Smile Out Loud / Marshmallow Clouds

Smile Out Loud
Joseph Coelho and Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

I’m sure that like me, many others have in the past couple of years of mandatory mask wearing in so many places, wondered how to show somebody that we are giving them a smile. Perhaps if I’d had a copy of Smile Out Loud then I could have performed one of Joseph’s 25 ‘happy poems’ poems in a shop or elsewhere. I wonder what the reaction would have been to The Dinosaur way of walking funny, which is to Pull your trousers up / as far as they will go, / stick your bottom out / and walk like a chicken / … But instead of clucking – / … let yourself roar! / Like a dinosaur, / … a roar dinosaur! Then there’s The Ballerina way that involves a turn, a spin, a leap followed by Plié! Plié! Petit / Jeté / flutter and glide / the day away.

I’m always plugging the power of the imagination so I really like Imagination Running Free where the instructions are to tell the audience for a read aloud of this poem to close their eyes and imagine the scenarios presented by Imagine your legs / are two conker trees! Imagination running free. // Imagine your knees / are stripy like bees! / Imagination running free. // Imagine you’re running with / toes wet / legs wooden / knees stripy! I love too how Daniel Gray-Barnett has clearly let his imagination run free for this accompanying illustration. 

There are poems to read and act out in a group, one or two to inspire readers to create poems of their own, a funny one that uses spoonerisms and lots more besides. Certainly you should find something to help cheer up not only yourself but those who hear the tongue-twisters, riddles and giggle inducers. So, get a copy for home or school and spread a little sunshine thanks to Joseph’s words and Daniel’s lively, inclusive illustrations.

Marshmallow Clouds
Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones
Walker Books

Subtitled ‘Poems Inspired by Nature’, this is a dreamlike, often pensive collection of thirty poems, each a beautiful word picture placed under one of four elemental section headings: Fire, Water, Air, Earth and all intended, as Kooser says in his afterword, to “encourage you to run with your own imagination, to enjoy what you come up with.”

Being a tree person I was immediately drawn to Trees, the final four lines of which are:
They don’t ask for much, a good rain now and then,
and what they like most are the sweet smells
of the others, and the warm touch of the light,
and to join the soft singing that goes on and on
.
Beautiful words and equally beautiful art by Richard Jones, whose illustration here reminded me so much of one of the places where I pause to sit on my walk and look up at the surrounding understory.

Tadpole too is a poem I found great delight in reading, having recently watched a pool full /of swimming tadpoles, / the liveliest of all punctuation.

No matter where you open the book though, you will find something that’s a joy to read aloud again, and again; something thoughtful and thought-provoking, something likely to make you look at things around you differently. What more can one ask?

A little bit of Respect

A Little Bit of Respect
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

In this episode the Ploofers land their rainbow cloud on an island they’ve not visited before and start getting to know its residents. Initially things go well and all is amiable between visitors and residents but then one of the latter singles out Little One making him the centre of attention, which he finds very upsetting and demeaning.

Being called ‘cutie pie’ and told he looks ‘a bit peeky, weeky’ is the last straw; feeling frustrated and insignificant, Little One’s temper gets the better of him.

But then thankfully, he finds support and empowerment from an unexpected source with whom he shares how he’s feeling.

“Well, I don’t like it when you call me cute. It makes me feel small. I may be small but I still need a little bit of respect,” he tells the islander who caused his discomfiture. What will be the outcome of his new found assertiveness? Having stood up for himself, will Little One receive an apology?

With a surprise just before the end, Claire Alexander’s heartwarming tale of self-respect, respecting others and finding a friend to share your problem with, offers another important life lesson to young children, as well as lots of starting points for Foundation Stage circle-time discussion. I love the cutaway rainbow lettering on the front cover and the way Claire captures the feelings of Little One throughout.

Flooded

Flooded
Mariajo Ilustrajo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Full of water, wit and a little one’s bit of wisdom is this debut picture book from Mariajo Ilustrajo, about a city inhabited solely by animals. It happens one summer beginning on a day just like all the others except that the entire place is rather wet. Initially all the residents except one are happy to use the excess of water as a chance to splash about in wellies and carry on with life as normal, merely making it a topic of conversation and a source of fun.

As the water level keeps on rising there remains a lone voice that shows increasing concern as most others become further involved in their own issues, until that is, some of the smaller animals start having problems.

Eventually a small volume of water has become an enormous problem, impossible for anyone to ignore; but is there anybody that knows what should be done? Happily yes and at last that little creature is able to voice a simple (and we readers would think, obvious), solution. With the entire population working as a team …

the plug is extracted and the drowning of the city is finally halted. Yes, new problems arise and have to be dealt with, but happily now community collaboration rules and solves …

This tale of pulling together in times of need is wonderfully illustrated by an exciting newcomer using ink and graphite and digitally coloured. The text is kept to a minimum allowing the wealth of funny details in each scene to do much of the storytelling.

Bella Loves Bugs / Billy Loves Birds

Bella Loves Bugs
Billy Loves Birds

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These two narrative non-fiction picture books are written by zoologist, naturalist and vet, Jess French whose passion for wildlife shines through in both Nature Heroes titles wherein she uses the titular children as narrators.

Bella is an aspiring entomologist who shares a day in her life with readers and it’s certainly a very exciting one with lots of discoveries. Her first task is to collect garlic mustard to feed her caterpillars and then with a few useful bug hunting items she sets out to look for minibeasts and to meet up with some of her fellow nature hero friends.
By following Bella’s interactions with her friends and the additional facts this becomes a learning journey for readers who encounter social insects – ants in particular – a honey bee collecting nectar and others around their hives,

several jumping bugs and then a “fluttery butterfly” (why a non-native monarch?). Their next stop is at a pond, absolutely alive with water creatures on and below the surface; time for some pond-dipping (with an adult close by).
As they go into the forest Bella makes several discoveries – woodlice, a wolf spider with her eggs, and inside her trap she finds a stag beetle and a stag beetle grub. Down comes the rain bringing out the slugs and snails, and then it’s time to head home where something else exciting happens inside her vivarium.
Look out for the spider that makes occasional comments along the way.

Bird loving Billy (in the company of a talking tit) spends a day at forest school, sharing his observations with readers and his friends about the wealth of birds they encounter. There’s a woodpecker, a dunnock nest with several eggs including one of a different colour and there’s great excitement when Billy spies a kingfisher and comes across a beautiful feather to add to his collection.

Eventually he reaches the tit nest box located high in a tree where there are little chicks just preparing to leave the nest.

Bursting with information engagingly presented in the words and in Duncan Beedie’s amusing illustrations, both books should encourage youngsters to go outdoors to investigate and one hopes, appreciate the wonders of nature that’s all around us.

An Artist’s Eyes

An Artist’s Eyes
Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

As the story opens adult Mo and young Jo are out walking together. Readers are invited to notice their eyes – they have the same friendliness, shape and smallness but Mo’s eyes are different: she has artist’s eyes. As they walk through various different natural places Mo comments imaginatively on their surroundings: she sees the seascape as ‘a dazzling duck-egg blue, a swirl of peacocks and the inky, indigo of evening, whereas Jo says it’s “so blue!” As they continue Jo describes the forest literally as “green” whereas Mo sees “a shiny apple-green, the lime of gooseberries, and the spring zinginess of moss.”

The field of yellow flowers are “bright yellow” to Jo and Mo notices variations in shades. “Notice how light changes the colour. See the mellow yellow of melons and the pale pastel of primroses.” Jo’s response is despondent: he becomes angry and frustrated at not seeing like an artist.

Patiently, Mo encourages him to trust his own eyes and little by little Jo begins to see what they show him; and what they show him as he deploys his imaginative powers to the full are patterns, textures, shapes and more.

No, he doesn’t see as Mo sees but he does now see with artist’s eyes.

Assuredly, with Clémence Monnet’s gorgeous mixed media illustrations, and Frances Tosdevin’s empowering story, this is a book that, shared with the right adult, will encourage youngsters to accept, employ and make the most of the unique skills they have, as well as conveying the idea that everyone can see like an artist and describe imaginatively what they see.

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations

A World Full of Journeys & Migrations
Martin Howard and Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Migration has been very much in the news for the past several years with stories of people fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan, overcrowded and flimsy craft undertaking hazardous crossings of the Mediterranean and the English Channel and refugees attempting to cross land borders of eastern European countries to reach the European Union. This book chronicles that migration is not a recent phenomenon but something that began 70,000 years ago when the first people started to spread out from Africa to inhabit the whole globe.

Author Martin Howard and illustrator Christopher Corr explore some fifty instances through history, continent by continent covering a large variety of relevant topics. These include navigational journeys of discovery by Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus, as well as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki,

which emulated primitive vessels of ancient peoples; forced migration of slaves such as those of African peoples from their homelands to American colonies; colonial journeys for power and profit including those of the British to India and many European countries to Africa and various other parts of the world. Also included is an excellent example of what humans can do for those on whom great suffering is inflicted, the Kindertransport British people set up to bring Jewish children to Britain to prevent them being sent to concentration camps by the Nazi regime.

What is key no matter the reason, is that with the movement of people comes a wealth of new, potentially enriching ideas. The author acknowledges that in a book such as this it’s impossible to cover everything and it’s an amazing thought that as he says, inside everyone of us is a ‘kaleidoscope of human history and thousands of stories of travel and adventure.

Christopher Corr’s distinctive illustrative style is ideal for the book making what would otherwise be quite a demanding subject much more accessible.

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman / Love Grows Everywhere

Nen and the Lonely Fisherman
Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew
Owlet Press

Far out to sea lives Nen; he’s a merman who loves exploring but nonetheless has an empty feeling in his heart. Every night he sits beneath a starry sky singing to the sea whose waves carry his words of hope but Nen remains alone when he returns to the seabed.

Despite his father Pelagios’s warnings, Nen’s explorations of the world beyond his own lead him to discover fishing boats beyond which lives Ernest, a lonely fisherman who also feels something is lacking in his life.

One night Ernest hears Nen’s song and feeling something in his heart, he sets off in his boat to find the owner of this magical voice. So it is that a bond develops between Nen and Ernest. However Pelagios urges his son to stay away from the humans who are harming the oceans. Nen pays no heed however for he feels that the gentle, kind Ernest is special and their nightly meetings continue.

As Pelagios’ anger and sadness increase they unleash a terrible storm that puts Ernest’s life in danger as he’s thrown from his rickety boat into the foaming deep. Can Nen possibly come to his rescue

and if so, might it just change the mind of his father?

Washed through with an important conservation message, Ian Eagleton’s soft-spoken, lyrical tale of acceptance and love is compelling and perfectly paced, helped in no small part by James Mayhew’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations that include a wonderful full-length vertical scene of Nen searching the depths for Ernest, as well as small vignettes and double page spreads.

There’s love too in:

Love Grows Everywhere
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

‘Love grows everywhere…
From country farm to city square
From desert village, hot and dry,
to mountain home where eagles fly
.’
Through Barry Timms’ gentle rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant illustrations we share a family’s love, not only for one another but also for the plants they grow, nurture, sell, and give to members of their local community, newcomers especially. When reading this It’s impossible not to feel the various ways love is shown and shared

be it within the family, the richly diverse community or anywhere else: for love is a gift that helps to make the world a brighter, happier place; it keeps on growing and there’s sufficient for everyone, everywhere. It might just take some time for its magic to happen.

How wonderful it would be if this heartfelt book could show the way to everyone, in every place where such love is yet to manifest itself.

Croc O’Clock

Croc O’Clock
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

It’s feeding time for the crocodile with a seemingly insatiable appetite and goodness me does he love to boast about it as he keeps the zoo keepers busy all around the clock. “At one on the zoo clock, / the keepers give to me… / A MOUNTAIN OF MACARONI!” But that merely fills a small space in his tummy and the greedy beastie needs feeding on the dot of every hour. Moreover he has a cumulative song to tell readers what he eats.

At 2:00 there are two cups of tea and another mountain of macaroni; at 3:00 there are three french fries—and two cups of tea, and yet another mountain .…
And at 4:00? “4 pumpkin pies / 3 french fries / 2 cups of tea / And a mountain of macaroni!”
Five o’clock is time for some sweet stuff: 5 doughnut rings etc. More sweets at six in the form of 6 tasty toffees and as the clock strikes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 our every growing creature consumes 7 creamy coffees,

8 mighty milkshakes, 9 cherry cheesecakes, 10 jumbo jellies and 11 lemon lollies. Does he never get tummy ache one wonders?
Twelve o’clock brings 12 syrup sundaes

but hello- no mountain of macaroni? Now those keepers have finally decided that the crocodile’s diet is sadly lacking in veggies. What will the narrator’s reaction be to the next offering? …

Youngsters will delight in singing to the tune of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas, Huw Lewis Jones’ satirical take on the popular seasonal song, as they watch the croc’s continuing overconsumption overseen by the zookeepers with the assistance of some visitors, shown in Ben Sanders bright, bold stylised illustrations.

An Autumn Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom /A Winter Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom

An Autumn Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom
A Winter Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom

Angela Ferraro-Fanning and AnneliesDraws
Ivy Kids

With the seasons seemingly accelerated and all overlapping this year, (we’ve been picking blackberries for several weeks already and as I write we’re barely starting September) it’s good to have a pair of nature-centred books that point out to readers the best that each season offers.

The first reminds us that when it comes to harvesting autumn’s bounties, there are edible riches galore – various varieties of apples, pears, pumpkins and corncobs are traditional autumnal offerings. These can be enjoyed not only by we humans, but animals and birds too. It’s good to see youngsters being introduced to the idea of seasonal eating with recipes for such yummy things as pumpkin muffins, as well as apple chips, alongside that of zero-waste. (There’s a spread on using apple/pear cores and peelings, and another on uses for pumpkin seeds.)

It’s great to get children outdoors no matter the time of year so those seasonal gardening and growing projects are one way to encourage that. However those herein can be done even without a garden: herbs for instance, can be grown on a windowsill in city or town.

Crafts too are included: those acorn cap candles reminded me of tiny floating divas; then what about making your own lip balm, or a gratitude tree? Step by step instructions are provided. So too are snippets of seasonal information and there’s a wealth of autumnal illustrations executed in colour pencils by AnneliesDraws. A fun, eco-friendly compilation.

As is A Winter Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom. It’s good to see kale featured as one of winter’s veggies and interestingly I’ve not really considered that citrus fruits are a winter crop, though the author offers plenty of recipes for making edible treats using them, as well as some crafts. More to my taste are the bread making recipe (love the idea of adding spinach juice to the mix) and the three cocoa recipes – now there’s a thought (step-by-step instructions given).

Like the autumn book, woven into the activities are snippets of factual information including an entire spread on wildlife. With darkness coming so early in the day, Winter is my least favourite season: this book certainly suggests a wealth of ways to make the most of what it has to offer.

The Moose Fairy

The Moose Fairy
Steve Smallman
Happy Yak

Moose has always yearned to be a fairy so he’s over the moon when he spots a sign advertising for new members of the Secret Fairy Club.

Having put together what he thinks is the most suitable gear and donned same, he feels totally fabulous. Until that is, he arrives at the venue and realises that he dwarfs all the other potential members, some of which are anything but welcoming. Not so however the head fairy who invites him to do the tests along with the other would-be joiners.

With admission to the club gained Moose needs to use the secret knock to open the door of the clubhouse but although he succeeds in so doing, the door is so tiny, he can’t fit through and the others merely shun him.

Poor Moose walks sadly away and takes a dip in the river, hoping to shrink himself. There he encounters Fox with whom he shares his problem and rather too much other information.

Back inside the clubhouse, some of the other creatures are now seeing the error of their ways when suddenly an unwanted intruder arrives and just manages to squeeze himself through the door.

Perhaps now Moose has an opportunity to show he’s a true fairy no matter his size. A fairy that lives up to the oath: ‘Fairies are kind to all creatures, / Fairies are not mean or bitter, / Fairies help others in trouble or need …’

With its mix of humour, hope and determination, Steve’s heartwarming story about being yourself and accepting others unconditionally no matter their appearance is a delight to share. Moose is a smashing character splendidly portrayed by the author whose quirky, vibrant illustrations are a mix of suitable silliness and sparkling enchantment. And I absolutely love Steve’s wise words in the dedication to his grandchildren.

Animal Colours, Animal 123 and Animal ABC

Animal Colours, Animal 123, Animal ABC
Nikolas Ilic
Happy Yak

Three titles in a new First Concepts series feature some wonderfully wacky animal characters.

In the Colours book a twisty twirly snake and a grabbing crab introduce red, both fox and orangutan have orange fur, lion and a quacking duck are yellow, green is the skin of both a crocodile and a wide-mouthed frog, blue are the whale and a tweeting bird while other creatures are purple, pink, brown, grey, black or white. Then come multi-coloured chameleon and rainbow-beaked toucan, with the final spread showing all the animals featured.

123 has a different animal for each of the numbers 1 to 12 a double spread being allocated to a honey loving bear, 2 sharp toothed crocs, 3 racoons, 4 playful dogs, 5 staring black cats, six BAA-ing sheep, 7 grumpy frogs, 8 clucking chickens, 9 mucky pigs, 10 munching rabbits, 11 COO-ing pigeons and twelve toothy fish; and the final spread shows them numbering off with an invitation to count them one by one.

As well as being introduced to the alphabet in Animal ABC, little ones can discover an interesting fact about each of the featured creatures. For instance, did you know that a Gecko can’t blink so cleans its eyes by licking them with its long tongue?

Young children don’t acquire concepts from books but through a variety of experiences; these playful board books will help concept development but most important, they’re fun to share.

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons
Sara Hurst and Ana Seixas
Happy Yak

Authors are always looking for new ways to present dinosaurs to young enthusiasts who seem to have an insatiable appetite for these prehistoric creatures.

Herein Sara Hurst compares dinos. with vehicles, predators, humans and modern day foods among other things. With a body longer than a tennis court, Diplodocus needed to munch through around 33kg of ferns daily – that’s the equivalent of a human gobbling 66 boxes of cereal every single day – imagine that!

First though come an explanatory spread explaining comparisons, a pronunciation guide to dinosaur names and a time line.
The comparisons start on the Fossil Clues pages where readers learn for example, that one of the largest fossil poos ever found was around 70cm long and weighed more than a bowling ball.

I was fascinated to discover that a dinosaur’s age is calculated by counting the growth rings inside its bones (in a similar fashion to trees I imagine).
Other spreads look at the super skills of a variety of dinosaurs – Dromiceiomimus was about as speedy as an ostrich and twice as fast as the fastest man sprinter. Other spreads explore defence, food, weight

hunting ability, self defence and more, concluding with what was the likely cause of dinosaurs dying out.

In addition there’s a scattering of quizzes (answers at the back) and the entire book is brightly and dramatically illustrated by Ana Seixas.

Race Cars

Race Cars
Jenny Devenny ed. Charnaie Gordan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This book, is the result of a collaboration between author/illustrator Jenny Devenny who uses the metaphor of a car race to introduce institutional and systemic racism to children, and diversity and inclusion expert, Charnaie Gordon who edited the story. (Both have written an introductory note).

Meet best friends Chase and Ace. Chase is a black race car; Ace a white race car and they both love racing. Chase is super speedy and in his first year of entering, becomes the very first black car ever to win the ‘world-famous, annual race-car race.’ To his Ace friend who finishes fourth , it matters not: place is unimportant. However the race committee (all except the youngest, pink-tyred Grace, being white male autos) are anything but happy and resolve to alter some of the rules in favour of the white cars, thus disadvantaging the other cars in future races.

The route change they introduce for non-white cars

enables Ace to win the next race the following year and in the subsequent one, an official stops Chase before he enters the magic forest, demanding to be shown his ID. These two demonstrations of blatant discrimination result in Chase failing to qualify for the next year’s race. Now Ace starts to think perhaps something isn’t right: but even worse, Chase now feels inferior.

At a further committee meeting, Grace quietly talks of making the race ‘fair and equal for all’, but only one or two others agree, while the rest, fearing change, keep quiet.

The following year Chase is there spectating and supporting his friend who starts off at super speed. But as Ace approaches the magic forest, he notices something he’d not previously been aware of

and decides to take the route intended for non-white cars. Consequently he gets lost.

Back at the track the committee are worried about their star race car Ace not having crossed the line. Now, Grace knows she must speak out and so she does, with the result that Chase agrees to search for his friend … and finally they finish the race together.

Designed to be accessible to a young audience, and intended as a starting point for opening up discussion, this book has been engineered to tackle a difficult and sensitive topic. To this end there are discussion notes after the story. Almost every time I turn on the news I hear something alarming and upsetting concerning the ill-treatment of a person or persons of colour, so it’s clear that opportunities such as this book offer to get children talking are much needed.

The Encyclopaedia of Unbelievable Facts

The Encyclopaedia of Unbelievable Facts
Jane Wilsher and Louise Lockhart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Many of us turn red in the face when feeling embarrassed but have you ever wondered about your insides? Embarrassment causes adrenaline to be produced and this helps increase blood flow, one consequence of which is that the stomach lining becomes red, so we blush both internally and externally.

Equally amazing is that our hair contains minute traces of gold, with babies having more than adults. Both are covered in the Human Body the opening part of this unusual encyclopaedia of trivia.

In case you’ve ever wondered what astronauts do with their dirty laundry, what happens to their wee, or what happens when an astronaut wants to scratch an itchy nose while wearing a space helmet, you’ll discover the answers along with those to over 45 more questions in the Space section of this book.

It’s not only STEM topics that are included herein though. There are sections entitled Customs & Culture, Our World and finally Arts & Entertainment. If you want to know Donald Duck’s middle name, you’ll find the answer there.

For each theme Louise Lockhart provides a wealth of offbeat, stylish illustrations, mostly small but some whole page ones too.

No matter whether you want to ask questions in a quiz with your friends or family, or just fancy dipping in to discover some new factual bits and pieces, then here’s a book for you; this reviewer certainly learned a fair bit.

Ancient World Magnified

Ancient World Magnified
David Long and Andy Rowland
Wide Eyed Editions

New in the interactive ‘Magnified’ series, this is one of those books where you think, ‘I’ll just spend a few minutes reading this’ and hours later you’re still totally immersed, using the magnifying glass provided inside the front cover.

Starting with Mesopotamia in what is today parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, author, David Long and illustrator Andy Rowland take readers time travelling to visit sixteen ancient civilisations, providing a taster of what life was probably like in each one. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that here where civilisation is thought to have begun, men and woman were mostly treated as equals.

From there we move to (c. 4000-1500 BC), a large area now in India and Pakistan, the Indus Valley Civilisation, in which I have a particular interest having once visited not Harappa or Mohenjo-daro featured here, but another more southern site, Lothal.

I have to admit though I’d never heard of Olmec, central America’s first civilisation in what is Mexico today, nor the Kingdom of Aksum (120BC – 850 AD), one of Africa’s greatest empires much of which is in modern Ethiopia and we learn, among the first of the great civilisations to convert to Christianity. 

Also new to me is the Xiongnu Empire in what took up large parts of today’s northern China, Siberia and Mongolia, formed when several tribes of nomadic peoples came together under a ruler named Modu, controlling an area almost as big as Europe. 

Each of these fascinating civilisations is allocated a double spread most of which is taken up with a riveting, highly detailed illustration by Andy Rowland. There are also two or three paragraphs giving information about location, daily life, buildings, what made it prosper etc. and there are ’10 things to spot’ on every spread. Not easy in several cases but should you wish to look, the answers are supplied at the back of the book, along with a famous figures gallery, almost 60 more things to find in the busy scenes, a timeline and glossary.

Recommended especially for young history enthusiasts, as well as those who love search-and-find books.

The Dinosaur Awards

The Dinosaur Awards
Barbara Taylor, illustrated by Stephen Collins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a novel way of presenting dinosaurs to youngsters, not that a good many of them wouldn’t devour almost any dino. related book they can get their hands on, such is the seemingly never ending enthusiasm for these prehistoric creatures.

This one uses a combination of quirky, almost cartoonish digitally created illustrations and a wealth of intriguing facts about lots of different dino. species, some well known, others less so. I met a few for the first time herein, one being Majungasaurus that receives the ‘Cunning Cannibal Award and lived on Madagascar during the Cretaceous Period between 84 and 71 million years ago – assuredly a VERY scary predator.

Almost all the winners, be they famous or lesser known, are allocated three or four paragraphs, a captioned framed portrait of the award receiver along with its trophy or medal and one or more larger illustrations. There’s also a databank with name pronunciation and meaning, where it came from, diet, and size, plus in some instances a short humorous cartoon strip, in others some additional trivia.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what might make Ouranosaurus so special, not only did it have a ‘Super Sail’ along its back and tail, but also a duck-like beak and two bony bumps in front of its eyes.

Whereas Troodon’s claim to fame was its enormous eyes (about 5cm across), so it received the “What Big Eyes You Have’ award.

There’s even a ‘King of Rock ’N’ Roll medal and that goes to Cryolophosaurus (aka Elvisaurus’ on account of its funky head crest thought to resemble that 1950s quiff of the rock legend).

With plenty here to amuse and inform, this works either as a dip in and out book, or a longish read straight through, in which case you’ll encounter around fifty incredible prehistoric creatures from our planet’s past – worthy winners all.

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor , Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu
Words & Pictures

If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me you have probably been noticing beautiful wild flowers – snowdrops, daisies, celandines and primroses springing up, an abundance of catkins, blossom starting to open on trees, pussy willow buds bursting; as well as the occasional bee and butterfly. We even saw frogspawn a couple of times last week (the end of February). Definitely spring, with its promise of so much, is my favourite season and this year it seems even more important than ever to celebrate its arrival.

That is exactly what the two children in this beautiful book (written by children’s author Sean Taylor and ecologist Alex Morss) are doing. The older girl acting as narrator, tells us how what starts out as a hunt for Dad’s fork so he can plant some carrots turns into an exploration of the family’s garden. ’Everything smelled like wet earth and sunshine.”

“The spring sunlight is nature’s alarm clock,” Dad says, taking the opportunity to mention pollination.
Both girls are observant, asking lots of questions and noticing signs of new life all around – tadpoles,

a bird building its nest and a wealth of minibeasts – ants, woodlice, worms and beetles and several species of butterfly, as well as playfully emulating some of the creatures they discover.
Throughout, Dad subtly provides snippets of relevant information concerning life cycles, habitats

and what causes the seasons; and throughout the children’s sense of excitement is palpable.

Cinyee Chiu’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, beautifully composed and carefully observed.

At the back of the book are several pages of more detailed information about spring and how it affects the flora and fauna, as well as some suggestions for ways children can get involved in helping nature in its struggle against climate change.

A must have book for families with young children, as well as foundation stage settings and KS1 classrooms.

Love

Love
Corrinne Averiss and Kirsti Beautyman
Words & Pictures

Young Tess is part of a loving family – love surrounds her like the ‘light inside one of Daddy’s little houses.’

However, when the time comes for her to start school, the worries creep in. School is big and scary – nothing like that warm scarf that she feels wrapping around her when she goes out with her parents. Will the love still find her?

Her mother tries reassuring her saying as they part by the gate, that love will still find her even when they’re apart “like a string between us – it can stretch as far as it needs to.”

Tess though isn’t sure. Her understanding teacher offers some comfort – ‘Tess noticed a little thread between them. That felt nice.’

Little by little she continues discovering new strings of connectedness, friendship and love throughout the day.

Come hometime though, the anxiety returns when her mother is late to collect her.: that string doesn’t appear to be connecting Tess to anything or anyone. Finally, however, there with an explanation and a string-fixing hand, stands Mummy and all is well once more.

Enormously reassuring for young children who experience separation anxiety, Corrinne cleverly uses the string trope to make tangible the bond between loved ones in her story. But she makes it all the more impactful – love connects us no matter the distance between us – with her own ‘candle house’, ‘warm scarf and other metaphors. Employing a limited colour palette to great effect, Kirsti Beautyman’s sequence of textured illustrations are full of feeling, be that love, tenderness, worry, or empathy.

The Secret Life of Trees

The Secret Life of Trees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

Oakheart the Brave, oldest tree in the forest wherein it stands, acts as narrator of this revealing look at what happens beneath the bark and ‘neath the branches, below the roots even, of trees –arguably THE most important life form on our planet. Some of what we read contains truth in the form of fiction, some is fact.

To begin this fascinating book, Oakheart tells of how a marauding mouse seizes the acorn containing the very seed from which emerges the little shoot that is to become our enormous narrator.

He goes on to regale readers with arboreal tales including a version of an Indian one, The Banyan Tree, as well as The Sky-High Tree from Hungary

and some season-related stories: from Scotland comes The Fairy Tree, from Norway, The Summer Storm and with its autumnal setting we have The Tree of Life from Persia, while the final tree tale Magic in the Forest comes from Britain and is a legend about the wizard , Merlin.

There’s plenty of science too, relating to photosynthesis;

facts and figures about the oak’s growth; information about its animal inhabitants – small and very small; how trees communicate; seasonal change is discussed and much more, concluding with the all-important How to be Tree-Happy that explains briefly how to care for our precious trees and how you might grow one yourself.

Moira’s mix of information and story works wonderfully so the book should have a wide appeal; every spread offers an exciting visual experience too. I love the different viewpoints and clever ways of presenting information such as that of Secrets Inside Us.

Thank you Oakheart for your special gift.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Thank You

Thank You
Joseph Coelho and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Inspired by the NHS Thursday 8pm Clap for Carers earlier in the pandemic, award-winning performance poet Joseph Coelho wrote this gorgeous story, to demonstrate to children how they, like the child in this book can show appreciation for, and celebrate the key workers, in their own lives.

The story tells of Tatenda, a thankful child who says thank you whenever he gets an opportunity: thank you to mum and dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favourite comic, to the teacher for marking his work and to the shop staff who stack the shelves.

Of late though, nobody seems to hear his words of thanks, they’re too bogged down in their fears and worries.
Consequently, the boy decides that a much bigger thank you is needed: here’s what he does …

Suddenly this thank you turns into something colourful, full of energy and movement. Out the front door it whizzes and off down the road, followed by his parents, the post lady whose smile makes the thank you ‘grow and glow’, all the way to school where’s it’s given further sparkle from the teacher’s eyes. Then off into the market it goes, with everyone touched by it in pursuit, spreading joy and colour till it reaches a massive oak tree. And there among the branches it sticks.

Eventually after a massive team effort, Tatenda is able to reach  and liberate the thank you, whereupon it continues on its way spreading colour and joy throughout the community and helping everyone feel better!

This wonderful, lyrical celebration of Joseph’s, superbly illustrated by Sam Usher, is a brilliant manifestation of the power of gratitude and of community strength.

For every book sold 3% of the retail price goes to Groundwork, a charity that helps some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic: another great way of showing appreciation is to get your own copy.

Poems Aloud

Poems Aloud
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

Joseph Coelho is a performance poet so it’s no surprise that the nineteen poems in this book are first and foremost, intended to be read aloud or performed. Through so doing children can have lots of fun and discover the pure pleasure of spoken words.

There are poems for a range of moods and for each one, Joseph provides a helpful introductory line or so about reading it out loud.

There are some short playful alliterative Tongue Twisters to start with, including the sibilant The Slime Takeover that children will definitely delight in:
‘Slipping, shimmering, stinking slime, / sloppy cerise or shades of scarlet sublime. / It sticks and sucks and spits and spools, snaking slime slumping several school walls./ The slime swells and stretches, and starts to sprout, … ‘

They’ll also relish The Chilly Chilli with its homophones. Here’s the second verse telling how it feels since being ‘shipped to store’:
‘A little chilly chilli / feeling cold and in a knot. / Not a happy, chilly chilli. / In fact, this chilli feels quite ill / like it’s caught the flu. / It flew all this way / packed in a plane / to add heat to otherwise plain food.’
It sounds as though the poet had as much fun composing this as youngsters will when they read it, emphasising the bold words as he suggests.

As I write today the following are my favourites  (although they might well be different on another day): This Bear with its figurative language such as is used in the opening verse:
‘This lumbering bear is old / This lumbering bumbling bear / has shuffled over rugged imagined mountains. / Urged his bulk, slow and strong. / Slow as geography. / Strong as tree growth / through the forests of his mind.’
What a wonderful picture that paints in the reader’s mind even without the splendid illustration.

I love too the short Animals offerings that include Lion: ‘I am meat-licker, / bone-cruncher, / big–meower. / I cat walk with pride. / My mane is a hairdo of envy. / My roar is a rumble of mountains. / My claws, a savannah of pain.‘ Superb!

Next is the fantastically fanciful Something Wondrous, the first line of which urges:
‘Peer from your window in the deep of night.’ You might spy these, for its second verse goes thus:
‘A unicorn nibbles the gold leaf tree, / hobgoblins fist-fight in every flower. Mermaids flop from a luminescing sea. / Earth giants show-off their hidden powers.’ Joseph’s  power with poem creating is certainly not hidden and I really like the use of silhouettes in Daniel Grey-Barnett’s illustration.

The final one of today’s favourites conjures up a place whose sights, sounds and smells I’m familiar with. Even if you’ve never been On the Streets of New Delhi this poem will make readers feel that they’re experiencing the place. Here’s how it begins:
‘On the streets of New Delhi / a small brown dog yawns. / The morning light is golden / on the new streets of barking New Delhi.’
It concludes, thanks to the cumulative nature of the last line of each verse: ‘on the new streets of barking, selling, thrumming, chuckling New Delhi.’
Get hold of this cracking book to discover what causes the thrumming and chuckling referred to. Or you could cheat and look carefully at the action-capturing illustration  below;

but buy the book anyway – it’s a smasher!

The Incredible Hotel

The Incredible Hotel
Kate Davies and Isabelle Follath
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Stefan the understairs porter has a rather mundane life working in the kitchen of The Incredible Hotel situated in the great city of Delaunay. He spends much of his time fetching and carrying, mopping and chopping and doing the washing up; but Stefan dreams of cake making.

One morning early, a meeting of all staff is called. Mr Starch announces that the hotel is celebrating its centenary with a grand ball, the guest of honour being none other than the Duchess of Delaunay, an incredibly royal, particularly picky person with a penchant for closing down hotels. Uh – uh!

In her honour Chef Zagat is asked to make her favourite delicacy – a profiterole tower – the tallest, creamiest, ‘most profiteroley’ one ever.

The bakers set to work right away with Stefan acting as coffee maker; however he is an observant fellow and can see why the chef’s efforts are not a success, so he offers a suggestion.

All he gets for this is a tongue lashing from the chef and he’s banished from the kitchen.

That night Stefan leaves the hotel and sets to work profiterole creating in his own domain.

Come the morning of the ball, without Stefan’s input, the hotel’s usual clockwork routine breaks down. Indeed disaster strikes and a call for Stefan’s help comes from the chef.

He of course isn’t there to hear.

Meanwhile upstairs the guests start arriving, including the Duchess. She’s far from happy to be stalled by Mr Starch and insists on entering the grand ballroom … She’s even more unhappy at what follows and is about to stomp out … until a wonderful aroma wafts into the room.

The rest, shall we say is mystery – until you get your hands on a copy of this truly delectable treat of a book cooked up by Kate Davies whose words are superbly selected, and Isabelle Follath, whose illustrations are a splendid mix of nostalgic delight, rich detail and fun. (Keep your eyes open for the bit part players, the cat and mouse that appear on every page.)

Don’t miss this one! Satisfaction assured!