The Bear in the Stars

The Bear in the Stars
Alexis Snell
Puffin Books

Accompanied by a series of stunning lino-cut prints, Alexis Snell tells the story of a polar bear, forced to leave the ‘cold, glistening place’ that is her home, on account of climate change.

In this fable we learn how over the years as the ice gradually disappeared, one by one, other animals have had no choice but to move on and seek new places to live. Now it’s the turn of the Great Bear to leave her natural abode and search for another safe location.

Swept across a raging sea, she finds a likely-seeming place

but it’s only temporary and then she’s swept on again down a rushing river upon the banks of which she encounters another bear – black and kindly – that tells her of a cool lake with fish aplenty.

Off she goes again and having sated her appetite, is briefly happy, but then the sun comes and off she goes to look for somewhere cooler. Now over-hot in her thick white fur, all she can find are lemon trees – no food for Bear these sour fruits. Her only solace is the stars in this changed world and with the morning a troop of monkeys come to her aid guiding her towards a ‘place that may help you’. Many hours later they reach a ‘human town’ and there, having settled her in a cool building, the monkeys leave her to sleep – long and deep.

On waking however, it’s not long before she learns that in this increasingly hot human world, it’s only the temperature that is growing ever warmer: human hearts remain cold and unwelcoming … until one single, small act of kindness changes everything … most certainly for our ursine traveller;

but what about those humans? One can but remember, wish and hope … and …

Using a changing colour palette from blues to reds, and then as the world recovers, to greens, Alexis’s is a tale of hope for a future that is better. That’s the vital message that one wants youngsters to take from this beautiful book. That and the determination to be part of the change that MUST be made by every single one of us.

A book for all, everywhere.

Climate Emergency Atlas

Climate Emergency Atlas
Dan Hooke et al.
DK (Penguin Random House)

There is no getting away from it: Planet Earth is facing a horrifying climate emergency and we humans have only a few years in which to act before the destruction we are wreaking is irreparable.

Divided into four sections, it’s first explained to readers How Earth’s climate works, this is followed by a look at the causes of climate change; then comes the impacts of climate change. This part really is a wake-up call with pages such as those on the Burning of fossil fuels (though it’s good to read that Germany’s emissions of greenhouse gases have decreased over the last 30 years).

We also see the effects of extreme weather in both humans and the natural world where sea levels are rising, and with the oceans getting warmer there’s devastating coral bleaching and danger to enormous numbers of marine fauna and flora.

There’s a spread on the Australian bushfires, another looking at and locating endangered ecosystems the world over, while Livelihoods in peril explores the impact of climate change on countless numbers of people who are forced to leave their homes on account of storms, drought, rising sea levels and fires.

The final section, Action on climate change, demonstrates that there is much we can do to halt this catastrophic climate change, stressing that we have to act quickly to cut greenhouse emissions, not only at a government level but also as individual humans. We can all play our part by becoming activists, changing to diets that help reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, (there’s a Planet-friendly eating spread) by recycling and reusing rather than buying new unnecessarily, by planting more trees (the right kinds) and much more.

I was awed by reading about what the city of Copenhagen has done and is doing as part of it mission to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. The book ends with a look at how by saving energy, growing green, and other acts we can all play our part. All is not lost; it’s both our individual and our collective responsibility; with a foreword by environmental scientist, Liz Bonnin, this book is surely another rallying cry to ACT and keep on acting today, tomorrow and every day …

Both primary and secondary schools need at least one copy.

Saving the Planet – The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring / Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet

The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring
Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Little Tiger

The Yeti Collective is a worldwide organisation with each of its strands having responsibility for an element of conservation while simultaneously aiming to avoid human detection.

Shadowspring (underground water upon which all wildlife and the humans depend) is under the protection of the Greybeards (the British group) but now somebody or something is interfering with the water levels and things are looking bad for the inhabitants of Tadpole’s community.

Tadpole (she of unripe character), daughter of the sett’s leader, Shipshape (she in perfect order), is next in line to become the Greybeards’ leader, a role for which she feels anything but fit.

Despite the precedent for avoiding humans contact, like her grandfather before her, Tadpole meets a human; his name is Henry, a boy just adapting to boarding school life.

Now, on account of the danger the Greybeards are facing, Tadpole and Henry (aka Hen-ree) must work together: an extremely dangerous undertaking ensues.

It’s a delight to enter and share in this world with its highly pertinent environmental messages, that’s populated by wonderful characters such as the two main ones in this story.

I missed the first book in the series, but I intend getting hold of it forthwith; I’m sure it too will be a superb read.

Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug, the four NNASA agents, return having previously failed to find the perfect Goldilocks Planet, with a new mission, to find a planet fit for human habitation.

Having splash-landed on Water Planet, they discover it is awash with clams, a power-hungry, sub-aquatic force led by their president, P.T.Clam . Said creature is absolutely gushing with praise about his home planet and more than a little keen to swap his planet of residence for Earth. the polluted waters of which he claims to filter. Now why might he be so eager for that exchange?

It appears that he’s willing to do a special deal on the quiet with AlphaWolf (the mission’s leader) but another clam, Susan B. Clamthony tells a rather different story

and it’s one that the Astronuts really need to hear. It sounds as though not all the residents of Water Planet are as dastardly as their leader.

Packing the adventure with punny humour, hilarious interchanges and with a bounteous brio, Jon Scieszka, via his Earth narrator, cleverly knits together environmental information and facts about climate change. Combined with Steven Weinberg’s equally zany collage illustrations, every one of which is as immersive as the watery environment of the story’s setting, (love the spread on how they were created) this is a terrific second instalment.

More please! I hear youngsters, (especially fans of graphic novels) cry. (And this reviewer.)

One World

One World
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Even more pertinent today than when it was first published thirty years ago is Michael Foreman’s almost prophetic One World.

As she looks up at the night sky a little girl contemplates all the creatures that share in the sun’s warmth and the moon’s silvery light.

Next morning she and her brother visit the seashore and together they create their own miniature world from items drawn from a rock pool: a ‘new world with its own forests, its own life.’

As they continue adding items during the day, they realise that their actions have altered the environment around understanding how easy it is to spoil the beauty of the world: the world into which various kinds of poisons are being poured, where forests are disappearing, where creatures all over the planet are no longer safe.

Can they in their own way, do at least something to counter the pollution?

First they remove a tarred feather and the tin can from the pool then with another feather skim off the surface oil before dropping back into it the items they’d collected.

As they leave for home that night the sister and brother decide to ask other children to help them in their cause:

after all, ‘They all lived on one world. And that world too, they held in their hands.’

Stunningly beautiful and thought provoking as it was then and is now, with Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion taking up the cause, this is such a timely re-issue.

A book that needs to be read and discussed in every primary classroom from reception through to older juniors, after which let the action begin or continue … We don’t have much time.

Where in the Wild

Where in the Wild
Jonny Lambert and Poppy Bishop
Little Tiger Press

Poppy Bishop gets poetical in her passion for wildlife and its protection in this visual and verbal evocation of the world’s animal habitats and how crucial it is to save these wonderful wild places from further destruction by human actions.

She takes us to meet creatures of the land and sea as we visit nine different faunal homes, the first being the river where otter speaks out.

We also spend time in the tropical rainforest alive with screeching monkeys, beautiful butterflies and other insects and a leopard introduces itself.

The hot savannah comes next, home to elephants, leopards, vultures, bats and scorpions: here a tunnelling meerkat tells of his digging prowess.

Scorpions are also found in sun-scorched desert regions, the next stopping place; home also for snakes, mice, lizards and the camel that describes its flat feet.

Next to cooler climes and a beautiful woodland inhabited by roosting jays, a bluetit sings about its home and diet,

and badgers roam both here and on grassy plains.
Thereon too reside wolves, buzzards, deer and other birds of prey.

Evergreen forests, the Arctic tundra and oceans are the three final locations, each with its own array of wonderful creatures large and small.

Strategically placed die cuts and a related question cleverly provide a link between habitats on each spread.

The last page and inside back cover are a rhyming plea for readers to act as advocates, speaking out for and doing whatever they can to save these precious places and their creatures; and short paragraphs about special adaptations, destructive human actions and a last plea to care for what we have for the sake of the animals.

Heartfelt, beautifully illustrated with Jonny Lambert’s fantastic collage style art, this is I hope, a book that will stir young readers and adults alike to play their part in the preservation of our precious planet.

Last Tree in the City / Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Last Tree in the City
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Edward lives in a city, one that appears totally devoid of beauty or colour. However, he knows of a tiny oasis in this concrete jungle.
At the end of his street stands one last tree and for the little boy (and his companion duck) it’s a place of joy; a place surrounded by nature where the two would spend many a happy time.

One day however disaster strikes: Edward’s tree has gone.

He’s devastated; but then he makes a discovery that brings hope to his heart, a tiny glimmer of hope that just might alter the city’s future in the very best way possible …

With minimal words and superbly eloquent watercolour and ink illustrations, Peter Carnavas has created a modern fable that has much to say to all of us; not only with its subtle ecological message but also with the empowering thought that one person really can make a difference.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Lisa Papp
Old Barn Books

Madeline Finn, the story’s narrator, is a reluctant reader: she really does NOT like to read anything at all, not even the menu on the ice cream van. The trouble is that she finds the whole reading thing very hard work and sometimes her classmates make fun of her attempts at reading aloud. “Keep trying,” her teacher tells her giving her ‘Keep Trying’ hearts for her efforts.

Madeline though is desperate for a star sticker but those are only given to ‘good readers’: that teacher really needs to think about what she’s doing there.
On Saturday, Madeline’s mum takes her to the library where the girl reminds the librarian of her dislike of reading.

Miss Dimple however shows her a room where children are reading to dogs and offers her the opportunity to do likewise, introducing her to Bonnie, a large white dog.
Bonnie is a great listener; she ‘s non-judgemental, forgiving and patient; and week by week Madeline gains the confidence to make mistakes, to go at her own pace, and to take risks as she continues to read to the dog.

After many weeks, she is ready to read out loud at school. She starts out a bit wobbly but imagines herself reading to Bonnie and suddenly she’s done it.
Lisa Papp’s gentle watercolour illustrations capture the little girl’s feelings so beautifully in this encouraging story, which has a lovely surprise ending, both for the main protagonist and for readers.

I’ve signed the charter  

All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

I’ve signed the charter