The Big Book of Blooms

The Big Book of Blooms
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

How much joy can be packed between the covers of a book? An infinite amount when it comes to Yuval Zommer’s splendiferous botanical offering. I put my hand up to being a botany enthusiast having studied the subject at A-level and spending a gap year working in the herbarium at Kew so have an abiding interest in the subject but I defy anyone not to be bowled over by this visual stunner.

Topically organised the basics are covered in the first few spreads – floral families, plant anatomy,

pollination and reproduction, followed by a look at some of the useful things flowers provide.

Next is a zoom in to some specific kinds of flora: the carnivorous Venus flytrap (there’s just a single species and it grows wild in swamps and bogs on the East coast of the USA); roses – I was astonished to read that it takes 15.4 litres of water to produce a single flower; the ancient proteas that could be found as long ago as 90 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth; cherry blossom trees with their delicate pink and white flowers that delight so many of us in the springtime; tulips, giant water lilies and another carnivore– the Pitcher plants.

Some flowers, despite their striking, sometimes beautiful appearance, smell something rotten. That’s to attract carnivorous pollinators such as carrion flies; but to my vegetarian sensibilities, their ‘rotting meat smell’ would be a huge turn off: the ‘Stinking Flowers’ spread was the only one I didn’t linger long over: I could almost smell the odour emanating from that parasitic corpse lily that lacks roots, shoots, stems and leaves.

Despite the exotic nature of a number of the flowers featured I think my favourite spread of all is that devoted to wild flowers, some of which are flowering abundantly very close to my home as I write.

The final few pages are allocated to seed dispersal, plant defence, there’s a spread devoted to Kew Gardens and some of the work that goes on there both inside and out; a plea for the protection of vital habitats and some suggestions for becoming a gardener without a garden.

There’s also a final glossary and index.

With the wealth of fauna on every spread, Yuval injects just the right amount of mischievous humour into his illustrations.

To add further interest and to ensure that readers study every page with the close attention it merits, he’s planted a golden bulb to search for on fifteen of the spreads .

Written in consultation with experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. this is a must have for family bookshelves, classroom collections and anywhere that budding botanists might be taking root.


Franklin and Luna and the Book of Fairy Tales

Franklin and Luna and the Book of Fairy Tales
Jen Campbell and Katie Harnett
Thames & Hudson

This is dragon Franklin and his human pal, Luna’s third adventure. Herein the two are about to celebrate bibliophile Franklin’s six hundred and sixth birthday.

Luna and the villagers are planning a special surprise party and to distract Franklin, Luna takes him to a strange bookshop where spiders act as assistants to the lady owner and there are exciting books in abundance.

But the real adventure begins when Luna’s pet tortoise Neil is entrapped by an old book,

and Franklin and Luna follow into what turns out to be, the wondrous world of fairy tales.

There they meet the likely characters – the three little pigs building a hotel,

three bears, a boy who has so he says, sold his cow for magic beans, a ‘yawning princess with a bag of frozen peas’ (love that), as well as a host of other story book inhabitants.

Some of these, including the final one they encounter – a large grey wolf – don’t conform to the stereotype: this huffing creature informs the searchers that he’s turned vegetarian and practises yoga. Not only that, he actually points out the missing tortoise (engaged in a race with a long-eared leporine).

Yes, they do escape from the book – just! – and return to the village for that surprise party, but whether it turns out to be their ‘happily ever after’ as Luna wonders during the celebratory picnic, we’ll have to wait and see.

Young listeners will delight in the story and especially relish pointing out their favourite fairy tale characters, while adult sharers will welcome the creators’ promotion of books, stories and proper bookshops.

We Are Artists

We Are Artists
Kari Herbert
Thames & Hudson

For this splendid celebration of creativity, Kari Herbert has selected fifteen influential women artists from various cultures and different parts of the world who succeeded, often against considerable odds.

Each one is the subject of a chapter that includes a quote, a fantastic portrait (by Herbert), a short biography and one or two reproductions of their work.

I was thrilled to see Tove Jansson, especially her Moomins sketches. Kari Hebert’s ‘Back in 1950s Finland, for a woman to love another woman was illegal. But on the islands… they could live and love as they wanted.’ is an example of the sensitive manner in which this book is written.

Abstract Sea, Tove jansson 1963

As you might expect we meet Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo but there are also Corita Kent, Yayoi Kusama and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Among the few artists new to me, and despite my being a frequent visitor to India with two close friends who are artists, is Amrita Sher-Gil whose interpretations of the rich colours she saw in the everyday lives of India’s poor are enormously moving.

Group of Three Girls, 1935

‘In India the light spoke to her’, we read in contrast to the greyness of Europe where as daughter of a Hungarian opera singer mother and an aristocratic North Indian Sikh father, she spent her early years.

Another new discovery for me is Lyubov Popova, one of several avant-garde women artists in Russia in the early part of the 20th century. I love the quote that introduces her: ‘ Most important of all is the spirit of creative process.’

Engrossing and inspiring, this superb book is for youngsters with an interest in art and those who want to encourage creativity especially in young people.


Guilherme Karsten
Thames & Hudson

Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Whatever is that noise?

The world’s highest mountain collapses; something weird is happening between the north and south poles; the biggest tiger in the world becomes stripeless.

Aaahhh! Aaahhh! Aaahhh! A terrible eardrum shattering noise is permeating the entire planet.

Nobody can think straight let alone hear other voices. Chaos and confusion reign as computers go crazy with buzzes and beeps.

Where can such a havoc wreaking sound possibly be coming from? Outer space perhaps? Or could it be a catastrophic hit on the trombone factory, or an enormous out of tune saxophone being played? Whatever it is, the sound seems to be drawing more and ever more people towards its source.

A plot spoiler I won’t be so I’ll leave you to decide what or who is the cause of the cacophonous din. The answer certainly came as a complete surprise to me; I was anticipating something completely different.

Enormous fun and full of witty artistic allusions, illustrator and graphic designer Guilherme Karsten’s mixed media illustrations of paint, crayon and collage have details aplenty to pore over. You might want to reach for your earplugs as you read his resoundingly zany tale aloud to a participatory child audience.

Button & Popper

Button & Popper
Oili Tanninen
Thames & Hudson

This is a retro charmer from the 1960s created by award wining Finish author and illustrator Oili Tanninen.

It tells of a family of pixies, a mother and father and their twelve children, who with winter fast approaching, decide that their apple tree home isn’t suitable accommodation for the cold and rain. It’s a worrying, sad time as they consume the pie made from the last apples that evening. Two of the children, twins Button and Popper resolve that the following morning they will go and find a new home.

Out they sneak, very early towards town making inquiries, but all those they ask say the same thing ”Twelve children” and kindly explain there’s nowhere large enough for so many people.

The twins feel more than a little dispirited, but then by mistake the only person in the market they haven’t asked, an absent minded fellow named Professor Prilli, accidentally picks up the basket they’d climbed into, mistaking it for his own and takes it back, leaving it in his cellar.

Realising they’ve left their father’s umbrella at the market the two pixies manage to escape. They retrieve the umbrella and the professor’s own basket and take it back to him.

The thankful professor asks the pixies what they were doing in the market and when he learns their reason, he offers them temporary use of his home till he returns from his South Pole research trip the following spring.

There’s great jubilation all round when the twins give the exciting news to the rest of their family back at the apple tree.

With its orange, yellow and black illustrations adorned with lines and geometric shapes, this delightful tale of serendipity will appeal especially to those who enjoy a touch of whimsy in their stories.

1001 Ants

1001 Ants
Joanna Rzezak
Thames & Hudson

If you stop by an anthill and have time to watch the activity, you’ll discover that ants are fascinating creatures. The trouble is though that we cannot see what is going on inside.

Author/artist Joanna Rzezak shows us on her opening spread of this large format book. Thereon is a cross-section of an anthill where we see chambers connected by lots of branching tunnels, some of the former containing ants, while others hold such things as aphids, leaves and seeds needed as food by the ants.

The factual narrative is brief and light-hearted for we’re told ‘there is a little ant with red socks hiding in every picture in this book’ and asked to try and locate same.

A smell tells the ants it’s time to start walking, where we know not, and we then follow the long line of tiny creatures as they march single file through bracken, over fungi and among fallen leaves. All the while the playful red-socked ant comments and sometimes gets sidetracked.

Surprisingly for this reader, the ants traverse the edge of a pond using lily pads as stepping-stones, fortunately taking a route behind the large green frogs with protruding tongues just waiting for some tasty insects.

Their journey takes them through a field containing a variety of plants in various stages of flowering and fruiting, full of other insects including the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly; then beneath a large spider’s web

and even over the body of a huge sleeping bear.

Eventually they reach a tree and up its trunk they climb, carefully avoiding an owl resting therein, along a branch they continue; but this is nature so what is that drumming sound and what is that long pinkish worm-like protrusion.

Oh no!

The food chain must be kept working and so a large bird is left to utter the punch line. Not quite the last word though – that is left for the red-socked ant …

Factual snippets about the flora and fauna encountered on the journey will definitely keep readers interested in the natural history side, while curiosity will drive them forward as they follow the ants’ journey to its end.


Deep in the Ocean / The Big Sticker Book of Birds

Deep in the Ocean
Lucie Brunellière
Abrams Appleseed

In this large format board book, readers follow Oceanos, a shiny silver submarine, as it takes an exploratory voyage into the depths of the oceans.
From the first opening, we’re immersed in the ocean’s waters along with the submarine’s scientific crew

but as their craft dives deep and travels through a deep abyss, a fierce storm blows up, whisking the little shiny submarine right off its intended course.

Instead, eddying whirlpools cause it to journey to the polar waters of the Arctic; then it’s pulled by a blue whale towards tropical waters of a coral reef, travelling on until one imagines, it resurfaces, with the crew having collected a wealth of information.

There is a free accompanying 10-minute, atmospheric sound track available to download, though to get the most out of the dual experience, you need to synchronise the track timings with page turns.

It’s easy to get lost in the colourful ecosystems with their standout bright flora and fauna depicted in Brunellière’s multi-layered, finely detailed spreads that do a splendid job of capturing the awe and immensity of our ocean ecosystems.

Dive in and be amazed at the riches therein.

The Big Sticker Book of Birds
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

Following Yuval’s wonderful The Big Book of Birds comes an activity book on the same theme.

Readers are in the company of Polly the Pigeon. She guides us through as we’re told, ‘the feathery world of birds’ and all that’s needed for the journey is a pencil, some colouring pens and ‘a flighty imagination’. Some of the latter might be used in deciding how to adorn the pages with the 200+ stickers provided at the end of the book.

There’s a wealth of fascinating facts embedded within the spreads that are allocated either to specific kinds of birds such as albatrosses or puffins, or to avian topics including feathers, nesting, and migration.

Children might accept Yuval’s invitation to complete a maze,

design a feather for a new bird species, spot the difference, design a bird box, imagine and draw what a dozen magpies might have picked up in their beaks and more. Or what about playing a game of Blackbird bingo or adding foliage to a tree for wild birds to hide among?

I love the way all Yuval’s creatures be they birds or other, have a slightly mischievous look in their eyes, which adds to the allure of the already engaging pages.

Immersive and fun while unobtrusively educating the user(s).