Pets and Their Famous Humans

Pets and Their Famous Humans
Ana Gallo and Katherine Quinn

All kinds of people keep pets. Now here’s a rather quirky book that will appeal to pet lovers and those with an interest in famous people especially.

Author, Ana Gallo, introduces us to the pets of 20 artists, authors, scientists and the odd fashion designer.

Some were the conventional kind of pets such as cats and dogs.
Virginia Woolf for instance was a dog lover, her most famous pooch being her pedigree cocker spaniel, Pinka, given to her by fellow author, Vita Sackville West. Pinka even played a significant part in one of Virginia’s books.

Another dog lover was Sigmund Freud about whom we learn a fair amount alongside finding out about his helper in his treatment room for seven years, red coated chow chow, Jofi.

Other pets were rather more unlikely. Take the two crocodiles that Dorothy Parker kept in her bath; or Grip the talking raven owned by Charles Dickens. Thanks to his sons Grip became a leading character in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, the bird was also the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven.

Did you know that one of artist Frida Kahlo’s most loved pets was her fawn Granizo that appeared in two of her most famous paintings, once as a little fawn and then six years later as a fully grown animal in The Wounded Deer.

Each entry has a full page illustration of pet and owner by Katherine Quinn, opposite which is a page of biographic information headed by a small picture of the relevant pet or pets.

A fascinating and novel way of bringing the humans to life for primary age readers.

The Book of Time

The Book of Time
Kathrin Köller and Irmela Schautz

To say that this fiction/picture book obsessed reviewer spent hours engrossed in this captivating factual book, rather than reading a story, would say that it’s definitely worth getting hold of a copy.

After its introductory page entitled ‘Time! What Is It?’ there are four main sections in this look at the hows and whys of thinking about time.

The first deals with the philosophical aspects: here we meet Chronos, the god of time as well as a number of other mythological deities and creatures. The cyclical nature of time in some cultures is considered as is the notion of living in the here and now – that immediately brought to my mind the opening lines of TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton, “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past. / If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.”
How many of us have actually stopped to consider what he really meant in the 1930s when he wrote those profound lines?

Another section that immediately caught my interest was ‘Birds, Bees and Bloom’ that looks at how certain animals appear to have a precise internal clock that tells them when it’s time to hunt for their food, to seek a mate, to migrate, pollinate and hibernate. Did you know that Hummingbirds are able to remember the precise time a flower produces fresh nectar? How incredible is that?
Flowers too have specific times for blooming (although global warming seems to be playing havoc here) so that their pollinators don’t have to pollinate them all at once. In this respect, through careful observations, Carl Linnaeus developed a flower clock.

The other three sections – Around the Year, Around the Day and Travels Through Time are equally interesting. Readers can find out how studying latitude and longitude are related to clocks;

take a look at some of the weird and wonderful clock designs, and ponder upon time travel and consider other fascinating chronos concepts.

Every spread is stylishly illustrated – it’s well worth spending time studying Irmela Schautz’s often sophisticated art, as well as Kathrin Köller’s text: how long I wonder will you spend on the vexed question of time, caught between the pages of their book?

Flower Power : The Magic of Nature’s Healers

Flower Power: The Magic of Nature’s Healers
Olaf Hajek and Christine Paxmann

In this glorious spring bouquet, illustrator Olaf Hajek and author Christine Paxman offer art and information about seventeen flowers.

Because of some of my personal interests and experiences I was immediately drawn to this large format book: the couple of pre-uni. years I spent working in the herbarium at Kew Gardens, as well as my interest in the healing properties of plants in relation to Ayurveda, and the courses I took in aromatherapy and massage. That’s as well as an abiding fascination with the botanical world in general.

Every one of Hajek’s full-page illustrations is simply stunning in its beauty and witty detail so it’s virtually impossible to choose favourites – there’s magic in them all. Indeed, as Christine Paxman writes ‘In many old children’s books, the bellflower is described as a magic flower.’

However as a frequent visitor to India, I was instantly attracted to the “ginger’ illustration with its stylised dancer reminiscent of Indian miniatures. We read of ginger’s origins in India, China and other parts of Asia and of its many uses in cooking, in drinks and as a medicinal plant. Perhaps you didn’t know (I certainly not even considered it)) that in addition to its many healing benefits for humans, ginger root can be used to treat horses and other animals.

Many of us think of the Dandelion merely as a nuisance weed that’s nigh on impossible to get rid of. We might have sampled the leaves of Taxacarum in salads but I was surprised to read that the flowers can be used to make a jelly and the roots eaten, if roasted first. Moreover, the latex if extracted, can be used in rubber making.

‘Can a flower cure almost anything?’ This is one of Paxman’s introductory questions to Common Mallow. She goes on to answer that, as well as discussing its culinary uses, its uses as a dye and as a potential source of green energy.

You can dip in and savour every one of the entries: the conversational style of the text and outstanding art will fascinate, and perhaps prompt readers to dig deeper into some of the mysteries of the plant world.

The Seedling that didn’t want to grow

The Seedling that didn’t want to grow
Britta Teckentrup

The riches of spring are all around us now so there’s no better time to enjoy Britta Teckentrup’s story of a seedling that grows in its own time eventually flourishing into a wonderful plant.

Through her softly spoken text and gorgeous collage-style illustrations we follow along with her characters Ant and Ladybird, the reluctant to germinate seed, as it eventually shows signs of life, growing from a delicate, fragile little seedling in the meadow, and creeping through the undergrowth towards the sun.

Under the watchful supervision of the two insects, together with other friends – Cricket to guard her roots, Mouse to search for the most suitable paths, Butterfly accompanying Ladybird flying above to locate the perfect spot – it gradually changes as it weaves and twines through dense foliage to emerge at last to feel the warmth of the summer sun’s rays on her leaves.

The perfect location to continue her life story.

Now in the hot sunshine she is ‘the happiest plant there could be’ as all manner of creatures live in her foliage so she is ‘full of love and life.’

With the coming of autumn and shorter days comes further changes as the plant ‘s leaves turn a golden colour, eventually wilting as she sets seed ready for the wind to liberate a host of white fluffy parachutes scattering them far and wide before the winter comes and the plant is ready to die away.

That though isn’t the end, for with the melting of the snow, those seeds will start to flourish as the cycle of life begins anew.

This is one of my favourites to date of Britta’s books: her richly textured, detailed art reflects in her choice of colour palette, the changing seasons; while thanks to her changing depth of focus, we are made truly to appreciate the beauty of the incredibly diverse natural world. We appreciate too that just as diversity is key in the natural world, so it is with humans: each of us is unique and with careful nurturing, can find and fulfil our own path in life.

That’s Good, That’s Bad

That’s Good, That’s Bad
Joan M. Lexau and Aliki

Prestel have brought back a vintage classic published first in 1963 with splendid reproductions of Aliki’s superb illustrations. Here’s what happens:

A boy sitting on a rock in the jungle is confronted by a tiger. The tiger politely tells the lad to run away. “… I will run after you. And I will catch you. And I will eat you, Boy, so run from me” it says.

Boy however is too tired, Tiger asks why and hoping to avoid his fate, the boy begins to tell the tiger his tale.

It’s a thrilling one with frights, falls, fun and a bit of flight that involves encounters with a rhino

and a crocodile

that’s sure to enthral youngsters, just as it does the hungry tiger. I know though, that it’s the former who will end up having a jolly good laugh at the satisfying ending.

There’s a lot to like about this book: the way the boy character demonstrates the power of storytelling; Joan Lexau’s own skill at telling what is essentially a tale-within –a-tale – and a real page turner it is too.

Then there’s Aliki’s visual storytelling: I love the way she places the story-telling Boy and Tiger on opposing pages as though viewing the action from the sidelines, with Boy’s own narrative unfolding on the verso and Tiger’s comments “That’s good”,

“That’s bad” or variations of same, being made on the recto each time. The subtle changes to the facial expressions of these characters are wonderful, really bringing to life the double drama.

Clever and deliciously droll.

It’s a Great Big Colourful World

It’s a Great Big Colourful World
Tom Schamp

Otto the cat wakes one morning wondering why everything is so grey. His chameleon friend, Leon is on hand to show him the delights of the various shades of grey and the multitude of beautiful grey things around.

Thereafter Leon takes him on a journey through the wonderful world of colour starting with grey’s components, the complementary black and white.

Moving on from those it’s a veritable riot of colours each represented by a plethora of characters and objects large and small. Yellow includes a yellow submarine, a big yellow taxi, a variety of cheeses, a butterfly and banana peel.

One orange spread is dominated by a magnificent tiger that’s found its way to Orange County and as yet, hasn’t consumed the tomato soup, clementines or orange juice on the previous spread.

There’s a wealth of transport on the red pages that also include Red Square and tulips – no not from Amsterdam but Turkey.
Flamingos strut their way across the pink spreads maintaining their colour courtesy of the pink algae and shrimps they dine upon.

Rather more restful on the eye the blues have a whale that swims through all four pages at once and the greens with dinosaurs, crocodiles, plants aplenty and the occasional caterpillar,

not forgetting Greenland.

Beer, cupcakes, tanned sunbathers, brownstone houses, a toffee even, are part of the brown spreads; and both the colour tourists Otto and Leon are hiding in plain sight on every spread, each  cleverly adapted to their surroundings. In the final pages the friends are thrilled by the coming together of all the colours for a glorious final journey through the four seasons.

However many times you look at this ingenious, intricately detailed offering from Tom Schamp, you’ll always find something new.

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, with his playful linguistic imagination and references, Schamp guarantees that this book will have a wide age appeal. No matter what you bring to it, you’ll emerge richer and wanting to dive straight back in, hungry for more.


Into the Deep

Into the Deep: An Exploration of Our Oceans
Wolfgang Dreyer and Annika Siems

Prepare to be swept away at the sights you’ll see as you plunge into this exploration of the awesome life forms that lie beneath our oceans.

We journey, with marine biologist Wolfgang Dreyer, courtesy of the research vessel Meteor aboard which is a submersible that enables us to meet some of the incredible creatures from plankton, the tiniest microscopic life forms, to the enormous mammalian creatures such as the sperm whale, and its prey, the giant squid, the largest invertebrate on earth.

Did you know the reason the sea looks greener during the warmer months is down to the proliferation of phytoplankton, the minute chlorophyll-containing organisms.

These are a vital food source for many kinds of aquatic animals; indeed phytoplankton are at the base of the ocean food chain.

I was totally fascinated to read about the atolla jellyfish, in particular Atolla wyvillei a species of crown jellyfish, and the way in which it uses bioluminescence, flashing first blue and then red, the latter being invisible in the deep sea and thus acting as a protective mechanism.

Perhaps even more surprising is that there are other unrelated deep-sea creatures that also use red for protection including, the world’s largest crab, the Japanese spider crab.

The author has packed a considerable amount of information into this book but at no time does it overwhelm despite the fact that he never talks down to his audience, rather he uses scientific terminology throughout to discuss such things as morphology and physiology.

The nature of this book is such that readers are unlikely to encounter in the flesh most of the animals featured, but Annika Siems’ oil paintings, some in really large format, bring them to life and allow for close scrutiny of the wonders of the deep.

A terrific book for the curious, for those inspired by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 series and budding marine biologists alike. It ends with a heartfelt plea from author and artist to stop littering our oceans with plastic and other garbage.