Picture books for Summer – Part 1

“The Golden Cage” by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut can only be described as a stunning piece  of art, but it is also a salutatory lesson in how not to behave towards humans and birds.  The story itself is a cautionary tale of a very nasty princess who loves collecting birds, but kills off servants who don’t bring her exactly what she wants.  This is very much about what happens when there are no rules, because Princess Valentina is totally spoiled and no one tells her that there are limits on what is possible.  The illustrations are amazing; they are vibrant, sophisticated, full of emotion and bring the story to life.  There is a very limited colour palette and the strong use of the colour yellow highlights the title of the book and the importance of the ‘golden cage’ as the place where her most treasured acquisition will be held captive.  The ending of this fairy tale has been left open, so that we can imagine a variety of plots, to suit our mood.  Somehow this reminds me of the Brothers Grimm and I think it will be a great read with older children despite the small amount of text.

“Tomorrow” by Nadine Kaadan is a story about living in a war zone and there are moments when it is quite heartbreaking.  The young hero Yazan loves going to the park to play but life suddenly changes and he doesn’t know why.  He gets bored not going to school, not meeting his friends and not going out to play, so one day he decides to take his bike to the park; but nothing is as it should be and thankfully his father finds him before anything happens. The illustrations often have a darkness about them that reflects the reality of life that the family are living and Yazan is shown as being a very young child caught up in a dangerous world. This thought provoking book really adds to the collection that is developing and which helps young children understand what it has been like to live in some of the war zones around the world.  It will also hopefully help them develop their empathy with those who have lost their homes and had to move to another country.

“Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love is a delightful story about being true to yourself and about others accepting that we are all different.  When Julian is walking home with his grandma they see a group of ladies dress as mermaids and Julian decides that he want to be one too.  At home he finds an assortment of clothes to help in his transformation and even put on some make-up.  His Nana reacts in a very supportive way and gives him a bead necklace to finish his look and then they go off on a walk.  During this stroll they see a range of very individual and vibrantly dressed people and finally they start to see lots of mermaids; much to Julian’s delight.  This is actually a carnival and people are allowing themselves the pleasure of dressing up.It is a delightful way to show the way that a wide range of people can live in harmony and enjoy life.

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck is a very unusual but very relevant look at plastic waste and the effect on the sea.  Stanley is a striped plastic bag and he finds himself blown into the sea where he is in turn swallowed by a Whale, Seagulls and a Turtle; luckily they were able to free themselves, but the Turtle need the help of a young boy.  The boy then tells Stanley that he should not be in the sea, because creatures think he looks like a jellyfish.  The boy then turns Stanley into a kite which is much more appropriate.  This is a very simple story but it acts as a perfect introduction to looking at our environment as well as being a great story.

“Clem and Crab” by Fiona Lumbers is another story that helps us look at our environment and in particular the issues that we find along our beaches.  Clem loves visiting the beach with her sister and fishing around in the rock pools, searching for wildlife.  One day she finds a small crab and although she puts it back into the water, it somehow manages to get caught in her clothing and end off back in the city.  Clem would love to keep her new friend but knows it must be returned to the beach; but how can she help make that a safe place for the crab?  This is a lovely book at friendship and helping others and would be fantastic if you were planning on visiting the seaside.

“I am a Tiger” by Karl Newson and Ross Collins  is a delightful story of a mouse who wants everyone to believe that he is a tiger.  The absurdity of such a claim becomes apparent as he wanders along and meets a wide range of animals, none of which are correctly identified; this leads them to be sad and frustrated as they try and make this small creature understand who they are.  In some ways this has the feel of the Gruffalo as the mouse is walking though the landscape and is telling ‘stories’ to the animals he sees.  It is also a story about identity and perhaps about not being limited by our physical appearance.  Most of us know who we are but often like to imagine that we have a different persona.   I am delighted to find that a follow up called “I am not an Elephant” is scheduled to be published early in 2020, I can’t wait to read this as well.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Nicholas Oldland is the third in a series of adventures featuring Moose, Bear and Beaver.  In this story they decide to climb a mountain, but find that it is much harder than they had imagined.  After lots of danger and obstacles they discover that the only way to succeed is by helping each other, and then they finally achieve their objective.  I love these very simple, humorous stories that each give a very strong message and look forward to many more adventures for the intrepid trio.

“The New Neighbours” by Sarah McIntyre tells the story of the what happens when the residents of a block of apartments discover that a family of rats have moved in to their building.The bunny children are the first to find out and they are looking forward to going and meeting their new neighbours.  But as they tell more people, mainly adults,  we see attitudes change as people believe the stereotypes they have heard in the past.  Thankfully when they finally meet the neighbours they realize that they are just the same as everyone else.  This is a charming story with a strong and very important message about not listening to gossip and not judging people because of their backgrounds.  As always Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are colourful, energetic  and funny and it is a great story for reading aloud.

“Cyril and Pat” by Emily Gravett  tells the story of  Cyril, a grey squirrel who finds himself living alone in the park. Then one day he meets another ‘squirrel’ called Pat and suddenly he has a friend to share adventures with; however we can see that Pat is actually a rat, not a squirrel.  Eventually the other creatures tell Cyril the truth and Pat is forced to leave the park, leaving his friend alone again.  The story does have a happy ending and the two are able to resume their friendship despite being different.  Emily Gravett  has given us a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and empathy.  It is full of humour but also has its fair share of pathos; it is a wonderful tale.

“Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph was first published in the UK in 1968 and since then it has become a perennial favourite with young children.  They love the quirky and imaginative  story of a young boy who is squashed flat, but then goes on to have amazing adventures.  In this version Stanley saves the museum from robbers and is flown as a kite, however he has to cope with people being mean because he is different.  Luckily his brother comes up with a solution and Stanley is pumped back into shape with a bicycle pump.  This version of the story is illustrated by Rob Biddulph with his characteristic

“Sweep” by Louise Greig and Julia Sarda tells the story of Ed and what happens when he allows his dark and angry feelings to get out of control.  There is the wonderful analogy of sweeping up dead leaves, but what do we do when they become too many for us to cope with and begin to effect those around us?  Luckily a wind comes along and blows away his bad mood and he learns to think twice before allowing it to take over again.  This is a very dynamic book with energetic illustrations which really help us visualize the issues that Ed is facing. The  story is very simple but absolutely gets its message across; it will be great for helping young children come to terms with their own emotions as well as those of others around them.

“There’s Room for Everyone” by Anita Teymorian is a very thought provoking story about our world and about sharing the space that we have.  This is something of a philosophical look at our world and how we seem to always want more space, yet this book reminds us that there is always room for all of us; this includes humans and animals.  At a time when there are refugees across the globe, forests are  being cut down and housing seems to be at a premium, perhaps we need to remember some of the ideas in this story.  The illustrations are sophisticated and get also naive but manage to convey the meaning of the text in a way that we can readily relate to.  I am sure this will find its place in the discussions about our world and the way we all live.

 

There are so many amazing new picture books out there that this is just the beginning of my selection.  I am busily working on another collection and then there will be some brilliant books for Middle Grade that I hope to highlight in the near future.  I have not forgotten about information books and my collection to share with you is growing, so look out for the next selection.

 

 

 

 

Truth will out – a look at some new non-fiction

In the past non-fiction or information books have been rather ignored by reviewers, apart from educational and library journals.  They were seen as specialist books that were only judged for their curriculum suitability, rather than for any literary or artistic merit.  Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in producing non-fiction that is high quality, beautifully illustrated and well written.  An outstanding example of this is “Shackleton’s Journey” by  William Grill which won the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration.

“How Super Cool Stuff Works”  from Dorling Kindersley.  This is the latest in a very popular concept which shows a range of new and future technologies.  The book is printed in landscape and the page ends are coated in silver paint, so very high tech.  The book itself is divided into sections such as ‘move’, ‘play’, and ‘construct’ and although the information is fairly basic there are some amazing photographs which will keep the reader entranced.  Whilst there is a good contents list, index  and glossary there are no links to information elsewhere, probably because information on the ‘net’ goes out of date so rapidly.  This is one of those books that you just start browsing and then it sucks you in.

Wide Eyed, 9781847808240

“Destination: Space” by Dr Christoph Englert and Tom Clohosy Cole.  The author of this book is a lecturer in Physics and Astronomy and hence brings a huge amount of subject knowledge to the work as well as an ability to pass that on to his audience.  The information is provided in bite sized chunks, but they all link together and provide the groundwork on which to build your knowledge.  Illustrations totally fill each page and are vivid and often beautiful, with a slight nod towards the 1950s.  The highlight of the book is the fold out at the end which shows the stars in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  The only down side is the lack of a contents page and index

“Hello Mr Moon” by Lorna Gutierrez and Laura Watkins”.  This is a charming introduction to the cycles of the Moon, aimed at the youngest of readers.  It is told in rhyme and can be read as both a story and as a source of information.  Basically it is a conversation between the Moon and a small child who loves watching its changes.  The illustrations are beautiful and use the dark blue of the night sky to balance the brightness of the Moon.  This is brilliant for Foundation stage and beyond.

“88 1/2 Science Experiments” by Nick Arnold is a great addition to the primary school.  The author is well known in the education field and he has produced another clear and concise book about science.  The book is divided into  nine sections from magnetism to water and nature and there are a range of experiments within each area.  As you would expect, there is a good glossary and index, so that this is useful as a class text as well as a library book.  The pages are bright and clearly laid out.  the text is logical and understandable with the processes being explained in an effective way.  A lot of the ‘experiments’ do not require special equipment so they could be done in a classroom, or even at home.

“Get Coding” by Young Rewired State is one of the many books that have appeared over the last couple of years, ever since coding was placed on the curriculum.  this covers everything from learning HTML to building a website.  The book begins with the basics and then builds on these by creating various ‘Missions’, where the reader has to build pages and apps in order to move forward in their task.  This is not something you can just dip in to, although I am sure that members of a younger generation will find it easier to follow.  This is definitely one that my younger son would have loved in his youth, when he was just learning to program.

“How to be a Blogger and Vlogger” by Shane Birley.  Well, this is a book that I could have done with when I started this blog.  It is full of sensible and useful information  that is well laid out and actually understandable.  For young people who want to blog and vlog this is a very good place to start; of course it is also definitely for those older people who want to have a go at setting up a blog.  It lists the main blog sites but it might be useful for schools to know that WordPress have a separate blog host called Edublogs which is aimed specifically at those working in education and which has more safeguards that normal sites. Yes, that is what I am using as it is a very good and user friendly place to be.

“Tell me a Picture” by Quentin Blake is a reprint of a title that was originally published to go with an exhibition at the National gallery in 2001.  This contrasted the work of classical painters with the work of modern illustrators from around the world.  Blake uses his signature cartoon figures to inform and question what is going on in the paintings.  Unless the audience is knowledgeable about art they may well not differentiate between the two groups of artists.  There is a section at the back of the book which gives thumbnail  images and information about each piece of work.  It is an excellent introduction to some major artists across the centuries.

“Spot the Mummy in the Museum” by Sarah Khan is actually a beginner’s guide to visiting a museum and gives information about some of the major civilizations that you are likely to see there.  It is aimed at KS1 and asks the reader to search the pictures for hidden items that were important to various ancient cultures.  This is bright and cheerful; it is divided into the various sections you might find in a museum but there is no contents, index or glossary.

“50 things you should know about the Tudors” by Rupert Matthews is a history of this dynasty told in chronological order. It is part of a series ranging from WWI to Space and is a clear and informative introduction to each topic.  The book is full of fascinating image and facts about the Tudors and I particularly like the way it covers the broader aspects of each reign, for example the need to get government finances under control after the spending by Henry VIII.  There is an excellent contents page as well as an index and glossary.  One you start reading this you want to keep going, a very good introduction to the period.

“50 things you should know about Space” by Professor Raman Prinja is another in this excellent series and the format is the same as the others.  The contents page shows that the layout of the book and it starts with the history of the universe and how we have reached the state that exists today; then it looks at our solar system and each of the planets  before finally covering the technology that has developed to allow us to explore the space around us.  An excellent introduction to the subject.

Wayland, 9780750298209

The Great Fire of London” by Emma Adams, illustr. James Weston Lewis is a wonderful tribute to the 350th anniversary of this terrible catastrophe.  the front cover with its leaping flames and gold outlines really highlights the image and feel of the fire.  the inside illustrations are very ‘retro’ and take me back to my childhood in the late 1950s.  They appear to be wood or lino cuts and bring a clarity and atmosphere to the pictures that is very moving.  The colour palette is limited, using blues, rust, orange and yellow; however these are balanced throughout the book so that they reflect the different elements of the sad event.  The story is told chronologically and the inclusion of small quotes from Samuel Pepys’ Diary really add to the drama and poignancy.  I also like the way that the story talks about the consequences of the fire; there were new buildings, improving fire services and more awareness of the dangers to be found in a crowded city.  I absolutely love this book.

On your Bike” by Chris Hoy, illustr. Clare Elsom.  In contrast to the stories that he has co-written with Jo Nadin this book is actually a guide to looking after your bicycle, types of cycling and just enjoying the pastime.  The information is accuarate and deals with everything from maintenance and repair to choosing a bike and starting to race.  You really could not want for a better person to guide new riders than Chris Hoy and he has done a great job in encouraging children to take their cycling more seriously and to stay safe while they are doing so.

“The Busy Beaver” and “”Up the Creek” by Nicholas Oldland are two stories about a group of friends; they are Moose, Beaver and Bear.  Whilst the stories can be read just as picture books, they are also about friendship, sharing and also about the consequences to others when you do something without considering them.  The stories and illustrations are amusing, colourful and full of personality as well as providing a lesson for young readers.

“The Worm” by Dr Emma Lawrence is the first in a fairly new series from a small publisher, Brambleby Books.  The book itself is small (18cm square) and a comfortable size for young readers.  The illustrations are clear but almost childlike and there is an element of fun added by the cheeky and amusing worm that appears in all the pages.  the words are limited to only two lines of rhyming text per page but they explain the subject manner in a concise and understandable way.  You could read this as a story to young children, but the inclusion of an index allows for some degree of searching, although the information given is not always very obvious.  This is a nice addition to the mini-beast collections of Foundation and KS1 classes.

“Tickly Mini beast Adventures” and “Fluttering Mini beast Adventures” by Jess French.   The study of mini-beasts has long been the mainstay of the KSI curriculum and these two books look at different types of small and very crawly creatures.  The author is a zoologist and TV presenter, so she combines knowledge with the ability to connect with her audience.  The illustrations and photographs are clear and accurate, whilst the text  explains, without overwhelming the young reader.  Even the size of the books is aimed at being comfortable for the small person.  There is also a lovely surprise at the back of each book; one has a cut-out spider, whilst the other has a butterfly model.  Altogether a well thought out series.

“My little book of Tractors” by Rod Green is one of those books that my 3 year old grandson is going to love.  it is full of every kind of tractor and bulldozer that he could imagine.  The layout is by type of machine and where they are used so that you get a real idea of how the use has developed over the last 100 years.  The illustrations are up o date, bright and easily link to the small and concise blocks of text.  A great book for KS1 to read and for younger children to share with an adult.

“Amazing Animal Journeys” by Chris Packham is an introduction to the incredible journeys that animals make on a regular basis as they migrate to different parts of the world and then back again.  Chris Packham is a well know and respected naturalist and he has chosen 15 widely different species to act as examples.  Illustrations are used rather than photographs and this allows for some imagination to be added.  Most of the images include a group of three children and this links the reading audience with the actual migratory process.  Whilst there is not a huge amount of text it does give some fascinating information and acts as a springboard for those who want to go further in their research.  It is  a great book for KSI classes.

“100 most Awesome things on the Planet” by Anna Claybourne.  The author has been writing non-fiction for  considerable amount of time, so you can expect quality when you see her name on a book.  This is one of those books that you dip in to, although some avid non-fiction readers will devour it whole.  The subjects are given a page each and the book itself is divided into natural and man-made wonders.  I must admit that I found myself ticking off those items that I have seen, but I still have a very long way to go.  It is a very useful addition to the school or home library.

“British Wildlife” by Matthew Morgan and Laura Knowles  is one of those fascinating guides that provide a basic introduction to the world of nature for younger readers.  The book is divided into into ‘chapters’ which are just two pages long and consist of beautiful illustrations of various examples of each subject.  The text is limited to the names of the plant/animal and perhaps a short question for the reader to answer.  It is a lovely book for browsing, but you need additional resources to add to the information.

I hope that you have found some books that might be of interest but the main purpose of this blog is to remind us all that not everyone wants to read fiction and that there are a lot of very good information books out there.