Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Big Book Of The Blue by Yuval Zommer

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One fish, two fish, and an entire ocean of amazing creatures. Read all about them in this amazing and beautifully-illustrated book from Yuval Zommer.

This is not a heavy information guide. Instead it combines facts with artwork to capture children’s imaginations. Did you know that a krill has a see-through body, so you can see it digesting last night’s dinner? Did you know that an octopus has three hearts? These bite-sized snippets of information will make children curious and motivated to learn about life under the sea.

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The first double page spread outlines different families of sea creatures. Most of the following double-page spreads are dedicated to individual species of sea life. Towards the end, there is some information about the different layers of the ocean, and the impact human activity is having on sea life. I was particularly pleased to see the latter included. What better time to talk about the way we treat the world than when a child has developed a growing love of wildlife?

There is also a useful page at the back which defines terms for young readers. Instead of being called a glossary, it is presented as a way to brush up your skills for talking to oceanographers. This simple difference will draw in many more readers. This is an inspired way to present definitions.

The illustrations are divine. They demonstrate how many shades and colours there are in the ‘big blue’. Short sentences at the side of each page offer creative descriptions of the sea. This provides a variety of words which could be used in creative writing – bet you didn’t think of the word ‘slicing’ to describe the movement of a fish.

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 I love the STEAM approach. For those of you who don’t know, there has been a big push towards encouraging STEM subjects (that’s science, technology, information and maths). STEAM puts the arts back into STEM. This is the kind of book which shows exactly why this works. The arts explore and define the world, making people curious and hungry to think.

A sneaky sardine is hidden in different places throughout the book. This hide-and-seek game will keep people flicking. It is great to see factual books engaging the reader’s natural sense of play.

Exactly what a children’s information book should be: engaging, beautiful and packed with facts.

 

Louise Nettleton

 

 

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: She Persisted Around The World by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger

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13 women from around the world who changed history. Their stories are collected in this picture book to motivate young readers. 

Anthologies of inspirational women are having a ‘moment’. There is certainly interest in the topic, but there is also heavy competition. She Persisted Around The World is a little different from the other anthologies I have seen. Its features are shorter (two or three paragraphs long) making it friendly to slightly younger readers. 

img_5340I like the layout. Most entries have a single page illustration and a smaller illustration alongside the text. A couple of entries have a single illustration spread across two pages. This variety makes the book visually interesting. I liked the calm colour palette and the fact that the illustrations showed the girls in action (rather than resembling posed portraits.) 

There are some inspirational stories here, and it was lovely to see stories from around the world in one anthology. She Persisted becomes a refrain used in every story, and the reader is encouraged to adopt this attitude into their own life. 

Without dates or context, it was hard to situate the stories in history. Perhaps that was the author’s intention – that the girls should be united by their attitude and not differentiated by time or place – but I felt that there could have been more context. 

It is nice to see an anthology of life stories suitable for infants school readers. This would make a lovely addition to a book corner, to encourage even the youngest of children to hold their head up and be persistent in their ambitions. 

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas and Penguin Random House for my review copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Mr Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder – Alom Shaha

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Mr Shaha’s Recipes For Wonder puts the look, ask and play back into science. From the start it makes clear that its aim is to help children to make enquiries for themselves. It is a recipe book of experiments which can be conducted at the kitchen table.

There are some positive messages here about enquiry and growth-mindset. The book deidicates a section to the idea that the reader might not know the answers when they set out. A helpful chart suggests the kind of questions they might start asking.

The book is divided into five sections:

  • Motion
  • Sound
  • Electricity, magnetism and light,
  • Atoms
  • Living things

These divisions are friendly to younger readers who might not have come across biology, chemistry and physics. Chapter pages give some information about the area of science, including examples of where it might be found. I would note that the book is physics-heavy. All the experiments are great but it would have been lovely to see more biology.

The experiments are easy to follow with clear illustrations of each stage. It is lovely that these instructions aren’t confined to tiny boxes. There is nothing worse than not being quite sure what you are supposed to do. The visual checklist of equipment also makes the book more friendly for younger readers. 

Timg_5186he book would be nice for a broad age-range. Younger children might gain something from supervised experiments while children in secondary school could use it to revise scientific concepts. It would also be nice for adults looking to demonstrate science to children. When I was a Brownie Leader, for example, we were always looking for half-hour activities which could be done with basic equipment. The book encourages adults to revise the concepts themselves first to help children get the most out of their learning.

This is also a lovely book to look at. Beautiful, bright water-colour illustrations accompany the experiments and it has an attractive and exciting cover. This would make a lovely gift for children who are curious about the world.

Thank you to Alom Shaha for my review copy. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton

Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

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Literary friendships between male writers are well-documented: the companionship of Wordsworth and Coleridge, for example, and the rivalry between Shelley and Lord Byron. Until recently women were thought to be incapable of serious literary endeavours. Those who succeeded were often described through stereotypes – Jane Austen the conservative maiden aunt, for example, or Virginia Woolf the depressive. Their friendships were often viewed with disdain. The influence of males on their work was more likely to be recorded than that of other women.

Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeny, themselves friends and writers, set out to redress the balance by looking at the closest female friendships of four writers. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot and Virginia Woolf.

Jane Austen’s friendship with Anne Sharp was edited out of her life history by her relatives. Maybe this was because it was seen as inappropriate that a woman of Austen’s social class would mix with a governess, but there is possibly more to the story. The main source of information comes from a child’s diary. Certain details, such as why Anne’s employment was abruptly terminated, are not available. Although I was intrigued by the idea of Anne, details about her friendship with Austen never got beyond their shared love of writing and the dates at which they crossed paths.

The influence of the Bronte siblings on each-other’s works is well known, but the popular myth of Charlotte Bronte as part of this tight-knit group of siblings has overshadowed the influence of her schoolfriend. It was Mary Taylor who encouraged Bronte to persue a path which would allow her more time for writing. Taylor also suggested that Bronte use her writing to challenge the political status-quo. Taylor’s own work, not published until later on in life, was ahead of its time in its exploration of women’s lives.

George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were both established literary figures when their correspondence began. While Eliot was honoured to correspond with Beecher Stowe, their differences in political and religious temperament came between them. Nevertheless, they respected the other’s literary opinions, and tempered their own personalities because of their friendship. These friends were shaped by their differences as much as their similarities.

The friendship between Woolf and Mansfield was the only friendship I had come across prior to reading A Secret Sisterhood. I was pleased to see their competitiveness re-examined. Whatever they thought of each other, Woolf and Mansfield acknowledged each other’s ability.

A Secret Sisterhood is written in an intelligent and engaging style. The section on Austen is padded out with general detail about the author’s lives, but I was still interested to know about Anne Sharp. The other three sections are concise and informative. I am pleased to see female literary friendships given a study of their own. It is clear from the details about the author’s own lives that they understand the difference between a friendship and a literary friendship, and that they know the joys and trials which can come of offering each other criticism. I would recommend this to anybody with an interest in writing or literature. It would make a lovely present between friends.

Thanks to Arum Press and the authors for my copy of A Secret Sisterhood. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

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Brazen tells the story of fifteen women who defied the social pressures of their time to live as they chose. There have been a lot of books about women’s life stories in the past year. Some have clearly aimed to change our perceptions of womanhood while others have churned out the life stories of any woman vaguely in the public eye. Brazen has a clear agenda. Its whole tone is subversive. 

Penelope Bagieu has established herself as a graphic artist, and has previously published graphic biographies. The stories in Brazen are told through cartoon strips. They start with the subject’s childhood, establish what they were up against and tell the story of their journey to success and their legacy. I love the continuity between the strips. Every strip starts with a pen portrait and dates of birth and death, and ends with a double page picture depicting a defining moment in the subject’s life. 

The book represents a good range of women, culturally, historically and in terms of role. All the women overcame some kind of prejudice or common perception about women. Margaret Hamilton, for example, was told she would never act without a nose job. She ended up playing the Wicked Witch Of The West in the 1939 film of The Wizard Of Oz. She played the part so well it became one of the best known roles in Hollywood (and she totally eclipsed Dorothy …)

While lots of these books about women’s lives have been aimed at children – or primarily at children, as Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls has proved to have crossover appeal – Brazen has a darker, wittier tone which would make it a good choice for teenagers or adults. The humour is tongue-in-cheek but not inappropriate for children. 

I love the use of graphic art to give an overview of a person’s life. I can’t wait to leave my copy lying around the house. I don’t think people be able to resist picking it up. 

 

Thanks to Sarah Garnham and Ebury Publishing for my copy of Brazen. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Books

Review: Amazing Women by Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green

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Temple Grandin

Amazing Women celebrates the lives and achievements of 101 great women. It features women from different fields and cultures. Modern-day to historical figures. Their lives are related in digestible fact-files which relate their stories as well as key dates. 

The thing I love most about this book is the design. When I saw the front cover I wanted to flick through and read about every one of those women, and the same thing happened when I looked inside. The book is high on ‘flickability’. It is the kind of book you want to thumb through, to flick backwards and forwards between the pages. The pastel colour palette and fantastic illustrations remind of a really modern blog or website. 

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The key message of the book is to be your true self. Every story in the book is inspiring, but the way to achieve great things is not to try to be someone else but to work hard in the areas where you excel. With a large number of books about inspirational women in the market place this is a really good message. A handy resources section at the back gives young readers some ideas of where to look next. This is a lovely addition. Young people with a new interest often don’t know where to turn for more information.

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My only criticism is that the book talks about some women in the present day – what they are doing now and how old they are. Unless new editions are printed this puts a lifespan on the book because this information will date. Nevertheless it is a great title and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of influential women.

 

 

 

Feminist/Gender Equality · Non-Fiction

Review: Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2

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Once upon a time there was a girl … and she did great things. Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls is the internationally successful hit of 2017. To date a million copies have been sold. Here’s the second volume, in all its glory! Turns out there were more great women that one book could hold. 

img_4894Stories of real women are told in a fairytale tone. Every story follows the same formula: once upon a time there was a girl … and one day something happened to spark her interest … and she became … If you have read John Yorke, you will know all stories follow a similar structure. The effect of writing about real women in this way is extraordinary. You don’t need to know the history or the geography to get into their tales. It is possible to get into every single story without prior knowledge. The best way into a subject can be to relate to a character or an event. 

Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2 may introduce readers to new interests. 

The second effect of narrating the stories as a fairytale is empathy. A factfile of dates and events could not have told me that Yeonmi Park grew up believing Kim Jong-Il could read her mind. It could not have given me that insight into life under a dictatorship. 

img_4893Illustrators from around the world have contributed to make this extra-special. I love the variety of art-work. The different styles keep things interesting, and I would buy this book for the illustrations alone. They remind me of vintage posters. Ones you might actually put on your walls. Alongside the illustrations there is a motivational quote from the women. It would be possible to flick through the book and read the quotes when you are in need of motivation. 

img_4895Words highlighted in red are defined in a glossary, and a contents page lists women with their field of excellence next to their names. I was delighted that neither the book nor the contents page is divided by field. There is no sense of one field being pushed over another, no suggestion that one destiny is more likely. Children’s content sometimes makes this mistake, pushing STEM and law over arts-subjects, and anything over stories of adventure. These real-life stories disprove this approach. Every one of these women achieved something great, and every one started by finding:

  • what she was best at 
  • an opportunity or a situation which turned her interest into action. 

The foreword is addressed to children and adults, in response to the phenomenal readership established by Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls. Whoever you are, whatever your situation, it encourages you to REBEL – to find your interests or causes and strive to make something of them. I have never read a book which speaks so directly to so many people. This is our history, our world. These are our stories. Read and rebel. 

Louise Nettleton

Big thanks to Riot Comms for my copy of Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2. Opinions my own.