My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

No matter whether Ingela P Arrhenius is working in large or small format, her retro-modern style is always eye catching.

In her latest large scale offering Ingela has chosen to explore London. She takes readers on a whistle-stop tour to visit all the popular tourist destinations in the capital showcasing each with a double spread of labelled images and an introductory sentence or two.

First stop is Buckingham Palace after which we visit the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and its neighbour. Tate Modern.
Then, it’s on to London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park – a great place for a picnic; followed by the London Eye (taking in the National Theatre). Phew!

If shopping is your thing, then you might take a stroll to the famous Carnaby Street, or perhaps take a trip to Harrods, Liberty or Hamleys toy shop, by which time afternoon tea will be the order of the day.

Covent Garden, with its street performers, stalls and cafes (one of my favourite parts) is the next venue.

You can enjoy a virtual visit to all these and other famous places, including Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory, which is slightly further out that most of the other locations Ingela has chosen to showcase.

A great book to use in nurseries, or to give to a young child who is from outside the capital before a visit.

The Dam

The Dam
David Almond and Levi Pinfold
Walker Studio

Based on a true story, award-winning author Almond tells in lyrical style a tale of loss and hope, music and memories, memorial and mystery, water and wonder.

One morning early, a father wakes his daughter instructing her to “Bring your fiddle,”. Then together they walk into the valley, an abandoned valley in Northumberland that is soon to be flooded once the Kielder Dam construction is complete.

Now the buildings lie empty, their inhabitants re-housed. The father pulls down the door of a deserted cottage, bidding his daughter to enter.
“Play, Kathryn, play,” he instructs. “Dance, Daddy, dance.” comes her response and so they do.

First there, and then at every other one of the deserted dwellings, filling each one with music as Kathryn plays ‘for all that are gone and for all that are still to come…”

It’s heard by the birds, the beasts, the earth, the trees and the ghosts.

As darkness descends the two walk away leaving behind them drowning beauty, water echoing deep in the dam and drifting forth, rising and echoing too in the waves, leaves and grass they tread upon;

in their memories; in their dreams and right through them in all their internal dams, making them play, making them sing, making them dance, and so it will always be.

Totally riveting, this powerful book is a thing of beauty, elegance, awe and reverence as the author and artist pay homage to a deeply loved landscape: Almond with his spare poetical telling, Pinfold with his majestic windswept spreads, brooding vignettes, and musical, mystical skyscapes.

A treasure of a book.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

Surprising Birds / Big Dog, Little Dog

Surprising Birds
Big Dog, Little Dog

Elodie Jarret (élo)
Walker Studio

Here’s a pair of super chic, lift-the-flap concept books created by designer and illustrator Elodie Jarret to share with the very young: they’re in a different league altogether from the usual toddler concept books.

Surprising Birds features a whole host of wonderfully shaped avians that the artist has, with deft touches of colour and distinctive black and white patterns managed to make into enchanting feathered characters.

Part and parcel of each one is a flap – a wing, a tail, a head, a beak –

which when lifted reveals a flash of bright colour and the colour name (eleven in all).

Each bird is set against a pastel coloured background making it stand out starkly, and every one has an element of delight be it the chick sheltering under its mother’s wing or the hide-and-seek owl on the final spread.

With striking images, sturdy flaps and cover, and a perfect size for small hands, this is a super little book to have fun with and perhaps learn some colour names along the way.

Equally enchanting and playful is the assortment of canine characters in Big Dog, Little Dog that features ‘opposites’ (and also introduces some positional vocabulary) including  above/below, long/short, awake/asleep and spots/no spots. Here again flaps and fold-outs are used to effect and every animal has a real personality.

Earth Verse

Earth Verse
Sally M.Walker and William Grill
Walker Studio

The earth is a vast entity orbiting in space: haiku as a poetic form is by nature brief and spare. The combination of the two makes for a truly stunning picture book particularly when the artist is a recent Kate Greenaway medal winner William Grill and the author Sally Walker, a Sibert medal winner some years ago.

The book focuses on Earth’s geological and meteorological aspects beginning with its place in the solar system: ‘third one from the sun. / Earth’s blue and white majesty / dwarfs her lunar child.’

We then move inwards ‘fragile outer crust. / shell around mantle and core – / Earth: a hard-boiled egg.’ How cleverly and succinctly Walker introduces scientific vocabulary into her poetry and you’d find it hard to get more playful than her description of minerals and metals as ‘glittery Earth-bling’;

more beautiful than ‘sediment-filled waves / tumble in a frothy foam … / a gull wears sand socks

or more dramatic than ‘hot-headed mountain / loses its cool, spews ash cloud – / igneous tantrum’.

For each of these small poetic gems, and the others, Grill provides a wonderful atmospheric coloured pencil illustration in his trademark style that is frequently more impressionistic than realistic and never overwhelming the words.
Right in the bottom corner of each spread or sometimes page, is a symbol.: earth, minerals, rocks, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheric and surface water, glaciers and groundwater. Each of these links to the final section of the book where additional prose information on the nine topics is provided, and there’s also a list of suggested further reading.
This surely is a book to encourage children (and adults) to pause and to wonder at the awesomeness of the world and all its natural beauty.

Magnificent Birds

Magnificent Birds
Illustrated by Narisa Togo
Walker Studio

In this celebration of the avian world, Narisa Togo has chosen fourteen subjects for her intricate linocuts.
Each spread, devoted to one species, is a visual treat, and accompanied by two paragraphs of information in addition to the bird’s scientific name and geographic range.

Some of the birds – the Barn Owl or Peregrine Falcon for instance, we in the UK may be lucky enough to see for ourselves. I am always thrilled to catch a glimpse, as I occasionally do, of the flash of iridescent blue and orange of a Kingfisher on my Sunday walk alongside the River Frome near my home.

On the other hand, the Kakapo, a large ground-dwelllng parrot, native to New Zealand almost, so we’re told went extinct in the 1970s with only eighteen males thought to be left in the world. These birds may live to 90 years old and thankfully, following intensive conservation work including relocation to islands free of predators, the population has increased to around one hundred.

Other ornithological wonders featured include the American Bald Eagle, Andean Flamingos, the wandering Albatross, Bar-Tailed Godwits, which fly non-stop over 11,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean from the Arctic to Australia or New Zealand in around eight days, and the Japanese Cranes, known for their elaborate courtship dance.

Narisa Togo’s stunning illustrations and the fascinating facts should instil a sense of awe and wonder at the avian world and draw readers into further exploring both artistic and scientific aspects of the subject.

Published in collaboration with the RSPB, 6% of sales income goes to the charity