Non-Fiction

Review: Remarkable Trees by Christina Harrison and Tony Kirkham.

Review: Remarkable Trees by Christina Harrison and Tony Kirkham.

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Trees are remarkable. As the introduction to this beautiful book notes, they are central to our existence, providing, food, shelter, resins, and materials which we use to support our everyday life. Trees are also incredible examples of evolution. You only have to compare the trees of one climate to another to see that they have adapted to survive in their habitat. 

Over 8000 species are currently under threat and yet too often we are unaware of trees, treating them as scenery instead of as living, breathing plants. 

This wonderful book, written by two experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, details the lives and plights of over sixty trees. 

What is interesting about this book is the sections it is divided into are all about the human relationship with trees. Building And Creating, Feasting And Celebrating, Healers And Killers, Body And Soul, Wonders Of The World, Threatened and Endangered – nearly all of these headings are about our existing knowledge of trees. That the Caco tree creates chocolate, or that Mahogany was once popular for furniture is relatively common knowledge. However, once you reach the pages on the individual trees, you learn not only about the human relationship to the tree but about the plant itself. This is something like moving a lens away from the close-by towards the distance and the unknown. 

Even the trees we walk past every day have hidden lives of their own. 

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Each fact file is three or four pages long and accompanied by full-colour pictures. Headed with the common and Latin name, there is also a single fact away from the main text which stands out to a reader flicking through the book. This not only makes it a great coffee table book, but it is also a wonderful way to hook a reader. I found myself drawn in by these snippets and had to read more.  

It is fascinating how much of human history we can learn through the lens of trees. Remarkable Trees touched on trade and diet, literature and religion, all by studying human interaction with trees.

The illustrations are detailed, both the full page botanical drawings and pictures which show the tree in situ, as it were, which help us to build an idea of how trees differ across the world’s habitats. The muted colours and exquisite detail make this the sort of book which you can’t help but pick up. 

A stunning non-fiction title or coffee table book. This would make a beautiful gift for anyone with a growing interest in the natural world and reading it reminds us that we live in a truly remarkable world. 

 

Thanks to Thames & Hudson in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for my copy of Remarkable Trees. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

Review: Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World by Dave Eggers and Angel Chang.

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Remember the chills you had when you read The Lost Words for the first time? Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World has the same effect. Using only one word per illustration, it presents the reader with all the wonderous places in our world. 

A Tiger travels through beautifully coloured landscapes, taking in jewel-bright seas and massive skies. She sits and stares and takes in the world around her. It is enough to give any reader the urge to travel. Throughout the book she carries a chair on her back. This presents the reader with a question – why? Where is she going and what is the chair for? This question will keep younger readers hooked as they take in the words and pictures. 

Unless people get outdoors and develop a connection to the natural world, certain worlds will be lost. Gorge. Foothills. Isthmus. Perhaps the best way to tempt people outdoors is to introduce them to these magical features. Readers will soon have favourites, whether it is the space-like badlands or the bubbling lagoon. 

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There is something enigmatic about the illustrations. By simply presenting nature in all its glorious colours, Eggers and Chang have conjured up the mystery and wonder of our world. 

One of those books which presents a simple concept in the most beautiful manner. Striking in its simplicity and memorable for the glory of its subject, Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World deserves a place on every bookshelf. 

 

Thanks to Chronicle Books for my copy of Most Of The Better Natural Things In The World. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

Review: Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero by Clive Gifford and Jonathan Woodward.

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Our planet is experiencing a climate crisis. Plastic pollutes the ocean, air pollution is reaching higher and higher levels, and entire species are disappearing every single day. It is enough to make anyone feel powerless, and yet all the power is in our hands. It is up to humans to change their habits, and this book gives young eco-warriors some great ideas about where to start. 

This book is so important, for people who feel that they don’t have a clue as well as for committed activists. 

The great thing about Guardians Of The Planet is it outlines the issues behind the climate crisis as well as giving readers ideas about practical things they can do to make changes in their daily habits. It is easy to think these things won’t make any difference, but rest assured that as people change their habits, so will businesses, and as businesses change their habits it will put vast pressure on politicians and world leaders. Sometimes change really does start with many tiny actions such as buying rechargeable batteries or leaving those plastic bags behind. 

Seven chapters cover different issues affecting our planets – home consumption, energy usage, food waste, water supplies, ocean pollution, forestry, and wildlife extinction. First the chapters outline the difficulties and then look at the different areas of our lives which touch on these issues. For example, we all know that water is used in the shower and kitchen, but some readers might forget that food production is a major source of water waste too. One practical suggestion is to keep a water butt and grow some fruit and veg. 

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The book strikes the right tone, taking the issues seriously while remaining upbeat about our chance to help. It is more important than ever that young people feel empowered to care for the environment. The current generation will be the last with any realistic chance to help unless we act now. Making people feel happy that starting now is always a positive thing is important. 

Jonathan Woodward’s illustrations make this an appealing book to dip into, with full-colour pages broken up by bursts of text. More importantly, some of the pictures illustrate the problems faced by our planet without the full graphic horror of photographs. Being able to visualise what something means is important in conversations about the planet, but this book also respects the age of its target readers. The result will be that they want to help but aren’t left with nightmares. 

This book is a rallying call to young readers to help the planet. It is also a guidebook and a helping hand so that they know where to start. 

 

Thanks to Buster Books (In support Of Client Earth) for my copy of Guardians Of The Planet – How To Be An Eco-Hero. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Atlas Of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell.

Review: Atlas Of Amazing Birds by Matt Sewell.

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Our planet is home to some amazing birds. Open your eyes and meet the true wonders of the world. Knowing about the birds we share our planet with encourages us to care about their wellbeing. 

This is divided into seven sections and introduces the birdlife of eight continents. Each section begins with a map, making this part Atlas, part guidebook. As a whole, with its jewel-bright illustrations and informative fact files, it is a book to marvel over. 

It is the images that make the book. The full-colour images draw the eye as soon as the book is opened. The style is a play on scientific drawings – flat, and forward-facing, they are certainly there is no pretence at a story or pose. However, they are also filled with a certain character which makes it possible to imagine them coming to life and to picture how they might move. This one would glide, for example, and that one flutter. 

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Each entry includes the scientific name and the common one. The common one comes first which not only allows readers to spot the familiar but to marvel over a vocabulary which is in danger of becoming lost. Two or three paragraphs accompany the names. These are well-written and explain where the bird might be found and introducing some of its habits. 

In organising the birds by continent, the book also introduces the idea that we adapt to our habitats. Flicking through, it is impossible not to notice similarities and differences between the birds, and discussing how all the small, bright birds live in warm places, for example, would open an interesting conversation with young readers. 

A page at the back includes a glossary of bird-related terms and suggestions for songs featuring birds. This is such a lovely touch and would make a wonderful ‘next activity’ after reading. 

This is the kind of book which helps a reader form a love with a new subject. After looking through the pages, it is impossible not to want to spot birds in the real world and to know more about the birds which live far away. 

The perfect holiday gift for a young nature enthusiast or for readers who just love a beautiful book. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Children’s Books for my copy of Atlas Of Amazing Birds. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Odd Science – Brilliant Bodies by James Olstein.

Review: Odd Science – Brilliant Bodies by James Olstein.

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Brains, bones, and bogies. Our bodies are brilliant and there is so much we don’t know about ourselves. 

Did you know that your teeth are as hard as a shark’s? That the muscles in your oesophagus could push food into your stomach even if you were hanging upside down? Did you know that stomach acid is powerful enough to dissolve metal? Between the trivia and the fantastic illustrations, this is the kind of book which hooks the reader and keeps them flicking. 

The genius of this is some of the facts would be covered by a standard biology lesson, while others would probably be classed as trivia. Once hooked, the reader doesn’t care which is which and will absorb information without question. 

The books in this series are a lovely size, perfect for slipping into a backpack or holding with smaller hands. 

I have reviewed a book in this series before and was impressed with the retro-style illustrations and limited colour palette. The energy and humour keep the book right up to date, and the overall effect is striking. This is the sort of book which adults want to buy for children just because of the design. It would also appeal to a broad age-range because it is impossible to resist picking the book up. 

A great addition to a series which makes scientific facts fun. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of Odd Science – Brilliant Bodies. Opinions my own. 

Non-Fiction

Review: Rise Up by Amanda Li. Illustrated by Amy Blackwell.

Review: Rise Up by Amanda Li. Illustrated by Amy Blackwell.

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From pilots to musicians. Chess players to campaigners. Read the stories of children and young adults who have risen to the top of their field, and think about ways to learn from their stories. 

Books of inspirational stories have become popular in recent years. At times I wonder if the meaning of the word has been lost. In the media at least, the world inspirational is brought out without thought to what it truly means – that we can learn from these people. That before their names were known, they were ordinary people who put in extraordinary effort and dedication. 

Rise Up acknowledges this. Rather than reading like a list of impossibly heroic figures, it recognises the journeys each of its subjects took and suggests starting points for young readers who want to develop their own understanding of a particular field. 

The book features modern-day heroes like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai alongside historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and Louis Braille. The subjects represent a vast range of talents and areas, and it is lovely to see artists and musicians alongside the usual public speakers and activists. What these subjects have in common is the sheer number of hours they have put into their passion. Recognising the hard work and skill of artists has never been more important because some politicians behave as if arts are only hobbies. 

The stories are told in a narrative, taking a moment in each subject’s life to represent their wider tale. After each story, activities and fact files encourage the reader to explore an area for themselves. This layout encourages dipping in and makes the book perfect to read in little windows of time. It would be perfect for a classroom or library display, as well as for readers who enjoy real-life tales. 

Amy Blackwell’s illustrations bring the tales to life. They are bold and full of energy, and exactly the sort of pictures which make a reader curious.

This book stands out because it is aware of its readers. People who read a book of inspiring stories want to feel they could make an impression too. Rise Up doesn’t pretend that doing so is easy, but it does suggest it is possible. It strikes exactly the right balance and will inspire lots of young people to find their own passions. 

 

Thanks to Buster Books for my gifted copy of Rise Up. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

Review: Out And About – Night Explorer.

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There’s plenty of fun to be had when the sun’s gone down. Outside our windows, when the night sky is shining, a whole host of animals and plants are raising their heads. Grab a torch, a grown-up, and a jacket and explore the nighttime with this handy, pocket-sized book. 

With ideas about ways to have fun out in the garden and further beyond, this is a wonderful guide which encourages safety, respect for nature and a bucket load of curiosity. 

From traditional skills like identifying animal tracks and following scent trails, to instant fun like glow in the dark paint, there is bound to be a suitable suggestion for every occasion. 

As regular readers know, I am all for books which put us back in touch with nature. Over recent generations, we have lost touch with the natural world to the extent that knowledge is being forgotten and empathy for other species is at a low. My Granddad, for example, recognised bird songs by ear, a skill which few people today have. The great news is that between the young people who are fighting for our planet, and the wave of books which has come in the past year, there has never been a better time to discover the wildlife on our doorstep. 

This would be a lovely book to slip into a satchel, and it would also make a great stocking-filler for anyone who is getting ahead on the Christmas planning. A guide book, a torch and a compass and you’re all set to go (even if it isn’t beyond the front gate). 

The design is neat and attractive. The illustrations manage to be cute while not being sentimental, and examples are clear enough for the reader to follow. I love the rounded corners and elastic band, which make this feel like a journal or an adventurer’s log-book. 

With a focus on nighttime wildlife, this offers something different to other nature books I have seen, and it is clearly designed to encourage young people to get outdoors. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my gifted copy of Out And About – Night Explorer. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

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Maths can feel confusing. At times in my childhood, it felt like nothing more than memorising a string of processes, the use of each was more obscure than the last. Yet maths is the language of the universe. It is written into nature, into the laws of physics and into modern-day technology. 

This beautiful book introduces the places where maths can be found. It reminds us that maths is about more than examinations. It is a magical, complex language. One waiting to be explored. 

Four sections divide the book into topics: 

  • Maths In The Natural World
  • Physics, Chemistry and Engineering. 
  • Space. 
  • Technology. 

Within each section, different concepts are explored through beautiful double-page spreads. 

There are gems of information inside this book which will make you look at the world in a whole new way. Did you know that female pufferfish examine the patterns a male makes in the sand on the ocean floor? The female looks for the most geometrically perfect patterns when selecting a partner. And did you know that you could lift the Earth up and turn it (if only you were positioned with a lever billions of light-years long)? Fascinating facts like this make it impossible to not want to know the principles. 

The illustration and design is undoubtedly part of the attraction of this book. Pages are cleverly divided into different sections with shapes and colours which attract the eye. The retro-style pictures are attractive and fun and make spreads which deal with complex ideas feel more welcoming to novices. 

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What also makes the book fantastic is that is doesn’t once water down its subject matter. The book is certainly aimed at a younger audience, but it doesn’t ever give the impression that children might be reluctant to learn. Sections of text are kept short – one or two paragraphs at a time – but the principles are explained and illustrated in sensible and engaging language. The book takes its readers seriously, unlike so many books on complex subjects which resort to heavy-handed humour to engage readers. If information is presented in an engaging way, people are often eager to know more. 

A stunning introduction to the way mathematics underpins our world. Numbers are part of our history, of our make-up and of our communication. Books like this remind us that to study them is a great adventure. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of The Language Of The Universe. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction

Review: Find Tom In Time – Ancient Egypt by Fatti Burke.

Review: Find Tom In Time – Ancient Egypt by Fatti Burke.

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Whoosh! A magic amulet has transported Tom back to Ancient Egypt alongside his Granny Bea and Digby the cat. There’s so much to see and explore. 

Where’s Wally spotting challenges meet non-fiction in this addictive book which will keep everyone staring at the pages. 

This isn’t a big fat history book. It introduces the reader to the idea of a different historical period through different spreads which show how life, death, religion, housing and daily life might have looked during that time. This gives an overview and flavour of what we know about the general period. Placing one period in relation to another can be difficult, and the first step is to understand that life has happened in times and places other than our own. 

Tom sees so many places along the way that the series would be brilliant for anyone with burning questions. What did school look like? What did people eat and what kind of clothes did they wear? Alongside the spotting game, there are short bites of text to explain what is happening in the pictures. 

The book is addictive, with additional things to spot on every page. It would be great to play alone or in a group, with each person looking for a different thing. 

Granny Bea is a wonderful addition as a female archeologist. Certain jobs are surrounded by stereotypes and the only way to end this is to constantly show all kinds of people filling these roles. 

A fun way to dive into a new period, and a great concept to hook budding historians. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted copy of Find Tom In Time – Ancient Egypt. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes.

Review: Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes

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From millions of years ago, when the island was inhabited by wildlife, to the thriving metropolis we know today, this is the story of Manhattan. It’s geography, it’s history and it’s people. With maps to show how the island would have looked and illustrations of the different eras, this beautiful book is the story of one place through time. 

And what a place. Manhattan isn’t somewhere I have visited, but even so I feel I know its streets. Not only from the photo shows of my sister’s visits but from the multitude of films and television programmes which are set in New York. Before reading this, I knew little of its history, but I recognise so many of the best-known locations. 

Manhattan moves through the earliest settlements, to the American Revolution and then to the Grid Plan of 1811 and the great skyscrapers of the 20th Century. Every era is brought to life through the illustrations, which show not only the place but the people who lived there. History is easier to understand when we realise it is about people like us. Relating to another person’s story makes the past more accessible. 

img_9800The maps are so detailed, and it is fascinating to see how the city built over time, and how different areas were joined together as a result of the grid plan and subway and bridges. With double-page spreads covering different topics, this book manages to provide a detailed account of the area’s growth without overwhelming the reader. There is plenty of breathing space to look at the maps and illustrations. 

Towards the back of the book is a wonderful double-page spread which shows the island in four different eras right next to each other. As I looked over this page, it really seemed to grow before my eyes. There is also a useful timeline which allows the reader to look over the history without reading the whole book. 

As an introduction to or visual history of an area, this is fantastic. The level of detail is impeccable and it is difficult to resist flicking through and comparing the different eras. 

 

Thanks to Abrams Books For Young Readers for my gifted copy of Manhattan. Opinions my own.