Microbe Wars

Microbe Wars
Gill Arbuthnott and Marianna Madriz
Templar Publishing

Despite this book not being a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changing our lives considerably, said pandemic seems to have spawned a number of books for children on the topic of microbes. But we humans have waged war on these micro organisms – only visible by means of an electron microscope – for thousands of years as they’re responsible for the spreading of the most deadly diseases in history. However it’s not only humans that fight microbes, sometimes it’s a case of microbes versus microbes, or humans fighting each other with microbes. Did you know that there are around a trillion microbe species in all, many of which are as yet unknown?

After a couple of introductory spreads mentioning some of the microbes from Protozoa to the bird flu virus, there’s a double page on the Black Death aka the plague, 

followed by another with information about several other diseases caused by microbes: Spanish flu, malaria and smallpox – it’s possible that Pharaoh Rameses V died of smallpox, a disease which happily, thanks to Edward Jenner’s vaccination, and the determination of the WHO, has since 1980, been exterminated.

As yet this isn’t so for COVID19 despite the vaccines now being rolled out, and perhaps never will be; but not all microbes are bad. Indeed there are many helpful ones: we wouldn’t be able to digest our food without those microbiomes in the gut. 

Other microbes help in the production of popular foods such as yogurt and cheeses, while still others are used in medicines for the treatment of diabetes and even some cancers. Indeed, the scientific innovations continue to bring hope and one never knows what the next amazing step on this life-changing journey will offer. That’s the message that emerges from this fascinating, sometimes funny book by one time science teacher, author Gill Arbuthnott, and illustrator Marianna Madriz whose lively, often gently humorous illustrations infuse the information with drama.

My First Book of Microbes

My First Book of Microbes
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

From the award-winning team whose previous titles include My First Book of Quantum Physics, this new STEM title explains the intriguing world of microorganisms – good and bad -to upper primary children and beyond.

They start by saying that these minute organisms come in all manner of different shapes and sizes, and using a rice grain for comparison show alongside it, a bacterium and a virus; then go on to explain the role of electron microscopy in observing such things as viruses.

Diving deeper into the hidden world of microbes, viruses, bacteria, fungi and more, they explain what these things are, where they are found, why many of them are vital to our very existence, as well as looking at the infections some microbes can cause, with a historical overview of the major epidemics and pandemics – including one we all know about, the devastating effects of COVID 19, which has its own double spread.
A number of topics are explored including algae, protozoa, phages,

archaea (only discovered in 1977), how viruses cause infections, the importance of hand washing, the role of antibiotics

and how some bacteria can develop a resistance to them, the way our immune system protects us, vaccines and their role in immunisation and the eradication of some diseases such as Smallpox.

A number of key scientists – Louis Pasteur (who pioneered modern microbiology), Robert Koch who discovered the bacteria causing tuberculosis and Edward Jenner developer of the first vaccine are featured, and the important role of teamwork in this area of science is discussed.

As always with this series, every spread is well-designed with a clear layout, diagrams and fact boxes that augment Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón’s thoroughly engaging text; and Eduard Altarriba’s colourful, sometimes playful illustrations help bring to life in an accessible manner, a topic that is sure to excite many youngsters, be they budding scientists or not.

The Stardust That Made Us

The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía
Big Picture Press

Written by Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and illustrated in Ximo Abadía’s show-stopping surreal style artwork, this visual exploration of chemistry is the third STEM collaboration by this pair.

Despite chemistry being one of my a-level subjects I was totally bored most of the time and certainly never really got to grips with the periodic table: I certainly could have done with this book back then: the author’s explanations and the visuals really bring the elements and that table to life. I love the way he defines them as ‘ingredients’ in nature’s ‘unseen cookbook full of recipes for making everything …’ from fish to fingernails.’ Now that’s the way to get children intrigued. These ingredients aka chemical elements are currently 118 in number, some of which occur in nature, others – the synthetic ones -26 we read, were made by scientists during experiments.

Nor did anyone ever tell me that the inventor of those bunsen burners we used in so many lessons were invented by Bunsen the German scientist who also discovered two alkaline metals as well as a spectroscope. This information is part of the ‘alkali metals’ spread on which we also read that caesium, one of the elements Bunsen discovered is important in our everyday lives: it plays a crucial role in GPS satellites, and caesium clocks are used in our mobile phones.

All this is getting a bit ahead of things though. The very earliest element came into existence when the Big Bang occurred almost 14 billions years ago, followed very quickly on account the fusion process, by helium, lithium and beryllium.

No matter which spread you read, you’ll surely find something exciting and much of the information is presented with a gentle humour that makes it all the more enjoyable. I laughed at the paragraph about making the synthetic elements being incredibly difficult – ‘Aiming the particles at the target is a hard thing to get right – a bit like trying to throw marshmallows into someone’s mouth.’

Despite the significant part women played in the discovery of elements, only two are named after women, one being curium (after Marie Curie and her husband), the other meitnerium named after Lise Meitner.

This enormously engaging book is an excellent one to give to older primary children and beyond; it will surely inspire them, and who knows where their enthusiasm might lead – perhaps one of them will add a new element to the five heavy elements discovered in the last 20 years; especially once they discover, as the title says, it’s stardust that made us..

How It All Works

How It All Works
Adam Dant and Brian Clegg
Ivy Press

There’s a mind-blowing amount of information broken into bite size portions packed between the covers of this chunky book, revealing to readers the ways in which complex science laws and phenomena affect our daily lives. Science in action it surely is.

Divided into thirteen chapters (plus an introduction and reference section of key figures and an index of the laws) it starts in the kitchen, gradually spreading out into the house, the garden, the Science Museum, and other places that may be found on a walk along the street from the town square.

It then moves into the countryside and to the coastline, the continent, the earth, the solar system and finally, the entire universe with every chapter starting with one of Adam Dant’s incredibly detailed illustrations.

Embedded within each of these are forty six different laws and phenomena behind the featured objects and activities. In his introduction Brian Clegg puts it thus: ‘What these illustrations and their short descriptions will show is the way that everything we do, in everything we experience, we are witnessing and taking part in scientific phenomena, guided and linked by scientific laws. Science is not just something we do at school or that professionals undertake in laboratories, it is at the heart of how everything works.’

Following each large illustration are close-up labelled sections taken from it, every one accompanied by a paragraph in which Clegg succinctly describes the relevant phenomenon (P) or law (L)


I really wish I’d had this book when I was studying science at school for it makes complicated principles/ laws easy to understand, something that spending hours every week in a physics or chemistry lab, failed to do: nobody even tried bringing in a bicycle pump and relating it to Boyle’s Law for instance.

Of course you don’t have to work your way straight through this book section by section. There are lots of ways to enjoy it: you might take one law illustrated in a section and then search for other examples throughout the book. You could use something that sparks your interest as a jumping off point for further research using other sources. Alternatively some might enjoy spending ages poring over just one of the large scenes, each of which has a different colour or hue.

The potential audience for this unusual book is wide – from KS2 through to adult and it’s most definitely one to add to a family collection as well as those of primary and secondary schools.

When Plants Took Over the Planet

When Plants Took Over the Planet
Chris Thorogood, illustrated by Amy Grimes
QED

Reputed botanist and field guide writer, Chris Thorogood presents a clear, concise evolutionary history of plants from the very earliest green alga called a charophyte that first appeared around 500 million years ago.

From those minute algae, plants moved onto land some 30 million years later, the first being mosses, liverworts and hornworts.Readers can then follow that land journey through various historic periods (a time line is given).

It’s amazing to think that some of the plants found millions of years ago in prehistoric forests are still found today some equisetum species for instance, one of which I frequently see on walks in the part of Gloucestershire where I currently live. Who’d have thought they’re now what’s termed ‘living fossils’.

Every spread is full of fascinating information on various plant groups and species; we discover when seed plants emerged – those that forever transformed the planet – and again some of these gymnosperms are still around today, the ginkgo (or maidenhair tree) being one. I was astonished to read that such forms existed well before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

There’s an explanation of the difference between moncots

and dicots (as I was taught to call them) but now referred to as eudicots; a look at powerful medicinal plants that can heal ailments, boost health and flavour food and drinks, and some examples of carnivorous plants.

Most people know that plants are crucial to our existence but nonetheless many species are in danger of extinction and the author gives a timely warning about the effects of human damage. It’s still not too late and the final spread offers some ways everybody can play a part in preserving the rich diversity of plant life.

With Amy Grimes’ bold, bright illustrations thoughtfully arranged around the detailed factual information, this is a superbly presented book as well as a fascinating and exciting one for individuals or class collections.

Earth is Big

Earth is Big
Steve Tomecek and Marcos Farina
What on Earth Books

Every one of the eighteen topics in this large format book explores the notion of absolutes in relation to planet Earth.

The author has an impressive science background and in his introduction he uses measurement and comparison to talk about this planet calling it in the final paragraph a ‘big, small, heavy, light, cold, hot, wet, dry, fast, slow, round, jagged planet, Earth.

Then follow double spreads, the titles of which are for the most part seemingly contradictory – Earth is Big followed by Earth is Small, Earth is Cold then Earth is Hot and so on.

So is Earth big, or is Earth small? What we learn is that in comparison to the inner and dwarf planets, its diameter is big whereas when compared with the outer ones, Earth is small.
When it comes to a consideration of roundness, Earth is an almost perfect sphere though it’s not without imperfections; 

however despite appearing spherical, the surface is rough and jagged on account of such things as mountains and canyons.

Sometimes changes take place on Earth quickly or suddenly on account of such phenomena as earthquakes, moon phases or wind; at others it changes slowly. The relevant spread briefly explains tectonic plates and like all the other explanations is accessible, no matter the scientific field. 

An amazing amount of always readable information encompassing such topics as mass extinctions, 

the Sutter’s Hill meteor strike in 2021 and climate change, which is mentioned several times, is packed between the covers of this book.

There’s a slightly retro look about Marcos Farina’s stylised illustrations and each page layout is different, helping to maintain the general reader’s interest in this unusually conceived scientific book. It also has a a glossary, contents, index, conversion tables and source notes.

One to add to KS2 collections and family bookshelves.

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries

Eureka! A Big Book of Discoveries
Jonathan Litton and Wenjia Tang
Little Tiger

If you lack an open inquiring mind, open eyes and imagination, it’s unlikely that you’ll discover anything new or shed fresh light on something that’s already known.

In this book Jonathan Litton takes a look at all kinds of amazing discoveries from both long ago and recent times, history being the first theme with dinosaur remains the first topic along with what some key palaeontologists have discovered. I was astonished to read that on account of several factors including improved technology and more trained palaeontologists, dinosaurs are ‘being discovered at a faster rate than ever … a new species per week on average.’

Ancient civilisations and some of their artefacts are presented next including a visit to some entire cities that were lost.

The second section ‘Introduction to Earth’ takes readers to both the Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as deep down into oceans

and right into the earth’s core. We read of extinct species and new ones that are recent discoveries: I’d not heard before of the psychedelic frogfish that usually walks on the ocean floor but can make itself into a ball and jet propel itself from one place and another.

Section three presents discoveries of a scientific and mathematical kind, some like penicillin, accidental, others the outcome of experimentation either simple or incredibly complicated and costly.

Perhaps your interest is space. That is Litton’s next theme, about which humans have discovered relatively little despite it being a source of fascination for well over 1000 years. It’s good to see Vera Rubin and her work on galaxy rotation getting a mention herein

and I’m pleased that the author devotes a double spread to women whose remarkable discoveries gained them scant credit at the time. This forms part of the final ‘nature of discoveries’ section that considers some philosophical questions – what makes a discovery a discovery?

The world is a dynamic place and it’s likely in the time that I’ve taken to read this book and write these words, fresh knowledge is being uncovered. That truly is an incredible idea …

A thoroughly engrossing and inspiring book, alluringly illustrated by Wenjia Tang to add to individual and school collections.

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish
Tracey Turner and Andrew Wightman
Macmillan Children’s Books

Sam, narrator of this funky STEM information book is totally obsessed with all that’s weird and wonderful about members of the animal kingdom. (There is mention of the occasional plant too.) He keeps four pets – stick insects of the Indian variety named Twiggy and Wiggy, a goldfish named Bob (deemed boring by Sam’s elder brother) and a hamster, Letty. Readers learn a fair bit about these creatures along the way including the fact that stick insects often eat the old skin they’ve shed and as a defence mechanism, they might exude from their joints a foul-smelling liquid or spray attackers with a nasty chemical substance. Best not to attack a stick insect then.
I should say at this point that throughout the book Sam has drawn or rather claims to have done (actually Andrew Wightman is the illustrator) all kinds of funky creatures eating, pooing and just generally going about their lives.
On the poo topic, did you know that a fair number of animals including woodlice eat their own? (they never ever wee though) Or that wombats have cube-shaped poo – how on earth do they manage excreting that without discomfort?

I’m pretty sure your reaction to the revelation that bombardier beetles can explode like toxic water pistols will be similar to mine – best to steer clear of their bums.

Much of this fascinating information is related during a hunt for Twiggy. Sam discovers that the little creature has gone awol from his vivarium when he goes to spray water inside.

Happily she is eventually found (hiding in plain sight) but not before Sam has shared a considerable number of amazing factual snippets with readers.

Terrific fun and gently educational too.

Is There Life on Your Nose?

Is There Life on Your Nose?
Christian Borstlap
Prestel

Dutch illustrator/designer Christian Borstlap presents a playful look at some of the vast number of microbes that occur everywhere you can imagine and places you probably can’t.

Despite his light-hearted style, there’s a lot of information contained between the covers of this book as readers are introduced to a host of these invisible organisms, starting with those living on our noses. Amazingly like all of us humans, these microorganisms are sensitive, able to move, eat and release things from within.

Contrast a single microbe with the largest living thing on our planet: I was surprised to discover that it’s a ginormous fungus that has grown to a size of 3.8 square miles and lives under the Blue Mountains in the USA. The author provides additional details about this and each of the other largely illustrative spreads presented in a ‘Find out more’ section at the end of the book.

The rate at which microbes reproduce is phenomenal as is the tolerance to extremes shown by some – those living in boiling water for instance, or barren deserts. And, did you know that some of these organisms even feed on metal,

and others on oil – both of which can be a good thing.

None of us would be able to digest our food without the action of the microbes living in various parts of our digestive system. So these are definitely vital to our well-being.

During the past year we’ve all become hyper-aware of the harmful kind of microbes, viruses, in particular COVID 19 (mentioned in the final notes) but only alluded to on the relevant spread.

With the ever growing problem of plastic waste, it’s great to read of the possibility of microbes offering an organic solution to this huge issue. Others are even able to generate clean energy through gas production.

Now you might think you’re pretty good when it comes to recycling but we learn here that microbes are actually the very best of all recyclers …

All in all, none of us would be here at all without microbes: those known as cyanobacteria produce almost 50 per cent of the oxygen we breathe.

This fascinating account has truly whetted my appetite and I can’t wait to visit Amsterdam (one of my very favourite places) again: this time I will definitely head for Microbia – the world’s only microbe museum – mentioned at the back of the book.

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
Dr Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón
Walker Books

Talking to nine year olds about nano particles? Surely not, you might at first think. However the author of this book knows just how to do it.

This is a totally captivating look at materials and the uses scientists make of them by physicist Dr Jess Wade from Imperial College, London and illustrator, Melissa Castrillón.

Right from the opening spread containing the words, “Look around your home. Everything is made of something … “ readers are drawn in, all the more so as the text then goes on to use the book itself as an exemplar to remind us of some basic descriptions of materials as well as introducing the importance of microscopy. 

That leads neatly in to a spread on atoms – those building blocks from which ‘every single thing on this planet is made …’ and molecules.

A great thing about this book is that every new term that’s introduced – elements for instance- is immediately then related to something familiar to its target audience:. So we’re told, the human body comprises eleven different elements including carbon. This element is part of the make up of every living thing, but sometimes existing solely as layers of carbon atoms; graphite (the lead in pencils) is given as an example.

By moving on to graphene (created by removing a single layer of carbon atoms from graphite) the author takes us into unfamiliar territory with a new material: or rather, a ‘nanomaterial’ that has taken countless experiments and many years to make.

Graphene, we’re told, already has many uses in technology but because nanotechnology is a dynamic field of study, there are further possibilities, some not perhaps even dreamt of yet. Neatly bringing the narrative full circle to the reader, the author concludes ‘There are so many secrets left for scientists to unlock, And who knows the key person might just be … YOU.’

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Science and Me

Science and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

Following their Creators of Peace, author Ali Winter and illustrator Mickaël El Fathi present profiles of thirteen more Nobel Prize winners, this time for their work in medicine, physics and chemistry.

Coming from all over the world and starting with Marie Curie (1903) and concluding with Donna Strickland (2018 winner for laser technology), each of the laureates is given just one double spread so there’s only space for a brief biography that focuses as much on the dedication and challenges overcome as the individual’s discoveries / achievements and the social impacts thereof. For example, it took decades for the discovery of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar relating to ‘black holes’ to be recognised.

Michaël El Fathi takes a key moment or element from each featured life as the basis for each collage illustration: for Youyou Tu it was the ancient book mentioning ‘Qinghao’, the Chinese name for herbs in the Artemisia family. From these could be extracted Artemesinin, the drug that has subsequently prevented over two hundred million people worldwide dying from malaria.

I particularly like the way in which the author involves readers in considering what science contributes to making the world a better place for us all; she does so both through the title lead in to each of the scientists as well as through the summation on the final spread, the last line of which asks “What does science mean to you?

Look What I Found in the Woods

Look What I Found in the Woods
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

‘Follow me. I know the way. / We’re walking in the woods today.’ So says the child narrator of this book.
The woods are my favourite place to walk and during the pandemic I’ve spent a lot of time so doing in woodlands close to my home, always returning home feeling considerably uplifted. Consequently I was more than happy to take up the invitation to participate in this woodland foray with the three child adventurers shown on the first spread.

Readers are immediately engaged by means of an insert in the bottom right-hand corner that asks us to find one signpost, two butterflies and three bright yellow flowers.
The second spread shows the children making observations while the text provides facts about the trees and a sidebar showing labelled tree shapes.

The subsequent spreads alternate between these two styles of layout

as readers learn about leaves, bark,

fruits and seeds, fir cones and shells while the children continue their exploration discovering exciting ‘treasure’ throughout their walk; treasure that they present on the final spread once back indoors.

This highly engaging nature book published in collaboration with the National Trust, successfully mixes story, non-fiction and search-and-find. Jesús Verona’s illustrations are an absolute delight. Each one offers an immersive scene to linger over and wonder at the fine detail included; and the final endpaper shows the children’s creative efforts with some of their findings.

Cool Engineering

Cool Engineering
Jenny Jacoby and Jim Venn
Pavilion Books

This latest in the Cool series looks at the various branches of engineering, provides short pertinent biographies of key engineers through the centuries including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Frank Whittle, Hedy Lamar and Tim Berners-Lee, as well as the history of engineering from the invention of the wheel right up to today’s technology as used in such things as clean energy. 

There’s even a look at some future projects including innovative new building materials – whoever would have thought that encouraging mosses to grow on concrete (bio-receptive concrete) would become a good thing to do.

There are plenty of interesting experiments to try at home or school – the marshmallow tower is a fun example and can include an element of competition.

There’s so much to like about this engaging little book including the clear layout, ‘Cool facts’ boxes, quotes from the engineers featured, a timeline and alluring contents page, glossary and Jem Venn’s slightly quirky illustrations. It’s especially good in a STEM book such as this to see importance given to the sketching of ideas.

If you want children to think like engineers, then include this book in your classroom or family collection – it’s a good place to start.

The Good Germ Hotel

The Good Germ Hotel
Kim Sung-hwa and Kwon Soo-jin, illustrated by Kim Ryung-eon
What on Earth Books

What an unusual and entertaining way of presenting information is this dialogue between the main narrator – Colon Bacteroides – and the nine year old girl – the hotel within which it lives. This bacterium describes its role and those of its fellow bacteria explaining the various tasks they perform in the body. I wonder how many children realise that there are microbes all over the body, many good – the superheroes – and some bad too.

The narrator takes readers on a journey through the digestive system talking about what happens when food is eaten and how gut bacteria help provide energy by removing nutrients from the food consumed, and thus helping the body work and grow.
Protection from bad germs is another job for the ‘good’ bacteria but if those baddies do invade then the hotel’s army of immune cells are called into action.

At this point in the narrator’s explanation there comes, (along with the likes of stomach bugs, strep throat and cold, a brief, timely mention of the virus Covid-19.

Next is an explanation of the role of antibiotics and a discussion of how important it is that they are only prescribed when absolutely vital in case all those good bacteria are destroyed too, or the nasties learn how to become antibiotic resistant.

Alongside such examples of serious scientific topics, young readers will definitely enjoy the references to farts and poo, especially that farewell final spread from the narrator so graphically illustrated.

Indeed all the illustrations are comical and huge fun to peruse, helping to make the entire topic accessible to primary school age readers. Who ever would have thought that talking with a bacterium could be so enlightening. There’s a final glossary in case readers need to check the meaning of any of the terms used during the conversation.

Swim, Shark, Swim!

Swim, Shark, Swim!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg

In the second of this Wild Wanderers series we join Shark – a blacktip reef shark – in an exploration that takes him on a long, long journey through the oceans of the world searching for a home. Seemingly it’s an almost circular swim that starts and finishes in the waters around Australia.

On his journey he encounters all manner of marine creatures including penguins and a tiger shark off the southern Cape of Africa,

and an angel shark in European waters.

There are blue sharks, octopus and squid in North American waters while off South America lurk Hammerheads. In the Pacific he sees dolphins, humans and in the kelp forest a Great White shark. Off the coast of Hawaii manta rays and green sea turtles dive and dance; 

then finally there is the Great Barrier Reef and a host of other blacktip sharks all of which help the reef in its struggle to survive.

Totally mesmeric is Dom Conlon’s poetry of motion, which cleverly weaves a sub-aquatic non-fiction story that is ideal for sharing with children either in KS1 or KS2. Anastasia Izlesou’s visual images too, transport readers and listeners to an underwater world of wondrous richness and beauty.

As well as the factual information contained in Shark’s odyssey there is a map tracing his path and a double spread of facts about sharks and the other marine animals.

Marvellous Machines

Marvellous Machines
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

This book comes with a detachable ‘magic lens’ embedded inside its front cover that enables readers to look into buildings and the inner workings of all manner of mechanical things large and small, relatively simple as well as highly complex.

This is achieved by focussing the lens on the areas of red patterning (stippling, cross hatching or brickwork) which then disappears to show such things as the energy connections powering all kinds of machines in the kitchen, robots at work,

the insides of a container ship, a submarine, a space station …

and even a human body.

The book concludes with some thought-provoking questions.

Mechanically-minded youngsters especially will love the opportunity to peek into various components of a space station and to use the lens to hunt for the dozen items listed in the ‘find it’ panel on the relevant spread, or to do likewise in and around the cyclists on the jet aeroplane and “Bicycle’ spreads.

As well as anything else, this book reminds younger users of the enormous wealth of machines we rely on in our daily lives and to discover something about how they function.

Why? / It Isn’t Rude to be Nude

Why?
Billy Dunne and Rhys Jeffreys
Maverick Publishing

Young children are innately curious about the world around them, always asking questions and wanting to discover new things. So it is here with the girl who is out walking with her dad when he points out a rainbow in the sky saying, “You get them when the rain has passed and the sunshine comes instead.”
“Why?” comes the girl’s softly spoken response. This precipitates a sequence of further questions “Why?” followed by explanations from Dad who speaks first of colours in a light beam being split when they pass through rainy weather;

then the fact that blue light bends a little more than red.
The next “Why” invokes an explanation of this fact. The girl’s whys intensify and Dad moves on to more sophisticated talk. After which the poor fellow is feeling somewhat frazzled and in need of a rest. But still comes another “Why?”

What the guy says in response gets right to the crux of the complex matter but story spoiler I won’t be, so I’ll leave you to wonder or ponder upon this – unless of course you’ve sufficient knowledge of physics to answer for yourself. Whatever the case, his daughter is delighted, and all ends satisfactorily – just about!
Just right for youngsters eager to find out about their world (rainbows in particular) and their weary adult responders.

Billy Dunne’s rhyming narrative making accessible some tricky science, is easy to read aloud (great final throwaway comment from the daughter) and is well complemented by Rhys Jefferys’ illustrations. I love the way he shows the changing expressions of the father as he does his utmost to keep up with and ahead of, his daughter’s “Why”s and his wordless spread showing ‘The complex composition of the photon field’ is a complete contrast to the relatively spare previous ones.

It Isn’t Rude to be Nude
Rosie Haine
Tate Publishing

Open this debut book of Rosie Haines and almost immediately you’re faced with this spread with bums

after which we see nipples (normal things), ‘willies’ (not silly) and vulvas. Thereafter come changes to some parts – boobs might grow, and hair (don’t be scared).
On view too are bodies of all kinds and a variety of body colours and markings

as well as hair (or lack of it). We’re shown people whose bodies stand, sit, or leap and dance, and sometimes strut across the spreads

all with one object in mind – to promote body positivity and to show how bodies change over time as we grow and get older.

Children for the most part do have a positive and healthy attitude to nudity; it’s often the attitudes of adults that trigger those feelings of shame about the naked form and being naked. So, it’s three rousing cheers for Rosie’s book illustrated with a wonderfully warm colour palette and a pleasing fluidity of line.

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.

A Trip to the Future

A Trip to the Future
Moira Butterfield and Fagostudio
Templar Publishing

The future is coming no matter what we do, and most of us are presently looking forward to the near future when things get closer to normal. But what role will science and technology play in tomorrow’s world?

Author Moira Butterfield takes readers on a virtual sci-fi odyssey to look at some of the future possibilities, as well as showing us some of the incredible things scientists and technologists have already achieved.

We start in the home – a smart home of course – where voice command technology will be pretty commonplace.

Each spread thereafter moves further afield and the next stop is the catwalk for a look at Powered Dressing. Imagine being able to charge your mobile with your trousers.

On a more serious note, the prospect of biodegradeable clothing is surely to be welcomed.

So too are the possibilities offered at this recycling centre

where bacteria-munching technology could be used to help break down much of what we presently call rubbish.

In spite of being vegetarian – vegan almost – I don’t think the notion of eating a meal made wholly from algae really appeals and a pondweed burger on an edible plate sounds gross!

A holiday of any kind away from home feels like a dream right now but did you know that already there are plans afoot for a space station hotel that will orbit Earth. I don’t think I’ll be reserving my ticket no matter how awesome the views might be.

And as for holidaying on Mars, I’m not an enthusiastic stargazer so I think I’d give that one a miss too, no matter how successful scientists might be at ‘terraforming’ the red planet.

I do find the notion of a space garden fascinating though. On the Space Garden spread I was interested to learn that already researchers from the University of London have altered the DNA of a lettuce to produce a drug that can treat bone weakening.
The book ends with a look at ethical considerations and the author puts forward 4 ‘future science rules’ for readers’ consideration.

Every one of the 27 Fagostudio designed spreads has its own allure, though it depends on a readers’ predilections which ones they find truly immersive, but the entire book is certainly fascinating, particularly for those with a scientific or technological bent.

My First Book of the Cosmos

My First Book of the Cosmos
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

Team Ferrón (physicist and writer) and Altarriba (graphic designer and illustrator) have a special skill of presenting highly complex topics to children in a manner that is accessible, entertaining and educative.

Their latest book, My First Book of the Cosmos again does just that, managing to compress the vast Universe between 56 pages taking us on a trip through the life of the Cosmos from its birth to its possible end time. Incredible!

What then is this Cosmos or Universe? The author sums it up thus ‘the Universe is everything that exists: it is all space and time, and it is where all mass and energy is found’: awesome and mysterious for sure.

First off is a look at gravity and we’re presented with the gravitational models of Newton and Einstein, followed by a look through ‘Gravitational Lenses’, the first being thought of by an amateur scientist, Rudi W. Mandl. A gravitation lens, as defined here is one that ‘works like a powerful telescope that magnifies and distorts light’.

Having examined beginnings, topics include Galaxies, and the vexed question of The size of the universe.

Then there’s an explanation of How a star is born; it’s formed from interstellar clouds of cold gas and dust called nebulae.

Next comes a look at the different types of stars – I didn’t know there were so many – as well as the life of a star from its birth to its death including how and why these happen.

Plus if you’ve ever wanted to peer into a black hole or discover the mysteries of dark matter – a very tricky matter indeed,

and those of dark energy – that which ‘separates galaxies instead of bringing them together’ – in other words, it causes the Universe to expand ever faster, you can do so here.

Mind-blowing, imagination-stretching stuff!

Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book to amaze and inspire youngsters, one that looks at the invisible natural forces that have an enormously powerful influence on life on our planet. In it Catherine Barr covers such diverse topics as microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light waves, electromagnetism, ultrasound and smells.

Say the word ‘microwave’ to young children and most will think of the small oven in the kitchen used to heat food quickly. But there are also microwaves in space and scientists have invented machines that make microwaves that are put to many uses: in medicine, in computers and mobile phones, as well as in navigation by airports and ships.

Each topic has two double spreads, the first explaining how animals use these remarkable powers, the second discusses how humans too have learned to exploit them.

Did you know that some animals rely on UV light for their very survival? For instance it makes lichens glow enabling reindeer to find this much needed food in barren Arctic habitats of Canada, while Sockeye Salmon are able to spot the plankton they feed on when it shows against the UV light of shallow waters.

Much more familiar is the importance of UV in the creation of vitamin D, so vital for maintaining strong muscles and bones in humans.

In all there are fourteen alluring and wonderfully coloured spreads by illustrator Anne Wilson displaying the ways in which these unseen mysterious powers impact upon life on earth

– that ‘secret world beyond our senses’ – making this a book to fire curiosity and ignite the imagination of primary children.

Once Upon An Atom

Once Upon an Atom
James Carter, illustrated by William Santiago
Little Tiger

James Carter successfully wears several hats: he’s a much loved, award-winning poet, a musician and a non-fiction writer; how he manages to fit in all his performances at schools and festivals too, is pretty amazing.

In this latest book, James fuses his poetry and non-fiction writing, this time to explore some of the really BIG questions that fascinate both children and adults alike; and they’re all of a scientific nature.

Starting with a mention of the Big Bang and tiny atoms, the poet wonders, ‘WHY do leaves turn red and gold? / WHY do fireworks explode. // WHAT are whizzes, bangs expansions? / They’re all CHEMICAL REACTIONS!’
That assertion certainly makes chemistry begin to sound exciting.

Next on the scientific agenda are electricity, followed by gravity,

both aspects of physics – for as we hear, ‘We live on one great universe / and PHYSICS tells us how that works.’

Evolution, medicine come next, followed by my favourite of the sciences – botany, all of which are aspects of BIOLOGY.

The final stanzas talk of the work of scientists, their experimenting and inventing, ending with the exciting thoughts: ‘Now WHO knows what / the FUTURE is? // Find out … / become a SCIENTIST!’ Now there’s a possibility.

On the last spread is one of James’ acrostics entitled It’s all a question of SCIENCE.

A fizzingly, zinging addition to James’ non-fiction poetry series, this one is a clever fusion of playful entertainment and STEM information. With each spread being embellished with William Santiago’s arresting, zippy art, the book becomes a STEAM title that is great to share in the classroom or at home.

In the Sky: Designs Inspired by Nature

In the Sky: Designs Inspired by Nature
Harriet Evans, illustrated by Gonçalo Viana
Caterpillar Books

Yet again, prepare to be awed by nature. This time at the way scientists and technologists have been inspired by things in the natural world, both animal and plant, as described in this book.

Did you know for example that the Wright brothers were inspired in part by pigeons when they designed and flew their first successful plane; or that the wingtips of the Airbus A350 XWB are curved like a bird to help it fly faster?
As well as such information, readers can learn how forces affect the speed of flying objects, be they birds or aeroplanes.

I was fascinated to read that the Japanese engineer Eiji Nakatsu was an avid bird watcher and when faced with the challenge of lessening the noise of the Shinkansen bullet train, he took inspiration from the Adélie penguin for the bottom half of the pantograph (device connecting the train to the overhead wires), and was able to make it more streamlined.

Architects too, have used nature as designer to influence creations such as the apartment building, Arbre Blanc in France, while Vietnamese architects have covered the roofs of some houses with trees to help lower the temperature of the locality and improve air quality. Other architects have drawn upon the hexagon shapes created by bees’ honeycombs in designs including the British HiveHaus homes, while the Slovenian social housing in Izola comprises hexagonal modules and the Sinasteel skyscraper in Tianjin, China will have hexagonal windows.

I was interested to learn scientists have copied the rough coating of moths’ eyes, using microscopic bumps on the surfaces of phone screens and other electronic devices to reduce glare;

while in the USA designers have created special screens for such devices, which bend light like butterfly wings. Amazing.

All this and other intriguing topics are covered in Harriet Evan’s text. Gonçalo Viana’s dramatic illustrations make it all the more alluring, exciting and imagination stirring. There’s a glossary too and I love the endpapers.

All in all, a super STEM book.

The Story of Inventions / The Great Big Brain Book

Two new titles from Frances Lincoln each one part of an  excellent, established series:

The Story of Inventions
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Have you ever wondered how some of the things we take for granted such as paper and books,

clocks and watches, computers, electricity, vaccinations, cars, planes, the current pollution-creating scourge – plastic, as well as the internet came about? If so then this book will supply the answers.

Written in a reader friendly, informative style that immediately engages but never overwhelms, the authors will fascinate and inspire youngsters. Add to that Amy Husband’s offbeat detailed illustrations that manage to be both accurate and amusing,

and the result is an introduction to inventions that may well motivate young readers to become the inventors of tomorrow.

Add to classroom collections and family bookshelves.

For all those incredible developments to happen, people needed to use their brains; now here’s a smashing look at how this wonderful organ of ours works:

The Great Big Brain Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s so much to like about this book, that is a great introduction to an amazing and incredibly complicated part of the body. How many youngsters will have thought about the notion that their brains are responsible for every single thing that they do, be it breathing, walking, chatting, eating, thinking, feeling, learning for instance. Moreover the brain enables us to feel happy, sad, powerful, and much more.

So how does this ‘control room’, this ‘miracle of organisation’ as Mary Hoffman describes the brain, actually function? She supplies the answer so clearly and so engagingly that young readers will be hooked in from the very first spread.

Each double spread looks at a different but related aspect such as the brain’s location and development;

another explains how the brain functions as a transmitter sending messages around the body by means of neurons. Readers can find out about how we’re able to move our muscles, do all sorts of tricky, fiddly things such as picking up tiny objects, a jigsaw piece for instance.

Lots of other topics are discussed including the two sides of the brain and what each is responsible for, as well that of neurodiversity. Some people’s brains develop differently, while others might have problems if something goes wrong with their brain.

Every spread has Ros Asquith’s smashing cartoon-style illustrations that unobtrusively celebrate diversity and make each one something to pore over.

A must have in my opinion.

The Surprising Lives of Animals

The Surprising Lives of Animals
Anna Claybourne and Stef Murphy
Ivy Kids

The author of this look at animal lives talks in her introduction of the close link between humans and other animals, dividing the book into five aspects of behaviour that we all exhibit. She then goes on to explore elements of each one through a wide variety of animals both large and small, using playfulness (Having Fun), Thinking and Feeling, Everyday Life, co-existence and community (Living Together), and Settling Down and reproducing, as themes.

Adults as well as young readers will find plenty of interest: I was surprised to learn for instance that seagulls have been observed playing catch by dropping a stick or a stone from high up in the sky then swooping down to catch it before it reaches the ground – an aspect of playfulness so some scientists think.

Did you know that octopuses are highly intelligent and are able to work out how to undo screw-top jars and childproof containers to get their tentacles on tasty snacks?

Or that that an African grey parrot named Alex, studied by animal brain scientist Dr Irene Pepperberg was able to identify different colours, shapes and materials, and sort items into categories? This is just one of the numerous things she discovered during her 30 years of training and working with the bird.

Equally clever in their own way are the Army ants found in South America that are able to build bridges out of their own bodies. Then having done so they use the bridges to get across gaps and work co-operatively until all members of a colony have traversed the gap. That’s teamwork for you.

Anna Claybourne mentions the work of a number of animal scientists in her ‘Scientist Spotlight’ insets. Her narrative style makes the entire book highly readable as well as informative; and Stef Murphy’s illustrations illuminate not only the animals’ fascinating behaviours but also their habitats and characteristics.

Recommended for family bookshelves as well as primary school collections.

Board Book Play and Learn

When I Grow Up I Want To Drive …
When I Grow Up I Want To Be …

Rosamund Lloyd and Richard Merritt
Little Tiger

Both books hide much of their brief snippets of information beneath the thirty flaps found between the covers.

The first offers 5 different vehicles – a tractor, an ambulance, a cement mixer, a recycling truck and an aeroplane each shown on the verso and then as part of an appropriate scene on the recto, while the final spread is an integral scene …

A similar pattern is used in the look at 5 possible jobs tinies might aspire to, with a representative from each introducing themselves opposite a look at the role in action. Again the places of work are all shown in the final spread.

Bright artwork by Richard Merritt shows in turn an astronaut, a teacher, an athlete, a firefighter and a doctor.

Let’s Find The Dinosaur
Let’s Find The Mermaid

illustrated by Alex Willmore
Little Tiger

Search-and-find fun with a hunt for a T.Rex in the first book, and Mermaid in the second, is given a tactile element with felt flaps and die cut pages.

As tots engage in the game of hide and seek they’ll listen to descriptive clues such as ‘T-Rex has a scaly head. Could this be T-Rex behind the leaves.’ Or ‘Mermaid has a swishy tail. Could this be Mermaid in the coral?’

Alex Willmore’s attractively patterned spreads will ensure that each game is a playful learning opportunity, while the repeat refrain textual patterning will help with word recognition if appropriate for the particular child.

Baby 101 Touch and Trace: Plant and Grow/ Build a House
Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

Two new titles in the STEM series for toddlers take a look at horticulture and building construction.

Plant and Grow tells of the vital things needed for seeds to germinate and thrive until the crops are ready to pick and consume.

There’s a mathematical thread to Build a House with such vocabulary as basic 2D shape names and simple counting (of roof tiles) as well as a spread showing how bricks might be bonded.

Both titles have a tactile element thanks to the ‘touch-and-trace’ details built into Thomas Elliott’s illustrations on every page to  help develop the fine motor skills of little users.

Fun learning for babies and toddlers.

Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.

Discovering Energy

Discovering Energy
Eduard Altarriba, Johannes Hirn & Veronica Sanz
Button Books

In his characteristic bright, retro illustrative style, Eduard Altarriba in collaboration with writers Hirn and Sanz, both of whom are experts in physics, explores the vital topic of energy and its effects on all our lives.

After a spread on the sun’s energy, the book looks at what energy actually is including the difference between potential and kinetic energy.

It goes on to investigate the interrelationship between energy and power, exploring wind power, water power, electricity, fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar power and much more.

Historical pioneers including Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, James Watt of steam engine fame, Alessandro Volta who created the first battery and Einstein

are all introduced in relation to their contributions to our understanding of the topic.

In the light of the drastic effects of climate change on the planet and life thereon, there is a spread on the all-important area of ‘clean and green energy’ and the crucial developments that will make safe, clean, sustainable energy now and in the future.

This vast subject is one we all need to come to grips with and it’s never too soon to start learning. This enlightening book, although aimed at young audiences, could also be useful to adults who have no background at all in physics.

Why Do We Poo? / Where Does the Sun Go?

Why Do We Poo?
Where Does the Sun Go?
Harriet Blackford and Mike Henson
Boxer Books

These are two TechTots™ Science titles in a new STEM series for the very young.

The Tots, Oscar, Isla, Seb and Mia are a quartet of mini Tech superheroes who act as investigators exploring the sort of questions young children ask.

In the Poo book, a pigeon pooing beside Mia as the Tots sit eating lunch on the beach one day precipitates Seb’s question, “Why do we poo?”

Rather than finish their picnic, the four, armed with bowls, a resealable bag, some food (and a pair of tights Oscar just happens to have brought along) they set about conducting an investigation.

Using straightforward language with plenty of dialogue, with the aid of their equipment the four take a look at the digestive process from mastication to excretion; the narrative concluding as Oscar enters the loo.

Like the characters in this scene, I’m sure your little ones will supply similar comments as you share this playfully informative book.

Whether or not you want to provide the facilities for practical investigation by your audience, I’ll leave to you; but use left overs such as fruit/vegetable peelings, not edible food for all kinds of reasons.

The Sun exploration begins as the four sit swinging in the park in the setting sun with Seb wondering, “Where does the sun go?” This little guy seems to be the questioner among the friends and this time it’s Isla taking the lead.

During the course of the investigation we learn that it ‘takes a day and a night for the earth to turn around once’ and that it turns at around 1000 mph. The account of their exploration finishes with Seb’s comment that “there’s a lot to learn about our planet”, no doubt paving the way for further investigations by the team.

This one’s more easily re-investigated in a foundation stage setting as it only requires a globe (any largish sphere would do), a blob of playdough, a small paper flag to mark where on the globe we live, a torch, a child to hold it and another to hold the globe.

We all want children to grow up with enquiring minds: this series with Harriet Blackford’s clear, concise narrative and Mike Henson’s bold, bright amusing illustrations should help them on their way to becoming young investigators themselves.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

Science is cool, it’s exciting, and creatures are endlessly fascinating, as this book demonstrates. It’s full of wacky and funky facts on beasties large and small from minute bugs to massive creatures of the deep, presented in an accessible manner by James Olstein.

So prepare to be fascinated by the likes of the praying mantis, which can turn its head around by 180 degrees to see what’s happening behind – particularly useful should they want to be teachers –

or the fact that in Tokyo, pigeons have been trained by scientists to distinguish between the works of Monet and Picasso; now why would they want to do that?

You might wish to know the answer to the time old ‘chicken or egg, which came first?’ question: the answer from some British scientists is revealed herein.

I was fascinated to discover that although sloths hang around in trees most of the time, they come down once a week for a poo; also, that yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on giraffes when they go to sleep at night often settling in the giraffe’s ‘armpit’.

Did you know that Egyptian plovers clean crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for some extra food? Risky!

The information is presented in sections such as dinosaurs, whales, octopods, cats, stripes, tongues, defences and so on.

Olstein’s retro-style, quirky pictures bring further funkiness to his array of facts.

This is ideal for dipping in and out of, though readers who find it hard to become engrossed in a book might just find themselves so doing in Incredible Creatures.

Speed Birds

Speed Birds
Alan Snow
Oxford University Press

Rather than being awed by his mother’s talk of potentially deadly falcons, a crow chick is entranced when he sees the speed at which a falcon zooms through the air.

Come autumn, the little crows learn that it’s time for them to fend for themselves in the big, wide world. Excited and with his mother’s words “… if you stay curious, use your mind, and believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve” the little bird sets off one morning with the other young crows.
Convinced that there are wonders to be discovered, the little crow urges the others onwards till eventually they stop to spend the night in a lone tree.

It’s here next morning that one little crow makes a most thrilling discovery that is to change his life and that of his fellow crows.

Below the tree is a junkyard full of abandoned vehicles and car parts as well as a shed full of tools, more car parts, trophies and most important, plans and a notebook containing drawings, diagrams and lists.

So begins the project to become the fastest bird in the world.

This is a book that makes nonsense of the notion some primary teachers adhere to that once children achieve reading fluency, they should no longer read picture books. Alan Snow’s illustrations are truly awesome – a combination of fine art and technical drawing with clearly annotated detailed inventories of the car’s and engine’s components and how  the internal combustion engine works as well as the formula for calculating the speed and more.

Mechanically minded adults, as well as older primary children and above, will be enthralled by both the story and the intricate technical details of the art. I wonder if Lewis Hamilton would go even faster with a feather festooned Mercedes?

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions

Daniel discovering some amazing inventions …

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

What struck me immediately while reading about the amazing inventions in this book, is the crucial role of the imagination in each and every one of them; something all too many of those who’ve played a part in side-lining or cutting completely, creative subjects in schools seem to have overlooked or disregarded.
Without the power of imagination none of these ground-breaking ideas would ever have been conceived let alone come to fruition.

Weird and wacky-seeming, for sure: this book is brimming over with quirky, illustrated facts about all kinds of inventions and discoveries from penicillin to plastic-using pens; the matchstick to the microwave.

What about a nanobot so tiny it could swim inside a human body to perform medical procedures;

or non-melting ice-cream that retains its shape for hours .You can buy the stuff – it’s called Kanazawa – in Japan.

How super to have a pair of super-light, super-strong trainers made from spider silk that can be composted once they’re finished with.

Or perhaps a garment made of fabric that can be cleaned by holding it up to the light. Aussie scientists have manufactured such a fabric and it contains tiny structures that release a burst of energy that degrades stains; yes please.

Certainly the roads around the country could do with making use of the self-healing concrete developed by Dutch microbiologist, Hendrik Marius Jonkers. It uses bacteria to heal cracks in buildings and roads.

Even more surprising than some of the inventions themselves is the fact that they were accidentally discovered, penicillin being one, superglue another.

Hours of immersive, fun-filled learning made all the more enjoyable by author James Olstein’s quirky, retro-style illustrations on every spread.

Anatomy for Babies / Botany for Babies

Anatomy for Babies
Botany for Babies

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

Here are two absolutely lovely board books that are part of the Baby 101 Science series.

Anatomy for Babies starts by introducing basic body parts such as head, hair and foot.
It then takes little ones inside to look at bones

and muscles, and back out to see the skin.

Next comes the brain, followed by the lungs and the heart.
The alimentary canal comes next with a quick look at digestion.

Thereafter we move to the outside again for a focus on the five senses. Each part introduced has a sentence describing its function.
The final spread celebrates the notion of growth and has a lift-up flap.
And don’t miss the opportunity to do the action song ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ when you look together at the front cover.

Botany for Babies explores the world of flora starting, after a general celebratory introduction, with seeds of various kinds.

Roots and shoots and their respective functions come next and then an opportunity for some height comparison using a daffodil, a sunflower and a deciduous tree.
The following spread is devoted to root systems including some mouth-watering vegetables: it’s never too soon to introduce the idea of eating healthy veggies to little ones.

The focus then moves to trees of both the deciduous and coniferous kind, after which comes the role of leaves in photosynthesis (no that term isn’t used!).

Bees buzz merrily on the next spread where their role in pollination is mentioned.

A fruiting apple tree is shown bearing juicy red fruits and there’s also a cross section where you can see the seeds, which takes readers full circle back to seed dispersal on the final spread. There too is a flap to lift with a surprise beneath.
Adding to the enjoyment, insects and other small creatures form part of the illustration on almost every spread.

Both books have terrific STEM potential as well as being wonderful for language development; it all depends on the adult mediator.  Thoroughly recommended.

Audrey the Amazing Inventor

Audrey the Amazing Inventor
Rachel Valentine and Katie Weymouth
Words & Pictures

Hot on the heels of Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer comes another young girl character with a passion.
Meet Audrey, inquisitive and an inveterate fiddler with things, who, having declared to her teacher, her intention to be an inventor, sets about achieving her ambition.

She starts with items to make life better for her dad and Happy Cat but after a very rocky start

and even more disastrous next efforts, Audrey miserably declares herself “the world’s worst inventor!

Luckily for her, her dad, far from making disparaging remarks, encourages his daughter to learn from her mistakes and carry on trying. Wise advice.

It works too, for it isn’t long before Audrey is inventing again, but this time she’s extra careful at the planning stage, the constructing stage and the testing stage. Dad cannot wait to see the new invention.

Will it work to the satisfaction of all though? It’s certainly wildly inventive, and sophisticated; but will it deliver?
Crazy, but enormously enjoyable and an inspiration to young female would-be scientists, technologists and engineers: Audrey demonstrates just how much enjoyment the STEM curriculum offers and Rachel Valentine’s narrative reminds children of the importance of persevering, and of following your dreams.

There’s a slight touch of the Heath Robinsons about some of Katie Weymouth’s zany scenes of Audrey at work on her inventions, and she also adroitly captures the close and supportive relationship between father and daughter.

Moth

Moth
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interestingly this is the second picture book introducing adaptation and natural selection to children I’ve seen in the past few weeks – could a new trend be starting. I was first taught about these scientific ideas with reference to the Peppered Moth, the particular example used in this story, when doing A-level zoology donkeys ages ago, and now they’re part of the KS2 science curriculum – quite a thought.

‘This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’ So says science writer, Isabel Thomas in the opening lines of her narrative, a narrative that seamlessly interweaves both science and social history.

In the nineteenth century almost all Peppered Moths had light grey patterned wings that blended with the tree trunks and branches it frequented.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution also came air pollution blackening buildings, monuments and trees alike.

In this new environment, the light-coloured moths became easy to spot and were gobbled up by birds.
Darker forms of the insect were less conspicuous and more likely to escape predation and to breed whilst the lighter form became extremely scarce.

With the advent of the Clean Air Acts in the mid-twentieth century air pollution from smoke and soot was greatly reduced, trees and buildings were no longer stained. Now the dark moths were more conspicuous and less likely to breed successfully, though both forms of the moth can still be found.

All this, Isabel Thomas recounts in her dramatic, sometimes lyrical text that ends with hope. A hope which, as we hear in the final explanatory pages, might lead to other living things being able to adapt to the changes, including climate change, that we humans inflict upon our planet.

Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations are as lyrical as the text, embodying at once arresting beauty and veritas, and instilling a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to see such an eloquent science-focused book that also embraces the arts side of the curriculum.

Holes

Holes
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
360 Degrees

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Jonathan Litton quotes at the beginning of this large format book, a hole is ‘a hollow place in a solid body or surface’. It then goes on to say ‘they are both something and nothing” – paradoxical hmm?

All manner of hole-related topics from caves to nostrils, and phloem to philosophical ideas are covered, the information being gathered under five main headings: Natural Holes, Manmade Holes, Animal and Plant Holes, Philosophy of Holes and Ordinary and Extraordinary Holes – the result, author Litton tells us in his introduction of ‘squirrelling and hoarding’ lots of kinds of hole ideas in a huge hollowed out hole. I like that notion.

The rest of the text is equally engaging as well as highly informative. I learned a new word – spelunker – meaning people ‘who visit caves, but without proper training’ – on the second spread.

The second theme, ‘Manmade Holes’ includes mines, wells and boreholes, tunnels and subways

as well as subterranean living, secret holes and buried treasure.

I enjoyed too, the idea of earth being like a ‘Swiss cheese under our feet!’ and I know many children will giggle at the mention of ‘bottoms’, which are included as an example of the location of holes within animals.
The topic of plant holes particularly fascinates me and there’s a spread devoted to some of the ways plants use holes.

Thomas Hegbrook has done a sterling job in providing illustrations for all the themes making every spread an invitation to delve deeper.

With its die-cut cover, the whole is a veritable treasure trove of holes, to be dipped into and rooted around in: you never know what you might find, but as the author says in his finale, what he’s covered herein is just a small sampling of a ‘hidden wonderland’; the rest is awaiting our discovery. I know I’ll never take a walk and think about what I see in quite the same way, having read this book.

Happy hole exploring.

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Ada Swift is back with a STEM activity book that’s packed with exciting projects related to both the physical and the biological sciences.

With Ada’s help, it takes readers through the entire scientific process and using the headings ‘Scientists are Curious’, ‘Scientists Think’, ‘Scientists Keep Thinking’, ‘Scientists are Observant’ and ‘Scientists use details to describe things’, ‘Scientists Learn from Others’, ‘Scientists look at things in new ways’, ‘Scientists are Patient’ and ‘Scientists are Persistent’ introduces the essential characteristics of a scientist.

All the time the text encourages children to add their own ideas, as in this tree observation page.

Or in the ‘Decomposers’ spread whereon readers are asked to write their own responses to ‘Why don’t colourful leaves pile up, year after year, until the trees are buried beneath them” Why do they turn brown?’
This is followed by practical activities and observations.

I could go on at length talking about the various activities, which are many and varied (over 40 in all) but will just mention a few: there are word searches, an energy game, tracking the phases of the moon, designing a vehicle that uses wind or solar energy or another form of renewable energy and watching seeds grow and recording related observations.

Very much hands-on, this is an ideal book to inspire youngsters from around 6 to become scientists like Ada Twist, indeed Ada’s very own story is told at the outset.

Thoroughly recommended even if you haven’t yet encountered Ada or her friends, Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

I’ve signed the charter  

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever thought about creating a house entirely out of rubber balls, or building a bridge using only 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti and 20 miniature marshmallows?

These are just two of the challenges to be found in this treasure trove of STEM activities. I’ve done the latter with many classes and it’s always enormous fun and a superb co-operative learning activity.

Altogether there are more than 40 projects and activities that help develop observation, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; and almost all are open-ended.

I especially liked ‘Thinking About Others’ wherein the reader is asked to walk through their home and list the improvements/modifications that would help a person in a wheelchair get in, around inside, cook, bath, relax, sleep and play.

It then asks for modifications for a blind person .
An excellent companion to Iggy Peck Architect; but even if you haven’t read the original story, this is well worth getting hold of; but I urge you to make the acquaintance not only of Iggy, but also of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Story of Space / 100 Steps for Science

The Story of Space
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘A first book about our universe’ this follow-up to The Story of Life is an equally fascinating exploration of another ‘big’ topic: what is thought to have happened 13.8 billion yeas ago when the Big Bang created our universe; and what followed in space thereafter going right up to the present time …

even projecting future possibilities. We’re told how the sun came into being; how, over billions of years, stars ‘are born, grow old and die’; how the planets – and hence our solar system – were formed. As well as that, there is a spread on comets and asteroids; another on how/why the seasons vary in different parts of the Earth; and one looking at oxygen and how it supports life.

This awesome journey is taken in the company of two young space investigators who comment and ask questions alongside the authors’ main narrative. Both Barr and Williams have a science background and manage perfectly, to avoid talking down to primary school aged readers. Amy Husband’s vibrant illustrations have an exuberance about them, making the whole book all the more inviting for the target audience.
I’d most certainly add this to a home collection or primary class library.
The same is true of:

100 Steps for Science
Lisa Jane Gillespie and Yukai Du
Wide Eyed Editions
Ten STEM topics are explored in this fascinating book (written by a doctor of chemistry), that offers thoroughly digestible, bite-sized introductions to Space, Wheels, Numbers, Light, Sound, Particles, Medicine, Materials, Energy, and Life.
Each one is allocated several spreads wherein its evolutionary story is explored and the key scientists are introduced. In this way, what might for some, seem formidable topics, are given a human element making them more easily engaged with and intriguing. Add to that Yukai Du’s detailed visuals, which include some amazing perspectives …

and science becomes exciting for everyone.

I’ve signed the charter