Non fiction books
An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A-Z
pub. The School of Life Press
The arrival of this fantastic book couldn’t have been timelier. In such unsettling and uncertain times this could well prove to be a wonderful resource to families, educational settings and professionals alike. As well as being a beautiful read this is also a toolkit in helping children grow their emotional intelligence.
This book lays out 26 different emotions alphabetically with each having a beautifully written poem and a cleverly chosen illustration to accompany it. The poems are short enough to be engaging for young children yet long enough to express meaningful explanations of the sources of these emotions and advice on how to manage them. The animals and their facial expressions depicting the emotions are perfect; the insecurity of a cat wearing the cone of shame, an uncertain chameleon constantly changing colour and a panic-stricken chicken are genius choices. Not only this but the colour pallets chosen for these illustrations bring them to life beautifully. The vibrant reds surrounding the poem about anger and the calming lemon yellows of tranquillity add so much to this book. The words and illustrations in this book are blended brilliantly.
A wide range of ages would enjoy this book. It explores some of the simpler emotions such as anger, boredom and shyness that could be accessed by 5-6-year olds and more complex emotions, such as melancholy and obsession, which would be better understood by older children. However, the illustrations are so good that younger children would take a lot from just looking at and talking through these. This is a book which could last for years.
This book normalises talking about emotions and well-being, few things seem more imperative for children and adults alike at the moment. This is a must for parents helping their children navigate and learn from their emotional experiences. A wonderful book to have to refer back to and to help in difficult times. A really exciting find.
A Natural History of Fairies
Emily Hawkins, illus. Jessica Roux, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Outside is a collage of deep greens, auburns and earthy browns and here in my room I sit with the fairies of nature, illustrated breathtakingly in Emily Hawkins' and Jessica Roux's A Natural History of Fairies. This big hardcover book is gilded in gold with the most beautiful vines around a wild fairy smiling with birds amidst the decoration of wilderness.
As I open the book I see such beautiful fairies flitting around blossoms and birds. This 60-page delight contains information not only on the secret lives of fairies; types of fairies in our vicinity; and fairy habitats; but also on fairy language and how to find them!
What's very interesting is that this book is inspired and borrows from the notes of a Botanist and Professor Elsie Arbour whose work was discovered in the archives of the British Museum of Natural History in an unidentifiable folder. The reader discovers a letter written to Annabelle by her Aunt Elsie and from thereon embarks on an adventure with her to discover the Fairies.
The other captivating aspect of the book are the illustrations akin to the style of the 1900s. The book is like a scientific and poetic exposition of the fairy realm with scientific names, tables, pictorial graphs, charts, and anatomical diagrams. Despite the scientific structure, it is not at all boring as the illustrations are life-like and explanation accompanying them are very engaging for someone interested in the world of fairies, for instance, the Firefly Sprite page is full of glowing fairies and has the following description-
"The FIREFLY SPRITE is bioluminescent, which means that parts of its body light up ... This fairy's large eyes help it see through the gloom."
There are Fairies of the Jungle, Woodland Fairies, Mountain and Hill Fairies, Freshwater Fairies, and Fairies found in different parts of the world!
This one is such a joyful read for children and adults alike, each page brings something new and magical. If you're on a quest to know almost everything about fairies and the flora and fauna they tend to, this could be a great companion. It's a good way to introduce children to the fragrant flowers, chirping birds, glowing insects, i.e. to the enigma and mysticism of nature, and to spark in them a belief in the unbelievable. Definitely pick this one as an autumn read.
A World of Art
Helena Hunt and James Brown, pub. Walker Books
“The world of art is an enormous place to explore” but this book certainly rises to that challenge. It is a visual feast for the eyes, not only in the styles of art represented, but within each double page spread. Dynamic and bold illustrations introduce many styles and forms of art to the reader. Taking us on a journey through art, we begin with cave paintings and plenty of examples from around the world are included to see the similarities and differences between the styles and countries. Mini history lessons are included to provide context to what was happening when these artistic forms were being created. I was hooked on reading about styles like mosaics and religious art featuring the famous Ghent Altarpiece.
Offering up history’s most iconic sculptures, paintings and movements, this book is sure to please budding artists and art historians, or anyone with a fascination with art. Interspersed with the text and illustrations are some tips and techniques that show how a piece may have been created in its smaller steps. Colourful and engaging this is a superb book which brings to life those visual art pieces created to inspire, cause emotion and reactions and to stand the test of time. A stunning book that will entice readers to pick it up and browse through stopping when their eyes are caught by something special.
Be A Super Awesome Artist: 20 Art Challenges Inspired by the Masters
Henry Carroll, illus. Rose Blake, pub. Laurence King
This interesting guide to art is bright, bold, well set out, easy to follow, one I think older primary or younger high school students will enjoy and engage with as they develop their artistic interest and ability. Organised into 23 chapters plus a six-page history of art section, this is a very brief but detailed and accessible compendium.
Nineteen different artists, some well-known, others not so much, from a diverse range of genres, history, ethnicities and genders are explored in their own chapters, each a double-page spread. The inclusion of people that you would expect to appear such as Picasso, Goldsworthy, Duchamp, Lichtenstein and Magritte alongside new discoveries, (even for my artist brother who I showed the book to) such as Lorna Simpson, Chuck Close, Rachel Beach and Gayle Chong Kwan make this exciting and inclusive.
The other chapters, entitled ‘nifty know-hows’, are practical, slightly longer, explorations of topics such as paint, pencils, colour, and an especially nice feature entitled ‘Make Your Mark’ which focuses on the artist’s signature. This is a topic I do not think I’ve seen before, fitting for a book whose aim is for the young reader to develop their own work.
Throughout the book there are numerous features designed to encourage reader interaction with art in a practical way. A hashtag link is provided as a way of sharing any work produced, and they are encouraged to make a work of art in the style of each featured artist with tips given along the way. These ‘challenges’ are portrayed in a way that is accessible and fun. Carroll jokes about making a painting, Jackson Pollock style with drips and flicks, on the living room carpet and exhibiting a ‘ready-made’ artwork in the style of Marcel Duchamp in the home but seriously thinking about how to justify that this ordinary object is a work of art. For a Frida Kahlo style self-portrait he talks about using props and clothing representing how you want the piece to feel because portraits don’t have to be serious and sad.
He is very encouraging, saying “I’d love to see what you do” when talking about producing a piece of performance art. Quite often Carroll explains the different layers an artwork has – the initial visual appearance and then the deeper underlying meanings and messages – in a way that is accessible and thought-provoking. However, I did find the annoying term ‘super-awesome’ very overused and some of the chat grating like ‘bazillion gazillion dollars’ which could put some readers off as they could see it as patronising as well as tongue-in-cheek.
Overall, this is a fun, practical, intriguing, very accessible, interactive guide to art which doesn’t take itself too seriously and is very encouraging about nurturing young artists.
Natalie J. McChrystal Plimmer
Britannica All New Children's Encyclopedia: What We Know and What We Don't
Michael Bright, John Farndon, Dr Jacob F. Field, Abigail Mitchell, Cynthia O’Brien, Jonathan O’Callaghan, illus. Mark Ruffle and Jack Tite, pub. Britannica Books
Britannica All New Children's Encyclopedia: What We Know and What We Don't is a clear and concise encyclopaedia with a twist. This unique encyclopaedia explains what we already know in the fields of chemistry, physics and biology and what we still need to discover. Rather than listing the entries in alphabetical order it is organised in sequential time order – starting from the beginning of time, to the present day and looking into the future where its highlights some of the most intriguing unexplained puzzles in archaeology, engineering, history and science, whilst still embracing the fundamental truth everything is constantly changing.
Aimed at Key Stage Two, Britannica All New Children's Encyclopedia is divided into eight chapters, each one written by a different author and all edited by the renowned writer of the What on Earth wallbooks, Christopher Lloyd. The eight chapters are: Universe, Earth, Matter, Life, Humans, Ancient & Medieval Times, Modern Times, and Today & Tomorrow. Each subject area is explored using diagrams, illustrations, infographics, maps and photography, as well as text. It is divided into separate, coloured blocks so even the most reluctant reader can browse, or dip in and out. All the facts and explanations provide a mammoth amount of information in original and engaging ways, which will interest older children and adults as well as KS2. Perfect for STEM education.
Over 100 experts have been consulted in the compiling of this book. At the bottom of each double-page is a credit to the expert who has checked the information and facts included on that spread. At the end of each chapter is an interview with three different experts, explaining what they love about their job and what they are working to discover at the moment. Together these experts form a directory of innovators who have changed the course of history or science with their actions and discoveries. There is also a multiple-choice quiz at the end of each chapter so readers can test their own comprehension. All the answers can be found somewhere within the chapter but are also listed upside-down at the bottom of the quiz.
Readers of all ages will love discovering the facts, lists and information, which may inspire them to do their own research to uncover some of the remaining mysteries of our planet, the universe and beyond. There is cross-referencing so they can explore the topic further from different perspectives in the other chapters broadening their interest and knowledge.
This exquisitely presented, 416-page compendium of amazing, mind-boggling facts you can trust, will provide hours of exciting learning for curious readers all over the world. An excellent resource to support any topic in the classroom and could be used for homework and home-schooling. This book would make the ideal gift.
Dyslexia and Me: Expert Tips and Mindful Activities for Young People with Dyslexia
Amy Rainbow, pub. Studio Press
Writing has been described as the greatest technology that humankind has developed; it allows thoughts and knowledge to be transmitted from person to person over great distances and through time itself. And yet there are a significant number of people who find it difficult to access this technology because their brains work in a different way. We do not know what causes dyslexia – but we do know that it can be extremely painful to live with. Dyslexic children can see themselves as failures. Dyslexia may also be associated with other cognitive differences which compound difficulties.
Dyslexia and Me is a useful and practical guide for children and young people (and adults who support them) in how to build coping strategies. The book divides into three parts:
All About Me provides short exercises that help the dyslexic child to see themselves and their life in a more positive light. The exercises are heavy on gluing, drawing and colouring; writing comes a poor fourth!
Learning with Dyslexia suggests ways that a child can improve and manage their own learning. It encourages the child to investigate such simple changes as altering screen and text colours, fonts and spacing to make reading easier. Text to speech software is mentioned as well as reading along to audio books. Putting thoughts down on paper can prove frustrating so further tips are given to help with writing. Whatever works is the message!
Living with Dyslexia supports the dyslexic child in daily life. It helps them to organize their days and belongings as well as manage the everyday tasks that are so challenging. Lastly, there are suggestions for looking after mental health: take time out, exercise, eat well and ask for help - lessons to last a lifetime.
If I have one criticism, it is that some pages are word heavy and a dyslexic child might need substantial support to read them. Perhaps, breaking up the text and more use of differently coloured blocks would have been appropriate.
I would recommend this book to all those with an interest in supporting dyslexic children, not as a workbook to be ploughed through, but as an excellent source of ideas and a buttress for fragile self-esteem.
Exam Attack: A Practical, Positive Guide to Exam Success and Beating Stress
Nicola Morgan, pub. Franklin Watts
Exam Attack gives the latest, informed advice on managing stress, learning effectively and keeping physical and mentally healthy when preparing and sitting exams.
The author Nicola Morgan is a renowned author on the science of the behaviour of adolescence, including previous well-regarded books on Blame My Brain - The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed and The Teenage Guide to Stress. The advice in Exam Attack is a theoretically informed text written as a practical guide. There is an excellent balance between explaining why it is important and how to implement and adapt the advice to the reader’s circumstances. This is supported by a number of design elements isolating the main advice, including text boxes subtitled ‘Action’ and a distinctive graphic for ‘Tips’ with the tips in bold text. The ‘In Short’ also succinctly sums up the main points, easy to adapt as an actual or mental check-list. A single page of ‘Top Tips’ on exam stress, revision periods, study and in an exam is included in the Appendices.
The book is flexible, depending on the immediacy of the forthcoming examinations. Ideally students are preparing two-three months in advance and there is time to plan and timetable revision. There is advice on the best ways of learning, according to the latest science as well as how to stay healthy and maintain healthy relationships during this time. It is interesting that Nicola Morgan emphasises the importance of asking for help and supportive adults, such as teachers, and includes revision buddies and groups, breaking away from a conventional idea of solitary revision. As expected there is useful advice for the day of the examination itself.
Exam Attack uniquely begins by discussing different challenges for students. This includes learning differences and specific learning needs - there are separate sections on dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, the autistic spectrum, memory problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - poor health and home life. Student’s different needs are however addressed throughout the book. Nicola Morgan writes both realistically about the difficulties and positively about how to manage individual circumstances offering practical strategies to maximise success.
As this is being written, the possibilities of examinations for all school students is in doubt, although some final exams are still planned for 2021. Whether it is a final exam or continuous teacher assessment produced in controlled conditions, the advice in this book is just as relevant for a whole school year as it is to prepare for an exam.
Exploring the Elements: A Complete Guide to the Periodic Table
Isabel Thomas, illus. Sara Gillingham, pub. Phaidon Children’s Books
Somewhat improbably, there is a craze among Years 7 and 8 at my school for learning for the Periodic Table by heart. Pupils who claim that they cannot manage two irregular French verbs reel off 118 elements perfectly and without hesitation. Why? For the kudos, I suspect. I doubt whether any of them appreciate the beauty and order at the heart of their hard-won knowledge. More’s the pity!
Exploring the Elements is the perfect book to educate and delight such children – but do not make the mistake of thinking it is only for the geeks and nerds. I believe any child with an enquiring mind will enjoy this book for it embraces history and culture as well chemistry, physics, biology and medicine.
It is impossible to decipher the structure of the Periodic Table and the behaviour of elements without a clear understanding of elements, atoms and molecules themselves. The introduction gives an excellent succinct explanation, accessible to most children of eleven plus, before delving into the detail of each element. Bold use of colour helps the reader to understand the groups of elements, their related properties and the implications for the organization of the Periodic Table.
Each element receives a double page spread filled with text boxes containing physical and chemical information as well as facts about its role in the environment, our bodies, technologies and culture. Picking some pages at random, I learnt that the words needed to understand 1000 languages have been etched on to a nickel disk and that tantalum makes excellent bone implants. Selenium is an ingredient of anti-dandruff shampoos and argon can protect damaged brain cells from dying from lack of oxygen. I was genuinely awed by the diverse range of technologies that have been developed from these few elemental building blocks.
I have always been a bit vague about the Lanthanides (rare earth metals) and why so many elements seemingly occupy just one chemical niche in the Periodic Table but I understand now - thanks to the comprehensive explanation given by this book.
Lastly, I would like to comment on how attractive the book is. I believe that the author and illustrator have thought hard about how to make it appealing to every child. The colour coding used throughout is informative rather than merely decorative and never distracts from the scientific content. The same may be said of the handy thumbnails that illustrate the uses of each element. The graphics are neat, clear and modern.
Above all this book will grow with your child. Give it to a young teen interested in STEM subjects and they may still be reading it post GCSE. They may even appreciate that beauty and order I mentioned earlier!
Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Gattaldo, pub. Otter-Barry Books
Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia is the inspirational biography of a courageous human rights journalist. Endorsed by Amnesty International UK, it carries an important message for the entire world.
Daphne was an ordinary little girl in Malta. She grew up believing that she could do anything she set her mind to and, through the power of books, learned to ask questions and think for herself. This little girl grew into a hero who stood up for the truths she believed in and fought against the injustices that marred her country. Even when others were too afraid to stand by her, she continued to speak up and challenge the corruption she saw. She was a leader. Her brave and brilliant example lives on even after her tragic death.
This engaging book shows readers that truth matters. It emphasises the importance of human rights and what they mean to so many people. Issues such as free education, freedom in the press, equal rights, jobs on merit and protecting the planet could easily be taken for granted. Through Daphne’s story, Gattaldo encourages readers to think about how everyone deserves these same rights and how each of us should be true to ourselves and speak up for what we believe in.
The illustrations are just as powerful as the words. Daphne battles evils with the sword of truth as she clearly stands up to corruption and wrongdoing. Images of newspapers and placards reinforce her message and how clearly she spoke out. From the beautiful settings of her youth to the dark images of those she fought against, colours and shadows evoke feelings of positivity, tension and victory.
The story of this strong, female role model is one that needs to be told. Through this book, children will see resilience and determination come to life and be inspired to push forward, never letting fear get in the way of what they want to achieve.
Gods, Goddesses and Heroes: Mythology from Around the World
Marzia Accatino, illus. Laura Brenlla, pub. Lonely Planet Kids
Gods, Goddesses and Heroes is a sacred travel guide, introducing the pantheons and sharing the sacred stories of many ancient and indigenous religions from around the world. Readers cross continents with their guide Chiron the Centaur visiting Greece and Scandinavia in Europe, Egypt in Africa then South Asia and China, and finally central and North America. While some cultures may be more familiar to readers than others, a book such as Gods, Goddesses and Heroes will inevitably add to existing knowledge and present new information.
Each chapter focuses on the mythology of a specific culture, profiling the main deities, heroes and heroines, sacred animals, monsters and other divine beings. There is a brief description of each one. Their characteristics and distinguishing features are presented in a fun and engaging style by the author Marzia Accatino. Moreover, there is sufficient detail for readers to appreciate the connections between these mythological figures and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the religion. Since everything is explained in the main text, there is no need for a glossary. In addition, the text is visually appealing with illustrations in full colour, a number of which extend across double-spreads. The illustrator Laura Brenlla brilliantly caricatures the many different deities, heroes and creatures, helping readers to identify individuals and imagine particularly the less anthropomorphic figures, hybrids and other fantastical creatures. Overall, this book is a very accessible read for children aged 9-12.
Gods, Goddesses and Heroes is particularly notable for its retelling of a number of sacred stories. This includes creation myths, such as the Chinese myth of Nüwa creating animals and the first human being out of loneliness. There are also stories about the cycle of day and night, for example the Inuit story of how a bird called Crow brings daylight or the Norse myth of Dagr and Nótt.
Gods, Goddesses and Heroes is the perfect armchair book tour for young curious readers.
Happy, Healthy Minds: A Children’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing
illus. Lizzy Stewart, pub. The School of Life Press
The School of Life is some kind of curious philosophy organisation that I don’t feel I know enough about. I’ve watched the YouTube videos, walked past the ‘store and classroom’ on central London’s oddly quiet Marchmont Street, browsed the website selling many publications and various merch, noted the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. presence, and am now looking at the orange-canvas-bound children’s book in front of me. At the helm of this global-wide project spreading ‘Wisdom for Resilience’ is Alain de Botton, a sort-of present day public intellectual figure who divides opinion, referred to in a 2014 Financial Times article as having built no less than an ‘empire’ (https://amp.ft.com/content/4c2d3894-dab3-00144feabdc0).
‘The School of Life is dedicated to helping people lead more resilient and fulfilled lives’, says its website, and if sales are anything to go by, it’s doing quite well. I find Happy, Healthy Minds: A Children’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing nice to read: mix of ‘high brow’ and ‘low brow’ references, humorousness-with-just-enough-sincerity, delightful coloured illustrations by Lizzie Stewart that lift optimism levels. As it says on the tin, it navigates (somewhat) the complex organ of the young mind via clear sections – ‘Parents’, ‘Screens’, ‘Feeling Misunderstood’, ‘Friends’, etc. – with a tone pleasingly not dissimilar to the adult-oriented material I’ve seen elsewhere (even if whispers of patronising seem to be (m)uttered by some). To me, this book ‘does something’, and I imagine it potentially welcome curriculum supplement for variously aged children, indeed attested a ‘godsend’ by at least one source (https://schoolreadinglist.co.uk/childrens-book-reviews/happy-healthy-minds). There are even satisfying ‘work pages’ to make a change from Twinkl et. al. I’m no child psychology expert, popular or otherwise, but my ‘gut instinct’ says: quirky, balanced, sunny. Enjoy!
Thiago de Moraes, pub. Scholastic Children’s Books
Following his impressive Myth Atlas of 2019, Thiago de Moraes has compiled another epic this year in his History Atlas. This large, lavishly illustrated book examines fifteen different civilizations, from Mesopotamia almost six thousand years ago (3500BC) to modern day America, via well-known ones such as Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire, to those we may not be familiar with, such as Maurya (India), Tang (China), and Ottoman (Turkey, and many of the areas round the Mediterranean the Romans had conquered earlier). We also look at wider topics, such as European Exploration. This topic includes a wealth of explorers from around the world – though, surprisingly, no mention of the Vikings, and highlights both the good things that resulted (spices, scientific discoveries, maps), and the bad things (slavery, wars, environmental destruction). Exploration is not all wonderful fun though, and he is careful to show that the people already living in these distant lands frequently fought against the newcomers and tried to save their lands and way of life from change and the dominating attitudes of the invaders. There are overviews of more general topics, communication, medicine and the World Wars, and also a section on what he calls The Global World, featuring people, political and social movements and inventions which have made a difference not only in their own country, but around the world. These include twenty-three people, most well-known, but also several who have had a significant impact on lives, but who are shamefully little known.
Thiago de Moraes is an artist, and has added highly entertaining, quirky and memorable illustrations to other people’s books. When he produces both text and illustration, as in both his atlases, we see more clearly what he thinks is essential to the making of a book which will entertain and inform its young readers. Maps, careful illustrations of the environment and accurate, often humorous depictions of the people involved bring the pages to life, with a myriad of facts in separate small paragraphs, and catchy titles to make this an entertaining book for KS1 and 2 readers. I just wish there was an index…
How Many Mice Make An Elephant? And Other Big Questions About Size and Distance
Tracey Turner, illus. Aaron Cushley, pub. Kingfisher
Arguably one of the most useful but difficult skills to teach children is how to estimate an answer to a mathematical problem. What sort of an answer would be sensible? Should they expect a big or a small number? Sometimes estimation will help a child to choose a correct method to solve a problem – they have framed the answer in their head and then know whether to multiply or divide. Teaching this skill is easier when estimation is purely an arithmetical exercise; real life problems involving size, quantity, area and volume are more difficult to explain.
This book is a welcome contribution to demystifying the process. The author uses a selection of silly problems (How many giraffes make a skyscraper?) to help a child to develop the required mental skills. The problem is described, and the solution explained in a clear and engaging way. Hot tips for dealing with large numbers (add the zeros!) are included. The accompanying illustrations and amusing factoids do an excellent job of disguising some serious mathematical content and number buffs get plenty of relevant statistics!
I do have some quibbles:
The useful page on measuring different things would be more relevant at the beginning of the book rather than the end.
It would be helpful to clarify that a larger number results from dividing by a number with a value between 0 and 1. “Divide 6 by 0.000025” (page 10). Children do not understand this intuitively.
The illustration showing the height relationship between Mount Everest and the Mariana Trench has not been drawn to scale.
Lastly, saying that “the moon is roughly a quarter of the size of the Earth at 3,476km in diameter” (page 21) is misleading. A child would not then understand that there would be room for 50 of our moons inside our Earth. The two statements are both factually accurate but there is a lot of GCSE level mathematics to unpack in these connected facts. It would be better to keep it simple!
But despite these gripes, I would heartily recommend this book to children of nine or over and their teachers.
The Human Race
Sean Callery, illus. Donough O’Malley, pub. Quarto
This is a fascinating history of record breakers, explorers and inventors. Who was the first? Who was the fastest? Who went the furthest? Following a brief introduction, the book is divided into five chapters. These start with faster, higher and further and then cover journeys and expeditions, transport and vehicles, science and our world and finally technology.
There is a good mix of facts, human interest and colourful illustrations. As well as giving the factual detail the book looks into our imagination and our constant desire to achieve more and something new. It explores mysteries and new ideas. It covers many important and ground-breaking discoveries and inventions including transport, electricity, disease and computers. It is all very fascinating, and children will love the detail, the facts and all the information and stories. Every chapter has its own fascination and delight, children will want to return to each one again and again.
What really works well is the way the exploits of many famous people are covered, including Christopher Columbus, David Livingstone, Captain Scott, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Isaac Newton. Many discoveries which today we take for granted are included. There is a good mix of text, colourful pictures and the double-page timelines feature throughout the book. These are fascinating and simple to follow. Many of the discoveries are about humans wanting to challenge themselves to go faster or to explore the limits of the Earth, but others are about some very important and life changing discoveries that we all rely on today.
Children will be entertained by this book, and at the same time will learn a lot of fascinating and amazing detail about a wealth of topics. They will want to return again and again. Each page will probably challenge them to ask questions and want to learn more. This is a brilliant book.
Interview with a Tiger and Other Clawed Beasts Too
Andy Seed, illus. Nick East, pub. Welbeck Publishing
The question-and-answer format of this book offers an unusual style for a non-fiction book. The result is a light-hearted, jovial and charming read with a comical streak characteristic of other books by the author. Inside are ten ‘interviews’ with a range of animals, some more familiar than others. While children may feel they have good knowledge of lions and tigers they may not know so much about honey badgers and armadillos. The interviews are packed with facts about habitats, diet and behaviours with each animal having their own voice; the tone of the interview with the giant anteater is very laid back compared to the confident address of the lion. The illustrations are bright, engaging and match the feel of the interviews well.
This is a book that children can dip in and out of and refer back to with ease. For this reason, it may appeal to reluctant readers or those not quite ready for a heavy non-fiction read. Up to date references of Greta Thunberg and climate change help to make this book feel relevant plus there is a quiz and a ‘how you can help’ section for those mindful of the impact on endangered species - a topic that comes up a few times in the book. Nature gripped pre-schoolers and upwards would enjoy this book.
Andy Seed is well known for his comical writings on wildlife and nature and this is a great addition to his other books. This is a lovely book that will entertain readers young and old. The next in the series interviews Ocean Giants and looks to be a fantastic follow up due out next year.
Love Your Body
Jessica Sanders, illus. Carol Rossetti, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's Books
It makes me so happy to see that such amazing body positive books are now available to growing minds. Right in front of me is this joyful yellow hardcover book with different body types on its jacket, which when you unfurl you discover a self-care list poster!
Love Your Body by advocate and social worker Jessica Sanders and illustrator Carol Rossetti is a must read for pre- and post-pubescent kids to relish the fact that their unique self is lovable and should be celebrated. The book is written in a gender-neutral manner so that anyone can identify with its motivational messages.
The book begins with a note from the author to all girls being subjected to unrealistic beauty standards in a digital world. Readers move on to see little girls having a good time together as friends, sisters and supporters. The message that "Your body is unique" pops up loud and clear.
This 40-page peppy book takes the readers through a journey of cultivating more self-love through simple psychological and physical practices which children of 8 years and above can easily incorporate in their daily lives, such as this one-
"Put on your favourite tunes REALLY LOUD and dance crazily just for you!"
Or this one,
"Search for positive quotes until you find one that has meaning for you. Print it out or write it down, and keep it with you. Look at it when you're feeling down."
The book is full of powerful illustrations depicting not only body types, but also sisterhood, celebration, intuitive communication with the body, community support and importance of a holistic lifestyle including physical, mental and social well-being.
This is a must read for those young and of a developing mind but also by adults who were devoid of such loving guidance in their childhoods, to empower their own inner children.
Me and the World: An Infographic Exploration
Mireia Trius, illus. Joana Casals, pub. Abrams & Chronicle Books
Me and the World: An Infographic Exploration is a bright and colourful compendium of infographics that provide visual comparisons of how people live all over the world, what food they eat, their homes, favourite pastimes and ways of communicating, highlighting the differences and similarities. The sources for the data for each spread are listed at the back of the book providing opportunities for the reader to check them for themselves.
Each double-page spread is introduced by the fictional character Lucia who comes from Spain, written by the publisher Mireia Trius. Starting with her name, family and pet Lucia moves on to talk about world population and significant cultural features such as languages, jobs, school and religion. Children can explore what life is like for Lucia in Spain compared to where they live and the rest of the world. The data is presented in interesting, visually stimulating ways which every reader can spend hours exploring. The infographics will engage the most reluctant reader as they are able to browse the pages in any order.
It was fascinating to discover that Hong Kong has the smallest average house sizes at 45m² compared to Australia which has the largest average house size at 214m²; or to compare the different school uniforms around the world and noticing very few of them wear ties and blazers; or view age, geography and language as if here were only 100 people in the world, which really does put things in perspective.
This would be an excellent resource for introducing the study of data and statistics to Key Stage Two pupils and would also be great for discussion points in PSHE and Citizenship. It would also be a good way of introducing the use of different keys and different graphical ways data can be presented. This book provides the foundations to help children recognise how data can be manipulated by presenting it in different ways, such as changing to vertical scale to make it bigger or smaller, or skipping numbers, not starting at zero, which is an important skill in our increasingly digital world.
Music and How it Works: The Complete Guide for Kids
Charlie Morland, illus. David Humphries, pub. DK Children
Music and How it Works: The Complete Guide for Kids provides answers to questions such as, why do we like music, do animals like music, how sound is made and what animal can produce the highest pitch? It provides a very comprehensive look at music and everything involved in creating and listening to music. For example children can discover more about the seven ingredients of music: rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, tibre, texture and form. It discusses reading music and the different notes as well as explaining sharps and flats, intervals, tones and semitones and octaves.
This book provides opportunities for children to discover their own love of music by looking at scales, chords and keys, different instruments and different genres such as opera, blues, rock and hip-hop to K-pop and electronic music. The author, Charlie Morland, includes ‘playlists’ of key pieces encouraging the children to look up pieces of music to listen to themselves. There is also an insightful look behind the scenes at the process of the music industry.
The vibrant, modern feel using bright colours, photographs and infographics will appeal to children of all ages. I particularly liked the way this book clearly explains the psychology and math behind music, how it can affect our mood and improve our minds and the research into the Mozart Effect. At the back of the book is a musical timeline which gives a breakdown of music throughout history from the first percussion to using streaming apps such as Spotify.
This is the ideal book for anyone who is interested in music whether that is listening to their favourites, or learning an instrument, or writing and composing their own songs from the introduction to the final chorus. It is guaranteed to help children to develop a deep passion for music. The perfect addition for all school libraries.
Our World in Pictures, Countries, Cultures, People and Places
Andrea Mills, pub. DK
I have always been intrigued by maps and countries around the world, their relationship to each other and the people who live in the smallest corners. This hard backed volume will entice readers to discover new places, cultures and locations around the world. Every single country is represented and unique information about each is included along with full colour images of the people, sports, food and flags. Set within the continents and not alphabetical order you can find out about the neighboring countries. Beginning with North America, we travel across Canada, The USA and down into the Caribbean countries before journeying South to South America and then East to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, finally ending in the Polar Regions. Many of the countries have a large double page spread with fascinating facts dominating the page, from population statistics to language spoken and landscape information. Admittedly, I do not know every country in the world and certainly could not list facts about many of the ones I do know so this book is a gold mine of information for young readers and would-be travellers. DK are widely known for their incredible non-fiction books, and this is one to add to any classroom or school book order. I could also see this being popular at home while discussing where to visit or testing each other on the Alphabet Country Game. I could easily spend hours reading about each place and flipping back to the map to gain a better understanding of where they are in relation to me or friends and family.
Susan Martineau, illus. Vicky Barker, pub. B Small Publishing
In a world where we are bombarded by information, it is important to recognise what is true, what is false and what is misinformation, Question Everything: An Investigator’s Toolkit deals with this crucial issue.
Covering essential topics such as the news, checking facts and sources, analysing statistics, scary headlines, out-of-date information and more, this book is easy-to-read and very accessible. Each topic is presented on a dual page spread with lots of illustrations, and a good use of different fonts and colours to engage the reader.
There’s a glossary explaining words relating to the specific topic as well as an overall glossary at the end of the book, activities to explore it further, and questions to stimulate discussion encouraging children to think for themselves.
This basic introduction to information literacy, independent research and critical thinking is ideal for KS2 (7 to 11-year olds), it would be a useful addition to a school library and an excellent resource for PHSE. Book 3 in the Real-Life series, the other two books cover Real-Life Disasters and Real-Life Mysteries.
Real Life Disasters
Susan Martineau, illus. Vicky Barker, pub. B Small Publishing
Real Life Disasters investigates thrilling and horrifying stories of natural and human-made disasters. A wide variety of incidences that have occurred throughout history is featured including - volcanic eruptions; earthquakes; storms, floods and tornadoes; oil rig fires; dinosaur extinction; deadly plagues; and shipwrecks. Why do disasters happen? Can they be predicted? Can they be prevented? All these questions and more are explored.
Each disaster is presented on a dual page spread with a stunning and dramatic illustrative representation of the event and details explaining what happened and when. This is followed by a dossier containing a timeline, eyewitness statements and views of expert investigators. There is also an exploration into the tragedy, suggestions on what to do in a natural disaster and changes made to laws as a result of human-made errors. Ideal for 7 to 11-year olds, disasters is ‘one of those’ topics that appeals to many children and this book would certainly not disappoint them. Book 2 in the Real-Life series, the other two books cover Real Life Mysteries and Question Everything.
The Secret Life of Spies
Michael Noble, illus. Alexander Mostov, pub. Wide Eyed Editions
The opening sentence states that “espionage is one of the oldest human activities ever to have existed. Spies from across the globe have shaped and changed the world, often in surprising ways”.
This fascinating book delves into the world of spies – covering the true stories of 20 real-life spies through history and across continents. From Ancient China through to modern USA, the featured spies are diverse and varied. Some are familiar names – such as Kim Philby and Mata Hari - but many are unknown and obscure, adding to their allure.
Each spy features on a double-page spread, with basic biographical details and information about their activities as well as the impact and effect they had. Their actions are put into context of the history of the time and there are also additional snippets such as spying technology, trade craft, agent handling and fictional spies.
The illustrations are simplistic and in muted colours with information presented in boxes on the page. The font is small but clear and readable.
This is a captivating and informative non-fiction book that will intrigue and engage. I would have liked a contents page and possibly an index but the omission of these does not detract from the appeal of the book.
Space Maps: Your Tour of the Universe
Lara Albanese, illus. Tommaso Vidus Rosin, pub. What on Earth Books
We have street maps, road maps, town and city maps and of course atlases so that we can find our way around the world under our feet but how would our astronauts find their way around the vastness that is space without a map to hand? This is where Space Maps lends a very helpful hand. Not only does it help out those astronauts it helps us, the reader back on earth too.
Space is home to planets, moons, stars, galaxies, black holes, nebulae and more besides, the universe is a very big place to keep track of and to do that these maps are ideal. They are big, the book being a large A3 size one, they are vibrant and they are detailed. Not only is there detail on the maps themselves there are plenty of facts to accompany them too. Each of the 24 maps comes complete with a vast selection of detail to learn from.
Start from the beginning of history as well as the book, and learn how the ancient Greeks and Chinese mapped the sky, see the difference between a scientific map and an equatorial one. Learn about journey’s that have been taken into and across space by people and animals. I could go on, so much has been packed into this book and though it has found a place on my bookshelf I have a feeling it will be spending more time off than on as we devour the facts and shoot off for another exploration of our universe.
This Book is Anti-Racist
Tiffany Jewell, illus. Aurélia Durand, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's Books
This enlightening work comes with a purpose of awakening all to anti-racism. Black bi-racial writer and Montessori teacher Tiffany Jewell along with French illustrator Aurélia Durand, have collaborated on creating this powerful book which dismantles the evil of racism by propagating knowledge and sharing tools for that purpose.
This 160-paged vibrant booklet has glossy and thick pages which remind the readers to be aware. To know the linguistic, political, academic jargons and actions which are etched in the trajectory of racism. The book deconstructs the patterns in which we all have been mired by exposing them, and by the simple action of awareness through some activities of acknowledgement and resistance.
Divided into four sections, it talks about topics like Social Identity, Prejudice, Black History, Solidarity, Loving Oneself and different types of Racisms. Interspersed in between are quotes and ideas from influential poets, academicians, and writers. This black book will acquaint you with the most needed political vocabulary which will be your intellectual and ideological weapon against the unjust evil of racism.
It's written in a manner which is easy to understand and remember, supported by colourful illustrations which clicks in the mind - such as this powerful affirmation accompanying faces of famous black personages-
"The history we carry with us is in each and every one of us. You will make your ancestors proud. You are a part of their stories of resistance. You will move us forward."
The activities in the book helps one become thoughtful about events implicitly supporting racism, such as one reminding readers to chart out their histories, and another one beckoning to create an 'anti-racism toolbox'. The use of gender neutral and deconstructivist terms like 'black, brown, indigenous majority, instead of minority, and use of the inclusive word folx makes this an important work to be read and shared with everyone aged 12 and above.
This has been one of the most important books I've read till date on the subject of racism written for children. It brings into conversation all the subtleties and blaring injustices wrought by racism; it takes steps to educate, empower and enlighten budding minds and those closed off by mundanity of oppressive systems into an enkindled and aware one. Definitely recommended.
Tricky Spellings in Cartoons for Children
Lidia Stanton, pub. Jessica Kingsley
Short, self-contained illustrations of commonly difficult to grasp spellings for primary school children. Years 2 to 4 will probably benefit most. I’ve not tested the book out and have reviewed it from a pdf, which are both worth mentioning.
I read the American edition, which appears fairly completely translocated (with eg spelling and idiom adjustments). I’ve compared contents lists and spot-checked pages and feel happy talking about the book in general.
My major misgiving: representation. The short-cut assessment is that it feels dated. It may be the British edition is different, I hope so, all learning materials need to be more active in this regard than this. Also, the title too directly shouts the book’s function to the buyer and thereby puts off its readers. Simply ‘Tricky Words’ would’ve been so much better.
Moving on, the trick in any learning material is that its objectives get met before their user tires of them. Given that the subject is tricky spellings, I’d expect the user to have to hang around longer than is typical, so the book will need to work especially hard.
Design’s important. The book’s clean and open, so it’s not wearying to use. Typography is attractive, colours are lively and crisp. Altogether good. Marks lost for an inconsistent art style and repetition, which make a book of this kind feel more thrown together and less confidence-inspiring. The art generally lacks personality. The art is the weak point from a teaching point of view. It needs to be more engaging than it is, just for its ability to encourage perseverance.
On balance, I feel the good aspects more than compensate. Tone is very difficult to get right in these situations, and Stanton nails it. The narrative elements to the exercises are varied and memorable, and when they (not that often) mis-step, it’s an art problem rather than a writing problem. I think all the words you’d like to see covered appear. It’s a smooth, enjoyable read.
So: is the book likely to get the job done before its readers get tired of it? I think in most cases yes, it’s an effective book.
Am I comfortable using it? Yes and no. It’s no more problematic than many of the things I’ve seen in a school or public library, but from a new book I’d expect more, and I think I’d have got more if there’d been more money in the budget for the artwork. It feels very much like a home-made collection of exercises that work. See it before you buy it, but I’d say it’s worth seeing.
What’s the Issue: Fake News
Tom Jackson, illus. Cristina Guitian, pub. QED
Fake News is a book that every young person, and many grown-ups, ought to read. Every school library ought to have this resource in stock and anybody trying to explain this very topical subject should be aware of it. Clear and informative, attractively presented and incredibly relevant, this book outlines the history of communication from the development of speech to Web 2.0 and how, at various levels and in many ways, its use has served purposes beyond that of sharing facts and knowledge.
An amazing amount of information is provided in each chapter, which reveals a thorough process of research and selection of relevant knowledge useful to define what fake news is and how readers can build critical skills necessary to assess news.
The prose of the book is highly readable. The layout of each page is appealing to the young audience, as it is divided into zones and with recurring questions which summarise a relevant aspect of the topic of the chapter. Quirky illustrations complement each chapter and add a touch of colourful humour.
I was impressed by the wide-reaching treatment of this topic. The author deals with equal ease with the history of the written word as well as philosophical theories, technological developments and moral issues. Terminology which peppers current conversation is explained and ‘who’s who’ and what’s what’ small boxes recur to provide further insight when appropriate.
This book equips readers with insights that allow them to evaluate the extent to which some sources and news may be biased or not genuine altogether. At the end of the book a mind map offers a strong visual recap of the contents of the book, while the ‘find out more’ section is eclectic and includes books, podcasts, websites, games and even museums.
Wild City: Meet the Animals Who Share Our City Spaces
Ben Hoare, illus. Lucy Rose, pub. Macmillan Children’s Books
Wild City explores the urban jungle that is found in our cities and towns, looking at some of the animals that can be found in the areas within which we live, often not far from our doorsteps. The book has an international approach and explores ports and parks, rivers and canals, subways and gardens across six continents including: Vancouver and Aspen in North America, Rio de Janeiro in South America, London and Berlin in Europe, Cape Town in Africa, Tokyo and Mumbai in Asia, and Sydney in Australia amongst others. Each location is identified on a map to place it within the world. There’s a lot to look at and explore at each site and the information provided includes a brief description of the setting and fascinating facts about the highlighted animals. I’m not sure that those who travel by London Underground would be pleased to learn that it’s frequented by cellar spiders and mosquitoes!
There are also features on specific animals such as city birds, hunters in the city, scavengers, around the home, animals on the move and cities by night. Bringing geography and nature together, this book has great appeal for children wanting to know more about their natural environment. Its attractive and detailed illustrations in warm natural shades have an art deco feel to them and author, Ben Hoare, is an award-winning and authoritative nature nerd who has written for the BBC and the Natural History Museum. Recommended for ages 7 – 11 years, it could also be shared with younger children interested in animals.
The World’s Most Magnificent Machines
David Long, illus. Simon Tyler, pub. Faber & Faber
Wow! What an amazing, mind blowing book. This is an absolutely thrilling look at thirty -two of the most fantastic and incredible machines. Some of these machines really are brilliant. Others are just plain bonkers. Some are really useful and many are very successful. Others are for fun and some are just useless. Every single machine featured is definitely magnificent.
The double page timeline at the beginning of the book starts from 1885, when Karl Benz built the first motor car. The timeline stretches to 2020 and includes the most expensive and most complicated machine ever made, probably the Saturn V rocket. It finishes with a small car that flies with room for just two people on board. There is also a glimpse into the future with a giant aircraft which has twenty-eight wheels and six engines, built to launch rockets into space. This should be an extraordinary sight when testing is complete.
The book is packed with facts and figures as well as brilliant and atmospheric artwork spread over two pages. It covers the longest, the smallest, the first and the most expensive machines. It is also very much about the humans involved in the development of these machines. We always want to drive faster, fly higher or dive deeper. All this is covered in the book and the result is a quite fantastic and really amazing non-fiction book, which should appeal to a wide age range.
The combination of facts, the human element and the striking artwork all combine to produce this most impressive of books, which children will want to return to again and again. The format is good, with a comprehensive contents page, an introduction, the timeline, the thirty-two machines and finally a short conclusion and a comprehensive and useful glossary.