurassic Rescue

S J King, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea
DK (Penguin Random House)

These four books, ideal for newly independent readers, feature seven children from different parts of the world, each with a special interest and expertise in a particular STEAM subject. Whenever their help is required, they receive a signal alerting them that they’re needed for a mission.
In The Comet Collision it’s space expert Roshni with Ollie (his expertise is the rainforest) who are called to the Exploration Station to undertake a mission and it’s truly out of this world. Tasked with fixing the space probe that’s orbiting Jupiter before it’s hit by a comet in less than two hours, the chosen two whizz off in a spaceship leaving the other team members to monitor the mission and communicate via control monitors. As the clock ticks Roshni prepares to undertake her first spacewalk – but that is only part of the story …

With a South Pacific Ocean setting, The Lost Whale sees Connor (marine expert) teamed with Roshni, a seeming unlikely partner but as in all the stories, the role of the less expected one is revealed during the course of the mission. Connor and Roshni set out in a submarine in an attempt to save a pod of humpback whales that have lost their way by steering them back onto the right track. However, those whales need air every 45 minutes and there are lots of boats in the waters likely to make things difficult. And difficult it soon is particularly when one of the whale calves gets separated from the pod. Will the Secret Explorers’ mission end in success?

Once again there’s plenty of action (love the rap) and a wealth of information is given in the course of the story – here it relates to marine life, threats to ocean ecology and climate change; and like the other books, after the story are further facts and diagrams relating to the themes, plus a quiz and a glossary.

It’s Gustavo with his expertise in history and engineering expert Kiki who pool their skills in The Tomb Robbers adventure. They find themselves travelling back in time to ancient Egypt on a mission to save the Cairo museum in their own time from having to close on account of lack of treasures to attract sufficient visitors. That entails preventing tomb robbers from plundering the Great Pyramid for artefacts. As ever teamwork is key though it’s not easy for Kiki and Gustavo to work out who is and who isn’t to be trusted. This time, readers will learn a fair bit about life in ancient Egypt during and after the story.

Paleontology expert Tamiko, together with geology expert Cheng already have a fair bit in common and it’s they who undertake The Jurassic Rescue, going back in time 150 million years. There’s a precious Archaeopteryx egg to be rescued but in order to do so the two must hold off a group of predatory allosauruses. What with an earthquake, a landslide and the unexpected hatching of that egg, things are anything but easy, especially as so another of the team informs them, if they look too long at the hatchling, it might think Cheng and Tamiko are its parents. Will they ever manage to reunite it with its mother?

Dinosaur addicts in particular will love this one and enjoy the relevant back matter after the exciting adventure.

If you know or teach readers who are starting out on chapter books and like a good, well-illustrated story but want some facts too, then this series is a great starting point.

Action and Reaction: Fish / Yawn

Brendan Kearney
Dorling Kindersley Penguin Random House

Softly spoken yes, but, inspired by personal experience, Brendan Kearney’s picture book about the perils of polluting the ocean with plastic, and how we can all help to improve the situation for the endangered fish and other marine flora and fauna is clear and to the point.

Finn and his dog Skip set out one morning in their little boat, hoping to catch a tasty fish or two for their supper.

After a while when not a single fish has given so much as a tug at Finn’s line, Skip spies something in the waves. Down to the depths he swims and the sight that meets his eyes is horrifying.

Rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. Back to show Finn with some evidence he goes.

Equally concerned, the man goes on fishing for a while but before long all he has on board is a collection of weird objects.

Fortunately, once back on dry land the two encounter a group of young beach cleaners who are equally alarmed at the load of rubbish brought out of the sea.

Finn explains how he came by it and about the complete lack of fish. What follows are a number of pertinent comments from the young eco-warriors and the following day Finn heeds their words – re-use and recycle – and goes on to join the beach cleaners.

With his engaging narrative, visual and verbal – Brendan Kearney focuses on the crucial environmental issues in the hope – his, mine and countless others – that young children will become part of the movement to clean up our polluted oceans and beaches and of course, it’s never to soon to teach them about the importance of recycling.

Patricia Hegarty and Teresa Bellón
Little Tiger

A yawn can be highly infectious as this fun story shows.
Starting with a single feeling from deep inside the little boy narrator, a single yawn quickly becomes unstoppable, passing from the boy to all – every neighbourhood inhabitant, human and animal, until the entire street have gaping mouths.

From here it moves to the countryside and eventually all over the world, not content until every single person and every single creature has the yawns. It even heads off out into space

– it’s ‘gone viral ‘we read. Does that remind you of anything?

Fortunately though, on this occasion the outcome is that when bedtime comes, so does a great big YAAAAAAWN! to send us off into the land of slumbers.
Happy dreams.

It’s is definitely a book to share at bedtime unless that is you want to induce sleepiness at some other time in your home or classroom. Patricia’s rhyming narrative has that soporific feel to it, and if you happen to pause just a little too long on any of Teresa Bellon’s spreads (love those cutaway pages) to enjoy all the funky details, you might just find yourself the next recipient of that repeat refrain ‘YAAAAAAWN! Pass it on!’ Snore …

Ten Minutes to Bed Little Unicorn

Ten Minutes to Bed Little Unicorn
Rhiannon Fielding and Chris Chatterton
Ladybird Books (Penguin Random House)

I must admit having seen it’s sparkly cover with that pink hued unicorn I didn’t want to like this book but having had children’s responses to it, and shared it one to one with several individuals, I’ve changed my mind.

Essentially it’s a tale about a spirited little unicorn named Twinkle who, like many young humans, does all she can to resist her dad’s “Ten minutes to bed!” warning.

Thus begins a countdown as the lively, far from tired unicorn, begins frisking through the forest, dancing and prancing, chasing the little creatures in the first three minutes and then she discovers a trail of footprints. Footprints that lead first to the sighting of a huge hairy troll,

then this being flashing across the sky, as well as the star.

Be honest, what would you do in that situation?

The problem is with four minutes left, Twinkle is, she realises, lost. There’s just one thing to do to get herself back in time, but will it work? Will she get home and if so, will she do so before the ten minutes expire? Remember, this is a magical story so …

With its rhyming text that reads aloud well, Rhiannon Fielding’s story works nicely as a bedtime tale, but equally as a shared read with a nursery group, or as an individual supported read for someone just gaining confidence as a reader of texts other than the boring schemes schools offer. Its predictable, patterned counting down nature and Chris Chatterton’s child-appealing, other worldly illustrations that also help when it comes to predicting the words coming next, contribute to its relative ease of reading. How magical is it for a six year old to be able to say, “I read that myself” like the little girl in the photo.

Alesha was over the moon to be  able to read this story herself.

Don’t forget to explore the Land of Nod maps back and front, one is a daytime landscape,

the other shows the same panorama at night. There’s a great deal of potential in those alone for further exploration and perhaps 3D map making, especially if you happen to have a little toy unicorn.

She Persisted Around the World

She Persisted Around the World
Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger
Penguin Random House

There’s been a plethora of books about amazing women and their achievements this year – unsurprising since we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1918 suffrage act; now here’s another, this time written by Chelsea Clinton.
The author has selected just thirteen women from various parts of the world who have changed history. ‘It’s not easy being a girl – anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places,’ she says but goes on to tell girls, ‘Don’t listen to those voices.’

Persistence is the key and that’s what all the women herein did; ‘She persisted’ being the catch phrase that comes up in each of the short biographical descriptions of each of her subjects.

Clinton has arranged her book in birth order of those included, the first woman being Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a largely self-taught Mexican author and philosopher who lived in the latter half of the 17th century and the youngest being Malala Yousafzai. She too persisted in the cause of education, and for girls everywhere to have the right to go to school.

Education was not the only cause her subjects fought for however: there were significant contributions in the fields of astronomy (Caroline Herschel), women’s suffrage – new Zealander, Kate Sheppard;

chemistry – double Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie; Viola Desmond, who refused to leave the ‘only white Canadians’ part of the cinema she was visiting; medicine is represented by Mary Verghese, a young Indian doctor who when injured in a car accident that made her unable to walk, began to focus on rehabilitation.

Unfamiliar to me are Aisha Rateb who worked in the field of law in Egypt and Wangari Maathai an environmentalist, political activist and university professor in Nairobi.

Familiar contemporary women in addition to Malala are author, J.K.Rowling, Brazilian soccer star, ‘Sissi’, Liberian peace activitist Leymah Gbowee and Chinese ballet dancer Yuan Yuan Tan.

There is a formula that Clinton uses for each of her subjects each one being allocated a double spread with a paragraph outlining the dream and the challenges faced, followed by the woman’s persistence and achievements.

Beautiful watercolour and ink portraits by Alexander Boiger, every one executed in a carefully chosen colour palette, grace each double spread, and there is also an inspirational quote from each woman.

The book ends with the author empowering her young audience thus: ‘So, speak up, rise up, dream big. These women did that and more. They persisted and so should you.’
Brief, yes, but also diverse, inspiring, and a good starting point to find out more about some of those included.

The Last Wolf

The Last Wolf
Mini Grey
Jonathan Cape

One of this blog’s very favourite stories – the fairy tale from which its name derives in fact – Little Red Riding Hood is wonderfully re-imagined by the fabulous Mini Grey who gives it an ecological twist.

When Little Red dons her hunting gear and armed with popgun and lunch box, sets off into the forest ‘to catch a wolf” her Mum is far from worried; after all it’s been over a century since the last wolf sighting.

Appearances are deceptive however and her initial stalking activities yield only a rubbish bag and a tree stump …

so deeper into the forest our little hunter determinedly goes until she comes upon a door in an enormous tree trunk.
Eventually the door is opened by none other than the Last Wolf in the land.

Within Red discovers a cosy cave that is home not only to the Last Wolf but also the Last Bear and the Last Lynx.

Intrigued by this “human child” the wolf invites Red in for some tea. Red is equally intrigued to learn that the wolf and his pals have acquired the tea drinking habit and over a nice cuppa, they reminisce about the good old days when the forest was extensive and full of delicious things to eat, in stark contrast to the present parlous state.

Seeing the hungry look in the eyes of her hosts, Red decides to share her lunch and as the animals set about devouring the offerings – a hard-boiled egg, a sausage roll and a chicken sandwich – she chomps on her apple and ponders upon their plight and how best she might help them.

Once home, and yes her new friends do see her safely through the Last Woods to her front door, Red and her mum set about project reforestation.

In this ecological fable Mini Grey chooses her words for maximum effect (‘whooling noises and grabby twigs’ and ‘’a thousand tasty grazing beasts to bite …’) though her illustrations to do much of the story telling. And what a powerful impact they have especially this one …

Altogether a terrific book and one that listeners will demand over and over as they are swept along by the drama and flow of Mini Grey’s pictorial sequences: the way she expands the story-telling potential of each spread is genius.
There are witty literary allusions for adults to enjoy too in the portraits displayed on the tree-cave walls.
Absolutely unmissable!

Very Little Rapunzel / Big Little Hippo

Very Little Rapunzel
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
Picture Corgi
Meet Very Little Rapunzel, star of the fourth of the Very Little fairy tale series. She is, so her mum insists in need of a haircut but refuses to visit the hairdresser’s. New hairstyles are tried but none can curb the abundance of her unruly tresses and in a paddy, the little miss hurls her Big Box of Hair Things out of the tower right down to where a Very Little Prince happens to be standing.
Rapunzel lowers her hair at his request and up climbs the prince to play with her. Before you can say itch, both Prince and Rapunzel are scratching furiously and are discovered to have nits.
Treatment ensues with lots and lots … of combing …

complaining, washing and sploshing …

until a certain Very Little miss wilful has a change of heart. She grabs the scissors and …

which leaves her playmate rather stranded, but not for too long. Thanks to some imaginative hair styling, an escape route and more is fashioned by the teasy weezy trio culminating in fun and games for all.
With that disarming smile and spirit of independence, Very Little Rapunzel is set to charm her way into the affections of a whole host of very little listeners.

Big Little Hippo
Valeri Gorbachev
The smallest of his family and much smaller than big old Crocodile, very tall Giraffe and giant Elephant,

Little Hippo is far from happy with his lack of stature. His mother’s assurances that he’ll eventually be big like his parents offer no comfort as he wanders among huge trees and tall grasses feeling like the smallest creature in the entire world. Until that is he comes upon a tiny beetle struggling to turn itself the right way up. Little Hippo rescues the creature …

and the words of thanks from its family, “Thank you, Big Hippo!” truly make his day and more importantly change the way he sees himself. “I’m big now!” he announces as he rushes, full of new-found confidence, to tell his mother, passing on the way, all those animals whose largeness had previously made him feel so insignificant.
Proud of his deed of kindness, she renames him “Big Little Hippo”, which is just perfect.
Perspective and scale are effectively and playfully used in Gorbachev’s ink and watercolour scenes of Little Hippo and the other jungle animals in this sweet tale of finding where you fit in the world.

I’ve signed the charter