Category Archives: information books

Meet the Ancient Romans

Meet the … Ancient Romans
James Davies
Big Picture Press

This is one of a new history series. It’s an engaging look at the Ancient Romans, presented with an exuberance that young readers will find both highly entertaining and illuminating.

Small chunks of information are delivered with a gentle wit, on almost thirty topics. These range from The Birth of the Roman Empire (a comic strip rendering of the Romulus and Remus myth), through emperors …

writing and number systems, home life, clothing, inventions, food and farming, bathing, theatre, building (the Romans were superb builders and engineers) …

medicine (herbs and healing baths were prescribed for most illnesses);

entertainment, (the Romans pitted animals against animals as well as humans; and entry to the Colosseum was free, sometimes even the food came gratis), and ending with the fall of the empire, and a spread on Rome Today.

Throughout, the emphasis is on the visuals: Davies has an off-beat style, uses limited colour to great effect and peppers his illustrations with amusing speech bubbles.

All in all a great introduction for a younger audience, to a fascinating ancient civilisation, the legacy of which is still evident today.

Check out the companion volume ‘Meet the Ancient Egyptians’ too.

Hidden World: Ocean / 50 Wacky Things Humans Do

Hidden World: Ocean
Libby Walden and Stephanie Fizer Coleman
360 degrees

Essentially this is a visual exploration of living things that live beneath the ocean waves.
Six spreads present in turn Giants – some of the world’s largest creatures; Colourful Creatures; Hide and Seek – animals that camouflage themselves;

creatures that dwell on The Ocean Floor; Deep Sea creatures – those that live in the chilly, dark ocean depths and finally, The Coral Reef where sponges, corals, puffer fish, butterfly fish, clown fish and crabs can be found.
Each spread has six labelled flaps that open to reveal the creatures in their natural surroundings, and some brief factual information. I was amazed to discover that there are over 3000 different species of sea slug, for example.
With ecosystems such as coral reefs under threat from global warming, as well as being a fascinating book for young children, it’s also one that when shared with an adult, can open up discussions about the importance of protecting the crucial marine environments.
The book’s sturdy pages should help ensure that this resource can withstand fairly heavy handling from interested and enthusiastic youngsters.

50 Wacky Things Humans Do
Joe Rhatigan and Lisa Perrett
Walter Foster Jr.

Here we have a book that is full of fascinating facts relating to the weird and wonderful things our bodies do.
Each topic is introduced with an alluring title such as ‘Raisin Fingers’ (why our digits go wrinkly after a long time in the bath); ‘Rump Rumbles’ (there’s a lot of alliteration and wordplay in the headings);

Snot’s Amazing’ ;‘Black-and-Blue’ about bruising;

and ‘Be Flexible’. (It’s good to see yoga getting a mention here.)

Joe Rhatigan’s narrative style is chatty and designed to draw readers in, which it certainly does; and Lisa Perrett’s zany and colourful cartoons  add to the allure.
Most children are fascinated by their own bodies and what happens in and around them; and this unusually presented and arranged book on that topic will certainly both entertain and inform. It should also encourage young readers to value and respect their bodies, keeping them as healthy as possible.

The Squirrels’ Busy Year

The Squirrels’ Busy Year
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

From the creators of Fox in the Night is a new addition to the Science Storybook series, this time about the seasons and changes in the weather.

We start in winter and just like today when I’m writing this, it’s very cold, the pond is frozen and snow covers the ground. The animals are tucked away in warm places until they have to go out and search for food.

Spring brings warmer weather with bird song, croaking frogs, scampering squirrels hoping to find juicy maple buds on the trees or bulbs they can unearth; but they’ll have to be quick for there’s an owl on the prowl.
With the summer come hotter days, the need for shade, and longer hours of daylight with a chance of thundery weather.

Come autumn and the frogs have gone to the bottom of the pond to sleep in the mud;

many birds have flown to warmer climes and the squirrels start collecting for their winter store in preparation for hibernating.
All this is presented through an engaging, at times poetic, text, together with some basic scientific facts, and in Richard Jones’ textured illustrations.
His beautifully crafted scenes work in perfect harmony with Jenkins’ descriptions, his colour palette mirroring the seasonal hues superbly.
Look how perfectly this embodies the hushed arrival of winter’s snow …

A fine example of non-fiction for the very young.

The Variety of Life

The Variety of Life
Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie
Hodder Children’s Books

Here’s a large format book for young readers to dip in and out of, time and again, especially those who like animals of one kind or another and the wider biodiversity of our planet.

The author and zoologist, Nicola Davies explores the huge diversity of the natural world, providing information about the chosen subjects, one per double spread – a short introductory paragraph to each group and a sentence or two about those depicted (their food, their habits and their habitats) together with the common name, the scientific (Latin) name, and if they happen to number among the endangered species, a black star. It’s alarming to see for instance, that of the eight species of bear, six are threatened with extinction.

Accessibly presented are a large variety of animals big and small, and some plants – grasses and trees and finally, representing the fungi are mushrooms.

Some of the numbers of animal species are questionable though: for instance the number given on the sheep page is 6 species but 9 are illustrated on the relevant spread.

Lorna Scobie’s illustrations of the animal kingdom in particular, are impressionistic rather than strictly scientific. Nonetheless, with their googly eyes, the creatures – from butterflies to bats and sheep to slugs –

have an irresistible child appeal embodying their essential characteristics, and are recognisable if not exactly in the field guide class.

Certainly this thoroughly enjoyable book offers opportunities to take pleasure in, to compare and contrast; and should encourage young readers to respect and treasure the world’s biodiversity and do all they can to preserve and conserve it.

What’s Hidden in the Body?

What’s Hidden in the Body?
Aina Bestard
Thames and Hudson

Here’s a fascinating book that invites readers to look, look and look again:it’s perfect for stimulating curiosity about the human body.

The author likens the body to a house, no two are the same and each a home to a different person, then goes on to gently guide exploration without and within and by using a set of three different colour lenses that are provided inside the front cover, the structure of the various systems and organs that make up our bodies are revealed to readers.

The way the whole thing works is that the lenses filter out different colours on the printed page allowing only some to appear clearly.

Through the red lens …

Aina Bestard uses exquisitely patterned images throughout that are worth paying close attention to without any of the lenses: the hands and feet for instance, look as though they’re covered in mehndi designs …

So, we start with the skeletal system – our bones and muscles, then move on to the outer covering, skin and the sense of touch which is followed by the other sensory organs.
Next comes a spread on the brain where we can take a look at both left and right hemispheres …

before moving on to the digestive system …

Emmanuelle (just 5) drew before seeing the book, what she thinks happens inside her body when she eats.

followed by the respiratory system …

heart, lungs, blood vessels, blood cells.
Other topics for exploration are cellular structure, reproduction and finally, there’s a mention of feelings wherein Bestard says, ‘… sometimes they make us … excited.’
That is certainly what readers of this book should feel after delving into this visual wonderland that is our bodies.
In addition to the lenses, tucked inside the front cover, there’s a large, double sided poster – male and female – of the human body to explore.

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

Legendary Journeys: Space & Legendary Journeys: Trains

Legendary Journeys: Space
Mike Goldsmith and Sebastian Quigley
QED

Written by astrophysicist and author, Mike Goldsmith, and illustrated by Sebastian Quigley, this amazingly constructed book documents mankind’s quest to learn ever more about space.
There are thirteen sections beginning with very early rockets, followed by a spread on the solar system and then moving on to the ‘Space Race’ that took place between the Soviet Union and the USA that culminated in the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Co-operation as well as competition was an important element in extending our understanding of space and its effect on humans, as described in ‘Living in Orbit’.
Other spreads look at the exploration of the other planets in our solar system and the search for life on Mars.
Every spread is absorbing with a lead paragraph, arresting illustrations and explanations, flaps to explore and pioneers to spot; and here are ten ingenious two-stage pull-out sliders.

Any child with a budding interest in space will love and treasure this book.
In the classroom however, there is a danger of it being read to destruction by over-enthusiastic handlers.
The same is true of companion volume:

Legendary Journeys: Trains
Phillip Steele and Sebastian Quigley

This tells of the historic development of trains and railways from the first steam locomotive to run on rails, right up to the technologically advanced, high-speed railways that have spread across Japan and a number of European countries.
Both passenger travel

and the movement of freight are covered and there’s a look at underground railways, mountain railways; the various forms of power used to drive the trains, and a final spread presents some of the most iconic railway stations in the world.
Railway enthusiasts especially will enjoy this one: its construction and layout are similar to the Space book and it has the same illustrator.

Fox in the Night / Snow Penguin

Fox in the Night
Martin Jenkins and Richard Smythe
Walker Books

Billed as ‘A science storybook about light and dark’, this is a narrative non-fiction picture book with a sprinkling of additional facts.
We join Fox as she wakes, sees it’s still daylight outside and so goes back to sleep for a while. Later, at sundown, she leaves the safety of her den and, guided by the moon and street lights, sallies forth across the park towards the town in search of food.

A mouse eludes her so she keeps looking; perhaps something static will be easier prey.
A bumped nose and a near miss from a car later, she’s still searching. Then, turning down an alley, her nose leads her towards something more promising – a barbecue in progress – and it’s here that she’s finally rewarded with a tasty treat to take back to her den.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a good starting point for a topic on light and dark with early years children. I’d suggest reading the story first and then returning to discuss the additional, smaller print, possibly using it as pointers to get youngsters thinking for themselves about why for instance, Fox bumps her nose on the shop window.

Snow Penguin
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Far away in the icy Antarctic, a curious little penguin is restless: he wants to find out more about the chilly sea and the snow. Off he goes alone to explore, unaware that the ice on which he’s standing as he gazes seawards has become detached from the mainland.
On his trip afloat on his little ice floe he sees blue whales, orcas,

an elephant seal and a sea lion with her cub. Suddenly he feels alone and scared adrift on the darkening waters. How will he find his way back to where he most wants to be, back with his family and friends?

Mitton’s assured rhyming couplets in combination with Alison Brown’s engaging depictions of the frozen Arctic seascapes and landscapes make for a gentle cuddle-up adventure for the very young.

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover
Markus Motum
Walker Studio

Wherever you are in the world right now, I’m a very long way away. I’m not even on the same planet as you. I’m a Mars rover.
So begins this story narrated by Curiosity, the robot vehicle landed on the surface of Mars in August 2012.
Readers are given a behind the scenes look at the lead up to, the planning behind and the building of, NASA’s 2011 mission

to land on, and explore, the surface of Mars. We learn how of the 39 previous missions to the red planet over half had ended in failure. Not so with Curiosity however. Launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on 26th November 2011,

the journey was successfully completed in 253 days.

So successful was Curiosity’s early work that what was originally to be a two- year mission was extended, and in August 2017 NASA celebrated the 5th anniversary of the landing and the work continues. More questions are asked; some answers are found; further questions are generated.
The information contained herein is detailed but never too wordy and the narrative style ensures that younger readers are not overwhelmed.
Motum’s graphics make it all the more accessible: geometric in form and richly coloured in blues, reds, grey, black and white, they have a clean sophistication that will appeal to adults as well as child readers.
There’s also a timeline and glossary at the back of the book.
All in all, this is superbly put together: it would make a great addition to a school library or family bookshelf, particularly for those who from time to time stand in the dark looking up into the night sky, wondering and questioning …

Art, Artists and Some Science Too

Art Up Close
Claire d’Harcount
Princeton Architectural Press

Art enthusiasts of all ages wlll enjoy this search and find game based on twenty three famous works of art from around the world.
Each large spread is a high quality reproduction of one named artwork that is credited and dated, in the same border as ten to twelve floating bubbles each containing a small detail from the whole piece. It’s these tiny visual elements that readers are asked to search for, some being a whole lot easier to locate than others.
The arrangement of the selected works is chronological beginning with Egyptian papyrus paintings from the Book of the Dead (around 1300BC). This is followed by a 6th century Byzantine mosaic, an Arabic manuscript (1400s), the Limbourg brothers illumination (1416) and other 15th century European painters.
Then comes an early 16th century Aztec manuscript, a Flemish tapestry, a Bruegel (the elder) and a Veronese painting.
From the 17th century are the younger Teniers, and Jan Steen’s Village School. This chaotic classroom scene, which includes a child drawing on the wall and back end of a rat that is tucking into the contents of someone’s lunch basket certainly made the teacher part of me smile; and oh my goodness, the place is so dark, it’s hardly surprising that half the people therein look as though they’ve fallen sleep or are about to do so. All this and more while the two ‘teachers’ appear totally unaware of what’s happening around them.
There’s a Japanese woodblock print from the early 19th century; Impressionism is represented by a Renoir and an Ensor; and we then move into the 20th century with surrealist, Miró,

Picasso represents cubism and the final work is a 1952 Jackson Pollock, Convergence.
Then follow ten pages wherein D’Harcourt discusses each of her chosen examples individually; and the two final spreads have lift-the-flap mini paintings of each work that reveal the whereabouts of the details in the bubbles, and also provide short notes on the artists.
Of the 23 works, only five are non-western, but what disappointed me more was the lack of a single woman artist. Nonetheless, the whole enterprise is absorbing, educational, fun, attractively presented and well worth spending time over.

Vermeer’s Secret World
Vincent Etienne
Prestel

In what is an essentially introductory book, art historian and author, Etienne, traces the life and work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, one of history’s most distinctive artists who lived in 17th century Delft for his entire life.
There are fifteen full-page reproductions of his works …

as well as eight smaller ones.
If you can’t manage to visit London’s National Gallery or one of the other galleries exhibiting Vermeer’s paintings, then this short book is a good starting point to begin to appreciate the Delft master, an artist whose focus was very much on people rather than places.

Trick of the Eye
Silke Vry
Prestel

Subtitled ‘How Artists Fool Your Brain’, this book offers a host of examples that demonstrate that deceptive imagery in art, far from being a new phenomenon, has been in use by famous and popular artists for centuries.
Vry uses paintings by, to name just some, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Hogarth, Turner, Vermeer, Paolo Veronese and Georges Seurat, as examples of optical illusions, as well as more modern artists including Salvador Dali, René Magritte,

M.C. Escher, Bridget Riley, and Banksy.
In addition to paintings, some objects such as the Athens Acropolis and the Scala Regia in Rome are used.
The end pages offer solutions to the questions posed during the discussions of the various works of art, as well as instructions for some creative projects for readers to try themselves that were previously flagged up in the those discussions.
Absorbing, illuminating and a novel way of looking at some works of art.

For those readers of a more scientific bent:

Optical Illusions
Gianni A. Sarcone and Marie-Jo Waeber
QED

Both the creators of this fascinating book are experts in brain training and cognitive sciences, and herein they offer readers the opportunity to find out about the science behind the illusions that trick our brains.
After a brief ‘Is Seeing Believing’ introduction; the book is divided into five sections: Light, Lines and Space,

Motion, The Brain and finally, Experiments.
Each topic explores a variety of effects: for example Light demonstrates colour assimilation, complementary colours and after image, and colour contrast.
Since buying a book on MC Escher many years ago, I have been fascinated by the idea of optical illusions. This book has refreshed that fascination, but a word of warning: I spent ages poring over its hypnotic pages; don’t sit down with it unless you have plenty of time to spare – you’ll most likely be hooked, eyes and brain in sensory overdrive mode.

Dinosaurium

Dinosaurium
Chris Wormell and Lily Murray
Big Picture Press

Dinosaur books seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. This one is the latest in the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series that includes Botanicum and Animalium, and, illustrated by Chris Wormell, it’s truly awesome: serious stuff in fact.
Like others in the series, the whole thing is presented as a museum, the author and illustrator being billed as its curators and the chapters, after the ‘Entrance’ that houses an extremely useful dinosaur evolutionary tree, as a series of galleries, six in all with a final index, some information about the book’s curators and a list of further sources should readers want to learn more.
Gallery 1 is Sauropodomorpha. Don’t worry, the meaning of this is explained at the outset. Every spread has a large full-colour plate, which even has a numbered key in addition to the informative paragraphs relating to what is shown in the plate. I should mention here that these are splendid digital engravings, each illustration being in predominantly earthy tones.

The galleries proceed through Theropoda, Ornithopoda, Thyreophora, (these include the well-known to children, Stegosauria and Ankylosauria);

then on to Marginocephalia and to the final ‘Non-Dinosaurs’, which includes petrosaurs, marine repliles, Mesozoic mammals and lastly, survivors; (those that escaped the catastrophe that wiped out the ‘non-bird dinosaurs’).
Going back to Maginocephalia, take a look at this stunning plate of Diabloceratops eatoni (yes the full scientific name is given).

This creature from the late cretaceous era is thought to have been a primitive ancestor of Triceratops and would, so we’re told, have used its beaked mouth to feed on low-growing plants in areas covered by lakes, floodplains and rivers.
In addition to the amazing exhibits of the galleries, each gallery is prefaced with a beautiful botanical plate featuring an original wood-cut of typical plants from the age of the dinosaurs featured.
A short review doesn’t really do justice to this outstanding book: it’s perhaps not, despite the ‘Admit All’ on the front cover ticket, for the very youngest dinosaur discoverers; although once any child has been inside, it’s likely to be a place that they’ll want to return to over and over, gradually taking in more of Lily Murray’s detailed text,  from each visit, perhaps early on, sharing their ticket with an adult who, I’m sure, will be more than willing to act as a guide.

Stupendous Science

Stupendous Science
Rob Beattie and Sam Peet
QED

A great title, bold graphics and inviting format make this a book that looks and feels instantly appealing.
It contains 70 experiments that can be done at home with few materials and for safety’s sake, has a traffic light system to show how much adult supervision/ assistance is needed.
Each project begins with a brief introductory paragraph, which is followed by a list of the items needed (relatively few in most instances). Then come clear, easy to follow, numbered and illustrated instructions.
A stand-out speech bubble explains the science behind the experiment and, in many instances, there’s also a ‘Take it further’ possibility.
What about making ‘Elephant’s Toothpaste’, for instance (you’ll need to wear goggles and have adult help here); or some ‘Seriously Slimy’ gunk? The latter has borax substitute as an ingredient so carries a ‘health and safety’ warning. The wonderfully gooey slime is great fun to mould with though.

Or, you could try writing an ‘impossible signature’. This requires only pencil, paper and somewhere to sit down and write. I tried this one several times and really struggled hard to get my hand and foot to work independently.
If you’re feeling really daring you can do the ‘Don’t get soaked’ experiment – outside of course, just in case; it demonstrates centripetal force at work. This involves swinging a half full bucket of water over your head;
Physics and chemistry aren’t the only branches of science herein though; there are also biology and engineering projects and so there certainly should be plenty for everyone, so long as they have an inquiring mind and some time to ‘play’.

Explanatorium of Nature / Urban Jungle

Explanatorium of Nature
DK

This definitely isn’t a book to carry around in your school bag unless you want to do a bit of weight training; it’s an extremely heavy tome (more than 2Kg) with over 350 pages including contents, glossary and index.
Its conventional structure takes readers through ten sections starting with The Basics of Life, followed by a journey through living things from Microorganisms and Fungi right through to Mammals and taking in, by turn, Plants, Invertebrates, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and finally, Habitats.
As you might expect, The Basics of Life covers the origins of life, reproduction, cells and how they work, DNA, evolution and classification, each being allocated a double spread.
Thereafter, each section is further broken down into one or two double page spreads per topic, ‘Algae’ for example or ‘How chemical defences work’, and includes a main photographic illustration and information surrounded by smaller pictures, labels and additional facts.
The photography is amazing and the book is packed with a great deal of fascinating information presented in a manner that makes the whole thing feel inviting without being overwhelming.

There’s even a superb die-cut cover.
It works well as a book to browse through or to seek specific information from, and would be great to give a budding young biologist.
One for the family bookshelf or school library.

Urban Jungle
Vicky Woodgate
Big Picture Press

My goodness, this is a large volume but it’s one animal lovers in particular will enjoy spending time exploring, along with author/illustrator, Vicky Woodgate, who is passionate about wildlife and travel. Herein she takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of 38 cities on six continents exploring the plethora of animals to be found there.
Each of the enticing city maps depicts fauna large and small, some commonly seen, others seldom sighted. Barcelona for instance has a wealth of birds – peregrine falcons in the bell tower of the Sagrada Familia for instance – something I’ve not appreciated in my numerous visits to the city and its environs.

I was however aware of the presence of leopards in Mumbai, another city I’ve visited on many occasions, although I’ve never seen a leopard roaming. I have though seen the three-striped palm squirrels whizzing around, and the beautiful purple-rumped sunbirds.

Most familiar to me is the rich variety of birds and animals in London and the suburbs that it’s all too easy to take for granted wandering through say, Richmond Park with its herds of deer and those pesky parakeets; or the red foxes that roam the streets looking for rodents, or rubbish bins to rummage. Then there are those majestic swans one frequently sees on the Thames; but I’ve never seen, or was even aware of there being a short-snouted seahorse living in its waters.
I found myself getting drawn into this stylish book, turning first to the 8 maps of the cities I’ve spend time in, and then going on to explore other urban jungles. I’m sure children will love browsing its expansive pages, enjoying the portraits of the animal residents of each city, as well as discovering the fascinating facts about them. An expert from each location has fact-checked the information to ensure that this walk on the wild side of the world’s busiest cities is accurate as well as exciting.

Horses: Wild & Tame / Home Sweet Home

Horses: Wild & Tame
Iris Volant and Jarom Vogel
Flying Eye Books

My experience of and with horses is decidedly limited, or so I’ve always thought. Certainly my only riding experience was when  aged about twelve, I had gone to find my best friend who lived round the corner in a suburban road like mine. She wasn’t in but suddenly appeared round the corner on horseback. She dismounted and insisted I took her place. Now, never having ridden before I was reluctant but let her persuade me with ‘It’ll be fine, he only goes slowly.’ Next thing I knew the creature had taken off and was, so it felt, bolting up the road while I slid ungracefully down its back and off into the road, landing on my rear.
Having read the Horse Character page in this book however, I can look back and consider the character of that creature: was it a cold blood, a hot blood or a warmblood?

From Volant’s description it certainly wasn’t the first, and was most likely the last ‘strong and agile … perfect for riding’, despite thinking the best fit was ‘hotbloods … bold, spirited character’.
Flicking randomly through, I came across other spreads that particularly resonated. There’s one featuring Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s classic novel; a book I loved as a voracious child reader. That story, as we’re reminded here, ‘encouraged people to be kinder towards horses, leading to many new laws in England and America’ concerned with the protection of horses.
However, it was the Royal Steed spread that came as an exciting surprise. It tells how in 1576 during the Battle of Haldighati, Rajput warriors made false trunks for their horses to wear, thus confusing the elephants ridden by their Mughal enemies so that they wouldn’t attack what looked to them like baby elephants. We also hear how Chetak, the badly injured horse belonging to the Rajput ruler carried his master to safety.

I’ve visited Haldighati on more than one occasion on trips to India and during my annual holidays in Udaipur am frequently reminded of the creature by an imposing statue of that particular horse in the centre of a roundabout in Udaipur city, aptly named Chetak Circle.
Author, Iris Volant, goes way back further than that though, right to horse evolution. Indeed there’s probably something for everyone in this fascinating book that has artistic references, literary ones, horses in legend, war horses, work horses, horses in sport and more. How fortunate that its illustrator, Jarom Vogel, decided to become an artist rather than pursuing his studies as a dentist; he’s certainly done these beasts proud.

Home Sweet Home
Mia Cassany and Paula Blumen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Both author and illustrator of this book come from one of my favourite cities, Barcelona. We’re given a look at different homes from around the world from the viewpoint of the pets, mostly dogs and cats, with the occasional bird and even a tortoise, that live in them.
Readers can discover what it’s like to live in say, a waterside house in a Netherlands village;

a tiny apartment in Hong Kong, China; a cabin with a roof of grass in Iceland or a townhouse by the Thames in London.

Cleverly conceived with the animal narrators, in addition to what we’re told in the text, there’s a great deal of visual information about each of the homes and lifestyles packed into every one of the locations we visit. Every one is made to look exciting:

where would you choose to live?
A stylish and fascinating addition to a primary classroom library or topic box.

Amazing Information Books

Bees
Toni Yuly
Walker Books
For the very youngest is this beautifully simple book of gratitude that demonstrates our connectedness to the natural world: it’s narrated by a small boy, who we see interacting with the things he mentions.
‘Sun gives us light. // Thank you, sun. // Bees give us honey. // Thank you, bees.’ Thus begins the concatenation of connections: from sheep we have wool. From clouds comes the rain, trees provide wood

and thanks to dirt, there are plants.
Appropriately, bold, bright collage illustrations combine fabric, paper, wood, ink and tissue, re-enforcing the biological bounties of the natural world.
Perfect for an end of the day sharing, be it with a single child, or nursery group; and equally with its minimal patterned text, it’s ideal for those just starting to read.

The Story of Snow
Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson
Chronicle Books
In this narrative non-fiction book we begin high up in the clouds with an explanation of how a tiny speck of earthly matter becomes a snow crystal (each crystal requires a single particle to start growing); and then we zoom right into a crystal.

Did you know that its shape depends on the wetness of the cloud and how cold it is? Or, that a single crystal is rarely perfect.
We learn that there are in fact, three main types of snow crystal – star-shaped, plate and column-shaped; and are told something about each kind including the different conditions under which the three kinds form.

With its succinct text, diagrams and amazing photographs of each kind of crystal, this is an excellent starting point for those who want to discover more about snow and can be used across a wide age range. There’s even an instruction spread on how to catch and observe snow crystals; and I love the final quote from Japanese scientist, Ukichiro Nakaya, ‘A snow crystal is a letter from the sky.’ – a perfect ending to a fascinating book.

Bugs
Simon Tyler
Pavilion Books
This large format book is packed with bright, bold illustrations and is designed to draw readers into the fascinating world of insects, the title word being used as an alternative generic term for this entire class of animal.
The first third is devoted to their general characteristics including anatomy, life cycle, eyes …

and other senses, and how and what they eat. Also included is an explanation of taxonomy.
The remaining 60 or so pages cover the nine main insect orders including beetles,

true bugs,

dragonflies, flies, cockroaches and termites. There’s also a double spread each, covering the most dangerous bugs, and some beneficial ones at the end.
The larger than life illustrations of representatives of each order are drawn from all parts of the world and each is captioned with its own common and scientific names, its size, its geographic range and a short factoid of additional information. The detailed scientific information together with the superb illustrations make it appropriate for a wide readership.

13 ½ Incredible Things You Need to Know about Everything
DK
Dorling Kindersley do non-fiction books really well and this one is amazing.
The title of this large volume makes you stop in your tracks and wonder what on earth could be inside.
Prepare to be impressed at the superb exploded illustrations you’ll encounter at every turn of the page, be they of Fantastic Fungi, Super Seeds or any other of the biological topics explored.

Biology isn’t the only subject herein though. The book also covers medicine, space, geology, history, technology, music and more, such is its diversity.
With over a thousand facts (not to mention those myth-busting halves, one per topic) you’re guaranteed a fascinating read. And if you don’t come away from the book knowing a whole lot more than before you started reading it, then your knowledge must have been truly encyclopaedic.