Robyn Koontz and Amy Proud

Bug, so named because of her passion for bugs – spotting them and drawing them – finds it hard to concentrate in her maths lessons. Instead, her teacher often catches her doodling and staring outside thinking about her favourite creatures.

When Mrs Muskie tells the class that they can plan a trip to the science museum, so long as everyone does well in the maths test the following day, encouraged by her friend Jasper on their way home, Bug determines to do her best.

Sitting in the field near her school, the little girl tries hard to concentrate on maths but finds herself distracted by buzzy bees, tickly gnats, dragonflies and butterflies, which of course, she cannot resist drawing in her sketchbook.

When she notices crickets on a log in two groups, these too become objects for sketching.

But then, Bug realises that instead of a distraction, her minibeast drawings can help her understand her maths – good on you Bug – and she proceeds to use her pictures of butterflies, ants and crickets as visual aids.

I absolutely love the way that back in her classroom next day, during the test, Bug comes to the aid of her teacher when her lucky crickets become a bit too lively, escaping from her lunch box and landing in Mrs Muskie’s hair,

calmly leading her outside, collecting up the offending creatures from the field and proceeding to prove to her teacher that she was doing as she’d been told ‘showing her thinking’ on her paper, which she hands over for checking.

Congratulations are the order of the day and Mrs Muskie is as good as her word …

There’s plenty of gentle humour both in Robin Koontz’s text and Amy Proud’s enchanting illustrations executed in pencil and acrylics that are likely to make budding entomologists out of all young children (although I’ve yet to come across one who isn’t fascinated by minibeasts).

A smashing book.

What On Earth? Birds / Do Sharks Glow in the Dark?/ Do Tigers Stay Up Late?

What On Earth? Birds

Mike Unwin and Pau Morgan

Natural history writer Mike Unwin and illustrator Pau Morgan turn their attention to birds for the latest book in this excellent What On Earth? series.

In its usual way it’s packed with information and practical ideas that include things to make and do including the occasional experiment, all presented in a highly visual manner with every spread using the space alluringly in a manner somewhat akin to a comic.

As well as bird facts there are poems (Tennyson’s The Eagle and Lear’s There was an old man with a beard’) along with an invitation to readers to write a bird poem of their own. On the literary side too is ‘The king of the birds’ a story based on an old Celtic folk tale, which might also inspire story writing by readers.

You may want to try dancing like a bird;

or perhaps get outdoors and listen to some birdsong, even catching the dawn chorus if you’re up early enough.

The book is divided into four sections: What is a bird?; Bird food; Bird life and behaviour and Enjoying birds, and very page turn brings something to excite, or fascinate young readers.

Offering a great way to discover things avian in all kinds of interesting ways, the book concludes with a glossary and an index.

Do Sharks Glow in the Dark?
Do Tigers Stay Up Late?

Mary Kay Carson

Splendid photographs and sequences of facts in response to a series of introductory questions – one per page (or occasionally spread) – present the essentials relating to two very different, but both predatory, animals.

No, sharks do not have bones; their skeletons are cartilaginous (a fact I remember well from my early days of studying zoology); and they have both skin and scales. Did you know people once used dried sharkskin as sandpaper? Or that adult sharks ‘don’t do the parenting thing’? Rather shark pups look after themselves.

And contrary to popular belief, only around six humans are killed by sharks in a year.

So it is with tigers: these creatures tend to avoid humans, their towns and farms, although it’s humans that are responsible for tigers being endangered with less than 4,000 roaming wild now, more than half their number being found in India.

I was fascinated to read that no two tigers have identical skin stripes, that a tiger’s skin is striped as well as its fur, and that tigers can swim for miles.

Unsurprisingly tigers don’t purr, growling, grunting and roaring are their ways of communicating.

Both books offer a fun and easy way to get to know something about two of the world’s most iconic creatures; and each has as part of the back matter, information about helping to protect the animals in question, some useful related vocabulary and an index.

Just Read!

Just Read!
Lori Degman and Victoria Tentler-Krylov

This is a picture book that really does fly the flag for the pleasures that reading has to offer and the multitude of ways and places it can be enjoyed.

We begin in a library with a group of children, one of whom declares, “Hooray! I know how to read on my own!” going on to say, “But sometimes I don’t want to do it alone. So …”

We then learn that this reader (who isn’t identified) shares the bibliographic propensity with an astronaut, pirate or farmer … a clown or knight wearing armour.

An animal can also act as reading companion be it a penguin, moose, bear, tortoise or hare.

Choosing what to read can on occasion be tricky – there’s so much choice – I definitely empathise with that – and the text need not be a book; there are codes, road signs, maps, sheet music, menus, recipes, comics, on screens and much more besides.

Moreover, some people read with their ‘fingers across bumpy lines’,

others using voice, or hand signs (inclusive though slightly inaccurate the latter two which are essentially, ways of communicating what has been read)

As for where to read – again there’s a multitude of possibilities both inside (in a bus, train, plane, cave perhaps) and out.

The book concludes with an idyllic book club setting – in a tree where many children have gathered to enjoy their chosen books.

Imagination knows no bounds, no matter what kind of book you choose, is Lori Degman’s rhyming message; and Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s stylish watercolour illustrations affirm this: all in all a great way to encourage reading and readers everywhere.

Choo-Choo Peekaboo / Marvel Alpha Block / Where Do Pants Go?

Choo-Choo Peekaboo
Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

Artistically minded Zebra sets out one fine morning eager to spend a day engaged in his favourite pastime, painting. Seemingly however, his animal friends and acquaintances have other ideas.

Chaos ensues wherever poor Zebra stops and begins his artistic endeavours, be it city,

riverside, by a lake, deep in the countryside,

even atop a mountain he finds no peace. Surely nothing can disturb his nocturnal attempt though? Errrm!

It looks as though there is only one way to please everyone … BEEP BEEP! TOOT TOOT! And off they go …

With paint-daubing primates, a loop-the-looping porcine, roller-skating rabbits, cable-car riding cows, a space-ship sortie by sheep even; all of which are revealed from behind the gate-fold flaps, this interactive book will delight tinies, especially those with a penchant for noisy vehicles, madcap animals and surprises – that covers pretty much all of them.

Add to the mix, laugh-out loud scenarios, speech bubbles and a highly satisfying finale, I’d say Gareth Lucas has a hit on his hands with this sturdy board book.

And adults will enjoy the visual references to famous artists along the way.

Marvel Alpha Block
Abrams Appleseed

Bristol based illustration/design partnership Peskimo have chosen scenes and characters from the Marvel Cinematic
Universe for their latest Block Book. As usual it’s a chunky board book with flaps and splendid action scenes, that feature herein everything from Ant Man to Falcon,

and Pepper Potts to Xandar, Yondu and Zuri, before the entire cast assembles in alphabetical order on a grand finale fold-out.

Amazingly, each superhero represents a letter of the alphabet – a large cut-out capital letter that leaps up from the centre of the spread and beneath which lurks the superhero in an action scene (along with other characters who may or may not share the same initial letter).

Watch out for punch packing potential should more than one little would-be superhero get their hands on this simultaneously. With its super art, it surely is a winning alphabet book that I suspect, adults will enjoy almost as much as their young ones.

Where Do Pants Go?
Rebecca Van Slyke and Chris Robertson

A fun interactive book about getting dressed takes toddlers through the routine dressing ritual. To avoid confusion, adult sharers not in the US should be forewarned that “underwear’ is used for pants and pants herein refers to trousers, so readers aloud will probably want to make some adjustments as they read the question and answer narrative with tinies.

Said tinies will doubtless delight in the cumulative, predictable text with its repeated final ‘and underwear on your bottom!’

and giggle over the silly placements of the various items of clothing in this book that reminded me somewhat of Shigeo Watanabe and Yasuo Ohtomo’s How Do I Put It On? that features a muddled little bear.

A satisfying finale sees all the fully dressed little ones enjoying some outdoor play together.

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life / Dreaming in Code


Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life
Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu

Elegant film star Hedy Lamarr’s first love wasn’t in fact for making movies – she wasn’t at all interested in glitz and glamour – rather her passion was science and technology. It’s this lesser known side of her that’s the focus of this book.

Her greatest invention was ‘frequency–hopping spread spectrum’ a wonderful technological idea developed in collaboration with musician George Antheil, that helped allow the communication devices of torpedoes to change frequency quickly cutting down the opportunities for radio signals to be altered, intercepted or blocked completely; sadly it wasn’t used by the US navy during WW2 though.

Still relevant today, their invention now helps to keep our mobile messages private and defends computers from hackers.

Hedy’s various inventions are described and each spread includes a quote from her: here’s one I particularly love.

We also learn of her childhood in Austria in the early 1920s and how her father, who also had a love of science and technology was such an encouragement to her curiosity and thirst for knowledge, and her creative ideas.

Laurie Wallmark’s engaging text is both inspiring and concise; and Katy Wu’s stylish, retro feel illustrations transport readers to the time when women’s achievements were under played and often undervalued (it took 50 years for her awesome brilliance to be fully recognised). However when Hedy and George finally received in 1997 the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their contribution to computers, Hedy commented thus.’” It’s about time.” … “My life was full of colours, full of life … I don’t regret anything … I learned a lot.” Brilliance recognised at last.

So too will readers of this picture book, which also includes a timeline, bibliography, suggestions for further reading about women in STEM, a list of her films and an explanation of her secret communications system.

Equally inspiring, for older readers is:

Dreaming in Code
Emily Arnold McCully
Walker Books

This is a fascinating biography of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron, who is celebrated for being the first computer programmer.

Ada’s childhood was anything but conventional; she never got to know her father and was brought up by her domineering mother who, despite showing little emotional warmth, provided for her daughter through private tutors, an intellectually stimulating education, a protection in part from any instincts towards developing her father’s poetic talent. Thus Ada developed a terrific thirst for mathematical and mental puzzles and scientific discovery.

At age seventeen, the young aristocrat Ada, was introduced at a party to widower and famous inventor and mathematician, Charles Babbage, who was to transform her life. We learn of their collaborative friendship and how Ada’s leap of imagination took her pioneering thinking beyond that of her friend and his ‘Analytical Engine’. This is what she wrote, ‘Many persons imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols.’

We read of her marriage to William King who admired Ada’s intellect as well as being rich and handsome; her motherhood years, her addictions and death at an early age from cancer.

Beautifully written by Caldecott-Medal winning author, Emily McCully this carefully researched, accessible portrait of Ada Lovelace is likely to inspire future groundbreakers to follow their dreams and not let anyone or anything stand in their way.

(There are also photographs from archives, illustrations, source notes, a glossary and a bibliography.)

Dragons in Love / Bagel in Love

Dragons in Love
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures

Dragon, Drake, as some of you may know from Dragons: Father and Son is a troglodyte residing with his father at the bottom of a steep valley. He frequently leaves his cave and ventures forth into the town to play with the children and so it is on this particular day. But although he may know a bit about playing, kissing is entirely new to him. So when his friend Violet lands him a smacker on the snout he feels all hot and bothered.

On reflection however, he realises no personal harm has been done but avoiding Violet is the best plan henceforth. Not easy as it means avoiding all his favourite haunts.

Drake talks to his dad who explains that the fire is a dragon’s natural way of showing love and tells what happened when he and Drake’s mom were courting.

This is all very well for dragons but what about human Violet? Poor Drake feels at a loss to know where to go; but then he hears noises coming from the nearby park. Violet is being bullied, he discovers. It’s time to act, thinks Drake and so he does …

Friendship fully restored, what will be Drake’s next move … ?

Badel’s ink and watercolour illustrations are full of detail with a wealth of wonderfully humorous touches. I love the early spread with the football being kicked and ending up way out of reach in a tall tree.

Beautifully droll as before, Lacroix’s story is sure to strike a chord especially this season when love is in the air, though with its standing against bullying message it’s a good one to share with young listeners at any time.

Bagel in Love
Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik

Bagel is a talented dancer: his spins and swirls, taps and twirls make him feel anything but plain. The trouble is however that he doesn’t have a partner and so can’t enter the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest.

Poppy, the best dancer he knows tells him his steps are half-baked: Pretzel says his moves don’t cut the mustard and from Matzo he receives a flat refusal.

Not one to give up easily, Bagel heads to Sweet City where things aren’t actually much sweeter when it comes to the responses of Croissant, Doughnut, and Cake. But then outside the café, Bagel hears music coming from the contest venue and he breaks into a tap routine.

To his surprise a tapping echo comes right back. Has he finally found the perfect partner?

Natasha Wing has thrown plenty of puns into her narrative mix with its underlying message about determination and not giving up on your dream, while Helen Dardik treats readers to a plethora of sticky confections and some salty ones too in her digitally worked, richly patterned scenes.

A sugary romance for Valentine’s Day this surely is. Anyone want to dance?

Zoology for Babies / Architecture for Babies & Look & See: Fun with Shapes

Zoology for Babies
Architecture for Babies

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

Here are two new additions to the Baby 101 series, the zoology one being billed as ‘science’ and the architecture book as ‘Art and Design’.
Zoology acknowledges the ubiquity of animals, and their varying sizes; introduces the idea of herbivores and carnivores (although not in those terms).
Birth and life cycles are also touched upon

as is movement.
We’re shown several different habitats and the animals living therein; and the fact that animals can be nocturnal is also given a spread.
The final spread asks somewhat tongue-in-cheek: ‘Are you a little zoologist? And has a drop down flap to investigate.

I’m not sure how many babies would be interested in buildings – it depends on the skill of the adult mediator – although I can certainly see the Architecture book being a useful addition to a nursery topic box.
It embraces history, geography, the role of an architect and builders

as well as introducing various building materials. Architectural designs for different functions including homes, schools and shops are also introduced. It’s good to see a bookshop included.
Like Zoology, the final spread herein asks ‘Are you …’ and has a final flap to investigate, beneath which is to be found what I suspect will be of most interest to the very young …

Bold, eye-catching illustrations and design, minimal wording and simple facts characterise both books.

Look & See: Fun with Shapes
Emanuela Bussolati and Antonella Abbatiello

Youngsters are presented with ten basic 2D shapes to touch and explore in this playful board book.

A sequence of bright die-cut collage style illustrations featuring a girl and boy show in turn a square picture frame,

the circular body of a peacock, a triangular boat sail, a hexagon-shaped space craft and a host of other colourful objects on the recto pages and on the verso is an engaging text and three possible items that might be created using the particular featured shape as a starting point.

Inspiration for further creativity perhaps.