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.

 

“We will remember them”

This is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing over the period of the World War I Remembrance.  We have spent the last year thinking about the whole concept of the war and the four years of horror that affected so many families across the globe.  From this month, we will no doubt be thinking about individual battles as they took place, but unlike in previous conflicts these battles could last months rather than just a day or so.

I have tried to consider the best way to arrange the books that I am going to highlight in the blogs, but apart from a slight grouping by age range I have decided not to put them into any ‘box’.  Before last year there had always been a small number of titles that were based in the war period but in the last few months there has been a tremendous increase in works being published.

I first started to think about what books were available well over a year ago, as I knew that schools would be asking for suggestions and I was thinking about a short training session to highlight resources.

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The first collection of books include several that have now reached the category of “modern classic”.  The first of these is “The Singing Tree” by Kate Seredy (Viking, 1939), which was a Newbery Honor book in the USA but which did not come to the UK until 50 years after its publication.  Unusually it is set in Hungary and shows a different focus from those we are used to. “The Rinaldi Ring” by Jenny Nimmo (Mammoth, 1999) is the poignant story of a doomed romance during the great war and the mystery that a young boy tries to unravel eighty years later.  For older readers we have the wonderful writing of Theresa Breslin, with her book “Remembrance” (Random House, 2002), which still brings a lump to my throat if I read any of it.  It is the story of five young people who go to war and how they, and their families cope with the consequences.  A series of books that were extremely popular when I started in libraries were the “Flambard” series by K M Peyton and they have just be reprinted, although only one of them actually has a setting in the war they do cover the build up and then the aftermath and the way the whole country was changed by the events.Perhaps one of the best know children’s books about the war is “Private Peaceful” by Michael Morpurgo.  this deeply moving story is now part of the national curriculum and 

there are a group of books which have our relationship with animals at the core of the story.  Sometimes they are based on a true story, whilst others are imaginary events, but based on issues that did occur during the war.  “War Horse”, by Michael Morpurgo has become something of a phenomenon.  Not only has it been an immensely successful film and stage show (I am seeing it for the second time in January 2015), but Michael Morpurgo has put together a really moving event, with readings from the book and songs from the stage  show.  Morris Gleitzman has also written a tribute to the animals that went to war.  His “Loyal Creatures” has taken a similar theme to Morpurgo ( it is based on a workshop script for the “War Horse” tour of Australia) and acknowledges the support he received.  However his work is set in the surrounds of the Dardanelles campaign and Gallipoli and the ending is not as positive as we would like, but it is very realistic and haunting.

One of the highights of the past year was  “the amazing tale of Ali Pasha” by Michael Foreman, which was based on a true story and was the tale of a young sailor from East Anglia who made a lifelongfriend of the tortoise he found in a pot hole in Gallipoli.  The illustrations are atmospheric and often extremely poignant; it really is a lovely book. Another story with a dog as one of the main character’s is “Archie’s War” by Margi McAllister, which follows the life of young Archie as his brother tries to enlist, despite being underage, and the search for the missing son of the ‘big house’.  It tells of the realities of war and the tragic consequences to those who went to war and came back, both injured and traumatized by the experience.

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Christmas is almost upon us.

Every year we seem to find Christmas preparations getting earlier, with the shops starting the marketing as early as the end of August.  However I try and keep things in perspective until the beginning of December, although you do have to think of cakes and puddings a bit earlier.  The build up to the festivities has always started with the arrival of the latest Christmas/winter themed picturebooks and ends with a surfeit of “Muppet Christmas Carol”.  This year I am going to highlight a couple of new books and several ‘old’ favourites and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have done.

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

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Walker books, 9781406320633

This wonderful evocation of Christmas in the 1930s is really something special from the amazing Shirley Hughes.  It is set in working class Liverpool and gives us an insight into how people  were influenced by their religious upbringing.  When their widowed mother has to leave them for a short while, Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by the odd thumping sound coming from their outhouse.  Lucky their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley took them in to her home and found the reason for the sounds.  The story is full of pathos and has a real lesson for us all about the meaning of goodwill to all men.

 

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

This book came out last year and stars one of the favourite characters in children’s picturebooks.  Perhaps Alfie and Annie Rose live a somewhat idealized life compared to many, put they still have to go through all the worries and hopes about the coming festivities. This story perfectly shows the excitement that the  children experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  From Christmas carols and plays, to making decorations and mince pies, we join Alfie and Annie Rose in their preparations and their enjoyment of the big day.

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Red Fox, 9781849416498

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Little Angel by  Ruth Brown

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Andersen Press, 9780862648467

Although this book was first published in 1998 it is still one of my favourites.  The gentle humour  surrounding the young angel  is a reminder that not everyone wants a halo and wings.  The twist at the end is something of a lightbulb moment that makes sense of the whole story and Ruth Brown did a magnificent job in leading us away from the real plot.  It should be read in every primary school at this time of year.

 

 

 

Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman

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Andersen Press, 9780862649277

An enchanting retelling of the nativity story, but from the perspective of a cat who takes shelter in the stable on that cold winter’s night  in Bethlehem.  It is a very grumpy cat, so we get his opinions about cattle, donkeys, sheep and all the other animals and people who arrive to see the new baby that has been born. However, the lives of all there were changed by that event and even the cat is mellowed by his experience.

 

The Snow day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb (illust)

Whilst this new book is not specifically about Christmas it is about the simple joys of snow and the  magic of imagination which can flourish when we change to our normal routines and attitudes.  This really had me chuckling at the events and the two characters.  It is a gentle book , full of hope and a belief in the simpler ways of enjoying life. I am preparing a longer review of this book for the School Librarian, but it had to make an appearance in my own listing for this year and will definitely be on my annual “to read” list.

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Puffin, 9780723288923

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Snow by Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei (illust)

I first spoke about this book in my previous review of picture books.  It is a lovely re-drawing of the poem by de la Mare, with a slightly 1950s feel to the illustrations with their simplicity and limited colour palette.  there is that really simple joy which comes from making the most of what surrounds us and which we often forget in the hustle bustle of the modern world.

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The final two books have elements that bring them together.  They  have gatherings of people, although in some stories it is a greater number than in others.  There is a strong sense of family and friendship and also of making the best of things when there are a few problems.

The first of the books is a very old favourite that I have told on endless occasions in libraries and schools

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

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Harpercollins, 9780007146932

A wonderful story of friendship featuring the loveable Percy the Park keeper and the wide assortment of animals that live in his park.  When the snow falls heavily the animals arrive at Percy’s hut for a bit of shelter, and how things work out makes for a magical tale which never fails.

 

 

Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry and John lawrence (illust)

Amazingly this book was first written in 1989 and I can only suppose I missed it because we moved to Cyprus at the end of that year. It is a very funny tale of what happens when a house if filled lierally to the rafters with people seeking shelter for the Christmas break.  We end up with 18 children that father Christmas has to remember, never mind all the adults.  It is rather like a festive game of ‘sardines’.  Thankfully the book was republished last year by Walker books, so it is available to a whole new audience.

 

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Walker books, 978406343038

I do hope that you get the chance to read some of these books and in particular have the chance to read them to a young audience because they really do add to that magical feel that we have for Christmas.