Tony T-Rex’s Family Album

Tony T-Rex’s Family Album
Mike Benton and Rob Hodgson
Thames & Hudson

The stream of dinosaur books is never ending and it’s tricky to find new angles but who better than vertebrate palaeontology professor Mike Benton to come up with a novel way of presenting one of children’s favourite topics.

Using Tony-T-Rex as dinosaur family album writer, readers are provided with rip-roaring authentic information about dinosaurs from the tyrannosaurus’ mouth. And Tony really does grab the readers’ interest and grips them between those 20cm long ridged gnashers of his throughout.

First of all he digs deep, unearthing for us just how a dead dinosaur becomes fossilised and how scientists such as the prof. differentiate between a dinosaur and a ginormous lizard. We’re then plunged back 201 million years to the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs rose to power.

Next it’s time to introduce the creatures themselves, starting in the UK with Megalosaurus Big Liz, one of the first dinosaurs and the first to be discovered, surprisingly by one, William Buckland who had no idea of the existence of dinosaurs, mistaking his find for a massive lizard. Happily though scientists soon identified differences between dinos. and lizards.

Thereafter, we travel the world meeting a host of awesome, mind-blowing relations of Tony’s, each of which has a funky name and an extraordinary body.

There’s Tony’s distant ancestor pigeon sized Crash-Test Dex (aka) Epidexipteryx with its long claws and sharp buck teeth. Dex had to perfect tree scrambling for it was a favourite nibble for young dinos with near ground level noses.

We meet the familiar Diplodocus (Dippy herein), Cowboy Spike (Stegosaurus) and then it’s Cruella the Flesh-Eater hailing from Portugal, with 70 dagger-like teeth just right for attacking unsuspecting stegosaurs and diplodocuses – EEEK!

Big Bellied Bill – Tony’s great-great-great-grandpa is memorable for his insatiable appetite for leaves that made him one of the heaviest ever land animals; unsurprisingly he suffered from horrendous wind – PHOOOAH!

It’s impossible to mention all Tony’s Cretaceous relatives here but the fossil of winged Flighty Aunt Nyx is extinct proof of a dinosaur with the ability to fly.

Moving forward to the Cretaceous Period (between 145 and 66 million years ago) we meet another creature with the ability to propel itself through the air: part lizard, part bird, Sinornithosaurus or Crouching Glider, with its alarmingly long teeth and upper jaw pocket was, reputedly, a terror.

I had a good giggle at Dead-Weight Diana (Titanosaurus), Tony’s Argentinian cousin, the heaviest dinosaur in the world, scoffer of the trees’ topmost, juciest leaves. Roamers these, for fossils have been found on every one of Earth’s continents.

You simply must meet the most elegant of all the dinosaurs, Siegfried the Swan (Olorotitan), which I have to admit is new to me. I was fascinated to learn that it had a penchant for dancing and despite its 8m length and 5 tonne weight, this crested beauty loved to demonstrate its ground-shaking prowess to all around.

Two T’s bring the family album to a close, Triceratops and finally our presenter, Tony T-Rex Tyrannosauarus. He’s excited to inform us that his poo might weigh as much as a 6-month old human baby.

The final spreads are devoted to how the dinosaurs died out; a visit to the Great Hall of Fossils; a world map showing where fossil evidence has been unearthed (and might still be); how to go about a fossil hunt and some useful dinosaur lingo for those who want to impress their friends.

This splendiferous tome is a must for family bookshelves and classrooms; all the more so as Rob Hodgson has provided the funky illustrations with the delicious wry humour of his that I loved so much in The Cave.

My Pet Star / Little Fish

My Pet Star
Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw
Orchard Books

Beneath a tree one night, a little girl discovers a star. The star has been hurt by its fall and its glow has gone, so she takes him home.

There she acts as a ‘cosmic super vet’ tenderly nurturing her ‘pet’ star, sharing books with him

and cuddling up with him at bedtime.

The days go by and the young narrator finds out a great deal about her star and his habits and all the while, the star glows brighter. She misses him during the day when he sleeps a lot; and he eschews her games merely looking on silently and benevolently.

At night though, he comes to life, his sparkle preventing the girl from sleeping as he twinkles above her bed – until she makes a decision.

Leaping from her bed she opens wide her window and … whoosh! Away flies her astral friend, fully restored, back into the dark sky where he belongs, from there to brighten up the sky and his new friend’s life from afar.

Corrinne’s magical story demonstrates the importance of kindness, altruism and friendship; it’s beautifully illuminated by Ros. Beardshaw in her mixed media scenes. Her narrator is shown as an adorable child who seems to live alone in a shepherd’s hut or travellers’ caravan.

Little Fish
Emily Rand
Thames & Hudson

Five vibrant, layered neon scenes of life beneath the ocean waves pop out of this book, the covers of which can be tied back to create a standing carousel.

A short rhyming narrative introduces two orange goby fish playing among the corals. The duo become separated when a large shoal swims past sweeping one of them with it, into a dark patch of kelp in which rests a friendly-looking turtle.

Less friendly though is the hungry grouper that lurks in the cave nearby eyeing the little goby. Then, even more scarifying are the white teeth of a marauding shark that appears on the scene snapping its jaws threateningly.

Happily though, the little fish finally makes it back home where it re-joins its playmate on the reef.

A lovely way to introduce your little ones to marine life, but equally this would be great as part of an early years display for a sea-related theme.

The Big Book of Birds

The Big Book of Birds
Yuval Yommer
Thames & Hudson

This is a cracking series and Yuval’s bird book is an absolute beauty.

Each and every spread, starting with the opening Bird Family Tree is full of fascinating facts and illustrated with that wonderfully playful, ‘twinkle-in-the-eye style the artist has.

Despite my partner being an avid bird spotter, I’d not realised before that there are almost 10,000 bird species and here they’re divided into family groups: birds of prey, owls, woodland and forest birds, seabirds, perching birds, water birds and the flightless kinds.

After spreads on being a bird-friendly spotter, feathers and their role in flying, and bird migration, each introduced by a question, we’re given examples of members of each family, zooming in first on great grey owls. Did you know that these are the tallest owls in the world and have special feather-formed discs around their eyes acting as satellite-like dishes directing sounds into their ears; or that with seven more neck vertebrae than humans, a great grey owl can turn its head almost completely around? (The teacher part of me loves that idea.)

Flamingos (pink feathered on account of their diet) and magpies – not thieves of shiny things – come next and then one of my favourites, kingfishers. Currently living much of the time very close to the Nailsworth Stream along which if I’m lucky, I see a kingfisher flash by, or occasionally spot perching on a overhanging branch, these birds always make me feel uplifted; and so it was here.

I don’t think I’ll go and investigate the bank for a stinky fish bone and poo-filled burrow though.

With introductory questions, there are spreads on flightless birds, secretary birds, parrots, bald eagles, puffins, albatrosses, hummingbirds, peacocks – I love to see these on walks in parts of India – robins, swans, hoopoes and red-crowned cranes. Interspersed there are pages looking at nests of various kinds,

eggs – I was amazed to learn as ostrich egg is 16cm long; beaks – their shapes and feeding functions; bird calls and songs – we’re probably all aware of the early dawn chorus these light mornings; city birds and making your garden a bird-friendly place.

If you really want to impress others, there’s a spread on specific vocabulary and as I should have mentioned at the outset, the solution to the ‘can you find the same egg 15 times’ poser from the title.

Absolutely avian-electable; and my copy came with a wonderful pictorial treat – thank you Yuval – before the title page.

If this book doesn’t get your young ones enthusing about our feathered friends, then I’ll be forced to spend a whole day doing various yoga poses like peacock or crow.

How To Light Your Dragon

How To Light Your Dragon
Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia
Thames & Hudson

What do you do when you discover that your much-loved pet dragon’s spark has gone out? This delicious book with its exciting amalgam of words and pictures offers a range of possible curative strategies.

The dragon belonging to a child owner emits not a single flicker when first we encounter it but the child remains upbeat as ideas are put forward one by one in the manner of an instruction guide.

What about lifting his rear legs and giving him a ‘good shake’? Nothing doing?

Maybe use his tummy as a trampoline. No? A feather duster toe-tickle, underarm feathery feel or a nasal nudge duster-style maybe. Uh-uh, no go!

Make him really, really angry by cheating at cards or make a large cake complete with candles – irresistible surely? Actually no; and even the oven shop with its jealousy-inducing latest models pointed out fails to spark a response.

By now said dragon appears decidedly downcast and even consumes the false flames stuck on his snout then flops down defeated and immobile.

Perhaps the time has come for an entirely different approach; unconditional love – now there’s an idea … recollections of good times shared, a big smacking kiss right on his nostrils and … TA-DA!

The fusion of near show-stopping typography, arresting design, and wildly bright colours is powerful enough; but even that is eclipsed by the message that someone or here, something, is loved no matter what, gives the book its hottest, most radiant magic.

Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia most definitely lit my fire with this one.

Norm

Norm
Sylvia Liang
Thames & Hudson

Is there such a thing as normal? The narrator – Normal or Norm for short – of Sylvia Liang’s debut picture book certainly thinks so and he epitomises that normal, he and his friends Plain and Simple. These individuals live in an extremely orderly village, made so because its residents spend much of their time measuring themselves and everything around them, and merely hiding or turning away from wrongly sized items be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

Life with this uniformity is, so we hear, pretty peachy with its set shapes, sizes and times for doing things like partaking of afternoon tea from matching crockery.

One day into this utter normality bursts a yellow bird that leads Norm to meet Odd(ette), a very friendly little lass who lives in a town of boot houses.

Norm’s foray into her far from normal environment is shall we say, shocking, but altogether friendly and in fact, enchanting. With such characters as Clouded Apple sweet maker Eddie with his recipe of apple, sugar and imagination in equal measures; milliner Lady Lily whose hats are adorned with marine animals

as well as Mr King, musical maths teacher and messy Professor John whose stories cause the world to melt away.

It’s young Odd though who has something important to convey to her guest: ‘ if you focus on your ruler all the time … you’ll miss the things that will amaze you in this world.’ And when Norm sets aside his ruler, he discovers to his surprise that it’s true.

But what about his friends back home? Are they open to the possibility of the new and surprising; do they too have the potential to accept the odd change?

This reviewer has always been a rule challenger/subverter, so Sylvia Long’s book really spoke to me, for who can measure the freedom one finds when one loosens the hold on the strictures rules impose.

Let’s celebrate all who find the courage to be a little freer in the way they live their lives.

Has Anybody Seen A Story?

Has Anybody Seen a Story?
Mandana Sadat
Thames & Hudson

‘Once upon a time, there were three Thingummies called Sadie, Spike and Smudge. They lived in the middle of Nowhere in a place called Floatyfish, surrounded by soft fluffy clouds. The Thingummies had everything they needed – plenty of water, plenty of fresh air, and plenty of flutterberries, a delicious kind of flying fruit that you catch with a net.’

So begins Mandana Sadat’s wonderfully quirky meta-fictive picture book wherein we join the Thingummies in their search for adventure.
Three days of walking leads the threesome to a crossorads and they choose first to follow the Fairytale Trail. This foray finds them coming face to face with the exceedingly ugly, very old and mighty frightening ZOMBEAST.

Its threat to erase them entirely sends the friends fleeing for their lives back to the crossroads.

Next they select The Future Freeway, a bright shiny, ‘whizzy and busy and bright’ sort of place where a friendly-seeming robot makes them feel welcome and refreshed but not for long. When the mechanical monster starts unloading its own woes, the three Ss decide to beat a hasty retreat before it’s too late.

The Poetry Path sounds entirely promising so off they go again, discovering a place, the air of which is enriched by beautiful thoughts and wonderful words: Now who wouldn’t want to spend time there imbibing such delights.

Alluring though this location is, Spike decides they should try the final road, so having returned to the crossroads they proceed deep below ground to Bedtime Boulevard. Therein resides famous storyteller, Madame Mole and she’s happy to help the story searchers. So soothing is her voice that it has a soporific effect on the three seekers and they soon drop off to sleep,

only to find themselves next morning back at the crossroads.

There they make a startling discovery when they come upon a signpost they’d not seen previously. It’s a discovery that relates to the true nature of story, those ‘what ifs’ and the power of the imagination. That however is not quite the end of their tale for the three decide to follow the road into the Maze of Mumblings and … and … and … ultimately they do discover a story that is worth the telling …

Let the celebratory party begin!

Absolutely bursting with diverting details (verbal and visual) to relish, Mandana’s story quest world is likely to entrap readers for a considerable time, and having escaped once, they’ll find themselves drawn back for further flights of fanciful fun and new revelations.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare –

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.