Non-Fiction Book Reviews

Amazing Activists Who Are Challenging Our World

Rebecca Schiller, illus. Sophie Beer, pub. Walker Books

This is a rather lovely book about activists aimed at 5 – 9-year-olds. Each person is represented on a double-paged spread with basic biographical information about them, some facts about their beliefs, why they acted the way they did, and some reasons why this is still important. The pages also feature a quote from the person being discussed and an activity to do; the activities range from practical, such as how to save water, to hands-on, such as how to make a bug hotel.

 

The book begins by explaining what activism is about and the sorts of things people care about which is rather wide-ranging encompassing racism, women’s rights, environmental issues, female empowerment, disability rights, LGBT+ rights, slavery, wildlife, freedom of speech and human rights. The pages are visually appealing with text broken up by boxes and different fonts. There is diverse representation with many familiar characters such as Nelson Mandela and Emmeline Pankhurst but it is nice to meet some more unusual and little known people such as Boyan Slat, who invented a machine to collect plastic from the ocean, and Aditya Mukarji, whose activism in Dehli, India, has prevented over 26 million plastic straws from being added to environmental waste.

 

With a range of positive and uplifting role models, this book provides a lot of ideas and points of discussion on important topics; my favourite feature is the three words describing the person’s activist powers and there is a table at the end of the book inviting readers to identify their own powers.

Barbara Band

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Breaking News

Nick Sheridan, illus. David O’Connell, pub. Simon & Schuster

Nick Sheridan is a news journalist who has worked for the BBC as a Consumer Affairs Correspondent and now works as a TV and radio presenter in Glasgow - so he knows what he’s talking about. Breaking News: How To Tell What’s Real From What’s Rubbish is his first book.

 

Aimed at 8-to-12-year-olds, this book is perfect for any children that have an interest in news and journalism. It will help children understand what ‘news’ is and how to tell the difference between real news and fake news, an important topic at KS2 and an important life skill. It will be very useful for children that worry or feel overwhelmed about the things they see reported on the television or hear on the radio as it puts news in context, explaining why some things might be considered newsworthy and others not. As well as helping children understand the concept of news and reporting, the book is full of ideas and activities that help bring the subject to life, making it a very useful classroom resource.

 

Nick Sheridan’s writing is both informative and humorous, and coupled with David O’Connell’s cartoon style illustrations it allows a potentially difficult and complicated subject to be delivered in a way that will help maintain young readers interest.

Damian Harvey

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Earth, Sea and Stars

Isabel Otter, illus. Ana Sender, pub. Little Tiger Press Group

As I go through these pages filled with tales full of wisdom, soft happy illustrations enrich my vision and delight my senses in conjunction with the folktales from around the world! Retold and compiled by writer and editor Isabel Otter and decorated with illustrations by Ana Sender who has previously decorated The Lost Fairytales, See Inside Evolution, and The Golden Age amongst others. The 108 stories contained in this one, and their places of origin, are etched on a map as we begin our journey.

 

Opening the book we dive into the story of the Dragon King of China in which Li Ching the hero learns a worthy lesson about his good intentions:

 

"Perhaps you meant well, but remember that goodwill alone is not always enough. You allowed a taste of power to overthrow your sense and ignored the advice of a friend. We must think carefully about the impact of our actions, even if our intentions are honest."

 

From China, readers move into the tropical landscapes of Swahili speaking communities, where a farmer, python and baboon get into an interesting conversation about the circle of life. After this we get to read interesting tales full of wisdom and knowledge essential for one to reflect on one's social and individual existence and take in the essence of different cultures. From animals and humans we enter the magical world of gods and find out how goddess Hina went to reside on the moon and sent figs back to her brother God Ru on earth!

 

If you love folktales, nature; stories with human, animal, mystical worlds merging into a beautiful blossom fragrant with wisdom worth keeping, then definitely pick this one up! It can also be gifted to kids 8 and above or can be kept as a keepsake as well. There's so much to learn, ruminate upon, or just imbibe from this collection until sleep takes over at night. Happy reading!

Ishika Tiwari

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The Extraordinary World of Birds

David Lindo, illus. Claire McElfatrick, pub. Dorling Kindersley

The Extraordinary World of Birds is an exceptional book. Stunningly produced, expertly written and beautifully illustrated, it takes children on a fascinating journey of discovery through the world of birds; showing how amazing and endlessly surprising they are, what they do for our planet and how we can help them to survive and thrive.

 

Divided into five parts, the book is carefully planned to start with the basics: What Is A Bird? Then explores bird families, bird behaviour, bird habitats, and birds and me. We learn about flight, nesting, eating habits and the special abilities and adaptations that help each species survive in their unique habitat as well as camouflage, migration, navigation and singing. We travel across countries and continents, through skies, treetops and even underground. Importantly, each section is packed with the kind of incredible detail and fascinating facts kids love, remember and share with each other.

 

The text is simply written but completely engaging and conveys the passion of the author, Urban Birder David Lindo, as well as his encyclopaedic knowledge. The illustrations from Claire McElfatrick are colourful, detailed, quirky and cleverly integrated with close-up photographs of birds, all presented in the eye-catching double page spreads DK are renowned for.

 

The Extraordinary World of Birds would make an ideal gift book for 7+. It’s perfect for dipping in and out of, poring over and sharing, with something new to discover on each re-read. With its glossary of bird terminology, list of national birds around the world and comprehensive index, this is also an invaluable classroom resource, useful for project work and research. Determined birders would benefit from a spotter’s identification guide alongside but this superb book is guaranteed to spark curiosity about, and a passion for, the extraordinary bird world as well as a determination to conserve it for the future.

Eileen Armstrong

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Famous Robberies: The World’s Most Spectacular Heists

Soledad Romero Marino, illus. Julio Antonio Blasco, pub. Little Gestalten

I need to get something off my chest: theft (aka burglary, piracy, fraud, swindle, shoplifting, tax evasion) is not something to be celebrated. There is always a victim(s). BUT I enjoy an episode of Hustle as much as the next person and there is something fascinating and thrilling about the extraordinary human ingenuity that is required to achieve ‘impossible’ heists.

 

Famous Robberies examines nine audacious and sophisticated robberies from the last 150 years carried out in Europe and the Americas. (I would be curious to find out whether such heists have ever occurred in Asia.)  Each crime is introduced by a mock front page spread of a relevant national newspaper: Le Grand Parisien, The Glasgow Times, El Pais, The Boston Globe and so on. This format adds a feeling of authenticity and immediacy to the account of the robbery. The mastermind behind the crime and the modus operandi are examined in detail before moving on to the police investigation and the consequences for the criminals. We learn about robbers who ‘walked in’ and ‘walked out’ with the loot, the gang that constructed a tunnel 260 feet long with ventilation and lighting. Two criminals jumped to freedom (one from a plane), never seen again and ‘new wave’ cyber theft. I like the way the authors use a narrative to tell the story rather than a collection of information boxes, sustaining the suspense and the excitement. In doing this, the authors don’t fall into the trap of glorifying the perpetrators. They might say that their criminal masterminds became folk heroes, but they do not necessarily share that view. The copious illustrations are a wonderful combination of 'realistic’ graphic images and cartoons redolent of the Pink Panther movies. The whole book exploits the graphic tradition so strong on the continent of Europe.

 

Famous Robberies is a fascinating and informative read and I would recommend this book to anyone 10-years old and up. There is some tricky crime related vocabulary: clandestine, modus operandi, compromising, contraband that warranted a glossary.

 

I must return to my first point. It is obvious that these nine heists were chosen for their supposed lack of violence. I do take issue, however, with the author’s treatment of some of the crimes, crime is never victimless.

Katherine Wilson

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Gaia: Goddess of Earth

Imogen Greenberg, illus. Isabel Greenberg, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

One way of looking at myths is as the afterlife of science: ideas about the working of the world that are no longer believed true. Flip this and we understand that what we now think fanciful was once thought fact. And here’s the thing this book does that the innumerable Wonder Woman style stories typically fail to: they have little sense of or involvement in epic narrative, that the earliest stories are still happening today, are yet to be concluded. Which brings me to the curious strength of this take on the entirety of Greek myth, that it’s not really about Greek myth at all.

 

Gaia is a progressive story about learning that one cannot take a passive, reactive role in life hoping that things will work out for the best, but must take an active and principled stand, and strive for the best possible future. The benign creator goddess begins enchanted with her own creation and full of good intentions, but successive generations of her own increasingly corrupt godly offspring render her depressed, dismayed, grief-stricken and murderously angry until she realises that you don’t fight evil with evil, but by strengthening good.

 

So: Greek myths retold from the start as a single narrative about Gaia stretching into the present day. Told as a graphic novel with page complexity accessible to quite young readers. Bearing that in mind, the material is toned down from its sources to come in with a PG rating. Simple, heavily stylised, richly coloured, beautifully composed art. Accessible, modern writing with frequent nice flourishes. Both writing and art connect well with the present day – myths, when believed, are always set in the present day because they tell the truth of now. And the truth this story is telling is that there’s a better, kinder, greener, more just world that needs fighting for.

 

I enjoyed this immensely. There’s a huge emotional journey for Gaia that the reader needs to be happy to join in with, so despite the wodges of action and gods and monsters I’d say you need an emotionally literate reader aged six and above, but that apart it’s a cracking book recommended to all.

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

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Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints

Dr. Janina Ramirez, illus. Sarah Walsh, pub. Nosy Crow

Who doesn't love powerful, feminine, loving, intelligent, warrior female figures? I certainly do with the feminine rising since time immemorial to reclaim its power. The mystical world is enticing and magical, goddesses, spirits and powerful human beings have been a part of it.

 

Cultural Historian Dr. Janina Ramirez's compilation of the tales, symbols and how they shaped the culture they originated from presents 50 wonderful female figures from times beyond this one, written in collaboration with the British Museum and illustrated beautifully by Sarah Walsh. The book begins on a bright pink page inked with empowering words and the reader gets pulled into the world of these powerful energies of Ruling and Guiding where representations of the same namely Durga, Juno, Innana, Nut and the rest have been reflected upon. Then come the Goddesses of New Life from different cultures like the Roman goddess Venus, Celtic goddess Brigid, Sri Lankan goddess Pattini, along with the first woman created by God - none other than Eve! Goddesses have been chosen from the spheres of War and Death, Love and Wisdom, and Animals and Nature. But, they are not all goddesses - saints and spirits; witches and ogresses get featured in this collection as well like the Burmese ogress Popa Medaw, Hel and Medusa.

 

Each page presents the story of the genesis, or brief description, of the goddess, followed by her traits and 'shaping beliefs' associated with the female figure - here a beautiful Venus full of soft pink hues shares the space with a cupid, roses, a golden apple and mini-image of Venus de Milo. There on that page is the Inuit goddess Sedna with her tragic tale and magical rising as the mother of the sea and all it contains.

 

Goddess is a book rich with the powerful divine and humane feminine presented in her various forms and emotions. It can be enjoyed by children 12 and above and by all who want to know about the vision of the feminine in different cultures.

Ishika Tiwari

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How To Make A Book

Becky Davies, illus. Patricia Hu, pub. Little Tiger Press Group

Every book has a starting point and that is one brilliant idea, just the one but it soon becomes a story and that story becomes a book. Have you ever wanted to know more about this process? You can learn, as I did how a book, in fact this very book, the one that I had in my hands and that hopefully will find its way to your hands too, how a book becomes a book. From the acquisition of the story to the artwork, the publicity celebrating the book once it is ready and the printing which gets it into our hands every step of the process is presented in this inspiring and informative guide.

 

Budding readers, busing writers, artists, all who love books, have an interest in books and maybe see a future career in books will love learning about how a book is made. There is lots of detail presented to us, but it is clearly presented, in small chunks of detail that can be followed across the page, step-buy-step as we meet each of the people, follow each of the processes involved in the making of a book. Fully illustrated at every step the characters are realistic and relatable and the wonderful grey dog, a mascot to the process is a great character to spot page after page!

 

Discover that there is magic in a book, in the making of a book and learn how many people it takes to bring us all books. I loved this one, unique, clever and fun

Louise Ellis-Barrett

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Iconic People of Colour

Elizabeth Ajao, illus. Phil Shaw, pub. Summersdale Publishers

This is a little book that packs a powerful punch! Containing details of thirty-eight men and women - all of whom are iconic role models chosen to empower and inspire readers. The wide selection of activists, athletes, scientists and superstars are from a global range of ethnicities and cultures. The contents page lists all the people featured in the book in alphabetical order of their surname so it is easy to scan to see who has been included and there really is someone for everybody.

 

We find a great mix of icons – ground breakers, risk takers and game changers - both dead and alive, and, importantly, it showcases lesser known characters rather than the more famous ones that appear in many other books. Each person has a short biopic of their life story with some amazing facts and achievements listed as well as a quote, these are accompanied by black and white sketch style illustrations too. This is a great book to dip in to, it is easy to read, undaunting, interesting and informative. As it says on the blurb: “be prepared to be introduced to your new superheroes”.

Barbara Band

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The Magic of Seasons

Vicky Woodgate, pub. Dorling Kindersley Books

On the front cover of this book, under the title, it says “a fascinating guide to seasons around the world”, and this is truly saturated with a wealth of information about so many topics that its double-page glossary and index do not do it justice. Over 31 chapters, Woodgate explores subjects as diverse as how the Earth was formed, astronomy, and meteorology to folklore, human health, and animal and plant behaviour. Magnetic fields, seasonal food, climate change, fungi, Seasonal Affective Disorder, the solar system, and the different types of seasons experienced around the world are all discussed along the way.

 

Woodgate uses small paragraphs scattered across the highly illustrated spreads to communicate a lot of complex information and ideas in a way that keeps the reader engrossed and involved. She uses lots of puns, exclamations, (yippee, amazing!) and questions to the reader in her relaxed chatty breezy writing style. She continues this fun, interactive approach by displaying information in many formats including quizzes, statistics, practical tips, ideas for activities, timelines and in one amusing section a gallery of portraits of weather pioneers in the form of cats. Ander Celsius is depicted as a white and black cat dressed in a powdered wig and cravat. This cat is Mimi who appears a lot within the book, with one activity being to count the number of times she appears, as she guides us through the “seasonal adventure across our planet” because “cats are very good at predicting changes in the weather”. In one section, explaining a theory of how the earth was created by a proto-Earth crashing into the planet Theia, Mimi is shown in an astronaut’s helmet saying how this is the most widely accepted explanation as we cannot know for sure.

 

Mimi is also the guide to Woodgate’s other non-fiction book The Magic of Sleep. Having her as an interactive character involved in not just explaining ideas and topics but also engaged in activities and speaking directly to the reader makes this an unusual non-fiction book that is bursting with information in a very fun, enjoyable, and warm manner.

Natalie J. McChrystal Plimmer

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Number Shocker

Clive Gifford, illus. Guilherme Karsten, pub. Red Shed

Did you know ‘an Arctic tern can fly 1,200,000 km during its lifetime – a distance further than flying to the Moon three times’?

 

This is a jolly torrent of science and engineering facts (I counted 70 in 10 pages, and there are 26 fact-filled pages in all), heavily steered towards quantities of things, rooted in a variety of themes: cargo ships, rain forests, lightning, the microbes in your mouth, and so on. The fact I opened with was my favourite, but I like birds and I like space, and that’s a good point about this book: whatever it is that you like, there’ll be facts here for you that’ll be fresh, surprising, and thought-provoking. And there’s its use: it’s knowledge and mind expanding. Forget the presentation and there’s content here you can slip into conversation with a four-year-old (lightning bolts are only an inch wide) or use as the seed of an A-level essay (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is three times bigger than France). This book has universal appeal that you can keep turning to for years.

 

Of course, it has a visual and tonal style that suggest its core audience. I’d say CBBC pop science in the manner of Dick and Dom’s wonderful Absolute Genius. The art is competent, colourful and loose. It’s a pity that the most memorable thing about it is that the characters are almost all white. It makes for a 70s feel. The tone is a bit breathless and teacherly, and the delivery disjointed even allowing for the nature of the book, but forgivably so and it does the job, the elegance of the language isn’t the point, the facts are well-chosen and grouped. This is about what you’re reading, not how it’s being told.

 

For me, it’s an agreeable, necessary, and praise-worthy selection of topical information on loaded issues. We need books that will explain the impact of deforestation, pollution, globalisation and the rest without preaching. This book leaves a gap for its readers to make their own minds up on the meaning in the facts, which is proper.

 

Excellent fact-book, thoughtfully conceived, professionally done, core audience 7 to 11.

Dmytro Bojaniwskyj

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Once Upon A Big Idea

James Carter, illus. Margaux Carpentier, pub. Little Tiger Group Press

This book is a visually stunning journey of civilisation, charting our development from ancient history to the modern day. Each double page spread has beautiful illustrations and describes, for example, the different uses of wood, the creation of the wheel and the uses of modern materials. This book demonstrates humanity’s ingenuity, how we transform and adapt materials.

 

It is a fascinating journey into the world of invention, the big ideas features are all ideas that have come straight from the human brain, well the brains of many humans. They are all ideas that have shaped the world we live in, from bridges to boats and medicines to mobile phones, these are the big ideas that have shaped our world and that we now, could not live without.

 

Margaux Carpentier’s illustrations are gorgeous and the colour palette bright and brilliant.

Snappy rhyme and plenty of onomatopoeia from James Carter engage the young reader. This book also conveys the message of the importance of recycling and reusing what we have.  Accessible to all, this would be a lovely addition to any home or classroom.

Stephanie Robertson

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One World: 24 Hours on Planet Earth

Nicola Davies, illus. Jenni Desmond, pub. Walker Books

Two small curious children are awake, looking through their window. They ask the reader “where on Earth are you right now?” They wonder what is happening at this precise moment around the world, beginning an adventure around the world starting off in Greenwich, London at one minute to midnight.

 

This adventure takes in twelve different creatures and landscapes across eleven countries at that specific moment in time. It’s 1am in the Arctic Circle, the polar bears are hunting seals but the ice is melting making life very hard for them. At 2am in Zambia a baby elephant is taking her first steps but there is danger from poachers. At 6:30 am in a Chinese nature reserve gibbons are chattering away but are suffering from deforestation. At 2pm in Hawaii humpback whales are splashing in the sea, making a comeback following near extinction.

 

Desmond has created a vivid, evocative, vibrant depiction of a particular habitat immersing the reader into the scene. Each image seems even more striking when juxtaposed with its neighbour. The warm sandy colours of the kangaroos in Australia (10am) seem even hotter when followed by the cold icy world of the emperor penguins in Antarctica (12noon). The variety showcases how diverse the planet is.

 

The game of find the children, Where’s Wally style, on each illustration is a fun interactive element, as they engage with their environment and its inhabitants. The cheerfulness of this feature is echoed in the beginning of the spread’s single short paragraph where Davies writes in her casual conversational style.

 

The fun, innocent, magical nature of the adventure is brought into stark conflict with the realities of the world, the problems people have caused, especially in the final pages where they are flying above a heavily polluted populated cityscape. Despite this message is overall a positive one, final pages optimistically focusing on the children celebrating what they have seen, thinking about what else is out there to still see, and the fact that as the clock finally leaves the stroke of midnight the wider world are celebrating 22nd April, Earth Day with a call of action for everybody to join in.

Natalie McCrystal-Plimmer

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Shy and Mighty

Nadia Finer, illus. Sara Thielker, pub. Dorling Kindersley Books

I wish I’d had this book when I was little! As a shy person I felt very self-conscious. Nadia introduces herself as one of the world’s shy people explaining that it’s okay; we shouldn’t feel ashamed because there is a way we can fit in.

 

Shy and Mighty is split into two parts: covering the idea of shyness with topics such as ‘Levels of shyness’, ‘Are you born shy?’ and ‘What does shyness do to your body?’ followed by the mighty section, where you learn to face challenges, dream big, have mighty powers. I resonated with the concept that shyness is like a bully; we might want to be brave and bold, but a little voice inside us tells us otherwise, therefore we feel afraid to use our own voices. There are some really good tips to help you with your shyness - thinking of it as a secret doorway rather than a barrier or a prison, opening it really gently until you emerge when you’re ready to show who you truly are - it’s a book full of really useful strategies. As well as this, it is crammed with amazing analogies such as explaining that shy people are a little bit like orchids - they need just the right environment in order to thrive.

 

Laid out in such a way that each double page spread tackles a different topic, enhanced with the fabulous illustrations by Sara Thielker, uses wonderful, bright colours and expressive characters to help us understand each part of shyness. Nadia writes in a colloquial style as if talking to you, as a friend making it relatable. She also includes ‘Mighty Missions’ an aid to overcoming the shyness that can stop you from becoming the person you are capable of being. These are easy to follow and very, very achievable.

 

Every character is different: old, young, disabled, abled, male, female, dark-skinned, light-skinned – you will easily find yourself in this book, which helps us understand that shyness affects everybody. It’s jam-packed with information and tips for those who are shy or who knows somebody who is shy. It's a refreshing, never seen before book!

Claire Webb

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This Is Me! A Self Discovery Journal for Girls

Anna Prudente-Poulton, pub. Summersdale Publishers

Journals are part of many young people’s lives, they have been for many years. For me it was a diary, written in daily with notes about my day, thoughts, and feelings, they have evolved and now the diary is a journal, one that often comes with ready printed activities, thoughts, and ideas.

 

This Is Me! does not disappoint, it is a fun, empowering and interactive journal for girls aged 9-12. It is a journal that gives you time to discover and celebrate all the things that make you uniquely you. This is a journal that aims to help its user appreciate their essence, what it is that makes them who they are. Growing up is not easy, it is a period of transformation, a time when life can feel as though it is in fast forward and with this journal you have the opportunity to take some time to better understand yourself. Using it will help you to become a superhero, your very own superhero.

 

Inspirational quotes are dotted throughout to give the journal user time to pause for thought, that are placed alongside quizzes and tick boxes to do alone or with friends, there are tips for sleepover parties, what shoes to wear when, a place to create your family tree and so much more. Divided into chapters so that it feels a little like a book but packed with all the elements that make up a journal this is an important book for young girls navigating their growing up journey. Grab a copy, turn it into your very own awesome book and transform you too.

Colin Paterson

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Young Oracle Tarot: An Invitation Into Tarot’s Mystic Wisdom

Suki Ferguson, illus. Ana Novaes, pub. Wide Eyed Editions

Teen me was fascinated by astrology and tarot cards and, as a school librarian, I was constantly being asked for books on this topic; I wish I had had this beautiful book back then.

 

From the gold foil cover to the gorgeous illustrations, this is a wonderful overview, an introduction to what tarot is and how it works. With three sections, ‘What is Tarot’, ‘About the Cards’ and finally ‘Reading the Cards’, this book covers all the main points, is well organised and appropriate for the teen age group it is aimed at. There is a history of tarot explaining how the cards have developed through the ages, descriptions of the symbols and meanings, and a glossary of mystical terms.

 

It is important to remember that tarot is a tool to use in trusting your intuition, and recognising your strengths and talents, and the book emphasises to the reader that the cards are designed to be used as a means for introspection. The bulk of the book is printed on high quality cream paper with monochrome illustrations with the section about the cards containing detailed coloured illustrations on black paper. A perfect introduction to the topic of tarot cards.

Barbara Band

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