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.

 

Great Reads for younger Readers

With the new term about to start there are many teachers out there who are looking for good and exciting books that they can read and recommend to their younger pupils this year.  These suggestions are hopefully ones that will help them; they are really for KS1 and KS2L and whether the children read them individually is obviously a matter for the staff.  However they have all got potential to be read to the children if teachers are looking for funny, interesting or exciting stories that do not take the whole term to read.  Give some of them a try and decide whether they will work with your young people.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127681

“Rose’s Dress of Dreams” by Katherine Woodfine and Kate Pankhurst is one of the first titles in a new series by Barrington Stoke.  The books are a smaller format than usual and have coloured illustrations, all of which makes them very attractive to the younger reader.  This title is about a young girl and her dream of becoming a dressmaker during the pre-revolutionary period in France.  The young Rose eventually became the first of the famous couturiers and an influence on generations of designers. It is really about holding on to your dreams and trying to overcome the challenges that life throws at you.  It is particularly good for those who have an interest in history or fashion

Usborne, 9781848127333

“Marge and the Secret Tunnel” by Isla Fisher and Eglantine Ceulemans is the fourth in a series about one of the most eccentric babysitters you are likely to meet.  Jemima and Jakey often have to spend time with a babysitter and until Marge came on the scene they had always disliked the experience.  However with Marge everything becomes an exciting adventure and in this story they go exploring in a secret tunnel that they find at the bottom of the garden.  there are actually three stories in this book, the other two being about a”great shopping race” and the “lost kitten”.  Having these short stories makes them very accessible, not only to new readers but also for reading in class; they are just long enough to read the whole tale in one session.  Great for KS1 children.

Usborne, 9781474928120

“Meet the Twitches” by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick.  This is a delightful introduction to a young girl, Stevie and the family of toy rabbits called the Twitches.  When Stevie and her mother move from their tower block flat she is given a wonderful and quaint dolls’ house, in the shape of a teapot.  Included are all the furnishings and fitting and a complete library; most fantastic of all are the family of toy rabbits that inhabit the house.  What Stevie does not know is that the rabbits magically come alive and when the father, Gabriel is lost in the garden during the furniture moving, it is up to the family and especially young Silver to find him and get him back home.  It is a lovely story about the importance of home and family and I am looking forward to reading more of their adventures in the future.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127551

“Hari and his Electric Feet” by Alexander McCall Smith and Sam Usher.  The author is well known for the crime series that he has written over the years, but he has also become known for the stories that he has written for children.  This book is by Barrington Stoke and is a delightful story of hope and how music and dance can have a beneficial effect on people.  Hari and his sister live with their aunt in a big city in India, as their parents have had to go away to earn money and Hari helps by making sweets and delivering lunches.  he is an avid fan of Bollywood films and loves the dancing; so when his sister suggests he tries it himself, he does and discovers a talent to make others dance along with him.  This leads to all sorts of adventures and a happy ending for the whole family.  This is a real “feel good” story and has lots of lessons for the adults of the world, so why not get dancing.

Hodder, 9781444932065

“Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure” by Alex T. Smith is the fantastically funny story of an intrepid adventurer and detective as he searches for a lost treasure.  The fact that he is a penguin  and his sidekick is a spider just adds to the totally whacky plot.  The illustrations are weird and wonderful and Alex T Smith has created a truly original new hero.  there are lot of twists and turns in the plot and you cannot be sure who are the villains and who are the good guys.  I am sure that we will see a lot more of this exciting hero with a love of fish finger sandwiches.

Hachette, 9781444921724

“Rabbit and Bear: Attack of the Snack” by Julian Gough and Jim Field.  This is the third in a series of short stories about Bear and his friend Rabbit.  One day they are out swimming when a creature crash lands in the lake and they pull it out, but they have no idea what it is. Eventually they discover that it is an Owl and all their friends have a view about what type of animal an owl is.  It is a fascinating look at how we are affected by rumours and scaremongering and I think there are many links to what can happen in the real world.  Children however are going to love the information at the end of the story, as the Owl (he is a burrowing owl) explains that he lines his hole in blueberry Poo, in order to attract beetles to eat.  There are brilliant illustrations and  extremely funny characters; it will be a great read for those gaining confidence, but also a lovely class read.

Usborne, 9781474932011

“Tanglewood Animal Park: Elephant Emergency” by Tamsyn Murray is the third story about the Tanglewood animal park and in particular Zoe, the daughter of the owners and Oliver, the son of the park vet.  Each of the stories has followed the fortunes of new animals as they are introduced to the park and in this story it is a family of six elephants who are being re-homed, from a zoo that is closing down.  This is a wonderful story of the ups and downs of looking after animals and there is a real sense that the author truly knows what it is like to be involved with all of these creatures.  For anyone who loved the TV series about Longleat, or just loves wildlife, these are a fantastic read.

Oxford University Press, 9780192764058

Night Zoo Keeper: Giraffes of whispering wood” by Joshua Davidson and Buzz Burman mixes magic and wild animals in a lovely story.  When Will is transported into the world of the night garden he enters a world of imagination where he has to save the animals from the  robotic spiders, called Voids.  It appears that he is the next “Night Zoo Keeper” and he and his friend Riya have to help the giraffes who inhabit this part of the zoo. This is a great story about letting your imagination fly and not being afraid to be different from everyone else.

Well, there they are.  Hopefully you will have found something that excites you.  I would also suggest that you look on the websites of these publishers, because they are going to have other titles that you may want to consider and they often have additional materials that the children can use both in class and at home.  Anyway, do Enjoy!

The wonder of factual books

I thought it was time for another look at some of the amazing factual titles that have been coming out in the last twelve months.  It is fascinating that we are having such a resurgence in information book publishing and yet at the same time we still have the doom-mongers who say that we only need the internet for our information needs.It is fair to say that the number of non-fiction books found in schools seems to be on the decline but that may be a symptom of lowering budgets rather than a desire to be online all the time.

 

” Usborne Politics for beginners” by Alex Frith, Rosie Hore, Louie Stowell and Kellan Stover.  It is not often that a book about politics, written for children, causes such a stir but this title has done exactly that.  Whilst aimed at KS2 and above this is actually very suitable for adults who have not shown an interest in politics before.  It is divided into six main chapters, covering everything from kinds of governments to some of the major ‘questions’ that people as, such as “what is terrorism?”It is a well laid out book and has been very well researched.  It has also used a range of experts, from BBC reporters to MPs.  I particularly  like the section on how to hold a debate because it makes you think about different aspects of the discussion.  It has a good index and glossary and is really recommended, both for school and for the home.

“The Lost Words” by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris is a totally stunning work of art, both in the poetry and in the illustrations.  The premise it simple;  it is an alphabetical list of terms associated with nature, that seem to be disappearing from everyday knowledge and usage.  However the reality goes far beyond this, because each definition or description is a poem in its own right and the first letter of each line adds up to create the name of the subject matter.  Jackie Morris’s illustrations are almost beyond description; they are sumptuous, lyrical, magical evocations of the world around us.  This is one of those books that totally transcends the way we label books.  It is something that can be read and pored over with a small child, but it also works  as a wonderfully absorbing read for adults.  It is possibly at the top of my non-fiction list for the last year.

“Where’s Jane” by Rebecca Smith and Katy Dockrill is a look at the novels of Jane Austen.  It covers six of her most famous works and gives a very concise description of the stories.  Each book is given a double page spread with details of the plot as well as a small vignette of the characters.  There is also a double page of just illustration which shows scenes from the book and which has an element of “Where’s Wally as the reader has to find the character of Jane, as well as her Pug dog.  there is a great deal of complexity in the illustrations, all of which show everyday activities of the period and give us a real sense of the time.  What is particularly helpful is the slight change in the colour palette for each of the books, this creates a natural division between the sections and brings a different atmosphere to each story.  As we commemorated the bicentenary of her death in 2017 this book seems particularly well times.  It will be extremely useful, not only as an introduction to the books, but also a look at the social and cultural elements of life in the early 19th century.  Definitely one for the KS2 classroom.

 

“The People Awards” by Lily Murray and Ana Albero is a look at 50 people through history who have had an impact on the lives of the world around them and changed the way that we think.  Some of these people are household names but many of them are not; however they have all been chosen to represent specific quality.  the book is aimed at younger readers, from about 7 years upwards and it is heavily illustrated with bright and cheerful pictures. this introduction really whets the appetite and will hopefully lead young people to find out about the award winners in more detail.

“Great Women who made History” by Kate Pankhurst is one of the many books about strong women that have been produced in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Women’s suffrage.  This one is aimed at a relatively young audience, the lower end of KS2 or even good readers who are slightly younger.  The range of women cover the last four thousand years of our history from Ancient Egypt to the Russian Cosmonauts; whilst most of them are well known there are one or two who do not usually appear in such books and it is great to see this variation.  It is a brightly illustrated book with plenty of information, but in bite-sized chunks and I am sure that readers will be encouraged to go ahead and find out more about the amazing women mentioned.

“Animal surprises:how to draw” by Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron.  Nicola Davies is one of the most well known and respected writers of narrative non-fiction for young people, with an emphasis on the natural world.  This book is part of a series that she has written in collaboration with a young illustrator called Abbie Cameron.  The idea is to show young people how to draw some of the creatures that are found in some of Nicola’s books, starting with “Animal Surprises”; this will be followed by other titles such as “The Word Bird” and “Into the Blue”.  Each animal has a short half page description by Nicola but the main emphasis is on the building of the illustrations.  It is aimed at the absolute beginner, using circles, ovals and lines to construct frameworks and then filling in the details.  I feel as if even I could have a go at creating the animals shown.

“10 reasons to love a bear” is part of a series aimed at younger readers and which introduces them to some of their favourite creatures in the wild.  There are double page spreads and just three or four lines of text on each page, so that it makes for a great book to read on a one to one basis.  the facts act as a starting point for more in-depth searching.  It is a very child friendly series and further titles include Whales and Elephants.

This really is just a taster for some of the many titles that are coming out at the moment.  I have already got a small pile of them, ready for the next review  and there are several that have really got me excited.  What a really brilliant time for children’s publishing and especially for non-fiction titles.  This resurgence is something that we can only be grateful for and hope that it continues.

Easter ‘eggs’ to enjoy reading

 

Spring is definitely bursting out around us.  We have got the first of the daffodils and cherry blossom and from my window I can sit and watch the magnolia coming in to bloom.  It is also the time that programmes start appearing for all the conferences and festivals taking place in the next few months.  For publishers and real aficionados then Bologna is the place to be in the spring, closely followed by the London Book fair in April .  Oxford is about to have its Literature festival and I am looking forward to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference just after Easter.

I can’t quite believe that Easter is almost upon us, but at least it hopefully brings a little time to sit and read a good book, or several if you are really lucky.

it seems amazing that it is about 4 months since I had the privilege of reading  “The Astounding Broccoli Boy” by Frank Cottrell Boyce as a proof on Netgalley.  A really great story with all the humour and adventure that we have come to expect from the author. The hero, Rory, always tries to be prepared for everything, but how do you prepare for turning green? He and two other children are put in isolation whilst the adults try and sort things out, but the children have other ideas make nightly escapes to see what is going on.  A really great adventure.

 

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“The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross Mackenzie is the latest offering from the Kelpies imprint so I was really keen to give it a try; it is fair to say that the publisher has never disappointed me with the stories they produce.  This is the story of Daniel Holmes who is taken as an apprentice by the mysterious Mr Silver, the owner of the Emporium.  There is magic in this book and it takes you on a roller coaster of a journey as the heroes try to evade the creepy and evil Vindictus Sharpe. A wonderful story which leads us through an amazing world of imagination.

 

“The Girl at Midnight” is a book for older readers, written by Melissa Grey  and featuring a young girl called Echo who lives an underground life as a 2015-03-15 14.04.05 pickpocket and thief.  This is a parallel   world of the Avicen, who have a slight covering of feathers, and the Drakharin, descended from Dragons and with remnants of scales found on their hands and heads.  There is a long history of warfare between the two peoples and it looks ready to flare again as they both search for the mythical Firebird.  There is lots of action and unlikely alliances  and whilst  this took a while to get in to, I ended up loving it and I can’t wait for the next episode of the story to appear.

“The Sound of Whales” by Kerr Thomson

This is a superb first novel by Kerr Thomson full of action but also full of heart and emotion.  There are several intertwined stories which all link to a teenager 2015-04-01 11.04.25called Fraser and his slightly younger brother Dunny, who has never spoken and has a total fascination for whales. We are faced with people smugglers, a wonderful evocation of life on St Ninian’s, off Shetland and a reminder of the importance of friends and family.  It is the kind of book that just creeps up on you and then really takes root.  I have a feeling that I will be recommending this to a few people in the future.

 

Nicola Burstein’s “Other Girl”

this is a great read and is all about the strength of friendship, even when your 2015-04-01 11.04.49BFF (best friend forever) happens to develop superpowers.  There are times of great humour in this book, but the author has also included a darker side as the villain tries to force Erica (aka Flamegirl) into destroying buildings and people.  Luckily the goodies live to fight another day and also get a first date. Whilst the heroines are in their teens I think this would be great for anyone from about  9 years.

“Completely Cassidy” by Tamsyn Murray

I have read some of the author’s books for teens but this is the first in a new series for the pre-teens and it is centred around the worries and fears of Cassidy as she faces her first term at secondary school.  She also has to cope  with the fact that her mother is due to have twins at Christmas and her elder brother is a complete pain.  It is a lovely story which centres around the bonds of friendship and how things are not always as bad as we imagine they are going to be. It should almost be required reading for those just about to start ‘big school’.

Usborne,

Usborne,

February and March seem to have been particularly busy months when it comes to reading.  Not all of the books have been long, difficult or challenging but I have had a great time looking at a wide range of books, which really shows the great strength of children’s publishing at the moment.  Some books will become classics, whilst other will eventually gather dust, but it is just to wonderful to have the range of books which we can recommend to young readers and potential readers.