Puzzles and More

Nature Activity Book
Alain Grée
Button Books

The natural world is Alain Grée’s theme for his latest activity book suitable for those from about 5. There’s also a seasonal element: the things to do relate to spring, summer, autumn and winter.

With mazes, dot-to-dots, spot the difference, jokes, scrambled word puzzles, things to count and match, simple maths, things to colour, life cycles and more, there are hours of fun learning to be had from this compilation. Another thing – most little ones love using stickers and there are 4 pages of them included that are part and parcel of some of the activities.

There’s fun learning aplenty here. If you can’t get outdoors into the real natural world on these dark days then try this in the meantime.

For slightly older users are these two:

Jumbo Pad of Word Puzzles
Highlights

Youngsters from around 6/7 can have lots of fun and exercise their brains with the 120 plus puzzles in this bumper pad.

Contained therein are crosswords, codes, word searches, hidden words to discover, riddle Sudoku and mixed-up hidden pictures. Answers to all the puzzles are supplied on the back of the pages, which, with the pad’s tablet format, are easily removed.

Guaranteed hours of screen free fun from this and not just for the owner: family and friends can join in the puzzling too.

Word Search Puzzles for Your Backpack
Eric Berlin
Sterling

From camping to crafts, and summer time to sweet things, there’s a word search and more to suit the interest of any young reader among the 58 included in New York Times crossword compiler, Eric Berlin’s new puzzle book.
Some of the puzzles aren’t entirely straightforward however: the compiler has thrown in what he calls some ‘curve balls’ such as ‘Opposite Day’ where the words to find are the opposites of those given in the list below the puzzle.
That’s not all though: for every search there’s a hidden message related to its theme that is made from the letters not circled.
There’s some pretty funky stuff between the covers of this little book. It’s just right for tucking into your bag or snuggling under a blanket on the sofa with – with your favourite hot drink and of course, a pencil to hand.

Queen of Physics

Queen of Physics
Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang
Sterling

Subtitled How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secerts of the Atom, this is a fascinating exploration of the life of a woman who overcame the barriers of gender and race to become a ground breaking experimental physicist.

Born in China in 1912, Wu Chien Shiung (meaning Courageous hero) was fortunate in having forward thinking parents. Her mother even opened a school in Liuhe to encourage parents to educate their daughters, so it was waiting by the time her own daughter was ready to start.

But it wasn’t long before Chien Shiung had outgrown her parents’ school

so they sent her fifty miles away to the city of Suzhou. There, despite opting for teacher training, she developed a passion for science, especially physics. Not only that but she became her fellow students’ leader in an underground group to fight against the injustices of the oppressive Chinese government.

Eventually her talents took her far from home, first to Berkley and then to New York’s Columbia University to continue her studies in beta decay.

Three times her outstanding work deserved the Nobel Prize but it was those men who had enlisted her help in their research, not Chien Shiung who won the award.

Not only that but she was passed over for jobs she wanted  ‘because she was a woman, because she was Asian’.

Sadly she never saw her parents again but Chien Shiung continued achieving amazing things in physics while continuing to fight prejudice against woman and Asians and in 1963 was declared ‘Queen of Physics’ by Newsweek.

Robeson explains scientific concepts in a straightforward, accessible manner, providing at the end of the book a summary of her subject’s life and there’s also a glossary and suggestions for further reading. Rebecca Huang’s mixed media illustrations add further inspiration to this biography that is rich in potential for classroom discussion as well as for aspiring young scientists.

Musical Mac / Just So Willow

Musical Mac
Brendan Kearney
Sterling

Here we have a solo offering from the illustrative half of the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series.

Millipede Mac loves to play music but the thought of competing solo in the Soggy Bog Talent Show fills him with fear.

To get round this he decides to join a band, so packing up his numerous instruments he sets out in search of a suitable one.

He tries his luck with several rehearsing groups – a tiny antennae orchestra, a band of alleycats, he plays guitar with frogs and drums with dogs but despite his talents none of the bands will take him on.

After a too close for comfort encounter with a bird choir, Mac is so thoroughly frightened that he dashes right on to the stage of the talent show – all alone.

Can he – with a bit of encouragement from the other bands he’s met on his way – summon up the courage to give it a go? He certainly has plenty of instruments …

Full of zany detail. Brendan Kearney’s illustrations provide plenty to pore over and the scattering of alliterative phrases adds interest to the text.

Just So Willow
Sara F. Shacter and Stephanie Laberis
Sterling

Bear cub, Willow, is fanatically finicky even ironing her underwear and unscrambling her spaghetti.

When a snowstorm covers her backyard one morning, Willow is delighted at its perfection and is determined to keep it just so. But then a stray snowball tossed by one of the children playing close by is deemed to be the start of her perfect space being turned into a ‘lumpy, bumpy mess’ Willow just has to stop them. But how?

Shouting doesn’t work as she can’t get close enough despite some athletic efforts, but the little bear just keeps on trying.

Eventually she accidentally toboggans into the centre of the group of frolickers creating a perfect ‘crisp white ribbon around the yard.

Then it’s time to discover the possibilities of different kinds of perfect and a whole lot of fun with friends too perhaps …

It’s evident that author Sara Shacter understands children like Willow (I love all the playful language) and illustrator Stephanie Laberis goes to town with the characters’ expressions especially those of Willow in her comical scenes.

A fun story about stepping outside your comfort zone and risk taking.

Dracula Spectacular / Moldilocks and the Three Scares

Dracula Spectacular
Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books

Lucy Rowland’s way with rhyme is superb and here she introduces readers to the Draculas, a family of vampires – father, mother and child who live in a dark dusty residence in the park.

Unlike his parents Dracula Boy loves bright clothes – no black outfits for him – and he really doesn’t want to go around scaring the townsfolk. Indeed some of the children allow him to try on their colourful gear and they become his friends; so much so that he offers to accompany scared-of-the-dark Rose, on a night-time exploration.

The two enjoy flying through the night sky, watching fireflies and gazing at the moon but must this wonderful adventure be for one night only?

Happily both his caring parents and his new friends want to see Dracula Boy happy, so perhaps there is a way to bring a touch of rainbow magic into his life.

Ben Mantle’s spirited scenes, by turns mock scary and vibrant, are a perfect match for the jaunty rhyming narrative.

A warm and sparkling alternative to the usual spooky Halloween stories, this one will work at any time.

Moldilocks and the Three Scares
Lynne Marie and David Rodriguez Lorenzo
Sterling

Let me introduce the Scares: there ‘s Papa Scare (bearing a striking resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster), Mama Scare (green skinned mummy/Bride of Frankenstein) and Baby Scare, a diminutive vampire.

As the story opens Papa is brewing up a large container of Alphabat Soup. “The recipe serves four. Just enough for one more,” he announces. Meanwhile Mama mixing potions in the lab, expresses a wish for an assistant and Baby is desirous of a playmate.

When Papa serves up the soup it’s too hot to eat straightaway, so he suggests a walk with their ghost dog Plasma.

Meanwhile, Moldilocks out sleepwalking is drawn to their residence by the smell of soup wafting in the air. In she goes and well, the rest is as you’d expect in this delicious fractured fairytale: Baby’s soup is gobbled up, his chair broken and his bed usurped.

Now here comes the twist: instead of being full on furious when they discover the intruder, the Scares, after Papa’s …

… eat without us”, welcome Moldilocks unreservedly.

Then in best spooky fairytale tradition the now enlarged family ‘lived hauntingly ever after.’

With plenty of puns to giggle over, an adoption/Halloween spin to the tale, and Lorenzo’s acrylic and colour pencil illustrations that are full of appropriately frightful details to ‘claw over’, this book is a fun read aloud for Halloween or as part of a classroom fairy tale theme.

Campsite Revelations: Fergal in a Fix! / Koala is Not a Bear

Fergal in a Fix!
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Fergal (with fiery temper pretty well under control now) returns in a new story.

He’s off to Dragon Day-Camp for the first time and despite assurances from his parents, he’s feeling anxious about it.

Eager to be popular he decides to try and outshine the other dragons at all the activities on offer. But his ‘being the best’ involves behaviour that doesn’t please his fellow campers; he even resorts to cheating.

By lunchtime Fergal is shunned by the other young dragons.
Fortunately the camp leader notices he’s alone and has some wise words to offer, words about being his best self rather than the best at things.

Come the evening Fergal is a much happier little dragon with a lot of new dragon friends.

With a gentle lesson about being yourself and the best version of yourself you can, this second Fergal tale should win the little dragon plenty of new little human friends too.

Koala is Not a Bear
Kristin L. Gray and Rachel McAlister
Sterling

Koala has been eagerly anticipating camp but as it’s her first time away from family and home, she pops a few reminders into her backpack – just in case she feels homesick.

On arrival she searches for her cabin but there seems to be a problem. Just as Grizzly is welcoming her to Bear Cabin, there comes a protest from Kangaroo. “A bit of a know-it-all” is how Grizzly describes the naysayer.

Eager to find a place to rest, Koala tries to prove her ‘bearness’ but Kangaroo is having none of it. Yes she does have sharp teeth and claws but so do crocodiles; lemurs share her ability to climb trees; tigers too can growl. She might be able to perform a reasonable bear crawl but she lacks a tail.

Despite Grizzly’s continued support, Kangaroo continues his assertions when the animals sit down to eat until at last Koala thinks Bear Cabin and even perhaps the entire camp is not for her.

Seeking comfort, out of her pouch comes a photo of a relation – a creature that Kangaroo recognises as his great aunt too.

A few questions from Kangaroo are all that’s needed: it turns out that Koala and Kangaroo are cousins. Hurrah!

The author raises important points about inclusion, similarities and differences during the course of her amusing narrative while at the same time providing a fair sprinkling of marsupial-related facts along the way. Rachel McAlister’s expressive, digitally rendered wide-eyed animal characters will appeal to little ones as they follow Koala’s search for a place to belong.

If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon / The Race to Space

If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon
Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli
Sterling

Hold on to your helmets, it’s blast off time, destination a birthday party in a place you never expected it to be. Moreover, there’d be a lot more celebration time on your lunar destination for it has a 709-hour day.

On the way to the moon you’ll discover what it feels like to be weightless and your party paraphernalia and pals will also float around inside your spaceship.

Once on the moon’s surface you’ll feel a lot lighter than on Earth and the Moon’s low gravity will keep you safe.
You won’t be able to fly any party balloons on account of the Moon being airless but you can have enormous fun doing one-handed push-ups,

exploring the lunar craters, trying a game of freeze tag and making moondust angels.

Perhaps you will have to eat your birthday cake astronaut style squeezed out of a foil pouch. Don’t think I’d be so keen on that idea.

Then on the return journey and there’ll be bags of time to open your presents, a whole three days in fact during which you could also open those party bags and sample some of the Moon pies therein.

Woven into all this partying is a great deal of STEM information on exciting topics both astronomical and cosmonautical. Why for instance is the sky black rather than blue; why your birthday will last almost 30 days, and why there wouldn’t be any point in playing musical statues on the moon.

With Simona Ceccarelli’s lively, playful digital illustrations and Joyce Lapin’s enormously engaging narrative that speaks straight to the reader, this is a sure fire winner for younger readers/listeners.

(Included at the back are a glossary, bibliography and suggestions for further reading).

For somewhat older readers is:

The Race to Space
Clive Gifford and Paul Daviz
Words & Pictures

With the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first moon landing fast approaching, here’s a book that traces the history of the space race between two super powers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, from the launch of Russia’s Sputnik to Neil Armstrong’s planting of a U.S. flag on the moon’s surface and those oft quoted words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” That must be etched into the brains of all who saw that landing broadcast live.

From then on the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union became more one of co-operation and collaboration than competition and the book documents the ‘handshake across space’ in the 1975 joint Apollo-Soyuz mission.

It concludes with more on the co-operation including the establishment of the International Space Station.

Illustrated, retro style by Paul Cadiz, in shades of red, yellow, blue plus black and white,

the book has clear explanations together with a liberal scattering of quotes from significant participants in the whole endeavour.

Recommended for individual reading at home and for KS2 class collections.

When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree

When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
Jamie L.B. Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha
Sterling

Most of us receive the occasional present from a relative that isn’t quite what we’d been hoping for and so it is with the little girl in this story from debut author Jamie L.B.Deenihan.

In the run up to her birthday, the little girl makes a list of electronic items she wants – a robot dog, a phone and a computer number among them. But, her Grandma gives her a lemon tree.

There are all manner of things you might do with such a gift but the girl entertains such possibilities – dropping it from a bridge, sending it skywards attached to balloons, or dumping it on someone else’s doorstep – in her imagination only, and proceeds to tell readers how to care for the tree

until almost a whole year later …

All that lemon juice has its uses though, especially if you’re a bit of an entrepreneur like our young protagonist who has ideas for raising some cash to spend on … something from her birthday list perhaps?

Love the Pear brand electronics in this illustrations

That would be telling, but her purchase certainly makes for a great finale.

With its gentle humour, gardening tips, adorable characters, recipe for making lemonade, and Lorraine Rocha’s vibrant, funny illustrations, there’s not a hint of sourness in this story. Rather it’s tangy, overwhelmingly positive and an entire delight as well as an incentive to get outside and grow something that everyone can enjoy. And ‘enjoy’ is what children and adults alike will do when they share this story.