Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Little Guides To Great Lives (Anne Frank and Ferdinand Magellan)

Review: Little Guides To Great Lives (Anne Frank and Ferdinand Magellan)

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Stories about inspirational lives are enjoying a moment of popularity. The outcome is we have beautiful books like the Little Guides To Great Lives series, and a format to suit every reader.

These books are a perfect size. Almost like a Ladybird Book, but a little wider. As a child, I was drawn to books in a small format, almost like there could be no doubt they were meant for me. They also fit nicely in small rucksacks and in the pockets on the back of a car seat, making them perfect for young readers on the go.

As well as introducing us to a person, the books set the context of that person’s time. This is especially important, and something which is too often missing from books about famous lives. The tone is just right for the target audience, something which is especially clear in the book about Anne Frank where the political background is explained without giving information which might frighten the target audience.

The book about Ferdinand Magellan (who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the world) begins with childhood too, making the subject more relatable to a young audience. Both books explain their subjects’ personalities and interests, the adversities they faced, the geography they saw and the people and objects which formed part of their day to day lives.

They give an overview of their subjects’ lives and not a word is out of place.

The design is exceptional, with textured covers and a limited range of colours in each book leading to a retro feel. The books would look wonderful together on a shelf and it would be easy to pick out one book from another.

The books are little gems, which would sit beautifully at the front of any bookcase.

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing for gifted copies of the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

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Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

Review: Odd Science – Spectacular Space by James Olsen

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Did you know that NASA astronauts have grown plants in space? That the highest mountain known to mankind is on an asteroid? That the centre of a comet is made of ice? This book is filled with fascinating facts about the world beyond our planet.

A contents page divides the book into different facts although the sections are not divided. This could be flicked through or consulted for facts on one subject, although I think its strength is in the former. It’s striking, retro-style illustrations catch the reader’s interest and make it impossible to resist finding out more. 

With one or two facts on every page, limited to a few short lines of text, this is the perfect book to foster an early interest in space and physics. 

The book covers facts about space itself – about planets and asteroids and gravity – but it is high on human activity in space and the advances made by space science. With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing taking place this year, there has never been a better time to read up on this topic. 

The restricted colour palette and use of block colour backgrounds gives the illustrations a  pop-art feel, although the humour in them brings them right up to date. They would translate into beautiful posters and it is impossible not to stop and look closer when flicking through the book.

 

Thanks to Catherine Ward PR and Pavillion Books for my gifted copy of Odd Science – Spectacular Space. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

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Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Wilfred And Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure by Stephan Lomp

Wilfred And Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure by Stephan Lomp

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A time machine takes Wilfred and Olbert back to the beginning of time. Through a series of portals, they travel through pre-history, starting with the Big Bang and ending with the frozen ice ages of the Quaternary period. During their adventures, they see how animals evolved and the environment changed across millions of years. 

A zany look at the prehistoric era which mixes puzzles, games and humour with an illustrated guide.

Fact file this isn’t. Information is, on the surface, kept a minimum with a short line of summary at the top of each double-page spread and name labels for the animal life in the pictures. The many speech bubbles are filled with jokes and follow Wilfred and Olbert’s adventure. 

Actually, the book is packed with information, but most of it is in the pictures and puzzles. Each spread is a great at-a-glance guide to the different ages. Did you know the dinosaurs had to contend with meteors? Or that corals were around right when the earliest life began? All of this information can be learned through the pictures. 

This would suit readers who enjoy reading pictures – really taking time to get information out of the illustrations. It is encouraging to see books which take a fun approach to non-fiction. We can learn in hundreds of different ways and books which encourage play and laughter are picked up many times by readers who might shy away from traditional fact-files. 

A double thumbs-up for Wilfred and Olbert. Looking forward to learning where their next adventures take them. 

blog tour · Guest Post · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis

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About Ocean – Secrets Of The Deep. 

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the ocean? 

With new technologies, scientists are learning more about the watery world every day. And what a world it is, with coral reefs and kelp forests and zones so deep that only four humans have ever explored them before. 

Written by science communicator Sabrina Weiss and illustrated with graphics from Giulia De Amicis, this volume is packed with facts and information about the oceans. 

As part of the blog tour to celebrate the book’s release, Sabrina Weiss has written a guest post about manatees, the stunning animals who inspired legends of mermaids.  

A huge thanks to Sabrina for your time. 

 

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Swimming with the animals that inspired the mermaid myths

By Sabrina Weiss

I have always had a love for the marine world and learned to scuba dive at the age of 11. I have since travelled extensively across the world and dived in various places: from Mexico and Colombia, to Eastern Africa, the Red Sea, and Southeast Asia. But it was a recent trip to northern Florida that gave me a glimpse into the lives of one of the most elusive marine creatures.

During the winter months, large numbers of manatees gather in the Three Sisters Springs to relax and keep warm. The water in this lagoon is crystal clear so it was easy to float on the surface and watch them go about their daily lives. Some of the calves, which are born at an astonishing 30kg or so, are curious by nature and will often initiate playful interactions with snorkellers.

 

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Manatee in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss

 

Manatees are the only vegetarian marine mammals (along with their cousins, the dugongs). They love to graze on fields of seagrass and algae. And they need lots of it to grow to 400 kg in weight. Their short, paddle-shaped flippers and horizontal tail fluke help them to power through the water, at a comparably slow 5-8 km per hour, although they can go faster in short bursts.

Manatees are sometimes called sea cows, but their closest relatives on land are actually the elephant and hyrax (a small rodent-like mammal). What is even more extraordinary about these slow, bulky animals is their history. On his voyage to what is now the Dominican Republic, the explorer Christopher Columbus supposedly saw three mermaids from his ship. In his journal, Columbus described the mythical creatures as ‘not half as beautiful as they are painted’, and historians believe that he actually mistook manatees for mermaids.

 

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Manatee mother and calf in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss

 

That was reason enough for us to include this amazing animal in our OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep book. As well as beautiful illustrations of mermaids and manatees, we tell the tale of the fearsome Kraken: a ferocious, tentacled beast that was believed to pull ships down to the murky depths of the seabed and devour the sailors on board. Young adventurers will also enjoy our map that explores the possible locations of the legendary lost civilisation of Atlantis. Scientists are still scouring the ocean floor, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and even the Caribbean but are yet to find evidence of this peaceful utopia.

OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep by Sabrina Weiss, illustrated by Giulia De Amicis (£14.99, What on Earth Books)

Follow Sabrina on twitter @sabrinamweiss and Giulia @giulia_de_amicis

Find out more at www.whatonearthbooks.com

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and What On Earth Books for my gifted copy of OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

Review: Creature Feature Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

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Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. This fantastic visual guide shows dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes – horned ones and beaky ones and dinosaurs with long necks.

Each section has an introduction which explains what specific characteristics were for. Beaks, for example, were useful for snipping leaves, spearing fish and cracking open nuts. The double page spreads are largely visual, making this a catalogue of dinosaurs. It would be perfect for flicking through and finding a favourite. The dinosaurs are named and it would be a wonderful resource for enthusiasts to learn names and test their memories. 

The illustrations use a wonderful range of colours which stand out against single colour backgrounds. The use of shape is inventive and the book is a lovely starting point for anyone wanting to draw dinosaurs. 

Although the book has board pages, it is not exclusively for tiny readers. It could be enjoyed by anyone aged two upwards. As this is a visual guide, I can imagine readers flicking backwards and forwards through the pages, and the more durable material means the pages won’t wear about with heavy use. 

A ROARsome visual guide which will be loved and examined by young dinosaur enthusiasts. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of Creature Feature Dinosaurs. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

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Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all. 

No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers. 

Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before: 

 

  • It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.) 

 

  • It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong. 

 

  • The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised. 

 

Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them. 

I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin. 

All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author. 

 

Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.