Days Out · Non-Fiction

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.

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The earliest Almanacs, according to the introduction to this one, were created over 3000 years ago. They were created by Ancient Egyptians, who listed dates that were thought to be lucky and unlucky. They were also used to help farmers know when to plant seeds and harvest crops. 

2020 Nature Month-By-Month takes inspiration from earlier almanacs but is catered to the modern-day and especially to children. It lists special days – from religious festivals to bank holidays – but it also suggests different activities to help its readers connect with the outdoors at different times of the year. 

The National Trust preserves some of the most special places in the UK, from coastline to land, to historic parks and gardens. According to its website, it believes that everybody has the right to escape to the outdoors. This comes across in this book, which goes to great efforts to suggest activities suitable to people in different areas and situations. We live in a society where fewer people than ever have outdoor spaces of their own and where cities are increasingly crowded and difficult to escape at a weekend. However, if we look around, we can find outdoors to interact with, even if it is the clouds above us and the puddles beneath our feet, and we can engage in activities that make us friends of the outdoors. 

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As the title suggests, the pages are divided up by the month. Each month begins with a list of dates and anniversaries and then is separated into short sections about festivals, walks, birds, nightlife and craft among others. These sections are a page or two long but they are beautifully detailed. Although this is aimed at children lots of information would be of interest to a wide age range, making it perfect for families to share. 

The pages are beautifully illustrated with pictures of plants and animals and people enjoying outdoor spaces. Almanacs are one of the places to traditionally link illustration with nature and it is encouraging to see this continue. The art so clearly comes from observation and it makes the reader want to get outside and do some looking around of their own. 

Not only is this full of wonderful ideas, beautiful illustrations and fascinating facts, but it is a handy size perfect for slipping into a pocket or a rucksack. Get your walking boots or wellies on and prepare for a year of outdoor adventure fun. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow in association with The National Trust for my copy of 2020 Nature Month-By-Month. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read.

Blogmas: Merry Bug-mas from Author Emma Read. 

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As autumn comes to a close and spider season is done, we might be ready to forget about mini-beasts and think more about Christmas feasts.

But as a bug lover (and author of Milton the Mighty) I’m here to share a few interesting facts about some of my favourite creepy-crawlies and wishing you all a happy holiday and bee-sons greetings. No bah! Hum-bugs I hope.

 

The Little Things That Matter

 

Making up 97 percent of all animal species on earth, invertebrates are, according to ecologist E. O. Wilson, “the little things that run the Earth.” Though small, their ecological importance is huge – we rely on invertebrates to pollinate flowering plants, consume pests, recycle and compost waste and turn over the soil. Without them our whole ecological system would rapidly collapse.

There are so many wonderful ‘little’ things we can do to help the environment in 2020, and with invertebrates in mind, perhaps you might consider a New Year’s resolution to love bugs a little bit more? Here’s a song to get you in the mood while you wait for Ant-a-Claus.

The Twelve Bugs of Christmas, by the Invertebrettes

 

12 Tansy beetles – These pretty beetles have iridescent elytra which the Victorians used to wear as jewellery. They are now on the endangered listbugmas 1

 

11 Furry bumblebees – Dumbledore was named for the Old English word for bumblebees!

 

10 Tortoiseshell butterflies – Also endangered, but on the increase thanks to greater awareness and public support

 

9 Leopard slugs – What’s to love about slugs? They are the great recyclers of the garden, disposing of decaying organic matter. They are also a favourite food of hedgehogs, which are in severe decline in the UK

 

8 Chirping cicadas – Although thriving in Europe, the cicada may already be extinct in the UK

 

7 Seven-spot ladybirds – Known colloquially as bishy-barny-bees and dowdy cows, ladybirds are often favourites in the insect world. Contrary to all the ladybird juice drunk by the spiders in Milton the Mighty, ladybird blood is actually toxic to most would-be predatorsbugmas 2

 

6 Ladybird spiders– Possibly even more beautiful than actual ladybirds, this spider was thought to be extinct for over seventy years. Rediscovered in the 1980s this species is now protected.

 

5 Yellow jacket wasps – Yes, they’re a pain at picnics, but wasps are actually one of our most important pollinators and pest controllers, particularly partial to aphids

 

4 Stag beetles – Their population is not known but they are considered endangered. Members of the public are encouraged to report any sightings to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

 

3 Common centipedes – Another super pest controller and friend to the gardener, centipedes are one of the oldest animals on Earth, some have been found in fossils dating over 400 million years old

 

bugmas 32 Painted lady butterflies, in a butterfly kit – this is a lovely way to encourage children to care for invertebrates and learn about the wonders of nature. Ladybird breeding kits are also available

 

1 And a false widow on the Christmas tree. Much maligned, the false widow is neither deadly, nor invading. They’ve been here since the nineteenth century and are super pest controllers. If you’re not convinced maybe Milton the Mighty might be able to help!

 

Resources:

 

https://wildearthguardians.org

 

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

 

https://www.theschoolrun.com/homework-help/spiders

 

 

About the Author

 

Emma Read is the author of Milton the Mighty (Chicken House), which was one of The Times’s Best Children’s Books of 2019. MILTON is a story for younger readers about finding courage, good friends, and doing amazing things – even if you’re a spider the size of a raisin! Emma lives in Bath, and never sweeps up cobwebs. The sequel to Milton the Mighty, Milton the Megastar is available for pre-order here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/milton-the-megastar/emma-read/9781912626069

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

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The Night Before Christmas, just as Santa is ready to set off in his sleigh, he receives a letter from the little Princess Of Hearts. She would like a Christmas present but her parents said no. Santa is her last hope. Ignoring warnings from his reindeer, Santa sets a course for Wonderland. 

It takes AGES to get to Wonderland by sleigh. (That’s why you need a rabbit hole). Still, Santa and his reindeer eventually arrive. The only trouble is they are greeted by utter mayhem. No stockings, no carrot, and a creepy semi-invisible cat that can pop up at will. Not to mention the Queen Of Hearts. She takes one look at Santa and issues an order for her guards to cut off his head. 

A chase ensues, in true Wonderland style. This is not only a witty take on The Night Before Christmas but it has truly thought about which story would be appropriate to tell if the rhyme was transferred over to Wonderland. It makes strong use of Lewis Carrol’s worldbuilding and characters to create something which Wonderland fans – and readers excited for Christmas – will love and enjoy. 

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This is high up among my Christmas picks of 2019. It has that quality which makes it lasting. This could be enjoyed again and again and, as well as being perfect for this time of year, has the additional draw of appealing to seasoned Wonderland fans. 

Kate Hindley’s style fits Wonderland to perfection. It has a touch of the strange and mysterious but it also finds the fun and friendly in Wonderland. This is especially important for the picture book market, and personally I think it is a more faithful interpretation of the original text than making Wonderland entirely scary. Yes, there’s all that stuff about chopping off heads, but what about the tea parties and races and neighbourhood friendly lizards?  

The illustrations are striking and will go down well with both children and adults. 

A return to a favourite setting combined with a super twist makes this a classic Christmas text. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland. Opinions my own.

illustrated · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Follow The Star (A Pop-Up Christmas Journey) by Andy Mansfield.

Review: Follow The Star (A Pop-Up Christmas Journey) by Andy Mansfield.

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Long ago, a star shone in the sky to announce that the Son Of God had come to Earth. So the Christian story goes. Now every year a star shines in the sky – over great cities and little houses and snowy, North Pole Skies, to remind us that Christmas is here that it is a time of love. 

With stunning pop-up decorations and a shining star on every page, this beautiful book is short but it is designed to be read over and over so that the reader can enjoy the pop-up experience once again. 

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Gentle books are underrated. A short text with a sweet message will be remembered beyond childhood and many adults can think of one such text that they can still recite many years down the line. However, with competition for anybody’s attention fierce in a world of smartphones and computers and many many stories, it can take extraordinary illustration or design for such a text to be discovered. 

Follow The Star comes under that category. From the introduction where the hills of ancient Bethlehem, so familiar from Christmas cards, spring up between the first pages, it is impossible not to be impressed by the craft. The book is held differently to usual, with the back cover acting as a base. By holding the front cover up at 90 degrees, the pop-up is seen to its best advantage. It is lovely to find books like this because it is important to question whether there are ‘rules’ about reading (like holding a book in two hands and putting the pictures one way up) or whether we can design stories and pictures any way we like. 

The message is gently religious, but in a way that can be shared by people of other and no faiths. This is to say that, as well as reading it to say Christians believe that, the message of finding love and peace at Christmas time is made widely applicable. Whether you believe that is God’s love for mankind or our wider sense of love for one another, the message is in the story. It is lovely to find books like this because, too often, religious books are made in such a way that it can be hard to relate to them if you are not of a faith. Sharing and exploring different world beliefs, and being open to multiple views, is important for everyone. 

This book would make a beautiful gift to share this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Templar Books for my copy of Follow The Star. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Guest Post

Blogmas Guest Post: An Inventor’s Guide To Christmas by author Holly Rivers.

 

Blogmas Guest Post: An Inventor’s Guide To Christmas by author Holly Rivers.

Holly Rivers

About Holly Rivers and Demelza & The Spectre Detectors. 

One of my very favourite things about putting together a series of Christmas posts is inviting authors to feature on my blog. It is especially exciting, with the New Year around the corner, to invite authors whose upcoming debuts are already on my radar. Holly Rivers has been in my Twittersphere for some time and, more reccently, I was sent a proof copy of her 2020 debut. Trust me when I say you will soon hear loads of great things about Demelza & The Spectre Detectors. 

Demelza loves science and rational stuff, but she also has a very unscientific gift. She can summon ghosts. When her grandmother is kidnapped, Demelza and her friend Percy set out to solve the mystery. 

Holly has written as her protagonist, Demelza Clock herself, who has some not exactly adult-approved thoughts on how inventors can survive Christmas. The first will make you laugh into your hot chocolate … but just you wait until you get to number 10. No cheating!

Many thanks to Holly Rivers for your time and wonderful post. 

 

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An Inventor’s Guide to Christmas by Demelza Clock

Written by author Holly Rivers.

 

1. Suggesting to your teacher that baby Jesus might have appreciated a soldering iron more than Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh is not a wise move (unless you want to spend the last week of term in detention.)

 

2. If you’re running low on pocket money and haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, look to your tool-box for inspiration. Who’s Grandma wouldn’t appreciate a lovely pair of earrings made from 80mm joint connector bolts?

 

3. Christingles definitely don’t make good inventing snacks.

 

4. Forget about gold rings, maids-a-milking and partridges in pear trees, what an inventor really wants for Christmas is a Nobel prize for Physics.

 

5. Always keep your inventing apparatus close at hand on Christmas day — a good quality handsaw is the perfect tool for carving turkey that’s spent one too many hours in the oven, and an electric drill can be useful for blocking out the sound of unwanted carol singers.

 

6. Scientific studies have proven that cocoa is beneficial for the brain — so eating your body-weight in chocolate coins for breakfast every day in December is perfectly reasonable behaviour. (Dipping a mince pie in your boiled egg is equally acceptable.)

 

7. Start perfecting your fake smile in November — your’e going to need it when you receive yet another pair of socks instead of the new Super Screwdriver 700 you’ve been dropping hints about all year.

 

8. Run out of wood-glue during the festive season? Don’t worry, bread sauce works just as well.

 

9. Whatever anyone says, a lab coat is appropriate attire for going to watch The Nutcracker.

 

10. If you’re inventing on Christmas day and planning on using a blowtorch in your workshop, don’t eat too many Brussels sprouts. Gassy bottoms and open flames don’t mix.

 

Demelza & The Spectre Detectors publishes in February 2020 from Chicken House Books. RRP. £6.99.

Blogmas 2019 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

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Santa’s work doesn’t all happen in a single night. Long before he sets out on Christmas Eve he touches up the paintwork on his sleigh and checks the presents off on his modern, new-fangled Techno-Pad. With all this gadgetry to help him do the job, what could possibly go wrong? 

Quite a lot, it turns out. When the pad drops from the sky and the screen goes blank, Santa doesn’t have a clue how to get it working again. He does what any self-respecting adult does during such a crisis – he pokes the screen several times and then accepts the help of a young person. 

Jasmin knows exactly what she is doing and Santa rewards her with an early present. The trouble is, it leaves him nothing to deliver for Jasmin to open on Christmas day. Luckily Jasmin is two steps ahead as always …

A witty story that will gain laughs from children raised with smart technology at their fingertips. 

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Given that adults design the stuff, it is strange how, whether it is GameBoys in the 1990s or laptops in the noughties, or the latest smart technology today, children are, as a whole, always more fluent in the use of electronic gadgets. It helps, of course, when they have never known a world without them – so children born today learn to navigate their way around apps at the same time as learning the alphabet. Even so, I reckon this book will gain plenty of laughs over Christmas as adults hand their new gifts over to nearby young people for configuring.

This story of new-fangled things is illustrated with retro-style pictures. This contrast works beautifully because it hints at the idea that Santa himself has been around … you know … for quite some time. It suggests a nostalgia for days of earlier technology – except, of course, that this was revolutionary in its era. 

A new take on the Christmas Eve delivery story just perfect for anyone who loves their technology. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Santa’s High-Tech Christmas. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

Review: Mimi And The Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

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A shy girl called Mimi finds a baby dragon asleep in the woodpile. Everyone in the village is afraid of the great Mountain Dragon but Mimi decides that the baby must be returned. As soon as the bells ring and call the other villagers to church, Mimi sneaks out treks up the mountainside to take the baby dragon safely home.

The Mountain Dragon is huge. She breathes fire. She is also relieved to have her baby home. As a gesture of thanks, she keeps watch over Mimi’s village which, being situated under the snowy mountains, is in constant danger from avalanches. 

Get ready for television animation by sharing the story together. 

This story, which has been available in a smaller book format for many years, has been remade as a larger picture book. The form suits it beautifully. Looking at the double-page and full-page illustrations, I felt as if I was a part of the landscape – looking down on the village from the mountains or up the slopes with Mimi as she climbed. It also allows us to look at the smaller pictures in more detail, and the illustrations are so beautiful that this is fully-deserved. 

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The main themes are friendship and fear and the way we judge others. A person who comes across as terrifying – maybe because they shout too much, or maybe because their tone is blunt and to the point – but who is kind and generous and filled with empathy. The dragon in this story may have a reputation for being fierce, but she cares greatly for her child and wants to show thanks for the little dragon’s safe return. 

Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of our best-known storytellers. Reading his stories always feels more like being told the tale of something that happened by a witness. Often this is intentional. In Mimi And The Mountain Dragon, as in some of Morpurgo’s books, we meet the narrator and learn of their connection to the tale before we hear the story itself. This is so rarely done now in children’s literature and yet it reminds us that the narrator is a part of the story and that stories are, after all, about people and places and experiences worth sharing. Putting The Mountain Dragon down, it is hard to believe the story never happened. 

A touching and gentle story that teaches us not to judge other people on their temperaments so readily. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the animation over Christmas, or make some hot chocolate and read the story together. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for my copy of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. Opinions my own.