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).

Prudence and Her Amazing Adventure

Prudence and Her Amazing Adventure
Charlotte Gastaut
Thames & Hudson

Amazing is something of an understatement when it comes to young Prudence’s flights of fancy that take place as she blocks out her parents’ increasingly urgent calls to tidy up and get ready to go out.

Out she certainly does go, far, far away to wonderful woodlands,

incredible tropical jungles, deep down into the ocean and way, way up among the stars.

All kinds of creatures, strange and stranger still, as well as some more expected ones, inhabit the landscapes, seascapes and skyscapes she visits on her imaginary journey; until eventually those parental voices once more break into her fantasy worlds and it’s time to answer their call.

As well as her awesome double spread illustrations, French artist extraordinaire, Charlotte Gastaut has included cut-outs and translucent pages to flip back and forth, as readers join the little girl on her incredible adventures.

There is SO much to see in every scene, some of which almost leaps from the page thanks to Charlotte’s bright pink colour pops, whereas other details are less easily discernible hidden between the swirling textures of the rocks, stones and foliage.

Who would want to tidy up a room when it can furnish such breath taking experiences as Prudence’s?

A stunning book to immerse oneself in, and to visit over and over, losing track of time just like Prudence.

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.