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.

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers and Lane Smith

Review: Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers and Lane Smith

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Tomorrow just about anything could happen. It will, most probably. You will eat brown food and meet a squirrel called Stu and step out of the door to hear the city sounds. Through a whimsical rhyme, this book explores the small things which make one day different to a next and celebrates the wonderful thing that is living. After all, how bad can it be if the squirrel is OK?

Dave Eggers and Lane Smith are both masters of their form. This book has a nod to mindfulness and stopping to take in the minutiae of every moment. Young people are so much better at that, at defining their days by things which adults wouldn’t notice. An acorn fell, the clouds looked like castles, I heard music from outside while I was studying. Adults desperately need to readopt this practice to keep from believing that one day is the same as another. 

Just as the reader thinks they have the measure of the rhyme or the illustrations, something unexpected is thrown up. This cleverly mimics a real day and how we can be hit by the unexpected, the frightening and the just plain wonderful at any second. It will probably be like that, says the book, and that’s OK. 

The cityscapes are filled with splashes of colour. Wonderous everyday things to look at and places which get the imagination working. This is like seeing the city from inside the protagonist’s mind. It may be the everyday world but it is full of marvel. 

A meditative picturebook which hits on the joy of small details and the big role they play in our lives.

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Reviews: 3 funny picture books (April 2019)

Reviews: 3 funny picture books (April 2019)

 

Wakey Birds by Maddie Frost

Wakey Birds live in the jungle. They got their name because they can’t ever sleep.

One night little Wakey Bird can’t get settled so she gets out of bed, finds a stick and wakes up the others. Soon all the animals in the jungle are awake, including the never to be img_8796-1woken Dreaded Jungle Beast. Luckily, the Jungle Beast has storybooks in his cave, and soon all the animals are back to sleep.

A witty take which will gain huge recognition with people whose children won’t … ever … stay in bed.

The whole aesthetic of the illustrations recalls a night with small things racketing around the house. It should be dark, it should be quiet, but there’s a bright yellow bird banging a stick against a rock. Small creatures are bouncing everywhere, screeching and chirping and outright snarling.

And there’s the Dreaded Jungle Beast in his cave.

Any young family will gain a laugh of recognition and this might help persistent wakers to understand that making noise in the middle of the night sets off a chain reaction which inevitably leads to a tired and cranky big people. Otherwise it is just a hilarious story about one noisy and busy night in the jungle.

The One-Stop Story Shop by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

img_8797-1Once upon a time, there was a fearless knight. Except there wasn’t much of a story because his dragon had gone on holiday. Lost without his antagonist, the knight heads to The One-Stop Story Shop in search of someone to battle. Could his next story be about space ferrets, or giant snakes, or monsters of the deep? When the dragon returns, the knight and his new sidekick decide to set out on a journey and explore all the other stories in the world. 

A witty tale about moving beyond our comfort zones. 

This book does something I love in any text. It explores story and story structure. The knight ventures to new worlds and battles new monsters, but if you listen very carefully all of these stories sound very much alike. This would be a beautiful text to introduce this concept and encourage readers to look at the basics of story structure. All of these quests begin with the same thing. A knight. A fearsome monster. The knight’s quest to defeat the fearsome monster. Hopefully, this will encourage young writers to pick up their pencils and create their own stories in amazing imaginary worlds. 

The illustrations are full of cartoonish life and the knight reminds me irresistibly of Buzz Lightyear. He’s a bit too sure he is the hero, a bit too certain of his role in life. 

The laughs are on every page, from the ferret who turns up in every story to the octopus who meets its end when it is sucked down a plughole. Humour can be intelligent and this is a prime example of why funny books matter. 

 

Stefano The Squid Hero Of The Deep by Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie

img_8795-1The Deep Sea TV team love filming dolphins and sharks and puffy little pufferfish. They never film Stefano the squid. He isn’t colourful or ginormous, and he doesn’t have a deadly weapon for the television crew to talk about. Stefano is just wondering what he will have to do when he saves one of the divers from a terrible fate. Suddenly he is the hero of the day and the crew return to give him some screen time. 

Stefano watches the other fish showing off and despairs. It shouldn’t be funny, but even while we empathise we laugh. The other fish are just so full of themselves, and anyone who has watched a few nature documentaries will recognise the affectionate send-up of the topics most often under discussion. 

Should Stefano have had his screen time? Rescuing the diver should be its own reward, we all know that but this is a story and I am glad Stefano had his moment to shine. This would be a great opener to discussions about validation – do we need someone else’s good opinion to feel confident in ourselves? It could also help in discussions about playing together and recognising everyone. We all know how it feels when there is a little group at the centre and everyone else is treated like a hanger-on. 

The illustrations are bold and cheerful and will encourage readers to draw fish in different styles. 

One which is as funny for the grown-ups as the young readers. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press and Templar Books for my gifted copies of the books in this feature. Opinions remain my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Meet The Penguins by Mike Brownlow

Meet The Penguins by Mike Brownlow

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Meet the penguins. They really want to play, but nobody wants to play with them. Everybody else is busy concentrating, playing complicated games or hurrying along. When the penguins find someone to play with, and they are able to show how many brilliant games they know, they find themselves with a queue of new friends desperate to join in. 

A witty picture book which will be especially relatable to children coping with playground time. 

The penguins are polite to the point of being charming. Enthusiastic. Friendly. They just can’t find anybody who wants to play. This can be a frustrating and frankly baffling situation for children small enough that their world is governed by the rules. Sticking to the rules about good manners and kindness should result in a win. The trouble is, social situations are complicated and other people can have their own agenda. This would be a lovely picture book to open discussions about the fact that sometimes it just isn’t about whether we’ve done the right things. Gorilla wants to focus, Rabbit is in a hurry and Kitty is just plain rude and unfriendly. 

There’s a lovely picture in the middle where the dejected penguins slump down. They’ve given up. The story turns this around and demonstrates that once you’re enjoying your own games, there might be plenty of people looking to join in.

The final page puts a spin on it again when the Penguins stop wanting to let everybody into their games. This would be a great picture for opening up a debate. Did the Penguins do something wrong and unfriendly, or is it just a fact that sometimes there are too many people to play a game properly? 

The illustrations are all about facial expressions, with exaggerated disappointment, pleading, rudeness and enjoyment. The sober backgrounds of the early scenes turn to a riot of colour as the penguins’ games get going. 

A funny and relatable story about friendship and social situations. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sunflower Shoots And Muddy Boots by Katherine Halligan and Grace Easton

Review: Sunflower Shoots And Muddy Boots by Katherine Halligan and Grace Easton

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Do you love to dig in the dirt and get messy? Then you’re a gardener. 

This guide covers every kind of outdoor space, from hanging baskets and things grown in pots to spotting insects in the great wide spaces. It has something for everyone, from decorating plant pots for the craft lovers to digging right in and planting huge trees. It is presented in beautiful spreads which cover different topics in a visual and exciting way.

With such handy guides to tree types, sowing meadows and making compost, this guide could be read by a wide range of ages from four upwards. Everything from the small size of the book to the ring-bound pages makes it friendly to the littlest of hands, and the attractive and colourful illustrations make it a joy to browse. 

With green space increasingly harder to find, especially for younger families who may be renting a flat, in a tower block or in a house with a tiny patio, it is important that books about gardening for the current generation make clear that there is a space for everyone, otherwise we risk children thinking that it is a middle-class hobby. Sunflower Shoots And Muddy Boots does this exceptionally well, with a spread on ways to grow plants in tiny spaces and a large number of spreads which focus on things which can be done in any outdoor space (such as insect hunting, making shelters and having fun with mud). It never makes an assumption that readers are playing in their own garden. 

Activity instructions, word banks, and spotting guides come together to make gardening fun and accessible. Two muddy-thumbs up and a gold star. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of Sunflower Shoots And Muddy Boots. Opinions my own.

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Big Beyond by James Carter and Aaron Cushley

Review: The Big Beyond by James Carter and Aaron Cushley

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Once upon a time man looked at the skies and dreamed of the stars and planets which lay beyond the Earth’s boundaries. Over the centuries our understanding of space grew until, in 1969, humans walked on the moon. 

img_8837This beautiful rhyming picture book takes readers on a tour through the centuries, from the time when stories about the constellations were told, through Galileo and his telescope to the moonwalk and beyond. It is a beautiful introduction to physics and space travel and encourages readers to see themselves as future astronauts. 

Multisubject approaches are so important. It can be easy to talk about scientific concepts in isolation and yet when we give them historical context, it not only explains what the big breakthrough was and why the science is so important, but it emphasises that science is a process of question and discovery (and not one of parroting formula). Beautiful texts like this make this idea accessible and exciting. 

There is so much joy in the illustrations. What might have been a heavy topic is made fun through the young characters pretending to fly, looking at the constellations and dressing up as astronauts. This book is not only about history, but it is also a nod to the future and it encourages the reader to aspire to the highest travels. 

There is a lovely fact file at the end with some key dates and figures. This is written as a separate acrostic poem with the word rockets and again it was a joy to see creative writing forms used in a book about science. 

A joy to read and share. This will encourage readers young and old to look up to the stars. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of The Big Beyond. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: What Clara Saw by Jessica Meserve

Review: What Clara Saw by Jessica Meserve

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Clara has been looking forward to the class trip to the animal park, but Mr. Biggity enjoys it for all the wrong reasons. He takes every opportunity to explain to the children why humans are superior – other animals don’t have the same range of emotions, they can’t use tools to get what they need and they just don’t care about the world around them. 

Meanwhile, the animals use their abilities, intelligence and natural instinct to outwit the keeper and help a giant tortoise to remain with her friends and life partner at the zoo. 

img_8242A clever story in which man, in all his ridiculous and self-centered glory, shows himself up by underestimating other species. 

It comes around every so often in the news. Scientists have discovered that animals are more intelligent than we realise, or a certain ability has been observed in a particular species. The strange thing is that we’ve so severely underestimated animals in the first place. I have lived with cats all my life and can tell you that they communicate. Learn what their gestures mean – those flicks of the ear, those expressions, those nudges and carpet scratches – and they will begin to use them with you on purpose. They also know how certain things work (door handles and taps, for example,) form and stick to routines and show huge empathy when their humans are upset or ill. 

And yet there are people who treat them as something inferior. As pets. 

One of the best ways to learn, and to open our minds to new attitudes, is through humour, and this story has it perfected. While Mr Biggity (who is an adult straight out of Roald Dhal, set in his ways and proud of it) rants and preaches and uses pseudo-science to explain why other animals are inferior, Clara observes what the zoo’s residents are up to. She is able to help Elsie the tortoise and to give her schoolfriends first-hand evidence that other animals are amazing. 

The message of this story is to observe with an open mind. Throw off those preconceptions and try to figure out what the animals in front of you are doing. Maybe they aren’t joining together in prison-break style, but they may be caring for their young or attempting to open a cupboard or showing the love which means you have formed a genuine bond. 

The sketch and watercolour illustrations reminded me of John Burningham’s work. Although Jessica Meserve’s animals are more detailed and realistic, she uses textures and patterns to form backgrounds and trees, and her people move with the same whimsical energy. 

I adore this book, both the theme and the execution. An important message shared without the slightest hint of Mr Biggity style preaching. Excellent. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my gifted copy of What Clara Saw. Opinions my own.