Non-Fiction Book Reviews

A Poem for Every Spring Day

ed. Allie Esiri, pub. Macmillan Children’s Books

This book leaves me with just one more of Allie Esiri's treasures to be explored. For this Spring, I have with me Allie's latest anthology, in the series of her seasonal poems for each day of the year - A Poem for Every Spring Day. Last Autumn I read her A Poem for Every Autumn Day and it beautifully captured the essence of the season, as pictured by poets for centuries. Apart from this one, she has published Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year; A Poem for Every Day of Winter; The Love Book, IF poems, alongside many other poetry titles.

 

This one begins in the format of previous ones from this series, covering the three months of Spring - March, April and May - working towards Summer with two poems for each day of these months. The experience is delightful, as you open this gorgeously gilded hardcover edition in the morning, and just as you go to sleep, to read and immerse yourself into this sense of ease and comfort. The poets featured in this collection include some of the major English, American, Asian, and Irish poets - WB Yeats, GK Chesterton, Vita-Sackville West, Christina Rossetti and likewise.

 

From Shakespeare to Maya Angelou, you'll find some beautiful and brutally honest emotions etched into your hearts forever, in confluence with a special introductory note giving you a background to the poem or historical event which took place on that day. The season of Spring will not only make you feel love, renewal, vigour and the fragrance of new beginnings, feminine power; but here with Wordsworth, A. E. Housman you'll flow into nostalgia and the sense of time's flow towards the future with the past latching on to the present.

 

I will say that this enriching book has to be in your poetry collection, if you like collecting beautiful editions; or if you just love poetry; or want to read this diverse one as a Spring ritual of self-love.

Ishika Tiwari

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A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals

Claire Grace, illus. Christopher Corr, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

A Year Full of Celebrations and Festivals compiled by Christopher Corr and Claire Grace is a fantastic compendium of carnivals, festivals, historical commemorations, religious events and other special days, which are celebrated around the world. Each celebration has a double-page spread with text on one side and a bright, vibrant illustration opposite that often bleeds across both pages. They have been collated into seasons with a brief introduction to each season to explains what that season has in common all over the world, however they mainly describe seasonal differences in the Northern hemisphere.

 

Each season is not organized in any particular order within the chapter. Spring opens with the Indian International Kite Festival, has the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival - Hanami - in the middle and concludes with Martin Luther King Jr Day. Summer includes Palio de Siena, the Italian horse race, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and finishes with a spread about the different Summer Solstice celebrations across the globe. Autumn starts with the Mid-Autumn Moon festival celebrated in East Asia, Diwali in the middle and climaxes with the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival in the United Kingdom. Winter features Hanukkah first, The African Festival of Dancing Masks (FESTIMA) in the middle and finally New Year’s Eve Countdowns across the world.

 

Claire Grace’s text provides a brief, concise explanation of the celebrations, which includes some of the history and pageantry involved. Scattered across each spread is an insightful information bubble or snippet that contains extra fun facts about that particular celebration to stretch and entertain readers. At the back of the book is a spread of glossary words that appear in the text.

 

This colourful non-fiction book would be a great reference book for teachers wanting to think of ideas for a school assembly that could be expanded, and for children who are curious about the world and other cultures. The ideal book for children to dip in and out of during reading times.

Anita Loughrey

Anita Loughrey’s (www.anitaloughrey.com) next books are the last two books of A Year in Nature series Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery to be released 21st September 2021.

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The Awesome Power of Sleep: How Sleep Supercharges your Teenage Brain

Nicola Morgan, pub. Franklin Watts

The Awesome Power of Sleep explains how sleep benefits the brain and how teenagers can get enough sleep to balance good physical and mental health with success at school.

 

Nicola Morgan’s philosophy continues to underpin her latest book, educating teenagers about the science to encourage them to change, and hopefully using this book to adopt some of the proven strategies for a better night sleep. There is a lot of fascinating science about the brain and sleep, which in itself is interesting, without necessarily its application to typically teenagers not getting enough sleep or restless sleep caused by friendship, exam stress and addictive technology. It does however mean strategies for healthier sleeping are not introduced until chapter eight, page 127 of the book! The advice and guidance however is very practical, offering a range of strategies for readers to trial, when preparing to go to sleep and what to do if sleep proves elusive. Hopefully teenagers will be drawn into the science and will continue reading Nicola Morgan’s practical advice. An understanding of the science will encourage readers to genuinely consider her suggested strategies.

 

The Awesome Power of Sleep is an accessible, easy to read book. Nicola Morgan is a great communicator of science and its complexities. In addition, there are a number of quizzes, helping readers explore their own sleeping habits and attitudes about sleep, applying the science to their own lives. There are numerous ‘super-charged’ sleep facts questions and tips to communicate essential points. The book is also a useful introduction to parents, teachers and carers of teenagers, perhaps with the aim of promoting a healthier attitude to sleep. As the book is not exclusively about the teenager’s brain, young people and adults will find it interesting and helpful ideas.

 

Nicola Morgan continues to present sound advice and guidance to teenagers based on the most up-to-date science, adding to her growing catalogue of books about teenage life: Blame My Brain, The Teenage Guide to Stress and Exam Attack. She is led by science and her honesty if the science is inconclusive or there are gaps in what science can tell us, is refreshing. There are also a number of personal stories in this book that again might engage different readers.

 

The Awesome Power of Sleep is going to be my Bible as a secondary school tutor, trying to encourage twenty + fifteen-year-olds to develop better sleeping habits! At least now I know why sleep is important and what my tutees can do.

Simon Barrett

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Break the Mould

Sinéad Burke, illus. Natalie Byrne, pub. Hachette Children’s Books

Burke’s unique book is a combination of an autobiographical essay and a self-help manual. The author herself has achondroplasia or as she herself states it dwarfism. She refers to herself as ‘a little person’.

 

Unusually for books related to disability, Burke encourages not only general readers but also those with a physical or intellectual impairment to have ambitions and to pursue them. As in her own life, she acknowledges that there will be dark episodes, an admission that is rarely made in books about disability but that is essential for young readers to understand.

 

One of the illustrations provided by Byrne shows a person in a wheelchair holding a Black Lives Matter placard. Young disabled people can exhibit social awareness beyond the boundaries of their own impairment: a revolutionary notion.

 

Teachers, parents and other adults may find this book a useful tool in opening discussions about differences, in both ourselves and others.

Rebecca Butler

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Can We Talk About Consent? A Book About Freedom, Choices and Agreement

Justin Hancock, illus. Fuschia MacAree, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's books

I am a fifty-something woman and can remember a time in the 1970s when the principle of consent was poorly understood and often jettisoned entirely. The 20th century was an era when adults said ‘because I say so’ too often. It was an age when children were told to kiss their great aunt’s hairy cheek and women were all too familiar with their #MeToo moment. And it was, above all, an age when a powerful minority held most of the purse strings and wielded all the influence. If you were a woman, a person of colour, LGBT +, or poor then nobody really cared about whether you consented or not.

 

This is a book not only about consent in a sexual context but the equally important issue of giving consent in our daily lives. The author starts the discussion by talking about the power that having choices confers on us. After all, if we are forced into the only viable course of action then we have hardly ‘consented’ in a true sense. Hancock also distinguishes between illusory choices and real choices. He talks about ‘should stories’: the pressures that we are under from society to behave in a certain way. We need to offer more choices and dismantle the ‘should stories’ so as to increase agency (real self-determination) for everyone – especially those groups that are currently disadvantaged in our society. Only then, the author says, can we say that consent has been given freely and meaningfully.

 

So far, so philosophical…but this book makes the argument completely accessible by using safe and comprehensible analogies. Freedom of choice and agency are demonstrated by using a pizza menu and film listings. Once the author has discussed these first principles, he turns his attention to the elephant in the room – sexual consent – but without giving the reader the choice to read on or not. Neat! His chapter on sex is full of compassionate, sensible and realistic advice about how (or whether) to conduct a sexual relationship. He debunks the many ‘should stories’ that surround sex in favour of increasing agency in the participants. Communication is key and much emphasis is placed on no means no but that absence of ‘no’ does not imply ‘yes’.

 

At every point the author demonstrates how to hold respectful, choice giving conversations that promote agency in ourselves and others and maximise the chances of achieving meaningful consent. I was struck by the argument that if somebody has to say ‘no’ to a suggestion then you have not given them enough choice. I shall try to put this theory into practice.

 

I would urge every parent to put this in the hands of their teenage child – but not without reading it first. It might help to reset some of those awkward conversations. I would also recommend it, as essential reading to all those who teach PHSCE to young people of age 12 and up.

Katherine Wilson

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Dragon World

Tamara Macfarlane, illus. Allesandra Fusi, pub. Dorling Kindersley

Meet those fire-breathing dragons that you are so familiar with from mythology, from fairytale, from books. Here is a collection that simply brims with these scaly behemoths, collected together to provide you with a vibrant and magical journey through their history.

 

Would you like to know why the dragon became a story that was told, where they originally came from, if they were in fact created to explain the dinosaurs? Did you know that there are dragon stories, myths and legends form around the world? Discover answers to this, ask more questions and explore the magnificent dragon through stories from both Europe and Asia, see even more dragons from around the world and discover for yourself more about actual dragon discoveries.

 

Dragon World is a thoroughly well-researched book with clues to be tracked, myths to untangle and then – the opportunity to master the art of drawing your very own dragon.

 

The colour hues chosen by illustrator Allesandra Fusi are perfect – their red-orange tones punctuate the pages and appeal to our traditional ideas of the dragon whilst also challenging our assumptions with greens, blues and purples too. Quotes, stories, maps all add to our experience and will leave you bursting with ideas about these most magnificent of creatures.

Louise Ellis-Barrett

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Earth’s Incredible Oceans

Jess French, illus. Claire McElfatrick, pub. Dorling Kindersley

We are all aware of how much of the earth is covered by oceans, those giant areas of blue with their incredible tumult of life. No matter how much exploration is done of the ocean there are always more questions that raise themselves and demand answers. We still want to know ‘What is coral?’ or ‘Can icicles form underwater?’ we may even want to know ‘What does a octopus use a coconut shell for?’ I will be kind and tell you the answer to this one – they use them as helmets, shields and shelters. Fascinating? This is just one of so many facts that are packed into this glorious technicolor book that it is difficult to know where to start in telling you about it!

 

Taking us from an exploration of what makes an ocean – from the sea to the seabed and all that lies in between to the animals we find in the ocean, how they live in these vast waters, the varying habitats they make use of and that grown, develop, decline with and around them to how we can make a difference to the ocean – for the better, how we can protect it. This book covers every aspect of which a child (and an adult) may conceivably wish to know more in a uniquely accessible and highly illustrated style. With both illustration and photography used to draw us into this world we are given true alongside artists impressions of life on, in and under these magnificent waters, encouraged to get deep and learn more and also to understand how and why we have oceans, the part they play in nature and the part we can play in protecting them for the future.

 

A magnificent celebration of a unique world that will fill you full of facts, enthrall and delight.

Louise Ellis-Barrett

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Eugene the Architect

Thibaut Rassat, pub. Prestel

This is a charmingly illustrated storybook, mainly for Years 2 and 3 I think, that has an unusual setting, will hold attention, and can be read a number of ways.

 

It’s a lovely object to hold. I think books need to be now, to feel exciting in your hands, and the production on Eugene is admirable. The cover is solid and important feeling; it and the pages swing open beautifully. The greens and blues that dominate the illustrations lift against grey-browns, and the spot yellows are vivid. The typeface is friendly and easily read.

 

Rassat’s illustrations are busy with engrossing detail, yet never fail to tell the story clearly and move it on. Flicking through the book is a joyful experience, you want to read it straight away. Once you do start reading, you’re drawn in. The words are efficient, but never hurried. It’s conversational, with the rhythms of an eloquent talker. There’s some choice vocabulary, but it’s not obtrusive and is explained by its context. Basically, Eugene can’t cope with disorder and seeks to eliminate it, whether compulsively sorting his possessions at home or designing geometrically perfect buildings for the city outside.

 

A tree topples over into his latest development, yet this delights Eugene, its sudden disruption of his meticulous planning opens him to new ways of thinking. He learns his role should not be to impose upon people and nature, but to design for their benefit so that they can express themselves. The process of Eugene changing is very sweet, and his change process invites and inspires the people around him to reassess their own world views. It’s about dealing with change, confidence, surprises and compromises, which is why I think a lot of its potential readers will find it a valuable read. It’ll be a comfort and an encouragement to people growing up.

 

And Rassat draws great dogs!

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

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Explore the World: Discoveries that Shaped our World

Anton Hallmann, trans. Ryan Eyers, illus. Anton Hallmann, pub. Little Gestalten

This well-designed book starts in a promising fashion with the Contents page laid out as a timeline. We meet in cartoon form our guides: Emma, who has round bunches and is probably of African origin, and Louis. The brief introduction does point out the fact that some places ’discovered’ by explorers were already known to the people who lived there, and that the famous names were helped by teams of other people, often including local guides.

 

Then we plunge straight in at the birthplace of mankind and are taken though to modern space travel today and, finally, a glimpse of the future. Each double page spread is laid out with short sections of facts, fully illustrated, and with comments from Emma and Louis. A particularly good feature of this book is the inclusion of female travellers and explorers. For example, a Spanish Christian woman called Etheria who was travelling around the Middle East in the 4th Century, using the Bible as a travel guide, and writing home to her sisters: these writings are the oldest surviving travelogues. One of the most widely travelled women, and the first European to give birth in the Americas, in Newfoundland, was Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, around 1000. She was assisted by Erik the Red and his son, Leif Eriksson, who discovered Newfoundland, and she later travelled to Rome. So, we learn that the Vikings had discovered America well before Columbus, and indeed other peoples may have found it, too.

 

Other little-known women were great travellers: Jeanne Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, though she had to do that disguised as a man, as women were not allowed on ships! Women were not expected to travel alone, or to become archaeologists, but Mary Kingsley and Harriet Boyd persisted, and became pioneers, paving the way for women like Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell.  Some indigenous travellers are named here: Bungaree was the first Aboriginal to circumnavigate Australia, and he made a useful map of his journey; James Cook could not have made all his discoveries without the Tahitian navigator, Tupaia; and a Lemhi Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, guided and translated for Lewis and Clark as they explored the West of the USA. There is at least one woman named in every topic, which is encouraging indeed, and many local people, which was fascinating for this reviewer.

 

The devasting impact of the European diseases which infected local tribes is made absolutely clear, and so are the often-misguided attempts to civilize or convert native peoples: some ‘achievements’ must be put in context. The exploration of the North and South Poles, space, and the ocean, are very much work in progress - there is still 90% of the ocean left unexplored, so on the last page, Louis and Emma tell readers that “Adventure awaits!”

 

Anton Hallmann as author, illustrator and designer has produced a stylish book in an autumnal colour palette which will be fun to pore over and browse through. There is no index, unfortunately, but topics can be found in the timeline at the front. This will be a useful addition to the school library for top juniors or lower secondary pupils, or a generous gift for a curious child.

Diana Barnes

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Great Rivers of the World

Volker Mehnert, illus. Martin Haake, pub. Prestel Books

The Colorado river is very important. Millions of people rely on the Colorado river, people living Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver all get their water supply and their electric energy from the Colorado river. The river supplies two artificial lakes in north America, which in turns irrigates the fields and suppliers the community. But do the people care?

 

The Murray river in Australia is 1554 miles long, the mouth of the river has strange natural features, before the Murray reaches the sea it stretches out wide to become a natural lake called Lake Alexandriana.

 

It’s interesting isn't it? Well, I think so.

 

This book is wonderful, full of interesting information, telling the story of 18 legendary rivers from each of the 5 continents. Every time to you pick this book up you will discover another fascinating fact. We learn how to look after the rivers, why they are important for human beings and animals and what we can do to protect the rivers. We also learn about their history. The illustrations accompanying the text are beautifully drawn with evident attention to detail.

 

There are fold out pages, which I always like. In fact, this has already become my favourite non-fiction book of the year.

Helen Byles

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I Used to Be A Fish: The Story of Evolution

Tom Sullivan, pub. Hachette Children’s Books

I Used to be A Fish is a simple and accessible introduction to evolution, for young children aged eight and under. The minimal text takes the reader through the stages of evolution from a fish, bored with swimming, who decides to explore the land through to modern man building across the planet.

 

There is a chart detailing a brief history of life on Earth with additional text at the end delving deeper into the science and explaining that evolution is slightly more complicated than depicted in the story. The bright, almost minimalistic, illustrations employ only three colours – bright red, cerulean blue and white - and are reminiscent of Dr Seuss with the same quirkiness and humour; I particularly loved the naked modern man with a big bushy red beard, coyly covering his bits!

 

This is a perfect book to tempt a child’s curiosity about evolution. Although the text and illustrations could be understood by a confident reader, the book really needs an adult to help the young reader explore it further, to answer any questions and prompt the likely discussions that will follow.

 

Author, Tom Sullivan, has been blind from birth. This is his debut children’s book. His other books consist of part memoirs, adult novels and, excitingly, coming later this year, a new graphic novel non-fiction series aimed at 8-12 year old’s about real FBI cases.

Barbara Band

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Kaleidoscope of Creatures

Cath Ard, illus. Greer Stothers, pub. Wide-Eyed Editions

Not only did I judge this book by its cover, but I had pretty much judged it before I had opened up the packaging it arrived in. I’m a big fan of the Wide-Eyed books and eagerly anticipated reading this one, I’m pleased to report this is another triumph.

 

The mirror-imaged illustrations and the embossing on the front offer a wonderfully tactile introduction, a real feast for the eyes. A feast of beasts for the eyes, if you will. We have lots of animal-based non-fiction books but this one sits beautifully alongside them, rather than instead of.

 

The book delves into the beauty and function of the colours in these creatures. This focus on appearance looks into why they look the way they do, the purpose this serves, how males/females differ and how appearance can change through the seasons or as an animal develops. To really go into this in depth is not something I’ve come across before, I felt it brought a new perspective to an established subject matter. It also squeezes in a helpful glossary and a page encouraging readers to think about how they can be kinder to wildlife. The bold backgrounds of each page add drama to the lovely and well thought out illustrations. As in all good nature books it offers familiarity in its choices of some of the animals depicted but also includes plenty of new ones – cue introductions to the Tomato Frog, Naked Mole Rat, Peacock Mantis Shrimp and Potoo.

 

This book is accessible and filled with snippets of information so wouldn’t scare off early/reluctant readers. I felt this would be suitable for pre-school aged nature lovers who would enjoy looking through the illustrations just as much as an older child would enjoy reading the text. This is a book you can pick up and put down time and again and it would look just as at home on your coffee table as it would on a child’s bookshelf.

Hannah Cooper

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Making A Baby: An Inclusive Guide to How Every Family Begins

Rachel Greener, illus. Clare Owen, pub. Nosy Crow

If you are looking for a book that addresses more than just how babies are conceived and born into a traditional family environment, then this one is going to be of interest to you.

 

Yes, the natural mechanics of making a baby are addressed, but the layout and illustrations are in sync with any current day non-fiction book which reflects the main theme of the book – how babies are made, with all modern-day approaches, family set-ups and outcomes of the birth suitably addressed.

 

It starts with the mythical stories that many children will have heard of, but then proceeds into the anatomy of the sexes, in familiar environments – the swimming pool, the bedroom. However, the majority of the book explains other ways that a baby can be conceived, and although the 2.4 family is well represented, so are same-sex parents, parents from ethnic back grounds, adoption and surrogacy. The book then teaches children about how babies grow, how twins are made and how they are born, which again, is not always spontaneous or successful and this is also explained; it also addresses how people may change their biological sex as the grow up.

 

One of the strengths of this book is the simple and straightforward writing which does not shy away from the subject-specific vocabulary; it contains short and well-placed paragraphs, captions and questions that are enhanced by simple and colourful illustrations by Clare Owen.

 

By the time you have finished reading the book, you will have forgotten about the giggles that you may get at the start, because making a baby is not actually that simple or straightforward. This book will give children and adults plenty to talk about together. It could have been just a scientific look at how to make a baby, but it isn’t – it is a warm and sympathetic read about the amazing process of creating life.

Anna Sterling

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Marvellous Machines

Jane Wilsher, illus. Andres Lozano, pub. What On Earth Books

Have you ever wondered what is inside some of the world’s most incredible and fascinating machines and inventions? Have you ever thought about the machines in your house, beneath your street and up in space? These machines are often hidden but are at work day and night. They make, move, build and even think for us. This book features bicycles to microwaves, printing presses to space stations. It really is a fun and fact packed wealth of information and is full of answers to tricky questions.

 

The book comes with an incredible and fun invention of its own. There is a magic lens to enable children to see inside the machines. Whenever you see the lens icon and red speckled or crisscross patterns you can wave the lens over the pattern to magically see what is hidden inside the machine. The lens is cleverly stored inside the front cover of the book. In addition to this, most chapters feature a numbered list of machines, gizmos and gadgets. The idea is to find all these throughout the chapter.

 

Marvellous Machines really is marvellous. It is a very eye-catching book with clear, simple and bright illustrations as well as a precise and easy to read text. It is informative reading, full of questions and answers for young inquisitive minds. Children will learn about maths, science and engineering. Some quite complex questions are answered and explained in a way that young people will understand. The book makes excellent use of relevant scientific vocabulary and includes a useful contents page, index and source notes at the end. There is also an additional guide to important key words.

 

Marvellous Machines starts with a chapter called ‘How Things Work: What is a Machine?’ Immediately wheels, pulleys, levers, gears, screws and forces are explained. There are chapters on kitchens, the telephone and transport. Further chapters cover machines underground, at the doctor’s and at the building site. Printing presses, robots, telescopes, rockets and space stations are all explored. Every chapter is amazing and features a mass of questions. Right at the end of the book there are some thought-provoking questions to conclude. Why do we invent new machines? Who built the first machines? What will machines be able to do in the future? What machine would you like to invent?

 

This really is the most brilliant and exciting read for children who have inquisitive minds, who generally love to ask questions and who love to visit museums. The magic lens is a fantastic addition to the book and the whole layout is so simple and easy to read and follow.

Gary Kenworthy

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Mona Lisa in New York

Yevgenia Nayberg, pub. Prestel

Mona Lisa is finally having a new experience, after spending 'a very long time' in the Louvre where she 'knows everything and everyone knows [her].' She is packaged in bubble-wrap, placed into a crate and travels to New York where it is 'business as usual' throughout her stay as people queue up to stare and admire her. On her last night Mona Lisa decides to leave her frame and the Museum to walk around New York, but she gets lost. To her surprise she is just one of the crowd until Tag, a graffiti man from Brooklyn, offers to show her around. As she experiences various aspects of New York’s nightlife she is surprised by not just the reawakening of her curiosity – she doesn’t know it all - but also how much she enjoys Tag’s company. She is sad to leave him, as he is her but when Tag returns to his home near Brooklyn Bridge he finds Mona Lisa waiting for him in a nice romantic happy ending!

 

Nayberg’s newest book is fanciful, romantic, intriguing, and captivating. There are echoes of the Night at the Museum films, Harry Potter, and Mary Poppins (to name just a few) through its inspired concept of characters within artwork coming ‘alive’ and moving unnoticed among human society. Nayberg instills this magical idea further in two intriguing ways. Tag initially questions which Mona Lisa is she – one from the bakery or one from a street, which makes you wonder just how many Mona Lisa’s, a much copied, parodied, and inspirational character, there are wandering around this world. Nayberg even shows somebody drawing their own version of her in the crowd looking at her. She depicts various characters from other works of art as cameos within her illustrations and includes a helpful guide to them at the end of the book. Characters created by artists such as Botticelli, Van Eyck, Lippi etc. move around the world, in the audience themselves looking at Mona Lisa or holding a hot drink on the street or carrying pots in the pizzeria where she and Tag eat.

 

I think this is such a clever intriguing way of moving this idea of artwork to come alive further and could inspire many creative projects linking English and Art together. Nayberg’s illustrative style itself is reminiscent of Marc Chagall’s work with its dreamlike nature, floaty, loose-limbed, body-twisting figures, and distorted dimensions and perspectives. She uses the muted sepia tones of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting within the wider illustrations but instead of being dull and dark the pages are full of colour, texture, detail, and a compelling population of figures. The final image of Mona Lisa with her crackled appearance and enigmatic expression embellished with spray-painted graffiti marks and decoration is a wonderful mixing of classic and contemporary art and a visual representation of what Nayberg celebrates throughout this story - making even the most famous classical art accessible and relevant to new audiences in a fun and engaging way.

Natalie J. McChrystal Plimmer

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Move Like A Lion

Radzi Chinyanganya, illus. Francesca Rosa, pub. Dorling Kindersley

The tag line of this book is 'mimic the moves of your favourite animals' and the front cover illustration is of Blue Peter presenter, Radzi, surrounded by various cartoon animals which gives the reader a clue regarding its contents.

 

The aim of the book is all about getting up off the sofa and moving, perfect for encouraging children to take more exercise by making it fun and as Radzi was announced, in 2017, as an ambassador for Super Movers, the campaign to encourage kids to learn as they move, he is the perfect person to promote these activities. There’s a wake-up routine to get you stretching before you are encouraged to stalk like a crocodile, wiggle like a worm, hop like a rabbit or roll like a panda. In fact, thirty-five different animals are featured so here is plenty to keep even the most energetic child occupied. The exercises can be done inside or out of doors and are certain to have children, of all ages, giggling in no time. Add in some ad-hoc animal noises and they’re likely to carry on all day!

 

Each movement is accompanied by black and white illustrations showing a diverse range of children demonstrating the actions, together with a simple explanation to help you perfect the moves. There are Did You Know facts about each animal as well as a Challenge Yourself extension activity for the more adventurous. The book finishes with some two-minute meditations – one for each day of the week – to encourage you to relax and mentally wind down.

 

Although aimed at 5–7 year old’s, older children – as well as adults – will get a lot of entertainment from this book.

Barbara Band

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My Intense Emotions Handbook

Sue Knowles, Bridie Gallagher and Hannah Bromley, illus. Kim S. Golding, pub. Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When I picked up My Intense Emotions Handbook, I was expecting to find a psychological lecture to teenagers, packed with scientific vocabulary and little thought on emotional regulation. However, what I discovered was a sensitive, friendly approach to helping teenagers understand: themselves; their feelings; relationships and how this relates to the world around them.

 

This book is a map of self-exploration, leading you through not only the scientific aspect of ‘why’ but also the psychological nature of ‘who’ and ‘what’. My Intense Emotions Handbook doesn’t shy away from giving the real information behind emotions, from the psychological impact of nature vs nurture, childhood trauma and disorders that can affect mental wellbeing, to the science behind what is happening in your body. The friendly narrator voice throughout the book helps it feel like you’re having a comfortable conversation with your best friend, rather than being lectured by an adult. Furthermore, the authors combine scientific and subject-specific vocabulary with reader friendly definitions, helping it feel accessibly and unpatronizing. My Intense Emotions Handbook weaves information alongside real life experiences, case studies and stories, to help you relate to what you are reading, adding a personal touch to the information on the page.

 

This guidebook also provides coping strategies, relayed in a well thought out and clear style. This encourages the reader to identify their own emotional, sensory and psychological needs in order to pinpoint the support they can access. Additional advice and websites are provided, to guide the reader to seek extra support beyond the pages and a self-care plan is embedded within the book, to allow you to begin your journey, right from the get-go.

 

Whilst I found the book an easy read, the layout occasionally hindered the fluency in which I could read the book. Some chapters used a varied layout to enhance interest and broke up text using boxes and bullet points. However, other chapters included large chunks of text, which appeared quite daunting on the page. Nevertheless, throughout the book, clear signposting with sub-headings allowed me to pause when the text became overbearing, and I could immediately find my page in the book and where I had finished.

 

For young adults, aged 14+, this book provides an in-depth, friendly and encompassing approach to emotions and emotional regulation. A must-have for a secondary school library, for teenagers who want to understand more or for parents who want to support their teen through the emotional rollercoaster that is growing up, this book provides for all.

Katie Piper

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My Sneezes Are Perfect

Rakhshan Rizwan and Yusuf Samee, illus. Benjamin Philips, pub. The Emma Press

Spring is here and with it comes a fresh bout of blossoms, ideas, and adventures out of home; sometimes with a bit of a tickle in the nose; but sneezes are a release, a relaxation and this time they are perfect as little Yusuf Samee sings of in this anthology about his inner and outer 6-year-old child’s life. Written in collaboration with Yusuf's mother Rakhshan Rizwan, herself a poet, writer, scholar and author of the Kashmiri Life Narratives, a research work published by Routledge.

 

This one though, is an adorable collection with cute illustrations by Benjamin Philips. You can expect to dive deeply into the mind of a young child growing up and learning from his surroundings, with big adventures of his own including climbing the tree, sharing likes with the hatchetfish, sibling tiffs, moving to America and coexisting with the culture, discovering auto-driving car, and types of poops! But this is strewn with intricacy, the mundane events and experiences of the boy reflect the current scenarios in America such as intruder drills at schools, California wildfires, the pandemic situation, zoom meetings and all the convergence of a young one's world with an adult's.

 

The words used are easy to understand and reflect the state of mind of a young boy settling, observing and exploring his body, mind, family, technology, school, friends and natural spaces. The book will help children relate to the world they experience through the short poems and the art like this one with a kid staring at the computer screen packed with faces in a zoom meeting-

 

On the first day of the first grade I felt scared,

because it was my first day,

but then I didn't feel nervous after that.

 

First grade is too easy!

I have to do easy peasy

lemon squeezy mathematics!

Like 1+1=2 and 2+2=4,

which is so simple!

 

Definitely recommended for children aged 6-10, conversing with the world and developing extremely rich inner monologues which help in developing the emotional quotient a lot! And there are poetry prompts at the end of the book to help the little ones sing their own experiences to the page!

Ishika Tiwari

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The Rainforest Book

Charlotte Milner, pub. Dorling Kindersley

The Rainforest Book is jam-packed full of facts and interesting snippets about the rainforest from which they are found, from why they are important to how climate change affects them and what children can do to protect them. It provides a very comprehensive look at the environment the plants and animals that can be found there and how they survive through pollination, seed dispersal, the use of camouflage, colourful warnings and mimicking, living in a pack and the predator/prey relationship.

 

This book provides opportunities for children to discover and explore their own love of nature. The information also supports the statutory requirements for KS1 plants as well as animals, including humans in that as well as the above information there is also double page spreads about life cycles, mating rituals, looking after their young and deforestation.

 

The author and illustrator, Charlotte Milner, encourages the children to protect the places that are precious to us by finding out more, looking before they buy, supporting conservation groups, recycling, reducing their carbon footprint, eating less meat, avoiding palm oil and planting trees. A great addition is the step-by-step instructions to inspire the children to plant their own mini rainforest in a jar.

 

The vibrant, modern feel using bright colours, photographs and infographics will appeal to children of all ages. I particularly liked the way the use of colour within the illustrations to give you a feel and impression of the rainforest. At the back of the book there is a wildlife index to encourage the children to find look up the different creatures featured in the book.

 

This is the ideal book for anyone who is interested in the environment and are intrigued to discover more about learning the ways they can help. It is guaranteed to help children to develop a deep passion for conservation. The perfect addition for all school libraries.

Anita Loughrey

Anita Loughrey’s (www.anitaloughrey.com) next books are the last two books of A Year in Nature series Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery to be released Sept 21st 2021.

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Stars With Flaming Tails

Valerie Bloom, illus. Ken Wilson-Max, pub. Otter-Barry Books

Here's some joy; a lyrical breeze; a nostalgic offering fragrant with experiences of a child of colour, inked by UK's beloved children's poet Valerie Bloom in her new book - Stars with Flaming Tails! This thin little book begins with the beginning, the arrival of baby Chinelo, and we see her first-person verses describing her experiences of family, school and the daily tussle and joy of hide and seek, combing hair, and observations on eyes, nose, flowers, wall and words.

 

This collection is as joyful and poetic as it is profound with poems like You Are -

 

You are the silver in the moonlight

The waves kissing the beach

The nectar in the mango

The sweetness in the peach.

 

Or, We Don't Laugh When Grandad Sings

 

When grandad sings he shuts his eyes,

Screws up his face, points to the skies

Grandad’s feelings would be hurt If we should greet his songs with mirth, He’d go quiet, he’d look dejected…

 

Or this lovely verse-

 

My heart is a volcano, A cyclone, a shooting star

My heart is a captive lovebird That’s suddenly been set free.

My heart is a sleeping baby, My dad is home again.

 

There are five sections, namely - Family and Friends; Fun with Forms; Our World; Animals and Unbelievable. The poems are related to each of these, full of wisdom and a knowingness found in the interaction between a kid to its environment. Definitely a book that I would recommend children aged 8-11 read, for the sense of exploration and curiosity it can instil in readers, its take on wordplay and poems targeting the emotional quotient of kids and of those with messages for the environment. Also, this is Valerie's first new solo collection!

Ishika Tiwari

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Weird, Wild and Wonderful. The Poetry World of James Carter

illus. Neal Layton, pub. Otter Barry Books

This book by award winning children's poet and musician James Carter, is a wonderful ride of sounds, shapes, and word play. Divided into three sections, titled Weird, Wild and Wonderful. The poetry in conjunction with cute and creative illustrations by Neal Layton brings in this enjoyable experience of reading and learning. These poems are performative and makes one jump in joy and targeted for a wide age range, this anthology holds the very best of James Carter's works, which he has been writing and performing for a period of 20 years. Here is a play of dark and light, with star-eyed wolves bewitching the poet, an Elephant's Ode to the Dung Beetle, an average day at school, and conversations with a fly!

 

Children and adults can come together in performing them and it offers help for children in understanding the meaning of emotions, environmental issues, the silence of the night and the sweetness of lying in a meadow with much ease, such as in this verse, talking of the harm done to the environment:

 

Who cares if 

we poison 

the land, the seas? 

We fell  all the forests,

we topple 

the trees? There’s plenty more galaxies, planets like these - with water, with air, with warmth, with light: homes like ours just right for life.

 

And this empathetic one on a Gorilla inside his glass world-

 

He sits and he stares

with them old brown eyes

beyond the glass

beyond my gaze

to a time

and a place

he’s never known

yet somehow

seems to remember

Where the wind shakes the trees where the rain wets the leaves where there are no walls at all.

 

Children will be able read these poems out loud and silently; they can identify shapes in the structure of the concrete poems, and learn about popular poetry genres like Haiku, Acrostics and Shape Poems. This collection is a must for growing kids learning pronunciation, who love to perform poems or just enjoy the witty illustrations with the flow of poetry!

Ishika Tiwari

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