Category Archives: information books

Octopants

Octopants
Suzy Senior and Claire Powell
Little Tiger

This crazy rhyming tale is narrated by an octopus, an underpantless octopus no less.

His lack of a bottom covering makes him the butt of jokes and derision on the part of the other undersea creatures, most especially when he goes to town to try and buy himself some suitable octopants.

On-line shopping proves equally fruitless or rather, pantless.

One day however, our pant-hunter comes upon a hitherto unknown establishment, going by the name of Under-Sea Emporium and run by a rather smart seahorse sporting a spotty bow tie.

The place seems to sell pretty much any garment you might imagine and many you can’t, from evening wear for eels to jewellery for jellyfish and water wings for whales, in various spotty, stripy, sparkly and decidedly funky fabrics.
But as for underpants for an octopus customer, that is quite another matter altogether.

So exactly what can an eight-legged, or could it be eight armed, marine animal wear instead?

The big reveal (not a big bum reveal) comes on the final spread …

Bubbling and bursting with playful alliteration, Suzy Senior’s suitably silly story is likely to have young listeners pinging their knicker elastic with wriggling giggles, while Claire Powell’s funky undersea scenes of pant-wearing, and would-be same, seawater creatures should make sure that mirth is multiplied.

Almost any story with pants seems to induce a similarly snickering response but this one has a terrific twisting finale.

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …

How Does My Home Work? / What on Earth? Robots

How Does My Home Work?
Chris Butterworth and Lucia Gaggiotti
Walker Books

Most of us, at least the fortunate ones, adults and children, take for granted such things as light at the flick of a switch, clean running water, heat at the touch of a button or perhaps something even more sophisticated, ditto TV and fresh food straight from the fridge; we seldom stop to think about it unless something goes wrong, let alone appreciate these facilities.

Herein with uncomplicated diagrams and illustrations from Lucia Gaggiotti, including cross sections, author Chris Butterworth describes in straightforward language the inner workings of a family house. He takes readers below the floors, behind walls as well as outdoors to see where and how the amenities – electricity (from both renewable and non-renewable sources),

natural gas and clean water are sourced and in the case of the latter, dirty water got rid of.

An engaging read with words and pictures working well together, a gentle conservation message (on the penultimate spread children offer ten energy saving suggestions), final notes from author and illustrator and an index, this is a thoughtfully presented introduction to everyday, life-enchancing technology and one hopes a book that will make youngsters appreciate their creature comforts just a little bit more.
Recommended for use at home or school.

What on Earth? Robots
Jenny Fretland VanVoorst and Paulina Morgan
QED
The latest addition to the What on Earth? series that embraces a wide range of subject areas, is sure to set young minds buzzing with excitement.
Robots are, increasingly, playing a part in our everyday lives and this book covers all kinds of robot-related material from poems to building a pasta rover; creating a robot costume responding to sound clues

and touch clues robot style; and appeasing your appetite with a yummy snack by turning your friend into a robot

or discovering the role of computers and programs in robot functioning.

All these and more are covered under the book’s five sections: What is a robot?, Robot bodies, Robot senses, Robot brains and robot jobs and there are also a couple of templates relating to activities as well as a glossary.

Easy to understand, appealingly illustrated and clearly presented, with artwork and text interwoven, well-explained activities that require relatively few, readily available resources, this is a lively, worthwhile resource whether or not you are pursuing a robot-related topic at school, or to add to a collection for home exploration.

What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference?
Emma Strack and Guillaume Plantevin
Chronicle Books

Have you ever been curious about the difference between a grasshopper and a cricket?

Or perhaps pondered on what makes a clementine different from a mandarin – I’ve never been able to get that straight; ditto a peach and a nectarine.

Feeling rotten? Maybe you’ve caught a virus – or is it in fact, something caused by bacteria?

And when do shorts become Bermuda shorts and vice-versa? I can remember at grammar school being told my games shorts, actually more like a divided skirt, should be 3 inches from the ground when kneeling, so surely those were technically bermudas. Who knows.

Seemingly in this case, as with all the 40 pairs in this fascinating book, the devil or rather the difference comes down to the detail.

The stylishly illustrated potpourri refines the distinctions between pairs of animals, items of food and drink, geographical subjects, fashion items, things to do with the human body and finally, city things.

Each double spread offers an introductory paragraph and there are fascinating facts, amusing trifles and other snippets of information all invitingly presented, making this a book that you think you might dip into for a few minutes but then find you’ve spent an hour digging around, poring over the graphic style art work as well as the text.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

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

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

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

to a school and a museum to the metro.

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

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

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

World of Birds / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals

World of Birds
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions
This is the first of a new Sounds of Nature series, which has ten 10-second natural soundscapes available at the touch of a button.
Herein readers can visit and explore ten diverse habitats—from the Himalayan Mountains

to the wetlands of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru, and the tropical rainforest of New Guinea to an English forest

and listen to birds in the wild with this exciting book, strikingly illustrated by Robert Frank Hunter.
There’s a brief paragraph of facts about each bird species included and their respective numbers relate to the order in which the sounds they make can be heard.
An interactive book for young, and not so young nature lovers that called to mind an alarm, sounded by ecologist and musician, Bernie Krause in his recent book: ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening.’
Let’s hope that it doesn’t spread over the wonderful habitats featured by Hunter.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals
Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Walker Books

There’s a range of activities to engage young children in this woodland setting book. Readers can enjoy dot to dots,

colour in some of the creatures including completing and ensuring the symmetry of the peacock and red admiral butterflies (they’d have to check elsewhere for the colours of the latter), add stickers to scenes (in some cases completing a puzzle), hunt for partially hidden nocturnal animals, complete a maze and spot differences.

The semi-matt finish and reproductive quality of the stickers, along with the illustrator’s attractive collage style art work and the factual information integrated into the various scenes make this a book to keep and return to after the tasks have been completed.

Spot the Mistake: Journeys of Discovery

Spot the Mistake: Journeys of Discovery
Amanda Wood, Mike Jolley and Frances Castle
Wide Eyed Editions

If my experience with the previous Spot the Mistake title, Lands of Long Ago, is anything to go by, children will eagerly seize upon this follow up that encompasses ten explorative expeditions with famous travellers from Marco Polo to the NASA Apollo moon mission.

Each of the journeys is allocated two double spreads, the first being a large scene featuring the explorer and aspects of the journey undertaken, and contains 20 visual incongruities for spotters to discover.
The subsequent spread identifies the ‘anachronisms’ (some are much more easily spotted than others,) in a smaller annotated scene and provides some explanation; and there’s also a paragraph about the particular journey and the explorer(s) involved.

With explorers as diverse as Zheng He from China who, in the 15th C, led voyages that took him and his fleet to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, and Edmund Hillary who, with his trusty guide, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain in 1953.

Young eagle-eyed spotters will definitely enjoy finding the Elvis picture among those displayed on the Zheng He spread; the basket of apples and incomplete lunar calendar in Columbus’ ‘New World’ scene;

and the laptop lurking in the early 20C South Pole scene that features Captain Scott.

Frances Castle’s diorama style scenes are both engaging and contain just the right amount of detail to be inviting but not overwhelming.

Between the covers of this book there’s a wealth of learning potential in the form of a game.

Forest School Adventure

Forest School Adventure
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

The husband and wife authors of this book are passionate about introducing children (and adults) to their wild side, to connect them to the natural environment. The book of more than 170 pages is profusely illustrated with photographs and after an introduction extolling the benefits and importance of outside play in nature, is divided into four sections.

In the first, Nature Awareness, there are such activities as making a bug hotel, creating natural collages and sculptures, leaf and flower plaques, playing with clay and making 3D maps.

Each activity is introduced with the suggested age range, likely time needed, the tools required and the materials to be used. My favourite in this section is Sit Spot – finding a place to sit quietly for ten minutes or more to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural surroundings.

The next section, with more than 80 pages, is Bushcraft and covers knots, shelter building all aspects of fire from lighting one without matches, types of firewood and fire lays, and carrying fire, collecting water, making cordage

and rope, using a knife safely, wilderness first aid, arrow and spear making, making pots and even making a lamp from nuts.

Section three has 25 pages on Wild Food including foraging tips and recipes for cleaver and nettle cordial, nettle tea, methods of cooking chicken and fish over a fire and cooking inside fruit and vegetables.

The final, briefest section, is devoted to games. My favourites were ‘seven second camouflage’ and ‘egg drop’ – making a protective nest around the egg so it doesn’t break when dropped from around 2metres.

Interspersed with all this are half a dozen episodes from the authors’ 5 months stone-age immersion experience in the USA.There’s also a list of resources at the back of the book.

I believe that forest school should be part and parcel of children’s early years and primary curriculum. However, despite the enthusiasm for it, particularly with early years staff, many schools stop offering it for older children claiming pressure from the supposedly more academic curriculum. Perhaps reading a book such as this could re-enthuse or introduce all adults working with children to the benefits of, and learning potential across the curriculum, of forest school.

Every primary school should have a copy.

Seashore Watcher / Complete Minibeast Explorer’s Kit

Seashore Watcher
Maya Plass
QED

If you are heading to the coast and in particular the seashore, then here’s a handy information book, cleverly enclosed within a zipped waterproof plastic folder.

From pebbles to plankton, corals to crabs and starfish to sharks, the seashore comes to life through photographs,

facts, tips, safety recommendations and more.

Whether you want to be a seashore watcher observing seals, seabirds or dolphins and porpoises, try your hand as a sand sculptor, get creative using things you’ve collected on the beach, help with beach cleaning, or even collect seaweed and try the recipe for jelly, you’re bound to find something to make your seaside visit exciting and worthwhile.

The back matter includes notes for adults, a glossary and index.

You’ll certainly get more out of your seaside foray if you tuck a copy of this informative and engaging book, compiled by marine and coastal ecologist Maya Plass, in your bag.

National Trust: Complete Minibeast Explorer’s Kit
Robyn Swift and Hannah Alice
Nosy Crow

Here’s the ideal thing to encourage children to get out and discovering about the wealth of minibeasts that are all around us.

Enclosed within the backpack are a guide book for explorers featuring more than 60 creatures and containing a wealth of information about identification, habitats, lifecycles and more; a small blank notebook in which to record observations, and a magnifying minibeast collector for enthusiasts to look closely at beetles, caterpillars, spiders, slugs, worms and anything else of interest.

I’ve just returned from a walk along the canal not far from where I live and was able on my return, (I hadn’t taken the book) to identify the small red beetle I saw on cow parsley as a Soldier Beetle using the illustration from the guide book. Hannah Alice’s clear illustrations are somewhat stylised but easily recognisable.

In addition to the fascinating facts provided by Robyn Swift – did you know that even if a cockroach has its head cut off, it can live for up to nine days? I certainly didn’t before reading it here -at the back of the book there’s an index, a glossary, a quiz, a scale guide and a classification chart.

Just the kind of kit to whet the appetites of potential young naturalists.

Skyward: The Story of female Pilots in WW11

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WW11
Sally Deng
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a beautifully produced, exciting book, based on real events, telling of three young women, Hazel, Marlene and Lilya, who pursue their dreams to become pilots and, countering gender stereotypes, go on to fly for their countries – the USA, England and Russia, in the Second World War.

First though they had to overcome, not only family ridicule but that of their governments and the armed forces.

“You’re taking all the jobs from our men!” Hazel was told by prejudiced people in powerful positions.

Even once they’d graduated it wasn’t all thrills; there were spills too …

and enormous risks.

But the three and the other female pilots did their utmost with little recognition and paltry pay, and in so doing paved the way for generations of young women.

Sally Deng, whose debut book this is, has, like her subjects herein, set the bar high for herself. Her carefully considered, inspiring telling coupled with her charismatic art style make for a powerful read.

A ‘must include’ for any World War Two topic in schools and a book I’d hope will be shared and celebrated, along with its subjects, by all who want to fly the flag for women’s achievements and for following your dreams.

We’re Getting a Cat!

We’re Getting a Cat!
Vivian French and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

Vivian French does narrative non-fiction beautifully and so it is in this book about a family that have recently moved into a flat in an old house. A flat that’s overrun with mice.

Dad is no cat enthusiast but he likes small furry rodents even less, so a decision is made. It’s off to the cat rescue centre and that’s where they meet big, strong Kevin. His skills as a mouse-catcher seem certain and so a week later, the girl narrator and her sister are thrilled by Kevin’s arrival at their home.

With the help of cat-owning neighbour, Mrs Harris, the family help Kevin settle into his new home. He learns how to use his litter tray

although he does use the family toilet for his own purposes.

He also discovers the best place for a good old scratch – certainly not Dad’s favourite chair – and gets used to the feeding time routine. In short he makes himself comfortable but as for mouse catching, it’s a great big No. It looks as though Dad might well decide to send him back to the Rescue Centre.

“Isn’t that what cats do” the narrator asks their neighbour on the mice-catching topic, the answer isn’t exactly what she’d hoped though.

But then Kevin takes himself off to explore the great outdoors and vanishes. Has he read Dad’s mind perhaps?

Up-beat in style, with additional captions that provide information on feeding, grooming and cat care throughout the book and a final ‘If you’re getting a cat’ page at the end, along with an index and some helpful websites, this is an ideal read for potential cat owners.

Even this cat-phobic reviewer was charmed by Rubbino’s scenes of the trials and tribulations Kevin puts his new family through, and the manner in which he establishes himself as an essential part of their household.

Little Guides to Great Lives: Nelson Mandela

Little Guides to Great Lives: Nelson Mandela
Isabel Thomas and Hannah Warren
Laurence King Publishing

Nelson Mandela is one of my all time heroes so I was particularly pleased to see this little biography aimed at children around the age of the class I was teaching (7/8) at the time he was released from prison in 1990. I remember we all got up and cheered and jumped around. Yes, we were quite political and had already done some work on apartheid and Mandela in class.

One of a new series, the book is written by Isabel Thomas in an accessible style for young readers.
It begins with a look at his village childhood when the young boy was named Rolihlahla (pulling the branch of a tree’ or perhaps ‘troublemaker’) and includes a local game.

After the death of his father, the teenage Nelson lived with the acting king of the Thembu people and became great friends with his son, Justice.

Brief details of his time as a university student lead on to running away to Johannesburg and, set against factual information of socio-political happenings, the events that took place up to and after he obtained his law degree; his work with the ANC against apartheid in particular, and his time (27 years) in prison, mostly on Robben Island.

The final pages tell of Mandela’s release from gaol, his leadership of the ANC, the scrapping of apartheid laws, his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize and his becoming the first president of South Africa to be elected by all the country’s people, ending with his death at 95 years of age in 2013.

There’s also a timeline and a glossary.

Hannah Warren’s retro style illustrations executed in a limited colour palette, using mainly the ANC colours, add to the book’s appeal.

Also in the series and equally worth seeking out is the story of aviation super star and women’s right pioneer:
Amelia Earhart

Isabel Thomas and Dàlia Adillon

 

Moth

Moth
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interestingly this is the second picture book introducing adaptation and natural selection to children I’ve seen in the past few weeks – could a new trend be starting. I was first taught about these scientific ideas with reference to the Peppered Moth, the particular example used in this story, when doing A-level zoology donkeys ages ago, and now they’re part of the KS2 science curriculum – quite a thought.

‘This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’ So says science writer, Isabel Thomas in the opening lines of her narrative, a narrative that seamlessly interweaves both science and social history.

In the nineteenth century almost all Peppered Moths had light grey patterned wings that blended with the tree trunks and branches it frequented.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution also came air pollution blackening buildings, monuments and trees alike.

In this new environment, the light-coloured moths became easy to spot and were gobbled up by birds.
Darker forms of the insect were less conspicuous and more likely to escape predation and to breed whilst the lighter form became extremely scarce.

With the advent of the Clean Air Acts in the mid-twentieth century air pollution from smoke and soot was greatly reduced, trees and buildings were no longer stained. Now the dark moths were more conspicuous and less likely to breed successfully, though both forms of the moth can still be found.

All this, Isabel Thomas recounts in her dramatic, sometimes lyrical text that ends with hope. A hope which, as we hear in the final explanatory pages, might lead to other living things being able to adapt to the changes, including climate change, that we humans inflict upon our planet.

Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations are as lyrical as the text, embodying at once arresting beauty and veritas, and instilling a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to see such an eloquent science-focused book that also embraces the arts side of the curriculum.

Holes

Holes
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
360 Degrees

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Jonathan Litton quotes at the beginning of this large format book, a hole is ‘a hollow place in a solid body or surface’. It then goes on to say ‘they are both something and nothing” – paradoxical hmm?

All manner of hole-related topics from caves to nostrils, and phloem to philosophical ideas are covered, the information being gathered under five main headings: Natural Holes, Manmade Holes, Animal and Plant Holes, Philosophy of Holes and Ordinary and Extraordinary Holes – the result, author Litton tells us in his introduction of ‘squirrelling and hoarding’ lots of kinds of hole ideas in a huge hollowed out hole. I like that notion.

The rest of the text is equally engaging as well as highly informative. I learned a new word – spelunker – meaning people ‘who visit caves, but without proper training’ – on the second spread.

The second theme, ‘Manmade Holes’ includes mines, wells and boreholes, tunnels and subways

as well as subterranean living, secret holes and buried treasure.

I enjoyed too, the idea of earth being like a ‘Swiss cheese under our feet!’ and I know many children will giggle at the mention of ‘bottoms’, which are included as an example of the location of holes within animals.
The topic of plant holes particularly fascinates me and there’s a spread devoted to some of the ways plants use holes.

Thomas Hegbrook has done a sterling job in providing illustrations for all the themes making every spread an invitation to delve deeper.

With its die-cut cover, the whole is a veritable treasure trove of holes, to be dipped into and rooted around in: you never know what you might find, but as the author says in his finale, what he’s covered herein is just a small sampling of a ‘hidden wonderland’; the rest is awaiting our discovery. I know I’ll never take a walk and think about what I see in quite the same way, having read this book.

Happy hole exploring.

Sea Star Wishes / Ocean

Sea Star Wishes
Eric Ode and Erik Brooks
Sasquatch Books

Singer, songwriter and author, Eric Ode shares the sights and sounds of the seashore in his twenty poems, some tightly rhyming, others more free, and some such as Wrinkles and The Sea Lion sans rhyme altogether; but all painting wonderful word pictures.

I love for example, those closing words of his The Sea Urchin where he describes the creature as ‘that thistly / bristly / hedgehog of the sea.’ as well as Wrinkles and The Stunt Kite. The latter rather than fly, ‘swoops / and loops./ … circles / and lunges, / lurches, / dives, / climbs / and plunges.’ Text and illustration work particularly well together in this one.
Moods range from comical

to contemplative

and there’s certainly much to discover and enjoy whether or not a seaside trip is planned. No matter, herein without getting sand in your sandwiches, you can construct a sand castle and perhaps encounter a sandy royal family.

I have to admit I’ve never heard of a geoduck – the subject of one of Ode’s more insouciant poems, perhaps because it’s native to waters around the coast of northwest US and western Canada, although geoducks are apparently available through a shellfish trader in London’s Billingsgate Market.

From barnacles to boats and fishing to footprints, you’ll find something to stimulate children on a visit to the coast, to search for some of the wonders captured herein.

Ocean
Ricardo Henriques and André Letria
Chronicle Books

Billed at “A Visual Miscellany’ this book takes the form of a digest. There’s a wealth of information about a wide variety of ocean-related topics starting with a look at the major oceans themselves.

Then follows several spreads on ‘watercraft’ – the various kinds of sea vessels; the parts of a ship, the use of stars as guides for seafarers and other means of navigation. There are several practical activities including making a paper boat and a submarine.

Historical facts too are included, from a look at some famous explorers, to the kinds of food eaten and illnesses that might trouble sailors of yore, as well as mention of mermaids, the kraken, Neptune and superstitions; and there’s a spread on some famous tales from the deep.

Fishing, waves, safety at sea and marine wild life have also seeped between the covers;

there’s even a recipe for Portuguese fish stew, although as a veggie, I won’t be trying that.

With its eye-catching blue, black and white illustrations by André Letria, this is an enticing book to include in a primary school library or classroom topic box.

Creatures of the Order

Creatures of the Order
Jules Howard, Fay Evans and Kelsey Oseid
Weldon Owen (Twenty Watt)

Have you ever wondered what a lion and a meercat have in common, a quali and a peacock, or a lemur and a gorilla?

If so, or if you have a mind that likes things ordered, or merely have an interest in animals, then this book is for you.
It groups together creatures belonging to the same taxonomic order, Kelsey Oseid illustrates them beautifully, and Jules Howard and Fay Evans provide essential information about each one.

Before all that come an introduction to taxonomy, a spread on animal classification with some examples, and another spread on the evolution of the orders.
The sixteen orders embrace the enormously diverse animal kingdom and it’s fascinating to look closely at the members of each order to discover their common feature/s.

Beginning with the Carnivora, each order is allocated two double spreads, the first of which includes an introductory paragraph, a small illustration of every animal and facts about same, the others being covered on the following spread that also provides further information about particular features.

I was most fascinated by the Odonata and had no idea that there were so many different kinds of these beautiful insects (dragonflies and damselflies) one of which has a wingspan of nearly 20cm.

A book to include in a family collection, as well as to add to the primary or secondary school library.

Welcome to Our World

Welcome to Our World
Moira Butterfield and Harriet Lynas
Nosy Crow

To open this book is to get lost in a world of children, children from 97 different countries and when you finally emerge having spent a considerable time immersed in its riches, you’ll be a whole lot wiser and probably happier too. I certainly was!

Covering such topics – I love the choice of headings – as greetings, homes, food, drinks, transport, animals, family names, school uniforms & classrooms, clothes, play – games …

and toys, musical instruments, as well as specific words for ‘happy’, ‘hooray’ …

and sneezing, customs (relating on one page, to losing a tooth), this book truly celebrates children, human diversity, language and world cultures

I was amused to learn that both in Brazil and Hungary children celebrating birthdays get their earlobes pulled. Ow! In Brazil it’s one pull for every year of the person’s life. Ow, ow, ow! … and in Hungary it’s customary to say ‘May your earlobes grow to your ankles’, in other words, ‘May you have a long life.’

Equally I was fascinated to find out about the different sounds animals make according to where they’re found: apparently in Germany, rather than buzzing, bees go ‘sum sum’, whereas in South Korea, it’s ‘wing wing’, ‘bun bun’ in Japan and ‘zoum zoum’ in Greece.

You too might laugh out loud at some of the sayings from various parts of the world: ‘Stop ironing my head’ means ‘Stop annoying me’ in Armenian and ‘There is no cow on the ice’ said in Swedish means ‘There’s no need to worry.’

The absorbing text by Moira Butterfield, in combination with Harriet Lynas’s captivating illustrations, make for a read that is both joyous and informative.

Migration

Migration
Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Mike Unwin documents the migratory journeys of twenty animals large and small, from the monarch butterfly to the great white shark

and the African elephant to the Southern pilchard, all of which travel incredible distances due to the seasonal changes to the environment in which they live. They move in pursuit of food, to escape bad weather or hostile environmental conditions, or in search of a suitable place to breed.
Each of the animals featured is allocated a double spread impressively illustrated by Jenni Desmond; and there’s a world map showing all the migrations at the back of the book.
Just imagine weighing less than a lump of sugar and having to fly 800km across the ocean like the ruby-throated hummingbird. Come spring, these iridescent birds leave their tropical winter home in Central America, fly across the Gulf of Mexico, north to North America, even as far north as Canada, where they breed, nesting somewhere in woods, a garden or park.

I was amazed to read the fascinating details about green marine sea turtles, which sometimes weigh as much as two humans and migrate across the Atlantic to breed on Ascension Island.

Unwin’s accounts are beautifully, at times poetically written, while Jenni Desmond’s illustrations make you want to linger long over each one enjoying the form, details and individual beauty of each animal portrayed.

Brain Lab for Kids

Brain Lab for Kids
Quarry Books
Eric H Chudler

In this unusual book research neuroscientist Eric Chudler presents over 50 activities designed to help children to learn about different parts of the brain and to understand how they work.

It’s built around different units, the first being ‘The Neuron’. Herein are instructions for modelling neurons from materials such as clay, flavoured gelatin (vegetarians might want to give this one a miss), string, pipe cleaners, or rope.

Accompanying the clear, concise instructions, which include estimated time and materials required for each, are relevant brain facts and an explanation of what is going on. There is also a ‘Thinking Deeper’ follow up.

The second unit “The Brain’ uses similar everyday materials such as modelling clay, papier-mâché, salt dough and looks at the brain’s physical structure.

Unit 3 looks at testing reflexes and thereafter come units on the senses: taste, smell,

vision, touch and hearing each of which has at least three projects.

Sleep and body rhythms comes next and finally, there’s a section on memory – both short-term and long-term.

Thought provoking, engaging and fun, almost all activities would work well in the classroom – though not perhaps detecting REM sleep!

All in all this is a great resource for home or school and will interest children across a wide age range.

Humanatomy: How the Body Works

Humanatomy: How the Body Works
Nicola Edwards, George Ermos and Jem Maybank
360 Degrees

Ever wanted to go beneath your skin and get right up close to your inner workings? If so, then this is definitely the book for you.

Tucked inside the front cover is a flip-over section comprising eight superb labelled illustrations, one for each of the body’s systems

excluding the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems.

The main part of the book contains an introductory page followed by a brief explanation of how the systems work together; and then detailed chapters on each of those systems, the first being the integumentary system.

Like the chapters that follow, it begins with a short overview of the functions and other fascinating facts; and then goes into detail using questions that immediately draw the reader in. Questions such as ‘Why do we have different shades of skin and why do some people have freckles?’ ‘Why do your hands go wrinkly in the bath?’ or, ‘How does skin heal itself? And what are scabs and scars all about?’

Next comes the muscular system, followed by the skeletal system that includes a labelled pictorial sequence of how a broken bone heals …

Thereafter we have the digestive system and then the respiratory system. I’ve no doubt children will delight in the ‘What is snot and why do we have it?’ paragraph and be fascinated to learn that the highest ‘sneeze speed’ on record is 165 km (103 miles) per hour.

The circulatory, nervous and urinary systems are equally fascinating. Did you know that blood makes up about 7% of our body weight? Or that lobsters have little urine nozzles under their eyes and communicate by squirting wee into each other’s faces – slightly off key but the sort of thing that children love to discover.

The final systems spread encompasses the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems.

And the last chapter (before the very accessible glossary) looks at DNA and what makes us who we are.

Altogether a fabulous publication. The writing is perfectly pitched for child readers, the production is excellent, as are the  illustrations by George Ermos and Jemima Maybank, it’s a book that deserves to be in every primary classroom collection and on every child’s bookshelf.

Bonkers About Beetles

Bonkers About Beetles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

After focussing on monkeys, sharks and cats, Owen Davey turns his attention to beetles, a particularly successful insect group.

I knew that that were a great many different beetle species, some very tiny, others around the size of a human hand, but I had no idea that already 400,000 different kinds have been found, nor that beetles account for a quarter of all the animal species in the world being found on every continent other that Antarctica. Awesome!

There are basically four different ways of life; there are predators, herbivores, omnivores and decomposers each of which Davey explains giving examples of each of these kinds.

Clearly beetles come in many different shapes and sizes, although as we see here, all have a similar basic design.

As always in this series, Owen Davey’s playful sense of humour comes across in his choice of titles for some of the spreads as well as paragraph headings; for instance ‘Love You and Leaf You’ heads up some information about leaf-rolling weevils that construct special rounded homes for their eggs, taking around two hours to do the job.
And, dung beetles shaping dung balls to enclose their eggs, (one per egg) is under the heading ‘Let the Good Times Roll’.

What tickled my quirky nature particularly was discovering there’s a beetle that practises yoga: the head-stander beetle lives in the southern African Namib desert where the lack of water means it’s often difficult to find a drink. In the early morning, head-stander beetles climb to the top of the dunes when there’s a fog laden with moisture. They put their heads down and lift their rear ends to the sky so water collects on their backs and runs down into their mouths:
amazingly clever creatures.

I was also especially taken with the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ spread showcasing the likes of the giraffe weevil, the violin beetle and the harlequin beetle.

I’ve loved all Davey’s brilliantly illustrated books in the series but this one has to be my favourite.
What next I wonder?

Go Wild on the River / Sharks, Seahorses and other British Sea Creatures

Go Wild on the River
Goldie Hawk and Rachael Saunders
Nosy Crow

This is a handy, pocket-sized book for young adventurers to read before they sally forth for some wild fun on or around a river.
It covers all the essentials starting with words about keeping safe, followed by what to take on your trip and what to wear.

There are river investigations such as ‘how deep is this river’ – important in case you want to cross it or investigate the creatures living in it, and measuring how fast the river is flowing. You can also measure the quality of the water by taking a sample and looking at the colour; this is clearly an important consideration for wildlife and there are lots of pages on the flora and fauna associated with rivers.

If you feel like emulating the beavers and building a dam, there’s a spread on how to do that too and should you feel like dangling above the water, there are instructions on making a tyre swing (adult help required for this).

The final pages (before a quiz) are concerned with safety and what to do should you get into trouble on the river – very important to read before any trip; and last but by no means least, there are words about showing respect for the environment.

Plenty of pithy advice as well as exciting ideas are packed into the 80 odd pages of this little handbook written by Goldie Hawk and illustrated (with gentle humour where appropriate), by Rachael Saunders.

Sharks, Seahorses and other British Sea Creatures
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow

The third in the super sticker book series published in collaboration with the National Trust, this one is bursting with creatures of all shapes and sizes that live close to, or under the sea.

We investigate a variety of homes by visiting the sandy shore, exploring the rocks, looking in rock pools, going right down to the seabed,

searching the shallows and going to the harbour.

Each beautifully illustrated spread provides facts about the relevant sea animals from scavenging seagulls to acrobatic dolphins, basking sharks to sponges and spiny sea urchins to seahorses.

There are 4 pages of stickers so you can adorn the appropriate pages with crabs, stingrays, seaweed, starfish and much more.

If you’re going to the seaside or contemplating a visit, then the 11 scenes herein will set your youngsters up for some marine spotting fun.

Plantopedia / Summer

Plantopedia
Adrienne Barman
Wide Eyed Editions

Barman follows up her Creaturepedia with a celebration of more than 600 plants that includes trees, fruits, flowers – wild and cultivated, vegetables, herbs, weeds, healing plants and more from all over the world.

Somewhat strangely for this reviewer at least, we start indoors with ‘The air fresheners’ – plants to grow indoors that clean the air. This section is followed by ‘The all-blacks’ and then ’The aquatics’ ‘The big eaters’ and another colour section – ‘The blues and purples’. I’m not sure whether the author had a plan in mind when she arranged the spreads but to me the section sequencing seems quirky and perhaps random which creates something of a surprise element.I particularly liked The Stars pages.

Having said that the whole book is packed with learning possibilities in various curriculum areas such as science, geography, history, art perhaps (although it’s better to use real plants I suggest) and almost every topic could be an inspiration for further investigation.

In contrast to the rest of the book, the appendix devoted to three aspects of leaves – shape, arrangement and edges/veins – is straightforward botany.

The illustrations are bright, engaging and gently humorous – look out for animals popping up on lots of spreads, and the odd human from time to time.

One for budding botanists, the family bookshelf or school library.

For younger readers, with plants also taking centre stage is:

Summer
David A. Carter
Abrams Appleseed

Just in time for summer comes David A. Carter’s fourth and final pop-up in his seasons series. Carter has created six plant pop-ups –one of which he places at the centre of each spread,

and in and around them are to be found various animals including birds, butterflies and other minibeasts, small mammals, a snake, a turtle and a fish.

A brief accompanying text invites children to get involved by asking such questions as ‘Who eats the flowers?’ or ‘Who swims in the creek?’

Fun and captivating, this is an American publication so some of the named items will be unfamiliar but that offers a good talking point for readers in parts of the world other than the USA.

The Brilliant Deep

The Brilliant Deep
Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe
Chronicle Books

‘It starts with one.’ So begins the inspiring true story of Ken Nedimeyer, who as a boy was fascinated by the underwater world of Florida Keys, in particular the coral reefs. He became troubled when he discovered that those reefs were fading and dying, seemingly there was nothing he could do to save them.

Then as an adult he had one of those ‘what if …?’ moments relating to the staghorn corals he’d grown on his rock farm. His brilliant idea was to transplant the staghorn coral colony he’d grown onto that reef he’d loved as a child: could that colony be brought back to life?

It was surely worth a try and so Ken went back to his beloved reef and glued six small coral colonies onto the limestone surface of the erstwhile reef.

Month by month these transplants grew and became the catalyst for the Coral Restoration Foundation, which now has international links.

Kate Messner pitches her telling of this inspiring story perfectly for primary school age audiences, telling of Ken’s passion, of staghorn corals grown on the rock farm, of his successful experiments and of the volunteers his inspirational work has recruited, finishing as she began with the upbeat, ‘It starts with one.’

A love of wildlife shines through Matthew Forsythe’s exhilarating illustrations. Using a rich colour palette to portray the undersea world and the divers he takes us right up close to the action making this a great book to share with a class or group and who knows, it might just inspire budding marine biologists.
To that end, the final spread provides details of further reading, websites to visit, ways to help and explanations of some of the terms used in the narrative.

The Rhythm of the Rain

The Rhythm of the Rain
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Publishing

We first meet Isaac playing in a mountain-side pool under a brooding sky. Down comes the rain; water flows in little rivulets from the pool becoming first a stream and then a river. Isaac empties his jar of water into the flow pondering its journey seawards.

We see it passing through country and town eventually joining the vast ocean. However, the journey doesn’t end there (although some of it is swallowed by a whale);

currents deep in the ocean draw water towards a distant shore.

Next morning the warm sun pulls the seawater upwards to form a cloud – a raincloud whose water falls on a village where Cassi lives, filling its pool with much needed water.

Still the water flows, forming a life-giving river

that eventually flows again into the sea and finally right back to Isaac.

Baker-Smith’s narrative documents the water-cycle from raindrops to ocean depths, outlining the importance of the life-giving properties of the element while letting his artwork show its beauty.
The magical and transformative power of water permeates every one of his illustrations be it the luminosity of the mountainside rivulet,

the efflorescence slip-steaming from the ocean dwelling whale, the sparkling spangled surface of the sun-soaked sea or the foaming, steaming spray plunging over an African waterfall.

This breathtakingly beautiful book would make a superb addition to a topic on water or as an introduction to the water-cycle.

The Colours of History / So You Think Yo’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Egypt

The Colours of History
Clive Gifford and Marc-Etienne Peintre
QED

There have been several books on the theme of colour recently: now here is one that takes a historical approach with the subtitle ‘How Colours Shaped the World’.

After an introduction to the world of colour, there are five main sections: Yellows (which includes orange), Reds, taking in ‘Mummy Brown’), Purples, Blues, Greens and then a spread on ‘Colours that made their mark’ that looks at
kohl black, graphite, lime and lead wash.

Over twenty colours – divided into shades – are explored with each different shade being allocated a double spread that includes an arresting illustration by Marc-Etienne Peintre, related historical facts, associated symbolism and often, a relevant quote. There is also an introductory paragraph for each colour group supplying connotative meanings.

Did you know that the predominant colour of the prehistoric Lascaux Cave paintings was yellow ochre,

or that saffron comes from a particular crocus species grown mainly in Spain and Iran?
Or that cochineal, still used in some lipsticks, is actually a tiny insect that when crushed, yields a scarlet colour due to the carminic acid it carries to protect itself from predatory ants?

One of my favourite blues, ultramarine, is made by grinding one of my favourite semi-precious gemstones lapis lazuli – a fact I knew, but I was intrigued to learn that the artist Vermeer’s heavy use of the colour in his paintings left him heavily in debt when he died.

This inviting and rewarding book will be of particular interest to those with a liking for art or history and is well worth adding to a primary school library.

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s life in Ancient Egypt
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

Guaranteed to bring on giggles galore is this look at ancient history Egyptian style published in collaboration with the British Museum. It presents history like you’ve never seen or even imagined it before – from the children’s viewpoint.

A variety of topics is covered – clothing and hairstyles, family life, the home, work – parents introduced the idea of work to their offspring at an early age.

There are sections on education – formal school outside the home was mostly only for boys and rich ones at that, and  diet – raw cabbage was a popular starter and pigeons were often served (along with geese, ducks and oxen if you were well off)

and even children drank beer back in those days.

Medicine and health – apparently the mother of a sick child might eat a mouse and then put its bones in a bag and dangle it around the child’s neck to effect a cure; protection and gods, and fun and games are also explored. Popular pastimes for the young included swimming, boating and games by the river, although, you had to keep a watch out for hungry crocs or hippos. Ball games were often played too, though not football, and the balls were made from papyrus or leather stuffed with straw.

Humorously illustrated with a multitude of labels and speech bubbles, and packed with fascinating facts, yes it’s light-hearted, but children will absorb a lot of information from this unashamedly zany book.

Secrets of the Mountain / Rock Explorer: Minerals & Rock Explorer: Fossils

Secrets of the Mountain
Libby Walden and Richard Jones
Caterpillar Books

The mountain referred to in the title of this breathtakingly beautiful book is I think, part of the Rocky Mountain Range.

Libby Walden’s narrative takes readers to spend a day on the mountain observing the plethora of animals that make it their home be that on the plains, the slopes or the mountaintop.

It begins as the sun rises and starting at the summit, day dawns. A breeze moves down the mountainside waking the furry pikas to look for their morning food.

At midday, the forest erupts with birdsong and sunlight glows among the trees.

Animals large and small are on the move.
Then come sundown, the air is cool: night is drawing in and the bears can sense it …

Then is the time to seek a place to sleep and let the nocturnal hunters take over in the shadows of the night-time forest while, watched by the patrolling wolf, the moon illuminates the rolling plains and the mountain lion stands waiting for yet another dawn to awaken the chorus of birdsong.

Everything has changed, yet everything is the same: evolving and ever constant, both.

From gorgeous front endpaper to back endpaper (the final one comprises 48 small named pictures of the mountain fauna), every one of Richard Jones’ spreads is simply stunning in its beauty.

Rock Explorer: Minerals
Rock Explorer: Fossils

Claudia Martin
QED

These are two titles of the four in a series of very visual books that introduce aspects of geology to younger readers. This is an under represented topic and yet once children are introduced to it, they are often fascinated.
Minerals looks at their formation, location and use. Did you know for instance, that fluorite is used in toothpaste and feldspar is used in making glass and pottery?

Fossils explains what a fossil is, outlines how they form, where to hunt for fossils and what we can learn from them. I was intrigued to discover that the Victorians first discovered fossilised Dinosaur poo – hmm.
Clearly and invitingly presented with good quality photographs, both are worthwhile additions to a primary classroom or school library.

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.