Non-Fiction Book Reviews

5 Wild Shapes

Camilla Falsini, pub. Quarto Publishing

An innovative board book that introduces young children to a variety of shapes as well as an assortment of animals and their habitats. Each page has an inset shape with moveable inserts - sliding discs that allow little fingers to explore the shape in question – be it a square, triangle, circle, hexagon, wavy line or heart, and the fun starts on the front cover with a bee buzzing around inside a flower. Each shape matches the nature theme of the page so there’s trees represented by a triangle and the sea represented by wavy lines. 

 

The accompanying rhyming text tells a simple story about habitats and wildlife including trees, mountains, fields, bees and fish, and the pages are illustrated with nature-inspired images in a stylistic folk art style. The illustrations have a naïve quality and are in bright, bold colours making them attractive to young children. 

 

An unusual way to familiarise children with basic shapes and perfect for developing hand-eye co-ordination skills, the robust and sturdy pages of this book are wipe-able and will take lots of wear and tear, making it ideal for the intended under three age group. 

 

Barbara Band

Adventures On Earth

Simon Tyler, pub. Pavilion Books

Adventures on Earth is an invitation to celebrate the fascinating world of exploration.  Examining the remote and wild places on our planet, Simon Tyler champions the pioneers whose passion, curiosity and bravery revealed the wonders of our world and the extraordinary animals that inhabit it. His bold and stylised illustrations take us through deserts and oceans, ice caps and mountains, jungles, caves and volcanoes, mapping out the age of exploration and commemorating the achievements of some truly exceptional individuals. There's the glaciologist Fritz Koerner, whose compelling studies of the sea ice have been used heavily in important climate-change discussions. Katia Krafft, the French volcanologist whose work documenting active volcanic eruptions had a great effect on public safety.  Sadly in 1991, the year that one of her films prompted the evacuation of 60,000 people to Manila, thereby saving them from one of the largest eruptions in living memory, Katia herself was consumed by a sudden and deadly blast whilst recording the volcanic Mount Unzen in Japan. A sobering reminder of the risks these incredible navigators took in the pursuit of expanding our awareness of this unique planet. But there is also an acknowledgment, that some of the early explorers were also responsible for tyrannical colonisation, and the emergence of slave trade and devastation to indigenous peoples around the world. 

 

This is a book that takes you to the highest and deepest, hottest and coldest places on Earth, igniting the imagination and urging you to explore further, to question, and to appreciate the majesty of the most extreme places on this planet.

 

Matilde Sazio

Anatomicum

Curated by Katy Wiedmann and Jennifer Z Paxton, pub. Big Picture Press (in association with Wellcome Collection)

You will be forgiven for thinking that as the person writing this review works in a museum they may not want to spend their spare time visiting or reading about museums but Anatomicum is joining its partner books in the Welcome to the Museum Collection that is nicely growing on one of my bookcases and was also a very welcome and fascinating insight into the Museum of the Body …

 

I am not sure about you but I have always been very curious about the human body - how does it work, why does it work, where does everything fit, what does it look like inside me, you, us?  This large format, fully and highly illustrated book takes us into the human body, we get to see it from the inside out.

 

From the end page illustrations of the human body in both skeletal and fleshy form we are led into the workings of the machine that is the human body, a living machine that is constructed of hundreds of thousands of parts, all of which work together to make us human, to make us who we are. Through visits to six galleries we can learn more about the fascinating system which is our bodies and the way it not only works but fits together too.  From skeleton to respiration, digestion to nervous system not forgetting immune and reproductive systems and of course the backbone of any museum - its library - it is all here for us and it will be here for a long time which is fortunate as it will take me some time to take it all in, read the facts, check facts against illustration and understand just how it is my body, your body, our bodies work.

 

Not for the squeamish, this book will show you how the heart beats, how your skin cells grow and where in your brain thoughts begin to take shape … it does so with unique and vividly detailed illustration, classic in style yet groundbreaking in coverage. Not only is this volume a feast of anatomical knowledge it is a storehouse of fact waiting to be discovered, learnt from and revisited time and again. Here is a museum open all hours, one for the learned reader and the new visitor alike. A true masterpiece.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

Atlas of Amazing Birds

Matt Sewell, pub. Pavilion Books

Avid orthnologist, writer and artist Matt Sewell personally selects amazing birds from across the world. His Atlas of Amazing Birds covers seven continents -- Europe, North and Central America, South America, Antarctica, Oceania, Asia and Africa -- and includes 140+ birds. There are between 18-30 birds for each continent, except Antarctica, which features only 3 birds. The number of birds in this selection therefore that you are likely to see in Britain is relatively few. 

 

In particular Matt Sewell seems attracted to more colourful birds, such as the many Birds of Paradise found in Oceania, as well as more majestic birds, for example birds of prey like the Philippine eagle, one of the largest eagles in the world found in Asia. His watercolours are a visual delight, although not to scale.  (The size of each bird is included in his description.) The art work beautifully captures each bird’s form and plumage in a simplified style, but instantly recognisable. Most illustrations are free-floating with the text elegantly following the contours of the bird’s form. There are also a number of illustrations that take up a whole page or more.

 

The entry for each bird uses its common name with a sub-heading of its Latin name in italics.  The description usually includes the bird’s plumage, distribution of the bird, habitat, migration patterns where relevant, sound or song and its behaviour, written in an accessible and engaging tone that tries to communicate the character of each bird. For example Matt Sewell describes the Northern Cardinal, the state bird for seven states in America, as having “punk rock attitude” and portrays the Masked Lapwing in Australasia as anti-social.  In addition there is information on where to find each bird. The specified places do not always match the country names on the continental maps at the start of each section.

 

Atlas of Amazing Birds showcases some of the world’s most impressive birds, delighting young ornithologists.

 

Simon Barrett

Children Who Changed The World: Incredible True Stories About Children’s Rights

Marcia Williams, pub. Walker Books

Children Who Changed The World celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and is endorsed by Amnesty International. Marcia Williams is the author/illustrator of several retellings of classic stories such as Shakespeare and Dickens, and her unique style is immediately recognisable; humorous comic-strip illustrations with quirky borders in attractive bright colours. 

 

This book contains thirteen true stories of child activists, individuals whose actions raised awareness of children’s needs. Each unique story covers a double-page spread and highlights a particular right such as “every child’s right to safety” demonstrated by the tale of Mayra Avellar Neves, born in Brazil, and “every child’s right to good health” demonstrated by Kehkashan Basu, born in the UAE.  There is a diverse range of children and the graphic style makes the book extremely accessible, particularly for middle grade readers. 

 

This is an excellent book that can be used simply to explore children’s rights and discover inspiring role models or it could be a starting point for further investigation both within and outside the curriculum. There is a list of the 54 articles of the Convention together with some additional names to explore and links to Children’s Rights Organisations. It concludes with a short index.

 

Barbara Band

Darwin's Voyage of Discovery

Jake Williams, pub. Pavilion Books

Published to celebrate 160 years since On The Origin of Species (Charles Darwin's revolutionary work), this illustrated tribute by Jake Williams is a terrific celebration of Darwin's own evolution from boy to explorer to scientist through the voyage that inspired almost all modern-day knowledge of the natural world, and transformed the course of science.  

 

That voyage began in December 1831 onboard HMS Beagle, following an introduction by his mentor at Cambridge, botany professor John Stevens Henslow. Twenty-two year old Charles Darwin, who had been on course to become a clergyman, set sail from Plymouth as the ship's naturalist, and would not see England again for almost five years. His journey covered 65,000 kilometres as the crew surveyed coastline and made maps. It took him to Cape Verde, Brazil to the Galapagos, Tahiti to Australia, with every step realised in Jake's vibrant illustrations. HMS Beagle is dissected to reveal the cramped conditions the crew navigated during their months at sea; a space packed with all the essentials a traveller could need for an around-the-world journey, from food halls to mess rooms and coal storage. We learn that the chart room, where the crew came together to examine maps and plot the course of the ship, was also the space where Darwin would sleep, hooking a hammock above the chart table each evening. There's a great two-page spread of Darwin's kit list. It's a moment I can envisage a child carefully poring over as they anticipate the explorations to come: the pistol to stay safe, the microscope for studying specimens, the clinometer a special compass that measures the angle of a mountain slope.  

 

Alas, poor Darwin we discover, suffered from seasickness the moment he left England, until his return home five years later. But his misery was tempered by breathtaking landscapes and extraordinary wildlife. He encountered the bones of the extinct giant sloths (previously unknown to science), which when living over 10,000 years ago would have been the size of a car. He witnessed an astonishing battle between a tarantula and a hawk wasp. Shimmering hummingbirds, platypus, fireflies and much more, are sumptuously detailed in this engaging book that is packed with a wealth of facts.  

 

When Darwin eventually arrived back home in England, he spent his time examining his collections of birds, reptiles and plant specimens, and after twenty years he published his theory on natural selection, challenging the common belief at the time, that God made the Earth and its animals. As an old man, Darwin described his voyage on HMS Beagle, as the most important event in his life.  Jake Williams perfectly captures the adventure and the marvel, in this ambitious and stylish book. It is an inspirational study of a passion for science and nature for any child to savour.

 

Matilde Sazio

The Explanatorium of Science

Robert Winston, pub. Dorling Kindersley

Robert Winston has written many successful science books for children and this one is no exception. It is a large book full of incredible photos, experiments and information explained in a child friendly way. “The Explanatorium of Science helps us all to see science in action”.  Robert Winston has set out his purpose clearly and we can then proceed to choosing from the table of contents, which area of science we are keen to see for ourselves.

 

From Matter to Forces and from Energy to Earth, there is plenty to explore in this book. I was drawn to the Earth section as it is so relevant in all the discussions of climate change and protecting our world. Robert Winston looks at the basics of the Earth, rocks and fossils and how they are formed. It also looks at how seasons work. Such basic scientific topics but they are explained brilliantly and this book would make a great gift for any budding scientists.

 

The language keeps a balance between being child friendly as well as ensuring proper scientific language is included.  Under each area are a set of questions asking How… How seasons work, how osmosis works, how glass works. I was fascinated by the entire book, spending ages looking through the book and studying.  

 

This giant tome would be a perfect addition to any home or classroom.  Budding scientists will love the facts, language and proof of how things work, and amateur scientists will value the expertise from Robert Winston. What a fantastic book!

 

Erin Hamilton

Explorers

Nellie Huang and Jessamy Hawke, pub. Dorling Kindersley

Explorers presents 50+ daring adventurers who have traversed across seas, ice and land as well as flown across air and space.  The book begins with Pytheas, an ancient Greek who sailed around North Europe in the 4th century BCE and possibly reached Iceland, and continues to the present with the stories of 11 explorers alive today.

 

The book includes many famous individuals, often national heroes.  Ferdinand Magellan who led the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe: he died from a poisoned arrow.  Amundsen and Scott’s famous race to be the first to the South Pole. Scientists, such as Alexander von Humbolt and Charles Darwin. Archaeologists, for example, Howard Carter and the tomb of Tutankhamun. Astronauts, including Yuri Gagrin, the first person in space. All men. All white. Explorers however rectifies past injustices. Entries include indigenous explorers. Sacagawea, a young Native American woman, translator and guide for Lewis and Clark is given equal status in the success of exploring the western United States.  Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer, and Tenzing Norgay, Nepali-Indian mountaineer, share the achievement of the first to conquer Everest. Moreover there are many women included in the book. One of the most inspirational stories is that of Barbara Hillary, who has also written the foreword. At the age of 75, having survived cancer twice, she reached the North Pole, the first African-American woman. The first African-American man of course was Matthew Henson. Finally Karen Darke, despite being paralysed from the chest down, has scaled El Capitan in the USA, hand-cycled through the Himalayas and crossed Greenland.

 

Neither does the book ignore the ‘dark-side’ of exploration and there is a special feature chapter on this topic.  This includes the spreading of diseases that the indigenous population could not resist. Colonization, settling in a new land and taking it over.  Slavery, particularly shipping of African people to the Americas to work on plantations. The military expedition resulting in terrible acts of violence.  Also extinction of animals, such as the dodo. It is also mentioned in other chapters. Villas-Bôas brothers explored central Brazil and worked to protect the rainforest and the tribes within.  In addition there is a strong environmental message in the stories of explorers such as Sylvia Earle. Her deep sea explorations have shown the impact of pollution and she has launched Mission Blue to protest marine areas.

 

Explorers is comprehensive, detailed and visually appealing with its mix of photographs and illustrations, supporting the text.  Well done Nellie Huang, Jessamy Hawke and all at Dorling Kindersley for another high quality reference book.

 

Simon Barrett

Forgotten Fairy Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls

Foreword by Kate Pankhurst, pub. Usborne

There are eight forgotten fairy tales in this collection and each is a tale of magical powers - as Kate Pankhurst writes in her foreword - all stories have magical powers! Fairy tales are stories that have been told for thousands of years, be this in fields of flowers on bright sunny days whilst enjoying a picnic or a walk in the woods, on dark wintery evenings around a warming fire or for bedtime dreams, they have been told, remembered and passed on from one generation to another.  In the process some have stayed in the popular imagination, others slipped out and were nearly lost - until now that is. Having collected and gathered up the stories they came to be very much a reflection of their world - a world where we wanted magical tales of princess waiting to be rescued and so those tales which did not tell these stories became gradually sidelined.  Now there are eight stories that you, the reader, along with all of us, have the chance to bring back to life - read them, tell them, share them.

 

In this collection we meet Bessie, a princess who would much rather be quite ordinary, be working in the stables, chatting to the servants, outside getting muddy and messy - you know the type!  Bessie is the Daring Princess. Alongside her meet a bored princess in her The Sleeping Prince story.  Clever Molly sets out to defeat a giant and rescue a kingdom whilst the Nettle Princess is both brave and strong.  With this collection of stories here is an opportunity to see princesses as you may never have imagined and may never have before.  Be inspired by their stories to share, to do something different, to feel empowered - and not just as a girl or a boy but as a reader too.  These tales are easy to read for readers newly independent, those looking to dip into some shorter stories or even those wishing to share the joy of reading with friends and siblings.  With charming and expressive full colour illustration this is the perfect family bedtime book for the bookcase, quick read story book for school and all-round greatly readable collection of stories.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

The History of Prehistory

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, pub. Otter-Barry Books

The History of Prehistory takes the reader on a 4 billion year journey from the very beginning of the Earth until the beginning of recorded history by the first human authors -- Bronze Age Sumerians -- and the first ever named human author: En-hedu-anna.

 

The reader joins two children as each double spread introduces a different eon or period in the Earth’s prehistory.  Superbly illustrated by the authors-artists, the pictures capture the drama of the environment, plants and creatures of this early Earth.  There are also a number of different texts, including the main description of the period, dialogue by the two children and other inserts with more detailed information.  Moreover, the text is engaging, drawing in the reader to look, imagine and wonder. Fish fingers is certainly redefined in this book to mean fish with fingers! The technical language is usually italicized and some important information is emphasized in bold.  Along with the illustrations therefore, the book is a visual delight.

 

The technical language however does not take away from the enjoyment of the book as it is often supplementary to the narrative.  For example the title of each double spread is inspired by key features of the period -- Terrifying Pterosaurs or Life in the Treetops -- and the technical names used as a sub-header: Jurassic period or Late Paleocene period.   This should encourage readers to find out more independently and accessing the correct information using this terminology. There is also further information in the glossary, although it is not extensive.

 

Finally there is an excellent timeline game at the back of the book, to help children remember the key facts of 4 billion years of prehistory.  It is a brilliant illustrated distillation of each historical eon on one page!

 

The Prehistory of History is not a book: it is an adventure.

 

Simon Barrett

How Many Points For A Panda?

Hilda Offen, pub. Troika Books

It is the spooky season and the monsters, fairies, mermaids, dinosaurs and other interesting creatures have invited me to begin an adventure, to find a secret map and explore a world, only I can. This winter I have this adorable poetry collection written and illustrated by Hilda Offen called How Many Points for a Panda? 

 

Lo and behold! The poems begin with monsters and magic and Marie the Monster appears just to trifle with her brother before she turns back into her human form! Then we step into the magical glittery shoes of Libby Lou and reach the wild beast Buzzaboo! But what does he do? Well, if you say 'Boo!' to a wild Buzzaboo, he'd throw custard at you! From land monsters, we move to the sea with its gigantic whales and all engulfing sea mists and up we go into the air high with Icarus the Proud to dive into the ocean to Mermaids and sea monsters-

 

"The water's clear, the water's cool;

I dive into the glassy pool…

Where jewel-encrusted monsters haunt

The coral caves and mermaids flaunt

Their rainbow tails…"

 

The book contains poems on curious creations of our weird and artsy thoughts, interjecting reality. The world of imagination which exists with our mundane plane creates magical universes and that's what the poet emphasises-

 

"No-one knows what I see 

Through my aunt's window-pane; 

I can shatter the world -

Then build it up all again."

 

This wonderful book includes stories from myths, folk tales, fairy tales and modern lives. Divided into sections titled Monsters and Magic; Secrets and Shadows; Talking and Squawking and Here There and Everywhere; the rhymes are written in a language easy to grasp with themes of social etiquettes, family life, imagination, facing bullies, and the creation of a hyggelig safe space. 

 

Here, kids get to learn the name of clouds, the beauty of a midsummer day, history, scrying, visiting old castles and discovering so much that nature can offer and the mind can experience and that's why the little boy doesn't simply look beyond his glass window, but affirms his magic -

 

"And no-one suspects 

The power of my glance.

It's magic! I'm making

The Church Steeple dance."

 

The illustrations and words complement each other and help in invoking the unimaginable and fantastical. One can gift it to little ones to encourage imagination and creativity or to just read, to revel in a world conjured by the creative creatures in it. 

 

Ishika Tiwari

Into the Deep: An Exploration of Our Oceans

Dr Wolfgang Dreyer and Annika Siems, pub. Prestel

It’s hard to describe this magical superlative book. As the title indicates, it is an exploration of the oceans with each chapter taking us deeper and deeper into a mysterious and unknown world where we discover what lives within each watery layer. It’s a large format (30cm by 30cm) which lends itself well to the huge illustrations that span across the pages. These are both fascinating and terrifying – fish with razor-sharp teeth  and grasping tentacles that can easily crush a person - and are accompanied by minimal text allowing them to take centre stage. 

 

The images are oil paintings, created on a large canvas and then photographed. The text is informative giving the reader interesting facts about each level and the creatures within it; did you know that at 4 metres the colour red is no longer visible? And that the Japanese spider crab has a leg span of 18 feet? The awe-inspiring paintings are interspersed with pages that contain detailed drawings showing the working of various parts of fish anatomies and there is a short index. 

 

This book has huge appeal – not only for budding oceanographers but also as a book to showcase the wonders and marvels of our world. 

 

Barbara Band

Inventor Lab

Jack Challoner, pub. Dorling Kindersley

Subtitled Awesome Builds for Smart Makers, this book offers just that, 18 step-by-step projects for children to construct. These include an automatic night light, a remote-controlled snake and matchbox microphone. Writing in the foreword, engineer and inventor Dr Lucy Rogers, hopes the book will be a springboard for young makers, inspiring them to adapt, combine and design their own projects, using the techniques learned by following the instructions here.

 

These instructions are comprehensive and clearly laid out, each step accompanied by photographs and diagrams. A section on staying safe, following manufacturer’s guidelines, and essential tools opens the book. This is followed by descriptions of components, skills and techniques needed and constructing electric circuits. Guidance as to the time it takes, level of difficulty and any issues to be aware of, is given at the beginning of each project, so that children can find something at the appropriate level, whether they are beginners or have more experience. 

 

This book would make a fabulous gift for a child keen to learn about making and inventing and to have a go themselves. 

 

Jayne Gould

Ladybird Tales of Superheroes

pub. Ladybird Books

When we first received this book to review my kids were so excited to read about the idea of reading Superheroes that they couldn’t wait to open the book. The front cover was so colourful and bright that it really made them excited about starting reading straight away. 

 

My 10 year old daughter decided she would like to read the book to the rest of us and we soon found that it was full of amazing stories about different types of superheroes from different years.  Each of the stories was so intriguing and full of character that we couldn’t put the book down after we had started. We just found ourselves captivated and wanting to learn more. With each page, the combination of pictures and artwork had us excited to stop and look, discuss too, and then move on to the next. The stories accompanying each of the superheroes and their illustrations were great to read and ideal in length so that the children didn’t get bored of them.

 

I would recommend this book for all age groups but be warned, if you are using it for bedtime reading it is exciting and hard to put down however with its range of stories it is a great choice as they were different each time with new heroes in each section. 

 

Growing up with the Ladybird books as a child was always a lot of fun because they were all different and easy to read, now my children and yours can do the same. Definitely a book I would recommend for home and school. 

 

Melissa Blackburn

The Lost Fairy Tales

Retold by Isabel Otter, illus. Ana Sender, pub. Caterpillar Books

A book full of heroines, none of whom needs to be rescued - maybe like me you are now wondering if this is actually a possibility.  I can assure you that, having read this for myself, that is it. In this book at least. The Lost Fairy Tales has no damsels in distress nor any prissy princesses!  In this book you will find instead twenty tales of forgotten fairy tales that have been hiding in the many and varied cultures of the world just waiting for the right moment to be found. And wonderfully none of them are more than a few pages long - now I don’t say that lightly - being a lover of books and reading I love nothing more than the challenge of lots of words and good doorstopper of a book but I know that is not for everyone and sometimes a good story is quickly told. So, here there are twenty good stories, quickly told, each featuring a heroine who has the potential to inspire, show wit, cunning and bravery - what will you, the reader, make of them all and will you emulate them I wonder and if you have the time to share I would love to know!

 

If you are not sure where to start with this book - for it is one book which can be dipped into - then take a look at the story map you will find at the front of the book, see where in the world each of the stories has come from and consider what type of story may have come from the associated culture.  Once you have decided which story to read navigate to it using the list on the contents page and get set to enjoy. Perhaps you will find yourself reading about Aurora and the Giants, a story which does not hold back on more challenging language for the reader to engage with, is incredible, harsh in places and yet also uplifting and fun.  The wandering Russian harpist may catch your imagination with its traditional and, I believe typical and traditional style of illustration. If you do dip in rather than read from cover to cover the varying background colours of the pages, a different one for each story, may help you to mentally bookmark where you were last and what you have already seen. Furthermore whilst all the illustrations are sympathetically in keeping with the background page colours they reflect the richness of each story and as such are packed with appropriate and suitable colour and imagery.  

 

There are many memorable aspects to this book, not least the illustration. The stories sit well together creating a seamless new world to be opened, appreciated, understood and enjoyed.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

National Trust: Step Inside Homes Through History

Goldie Hawk, illus. Sarah Gibb, pub. Nosy Crow & The National Trust

This wonderful National Trust/Nosy Crow publication quite literally gives its readers the opportunity to take a peek at the different homes and living styles of people throughout history. From the books’ front cover onwards homes through history are opened, revealed.

 

Beginning with visual glimpses of a typical home from the late middle ages, this book shows us how the people of that time lived and then traces the developments of homes through the following years of history up to the present day. Whilst the text on every page is informative it is the illustrations that truly make the book. Through these the reader is given a very real sense of looking back. See the clothes that were worn, understand the general feel of the landscape and peer through the cut-out windows into the homes. 

 

It is not a book which challenges the preconceptions of architecture you might have, say in thinking about Tudor styling, it cements those stylised ideas of how we used to live with personal and warm drawings of the past.The different time periods are carefully considered. 

 

Another particular strength of the book is the layering, the distinction between the outside and the inside of the home which is done particularly well for the Georgian period. 

 

This book would suit someone who may already have an idea of how homes in the past looked but has a keen eye for seeing what the physical changes have been over a five hundred year period. It is also of interest to budding social and architectural historians as well as the naturally nosy and curious!

Melissa Blackburn

Nine Worlds in Nine Nights. A Journey Through Imaginary Lands

Hiawyn Oran, illus. David Wyatt, pub. Walker Studio

Welcome to an astonishing collection of writing, drawing, painting and examples of souvenirs, collected together during the travels of Professor Dawn Gable (prize-winning theoretical physicist) and showing that wherever your mind takes you you need to be sure that you, and it, are open to all possibilities … bear in mind, before we start, that all the items collected together in this volume are the result of travels in a phantom machine which was powered by a beastly apparition and a book that very much had a mind of its own …

 

Well, in the hope that this introduction has helped you prepare yourself for what I am about to describe and that which one day perhaps you too will have the opportunity to see not only the machine the professor used for her travels - as illustrated on the inside of the front cover - but also the magnificent illustrations, facts, diary entries and more that lie within this stunning book.

 

The pictures are annotated with snippets from diary entries and letters, type-written and each explaining what the professor was doing, who and what she met, her experiences and some of her thought processes too!  I am not sure if you, the reader will agree, but I feel sure that if I was led to a machine that could transform itself into multiple forms I am not sure I would want to be travelling in it! The professor was not put off however and we soon find out about each of the nine worlds she had the opportunity to experience - Kor has an abandoned temple, ancient city and extinct volcano with simply stunning bird and other wildlife depicted too no part of this, or any of the other worlds, is left out.  Science fiction techs will love Mecanopolis - city of machines with its Museum of Humans and the classics of Camelot and Atlantis will be loved by all. These are just a sample of the nine worlds waiting to be experienced and just a flavour of this breathtaking book, this sumptuous work of intrepid imagination.

 

Louise Ellis-Barrett

North America

Sarah Albee, illus. William Exley, pub. What on Earth Books

North America is a fold-out graphic history and geography of the North American continent. Read as a traditional book or showcased on a wall, North America presents the natural and human history of the world’s third largest continent.

 

North America in this format presents a mind-boggling amount of information in a creative, imaginative way that often challenges our perceptions of this part of the world.  The book begins circa 10,000 BCE with the earliest hunter and gather cultures, continuing with the settled agricultural communities and nations of North America, the great builders, such as the Aztecs and their great capital of Tenochtitlàn and only then from 1492 CE, the European invasions. In addition, North America shows the flows of people throughout the continent's history, including the indigenous people, European colonizers and forced migration of slaves from Africa. Sadly there are wars and disasters, but there are also inventions, great architecture and monuments, industry and social progression and radicals.

 

Overall the illustrations unify the book. Using warm pastel shades to trace the history of the southern part of the continent and cooler colours for the colder north makes it easier to follow some of the changes over time. Visually it also conveys continuations in history - notably styles of architecture - as well as some of the discontinuations in history: the appearance of Europeans and the re-introduction of the horse, the railway and motor car. Although there is a map of the political division of the continent today, the illustrations also demonstrate the historical connections between these countries.

 

North America is eight feet of 15,000 years of history worth exploring. 

 

Simon Barrett

Refugees

Brian Bilston, illus. José Sanabria, pub. Palazzo

A cleverly crafted book that highlights prejudices and bigotry. The poem can be read both forwards and backwards to show two opposing views about refugees. The provides a brilliant opportunity for discussion and a way to talk about fear and hate and the need for compassion, understanding and empathy. I particularly like the way the poem is laid out on the left of the spread when read forward and on the right side when it is re-written backwards in the second half of the book. 

 

The colours used for the illustrations also help to convey the different moods and feelings, with dark sad-faced images to show the fear and mistrust and brighter, colourful images with happy smiling faces to demonstrate people from different races and cultures are all the same all around the world, doing the same jobs, same activities and everyday routines. An excellent book to promote debate. 

 

The book would be ideal for PSHE classes not only at KS1 or KS2 but also KS3 and KS4 as the opposing views are relevant for all ages. It would also be interesting to have children craft their own similar poems to show opposing views on this and other subjects, such as climate change, conservation and Brexit. 

 

Anita Loughrey

www.anitaloughrey.com 

Together

Isabel Otter and Clover Robin, pub. Caterpillar Books

A flock of cranes take off on a vast migration, covering thousands of miles. As they fly, they pass over land and sea until they reach their winter feeding grounds. Travelling across continents, a variety of landscapes, including mountains, grasslands and savannah, open up below them. On each double page opening, a haiku describes animals working in partnership to protect, hunt and keep clean. Accompanied by a few lines of fascinating facts, the reader will learn, for example, that the wolf pack has strong social bonds, remora fish gain a free lift whilst keeping sharks free of parasites and a shared love of honey benefits both badger and bird. The book is illustrated with intricate, textured and layered paper collages, a technique which the artist Clover Robin, uses to great effect. The natural, subtle, tones give life to the landscapes whilst high above cut-outs in the shape of clouds, show the progress of the cranes. A delightful book to share and talk about with young children.

 

Jayne Gould

Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year

Allie Esiri, pub. Macmillan Children’s Book

If there's one playwright and poet everyone knows of and admires, it's Shakespeare. He is old and new and everything in between. This winter I have Allie Esiri's Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year and I have grown wiser, full of new facts, and have been thoroughly entertained by this enriching compilation.

 

As we proceed with each day of the year , we meet all those beloved, despised, ambivalent and wholesome characters from Shakespeare's plays: King Lear, Hamlet, Antony, Othello, Jacques, Iago; along with the vivacious and multidimensional female characters like Rosalind, Cleopatra, Portia, Desdemona amongst many others. We experience the myriad emotions forcefully rendered by them and we realise how meaningful they are even today. 

 

The editor has carefully chosen passages  where Shakespeare reigns supreme in his understanding of politics, history, social structures, love, revenge, tragedy and comedy as experienced by a flawed humanity, with notable lines like this much quoted and revised one by Hamlet-

 

"To be, or not to be – that is the question; 

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune 

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles 

And by opposing end them."

 

Each page of the book has events from real life or tales related to Shakespeare or his works, matching the date on which they occurred. It contains an all encompassing vision of his words and achievements listed with interesting facts such as this one related to Henry V-

 

"The Second World War broke out on 3 September 1939,  during the course of which Prime Minister Winston Churchill invited the legendary actor Laurence Olivier to film a version of  Henry V. Financed by the government, it was a critical and commercial success and an ingenious piece of wartime propaganda. A play full of rousing rhetoric and patriotic gumption,  Shakespeare’s original 1599 production would have served a similar purpose, drumming up a sense of national pride."

 

The effort of the editor is laudable as the brilliant curation of emotions and facts in this anthology brings about nostalgia and admiration. This gorgeous book is embroidered within and without  to be kept as a keepsake or to be gifted. To receive and give the comfort woven in these evergreen expressions of Shakespeare, is a much recommended gesture.

 

Erin Hamilton

Walk This Underground World

Kate Baker and Sam Brewster, pub. Big Picture Press

Winter is here, and animals big and small have stocked up for a cozy life underground. But, do only animals live underground? Certainly not, we humans are much acquainted with the subterranean life as well!  This winter I have traversed the below surface world of animals and human beings in this brightly coloured picture book, titled Walk This Underground World by Kate Baker and Sam Brewster. 

 

In this, we go on a visual journey to the underground world of contemporary Montreal, London, Egypt, Poland, Australia and Tokyo with its hyggelig cafés, bakeries, homes, caves and tube station juxtaposed to the warm weathered world of tunnels dug by ferrets and mole rats.  The author has shared interesting and fun facts about unique habits of underground dwellers as well-

 

"Long lines of  worker ants march into  the forest to forage. They cut down flowers, twigs and leaves, then bring  them back to the nest. Smaller ants sometimes hitch a ride on top of a leaf  and help fight off attackers."

 

The beautiful graphics of this flap book takes one on a back and forth time travel to show how Ancient Egyptians stored artifacts and mummies, how dinosaurs used to roam the crust of the earth, which with time is submerged and now unearths beautiful and interesting fossils of creatures big and small; and what a movement into the opal mines reveals!

 

This book shall definitely bring joy to the little explorers, curious about their vicinity. This adventurous trip shall help them visualise the exciting lives and treasures occupying subterranean regions! 

 

Ishika Tiwari

Who Am I?

Rachel Clare, photography Tim Flach, pub. Abrams Books for Young Readers

Tim Flach is an award-winning photographer well-known for his portraits of animals and in Who Am I? he uses his skills to introduce young readers to ten at-risk species. The book consists of a series of stunning photographs hidden behind pages with peek-through windows. Some of these are circular cut-outs; others are filled-in holes that show parts of the animal’s features. 

 

Each image is accompanied by a short riddle giving clues as to the animal’s identity, such as: “I have the best of both worlds – on the land and in the water. Some people say I’m a walking fish.” (Answer – an axolotl). Each riveting shot is close-up and sharp against a black background bringing you eye-to-eye with a diverse range of animals. There is further information about each of them at the back of the book including “what makes me so special?” and “why are we endangered?” as well as some suggestions for how you can help such as using less energy and supporting neighbourhood wildlife.  

 

For those who would like to see more of Flach’s photography, these images have been taken from his adult book “Endangered”; he can also be followed on Instagram @timflachphotography.

Barbara Band

Wild Girls. How to have Incredible Outdoor Adventures

Helen Skelton, illus. Liz Kay, pub. Walker Books

Helen Skelton is probably more well-known as a Blue Peter and Countryfile presenter. However, she has undertaken several physically challenging adventures and this is a record of them. There are six chapters each dealing with a different habitat and each following the same format: firstly describing Helen’s adventure including her training and preparation; kit lists; a day-by-day diary of the event; and the best and worst bits.  There follows both wild adventures and extremely wild adventures to try! For example, chapter 1 covers adventures in the snow. Helen used a bike as part of an expedition to the South Pole; the wild adventures include ice-skating and snowboarding, and the extreme adventures include ice climbing and sleeping in a snow hole. Finally, there is a wall of fame that details other female adventurers who have undertaken similar expeditions. 

 

Other chapters cover adventures on the sand where Helen did 3 marathons across a desert in 24 hours; adventures on the water where she kayaked solo down the Amazon; adventures in the mountains where she climbed Ben Nevis; adventures in the countryside that involved a Royal Marines Command speed march; and adventures in the city which saw her walking across a 150m high wire strung between the Battersea Power station towers!

 

The book is written in the form of a travel journal with the text broken up by photos, maps, sketches and additional information. Pages have coloured blocks with sections looking like they have been taped or stapled in. This is an inspirational and fascinating book that would appeal to everyone whether they are armchair adventurers or want to plan something themselves. It is more suitable for older children as it warns (several times) that adult supervision is needed for the adventures.

 

Barbara Band

Wildlives. 50 Extraordinary Animals that made History

Ben Lerwin, illus. Sarah Walsh, pub. Nosy Crow

Do you know the story of Binti Jua? Well I'll tell you, the place is Brookfield Zoo in  Chicago 1996 and a three year old boy and his family are visiting the zoo when suddenly the boy slips and falls into the  gorilla cage. Now I know what you are thinking, but you are wrong, Binti Jua scares the other gorillas away, then she gently picks the unconscious boy and takes him to the keeper’s entrance. Amazing  wasn't she. I think so. Thousands of people came from around the world to visit Binti Jua. She became a national hero. This story is one of 50 brilliant true stories about extraordinary animals. Another story is about  Trakr – the dog who found the last survivor of 9/11. These are just two examples of the animals featured in this book. 

 

This is a book of brave rescuers, amazing adventurers  brilliant discoveries, problem solvers and heroes. But the difference is that they are all animals. 

 

This book is fantastic and anybody will be lucky to have this book on their book shelf.  The writing is good and a lot of research has been done to bring the content together. The illustrations are beautifully drawn and very detailed, the book contains real life pictures, artists pictures, diagrams and maps. My children loved looking at the pictures and reading about true animal stories.  This is a beautiful book and one I'll keep for a long time.  

 

Helen Byles

The Wonders of Nature

Ben Hoare, illus. Angela Rizza and Daniel Long, pub. Dorling Kindersley

I like encyclopaedias, but must confess are always a few pages that tend to remain relatively untouched, as you move to the A-listers: is there a picture of a T-rex -preferably killing something?  Is there a really big picture of a shark – preferably killing something?  Are there some dramatic pictures of eagles – preferably killing something?  

 

The Wonders of Nature takes the populist encyclopaedia browser and pushes them (or, er, me) into unchartered territory.  Grouped loosely and accessibly into ‘Rocks’, ‘Microscopic life’, ‘Plants’ and ‘Animals’ each entry has been selected for its ‘wondrous’ qualities that can divert the attention of even the most hardened T-Rex thrill seeker.  Hoare reacquaints us to some of the headliners (bears, eagles, tarantulas) but goes far beyond this to celebrate the quieter wonders of nature: whale sharks, wombats, amber, water bears and desert stones.  

 

He has been guided simply by what is interesting and quirky in nature, as opposed to any particular scientific doctrine, and the resulting compilation is whimsical, fascinating and fun. Each ‘wonder’ is simply presented on a double page spread, with stunning illustration and photography and one or two paragraphs of explanation.  The paragraphs bear little resemblance to a traditional instructional tone, but instead are framed more like mini conversations with a curious reader. ‘Greeny-blue or bluey-green? It’s hard to decide, because turquoise is a mixture of both colours.’ Or: ‘Is that a bird? Or an umbrella? You can see why people call the black heron the ‘umbrella bird’!’  

 

For me, this book taps into how we absorb information: in bite-sized chunks, with anecdote and personality.  It may not be comprehensive, but it sparks curiosity and sticks in your mind. It’s also worth taking a moment to praise the ‘visual’ contents and index pages, where you can look for things via their image as opposed to their name.  A tiny adjustment, but a totally different form of engagement as a result.

 

You could read this book with a child; you could read it before bed; you could keep it by the loo; you could take it the pub (possibly).  It is beautiful to look at; delightful and wonderful in every sense to read. A pleasure!

Laura Myatt

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