There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom

There’s a Rang-Tan in My Bedroom
James Sellick and Frann Preston-Gannon
Wren & Rook

What begins as a rant at a mischievous ‘Rang-Tan’ in the bedroom of a small girl as she orders it to depart, is dramatically changed by the creature’s revelation of how human devastation of its rainforest home in south-east Asia has caused it to flee for its life; and all on account of palm oil – a constituent of the items in her room that the animal has been howling at.

Having learned of the irresponsible actions of her fellow human beings,

the girl is fuelled by a determination to do something about this reckless deforestation and so she does.

She writes to chocolate manufacturers

and talks to others about rainforest destruction, enlisting their support in her campaign and ending with a promise to make sure there is a future for animals like her visitor.

After the story there are several pages giving details of the orangutans and their plight; the problem caused by irresponsible destroying of rainforests and over-planting of the palm trees that yield the much-wanted oil, and what we can all do to help save the remaining rainforest habitat in Indonesia. Emma Thompson has written a foreword to the book in support.

Based on the original Greenpeace film that became a recent sensation, James Sellick’s rhyming story speaks powerfully for the cause and has been beautifully re-illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon whose scenes of destruction take readers to the heart of the problem.

A book that should bring to the attention of younger readers the price paid by irresponsible palm-oil production, enlisting more recruits to the green movement.

A Planet Full of Plastic

A Planet Full of Plastic
Neal Layton
Wren & Rook

Neal Layton has created an absolutely superb information book on a topic that’s on many people’s minds at present.

Right away he addresses the reader with ‘Quick question: do you ever think about what things are made of? ’ and goes on to mention other materials such as metal, wood, glass and paper before focussing in on plastic; plastic in all its shapes, colours and sizes.

We learn about the discovery of the material by chemist Mr Baekeland and how rapidly it became enthusiastically used in pretty much anything you might think of.

Plastic in the places it should be is all well and good, but the trouble is it doesn’t biodegrade and therein lies the problem. (Neal explains what this means with two sequences of strip pictures)

What eventually happens is that much of this plastic finds its way into our oceans

where it creates big problems for the marine animals as well as forming massive garbage patches in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, especially in the form of toxic microplastic particles.

All of us need to cut down on our use of plastic, especially that used only once,  is what we’re powerfully reminded here …

Neal’s narrative style is perfectly pitched for the intended audience – there’s not a scrap of preachiness about it – and his mixed media illustrations are a powerful reminder of the ubiquitous problems of plastic waste.

Children and young people care deeply about the environment as they’ve already demonstrated and the book concludes with a ‘How you can help section’.

If the government is really serious about the environment, and in particular the terrible effects of throwaway plastic, then perhaps they should fund a copy of this timely book for all primary schools and nurseries.

Dogs in Space: The Amazing True Story of Belka and Strelka

Dogs in Space: The Amazing True Story of Belka and Strelka
Vix Southgate and Iris Deppe
Wren & Rook

We’ve already had picture books about Laika (notably Owen Davey’s Laika the Astronaut) but now this, author Vix Southgate’s debut, celebrates two canine heroes from Moscow, Belka and Strelka, the first living creatures to actually survive being hurtled into space to orbit several times before being brought safely back to earth.

That though is getting ahead of ourselves so let’s go back to earlier in their amazing lives when the two stray dogs were roaming the streets of Moscow. From there they were picked up and taken to Moscow’s Space Centre for training to become part of the Russian Space Programme. The two little dogs were, so a space centre scientist Oleg decided, just right as they were clever, brave, calm and obedient; perfect characteristics for Space Dogs.

They were then subjected to all kinds of scientific experiments and a training regime before being blasted off in a rocket in August 1960. As Belka and Strelka orbited in space there were anxious times on earth; so still were they, that it was feared they’d not survived the launch. All was well however

and after circling Earth many times, the two dogs started their descent – a dangerous operation – but finally …

History had been made.

The book doesn’t end there though: we learn that Strelka gave birth to six healthy puppies, both dogs lived long happy lives and that their incredible adventure acted as a trailblazer for Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova and other astronauts. All this and other key events are presented, timeline style, in the final pages.

A real life story, engagingly and dramatically presented both in words and Iris Deppe’s pictures. It’s a fascinating and exciting way to introduce young children to the history of human space exploration.

The Brontës / Along Came Coco

The Brontës
Anna Doherty
Wren & Rook

According to the cover claim this is the ‘fantastically feminist (and totally true) story of the Astonishing Authors’ of the title. It’s certainly a smashing short biography of three of the most gifted female writers ever.

We start with a pictorial spread that introduces the family and other members – human and animal of the Bronte household.

Thereafter, starting in 1822, the story looks at family life in Haworth, where father Patrick was a priest and the children loved to explore the moors, using them as inspiration for their own stories and poems.

Thrown back on their own company, the four youngsters become incredibly creative and when Branwell is given some toy soldiers, they use them to create their own imaginary world. This leads to dramatic productions, story and poetry writing, illustration and 3D maps all based on Glass Town.

The young people work as teachers or governesses while daydreaming a lot of the time.

Then over the next three years, books of poetry and the three novels – one each – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey are published under the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell., followed by Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Sadly during the next two years Branwell, Emily and Anne fall sick and die leaving Charlotte who lives only another six years during which she publishes Shirley and Vilette.

The final spreads comprise annotated portraits of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne, followed by details of how wonderfully feminist were these Victorian sisters. Their legacy lives on and continues to inspire readers today: I can’t imagine being without their awesome novels.

Youngsters will be fascinated to learn of these strong-willed writers and their achievements against the odds, in Anna’s highly readable narrative style biographical account. Her illustrations are a quirky delight

Another truly creative spirit was that of Coco Chanel celebrated in this biography:

Along Came Coco
Eva Byrne
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Born in 1883, Coco’s early life was spent in a French orphanage where she found the rigid discipline of the nuns very hard to abide by

although she was fascinated by their dramatic, mysterious demeanour as they walked about the convent in their habits.

The young rule transgressor did however learn the sewing skills that later on led to her fame, while at the same time nurturing her dreams, her imagination and her sense of style and fashion.

As soon as she was old enough, Coco left the orphanage determined to follow her highly individual fashion sense and talent for sewing. Taking inspiration from everything she saw,

she soon opened two shops, one selling quirky hats, the other stylish yet comfortable clothes. Her designs though were not to everyone’s taste, but Coco with her understanding of what women wanted, was undaunted.

Her simple, rule-breaking designs became however, a huge trend-setting success.

Popular too were her new short hairstyle and her eschewing of restrictive corsets, both of which were practical and revolutionary, changing forever how women dressed and looked.

While this story is incomplete, it’s fascinating and inspiring, especially to divergent thinkers; and at the end of the book, the author gives additional background information, mentioning her subject’s wild imagination and difficulty in distinguishing fact from fiction, along with a select bibliography for those who want to dig deeper.

The author’s suitably stylish watercolour, pen and ink illustrations capture the spirit of her subject throughout and the inky endpapers are great fun.

Follow your dreams is the message herein.

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth / The Story of Flight

Wren and Rook, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Books, prides itself on high quality non-fiction titles; here are a couple of recent examples:

The Incredible Ecosystems of Planet Earth
Rachel Ignotofsky
Wren & Rook

This is a super book that showcases the ecosystems of our planet organised under geographical regions – Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia and The Polar Ice Caps, and then Aquatic Ecosystems.

The author packs a terrific amount of information into her text and her meticulous illustrations, maps and infographics

as she highlights our incredible ecosystems large and small with their huge varieties of flora and fauna, and different climatic conditions.

Did you know that an ecosystem can be as huge as a coral reef or as tiny as one drop of water? What an incredible thought.

A disturbing thought in contrast is that unless we take urgent steps to halt mankind’s destructive actions and strive to eliminate climate change the damage to our beautiful world will be beyond repair. We can all play our part as Rachel tells us in her ‘Protecting Our Planet’ spread, which is an optimistic way to end this splendid, beautifully designed opus.

One to add to your book collection at home or school, or indeed anywhere there are readers who love nature.

The Story of Flight
Jakob Whitfield and Us Now
Wren & Rook

This book traces the history of flight from George Cayley’s glider, flown by his coachman, to the pilotless drones of the 21st century.
This fascinating story shows how each new breakthrough paved the way for the next development

as well as explaining how social developments, war, women’s equality and endeavours to combat climate change have influenced the directions of air transport.

The book concludes with a look to the future and how new technologies could help reduce the environmental impact of aviation, and a final time line showing the history of the aeroplane.

Inevitably in a book such as this, the information Whitfield provides is not comprehensive, but there’s sufficient to whet the appetites of young readers and the dramatic Us Now illustrations are alluring and exciting.