Category Archives: information books

The Things That I Love about Trees

The Things That I Love about Trees
Chris Butterworth and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

As I write this the trees all around are bursting forth with blossoms and new leaves; it’s just like the little girl in this arboreal tribute says as she leaves her house and sallies forth, ‘… changes begin. There are buds, like beads getting bigger on the branches…’. I’ve yet to see trees ‘buzzing with bees’ like the plum tree mentioned, ’but I know it will soon be so.

The child goes on to talk about the beauty of trees through the other seasons: in summer it’s the sheer enormity that impresses her, that and the shade they offer as well as the swishing sound that brings to mind the sea,

and the tiny green plums that are beginning to form.

Come autumn, the striking thing is the colour change to yellow, orange and red; the ripe fruits and seeds that feed the birds and animals.

As the leaves are tossed by the wind and fall you might even, like the girl catch one and make a wish.

Trees are lovely too in winter when they’re stripped of their leaves you can see all the way up to the topmost branches as everything is in its resting phase just waiting for the cycle to begin all over again, as we know it will.

The final spread has some suggestions for tree related things to do.

Walker Books do natural history for very young children beautifully and this book is no exception. Chris Butterworth’s main narrative is supplemented with small print that gives additional tree facts, which can be read alongside or after the child’s descriptions.
Rendered in watercolour and outlined in thick black ink lines, Charlotte Voake’s trees are absolutely superb; your fingers itch to touch the wonderful bark of the oak and make sure you check out the lovely leafy endpapers.

I’ve signed the charter  

Out and About: Mama is it Summer yet? / What on Earth? Trees / Caterpillar to Butterfly

Mama, Is It Summer Yet?
Nikki McClure
Abrams Appleseed

In this board book, a small boy looking through the window asks “Mama, is it summer yet?

His mother’s response explains that it is imminent for the leaf buds are swelling, the animals building nests and the earth is soft and ready for planting, swallows are singing, baby animals have hatched

and trees are blossoming. Very soon, when the berries have ripened in the warm sun – then summer will be well and truly with them.

How fortunate is the infant to have a loving parent who take time to explain all this rather than merely giving a single word reply to her child’s repeated question.

Beautifully designed and with wonderful paper-cut illustrations, predominantly black and white set against a cream background, but with a single contrasting colour on each spread, both visuals and words capture the natural changes while also showing the close bond between mother and child.

What On Earth? Trees
Kevin Warwick and Pau Morgan
QED

Environmental scientist and tree expert Kevin Warwick joins forces with illustrator Pau Morgan in this new addition to the What on Earth? series and as with previous titles it successfully adopts a cross curricular approach with a mix of information spreads, poetry, a plethora of things to do both scientific and arty; there’s even a story about how the Douglas fir came to look the way it does.

In short, this is a great way to encourage children to go outside and connect with nature, invitingly illustrated by Pau Morgan.

Caterpillar to Butterfly
Francis Barry
Walker Books

An attractive fold out, and find out about the life cycle of the swallowtail butterfly is told in a rhyming narrative and illustrated with brightly coloured, circular pages. These unfold to reveal each stage from tiny hatching caterpillar, through to ‘amazing butterfly’. We see the caterpillar munching, growing, shedding its skin, growing some more, then spinning a thread, forming a chrysalis and then after weeks of internal change, emerging as a stunningly beautiful adult.

The design, a big hit with small children, follows the same format as Barry’s Big Yellow Sunflower and Little Green Frogs.

Foundation stage teachers, this is one to add to your minibeast topic box.

My First Book of Quantum Physics

My First Book of Quantum Physics
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

‘A children’s science book to educate and inspire’ says the press release of this book. Does it live up to the claim? Let’s take a closer look.

In the introduction the author explains that everything we see around us is composed of minute subatomic particles and as scientists began to discover more about them, they realised that a new set of theories was needed because the laws of physics as they stood, did not apply.

Thus new theories were generated and these are what we now know as quantum physics. Moreover without this science of subatomic particles none of our favourite electronic devices, so important in our everyday lives, would exist – now there’s a thought.

I remember very little about the content of the O-level physics I studied at school – it’s amazing I managed to pass – but one thing I can recall is being told about Plank’s quantum theory: this is one of the topics discussed in the book after the
introductory pages about ‘classical physics’ and its limitations; it makes much more sense to me now than it ever did back in the day.

Niels Bohr, another physicist whose name I came across in my limited physics education is also featured here with an explanation of the first ever vision of the ‘Quantized atom’.

What this highly illustrated book does is take key concepts and ideas

and explains them in a way that is comprehensible – no easy task – to both upper primary and lower secondary age children, but this is entertainingly written and invitingly presented with lots of diagrams and illustrations including a quantum timeline.

With my basic knowledge of the topic I would say this is an excellent introduction; author Ferron and illustrator Altarriba have done a great job to make it accessible and exciting.

Birds and their Feathers / A World of Birds

Birds and their Feathers
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel

Following on from The Egg, Britta Teckentrup has created another bird book with a difference, approaching the subject via plumology – bird feather science.
Its ninety or so pages are packed with fascinating feathery facts.

Each double spread is devoted to a particular aspect including feather development, structure, types of feather, colour – did you know flamingos are pink thanks to the carotenoid pigment in the crustacea they eat?

She also looks at wing types, flying strategies, heat regulation and many more topics relating to form and function,

with the final pages devoted to how humans have been inspired by, and exploited, feathers in creating myths, dreams of human flight, for decoration and warmth, a feather was even taken to the moon.

The subject allows full reign to Britta’s amazing artistic talent and her beautiful paintings are a delight to peruse and gaze upon in wonder.

A book for the family bookshelf, for bird lovers, art lovers and school collections.

Taking a more conventional approach but also well worth getting hold of is

A World of Birds
Vicky Woodgate
Big Picture Press

In her follow up to Urban Jungle wildlife enthusiast Vicky Woodgate starts with some general ornithological information giving facts about classification, anatomy, flight and eggs.

She then takes readers on a whistle stop tour of seven locations around the world – North America, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica – wherein we learn about different bird species, some resident, others migratory. Every one of the 75 birds selected is representative of its wider family, the author explains.
Each geographical section begins with a map of the location along with a brief description of the climate, habitats and conservation issues.

The first location is North America, which, with habitats as varied as tropical rainforest, hot deserts and frozen plains has a huge number of different species, partly because it encompasses four major migration routes.

All the other sections too have both resident and migratory species, though Antarctica, has the most challenging conditions for its wildlife and thus fewer avian species.

Central and South America in contrast has an enormous variety of birds and new species are still being discovered although sadly, due to human action, some of the most beautiful such as the Macaws are now on the endangered species list.

The same is true of some of those featured in the African section the continent of Africa being home to some of the world’s largest and most colourful birds.

Europe is home to many species that have adapted to urban environments; Asia, with its varied climates and habitats has, despite the fact that many Asian cultures revere birds, a big problem with the pet trade and hence a fair number of threatened species, whereas the biggest threat in Oceania is that from introduced and invasive bird species – an issue conservationists are earnestly tackling.

Beautifully illustrated and packed with fascinating information, this is a book pore over, to immerse yourself in and enjoy.

Animal Allsorts: Bugs!, Snakes and The Zoological Times

Bugs!
Snakes!

James Buckley, Jr.
Liberty Street

Animal Planet have added two new titles to their Chapter Book series of non-fiction titles for newly independent readers. With eleven chapters per book, they are absolutely packed with information, every spread has at least one coloured illustration; there is clear labelling and sidebars such as ‘In your newsfeed’
Bugs begins with insect anatomy and life cycles and then moves on to look at a variety of insects. There are chapters on dragonflies; mantids and phasmids (stick insects); beetles; mosquitos, flies and fleas; butterflies and moths and ants share a chapter with bees and wasps.
There are also chapters on life cycles, food and feeding, movement and insect senses and throughout the facts are presented in an interesting, fun way but there isn’t a hint of talking down to the reader.
The whole look is one that says, ‘read me’.
The same is true of Snakes! wherein readers encounter the fastest, longest, heaviest, largest

and most deadly snakes – beware of elapids such as cobras, mambas and death adders in particular.
Did you know that some snakes swim, a few are amphibian and others can climb trees? Fascinating and exciting.

The Zoological Times
Stella Gurney and Matthew Hodson
Lincoln Children’s Books

Following on from The Prehistoric Times comes a new edition of their exciting newspaper style books that offer a fun way of learning especially for those who are keen on the comic format. Now hot off the press is a look at the animal kingdom and it’s chock full of exciting information, black and white photos, wacky illustrations, puzzles, games and activities; there’s even a problem page.
Animal conservation is an issue for us all and this is addressed here too.
In brief, educative and enormous fun.

Come into the Garden – A Big Garden / The Magic Garden

A Big Garden
Gillles Clément and Vincent Gravé
Prestel Publishing

As I write, our garden is really starting to burst forth: leaves are unfurling, flower buds are opening everywhere, birds are beginning to nest – spring has finally arrived.

Now is the time to celebrate and how better than with this unusual edition that originated in France. It’s a truly mind-blowing book with a wide age range appeal, and BIG it surely is to encompass that titular big garden.

Prepare yourself to get totally lost within each and every awesomely beautiful illustration as, starting with May, we are treated to a month by month close up look at the seasons alongside the gardener who tends it.

The text is a straightforward miscellany of horticultural musings with the occasional flight of fancy: September being given over to the gardener himself.

However, it’s those intricately detailed illustrations that will entrap you as you explore the intricately detailed pictorial pages,

June Fruit

each one comprising a plethora of fanciful mini-scenes, and search for the hidden objects mentioned on the prose pages.

And be sure to peruse the title pages and endpapers; they too are superb.

For younger readers is

The Magic Garden
Lemniscates
Walter Foster Jr.

Do you think of your garden as magic? Probably not, although you perhaps do notice and enjoy the seasonal changes, and the abundant wildlife that inhabits it.

Not so, young Chloe the protagonist of this book which begins one autumn afternoon with her walking without awareness until suddenly a sound causes her to pause beside the tree and take notice of its colourful leaves; it’s as if the wind is whispering to her.

Thereafter we’re taken on a journey of her garden where we can observe some of the wonderful creatures that live there – among the branches,

behind stones, in the pond – taking note of seasonal activity and change.

We see the garden by day but also by night when other insects make their presence known.

Some animals prefer to keep themselves hidden and readers are encouraged to look more closely for those as well as noticing the brightly coloured ones.

The seasons pass, the tree too changes: it’s bedecked with blossom, laden with fruits.

All this and more is part and parcel of this seemingly ordinary, yet ‘magical’ place. I prefer the use of magical rather than magic; for me nature is awesome and magical but not magic – a potential talking point when you share the book with children.

It’s beautifully designed and illustrated with much of the text taking the form of the wind’s words to the child.

Introducing Art to Children – Anna and Johanna & A Journey Through Art: A Global Journey

Anna and Johanna
Géraldine Elschner and Florence Kœnig
Prestel

It’s 12th October 1666 and we’re in the city of Delft where two girls are busy working. One is Anna, the daughter of the well-to-do master of the house; the other is Anna’s maid and co-incidentally they both share the same birthday. Each girl is creating something special for the other in celebration of the day.

For her friend, Johanna, Anna is fashioning a lace collar just like her own, which she knows her friend likes a lot.
In the kitchen Johanna is cooking a special birthday breakfast mousse as a treat for her friend Anna. It’s a breakfast fit for a queen.

But why are they such close friends and why do they share a birthday? Is it co-incidence or something much deeper?

When the girls meet and exchange their gifts, they discover something intended for both of them – a letter addressed simply ‘For your birthday’, which begins, ‘Dear children’ – a letter from Anna’s father telling of an incident that had occurred exactly twelve years earlier and disclosing a secret that he’s been keeping ever since.

Inspired by two of 17th century Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer’s greatest works of art, The Lacemaker and The Milkmaid Géraldine Elschner has crafted a story of friendship and more that reflect the painter’s impressions of domestic life.

Equally evocative of Vermeer’s style are Florence Koenig’s acrylic paintings executed predominantly in subtle blue, yellow, brown and orange hues of the Dutch city’s landscapes and scenes of domesticity.

There are many ways to interest children in art and artists: this lovely tale of friendship and devotion offers an unusual introduction for young readers to Vermeer’s art.

 Journey Through Art: A Global History
Aaron Rosen, illustrated by Lucy Dalzell
Thames & Hudson

Aaron Rosen takes readers on a journey through time and place to visit some thirty locations as he tells how the art and architecture of different cultures developed.
The tour, which travels to four continents, begins in northern Australia at Nawarla Gabarnmung in 35,000 BCE where we see prehistoric petroglyphs.

The next location is the city of Thebes 1250 BCE and then on to Nineveh 700 BCE, followed by more cities – almost all sites visited are cities – and thereafter to the site of a Buddhist monastery hidden in caves at Ajanta in Central India. Those caves contain some amazing sculptures and the oldest surviving paintings in India, done by the Buddhist monks who lived there around 500BCE.

All the locations thus far are included in the first of the three sections entitled Prehistoric and Ancient Art and next comes Medieval and Early Modern Art that encompasses Granada, Florence, the 16th century town of Timbuktu, 1650 Amsterdam where we find the first mention of a woman artist, Judith Leyster who was celebrated for her paintings of musicians.

The final Modern and Contemporary section includes a stop at 1825 Haida Gwaii to view the Northwest Pacific woodcarvings, one of the few non-urban destinations.

At every stop Rosen begins with a spread giving an overview of the site and a painting by Lucy Dazell; following this is another spread comprising information about the culture/customs together with small photos of significant artefacts, paintings and monuments together with printed notes.
The journey terminates at Rio de Janiero where the 2016 Olympic Games took place and thereafter are notes about visiting museums and art galleries and a glossary.

A whistle-stop tour indeed and one that might leave you feeling somewhat breathless but equally one hopes, hungry to find out more about the art of some of the places visited.

Wild World, The Coral Kingdom and Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?

Wild World
Angela McAllister, Hvass & Hannibal
Wide Eyed Editions

The author has chosen thirteen natural habitats – Rainforest, Arctic, Prairie, Woodland, Coral reef, Desert, Rock pool, Mountain, The Outback, Moorland, Deep sea, Mangrove and Savannah – that are under threat due to human activity, and captures the essence of each one in a series of free verses.
Here’s the opening to Mountain:
‘I am the highest mountain, / Born in a collision of continents. / All is beneath me, except the sun, moon and stars. / I am rock, / Crag, cliff and ledge, draped in veils of white. / I am snow-maker, with glaciers in my arms, / Whose meltwater swells great rivers below.’

In stark contrast is the quieter sounding Savannah, which opens like this: ‘Savannah speaks in whispering grasses, / In the chatter of cicadas across an endless plain. / Spacious homeland of swift cheetah / And gazelle, with the horizon in her eye.’

Using matte colours, the illustrators Hvass and Hannibal showcase the flora and fauna of each location in a series of eye-catching paintings that incorporate the text within them.

Human use, climate change and pollution are responsible for the damage to the environment and after her introductory poem, it’s not until the final pages that the author enlarges upon her conservation message citing the specific damage within the thumbnail sketch of each of the places portrayed. Thereafter she implores readers to use less energy, to recycle and to buy with care.

We’d all do well to keep in mind her final words about our precious planet: ‘Explore it, protect it, love it. / Our Earth is a wonderful wild world. ‘

Also with an ecological message is:

The Coral Kingdom
Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber
Words & Pictures

Our coral reefs, with their gorgeous colours: crimson, red, rose, yellow,

turquoise, emerald, jade, purple, even black, that have taken 1000s of years to grow and give home to a myriad of creatures large and small are under threat.

When the coral is bleached white due to acidity caused by climate change, and stays white for too long, then the reef dies.

Laura Knowles has written a rhyming narrative that outlines the life cycle of a reef and includes a caution that unless we humans take action these amazing ecosystems will be lost forever.

Jennie Webber’s detailed watercolour illustrations show the beauty of the undersea habitat and a final fold-out page gives additional information about coral reef conservation.

A useful addition to a primary school conservation topic box, or, for a child interested in ocean life or ecosystems.

Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?
Katharine McEwen
Nosy Crow

It’s never too early to start learning about nature and here are two board books just right for introducing animals, some wild and some domesticated, to the very young.

Both are beautifully illustrated by Katharine McEwen and there are lots of animals to find in both locations.

Toddlers can spend a day by the river, from a busy morning through to night-time as they explore the pages, manipulate the sturdy flaps in response to the ‘Who’s hiding here?’ on every right hand page to discover tadpoles, cygnets, fish, dragonflies, a stoat, a beaver and more as they swim, wriggle, wade, leap, build and paddle.
The farm book also moves through the day in similar fashion and McEwen’s text is carefully worded to introduce new vocabulary including ‘pecking,’ ‘trotting’, ‘snoozing’ ‘prowling’, munching’ and ‘diving’ along the way.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust these are fun and at the same time, gently educational.

Say Hi to Hedgehogs! / We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Bugs

Say Hi to Hedgehogs!
Jane McGuinness
Walker Books

Would that we could, is my immediate response to the title of this lovely addition to the Walker Nature Storybook series. I’ve not seen a hedgehog in the wild for a very long time and they used to be fairly commonplace little creatures foraging in suburban back gardens and I know they are now an endangered species.
All the more reason to get to know something about them; and here’s just the book from debut author and illustrator Jane McGuinness to help youngsters do just that.
The main text takes the form of a narrative ostensibly by a small girl pictured at the start of the book. She introduces readers to a particular hedgehog and her babies (hoglets)

and their everyday life, habits, diet …

and behaviour through the year.
This is presented in a large, easy to read font and includes some lovely playful language such as ‘sniffling and snuffling and snaffling … whirring and churring and purring’ making it a great read aloud. Additional, more detailed factual information is set out in a smaller script throughout the book.
The final spread has advice on how to make your home hedgehog friendly, an index, a short bibliography and a list of useful websites.
Hedgehogs are truly endearing creatures and Jane McGuinness’s illustrations, which look to be rendered in pastel, paint and crayon, do full justice to their charms; and her scenes of their nocturnal meanderings are absolutely beautiful.

Jane McGuinness is definitely an illustrator to watch.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Bugs
Walker Entertainment

Following on from the success of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Adventure Field Guide, Walker have added new titles to the series of which this is one.
Before sallying forth on a bug hunt, it’s wise to make sure you’re prepared and the opening page is devoted to so doing,
Thereafter it’s bugs all the way, first in the garden and then further afield into the woods, to the pond and finally, out into the meadows.
Each location introduces several minibeasts and offers related activities and some basic factual information.
Everything is clearly and attractively presented and at the back are several pages of stickers to be used in some of the activities.
This clever and fun book is ideal for children who love to explore the outdoors. It’s just the size for popping into a rucksack and likely to make outdoor forays all the more interesting and rewarding.

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Tractors and Farm Machines

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Tractors and Farm Machines
William Bee
Pavilion Books

R-r-r-r-r-r-rrrrrrrr! Hope you’ve got your wellies on ‘cos we’re going down on the farm and that’s the sound coming from William Bee’s tractor barn.
Therein he keeps all kinds of awesome specialist machines and he and his traffic cone friends can’t wait to show them off and tell us something about the jobs they do.

Tractors come in different shapes depending on the tasks they perform: some are very thin so they can work in confined spaces.

Others are enormously wide; you need those if you have a lot of land; and yet others are super-long and fantastic for getting through mega-thick mud.
These super clever machines do lots of pulling and pushing, lifting …


scooping, and carrying.
Depending on the type of wheels they have, they’re able to go over pretty much any kind of terrain – hard and bumpy or wet and soggy.
Farming was a lot harder work before tractors were invented: ploughing and pulling heavy loads was done by large horses or even cows.
Then came steam tractors like this one powered by coal …

There’s one machine on William’s farm not powered by an engine at all; can you guess what that might be?
If you want to find out, and to know about the delicious-sounding breakfast cereals William sells, then you’ll need to get hold of this smashing book to add to your shelves alongside his other two’ Wonderful World of … ‘ titles.
Unfortunately both mine have long gone – seized by eager children and I suspect this one will soon go the same way.

She Persisted Around the World

She Persisted Around the World
Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger
Penguin Random House

There’s been a plethora of books about amazing women and their achievements this year – unsurprising since we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1918 suffrage act; now here’s another, this time written by Chelsea Clinton.
The author has selected just thirteen women from various parts of the world who have changed history. ‘It’s not easy being a girl – anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places,’ she says but goes on to tell girls, ‘Don’t listen to those voices.’

Persistence is the key and that’s what all the women herein did; ‘She persisted’ being the catch phrase that comes up in each of the short biographical descriptions of each of her subjects.

Clinton has arranged her book in birth order of those included, the first woman being Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a largely self-taught Mexican author and philosopher who lived in the latter half of the 17th century and the youngest being Malala Yousafzai. She too persisted in the cause of education, and for girls everywhere to have the right to go to school.

Education was not the only cause her subjects fought for however: there were significant contributions in the fields of astronomy (Caroline Herschel), women’s suffrage – new Zealander, Kate Sheppard;

chemistry – double Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie; Viola Desmond, who refused to leave the ‘only white Canadians’ part of the cinema she was visiting; medicine is represented by Mary Verghese, a young Indian doctor who when injured in a car accident that made her unable to walk, began to focus on rehabilitation.

Unfamiliar to me are Aisha Rateb who worked in the field of law in Egypt and Wangari Maathai an environmentalist, political activist and university professor in Nairobi.

Familiar contemporary women in addition to Malala are author, J.K.Rowling, Brazilian soccer star, ‘Sissi’, Liberian peace activitist Leymah Gbowee and Chinese ballet dancer Yuan Yuan Tan.

There is a formula that Clinton uses for each of her subjects each one being allocated a double spread with a paragraph outlining the dream and the challenges faced, followed by the woman’s persistence and achievements.

Beautiful watercolour and ink portraits by Alexander Boiger, every one executed in a carefully chosen colour palette, grace each double spread, and there is also an inspirational quote from each woman.

The book ends with the author empowering her young audience thus: ‘So, speak up, rise up, dream big. These women did that and more. They persisted and so should you.’
Brief, yes, but also diverse, inspiring, and a good starting point to find out more about some of those included.

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey
Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

It’s time to join Professor Astro Cat and his crew on another amazing journey, no not a blast into the depths of outer space, rather a dive into a much more confined space, our very own bodies. Pretty awesome machines they are too; and one body in particular, that of test subject Dr Dominic Walliman. We join him and of course, Professor Astro Cat and his pals in a close up look at human biology.

First off they remind us of the seven characteristics of living things and we discover why we’re not robots!

Thereafter comes a look at our cellular structure, our skeleton, our muscles – did you know we have more than 640 intricately arranged skeletal muscles. Further investigations require the gang to become microscopic to check out our skin, our sensory organs; (our teeth as well as our tongue are inspected within the mouth).

Of course, without our brains we’d be pretty much unable to function, so next we take a look at that complex supercomputer-like mass– its composition, its functioning and how it operates in conjunction with the nervous system.

Other vital organs we learn about are the lungs, blood – not an organ but vital nonetheless, the heart, and those dealing with digestion and excretion.

There’s a page each on the lymphatic system,

the endocrine system and the immune system, all of which are crucial for a fully functioning body.

Reproduction, human development and genetics have a double spread each and since it’s vital to keep healthy, the Prof provides info. on that topic too, as well as touching upon medicine and what to do if we’re poorly.

The concluding topics are ‘Impairments’, which shows how incredibly adaptable both our bodies and minds are, and we even get a glimpse into how future technologies might change humankind – wow!

All this is presented in a splendidly visual format similar to Walliman and Newman’s previous Astro Cat science offerings. It’s packed with information, enormous fun and with a final index, this is altogether a terrific book on a topic that fascinates almost every child I’ve ever come across.

Colorama

Colorama
Cruschiform
Prestel

As a child I was fascinated by a large Reeves paint-box belonging to my mother; I think it had been passed down to her. There were several layers of smallish rectangular colour blocks embossed with a dog. Each of the various hues had an exciting name, though some looked almost identical until used. I loved to take it out and about and find things to paint. It was those names that I loved as much as the paints themselves.
Now this beautifully produced book has taken me right back to that paintbox and my memories of same.
Compiled by illustrator and graphic designer, Marie Laure Cruschi, head of the French creative studio Cruschiform, it too is based on colour memories, her memories.

The colour palette is vast – over 130 hues and it takes us on a circular journey starting and ending with white, but surely white is just white isn’t it? Not quite; for a start it all depends on who is looking at it and what they are looking at. White can be all manner of things. Herein we have white snow, milk, peace symbol, albinos, alabaster, polar white, cotton flower, birch bark, white moth

and white powder and having come full circle, Aphrodite’s tears, flour of salt and moonlight. Each of these whites (and indeed the other colours) conjures up memories of objects, or things be they animal, vegetable or mineral.

So subtle is the difference that there is then an almost imperceptible change to pink (white powder is more pink than white to me).
The author provides a brief story connected with each image; sometimes this is the exact name of the colour – canary yellow – for instance or ivory.
The musings may be historical such as the synthetic dye ‘mauveine’ invented in 1856

elemental, artistic, relate to specific animals, flowers, trees, plants, fruits or vegetables, cloth and clothing,

machinery, and even objects out of this world.
Altogether a fascinating book for children and adults alike, it’s one to pore over and ponder upon.

Bird Builds a Nest

Bird Builds a Nest
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

Back in the day when I was studying physics at O-level I recall learning things about forces with no real understanding of the concepts as they were never demonstrated practically and I’m sure terms as straightforward as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ were ever used; how I passed the exam is anybody’s guess. It was only when I began teaching young children and everything was done through playful activities that I realised ‘oh so that’s what that statement I recall really means’.

Now here’s a cracking little book that introduces forces through a story about a bird building her nest.

Oh joy, it’s a sunny day and the little creature needs to find a juicy worm to feast on and here she is about to apply a pulling force …

No luck with that particular worm but eventually she finds a suitable smaller, less strong one and out it comes. Yum! Yum!
Breakfast over, she heads off in search of twigs to build her nest. Some inevitably are too heavy but Bird perseveres, pulling and lifting, to-ing and fro-ing, pulling and pushing the twigs into place, over and over until the outer construction is ready.
Then she collects softer, light things to make a cosy lining cup…

And finally the eggs are laid …

Already a big fan of this Science Storybook series of narrative science books for young children, I’m now an even bigger one. It’s so simple and yet so effectively explained both through the main narrative and in the smaller printed factual statements.
There’s an additional investigation on the forces topic using ping pong balls to try at the end.

Once again, Richard Jones has created a series of beautiful mixed media, textured illustrations in earthy tones to complement Jenkins’ text to perfection.

 

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

Here’s a terrific book that celebrates 40 amazing black women some from the past, some from the present and each a trailblazer.

Artist and film maker, Vashti Harrison has penned brief biographies of a splendidly diverse selection of dauntless, boundary breaking females who have contributed to making society what it is today.

In addition to the famous such as Mary Seacole, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Coleman and Diane Abbott, there are some lesser known women including social psychologist and counsellor Mamie Phipps Clark, science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, scientist and medical researcher Alice Ball and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson who are in their own ways, equally inspiring.

Katherine Johnson

No book on women’s achievements would be complete without sport and representing athletics are sprinters Wilma Rudolph and Florence Joyner (who also developed a clothing brand, wrote children’s books and established a youth foundation), and heptathlete and javelin thrower, Tessa Sanderson.

Tessa Sanderson

All these and the other women herein are truly inspirational and Harrison has done them proud, both through her engaging text and her beautiful illustrations.

Seaman William Brown – the first black female to serve in the British Navy

Brave, bold, world changers they most certainly are.

A book to put into primary classrooms, secondary school libraries, to buy for families, and to share and discuss wherever and whenever you can – I certainly intend to.

I’ve signed the charter  

10 reasons to love a bear / 10 reasons to love a whale

10 reasons to love a bear
10 reasons to love a whale

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Lincoln Children’s Books

This engaging series of fun animal books for younger readers from Barr and Clulow, working in conjunction with the Natural History Museum, has two new titles.

The first features the eight bear species: the polar bear, the sun bear, the sloth bear, the American black bear, the brown bear, the Asian black bear, the spectacled bear and the giant panda.

Did you know that bears, with the exception of the bamboo only eating giant pandas, will consume pretty much whatever they can find be that fish, meat, berries or bark; and some honey loving bears will tear trees apart to access a bees’ nest and sometimes even lap up the bees. Ouch!

Have you ever seen a bear dance? I certainly haven’t but they rub their backs against tree trunks and do a kind of wiggle dance to leave a scent for other bears, either to attract a mate or scare off a rival.

Giant pandas so we’re told though will do a handstand to leave their mark.

Another way in which bears communicate is through sound: they might snort, growl, grunt or cough; and mother bears and their cubs hum if all is well. Panda bears on the other hand make a bleating sound.

All this ursine information and more, together with five ways humans can show they love bears, can be found in 10 reasons to love a bear.

The subject of 10 reasons to love a whale is the blue whale.
These enormous mammalian creatures are, when fully grown, around 30 times heavier than an elephant and have a heart the size of a small car. Amazing!

A blue whale’s mouth too, is gigantic, and its tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant.

Sadly these amazing animals are still a threatened species and their survival depends on we humans.

Most children, in my experience are fascinated by blue whales and so, I suspect, they’ll be eager to dive into this book.

Add these two to your primary school class collection or topic boxes.

Under the Canopy

Under the Canopy
Iris Volant and Cynthia Alonso
Flying Eye Books

Often called the lungs of the world, as the largest plants on our planet, trees are vitally important to us all. Essential for life, they are the longest living species on earth and so link past, present and future.
Many of them are also incredibly beautiful whether covered in new leaves or stripped bare of all foliage.

Herein, fact and fiction are woven together in a celebration of trees of various kinds from all over the world.

We learn how, according to the Greek myth, Athena, the goddess of wisdom’s gift of an olive tree was chosen by the people over Poseidon’s salt spring and Athens was named in her honour.

Another tree featured in the book that has an associated legend is the Willow.
In order to boost sales of the blue and white willow pattern chinaware once popular in England a number of stories were invented based on that pattern.

One such tells of young forbidden love and of the ultimate transformation of the ill-fated lovers into doves.

From tropical regions including Africa and Australia is the acacia. The famous whistling acacias of Zimbabwe were so called because their long pointed thorns make a whistling sound when the wind blows.
A popular food of giraffes, these trees, in response to grazing, pump their leaves with organic chemicals which force the animals to stop feeding and in addition the tree under attack can communicate to other nearby acacias to do likewise.

Legend has it that the English mathematician and phycisist, Isaac Newton conceived his theory of gravity when he saw an apple falling while thinking about the forces of nature.

Elegantly produced, this diverting collection, which features over twenty tree species is one to dip into, to enjoy and savour Cynthia Alonso’s stylish artwork with its textures, patterns and standout splashes of luminous green.

Anthology of Amazing Women / Amazing Women: 101 lives to inspire you

Anthology of Amazing Women
Sandra Lawrence, illustrated by Nathan Collins
20 Watt

The author has selected fifty amazing women from various walks of life and from all over the world, who have made significant contributions to society through their ground breaking achievements in art and design, history, politics, science, sport, entertainment, literature and business.
The choice must have been an incredibly difficult task, so as well as the fifty who are each allocated a full double spread, Lawrence manages to squeeze in almost another fifty by including thumbnail sketches of an additional half dozen woman at the start of each section. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that a few of the names are new to me so I am particularly indebted to Sandra Lawrence for drawing my attention to these wonderful women.

One such is the sculptor Edmonia Lewis who created a series of sculptures based on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, but of whose work very little has survived, although her The Marriage of Hiawatha and Minnehaha sculpture was discovered in 1991 and is now on display at the Kalmazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan.
Equally inspiring and previously unknown to me is Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who studied at the University of Padua in the seventeenth century and became the first ever woman to receive a Ph.D. So too is Stephanie Kwolek, the chemical researcher who invented Kevlar, the super-strong plastic material.

No book about the achievements of women would be complete without Emmeline Pankhurst, political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement whose 40 year campaign for women to have equal voting rights with men, finally achieved complete success shortly after her death in 1928.

Other women who have made their mark in politics featured herein include Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai, who dressed as a man, led her army in an attack against General Hugh Rose but was sadly killed in battle and even Rose himself was mightily impressed by her bravery and cleverness.
The politics section concludes with Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and now a UN Messenger of Peace, who in her struggle for the rights of girls to have an education was seriously wounded by the Taliban in 2012.

Another young woman who stood up against the oppressive rule of the Taliban, this time from Kabul, is the athlete Robina Muqimyar who twice represented Afghanistan in the Olympics.

Several of my favourite authors are featured in the Literature section including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Sun; and the Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, creator of the wonderful Moomins books.

I could go on at length but must quickly mention Anita Roddick creator of the The Body Shop chain, champion of ‘natural ethically sourced products in reusable bottles’ and much more.

Striking illustrations by Nathan Collins of each of the featured women accompany the pen portraits and every spread has a coloured frame giving the whole book an inviting, stylish appearance. All schools, both primary and secondary should buy this.

Also celebrating great women is

Amazing Women: 101 lives to inspire you
Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green
Stripes Publishing

Of the one hundred and one women featured herein, the majority are British and the earliest such as political activist Constance Markievicz, author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, scientist Marie Curie, nurse Edith Cavell and women’s right activist Emmeline Pankhurst were born in the 1850 and 60s.

The youngest woman included is Kiara Nirghin, born in 2000, who as a 16 year old schoolgirl in South Africa, invented a polymer, SAP which is made from cheap recycled and biodegradable materials that is able to store water and, it is hoped, can be used to feed crops particularly in times of drought – truly amazing, and what an inspiration for the cause of girls in science.

Sarah Green’s portrait of Kiara Nirghin

Interestingly in their press release, the publisher  says this,  ‘… following recent political developments and resulting conversation, Stripes has taken the decision to replace Aung San Suu Kyi with Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian Women’s cricket team in the Leaders section in future reprints’.

Published in the year of the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, this beautifully illustrated collection of women’s achievements is another worthwhile addition to both primary and secondary school libraries and one I suspect will be much borrowed and discussed.

Story Worlds: A Moment in Time

Story Worlds: A Moment in Time
Thomas Hegbrook
360 degrees

Through this Perpetual Picture Atlas, Thomas Hegbrook takes readers on an amazing global trip that enables us to see, through a series of freeze frame images, what is happening all over the world – in thirty nine time zones – at precisely the same instant in July.

The first spread is a world map that shows and explains these zones and we can then begin our exploration at 6am on two minor outlying islands of the US with curlews taking flight, or perhaps join some children on their walk to school in Honolulu where it’s 8am. Alternatively by moving on a few spreads we find ourselves in the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil where it’s 2pm as it is in Havana, Cuba, in New York and at Angel Falls, Venezuela.

Start at the back and we pay a visit to a Delhi market place still busy at 11.30pm, or watch two boys play a board game in Bangladesh. In Samoa however, it’s 7am and we can share a family’s breakfast or watch children feeding the hens in Tonga. Meanwhile in London it’s 7pm and people are hurrying home from work, whereas across the channel in France it’s 8pm and some Parisians are relaxing with a drink.

The enormous variety of life both human and animal is amazing.

You can also choose to open the book right out and this provides opportunities for comparing and contrasting various parts of the world at a single glance, savouring being in the moment in up to a dozen locations simultaneously.

This fascinating volume (from a Little Tiger imprint) offers learning opportunities aplenty. I envisage groups of children lying flat out on a classroom floor, or sitting around a table with the book standing up, exploring, storying and excitedly discussing each of Hegbrook’s wonderful painterly spreads, all of which offer exciting viewpoints and different layouts. There is also a pictorial index giving a little additional information about the pictures.

Ingenious and absorbing, this is high quality non-fiction with a difference and deserves a place in every classroom collection and on family bookshelves.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History
Kate Pankhurst
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Perhaps 2018 is going to be the year of women. So often children are presented with books about what men have achieved in the past; now it’s time to redress the balance and hear it for the women.

Kate Pankhurst celebrates fourteen, managing to provide a great deal of information about them in this slim volume.

We start with Harriet Tubman whose double spread features a plethora of ‘Wanted’ posters displayed around the ‘Underground Railroad’ tracks. This, like all the other spreads, is illustrated with a wealth of delightfully humorous details.

Next come warrior queen, Boudicca, followed by Flora Drummond the Manchester suffragette who joined and became a leading light in the Women’s Social and Political Union (SPU). Not only did she breach Downing Street security, but also led Scotland’s first march in the name of women’s rights.

There’s Qiu Jin, who during her short life, campaigned against the tradition of foot binding in China and wrote powerful poems and articles that continue to inspire today.

Also fighting injustice was Sayyida al-Hurra who came from a Muslim family living in 15th century Granada. They were forced by Spanish rulers to flee to Morocco where she married a sultan and after his death became allies with the fearsome pirate Barbarossa of Algiers. In her determination to get her own back on Spain, Sayyida’s rule as pirate queen lasted more than three decades.

Others included are Noor Inayat Khan, the first WW2 female radio operator in Nazi-occupied France whose codename. Madeleine, was taken from a character in the book of traditional Indian children’s stories she wrote; Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman ever to gain a degree in medicine; Pocahontas; Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Ada Lovelace who made a great contribution to computer science; Josephine Baker, the amazing dancer who fought against segregation,

and writers Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame.

Kate Pankhurst does all these women proud.

The book concludes with a “Bookshelf of Brilliance’ and a ‘Great Words’ glossary.
In a word, it’s inspirational; in another, uplifting; in a few more – every primary classroom should have a copy and every child should read this.

I’ve signed the charter 

Young, Gifted and Black

Young, Gifted and Black
Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins
Wide Eyed Editions

All children deserve to see themselves represented positively in stories. That’s why we’re highlighting the talent and contributions of black change-makers from around the world – for readers of all backgrounds to discover.’ So say the creators of this splendid book in their introduction.
It’s a sterling objective and one that is achieved with panache.

The title itself comes from Nina Simone’s song, ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ and the book features 52 iconic activists, politicians, film directors, actors, entrepreneurs, athletes and other sporting legends,

writers, artists, scientists, singers, musicians and more from around the world.

Jamia Wilson introduces each one with a short biography that encompasses details about their birth (and death if relevant), their accomplishments and achievements, and includes a powerful quotation. Here are a few:
Reading is an exercise in empathy, an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.’ (Malorie Blackman);
Children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but the content of their character.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.
If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ Shirley Chisholm;
It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.’ Wangari Maathai.
It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Nelson Mandela.

The order of presentation is seemingly random and the majority of those featured are from the 20th century although there are also some earlier icons such as Mary Seacole and Alexandre Dumas.

Andrea Pippin’s illustrations are rendered predominantly in shades of pink, green, yellow, red and each double spread has a pleasing unifying design and colour palette.

This is a fine tribute to the black changemakers included, an inspiring read for youngsters and a must have book for Black History Month.

I’ve signed the charter  

My Green Day

My Green Day
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books

The messages contained in this book are as relevant today as when it was first published in 2010. Yes, almost all of us use our own bags when we go shopping …

but the amount of plastic that often goes into our shopping bags still needs to be dealt with. The home baking advocated by the little girl narrator is one way of dealing with that; however, much more needs to be done by the major supermarkets.

Essentially we share the girl’s day and she talks us through the green things that are her way of helping the environment. Each of her ten green actions is printed in large type and then two or sometimes more double spreads are allocated to illustrating and adding to her narration so for instance we have ‘At lunch … ‘I eat up all my pasta.’ and in small print ‘We throw away one third of all the food we buy. If we bought only the food we actually needed to eat, we wouldn’t have to grow or transport so much food, which saves lots of energy.’ This additional information can be left out if the audience is very young but children are never too young to start thinking about the all important messages herein.

Other suggestions include: adding an extra layer rather than using the central heating, avoiding the use of tumble dryers, composting and re-using materials to make gifts.

Melanie Walsh’s bright collage illustrations, albeit without the die-cuts and cutaway pages, are as fresh and contemporary looking as they were in the original edition.

What Do Animals Do All Day? / Rainforest

What Do Animals Do All Day?
Wendy Hunt and Muti
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a follow-up and in some ways, a companion volume to What Do Grown-ups Do All Day? The author and illustrator take us to fourteen different habitats – every spread has lots to look at – and for each, on the following spread, introduces us to eight residents, every one of which briefs us on its role in that particular ecosystem.

Some of the job descriptions will make young children laugh. The Decorator Crab that resides on coral reefs and sticks pieces of sponge onto its shell as camouflage describes itself as a ‘fashion designer’ …

while the Large-eared Horseshoe Bat calls itself a ‘sound engineer’ since it makes use of sound waves and echoes to locate moths in the dark.

I certainly have no desire to encounter the Striped Skunk, a forest resident that sprays stinky ‘perfume’ lasting several days. and describes its role as ‘perfumier’.
Another forest dweller the North American Porcupine tells readers its an ‘acupuncturist’.

I particularly liked the Death Stalker Scorpion’s description of itself s ‘brain surgeon’s assistant’. (Researchers are using its venom in a cure for brain tumours.)

If you were to visit the wetland reed beds in Somerset you might come across animals who describe themselves as ‘sleigh-rider, ‘aerobatic flyer’, ‘camper’, ‘trapeze artist’, ‘sun-seeker’, ‘submariner’, ‘opera singer’ and ‘synchronised swimmer’. Can you think what their common names might be?

An attractive, somewhat quirky book that provides plenty for children to talk about.

Rainforest
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

The focus here is on the visual, with fifteen animals being featured in Julia Groves’ first picture book. (Sixteen if you count the butterfly on the title page) None is named until the final spread where detailed information about each of them is given in tiny print.

A single line of text accompanies each illustration that evokes the nature of the particular creature, so for instance, ‘Fleeting ripples trace the runner’ accompanies the picture of the Plumed Basilisk Lizard; ‘Slowly stalking, majestic and silent.’ is the Jaguar and …

‘ Flickering tongues sense the air’

The rainforest is, as the book’s blurb tells us, a ‘precious and endangered habitat’; Julia Groves imaginative presentation of some of its inhabitants offers young readers an opportunity to enjoy what most of us will never see in the wild.

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.