Big Sky Mountain by Alex Milway

We seem to be in a really great period for those books aimed at newly confident readers. Not many years ago, this was an area that seemed to suffer from a lack of titles and a real sense that publishers were too concerned with the academic side of the reading process.  Luckily there is now a much better understanding of  the fact that if you want children to read, then they will do so if they really enjoy the stories that are being presented to them.

This is a delightful new series by Alex Milway, featuring a young girl Rosa, who has to go and live with her grandmother in the Canadian wilderness; you can tell it is wild because Rosa arrives in a seaplane, which is delivering Nan’s winter supplies, before the weather freezes.  Nan seems somewhat grumpy to begin with, but accepts that Rosa is family and they settle into the small cabin that is now home to two of them.  Rosa gets a great surprise when a moose puts its head through the open window, but the greatest shock comes when he actually starts talking to her!  What follows is totally fantastical, but Rosa finds that she is surrounded by amazing talking creatures such as a very grumpy hare, a bear and newcomers, the beaver sisters.  We follow all of the characters as they discover the balance that is required to make the environment work for everyone; they need to consider the others in the area and not just think about their own wishes.

The second story in the series has several new characters and the action starts when Rosa discovers a wolf cub who has become lost in a great storm.  This leads Rosa and her Nan to go in search of the pack and find out why they have moved from their old home.  We also get to met a group of Moose, an owl called Little Pig and a family of hedgehogs, all of whom have to work together to try and repair the damage that has been done to the river bank and surrounding area.  At the same time Rosa and her Nan are extending the cabin, so that Rosa will actually have her own bedroom, a move that really emphasizes how he has become part of her grandmother’s life.  We are promised  third title in the series so I look forward to reading about adventures with “The Sea Otters”.

These are a really great read for younger readers, with brilliant illustrations full of humour and energy.  The underlying themes about the environment and living with nature mix with the need for family and friendship.  There is also the need to try and understand those who are different and not to just go with the public perception, as with the wolves.  this series is highly recommended and I can’t wait to read more about our bold heroine and even more feisty Nan.

Picture Book Update

Parents, librarians and teachers are always on the lookout for new picture books to read to their young readers.  Whilst most children have favourites that they have to have read almost every day, it is important that they are introduced to a wide range of the fabulous works which are out there.  Teachers in particular are looking for books that have themes that they can integrate into their curriculum work, as well as being a fun and lively story.  I hope that some of these books will meet the needs of many of you reading this.  Give them a go, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Two Hoots, 9781509889839

“Three Little Vikings” by Bethan Woollvin  tells the story of three children who struggle to get the adults to believe that they have heard something big and dangerous outside; the chief is particularly irritating as he repeats that he is a grown up and he knows best.  You can see that many children would find that message very frustrating.   The story uses Viking mythology to brilliant effect, as the children try and save their village from a destructive troll and eventually the adults have to believe them.

Uclan, 9781912979608

“The Bear and her Book” by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor.   This is a truly magical story of adventure and also about the joys that books can bring to our lives.  When bear decides to see the world, she takes her copy of “Bear’s Big Book of being Wise” and finds it very useful in many of the situations that she finds herself in.  It is a fabulous addition to my collection of books about books and libraries and I really recommend it.

Big Picture Press, 9781787418769

“Ratty’s Big Adventure” by Lara Hawthorne is a lovely story of a small vegetarian rat called Ratty, who decides he wants to explore beyond the mountain crater that he lives in.  He meets a wide range of animals and faces many dangers and challenges.  However he decides that home and friends are what he really wants in life.  This is full of information about the wild life of Papua New Guinea, but above all, it is a tale of adventure and finding your place in the world.

Pikku Publishing, 9781999639891

“The Happy Hedgerow” by Elena Mannion and Erin Brown tells the story of Old Oak and the changes that he sees, when the hedgerow is grubbed up to make larger fields.  It is a story about the seasons and also about the changes that we see in the countryside.  Happily this story has a happy ending, as the humans realize the importance of the hedges and re-plant them.  This will work well as part of  environmental studies in KS1.

Chronicle Kids, 9781452173191

“Inside Cat” by Brendan Wenzel  is the story of one of those cats who lives indoors and only sees the world through the prism of the windows that enclose him.  However, he discovers that seeing something from the inside is not the same experience as being out there. This book makes us more aware of our senses and how we can explore our world, even if we are limited in some ways.  It increases our understanding of the world around us and how we perhaps need to challenge the limits and perhaps go outside our comfort zone.  The quirky illustrations and the limited text make the whole story relatable to the small child.  This is aimed at very young children and would be brilliant for encouraging Early Years children to try new experiences.

Andersen Press, 9781783448944

“Scissorella” by Clare Helen Walsh and Laura Barrett.   This is a truly magical re-telling of ‘Cinderella’, but with the twist being that the main character is an amazing paper artist. The art is inspired by the creative work of Lottie Reiniger, a German born artist who had a great influence on the development of film animation.  The story has an art deco setting, with the costumes harking back to the 1920s; in fact, it reminds me in many ways, of the marvellous version ’Ella’s Big Chance’ by Shirley Hughes. However, we have the added beauty of the paper cutting, which gives a very lace like feel to many of the images. This is a truly beautiful book, which shows a determined female character, who is determined to succeed in life and is a wonderful addition to the Cinderella canon of books.

Pushkin Children’s, 9781782693154

“Shoo!” by Susie Bower and Francesca Gambatesa is the very funny story of what happens when a Zoo moves next door, to someone who doesn’t like animals.  It is full of mayhem and laughter and is a great read for younger readers.  It also reminds us that we all need friends and that our perceptions should be open to change. This will make a great book for story time, both in the school and in the library.

Templar Books, 9781787419179

“The Little wooden robot and the log princess” by Tom Gauld is a very modern interpretation of a fairy tale.  The king and queen have no children and ask a witch and an inventor to create a child for them.  The log princess, worked by magic, but turned back into a log every night.  Whereas the Robot Prince was worked by mechanics and housed a family of beetles in his working.  When the princess goes missing, it is up to her brother to go searching, but he faces many challenges before finding his sibling.  Luckily, as with the best fairy tales we have a happy ending.

Farshore, 9780755502851

“Splash” by Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey is written by the Paralympian athlete Claire Cashmore and is a version of how she overcame her fear of water, in order to become a gold medal swimmer.  It is a story of determination and overcoming many challenges.  Hopefully it will help many young people to focus on overcoming their own challenges, what ever they may be.

 

 

Down to the Sea again

Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of books that talk about the environment.  It is good to see that a lot of them have been aimed at the youngest age ranges, as we need to make sure that the need to change is embedded in all young people, as well as adults.  Perhaps the main worry that this look at titles has raised is that Michael Foreman was talking about the problem so many years ago; it seems that the pace of change is still far too slow, however programmes such as “Blue Planet” have definitely raised awareness at government levels as well as with general populations.  Here are a few titles that I hope will be useful for younger readers.

QED ‎Publishing, 9780711250055

The Deep Blue” by Charlotte Guillain and Lou Baker Smith.  Mankind has always been fascinated by the sea and the creatures that inhabit it.  Since the coming of modern media, such as film, television and now digital resources we have become more aware of the environment and the effect we are having on the oceans and its inhabitants. From Jacques Cousteau to Sir David Attenborough, we have been introduced to the wonders that lie below the surface and a thirst for knowledge has been developed by many children and adults.  We have also become more aware of what can happen to mankind if we don’t care for our oceans, ice caps and animals.  This is a fascinating look at the world of water and those animals who depend on it.

Big Picture Press,‎ 9781787417755

“There are Fish everywhere” by Katie Haworth and Britta Teckentrup is a gorgeous, stunningly coloured look at the world of fish.  Starting with what they are and then the history of their development from pre-historic times, the reader gets to understand the part that they play in the eco-structure that we live in.  The author looks at all parts of the world and also covers the relationship between mankind and the aquatic world.  Definitely one to browse and enjoy as well as looking up the facts.

Andersen Press, 9781849393041

“One World” by Michael Foreman is now over 30 years old, but it was re-published last year to celebrate the anniversary.  This is full of stunning artwork by Michael Foreman and the use of watercolours provides a very individual feel to the pictures.  It is such a tragedy that we still have the same concerns about the environment, after all these years, but given the movements being led by young people at the moment, it is appropriate that this book comes to the forefront for a new generation.  Whilst this book works as a picture book for reading to young audiences, it also works at another level in pointing out the dangers we face from pollution, plastics, climate change and industry.  This is yet another book that should be in all primary schools.

Pavilion, 9781843654513

“The Blue Giant” by Katie Cottle.  This is a delightful allegorical story about cleaning up our oceans and landscapes.  It is told as a picture book story, featuring Meera and her mum.  When they go to the beach, they are surprised by a giant wave that speaks to them and asks them for help in cleaning up the sea.  They start to help, but realize that it is a huge task.  However, gradually they get their friends involved and the more people help, the more rubbish they can clear.  This gives a strong message about us all doing our part and would be great as part of work about environmental issues.

Little Tiger, 9781912756148

“Goodnight Ocean” by Becky Davies and Carmen Saldana is a beautiful flap book for the youngest readers.  It looks at a wide range of animals and environments related to the Ocean.  the book was long-listed for the  SLA Information Book Award in 2020 and works at both a story telling and an information level.  It is a fantastic introduction to the watery world around us.

Scholastic, 9781407195100

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck brings home to us the dangers that sea creatures face from plastic bags that are thrown away.  Stanley is a striped bag and looks remarkably like a jelly fish, so sea creatures think that he will make a good meal.  Unfortunately he can get stuck in their throat and prevent breathing, or get tangled up in parts of their body.  This story really brings it home to us how dangerous plastic can be in the environment and is a must read title.

Andersen Press, 978-1783449149

“Clem and Crab” by  Fiona Lumbers is about a young girl called Clem who has a day out at the beach with her sister.  She finds a crab and takes it home as a pet.  Of course, this turns out to be a bad idea and she has to take it back to its own habitat.  She also discovers the dangers that it faces from pollution and rubbish and sets out to improve the beach and in doing so she gets lots of others involved in the process.  This works beautifully as a picture book, but also acts as a starting point in discussions about the environment.

 

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler and Karl James Mountford

I have been a fan of science fiction since my teens, when I discovered authors such as John Christopher, with his Tripods trilogy.  Working as a library assistant when I left school gave me the opportunity to explore a whole range of genres and publishers and for Sci-Fi the lead publisher was definitely Gollancz (with their iconic bright yellow covers).  It as unfortunate that for many people the subject became less popular as we faced the reality of moving into space and the area of fantasy seems to become the replacement genre. Luckily there has been a move back towards Sci-Fi at all age ranges.

Chicken House, 97890655436

The story is set in a future world where humanity has found that the only way to deal with the amount of metal rubbish is to send it in to orbit around the earth, where it joins the space debris accumulated from satellites and rockets.  The heroine is Railey, a young girl who lives with her grandmother and has ambitions to be a champion drone racer, with the help of her bio-robotic gecko called Atti.  Things have been getting more difficult as her engineer/inventor grandmother begins to suffer memory loss and making a living is even more difficult.  When Railey is chased by a bounty hunter and thinks that her gran has been killed, she has to make a run for it; finding herself rescued by the members of a space junk vessel.  As they uncover a plot to  crash a huge ‘trash bomb’ into the earth, their loyalties are tested and they find themselves questioning the world that they live in.

The world that Gemma Fowler has created is one that has been completely overwhelmed by the amount of metal that has been discarded and it has become a dystopian place of those that have (and live in Glass City) and those that have not and live in places such as Boxville, named from the shipping containers which provide homes.  There is a real sense that we should be treating this as a window into our future if we do not do something to change the disposable world that we live in.  Scarily we have had news within the last week or so about a rocket crashing into the Indian ocean; very much a case of life imitating art!  There are elements in the plot that take me back to some of my favourite films, with the drone racing being very familiar to those who love the Star Wars series.  However this is a totally original take on the society that we live in.  There have been several books in the past that are situated in rubbish tips and but this goes several stages further and shows us as destroying the space that surrounds us.

There are some fascinating characters who are trying to find their way in this terrible world, but I think that my favourite has to be Atti, the gecko.  He is a mix of real animal ,but with the addition of bionic improvements, and he actually talks; above all he has a really positive attitude that you can’t help but love.  The ending of this story resolved the danger that the young people have faced, but we are left with the slightly open ending, which allows us to hope that we will have further adventures as they start their lives as ‘Junkers’, cleaning up the space around them.

 

Gemma Fowler

photographybytarik-GemmaFowler-Headshot-002.jpg

photo is on her website https://www.gemmarfowler.com/about

National Non-Fiction November

National Non-Fiction November is a celebration of Information books that has been around for the last few years and which grew out of National Non-Fiction Day.  It was founded by the Federation of Children’s book Groups and they are still responsible for its success.

#NNFN2020 and #ThePlanetWeShare

This year the theme is The Planet we share, which is something that has been highlighted by many people, but especially Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.  The three titles that I have been asked to review look at different areas of concern, but they have all acted as catalysts to get young people engaged in the world around them and in motivating them to become involved in creating solutions for the future.

All of these titles are published  by the educational publisher Raintree.  The company was founded in the 1990s as Heinemann Library and then in 2004 they introduced Raintree as part of the Group.  Four years later the publishers were brought by the American company Capstone and have been part of that group ever since.  They have always specialized in information books for the curriculum and most school libraries, especially in primary schools, will have a wide selection of their titles.

“You are eating Plastic every day” by Danielle Smith-Llera  is a book that is aimed at the lower secondary age group and possibly the top of KS2.  The text is easily accessible and looks at the world wide impact that plastic is having on our environment.  The illustrations are full of impact and many young readers will find the images quite shocking.  the book has been published in 2020 and it is good to see that the pictures and text reflect current realities. This is actually quite a short book, with only 57 pages of text, but it also has a good glossary, index and bibliography.  The only thing I would say about the bibliography is that some of the reference might be aimed at a more mature audience than the book itself.  However this will make an excellent addition to the school library and act as a great introduction to further research.

https://www.raintree.co.uk/media/15066/you-are-eating-plastic-every-day-activity-sheet.pdf

“Climate Change and You” by Emily Raij is aimed at a younger audience.  I would definitely place it in the lower KS2 range, although it could be used in KS1 to support an introduction to this topic.  The text is well laid out, with short sentences, large font and a pictures on every double page spread.  I particularly like the highlighted terms in the main text which are then explained in the glossary at the back; this makes linking the two areas quite easy.  There is a short index as well as the glossary and a very short list other other books and websites’ although all the other books are Raintree titles.  The publication date is shown as 2021, so I have been lucky in being shown it at such an early time.  It is definitely one of those titles that will become a staple of the school library and classroom and it will provide a good introduction to a vital subject.

“Saving British Wildlife” by Claire Throp is part of a series called ‘success stories’, which rather gives the hint that this is going to be about positive changes that have happened over the last few years.  The book starts out by talking about a survey that was undertaken in 2016, which resulted in a report called “The State of Nature“.  It provided the frightening statistic that 56% of our wildlife was in decline.  The book then goes on to explain the various issues which have  affected our wildlife and the ways that organizations and individuals have tried to improve matters.  Most of the book looks at different types of wildlife, so there is a chapter on birds, mammals, fish, insects and amphibians, before looking at those species that are still in danger.  This book also uses the highlighted text and glossary link system as well as having a good index and bibliography with quite a few online links.  Once again this book is aimed at KS2 and the wonderful illustrations and attractive layout make it very appealing.

The latter two titles are both give a book banding of ‘Dark Red’, which many schools will find helpful.

The Wonder Tree by Teresa Heapy and Izzy Burton

Egmont, 9781405292887

We are living in a time that many young children find worrying and they need reassurance that everything will be fine.  As adults we have all been through a variety of occasions where things have been difficult, but we have learnt that these things pass and the world settles down for us.  However very young people are often seeing and feeling these events for the first time, so they do not have that security blanket in place.

this is the delightful story of little owl and how he is worried when the wind start blowing the leaves off the tree, where he lives with his mother.  However his mother is there to comfort him and explain why the tree is losing the leaves.   She goes on to explain the wonders of a tree’s root system and the annual cycle that nature goes through; she remembers when she learnt about such things from her parents and how their memory is entwined with these changes.  The mother gradually helps little owl to understand the wonder of nature and the way that we are all part of this beautiful cycle of life.                   

Teresa Heapy has created a simple but lovely story that will help young children feel more grounded at this time of uncertainty.   The little owl is inquisitive and  yet worried by the events going on around him, so he depends on his mother for the comfort and explanations that help him cope.  This is a story that reads well and will be very popular, not just in the home, but also in nursery and library storytimes.  The illustrations by Izzy Burton are really bold and colourful.  They are full of energy and detail that really helps bring the story to life; giving the audience a chance to explore the pages of the book. This is her picture book debut and it looks to be the start of a very promising career.

Given that we are moving towards Autumn this book will prove to be of particular interest to adults who want to help children understand the natural change in conditions.  This really is a charming, thoughtful and informative story that I really enjoyed.