Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Titles for International Women’s Day – Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women And Born To Ride.

Titles for International Women’s Day – Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women And Born To Ride.


Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez and Luciano Lozano.

Submarine telescopes, Monopoly and Lifeboats. Did you know they were all invented by women? 

Take a look at some inventions, discoveries and innovations which all began in a woman’s mind. This compendium of ideas also celebrates the achievements of women whose names have not always been forefront in design and technology. 

A couple of years ago, there were very few books which celebrated female achievement. Now there is such a wide choice that it can be difficult to know where to begin. This volume is special in that it is also a celebration of creativity and knowledge. It is specifically about women who pursued a solution to an existing problem. From car heaters to a prototype e-reader, the stories behind things we take for granted reveal some fascinating characters. 

img_8409I was particularly interested in the invention of the medical syringe. It is something we have all encountered without giving a second thought. In fact, I prefer not to think about injections, except it turns out that once upon a time they required two hands, meaning an assistant was often required to administer them. Imagine how much worse it would be if the nurse was not able to steady your arm.

The illustrations are expressive and either show the inventions in action or illustrate what life was like without them. Without windscreen wipers, for example, drivers had to stop and wipe the windscreen themselves. The illustration shows a vexed crowd looking on as a bus driver wipes the front down. These humorous pictures will draw readers in and encourage them to question what they might change in the world. 

With a historical bias towards recognising the achievements of men, it is important that we keep showing that everybody is capable of bigger things. A wonderful volume which will open discussion about other people who have created great things or solved everyday problems. 


Born To Ride by Larissa Theule and Kelsey Garrity-Riley


What does it take for a girl to do anything? A set of wheels is a good start. 

Louisa Belinda Bellflower lives at a time when the social expectations of girls restrict their activities. Voting is totally out, and riding a bicycle is frowned upon. However, as Louisa has a mind to cycle and she’s not going to let anything get in her way. Not the skirts which can be exchanged for trousers, and certainly not the rumours about ‘bicycle face’. 

Meanwhile, the grown-ups in Louisa’s life are involved in subversive activities of their own. 

A look into the late 1800s and the rise of women’s suffrage movements in America. The most wonderful thing about the book is how the pictures tell a different story to the text. Louisa is certain her cycling will be frowned upon and goes out of her way to hide it, but the pictures show a different story. Louisa is not the only one who wants life to change for women. 

The illustrations continually work in purple. white and a goldish-yellow, which were the colours of the women’s suffrage movements in the USA. I also loved the landscapes. Their winding paths seem to lead off in any possible direction, and they encourage the reader to dream of adventure. 

A book about women’s rights which comes through a specific historical lens. This won my heart with its tenacious heroine and beautiful illustrations. 


Thanks to Quarto Publishing PLC for my gifted copy of Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women, and to Abrams and Chronicle UK for my copy of Born To Ride. Opinions remain my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Your Mind Is Like The Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin

Review: Your Mind Is Like The Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin


Your mind is like the sky. It changes from blue to grey. Your thoughts are like clouds. There are nice, white fluffy clouds. Then there are the darker ones. The ones which bring worrying thoughts. The question is what can we do to prevent those clouds from hanging over us and obscuring the view? 

A beautiful picture book that introduces mindfulness concepts and techniques. Brownwen Ballard is a psychologist and coach who teaches mindfulness in primary schools, so she is well-placed to write a book for children. 

Anxiety, worry and fear can all become overwhelming, and when that happens it can be difficult to see past our thoughts and to understand that other possibilities are equally likely. It can be difficult to see that we are in control. Your Mind Is Like The Sky suggests that rather than fighting or trying to ignore our feelings, we acknowledge them alongside all the other thoughts in our head. This helps us keep negative thoughts in perspective. 

img_8431The book follows one child through a world. We see what is really there alongside any number of other things, some of which are really there and some of which are inside the child’s head. At times it can be difficult to tell between the two, but I think that is the clever thing about the illustrations. Pictures often show what has been observed, but there is more to the world than that. There are the things we fail to see, the things we can’t possibly see and the things inside our head. At times our thoughts can feel as real as the world around us. 

Gently shaded backgrounds and colourful line-drawings add to the impression that we are sharing the child’s experience. The line-drawings have a childish quality about them in the very best way. Flowers sit alongside pianos and toy dinosaurs and lines of marching ants. All are out of proportion but somehow they build a lively and imaginative world. 

A gentle and informative introduction to the principles of mindfulness. 


Thanks to The Quarto Group for my gifted copy of Your Mind Is Like The Sky. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Flights Of Fancy – stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates. (Many authors and illustrators).

Review: Flights Of Fancy – stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates. (Many authors and illustrators).


We are all creators. Every one of us has the skill of observation. Of thought. Every one of us is capable of putting something down on paper. 

When we come to do that, it can seem more difficult. 

Flights Of Fancy is packed with stories and poems, plays and pictures from the ten children’s laureates who have inspired children across the UK. As well as being a compendium of creativity full of original work from some of the most beloved creators at work today, the book gets behind the role of Children’s Laureate and looks at the amazing work of laureates past and present. 

The laureateship is awarded every two years to an author or illustrator who has done outstanding work in their field. This person then has the opportunity to promote specific issues or skills related to children’s literature. The position is currently held by Lauren Child, author and illustrator of Charlie And Lola, Clarice Bean and numerous other titles. 

Flights Of Fancy has a profile for every past laureate which details their work and their response to the post. I was particularly interested to read about Anne Fine’s initiative to create beautiful and freely-available bookplates for children to stick in second-hand books. Not every child has access to new books and encouraging children to take ownership of the books which are available to them is a wonderful idea. The bookplates are still available to print at My Home Library

There is also new work from all of the authors and illustrators, including Quentin Blake’s fantastic drawings of flying machines and Jacquline Wilson’s story which is told in the form of a diary. 

The book is also full of tips, games and inspiration to challenge readers to engage with their creativity. From Anthony Browne’s shape game, Julia Donaldson’s word wheel and Malorie Blackman’s ideas about taking a word for a walk, there are plenty of starting points to new creative projects. What I loved most about this book was its emphasis on the similarities between creativity and play. We hear big words like imagination and gifted and creative and think that art is limited to the chosen ones who have been blessed with special powers when actually these people have played and enjoyed their hobbies and engaged with them for great lengths of time. While there is no doubt that professional-level skills take many hours to master, we can all play. We can all communicate. We can all make marks on a page. Some of those works will even be worth sharing with the people around us. 

Flights Of Fancy is an exceptional book which celebrates our creators and encourages everyone to keep in touch with their imaginative side. I would recommend this to children and ‘big children’. This would make a beautiful gift, especially if it was given alongside a sketchbook and a notebook and some pencils. 


Many thanks to Walker Books UK for my gifted copy of Flights Of Fancy. Opinions my own.



Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.

Review: Meet The Pirates by James Davies.


Yarr! Prepare for a voyage of discovery on the seven seas. Everybody has an image of pirates from films and stories, but who were the real-life pirates across history? What does piracy involve? Meet The Pirates is an accessible and humorous introduction to a favourite topic. 

From the Vikings to the modern day pirates with GPS systems, the book is like  a time-line of piracy. 

img_8171This book continues an already popular series which looks at the periods of history covered by the KS2 curriculum. It is easy to see why the series has taken off. The books are highly visual and the information is broken up by the illustrations. Each page contains a short amount of text. It is easy to make the mistake of looking for non-fiction books which match a child’s fictional reading skills, but readers have limited patience when they are learning new facts. The information needs to be broken up, and what is there needs to be written in such a way that it is engaging and memorable, without skimping on the content. 

The limited colour-palette of the illustrations makes the book look trendy and modern. They still manage to incorporate a lot of information, from the kind of pistol Blackbeard carried to the sails on different ships. The illustrations are as informative as the text. 

I love the features of the book. The title of each topic is written down both sides of every spread, so readers can flick through and find the relevant information with ease. As well as informative illustrations, such as a map of trading routes and an image gallery of different types of ship, there are cartoons and humorous illustrations. The importance of comedy in children’s books can’t be stressed enough. For many readers, these cartoons are the reward for taking in new information.

This will doubtless be a hit with teachers and librarians, but it would also make a lovely introduction to the topic for children who have shown an interest in pirates fictional or otherwise. I am hugely impressed with these books and look forward to sharing my review of Meet The Ancient Greeks. 


Thanks to Big Picture Press for my copy of Meet The Pirates. 



Blogmas 2018 · Non-Fiction

Review: Bestiary by Christopher Masters


Exploring the collection of The British Museum, this book looks at objects relating to animals. From porcelain jugs to spear-throwers, jewelry to watercolor-paintings humans have included other animals in their art for centuries. 

Divided into five sections – wild animals, domestic animals, exotic, symbolic, and mythical creatures – the book uses the museum collection to explore the different relationships humans have held with the natural world over the centuries. One of my favourite things about the format is how it encourages readers to look at museums differently. It is easy to trail around a museum or to do a gallery, but museums were designed to preserve human knowledge. Entering with a question or a theme (‘What do we know about human relationships with animals?’) encourages us to get so much more from a visit. 

The introduction tells us how the relationship with animals has developed over time. I was particularly fascinated to learn about early societies where there was less distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ than there is in the modern day. It gave me a greater empathy with and understanding of societies which believed in spirt-animals. 

The book is beautiful, full of high-definition photographs, including many full-page pictures. If you left this book out on a coffee table or in a school book-corner it would be picked up and thumbed through. It has high ‘flickabilty’. Much of the pleasure is in thumbing through the pages to look at the images. 

Bestiary would make a lovely Christmas present – for fans of Newt Scamander, for museum-goers and for people who are insatiably curious. A beautiful look into the collection of The British Museum which encourages us to think deeper about museum collections. Brilliant. 


Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Bestiary. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · Non-Fiction

Review: Vintage Travel Posters by Gill Saunders

vintage travel

Review: Vintage Travel Posters by Gill Saunders.

By 1900, almost every town in Britain had a railway station linked to an extensive rail network. The seaside holiday, already popular in the 1800s, became big business. Resorts expanded as daytrippers and holiday-makers flocked to the sea. With the rising numbers visiting the seaside, and the expansion of the tourism industry, came a new form of art – the travel poster. 

The travel posters of the early 1900s are now highly collectible. They evoke a time when the world was expanding – when people were becoming more adventurous – but also an era when things were simpler. In the age of budget airlines and cheap package-holidays and an ever-increasing workload, it is lovely to recall the guest houses and piers of the early 20th Century. 

Vintage Travel Posters brings together 30 such posters which depict the sea. This would be a lovely book to inspire art about the sea because it shows how different one destination can look from another. From cruise ships cutting through the Atlantic to the sun reflecting off the Venice Lido, the range of posters shows how different the sea is in from one place to another. 

This is also a brilliant look at the images the tourism industry wanted to sell. What exactly were people looking for when they set out for a resort? Short paragraphs on the page opposite each poster explain the history behind it and give us an insight into a different time and place. 

I fell in love with this book. I studied seaside holidays on my very first undergraduate module and it has always been a ‘pet subject’ (AKA a random interest which makes me smile whenever I learn something more.’) This book would appeal to historians, artists and people with itchy feet. It also makes a lovely coffee-table book. Nostalgia isn’t quite the right word because it is not a time or place I have ever known, but anyone who has ever spent the day in a run-down resort and looked at the relics of the Golden Age of the seaside holiday will love this book. 


Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Vintage Travel Posters. Opinions my own. 


Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard


Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard

You’ve read about beetles in the Beetle Boy trilogy. Now you can learn all about them in The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Beautifully designed and illustrated, the book is packed with information, from how to set out on a search for beetles to facts about the different species. 

When hearing MG Leonard talk in October, I became aware of two things – beetles are more fascinating than I ever realised, and children are curious and interested in the world in a way which adults forget to be. The younger members of the audience that day demonstrated a wide knowledge of our world – the sort of facts which adults dismiss as ‘trivia’. There is so much to learn on any one subject, but children understand instinctively that this is a wonderful thing. 

The handbook would appeal to anybody with an insatiable appetite for fact. It is also a fascinating read – did you know that a wheat weevil can produce over six-thousand young a year? That Bombardier beetles can produce a toxic acid? This would be a brilliant book to start a life-long interest in entomology. 

img_7403In the series a book by this title is used by the main character. This editon is designed to look like the very same copy used by Darkus, complete with his notes scribbled in the margins. This format has a particular charm and will encourage children familiar with the fiction to explore the handbook. There are in-jokes and comments which make sense to readers of the trilogy, but these are not intrusive to anyone just looking to do some research. 

The illustrations and diagrams are not only appealing, they are a good size – there is nothing worse than a non-fiction book with tiny, black-and-white drawings. The pictures draw the reader in as much as the text. More than once I stopped on a page because I saw an illustration and wanted to know more. 

This book was nominated for the Blue Peter Award, and for good reason – it is an attractive guide which links to a loved and respected trilogy. Perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about beetles, who loves facts or for fans of the Beetle Boy trilogy. 


Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Scholastic UK for my copy of The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Opinions my own.