Beneath the Waves

Beneath the Waves
Helen Ahpornsiri and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Ocean life is a relatively popular STEM topic for authors/illustrators but if you are looking for a book with that extra wow factor then Helen Ahpornsiri’s Beneath the Waves has just that.

In four chapters we visit various watery locations – Coast,

Tropics, Open Ocean and Polar Waters

and for each one Helen has collected the natural materials to press and then create magnificent, intricately designed collage illustrations of the weird and wonderful creatures that live in the four habitats.

Sometimes books that are so beautifully illustrated as Helen’s are let down by a mediocre text, not so this one though. Lily Murray’s text is highly engaging and informative with each topic or marine animal being given two, or sometimes three paragraphs that include facts relating to size, feeding habits, breeding and more.

So for instance we read of sea krait ‘… Large lungs mean it can stay underwater for up to two hours at a time, and its flattened tail works like a paddle, powering the snake through the water. When the sea krait finds its prey, (eels) it strikes with deadly venom, swallowing it whole.’ Fascinating indeed.

With its clever fusion of art and science, this is a superb STEAM book that will delight and inform readers of a wide age range. I can envisage a fair number of them collecting a variety of flora and getting creative themselves.
It’s definitely one to add to your home bookshelves and to school collections, both primary and secondary.

Patricia’s Vision / Hosea Plays On

Here are a couple of books about enormously inspiring people from Sterling Books

Patricia’s Vision
Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris
Sterling Children’s Books

Here’s a super STEM picture book biography by Michelle Lord, of an inspiring African American woman, Dr. Patricia Bath, who followed both her passion and her vision to become a doctor and change other people’s lives by restoring their eyesight by means of tools that she herself had invented, tools that included lasers to remove cataracts.

From her childhood, (as a young child having seen a blind man begging on the street in Harlem in the 1940s, and pondered on how and why it could have happened), Patricia was a girl with a great and growing curiosity. After qualifying as a doctor, she “decided to get the training, education, skills set so I could achieve miracles” and that is precisely what she did, believing that “eye sight is a basic human right”.

She always looked for possibilities where others saw only insurmountable walls, and through her tenacity and determination managed to do what had never been done before often against her naysaying fellow doctors who hadn’t the imagination she possessed to look beyond the information given.

Through her entire life, even in retirement, this awesome woman kept her goal firmly in her sights and when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, she visited a school classroom wherein blind children received their education in a classroom without braille books. On her return home she sent computers to that Tanzanian school so that the pupils could use their fingertips to read braille computer keyboards; this she called “Computer Vision”.

What an incredible woman and what an awe-inspiring book, made all the more so by the inclusion of direct quotations from Dr Bath and animated illustrations that show both emotion and scientific details. A terrific tribute, and a splendid way to introduce young readers from all over the globe, to this medical hero who died last year.
(There’s also a timeline, a note from the author, a further page about Dr Bath and a bibliography.)

Hosea Plays On
Kathleen M. Blasi and Shane W. Evans
Sterling Children’s Books

Both author Kathleen Blasi and illustrator Shane Evans celebrate the street musician Hosea Missouri Taylor Jr. in their fictional homage of a story of a day in his life, when he boards the bus and goes to his favourite spot, Rochester Public Market.
There he would take out his saxophone and play amid the hustle and bustle. On this particular day we see him passing a boy raking leaves who pauses in his work to pretend play using his rake.

Once in the market passers by are entranced by his music and some drop money into his saxophone case; one girl is moved to dance,

their harmonious double act continuing until the rain comes down when she and the watchers, head for cover leaving Hosea to play alone.

At the end of the day, Hosea is thrilled to discover he has earned ‘enough money’ which we understand is the means to buy another instrument – a trumpet –

and in so doing, spread the love by donating it to the lad Nate, he’d spoken to in the morning. Then they play a lovely surprise finale duet.

The vibrant artwork is wonderfully uplifting: Hosea’s passion for music and its power shines out and the story is enormously, joyously heart-warming.

An author’s note explains how the musician’s goal was to keep the neighbourhood children in positive ways. To this end he bought instruments for youngsters and offered them free music lessons: a true advocate for learning through music.

Recommended for all who want to share, or inspire others with the joys of music and of giving.

Make Time for a Board Book

Where’s My Llama?
Kate McLelland and Becky Davies
Little Tiger

Capitalising on the current vogue for all things llama, Becky Davies has written a board book. Herein a llama has gone missing and it’s up to little ones to follow the trail of brightly coloured footprints to track her down.

Along the way tiny detectives will encounter a long-necked Giraffe, a cute tailed fox

and a long-eared rabbit, all of which have similar characteristics to the llama.
But where is the errant ungulate? Rest assured her fluffy tail will finally give the game away.

With its final flap reveal, Kate McLelland’s alluring scenes – each with a touch and feel animal body part – on softly patterned pastel backgrounds, simple descriptive text with the repeat refrain, ‘Where’s my llama?’ to chant, there’s plenty to keep the attention of tinies throughout this touch and feel, search and find book.

Maisy’s Science
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Toddlers’ favourite mouse Maisy is in investigative mode in this STEAM First Words tabbed book.

Out and about, she encounters some very windy weather that is perfect for kite flying; seasonal snow as she feeds the birds; enjoys a relaxing break from vegetable gathering to enjoy watching the minibeasts close by. Then it’s time for a bit of seed watering – perhaps she’s planted sunflower seeds – followed by observing some seasonal changes.

The arrival of her friends gives an opportunity to look at various parts of their bodies and hers and once she’s alone again, she and cuddly Panda can investigate a variety of textures; make some rather noisy musical sound with her percussion; don her painting apron and experiment with her paints, perhaps trying colour mixing and after all that activity it’s time to sit and read a book (or choose from one of the other learning tools shown on the opposite page).

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop!
Todd Tuell and Tad Carpenter
Abrams Appleseed

This is a fun, rhyming tale of an energetic would-be little ninja whom we first meet looking terrified of the rather large family dog.

Creeping away, he comes upon his younger brother happily playing with a balloon. Not for long though. With a deft ‘chop’ Ninja  removes the balloon from little bro., then proceeds to snatch his chocolate-chip cookie and with a further chop – delivered with his foot this time – destroys his block-built castle leaving the long-suffering toddler howling.

A change of heart caused by an unseen force calling ‘Ninja, Ninja, would you stop?’ sees our Ninja then pause and help to reconstruct the building before whizzing off once more into the great outdoors.

It’s there that he receives his comeuppance, discovering – much to his surprise – that little brother is actually a highly observant pupil. Time to join forces it seems, for two Ninjas may well be better than one, certainly when it comes to scheming.

There’s a slight retro feel to Tad Carpenter’s bold, bright scenes from which the black-clad Ninja leaps out – literally! I can see little ones joining in, enthusiastically chanting along with adult readers aloud of debut author, Todd Tuell’s staccato text, as they turn the pages.

How Colour Works

How Colour Works
Catherine Barr and Yuliya Gwilym
Red Shed (Egmont)

Right from its arresting endpapers, this book that investigates the science of colour and how we see it, simply explodes into a rainbow of bright hues.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how our eyes work, or why some things glow in the dark.

Or maybe you’re curious about how animals see colour – do they see what we see?

and how do they use colour?

Why is grass green, blood red, the sky sometimes blue, and why does the snow look white? The answers are herein.

This surely is a visual treat – Yuliya Gwillym’s dramatic illustrations arrest the eye at every page turn; but author Catherine Barr provides plenty of facts too, facts that will likely have readers wanting to go beyond the information given to learn even more.

Successfully combining science and art to present a veritable STEAM kaleidoscope, this is a book that offers something to youngsters from nursery age upward. What about awe and wonder? Yes, it definitely fits that bill too.

They Did It First:50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World

They Did It First: 50 Scientists, Artists and Mathematicians Who Changed the World
Julie Leung and Caitlin Kuhwald (edited by Alice Hart)
Macmillan Children’s Books

This book profiles 50 STEAM boundary-breaking trailblazers – pioneering artists, scientists and mathematicians – each of whom overcame enormous challenges to make incredible contributions in their own fields, and in one way or another, change the world for the better.

Some Julie Leung selected will already be familiar to readers – Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing,

Jane Goodall, Toni Morrison, Aretha Franklin, for example, but  that many others will probably not be.

It’s clear that the author has made an effort to feature men and women from around the world, as well as choosing from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Thus she highlights Nikola Tesla, the first person to invent the AC motor (1887) Johanna Lucht the first deaf engineer to help manage a crewed NASA flight from mission control – “Never give up” she advises aspiring deaf engineers and scientists” with time and patience … “you will gain hearing allies.” along with the first Chinese woman – Tu Youyou – to be awarded a Nobel Prize (2015) in Physiology or Medicine.

New to me are Alexa Canady who faced an uphill struggle as a woman of colour, to become the first female African American neurosurgeon;

she specialised in paediatric care, saving numerous young lives.

I’d not heard either of Riz Ahmed, first EMMY Award winner for acting (2017) who is of Asian descent;

and other than her name I knew little about Zaha Hadid, the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004).

The subjects, arranged chronologically, mostly came to prominence in the 20th or 21st centuries, although Isaac Newton (1668) is there, as are two 18th century people Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Italian mathematician, and German astronomer Caroline Herschel.

Like me, I suspect youngsters reading this fascinating and inspiring compilation, will be prompted (perhaps by their motivational quote) to do their own digging to discover more about some of these incredible people starting perhaps with some of those for who a vignette portrait with a sentence beneath and a brief paragraph on the next spread, are all we’re given. To that end there is a final list of books and other resources.

Also at the end of the book is a time line, as well as a note from the illustrator, Caitlin Kuhwald whose stylised portraits, painted digitally, are instantly eye-catching..

Role models for aspiring youngsters, all.

Discovering Architecture

Discovering Architecture
Eduard Altarriba and Berta Bardí I Milà
Button Books

The urge to build structures is seemingly, a universal human trait. I spent some of the Easter break constructing a den in a quiet woodland glade in Bushy Park, from a fallen tree trunk and branches, with 6-year old Emmanuelle and her soon to be 4, brother Samuel.

When they are ready to discover more about the build environment, this tremendous introduction should prove invaluable.

The graphic designer and illustrator Eduard Altarriba has already introduced young readers to Quantum Physics and now in a similarly engaging manner presents a look at iconic buildings through history, their creators and some of the items that might be found inside such buildings.

Starting with the earliest known building projects, the pyramids of Egypt, Iraq and Mexico, Classical Greek, Roman and Byzantine places of worship, domestic and vernacular architecture from many parts of the world, information on architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Zaha Hadid …

readers are given a superb presentation of things and people architectural.

The final spreads focus on architecture’s basic elements – there’s a cut-away diagram of the principal parts of a building; what being an architect entails and lastly a look at what buildings might be like in the future (it’s good to see sustainability given a paragraph here).

University lecturer at the School of Architecture, UPC, Barcelona, Berta Bardí I Milá packs a wealth of absorbing information into the uncluttered spreads, so finely designed and illustrated by Altarriba.

Perfect for KS2 readers and perhaps adults wanting a starting point for the topic.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

Brick Building 101

Brick Building 101
Courtney Sanchez
Walter Foster Jr.

I’ve yet to come across a child who doesn’t enjoy using LEGO bricks or similar. This book capitalises on this enthusiasm presenting, as the cover says 20 activities to teach about STEAM.
What is STEAM you might be asking? In the UK teachers are familiar with STEM; STEAM adds arts and so comprises science, technology, engineering, arts and maths.
According to the introduction ‘STEAM learning is about giving children real-life problem-solving skills through exploration, play, and exciting learning experiences. STEAM engages kids to find their own solutions. … Kids learn by doing, failing, and trying again.’
Each activity has sections: ‘Parent Prep’ offers tips on things adults can do to help make the activity engaging and fun; STEAM Stats says which of the STEAM categories are incorporated in a project; STEAM Sparks offers further ideas and ways to extend a project.
Activities focus on using bricks (big and small), baseplates, and small figures, along with other materials you can easily find around the home or in a nursery setting or early years classroom, and are offered at different levels – easy, moderate or challenging.
Here’s one of the examples at the first level:

 ‘Super Symmetry’ is in the moderate category and could equally be done by pairs of children rather than adult and child – I’ve tried it and it works well with 4/5/6 year olds working together.

At the challenging level ‘Build a Bridge’ is great fun with a reception class working in pairs. And who can resist trying their hand at ‘Balloon Racer’.

This would fit in well under a movement, transport or any number of other topic headings.
Enjoyable and educative at the same time, and equally worthwhile to have and dip into at home or school.