Pets and Their Famous Humans

Pets and Their Famous Humans
Ana Gallo and Katherine Quinn
Prestel

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
Prestel

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
Prestel

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
Prestel

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

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
Prestel

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
Prestel

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.

Flaps, Frights and Fun for Little Ones

Where’s Mrs Bear?
Where’s Mrs Witch?

Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

The two new additions to the deservedly popular hide-and-seek series that uses a simple repeat question and answer pattern are terrific fun. Using shaped felt flaps and a final mirror, tinies can enjoy discovering the whereabouts of several woodland animals in the former before being confronted, thanks to the hidden mirror, by their own image beneath the flap on the final spread.
The second title has a distinct Halloween theme with a skeleton, a spider, a vampire and Mrs Witch to find as well as enjoying a spot of self-revelation beneath the ghost.
Engaging, spot on interactive entertainment and unobtrusive learning for the very youngest.
Talking of Halloween …

 

Monsters Come Out Tonight!
Frederick Glasser and Edward Miller
Abrams Appleseed

There surely are all manner of ghastlies and ghoulies lurking behind the flaps in this jaunty rhyming, mock scary book. There are witches combing their locks, Frankenstein showing off his new sporty trainer boots, Dracula brushing his fangs and ghosties sporting bow ties and top hats. What is the purpose of all this titivating, you might be wondering. The final fold out spread reveals all.

Little human monsters can enjoy some monstrously shivery, door-opening fun herein.

Farmblock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed

The latest of the popular block series takes us down on the farm where little ones can follow the two children through a day’s work as well as the seasonal activities that take place.
The cock crows, the children do their round, collecting eggs from the hens, carrying compost and then bathing the dog after a stinky roll in the muck, help with the milking and feeding the pigs. It’s harvest time so they stop for a lunchtime picnic in the field before picking baskets of rosy apples for pie-making .
There are pumpkins to carve, and later on a celebratory thanksgiving feast.
Winter brings the frost and snow; Mum chops wood and they make sure the animals and birds have enough to eat before heading home for toasted marshmallows by the fire.
At last it’s spring and with it come baby lambs and seed planting.
When summer arrives there’s grass cutting and baling, berry picking, and jam making ready for the farmers’ market.

As is characteristic of the series, this one has gatefolds, die-cut pages and plenty to enjoy in team Peskimo’s attractive illustrations.

Yum Yummy Yuck
Cree Lane and Amanda Jane Jones
Prestel

Here’s a very simply illustrated board book that offers a fun way to show toddlers what is fine to consume and what definitely isn’t.

Using the titular patterned text followed by a ‘don’t put in your mouth’ item that is explained simply, such as ‘If you try to eat sand … you’ll immediately regret it’;’ or ‘Coins don’t go in your tummy, they go in your piggy bank!’ accompanied by simple stylised images of such items as ice-cream, fruit, vegetables as well as crayons, bogies, soap and toothpaste.

Having shared this, adults might collect items from around the kitchen and play a ‘yum’ ‘yucky’ game with their tinies using a thumbs up/thumbs down action to reinforce the idea.

Taxi Ride with Victor

Red Reading Hub is excited to participate in the blog tour for this wacky book:

Taxi Ride With Victor
Sara Trofa and Elsa Klever
Prestel

Victor’s main aim in life was always to be a taxi driver, the greatest the galaxy has ever had. He’s already achieved the first part of his wish but as for the second, there’s a slight snag: Victor has a dreadful sense of direction; he doesn’t even seem to know his left from his right.

So, should you ask him, as does Monday’s passenger, to take you to the hairdressers you may well find yourself like the old lady, whizzing to the lunar park instead.

That is the desired destination of his Tuesday ride (who happens to be the old lady’s grandson) but instead he ends up being dropped off at the library.

As chief librarian, Wednesday’s passenger actually wants to go to the library. He has the odd doubt about hiring Victor but doesn’t want to be late so off they go to …

which by the look of him, isn’t such a bad idea.

And so it goes on throughout the week with Victor whizzing left, right, straight ahead, even up and down, visiting all manner of unexpected locations with a weird and wonderful bunch of characters until come Sunday he picks up our little alien narrator.

This creature appears not to have a clue where he wants to go; but then, having taken a very circuitous route, delivers the biggest surprise ever. Victor’s internal satnav may not be the best but when it comes to bringing happiness to others by taking them to exactly the wrong place at the right time, he certainly comes out tops and now it’s his turn to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

This crazy cosmic adventure that takes place over a week is well and truly out of this world. Its cleverly constructed narrative will surely fire up the imaginations of young listeners while Elsa Klever’s unearthly scenes are wacky in the extreme.
In a classroom setting, or perhaps at home, Victor’s misadventures could prove inspirational for children’s own creativity.

Just think what they might do if provided with some malleable modelling materials and a plethora of unusual junk items – pots, packets, paper and card, plus plenty of pens and pencils. Who knows what new galaxies await to satisfy Victor’s final enquiry ‘Where to?’ …

 

 

Birds and their Feathers / A World of Birds

Birds and their Feathers
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel

Following on from The Egg, Britta Teckentrup has created another bird book with a difference, approaching the subject via plumology – bird feather science.
Its ninety or so pages are packed with fascinating feathery facts.

Each double spread is devoted to a particular aspect including feather development, structure, types of feather, colour – did you know flamingos are pink thanks to the carotenoid pigment in the crustacea they eat?

She also looks at wing types, flying strategies, heat regulation and many more topics relating to form and function,

with the final pages devoted to how humans have been inspired by, and exploited, feathers in creating myths, dreams of human flight, for decoration and warmth, a feather was even taken to the moon.

The subject allows full reign to Britta’s amazing artistic talent and her beautiful paintings are a delight to peruse and gaze upon in wonder.

A book for the family bookshelf, for bird lovers, art lovers and school collections.

Taking a more conventional approach but also well worth getting hold of is

A World of Birds
Vicky Woodgate
Big Picture Press

In her follow up to Urban Jungle wildlife enthusiast Vicky Woodgate starts with some general ornithological information giving facts about classification, anatomy, flight and eggs.

She then takes readers on a whistle stop tour of seven locations around the world – North America, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica – wherein we learn about different bird species, some resident, others migratory. Every one of the 75 birds selected is representative of its wider family, the author explains.
Each geographical section begins with a map of the location along with a brief description of the climate, habitats and conservation issues.

The first location is North America, which, with habitats as varied as tropical rainforest, hot deserts and frozen plains has a huge number of different species, partly because it encompasses four major migration routes.

All the other sections too have both resident and migratory species, though Antarctica, has the most challenging conditions for its wildlife and thus fewer avian species.

Central and South America in contrast has an enormous variety of birds and new species are still being discovered although sadly, due to human action, some of the most beautiful such as the Macaws are now on the endangered species list.

The same is true of some of those featured in the African section the continent of Africa being home to some of the world’s largest and most colourful birds.

Europe is home to many species that have adapted to urban environments; Asia, with its varied climates and habitats has, despite the fact that many Asian cultures revere birds, a big problem with the pet trade and hence a fair number of threatened species, whereas the biggest threat in Oceania is that from introduced and invasive bird species – an issue conservationists are earnestly tackling.

Beautifully illustrated and packed with fascinating information, this is a book pore over, to immerse yourself in and enjoy.

Introducing Art to Children – Anna and Johanna & A Journey Through Art: A Global Journey

Anna and Johanna
Géraldine Elschner and Florence Kœnig
Prestel

It’s 12th October 1666 and we’re in the city of Delft where two girls are busy working. One is Anna, the daughter of the well-to-do master of the house; the other is Anna’s maid and co-incidentally they both share the same birthday. Each girl is creating something special for the other in celebration of the day.

For her friend, Johanna, Anna is fashioning a lace collar just like her own, which she knows her friend likes a lot.
In the kitchen Johanna is cooking a special birthday breakfast mousse as a treat for her friend Anna. It’s a breakfast fit for a queen.

But why are they such close friends and why do they share a birthday? Is it co-incidence or something much deeper?

When the girls meet and exchange their gifts, they discover something intended for both of them – a letter addressed simply ‘For your birthday’, which begins, ‘Dear children’ – a letter from Anna’s father telling of an incident that had occurred exactly twelve years earlier and disclosing a secret that he’s been keeping ever since.

Inspired by two of 17th century Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer’s greatest works of art, The Lacemaker and The Milkmaid Géraldine Elschner has crafted a story of friendship and more that reflect the painter’s impressions of domestic life.

Equally evocative of Vermeer’s style are Florence Koenig’s acrylic paintings executed predominantly in subtle blue, yellow, brown and orange hues of the Dutch city’s landscapes and scenes of domesticity.

There are many ways to interest children in art and artists: this lovely tale of friendship and devotion offers an unusual introduction for young readers to Vermeer’s art.

 Journey Through Art: A Global History
Aaron Rosen, illustrated by Lucy Dalzell
Thames & Hudson

Aaron Rosen takes readers on a journey through time and place to visit some thirty locations as he tells how the art and architecture of different cultures developed.
The tour, which travels to four continents, begins in northern Australia at Nawarla Gabarnmung in 35,000 BCE where we see prehistoric petroglyphs.

The next location is the city of Thebes 1250 BCE and then on to Nineveh 700 BCE, followed by more cities – almost all sites visited are cities – and thereafter to the site of a Buddhist monastery hidden in caves at Ajanta in Central India. Those caves contain some amazing sculptures and the oldest surviving paintings in India, done by the Buddhist monks who lived there around 500BCE.

All the locations thus far are included in the first of the three sections entitled Prehistoric and Ancient Art and next comes Medieval and Early Modern Art that encompasses Granada, Florence, the 16th century town of Timbuktu, 1650 Amsterdam where we find the first mention of a woman artist, Judith Leyster who was celebrated for her paintings of musicians.

The final Modern and Contemporary section includes a stop at 1825 Haida Gwaii to view the Northwest Pacific woodcarvings, one of the few non-urban destinations.

At every stop Rosen begins with a spread giving an overview of the site and a painting by Lucy Dazell; following this is another spread comprising information about the culture/customs together with small photos of significant artefacts, paintings and monuments together with printed notes.
The journey terminates at Rio de Janiero where the 2016 Olympic Games took place and thereafter are notes about visiting museums and art galleries and a glossary.

A whistle-stop tour indeed and one that might leave you feeling somewhat breathless but equally one hopes, hungry to find out more about the art of some of the places visited.

Colorama

Colorama
Cruschiform
Prestel

As a child I was fascinated by a large Reeves paint-box belonging to my mother; I think it had been passed down to her. There were several layers of smallish rectangular colour blocks embossed with a dog. Each of the various hues had an exciting name, though some looked almost identical until used. I loved to take it out and about and find things to paint. It was those names that I loved as much as the paints themselves.
Now this beautifully produced book has taken me right back to that paintbox and my memories of same.
Compiled by illustrator and graphic designer, Marie Laure Cruschi, head of the French creative studio Cruschiform, it too is based on colour memories, her memories.

The colour palette is vast – over 130 hues and it takes us on a circular journey starting and ending with white, but surely white is just white isn’t it? Not quite; for a start it all depends on who is looking at it and what they are looking at. White can be all manner of things. Herein we have white snow, milk, peace symbol, albinos, alabaster, polar white, cotton flower, birch bark, white moth

and white powder and having come full circle, Aphrodite’s tears, flour of salt and moonlight. Each of these whites (and indeed the other colours) conjures up memories of objects, or things be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

So subtle is the difference that there is then an almost imperceptible change to pink (white powder is more pink than white to me).
The author provides a brief story connected with each image; sometimes this is the exact name of the colour – canary yellow – for instance or ivory.
The musings may be historical such as the synthetic dye ‘mauveine’ invented in 1856

elemental, artistic, relate to specific animals, flowers, trees, plants, fruits or vegetables, cloth and clothing,

machinery, and even objects out of this world.
Altogether a fascinating book for children and adults alike, it’s one to pore over and ponder upon.

Art, Artists and Some Science Too

Art Up Close
Claire d’Harcount
Princeton Architectural Press

Art enthusiasts of all ages wlll enjoy this search and find game based on twenty three famous works of art from around the world.
Each large spread is a high quality reproduction of one named artwork that is credited and dated, in the same border as ten to twelve floating bubbles each containing a small detail from the whole piece. It’s these tiny visual elements that readers are asked to search for, some being a whole lot easier to locate than others.
The arrangement of the selected works is chronological beginning with Egyptian papyrus paintings from the Book of the Dead (around 1300BC). This is followed by a 6th century Byzantine mosaic, an Arabic manuscript (1400s), the Limbourg brothers illumination (1416) and other 15th century European painters.
Then comes an early 16th century Aztec manuscript, a Flemish tapestry, a Bruegel (the elder) and a Veronese painting.
From the 17th century are the younger Teniers, and Jan Steen’s Village School. This chaotic classroom scene, which includes a child drawing on the wall and back end of a rat that is tucking into the contents of someone’s lunch basket certainly made the teacher part of me smile; and oh my goodness, the place is so dark, it’s hardly surprising that half the people therein look as though they’ve fallen sleep or are about to do so. All this and more while the two ‘teachers’ appear totally unaware of what’s happening around them.
There’s a Japanese woodblock print from the early 19th century; Impressionism is represented by a Renoir and an Ensor; and we then move into the 20th century with surrealist, Miró,

Picasso represents cubism and the final work is a 1952 Jackson Pollock, Convergence.
Then follow ten pages wherein D’Harcourt discusses each of her chosen examples individually; and the two final spreads have lift-the-flap mini paintings of each work that reveal the whereabouts of the details in the bubbles, and also provide short notes on the artists.
Of the 23 works, only five are non-western, but what disappointed me more was the lack of a single woman artist. Nonetheless, the whole enterprise is absorbing, educational, fun, attractively presented and well worth spending time over.

Vermeer’s Secret World
Vincent Etienne
Prestel

In what is an essentially introductory book, art historian and author, Etienne, traces the life and work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, one of history’s most distinctive artists who lived in 17th century Delft for his entire life.
There are fifteen full-page reproductions of his works …

as well as eight smaller ones.
If you can’t manage to visit London’s National Gallery or one of the other galleries exhibiting Vermeer’s paintings, then this short book is a good starting point to begin to appreciate the Delft master, an artist whose focus was very much on people rather than places.

Trick of the Eye
Silke Vry
Prestel

Subtitled ‘How Artists Fool Your Brain’, this book offers a host of examples that demonstrate that deceptive imagery in art, far from being a new phenomenon, has been in use by famous and popular artists for centuries.
Vry uses paintings by, to name just some, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Hogarth, Turner, Vermeer, Paolo Veronese and Georges Seurat, as examples of optical illusions, as well as more modern artists including Salvador Dali, René Magritte,

M.C. Escher, Bridget Riley, and Banksy.
In addition to paintings, some objects such as the Athens Acropolis and the Scala Regia in Rome are used.
The end pages offer solutions to the questions posed during the discussions of the various works of art, as well as instructions for some creative projects for readers to try themselves that were previously flagged up in the those discussions.
Absorbing, illuminating and a novel way of looking at some works of art.

For those readers of a more scientific bent:

Optical Illusions
Gianni A. Sarcone and Marie-Jo Waeber
QED

Both the creators of this fascinating book are experts in brain training and cognitive sciences, and herein they offer readers the opportunity to find out about the science behind the illusions that trick our brains.
After a brief ‘Is Seeing Believing’ introduction; the book is divided into five sections: Light, Lines and Space,

Motion, The Brain and finally, Experiments.
Each topic explores a variety of effects: for example Light demonstrates colour assimilation, complementary colours and after image, and colour contrast.
Since buying a book on MC Escher many years ago, I have been fascinated by the idea of optical illusions. This book has refreshed that fascination, but a word of warning: I spent ages poring over its hypnotic pages; don’t sit down with it unless you have plenty of time to spare – you’ll most likely be hooked, eyes and brain in sensory overdrive mode.

I Am Peace / The Two Doves

I Am Peace
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This is a companion book to yoga teacher, Verde, and illustrator, Reynolds’ I Am Yoga.
Here, a worried child narrator, feeling “like a boat with no anchor” …

shares with readers how focussing on the here and now helps to calm all those worries and troubling emotions, allowing them to dissipate and disappear. Inwardly watching the breath enables the child to feel centred and then, through acts of kindness, by connecting with nature and fully using the senses, feelings of at oneness with the world, inner peace pervades and can be shared with all those who need it.

With today’s increasingly fast-paced, pressurised and stressful world, this is a lovely gently joyful reminder to children, and also adults of the importance of cultivating the habit of mindfulness. That (along with yoga), can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just 3 to 5 minutes a day with no distractions, no doing, merely being.
Peter Reynolds’ ink, watercolour and gouache illustrations reinforce the mindfulness message and add a delightful touch of whimsy as he portrays the child, peace symbols and all, balancing, cloud watching, feeding the birds and meditating.
(A guided meditation is included at the end of the book.)

 

The Two Doves
Géraldine Elschner and Zaū
Prestel

In search of a safe place to rest, a white dove lands on a deserted island; deserted save for another dove, a blue one that has been badly injured.

The white dove tends to the blue one until after a few days, it’s sufficiently recovered to take flight,
Together the two birds take wing eventually landing in – or rather in the case of the blue dove, falling – into a large garden where, under an olive tree, a man was painting, while around him some children played.
The man is the artist Picasso. The children see the wounded dove and want to care for it. Soon though both man and children are busy creating pictures of the bird,

pictures that Picasso tells them as their images are borne aloft by a gust of wind, will “go to countries all around the world.
Soon after, the white dove takes flight once more leaving the blue one safe in the children’s care.

This lovely story of Géraldine Elschner’s, inspired by Picasso’s iconic work, The Dove of Peace, is beautifully illustrated by Zaü whose ink drawings filled mostly with greys, greens and blue give a strong sense of both the desolation of the war struck third island and the stark beauty of its countryside.
Adults using the book with primary age children may well need to fill in with a little information about the Spanish Civil War and on the visual references from Picasso paintings that the book’s illustrator mentions in a note at the end of the book.

Focus on Animals

Animalkind
Pablo Salvaje
Prestel
Spanish illustrator Pablo Salvaje pays homage to the animal kingdom in this visually stunning picture book that serves as a potent reminder that we are not the sole inhabitants of the earth. Rather we’re members of a vast ecosystem that includes countless numbers of other living things.
Herein we encounter a wide variety of creatures great and small from penguins to peacocks, snakes to spiders and crocodiles to chameleons. Each of these and many others are portrayed in Salvaje’s hand-printed spreads that form the greater part of this book.
By means of its division into sections: Love, Rhythms, Survival, Transformation,

Habitat, Water, Treasures, and there’s a final epilogue, we visit various parts of the planet and discover how like humans, animals too, such as penguins, may form bonds; have their own rhythms; form communities; need food for survival and may fight or co-operate to survive; undergo changes – temporary or permanent and go to great lengths to protect their young.

Compassionate and with a spiritual underpinning, this is a book for all ages and for those of both an artistic and a scientific bent.

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals
DK
How on earth does one decide what to include in a chunky book such as this? I guess cherry-picking is the answer and this really is a dipping-into book.
It’s divided into four sections: All About Animals, Amazing Animals, Animal Antics and More Very Important Animals and there’s a handy ribbon to mark your place, a glossary of animal words and an index.
There’s a wealth of information attractively presented in easily digestible bite sizes – even the odd fable – and a good balance between text and visuals;

the latter being predominantly, superb photographic images.
A worthwhile addition to a KS1 collection, or for families with young children to enjoy together.

Baby Dolphin’s First Swim
Sterling Children’s Books
From the American Museum of Natural History comes a sequence of photographs and accompanying narrative about the very first day in life of a baby dolphin.
We see the new-born close by his mother’s side as she nudges him to the surface of the ocean to take his first breath (through a hole on the top of his head), called a blowhole, so the straightforward narrative says.
Communication, feeding …

and being a new addition to the pod that serves to protect the infant are all part of the first day’s learning documented in the simple text and photographic sequence.
Neil Duncan, a biologist with the museum is featured in two final ‘Meet the expert’ paragraphs although whether he supplied the narrative or beautiful photos is not made clear. Nonetheless it’s an engaging book for young natural history enthusiasts or for a primary school topic box.

A Trio of Search-and-Find Books

Where’s Bernard?
Katja Spitzer
Prestel
Bernard the bat is preparing for his night-time birthday celebrations but he wants help to find everything he needs for the party he’s throwing for his friends. His search involves nine items …

and takes him hunting in all manner of fascinating places: a greenhouse, an underground cavern, an ice-rink, a garden,

the woods, beneath the ocean and even in outer space, each one being populated by weird and wonderful creatures.
With its ‘glow-in-the-dark’ cover and quirky, vibrantly coloured, magical scenes that are not too busy for the youngest seekers, this is a good place to start on the whole ‘search and find’ genre.

A Thousand Billion Things (and some sheep)
Loic Clement and Anne Montel
Words & Pictures
A small girl takes us through a variety of everyday happenings – having breakfast, taking a bath, getting dressed, exploring the garden, going to market, helping dad prepare the dinner and more, asking us to locate items hidden in spreads brimming over with food, clothes, vegetables, …

fish and more. Each of these events offers plenty of choices and entices readers to linger over the delicately drawn flora, toys, clothes, delicious pastries etc –which almost prove too much for the young protagonist while also locating such items as 4 hedgehogs, a frog mask, a spotty green sweater, or a pyramid of cream cakes.
Then comes bedtime, which, so the young narrator tells us on the first page, is the one time she dislikes: instead of a multitude of choices, bedtime offers nothing but sheep, endless sheep and ‘it’s a complete nightmare!’
Accompanying Clement’s quirky textual narrative, Montel’s slightly whimsical images provide a visual feast; and it’s as well, in case one gets too carried away over the details, that a visual key with the answers is provided at the back of the book.
Absorbing, fun and rewarding.

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books
Children can join with two friends as they engage in a game of hide-and-seek from opposite ends of this book.

Two large pairs of eyes peer through the die-cut holes in the front and back covers, forewarning that child participants are going to need to keep their eyes peeled to spot the protagonists in their play.
Arhoj teases with his own game of give and take: if you look at the endpapers you’ll also be forewarned that the playmates sport differently shaped hats – that should make the whole thing easier surely. But then to make the spotting considerably more difficult, he makes the two slightly foxy characters change colour; not only once but on every spread, as they move through the book and their world of hustle and bustle.
It’s a world populated by all kinds of strange and cute creatures going about their daily lives and its these, as much as the main protagonists, that provide a lot of the intrigue. I found myself distracted in every setting, just exploring all the quirky goings-on, before even starting to discover the whereabouts of the foxy friends. Every location be it shop, office, park, hospital

or elsewhere, has potential for stories aplenty.
With minimal text Arhoj has created an engrossing story-cum game picture book that will enthral and gently challenge young readers.

Friends Return: Oskar and Mo / Alfie in the Woods / Elmer and the Tune

Oskar and Mo
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel
In his first book Oskar the raven loved a whole lot of things; now he’s back with more love. This time it’s directed at his best friend Mo and we discover what the two of them love to do together. After all, unless you’re a solitary individual most things are better if you have a friend to share them with.
They share a favourite place where they go to share secrets. A shared love of stories means that Mo loves Oscar to read to her – good on you Oskar;

they love playing together, whether it’s block building or hide and seek but like all friends they do have the occasional tiff. But it never lasts long because they’re there for each other whatever the weather, night or day, happy or sad, be they close by or far away.
Full of heart, this is a winningly simple portrayal of friendship and a great starting point for discussion with pre-schoolers.

Alfie in the Woods
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Little rabbit, Alfie returns for his third story and he’s out walking in the woods with his dad. It’s autumn and the young rabbit is collecting seasonal treasures.
He spies his friends and together they play hide-and-seek among the trees.
The mischievous little creature then starts using the available autumnal litter to transform himself into various other forest creatures: he becomes an owl gliding from tree to tree; a busy, buzzy bee, a hedgehog,

a dozy bear and even a tree.
All this imaginary play is pretty tiring though, so it’s a sleeping Alfie who is carried safely home by his dad after his crazy adventure.
Alfie has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and his latest story, with Debi Gliori’s captivating illustrations, is bound to be another winner.

Elmer and the Tune
David McKee
Andersen Press
How annoying it is when you get a tune stuck in your mind and the words just keep on going around and around no matter what you do. That’s almost what happens to Elmer when he’s out walking with his friend, Rose one day. First the tune gets stuck in her head and then Elmer too catches it and can’t stop humming the wretched thing.
So infectious is it that pretty soon all the jungle animals are humming that self same tune of Rose’s over and over. What are they to do?
Time to call upon Elmer. Can he come up with a solution to their problem?

Seemingly he can and it works for all his friends; but what about Elmer?
This is David McKee’s 24th Elmer story and his escapades continue to win him new fans as well as pleasing established ones; the latter, like elephants, never forget.

My Museum / Crocodali

My Museum
Joanne Liu
Prestel
Here’s a thoroughly cool little wordless book by Joanne Liu, an illustrator/artist I’ve not come across before.
Max pays a visit to an art museum. It’s full of paintings and sculptures, each one an important work of art. Where better to go for a bit of art appreciation?
Max however, wonderfully divergent and imaginative child that he is, quickly discovers that there’s a whole lot more to see and enjoy than what the curators have put on display.
Art is everywhere, if you know how to look; and if you know how to look, you can also be a creative artist. That’s the message that shines through in each and every action of our young protagonist as he wanders among the grown-ups who are absorbed in the various exhibits, discovering art through the windows, on a burly man’s arm,

by changing his viewpoint, and by seeing the potential in other unlikely places …

He even explores ways of making his own …

A delight through and through.

Crocodali
Lucy Volpin
Templar Publishing
There’s a touch of Hervé Tullet in Lucy Volpin’s latest story. It stars Crocodali, who greets us, more than a little reluctantly, as we enter his studio.
The self-confessed ‘most talented artist in the whole wide world’ is about to start on a new painting but is having a little bother getting his canvas positioned. That’s when he decides to enlist the reader’s help.
Before you can say ‘masterpiece’ he has us tilting, tipping, shaking …

and rubbing and even blowing on the book,

as we become co-creators of his latest work of art. It’s bound to be stupendous; or is it?
Engaging, interactive, humorous and delightfully messy.

The Dreaming Giant / 13 Art Materials Children Should Know

The Dreaming Giant
Véronique Massenot and Peggy Nille
Prestel
Imagine a giant dropping in on your neighbourhood: what on earth might he want? This is exactly what happens to the tiny world of Krobz, the inhabitants of which are less than one inch tall. Unsurprisingly everyone is alarmed at the new arrival with his harlequin trousers and shoes sized 612. Is he peaceful or hostile? A plan is formulated while the being naps.
There follows an internal investigation of the sleeper …

undertaken by a brave trio: Zig, Zag and Swirl. They visit various organs such as his heart, and his brain (the command room) wherein they discover how the visitor is feeling …

The Giant apparently liked the taste of his sandwich but his buttocks seemed to find the ground a little too hard.” Their search however, reveals nothing about the possible reason for the Giant’s visit; and having reported back to base from where they are informed that the subject of their observations is in a dream state, an amazing sight meets their eyes, and an extraordinary experience unfolds …

An experience which leads them to conclude ‘There is nothing to fear from someone who lives and thinks so beautifully and whose dreams are so GIGANTIC!
Kandinsky’s dreamlike abstract paintings were the inspiration for this unusual picture book and in an afterword, both author, Massenot and illustrator Nille talk about how his Sky Blue in particular gave them space within which to let their own imaginations get to work. We also learn something of Kandinsky’s interest in physics, in particular Einstein’s theory of relativity and its possible influence on the artist’s painting.
A splendid introduction to the work of a hugely important 20th century artist, and a delightfully fanciful story to boot.

13 Art Materials Children Should Know
Narcisa Marchioro
Prestel Publishing
With the disastrous scaling back and cutting of arts subjects in education, in both schools and colleges, books that educate children in respect of the arts are increasingly important.
This absorbing volume takes young readers on a tour around the world and back in time to find out about the evolution of materials artists and craftspeople have used, some of them such as bone, wood and ivory, right back as far as the Palaeolithic Era …

Part of a spear-throwing tool made from reindeer horn.

From objects discovered, we can learn a lot about how those ancient peoples lived and what occupied their thoughts. Now contemporary artists such as Vik Muniz use discarded materials in their work; and before him, Joseph Cornell made use of found objects as inspiration for complex assemblage creations …

Joseph Cornell’s ‘The Hotel Eden’ 1945

These too in their own way have much to teach us.
Each material considered has a time line across the top of the spread(s) which helps readers see how certain materials, gold for instance, were used at different points in time, often centuries apart.
A particularly fascinating section looks at the use of parchment right back to the time when monks painstakingly created illuminated manuscripts, and up to its 21stC use as a medium for collage and sculpture.
In addition to finding out about the materials, readers are introduced to particular artists some of whom, Henri Matisse for example, are well known, others less so. I was fascinated to learn that Chinese artist, Li Hongbo created these sculptures using only paper, scissors and glue.

‘Roman Youth’ Li Hongbo, 2013

Both educational and fun, this book is likely to inspire individual readers to turn to other sources to find out more about some of the topics that are of particular interest to them. A worthwhile addition to the family bookshelf or primary/ lower secondary school library.

I’ve signed the charter  

Go Yogi! / Animal Asanas

Go Yogi!
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon
Namaste: Meet Monkey, Mac and cat, Flo: they are enthusiastic about yoga and its benefits and want young children to join them and learn a special yogic way of breathing and some of their favourite yoga poses. First though, a space away from distractions is needed and then, mat down it’s time to start. The first focus is on the breath, and this is followed by a round of sun salutation. Here are the opening moves:

The two animals then move on to some standing poses, the first being the triangle – here called ‘Tea Pot’.

Clearly this book is for very young children who will most likely be familiar with the favourite nursery action song.
After this come four further standing poses; ‘balancing barn door introduces the slightly tricky (for 3 and 4 year  olds) standing on one leg. They’ll love to try though and increase the time before wobbles set in. Equally great fun, is the ‘warrior’.
All good yoga sessions need a variety of standing and sitting poses, so Flo demonstrates the ‘balancing boat’ next.

Following it with what they call here ‘pebble on the shore’ and many yogis will know as the pose of the child or balasana. Three additional poses are shown by Flo and then it’s time to relax. Mack gives her instructions and Flo begins to let go completely, making a ‘Ha’ sound to help her.
The entire yoga lesson is nicely illustrated by John Smisson who also teamed up with the author in Striker, Slow Down!
The final spread is aimed at adults and offers words of wisdom from a very experienced teacher of yoga, the author, Emma.
For me, as an early years teacher and yoga teacher, this is perfectly pitched for the very youngest beginning yogis. I’d strongly recommend it for all early years settings and families with young children. It could, one hopes, be the start of a life-long practice that offers many benefits, physical and emotional.

Animal Asanas: Yoga for Children
Leila Kadri Oostendorp and Elsa Mroziewicz Bahia
Prestel
A gloriously ornate menagerie of creatures great and small demonstrate over a dozen yoga asanas, and relaxation exercises.
‘Namaste, Children’ the author says on the introductory page and then goes on to give some wise words about yoga and taking it up. Anyone coming to yoga for the first time should read and inwardly digest what’s said before going near a yoga mat
The first asana shown is Vrikshasana – the tree pose and before embarking on the pose itself, there’s a ‘tree meditation’ that begins ‘Imagine you are a tree … You stand firmly on the ground and nobody can move you.’ A great introduction and believe me, as a yoga teacher and one who specialises in teaching children, this really works. Benefits of the pose (and indeed, all the others), is given as is a helpful tip. Here it’s the crucial anti-wobble: ‘Focus your eye on to a single point straight ahead of you. This will help keep your balance.
After this, all the asanas are animal-based: there’s the Frog, Cat and Cow, The Dog ,

the Cobra, the Dove (I know it as the Pigeon), the Butterfly, the Camel, the Tortoise, the Roaring Lion – a great one for letting off steam and relieving tension/stress – children love this …

the Rabbit, the Locust the Fish and finally, the Crocodile.
Relaxation is extremely important after a yoga session and there is a lovely Rainbow journey to undertake while lying in sarvasana.

The final spread gives some words of yoga wisdom – and wise they are ‘time spent … is for children’s enjoyment and exploration; it is not a time to be achievement-oriented or critical.’ and some practical tips for parents on a child’s yoga practice.
The whole book is beautifully presented both verbally and visually. Ornate Indian style borders enhance each spread and really help to underline the notion that the yoga mat or demarcated space is ‘a place from which to become aware’ and that time spent on yoga is a very special time when nothing else matters; and nothing should be impinging on that time.

The Egg

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The Egg
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel
Many aspects of oviparity are explored in this fascinating book along with spreads on the egg in art, religion and mythology;

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a look at traditions involving eggs, the famous Fabergé egg and the symbolic golden egg of wealth and fairy tales; and there’s a look at decorating eggs.
Caliology is an engaging aspect and obviously interested Britta Teckenetrup who devotes a dozen double spreads to various kinds of bird’s nests from the colonial nest building weaver birds, whose amazing nests are often built suspended (as a safety precaution) from trees over water,

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to the ground nesting Snowy Owls that make shallow nest bowls where the snow has gone, during the Arctic summer.
Other egg layers include insects, there being a multitude of marvellous shapes, colours and textures;

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spawning amphibians, reptiles – these mostly lay soft-shelled eggs incubated by natural heat rather than by the adult; turtles, fish and the mammalian sub-group which includes the platypus and echidna, the latter two being termed monotremes; and are indigenous to Australia and New Guinea.
The book’s blurb says of the egg, ‘Its beauty has inspired artists since ancient times’:

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it has clearly inspired Britta Teckentrup, the creator of this handsomely produced, (it has a wonderful feel as well as look) enormously engaging and informative ‘eggthology’. As with many good information books it leaves you wanting to know more.
One for the primary school bookshelf, as well as for interested individuals.

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