Non-Fiction Book Reviews

1 to 20 Animals Aplenty

Kate Viggers, pub. Laurence King Publishing

Kate Viggers has a very special skill. Not only is she able to write sparsely in words that rhyme and stay in the mind after they have been read but she is lucky enough to be able to illustrate her words with pictures which have made my readers and I smile almost as much, if not more, than we did at the words!

 

This is a counting book encouraging children to go beyond the traditional 1 to 10 and get all the way to 20 … can your little ones do it? It’s certainly a challenge but it is a very good one and will stretch children in the best possible way. The text is simple and very easy to remember with its gentle rhymes and the illustrations deserving more than one look. We needed more than one look, one to see the animal and then another to double check what we thought we might have seen on first view – some little, very quirky addition. What do I mean? Well we begin with 1 fox in a pair of socks, now when we looked at the picture there was most certainly a fox. But look again and you will quickly see the socks – what a silly fox! 

 

We also loved the way in which the colours used for the important words in the text – perhaps the words we want our young readers to learn – are reflected in the colours of the illustration. Therefore, whilst learning to count children can also learn, and be helped to learn, about colours. Aside from the number 1 fox children can also meet snakes and cakes, ants and pants, frogs, dogs, kangaroos, pigs, cats and more besides – certainly Animals Aplenty!

 

A charming, clever, funny and educational book that comes highly recommended.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

A is for Avocado

illus. Carolyn Suzuki, pub. Ladybird Books

With a fruit or vegetable for almost every letter of the alphabet [v is for vegetarian or vegan], this bright and breezy small format hardback provides an introduction to plant power for young children. 

 

The choice of words has been taken from around the world, helping to make familiar some words, fruits and vegetables that the reader may not be aware of and giving an understanding of what people in other countries and cultures eat. At the same time familiar fruit and vegetables will encourage children to want to know more and maybe even to try!

 

A simple definition with each letter, fruit or vegetable, gives sometimes quirky facts, which should provoke some discussion and further research. Did you know, for example, that there are over sixty species of mushroom which glow in the dark? 

 

No recipes or preparation guidelines are given but this could provoke a shopping expedition and culinary explorations. 

 

An alternative, vibrant alphabet book to inspire healthy eating.

 

Jayne Gould

The Bat Book

Charlotte Milner, pub. DK Children’s Books

This is the third book in the series by award-winning author and illustrator, Charlotte Milner, which highlights some of the important ecological issues facing our planet; the other two books being The Bee Book and The Sea Book

 

Bats are the only mammals that can fly and are part of several ecosystems including rainforests, deserts and savannas; this book will delight anyone interested in bats as it contains a plethora of facts on every page. Readers can discover what is a bat, where they live, the various types of bats, their anatomy, what they eat and how they find food. 

 

They will also learn about the secret world of bats and the important role they play in keeping the world healthy by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and eating insects that damage crops. We also find out about why they are in decline from various threats, how to help them and what to do to create a bat friendly garden. 

 

The book is in a landscape format with playful drawings and annotated illustrations. Text is presented in small sections with facts broken down into bullet points for easy understanding, all featured on coloured backgrounds. An unusual topic and an excellent addition to the series. 

 

Barbara Band

Big Green Crocodile

Jane Newberry, illus. Carolina Rabei, pub. Otter-Barry Books

Action rhymes are a great way to bond with and entertain babies and toddlers and are a vital part of childhood, aiding development and language skills. This delightful book ticks all the above boxes. Many new parents may not know some of the more traditional rhymes told to children, it is now understood that these need to be revived if they are to be remembered however there is no harm in introducing new ones for a new generation and that is just what Big Green Crocodile does and does well.

 

Written by experienced playgroup leader Jane Newberry, the book features sixteen new, fresh and exciting rhymes. There are jungle creatures, farm animals, buzzy bees, big green crocodiles and more to encourage interaction and lots of giggles. 

 

The rhymes are intended to reflect a toddler’s day from morning, playtime to being out and about, then on to bath and bedtime. Clear instructions for parents or carers are given for each rhyme. The accompanying illustrations are cheerful, friendly and full of detail to give an added dimension to the book. 

 

The perfect present for a new baby (and maybe the parents too).


Jayne Gould

Darwin’s Rival. Alfred Russell Wallace and the Search for Evolution

Christine Dorion, illus. Harry Tennant, pub. Walker Studio

January 1823.  Alfred Russell Wallace was born in an English village that is now a part of Wales, born into a time of great change amidst the industrial revolution, discovery and invention. Maybe fate played a part in what he was to become but his early life was one that was sheltered from the enormous change taking place around him instead his was a childhood spent exploring the countryside. His family were fortunate – they had books to read and they were able to attend school but at the age of 14 he had to leave and get work to help the family survive. By 1837 Alfred was working with his brother to learn a trade as a surveyor and this work saw them travelling the country. During this time he developed his interests in nature. And so his story develops and as we read we learn more about William, his inspirations and his travels.

 

With a relatively full text this is most certainly a book for the teenage reader who can cope with the amount of material yet at the same time text boxes, annotated pictures and other added elements allow access to younger, interested readers. The facts are numerous, the story biographical and informative, the illustration stylish and grown-up, almost water colour painting in its style.

 

This is a book that teaches, fascinates and draws in the reader. It is likely that few will know that Darwin’s rival was so significant, many may not even know who he was. For naturalists, scientists, historians this book paints a vivid picture and is simply fascinating. We see pictures of the discoveries Alfred Wallace Russell made. We see the places he travelled to. We understand the discoveries he made. Hopefully this book will help more of us to understand how significant Wallace is and was. Hopefully this book will inspire further study, research and even some budding naturalists.

 

Truly stunning.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

Discovering Energy

Johannes Hirn and Veronica Sanz, illus. Eduard Altarriba, pub. Button Books

A rather delightful book that introduces the different ways of creating, measuring, harnessing and transforming energy. Authors, Hirn and Sanz, are well-qualified in the arenas of physics and engineering, and the graphic-design background of award-winning illustrator, Altarriba, is obvious in the layout and format of the pages. 

 

The book looks at the historical aspects of energy through to current means of generating and using it. A clear contents page allows easy identification of topics which range from what is energy and different types of energy as well as covering environmental aspects such as pollution. There are sections on fossil fuels, electricity, water and wind power, thermal energy, solar energy and nuclear fusion. It also explores the practical use of energy via windmills, steam engines, water wheels, batteries, dams, engines and grids covering both past methods as well as more contemporary applications and future possibilities. 

 

Descriptions and explanations are simple and concise. Small blocks of text using different fonts for interest are broken up with annotated pictures, dynamic illustrations and cut-away diagrams in a muted colour palette. 

 

This is an excellent book for both introducing the subject as well as allowing those interested to explore it further. An index would have been useful, but the comprehensive contents page makes the information easily accessible.

 

Barbara Band

Empire’s End – A Roman Story

Leila Rasheed, pub. Scholastic Children’s Books

Camilla, a young North African girl, travels with her mother and father from Leptis Magna in Libya to Rome. She is excited about this move away from home. She is moving from Rome, the centre of the Empire to a town further away, still significant but not as important. Things are about to change again when the family are then sent on a danger-filled journey to Britannia. The move is now to the outer edges of the Empire, so that her father, a doctor, can be an aide to Septimus Severus, originally from Libya, and his powerful, influential, Syrian wife, Julia Domna.

 

Tragedy strikes on the way and Camilla finds herself separated from her family, having to navigate life in Roman Britain in a world full of secrets and intrigue. Set in 207AD, this is a gripping and fast-paced adventure story with a theme of slavery and woven with historical facts. 

 

Empire’s End is book 4 in the Voices series, a series of fictional non-fiction books which are based on real life stories about authentic unsung heroes and showcase the range of people that have populated the UK throughout time. 

 

The characters are diverse and the author’s childhood, spent growing up in Libya, brings a realistic feel to the details.  

 

Barbara Band

Everybody has a Body

Jon Burgerman, pub. Oxford Children’s Books

My daughter would like to magic away some of her 5’ 11” inches, I (still) occasionally yearn for longer legs. Why do we inflict this anxiety on ourselves? We are not alone. And yet, the message should be so simple. We are all made differently and if our bodies work we should be thankful, enjoy them and treat them well. 

 

Everybody has a Body is a valuable introduction to the topic of body positivity for young children. (Ages 2-6) Young children do notice the differences between individuals but are not generally judgemental. This age of innocent acceptance does not last for long; by age eight many children will believe that their bodies are inadequate in some way and for a few this will lead to tragic consequences. 

 

I read this book aloud to children in Reception and Year 1 classes and it went down a storm. Wisely, the author uses non-human, genderless ‘monsters’ to teach us that we are all different and these differences make us individual and beautiful. The children loved the humour provided by this ‘Mr Men’ approach and exploring the logical endpoints of the author’s caricatures. Some of the vocabulary was new to Reception children: ‘weak’ ‘narrow’ ‘tough’. This was a useful reminder that many basic words are best introduced through the simple rhyming text the author uses. Covert messages that girls can be muscular, and that being in a wheelchair doesn’t preclude arm strength were seized upon by Year 1s. Other lively discussions were prompted by the illustrations - we decided that sport is available to everybody no matter what their size or shape. 

 

I was very impressed with how readily the children accepted the author’s message until one little girl wished sadly that she had a tail. She wanted to be a mermaid.  You can’t win ‘em all!

 

Katherine Wilson

Fearless: How to be Your True, Confident Self

Liam Hackett, pub. Scholastic Children’s Books

Fearless is a practical handbook aimed at helping young people gain the confidence to be themselves. The book is written by Liam Hackett founder and Chief Executive Officer of the global youth charity Ditch the Label. This is a digital charity, widely respected for its work on anti-bullying and support of young people aged 12-25 years old across the UK, USA and Mexico.

 

Fearless addresses seven fears affecting young people today, which are the titles for each chapter. The seven fears and chapters are: ‘Fear of being yourself’, ‘Fear of being judged’, ‘Fear of not fitting in’, ‘Fear of your emotions’, ‘Fear of expressing yourself’, ‘Fear of being a failure’ and ‘Fear of not being good enough’.

 

Each chapter begins with exercises encouraging the reader to reflect upon who they are and what society expects. These social prejudices and stereotypes, that Liam Hackett refers to as ‘labels’ and ‘invisible boxes’ can be helpful, but he also notes can be harmful if they constrain us from being who we want to be and stop us from doing what we want to do. Such labels and invisible boxes are significantly gendered, something he examines throughout the book. Chapters continue with an informed explanation of each fear, drawing upon insights from psychology, biological understanding of how our bodies react as well as historical social change. Finally, there is plenty of good advice and practical strategies to tackle this fear, such as a succinct ‘Top Ten Tips’ section.

 

The strength of Fearless however is its inclusion of real people’s real-life experiences of these fears. There is an ‘Ask Liam’ section in which Liam addresses the concern of a young person. In the introduction and throughout the book, Liam Hackett refers to his experience of being bullied and which eventually inspired him to found Ditch the Label. There are also life stories from Sam Renke (actress and disability activist), Adam Pearson (disability rights campaigner, actor and presenter), Genny Tura (head of support at Ditch the Label), Jacob Blyth (professional footballer), Jake Graf (transgender writer, actor and director), Vicki Shotbolt (founder of website, Parent Zone), and Michelle Elman (body confidence coach) as well as a host of others. Perhaps, most importantly, they have all survived and are successful!

 

Fearless presents in a lively, engaging format three key messages for me. 

(1) Don’t be boxed in by society.  

(2) You are not alone: there are many like-minded people.  

(3) You and society can change.

 

In the language of this book, young people’s fears are ‘smashed’ to live a ‘fearless’ life.

 

Simon Barrett

Flower Power: The Magic of Nature's Healers

illus. Olaf Hajek, text by Christine Paxmann, pub. Prestel

Olaf Hajek is an acclaimed artist whose illustrations have featured in such publications as, The Financial Times, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. Flower Power: The Magic of Nature's Healers is his first venture into children's books, a collaboration with writer Christine Paxmann who provides the accompanying text. 

 

It is a sumptuous book. The colours are vibrant; the imagery so vivid, whimsical, and layered you feel you are being transported into a fantastical adventure set within a magical world. There are a total of seventeen botanical illustrations of flowers and plants. Each one is accompanied by its own unique story, revealing cultural and medicinal facts in an engaging and enthusiastic voice. Did you know that if you see a red poppy nestling in a field of crops, it's a good indication that the farmer has limited their use of insecticides? Or that the artichoke is used in the treatment of heart disease, high cholesterol and digestive problems? And the dandelion's nickname of wet-a-bed came from its use to treat urinary problems? But there are also interesting tales on how these plants were woven into mythology.

 

The book is large in format (27cm by 35.5cm), set in double-page spreads. It gives the illustrations a grandeur, perfectly showcasing their lively flamboyance. Hajek's style is very much inspired by his love of the Renaissance, fairy tales and folk art, and these motifs feature heavily. His decision to paint the plants as if on wooden panels (as explained in the endnotes) is to deliberately give each page the feeling of an old painting. It does more than that, it lends the book the mystery of an old treasure.  

 

This is a beautiful gift, perfect for browsing and returning to time and time again. Suitable for ages 7 to 12.

 

Matilde Sazio

Get Ahead in Physics

Tom Whipple, illus. James Davies, pub. Walker Books

‘Ughhhhh!  Physics!’ is an all too frequent moan in my house as my daughter builds up to her GCSE exam. This book is aimed at all those children who share my daughter’s grudge; it aims to delight and educate in roughly equal measure. Sensibly, the author does not pretend that this book is a substitute for the hard work of learning equations or getting to grips with speed/time graphs. (It isn’t). Instead he hopes that his breezy overview will demystify and consolidate the basics and just possibly inspire a greater interest in the subject. (It might.)

 

There is just one problem: few disenchanted 15/16-year-olds would make the effort to read it.  It’s a shame because this book is well written, accessible and illustrated with mostly funny cartoons. I particularly liked the chapters on the ‘Theory of Matter’ and ‘Energy’. The historical stories do indeed entertain and lighten the learning load but the diagrams, however, are sometimes inadequate - too old school textbook. I would have sent the reader off to a YouTube animation to learn the differences between transverse and longitudinal waves and how an electric motor works. 

 

There is a mistake/misprint too on page 69 where gamma radiation is referred to as an ‘electromagnetic proton’. Surely the author means ‘photon’? In any case, I would have preferred the term ‘gamma ray/ wave’. It ties in with the terminology used for other topics in the book. 

 

I would give this book to a bright, curious younger child (11-13) to whet their appetite for the subject. A fourteen-year-old exhibiting early signs of physics phobia could be bribed to read it. Lastly, any parent who needs to nurse a reluctant teenager through the GCSE process, would find it invaluable - an excellent refresher course. GCSE physics - bring it on!

 

Katherine Wilson

Hoot and Howl Across the Desert

Vassilili Tzomaka, pub. Thames & Hudson

Hoot and Howl investigates fifteen deserts across the world exploring a range of animals and plants, looking at how they adapt and survive in the harshest of environments. Many assume that deserts are hot dry places with lots of sand but the definition of a desert is that it has less than 250mm of rain a year, and I was surprised to learn that they cover almost a third of the Earth’s surface! 

 

Readers are taken from the freezing lands of the Arctic and Antarctic, through the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of North America, the Atacama and Patagonian deserts of South America, visit the Gobi in Asia, the Arabian and Thar deserts, not forgetting the Sahara, Namib and Kalahari in Africa plus numerous deserts in Australia. All these are identified on a world map and each desert features on a double-page spread. 

 

Information is delivered in bite-sized chunks and there are also pages devoted to particular aspects of desert life such as nocturnal animals, an oasis, the creation of sand dunes and venomous animals. The highlight of this book, though, is the stunning illustrations. The front cover gives a hint of what’s inside with its vibrant vivid colours and these are continued inside with illustrations created using patterns from indigenous cultures around the world giving the whole thing a Naïve folk-art feel. 

 

Absolutely gorgeous – and stunning end papers too!

 

Barbara Band

Lift-The-Flap Questions and Answers About Plastic

Katie Daynes, illus. Marie-Eve Tremblay, pub. Usborne

An extremely topical book from Usborne that provides a simple introduction to the world of plastic – the nine chapters cover what it is, who invented it, how it is made, why and where we use plastic, why it is a problem, various recycling methods, and how we can reduce our use of the material. 

 

This sturdy book is in the familiar lift-the-flap format with over sixty flaps; pages feature bright and interesting illustrations with information presented in the form of quirky questions on flaps with the answers underneath. The illustrations are diverse and inclusive, with female scientists and men shopping. 

 

This is an excellent approach as it entices curiosity and enables readers to attempt answers based on their existing knowledge before checking to see if they are correct. The amount of information the book contains is deceptive – there’s a lot! - any reader would gain useful facts and figures about the topic from this book which could be used for general browsing and dipping into or to support individual as well as classroom projects. I discovered that more and more packaging is being made from mushrooms, that there are seven types of plastic, and that most plastic can only be recycled once. Also, unsurprisingly, the world’s big drinks and snacks companies produce the most plastic litter. 

 

A great book for young eco-warriors.

 

Barbara Band

The Miracle of Hanukkah

Malachy Doyle, illus. Christopher Corr, pub. Bloomsbury Education

The Miracle of Hanukkah is a picture book that explains the origins of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. 

 

The story explains that after King Antiochus went to war with the people of Judea and Samaria, he destroyed their temple and insisted the people worship him. The people of Judea bravely fought back and drove the invaders away. However, when they went to relight the altar flame in the Temple they discovered they only had enough oil to keep it burning for a single night. Deciding that one night was better than none, they light it and are amazed when the oil lasts for eight whole days and nights; long enough for them to make more oil. 

 

Since this time and this series of events the Jewish people have celebrated Hanukkah in memory of this. During the festival of Hanukkah, which falls in November or December every year, they light a Menorah candle, share food and music, and exchange gifts.

 

The Miracle of Hanukkah is a simple retelling that introduces young children to Hanukkah. The pictures are bold, vibrant and unpretentious, perfectly illustrating both historical and modern Judaism. They seamlessly accompany the text which highlights many of the traditions associated with the celebration. An excellent book to share with children and one that will add diversity to any school library. 

 

Barbara Band

The Missing

Michael Rosen, pub. Walker Books

Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009, is probably best known for his poetry for children (but just as relevant to adults), and his stories for young readers. Both are usually comic, but frequently have a serious point to put. One or two of his books are factual, and describe real events, and how those events made him feel. The Sad Book is an example of that, written after the sudden death of one of his sons. The Missing is another, published in January to coincide with remembrance of the Holocaust. 

 

At just over a hundred pages, this small hardback outlines Rosen’s lengthy search for information about relatives from his extended family in Europe who went ‘missing’ during the Second World War. Born in 1946, the year after that war ended, Rosen had grown up on the outskirts of London, regularly visiting his maternal grandparents who lived in Hackney, part of a thriving Jewish community, and his paternal grandmother in east London. From them he discovered that various uncles, aunts and cousins had been living in Poland and France in the early years of the war but had disappeared by 1945. 

 

Growing up, Rosen heard these tales, and he gradually began to understand what happened to European Jews, and other groups deemed non-Aryan by the Nazis. He became determined to ‘find’ his missing European family. Aimed at upper KS2 and KS3 readers (for the latter, study of the Holocaust is compulsory in school), Rosen writes in a simple style, clearly explaining the ideology behind Nazism, the processes which led to the removal of Jewishness, and the ultimate fate of millions of ‘non-Aryans’. 

 

Rosen draws powerful parallels with, and warns against, current prejudice and discrimination against many. There are photos and poems interspersed, the poetry, in Rosen’s typically sparse, carefully constructed style - every word counts for more than at first is apparent. Suggestions for further reading, and a family tree are included in the appendix – well placed there, not as a preface, so as not to distract from the important part of the book – the story of real people.

 

Bridget Carrington

Respect Consent, Boundaries and Being in Charge of You

Rachel Brian, pub. Wren & Rook

Wow, what can I say about this little gem! From the first page of the book all the way through to the last it is packed with important information for all ages of children and it is also accessible, easy for them to understand and relate to.

 

I have four children aged 10, 8, 6 and 2. Sharing this book with them helped me see that it would be a fantastic addition to school classrooms and libraries for ages from reception levels onwards. How would it be used? It would be ideal for teaching children how to understand the difference between right and wrong, how to know when they are doing the right thing, when they need to stop and think and how they interact with others. The flow of the book works extremely well, beginning with the concept of consent and explaining the meaning behind the words we so often hear. It also covers the principle of boundaries, giving and getting consent and respecting other people.

 

Not only does the text guide its reader so do the animations. They are simply fantastic, easy to follow and making use of the facts to create funny stories that children will relate to. They help to make the book and its message easy to follow with the drawings being relevant to all ages of reader.

 

I would definitely recommend the book to schools and teachers as well as parents  because I think when there is a PSHE lesson or even a story time it presents a great way to bring these important life choices to the children’s attention.

 

Melissa Blackburn

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow

Britta Teckentrup, pub. Prestel

With the coming of spring the seeds in the ground are ready to sprout, growing tall and straight as they are supposed to. All except for one. 

 

Ladybird and Ant decide to keep watch as the seed waits for the right time. When it does start to grow, all the other plants are blocking out the sunlight, so the seedling starts on a journey, accompanied by its insect friends. Weaving and winding through the undergrowth, the seedling becomes a little plant, with bigger leaves and stronger roots, accompanied by animals and insects. And when she finally reaches the perfect place, a magnificent transformation takes place, until the seasons turn and seeds are scattered far and wide.

 

This gently lyrical exploration of the life cycle of plants can also be read as a story about growing up and having the courage to find your own path. Paper collage illustrations in naturalistic shades, predominantly greens and browns, glow from the pages, depicting the tangled undergrowth, the luxuriant growth as the seedling finds space and the seasonal changes. An absolutely delightful and heart-warming story of the natural world around us.


Jayne Gould

Sometimes I Feel ...

Sarah Maycock, pub. Big Picture Press

In a world dominated by the destruction of wildlife habitat; where we humans perhaps feel a disconnection between ourselves and the fellow creatures of the Earth, it is so refreshing to find Sarah Maycock’s book Sometimes I feel…, doing just that. This book relates our human existence and feelings with those of the natural world in a way that can only make us think how close we are to the creatures that we share this earth with.

 

Each alternate turn of the page introduces us to a human feeling that is linked, via simple similes, to an animal. A rainbow coloured page of birds suggests that you might feel “as happy as a lark” only to find, on the next page, that not all days can be this joyous and that sometimes it might take a while to be able to  “join in with the chorus”.

 

It is a book of knowing your limitations, accepting and embracing them and knowing that they are okay to have. It is a book that makes it alright to have a wealth of feelings and emotions that weave us into the people that we are.

 

The reader can indulge in the magnificent illustrations of Sarah Maycock, whose ink and watercolour pictures capture the mood of each feeling brilliantly and you are completely immersed in the light and shade that our emotions throw upon our lives. And although this is ultimately a picture book, it really is one to live by and the sentiments within the pages are as poignant as those of Pooh and Piglet.

 

Sarah Maycock said that with each animal she painted she saw a feeling that, at face value, seemed simple, but that there was another side. And in looking closer, she saw empathy and in relating to that feeling, there was self-awareness.

 

This is a book that can be enjoyed by young and old alike - the pictures are just stunning but these, and the words that compliment them, are sure to make this book a modern classic.

 

Claire Webb

Turn and Learn: Weather / Our World

Isabel Otter, illus. Hannah Tolson, pub. 360 Degrees

This pair of large format sturdy books, with pages made from strong cardboard that will withstand use by younger children, provide simple introductions to the topics of Our World and Weather. 

 

Both are slightly text heavy making them perhaps more suitable for older children or more-able readers within the recommended age group (ages 2-5)  but the concepts are simply explained and the information is presented in bitesize chunks using different sizes of font for added interest so that even the younger children will be able to access the material and have a reasonably good understanding of the information.

 

Each page has a sliding feature linked to a turning wheel that changes a window within the section. This is a great interactive element encouraging further learning as children experiment with the wheel to see what the changes will be as they turn it. The illustrations are bright, stimulating and cheerful. These are perfect books for dipping into to discover fascinating facts.

 

Our World explores five different habitats: deserts; rainforests; polar regions; savannahs; and the sea. There is a summary of the animals and plants found within each area, and how they have adapted for survival in extreme and harsh conditions.

 

Weather explores five different weather systems and looks at how they work: sun; rain; wind; snow and ice; and thunder and lightning. 

 

Barbara Band

Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Pop-Up Guide to Anatomy

Douglas Dixon, illus. Rachel Caldwell, pub. Templar

Douglas Dixon is a Scottish palaeontologist, geologist, educator and author, and an internationally renowned authority on dinosaurs. Of the 200 plus books he has written, most are on the subject of dinosaurs, with many aimed at children. Indeed, his passionate interest in geology and zoology has been credited with attracting many to the study of these prehistoric animals.  

 

Bringing life to Douglas' passion for dinosaurs, are the stunning pen and ink drawings by Rachel Caldwell, a Philadelphia-based painter and illustrator, except in this case, Rachel is the Image Records officer, for we are actually delving into an official report prepared by a team of scientists, who have recently discovered the perfectly preserved body of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's a fantastically engaging premise. In the discovery of a lifetime, the reader is invited to attend the autopsy of this mysteriously preserved creature.

 

Fingers serve as scalpels as they peel back the layers (that is, lift the flaps, which are also added to the multi-layered pop-ups) and interrogate every part of the inner workings of this dinosaur. From the skin, to the musculature, to the digestive tract, to examining its senses and how it reproduced. What do we discover along the way as we take part in this anatomical investigation? That by sawing through the bones of the T-Rex, the cross-section observed under a microscope reveals growth rings, and just like the trunk of a tree, counting the rings reveals its age. That it had binocular vision, 13 times the field of a human. That it was more than just a predator. It tended its young and communicated with others by rubbing noses that were covered in a mass of nerves, making it as sensitive as fingertips.

 

The story of this remarkable beast is vividly brought to life as the reader is led through the dissection. Pithy observations by Reporting Officer Douglas Dixon, are scribbled next to the Victorian-inspired illustrations. It's a majestic book. Packed with fascinating details, the pop-ups are a feat of skilful engineering: they examine inside the T-Rex's skull and reveal the detailed workings of its digestive system, as first its skin is peeled back, and then its rib cage.  

 

Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Pop-Up Guide to Anatomy is an absolute delight to explore.  I've taught Year 3s so I know they would find it as compelling as older children. The interactive element in particular gives it a playfulness that makes the learning so captivating.  

 

Highly recommended.

 

Matilde Sazio

Warriors, Witches, Women

Kate Hodges, illus. Harriet Lee-Merrion, pub. White Lion Publishing

Fifty of mythology’s fiercest females are featured in this collection which encompasses a wide range of cultures, from Ancient Greece to Asia and Hawaii. The author, fascinated by these stories of powerful, mysterious and exciting women, since childhood, has sought to go back to the original tales, to give the background and show how they changed over time, whilst also explaining why they have been retold again and again. These are characters that resonate through the centuries, embedded in literature, the inspiration for writers of plays, music, comics and films.

 

The book is divided into four sections, each dealing with a particular attribute. Wise women, healers and soothsayers are covered in Witches, often the most feared and seen as evil, including Hecate, Morgan Le Fay and Baba Yaga. Warriors who are fighters, strategists and bringers of justice feature in tales such as Norse Freyja, African Yennenga and  Malayan Pontianak. Women at one with the natural world and creation are covered in Elemental Spirits, from Mari a Basque goddess to Scottish Selkies. The last section details Munificent Spirits, bountiful and generous deities who include Ame-No-Uzume, a Japanese goddess, Brigid, a Celtic goddess and saint and Ma’at, an Egyptian goddess

 

Kate Hodges’ illustrations are contemporary and stylized, capturing the essence of each woman. With a glossary and suggested further reading list, this elegant book is ideal for dipping into, igniting curiosity and giving teenage girls and adult readers alike a powerful introduction to the females of mythology, role models for today. 


Jayne Gould

Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry

Fausto Gilberti, pub. Phaidon Children’s Books

Yayoi Kusama is recognized as one of the great artists of the 20th century, but I am ashamed to say that I knew virtually nothing about her work or life.  This book helps to put all of this in perspective.  

 

She was born in 1929 and has thus reached the grand age of 90 years. Although she has lived most of her life in Japan, she did move to New York in 1957 and lived there until 1972; becoming very involved with the pop art scene and hippy lifestyle. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about her work is her use of polka dots on almost everything that she produces. She is still working today and in 2020 is due to complete a permanent installation at the new Crossrail station at Liverpool Street in London.

 

This book is intended to introduce the very young reader to the artist and there is very limited text.  However, what the text we do have is used extremely well, so that we get a real feel for the person. The illustrator has used thick black lines to create the images and the only colour is splashes of bright orange to reflect the bright wigs for which she is famous. Almost every page also reflects on her use of dots and I think this is going to really enthuse young people with the desire to experiment with design and colour. 

 

It is aimed at the lower end of primary years and is quite inspirational in a host of ways.

 

Margaret Pemberton

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