Earth is Big

Earth is Big
Steve Tomecek and Marcos Farina
What on Earth Books

Every one of the eighteen topics in this large format book explores the notion of absolutes in relation to planet Earth.

The author has an impressive science background and in his introduction he uses measurement and comparison to talk about this planet calling it in the final paragraph a ‘big, small, heavy, light, cold, hot, wet, dry, fast, slow, round, jagged planet, Earth.

Then follow double spreads, the titles of which are for the most part seemingly contradictory – Earth is Big followed by Earth is Small, Earth is Cold then Earth is Hot and so on.

So is Earth big, or is Earth small? What we learn is that in comparison to the inner and dwarf planets, its diameter is big whereas when compared with the outer ones, Earth is small.
When it comes to a consideration of roundness, Earth is an almost perfect sphere though it’s not without imperfections; 

however despite appearing spherical, the surface is rough and jagged on account of such things as mountains and canyons.

Sometimes changes take place on Earth quickly or suddenly on account of such phenomena as earthquakes, moon phases or wind; at others it changes slowly. The relevant spread briefly explains tectonic plates and like all the other explanations is accessible, no matter the scientific field. 

An amazing amount of always readable information encompassing such topics as mass extinctions, 

the Sutter’s Hill meteor strike in 2021 and climate change, which is mentioned several times, is packed between the covers of this book.

There’s a slightly retro look about Marcos Farina’s stylised illustrations and each page layout is different, helping to maintain the general reader’s interest in this unusually conceived scientific book. It also has a a glossary, contents, index, conversion tables and source notes.

One to add to KS2 collections and family bookshelves.

Amazing Rivers

Amazing Rivers
Julie Vosburgh Agnone and Kerry Hyndman
What on Earth Books

Author Julie Vosburgh Agnone starts by giving a general description of a river and then takes readers on an exploration of freshwater waterways all around the world. She and illustrator Kerry Hyndman then present more than a hundred rivers explaining as they go subjects including measurement, source and flow,

as well as what is to be found in and also around rivers, and the humans living and working in their vicinity.

Crop growing has long been an important activity with dates and other fruits, grains and vegetables having been watered by water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers since ancient times when Sumerian farmers designed irrigation methods to divert the river water.

Many rivers, we’re told, contain fish species in abundance including perch, catfish and trout while others yield freshwater crabs and shrimps that can make a tasty meal.
I was fascinated to read about pancakes – not the edible variety but ones made of ice that are occasionally formed in the River Dee in Scotland.

In contrast the Boiling River in Peru has water hot enough to cook an egg.

Some rivers – the Amazon, the Yangtze and another Chinese river, the Li – are allocated a spread each while other spreads are topical including treasures found in rivers, industry, feats of engineering and threats to divers with short titled paragraphs presenting the facts set into or around stylised illustrations.

Kerry Hyndman uses a variety of visual layouts that include vignettes,

close-ups, arial views and broad river scenes as well as making good use of texture and shadow to help maintain readers’ interest throughout. There’s also a central foldout map showing the location of each river mentioned as well as giving some fun river-related lists. A glossary, index and resource list comprise the four final pages.

Altogether a fascinating and informative resource book for individual browsing and KS2/3 school collections.

Zoom: Dinosaur Adventure / Rainforest Adventure & Grow

Zoom: Dinosaur Adventure
Susan Hayes and Sam Rennocks
Zoom: Rainforest Adventure
Susan Hayes and Susanna Rumiz
What on Earth Books

Both stories take young children on amazing journeys, the first involving best friends Jasmine and Jamie, the second, Lin.

Jasmine and Jamie use their time machine to take them back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Their first encounter is with a hungry Alamosaurus that they observe by climbing high into the treetops. They also meet a Maiasaura, Triceratops, Beelzebufo (a prehistoric frog), a whole pack of Velociraptors, a flying pterosaur

and many others including Jamie’s favourite – a Triceratops – make that two – there’s a mother and baby. Their adventure concludes when they sight an asterdoid heading their way so they make for the time machine and escape – just.

Lin uses a more conventional mode of transport for her Rainforest Adventure; she canoes off down the Amazon accompanied by her pet monkey. Having tied up the canoe, Lin then starts her trek through the lush forest wherein she meets around thirty different inhabitants including hyacinth macaws, several different snakes, hummingbirds, a poison dart frog, three-toed sloths and a procession of leaf cutter ants. She misses sighting a tarantula and an armadillo as they pass her tent while she sleeps. Next morning she spies some tapirs drinking but they’re suddenly alarmed by the sight of a jaguar. After a bit of raft-building

and an unexpected plunge into the river, Lin realises her rucksack is gone. How will she get back? Surprisingly she sees a hot air balloon and up and off she goes …

Both books begin and end in the children’s own rooms and young listeners will realise that therein are many of the components of the imaginary adventures. There’s a penultimate pop-out spread in both stories as well as lots of die-cuts on every spread to add to the interactive enjoyment of the vicarious experiences.

Grow (Little Nature)
illustrated by Pau Morgan
Caterpillar Books

In this book little ones can discover the changes that occur between seed and plant using the examples of an acorn, seeds from various flowers, a dropped blackberry and an apple tree. Die-cut peep holes add to the enjoyment of the four, two-page sequences of planting, the animals involved, and the outcomes. The alluring illustrations by Pau Morgan have an earthiness about them thanks to being printed on recycled board.

The Good Germ Hotel

The Good Germ Hotel
Kim Sung-hwa and Kwon Soo-jin, illustrated by Kim Ryung-eon
What on Earth Books

What an unusual and entertaining way of presenting information is this dialogue between the main narrator – Colon Bacteroides – and the nine year old girl – the hotel within which it lives. This bacterium describes its role and those of its fellow bacteria explaining the various tasks they perform in the body. I wonder how many children realise that there are microbes all over the body, many good – the superheroes – and some bad too.

The narrator takes readers on a journey through the digestive system talking about what happens when food is eaten and how gut bacteria help provide energy by removing nutrients from the food consumed, and thus helping the body work and grow.
Protection from bad germs is another job for the ‘good’ bacteria but if those baddies do invade then the hotel’s army of immune cells are called into action.

At this point in the narrator’s explanation there comes, (along with the likes of stomach bugs, strep throat and cold, a brief, timely mention of the virus Covid-19.

Next is an explanation of the role of antibiotics and a discussion of how important it is that they are only prescribed when absolutely vital in case all those good bacteria are destroyed too, or the nasties learn how to become antibiotic resistant.

Alongside such examples of serious scientific topics, young readers will definitely enjoy the references to farts and poo, especially that farewell final spread from the narrator so graphically illustrated.

Indeed all the illustrations are comical and huge fun to peruse, helping to make the entire topic accessible to primary school age readers. Who ever would have thought that talking with a bacterium could be so enlightening. There’s a final glossary in case readers need to check the meaning of any of the terms used during the conversation.

Amazing Treasures

Amazing Treasures
David Long and Muti
What on Earth Books

In this the second in the Our Amazing World series David Long presents a veritable wealth of amazing things in his mind boggling assortment of 100+ objects and places.

Some are naturally occurring, others are not and the author’s definition of treasure is sufficiently broad to encompass personal items such as a photograph and a favourite book; the tulip fields of Holland, the Lascaux cave paintings, the Amazon Rainforest, moon rocks (some of which have gone missing) and Bugatti cars from the Schlumpf collection.

Items such as the cars, and the abandoned city of Machu Picchu in the Andes are given just a paragraph, whereas Tikal the ancient Mayan site,

and China’s Forbidden City each have an entire double spread devoted to them. There’s also a world map gatefold as the centre spread that when open shows a list of all the 105 items included.

No matter whether your interest is in architecture, fossils, rocks and gems or the natural world, readers will likely find something new to wonder over here.

The Muti team has used a relatively subdued colour palette for their illustrations most of which are relatively close up depictions; others including Windsor Castle,

Machu Picchu and Masada are shown in aerial views of different sizes.

With topics both ancient and modern (ownership for instance), this fascinating book is one to include in KS2 class collections particularly.

Marvellous Machines

Marvellous Machines
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

This book comes with a detachable ‘magic lens’ embedded inside its front cover that enables readers to look into buildings and the inner workings of all manner of mechanical things large and small, relatively simple as well as highly complex.

This is achieved by focussing the lens on the areas of red patterning (stippling, cross hatching or brickwork) which then disappears to show such things as the energy connections powering all kinds of machines in the kitchen, robots at work,

the insides of a container ship, a submarine, a space station …

and even a human body.

The book concludes with some thought-provoking questions.

Mechanically-minded youngsters especially will love the opportunity to peek into various components of a space station and to use the lens to hunt for the dozen items listed in the ‘find it’ panel on the relevant spread, or to do likewise in and around the cyclists on the jet aeroplane and “Bicycle’ spreads.

As well as anything else, this book reminds younger users of the enormous wealth of machines we rely on in our daily lives and to discover something about how they function.

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History
Nicholas O’Neill & Susan Hayes, illustrated by Ruby Taylor
What on Earth Books

This large format, concertina book is published in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Essentially it opens up the entire world of music to all whether or not they have a specific interest in music and is written by Nicholas O’Neill, himself an acclaimed musician and composer and author Susan Hayes. Together with illustrator Ruby Taylor, they present a superb illustrated timeline that unfolds to double-sided 2.5 metres beginning in prehistoric times with the use of bones, gourds, and hooves, and culminating in contemporary music of Björk, Adele, Beyonce and Grime artist Stormsy.

Pretty much everything one can imagine relating to music as well as more that you can’t, is included in the densely packed pages. Truly international in perspective, the presentation begins with a world map showing prehistoric sounds emanating not only from instruments from the aforementioned materials but also perhaps, from wood.

We meet music makers of all kinds – maestros and more – mainly in national or period dress. There are pithy paragraphs about such things as written music from 1000 CE, the first printed music (1501), styles of music, the use of technology in playing and recording

and various innovations including the Chinabot platform that showcases Asian music both modern and traditional, as well as MuseNet – an online tool that uses AI so create songs of different styles.

The book covers orchestral music, opera, rock -‘n’-roll, protest music and there are some lesser known mentions such as opera founder Wei Liangfu; and American composer Amy Beach and English composer Ethel Smyth whose March of the Women became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.

Some musicians have a paragraph,

while the Beatles have a whole page devoted to them, and there’s a double spread entitled the Royal Albert Hall of Fame.

There’s no way you can read, let alone digest, the entire contents of this inclusive and highly visual offering in a single sitting. It’s engrossing; and in addition to the index and glossary, the authors provide personal notes and even, a final playlist. All in all, a truly amazing collaboration and a book to add to primary and secondary collections, as well as family bookshelves.

Zoom: Ocean Adventure & Zoom: Space Adventure / Where’s My Peacock?

Zoom: Ocean Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Sam Rennocks
Zoom: Space Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Susanna Rumiz
What on Earth Books

These are two titles in a new board-book non-fiction series for curious toddlers.

In the first we meet Noah and join him and his turtle on an ocean adventure as he takes his boat out to sea, dons his diving gear and plunges into the water.

His first location is a coral reef, a good place for a game of hide-and-seek with some fish. Next stop is a seagrass meadow with its seahorses, dugongs and a wealth of other creatures, some of which emerge from the kelp.

Danger suddenly looms in the shape of a hungry great white shark from which Noah must make a hasty escape by climbing into his submarine and diving down to the darkest depths.

There’s also a sunken pirate ship with treasure and more to discover as Noah heads for the Antarctic and an iceberg with penguins atop, made all the more dramatic by its large die-cut shape,

Indeed die-cuts are a feature of every spread and with their clever placing each one offers a different view depending on whether the page is turned forwards or back.

The Space Adventure is Ada’s and begins with her (and her cat) boarding her rocket ship and awaiting the countdown which is delivered through wordless die-cut illustrated pages shaped as the numbers 5 through to 1.

Then the rocket blasts off skywards towards the moon, docking at the International Space Station to make a delivery and for Ada to perform some urgent repairs before making a lunar landing to collect scientific samples.

Thereafter, the rocket explores the Solar System viewing all the different planets before heading home once more.

Characteristic of both, rather longer than average board books are: the surprise pop-up on the penultimate spread, the wealth of visual details in Sam Rennocks and Susanna Rumiz’s vibrant illustrations, the die-cut pages, the relatively short narrative and the fact that both Noah and Ada actually experience their journeys through their imagination.

Sturdily built, these are well worth putting into a nursery collection or adding to your toddler’s bookshelf.

Where’s My Peacock?
Becky Davies and Kate McLelland
Little Tiger

In their latest touchy-feely, hide-and-seek board book, thanks to Becky Davies’ simple repeat patterned and Kate McLelland’s alluring patterned art, toddlers can follow the trail of footprints and discover a long tailed lemur, a feathery owl and a brightly hued toucan before locating the dazzling tailed peacock that has almost, but not entirely, hidden himself away.

Tactile fun for tinies and the possibility of learning some new vocabulary.

Amazing Islands

Amazing Islands
Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman
What on Earth Books

In this, the first in the new Our Amazing World series, author Sabrina Weiss and illustrator Kerry Hyndman present a gallimaufry of facts and scenes of islands of all sizes and their inhabitants both human and animal.

After spreads defining an island and giving some related terms such as archipelago and ait, and relating how islands are created, there’s a look at some environmental threats.

Thereafter readers are taken on a tour of individual islands in various parts of the globe starting with the Galapagos archipelago.

Madagascar is another stopping point, the world’s fourth largest island we read, whereon 90% of the animals including several kinds of lemur, and a wealth of plants, are endemic.

One of the topical spreads is devoted to islands that have been used as prisons including Robben Island where my all time hero Nelson Mandela was kept for 30 years.

Readers with a particular penchant for statistical information will enjoy the fold-out world map locating all the islands mentioned in the narrative and it also provides several ‘island top tens’ including the ten largest and those countries with the highest number of islands.

Of the islands I’ve visited, Hong Kong is featured fairly early and several spreads later, Sri Lanka

followed by Great Britain. These are the only ones I can claim to have spent any time on other than Mauritius, which merits only a brief paragraph that includes the fact that is was once home to the dodo.

Each spread is alluringly illustrated with realistic depictions of the relevant flora and fauna, and organised with sufficient variety to maintain the reader’s interest.

There’s also a glossary, pronunciation guide, an index and a final sources page that includes web sites, should readers wish to research further themselves.

A book to dip into, either in school or at home.

Planet SOS

Planet SOS
Marie G. Rohde
What on Earth Books

Our planet is under serious threat, most of us would acknowledge that and in her cleverly conceived book Marie Rohde presents 22 different aspects of this alarming crisis in a novel manner giving each a distinct persona – monsters inspired by mythology, fairy tale, folklore and popular culture, making the whole enterprise accessible as well as unique.

So let’s now hear from some of these dastardly creatures that speak directly to us.

The depletion of the ozone layer is the work of the Ozone Serpent chomping its way through earth’s protective gaseous layer.

Atmosdragon is a bragging beast that talks of human actions causing the release of greenhouse gases and global warming. Like all the others this speaker has relied on a close alliance with we humans, and is starting to fear for its continuing existence. Like all the others too, Atmosdragon is accompanied by an identity card ‘with a host of symbols (there’s a key for interpretation), icons showing the activities that can halt, or hinder further environmental harm.

Deforestation is the world of the Logre. This destructive beastie lays waste forests for agriculture, timber production and development, boasting that human efforts to halt its damage are futile. We must prove Logre wrong, for the absorption of carbon dioxide is crucial.

Monsters lurk in the water too; take the Plaken with its all-invading tentacles formed from thousands of tonnes of plastic debris – a massive threat to marine life and birds.

The illustrations are truly arresting and we’re also shown a small vignette of each mythical being that was the inspiration for the particular menacing monster sprawling across much of its double spread.

The three final spreads give a world map marking the locations of the various monsters with a time line indicating when the particular ecological threats were first recognised, a glossary and a card index of all the beasties and how they might be defeated.

There is a huge amount of information packed between the covers of this book that will surely galvanise young eco-warriors. It’s rich in potential for cross-curricular exploration in school too.

Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World

Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World
Emmanuelle Figueras and Claire de Gastold
What on Earth Books

Did you know that our noses can detect some 400,000 different smells, each one carrying its own message?

However, this large format book investigates the sense of smell – its detection and use – not only in humans but also in a variety of animals whose snouts, trunks, rostra, muzzles and beaks are given prominence in this thematically organised volume.

There are flaps that can be lifted to reveal inside views of such things as a snail’s two ‘noses’ that amazingly allow a snail to detect the smell of a lettuce from a distance of 100 metres.

I was fascinated to read that honeybees post guard bees at the entrance to a hive to check the scent of each arrival with their antennae, allowing only those carrying the scent of the colony to enter.

We read of the different uses of the olfactory sense – to identify mates and offspting, to locate prey or other food, to detect danger as well as to assist in finding the way when travelling long distances.

Moving from the general to the specific, the author presents difficult concepts in a manner that older primary school readers will find accessible (‘Polar bears have wide nasal cavities that allow them to inhale large amounts of air and detect odorant molecules over long distance’ for instance) and this is also facilitated by the layout of the pages where text never dominates.

There are also humorous touches both verbal – male giraffes smell and taste the urine of females to check out their hormone levels and thus ascertain the female’s readiness to mate – and in Claire de Gastold’s realistic illustrations (the blissful somnolent stretch of the cat on the armchair and the horses pulling funny faces (on account of their Jacobson’s organs.

An Informative book but  fun too, and there’s a final index, plus suggestions for further reading.