Amazing Information: books to inspire and inform

Words & Pictures, 9781786038890

“The Race to Space” by Clive Gifford and Paul Daviz.  The author has been writing information books for young people for a long time and is recognized as an important part of the non-fiction book world.  This book looks at the chronology of the race to put men into space and then on to the Moon.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning, with a somewhat retro-style, reminiscent of 1950s soviet art at times.  The colour palette is very bright, although there is a flatness to the tones that reflect older methods of printing.  This is definitely a book to sit and browse through.  It is very much a book that will appeal to the artists as well as to the historians and scientists and it should be in all primary libraries.

Wide-eyed editions, 9781786030917

“When we walked on the Moon” by David Long and Sam Kalda is yet another book that has been produced to commemorate 50 years since man landed on the Moon.  It looks at the missions, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17, all of which had astronauts land on the surface of the Moon and undertake a series of experiments, as well as playing golf etc!  This is a simple introduction that deals with the main characters  and I particularly like the sketches of the crews, together with facts about missions, that are found at the back of the book.  The illustrations once again hark back to the start of the space race, but they are much brighter than in some other titles and there is a greater use of a white background.

Usborne, 9781474950848

“The Usborne Book of the Moon” by Laura Cowan and Diana Toledano has a much wider look at the moon and is aimed at the bottom end of KS 2.  It covers everything from the space race to mythology, as well as astronomy and  geography.  As you would expect from the publisher there are some brilliant illustrations and a lot of information, given in small bite sized chunks that will work well with the intended audience.  This has a good index which makes it particularly useful for schools, although I think a lot of young enthusiasts will just enjoy dipping in to this lovely book.

Macmillan, 978509824090

“The Darkest Dark” by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers.  This is a picture book based on the childhood o the astronaut Chris Hadfield; it tells of his fear of the dark and how seeing Apollo 11 helped him realize that the darkness of space could be fascinating and inspiring rather that frightening.  As a story, this can be read as a straightforward tale of space and imagination, or it can be used as a starting point when learning about space and the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

Nosy Crow, 9781788003391

“2019 Nature month by month” by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz  has been written for the National Trust and takes a look at the fascinating things that are going on around us throughout the year.  Anna Wilson is well know as a writer of fiction for children, but she is also keen on nature and wild swimming, so this is close to her heart.  This is an absolute treasure trove of information and covers things such as festivals, food, events and crafts relating to many of these activities.  The book is beautifully illustrated but perhaps the most striking part of my copy was the fluorescent orange end papers to the book, which made me want to hunt out my sun glasses.  I look forward to seeing if there is a new book for 2020.

Andersen Press, 9781783447435

“Stubby” by Michael Foreman is another in his retelling of true stories set in the First World War.  This recounts the story of  of how American troops, sent to the front in 1917, made a mascot of a little stray dog they named Stubby.  Miraculously the dog and his human carer survived the war and Stubby lived until 1926.  This is a beautifully illustrated story with very simple text and it will make an excellent introduction to the subject of the war.

Pavilion, 9781843653745

“Adventures in Space” by Simon Tyler is a stunningly illustrated book about space and about man’s attempts to leave the Earth and explore our neighbours.  The first half of the book looks at astronomy, the planets and the wider universe, so that we get a clear and well explained explanation of what is out there.  The second half of the book gives a brilliant timeline of how space exploration was achieved and what each major power produced as its space craft.  The information is truly up to date and even looks at prospective launches in 2020 and beyond.  There is also information about satellites and the International Space Station, making this a perfect start for anyone who loves space.  Unusually the pages are black, with white text, but the images tend to have been brightly coloured, so they stand out against the page.  Definitely recommended.

WhatonEarth Books, 9781999802820

“Absolutely Everything” by Christopher Lloyd, illustrated by Andy Forshaw, Justin Poulter and Will Exley is the sort of book that I would have loved to have received as a child.  It tells the history of the world in a chronological way, but with overlaps as we look at different parts of the world and what was happening in different civilizations.  The illustrations have a feel of the 1950s but with a bit of a modern twist.

“Mary who wrote Frankenstein”, (originally called “Mary and Frankenstein”) by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda is a beautifully told introduction to the life of Mary Shelley (as she became) and how she came to write one of the most enduring stories in English Literature.  The illustrations are a tour de force by Julia Sarda and the sophisticated and highly stylized images really bring the text to life.  This would make a really good introduction to the young reader who is about to read the story itself; it also works as a good basis for learning about ‘Gothic tales’ and their popularity at the beginning of the 19th Century.

“Wild facts about Nature” by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett is yet another brilliantly funny and informative book by this author.  It is written under the auspices of the RSPB and is full of facts, jokes and stories all about nature.  This is definitely one of those books that young readers will keep dipping in to and will become a favourite for quizzes, long journeys and sharing with friends.  This is highly illustrated and definitely one for those who love books such as “Horrible Histories” etc.

Bloomsbury, 9781408889935

“The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan and Neil Packer is a truly delightful book bringing a fresh look at the developing history of the world; told through the development of trade routes along the silk roads and then wider trade routes.  The original book was written for adults but then this junior version was created.  The cover can only be described as sumptuous, with its blue and gold images and lettering.  The illustrations throughout are complex, colourful and based on the artistic style of the civilization being discussed. This brings the history of the word into one book and helps us to understand the links between different countries and their development over the centuries.  We often forget that history is a blending of all the influences that are in play at any given time and this book helps bring it all together.  I really loved this and I look forward to reading “The New Silk Roads” which looks at these relationships as they are today.

There has been a real resurgence in the publishing of information books, mainly led by the rise in general interest books rather than in those  intended for the curriculum.  The winning of the Kate Greenaway medal by “Shackleton’s Journey” gave a real boost to this sector and there have been several new and innovative publishers who have revitalized the market.  From this small selection you can see that there has been a swell in the number of titles looking at space and the moon, particularly as we reach the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  However there are plenty of books out there if you love, history, nature art and a whole range of fascinating subject, just go out and enjoy the delightful buffet of books.

 

Bristol celebrating Children’s Books

Usually when I attend any book events it means a long journey by car or train, however yesterday I went to a really great little day in Bristol.  It was hosted by Horfield Primary School who have been gaining a reputation for their emphasis on reading;  in fact, last year they were the winners of the UKLA Literacy School of the Year award.  It was lovely to walk around the school and see the examples of ‘good practice’ that they were taking on board, so that pupils are constantly reminded of the joys of reading.

There was a very full programme of events during the day and I managed to fit in five of the authors and illustrators.  Firstly I saw the truly inspirational Andy Seed, who is well known for his series of very funny but informative books about a wide range of topics.  Yesterday he used the event to launch a new wildlife  book  entitled “Wild Facts about nature” which he has written in conjunction with the RSPB.  Andy is a really funny speaker who had the audience of both children and adults in fits of laughter.  The session was very interactive with helpers being  persuaded up on to the stage to help with the explanations and quizzes found in the book.  If anyone is looking for a really superb author to connect with their primary pupils then Andy Seed comes highly recommended.

My next session was with the lovely Amy Wilson who has made quite a stir with her book “A girl called Owl” and her latest “A Far away Magic“.  She also introduced us to her next book “Snow globe”, which will be published in October, ready for the Christmas market.  This was a very interactive workshop, with Amy working with the children to think around the concept of Magic.  It was really lovely to hear from the children about what they had been inspired to write.  Given the emphasis that there is on writing within the curriculum this was a brilliant way to enthuse children, without making it feel like ‘work’.

Ross Montgomery is a very talented young author and has produced books for a wide range of ages; these range from picture books such as “Space Tortoise” to his new book “Max and the Millions“.  This workshop was for what is often called ‘middle grade’ readers and was centred around ‘Max’ and how Ross created the world at the centre of the story.  The children had to imagine they were only the size of a grain of rice and then think about how they would describe objects they see when entering a new space/room within a house.  It was fascinating to hear their thoughts and to try and visualize the process for yourself.  Even though these workshops are intended for a children’s audience, they are so useful for adult who want to write, or who work with children in an educational setting.

The largest event of the afternoon was that with S F Said who is well known in most primary schools for his books about a cat called “Varjak Paw” and many of the children in the packed audience would have read the book in school.  The author spoke about his journey into writing and it was fascinating to hear that he had also suffered book rejections in his time.  He also admitted that his understanding of the writing and publishing process had to develop over time, especially the fact that writing ‘The End’ means it is the End of the beginning process.  Thing such as agents, editors, drafts and re-writes were something that he had to learn about and take on board in order to achieve success.  His latest book “Phoenix”, which has been out for several years now, took seven years to write and is on a much larger scale than his first works.  It is a fantastic space odyssey, which I really loved.  The children had lots of questions at the end of the session and we heard that there will be a third Varjak Paw at some time in the future, but only when S F is older!

My final session of the day was with the delightful Chris D’Lacey who is so well know for his wonderful “Last Dragon” series, of which I am a great fan.  He spoke about how he started writing and the book that first brought him attention as an author “Fly Cherokee, Fly” which was listed for the Carnegie medal.  When his publisher asked for another book on a similar theme, with squirrels , he was also asked what was the occupation of the landlady where the central character was living.  By a very circuitous route he came up with her being a ceramicist who makes models of dragons; the series was born.  Chris also spoke about his two later series “The Unicorne Files” and “Erth Dragons”, both of which are possibly for slightly older audiences.

 

Mini Grey

Leigh Hodgkinson

Kjartan Poskitt

There were six other authors and illustrators that I was unable to sit in on, but I was lucky enough to speak to several of them when they were signing or just enjoying the atmosphere.  Mini Grey (“The Last Wolf”), Leigh Hodgkinson (“Are you sitting comfortably”), Emma Randall (“The twelve days of Christmas”) and David Lucas (“Grendel”) are all superb picture book creators and it was a shame that I did not get time to hear them speak.  However based on their charming way with their audience, I will try and get to listen to them in the future.  I also want to know why Mini was wearing little furry ears!  John Hegley (“I am a Poetato”) is very well known as a poet and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a conference a couple of years ago.  He is full of energy and his use of language is amazing, I would highly recommend him for schools.  This recommendation also applies to the final speaker that I did not see, however I have also seen him in the past.  This is Kjartan Poskitt, a man who can make mathematics really interesting, amusing and even understandable.  His books about “Murderous Maths” are a staple of most libraries and schools and like “Horrible Histories” they are very popular with the intended audience.  To listen to him is a real experience and I would have loved to catch some of his event.

Overall this was a really lovely day and I would like to give a big thanks to the organizers and staff at Horfield Primary School for putting it all together, as I know how much effort must have gone into the day.  I particularly loved the small bouquets of flowers, crafted from old books by the children, that were given to each author.   It was advertised heavily on Twitter and in Bristol so I am sure that it must have been a disappointment that the audience was not as broad as it could have been.  However I did see several friends and had the great pleasure of meeting a Twitter friend, Brindy Wilcox, who is a self published children’s author and lives a few miles from me.  It really was a wonderful celebration of children’s books and the fantastic wealth of authors and illustrators that we have in this country.  Those of you in the area who did not attend missed a real treat.