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.

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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.

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

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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

Review: Mira’s Curly Hair by Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

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Mira doesn’t like her curly hair. She wants it to be beautiful and straight like her mama’s. One day, Mira and Mama go for a walk and the rain comes down. Little by little, the curls return to Mama’s hair and Mira sees how beautiful curls really are. 

A touching book about the relationship between appearance and identity. 

Mira’s issue is one which lots of children will relate to, from an early age right through to teens. Images of perceived beauty are everywhere and they can result in peer pressure to look one particular way. When I was a pre-teen is was all about very straight hair. Very straight and blonde was better. There was also lots of discussion about straight noses and facial symmetry.  What I didn’t understand at the time was that this idea which was rife in my school began with Hollywood. With the catwalks. With the narrow images of beauty available to young people at the time. 

This is particularly damaging when children aren’t seeing people from their own culture or people of many cultures and the many kinds of beautiful in the world. Thankfully, social media, for all its faults, is helping to fight this because suddenly there are photographs and hashtags which celebrate curly hair and fuller figures and people of every kind. It is also important that books reflect the diversity of the world from an early age. Mira’s Curly Hair shows how important it is not to look for the kind of beauty we see elsewhere, but to celebrate the things which are beautiful about ourselves.

Bright blocks of colour and beautiful patterns bring this to life and add to the feeling that this is all about celebration. 

A book which offers readers a new way to define and search for beauty. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Books for my gifted copy of Mira’s Curly Hair. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

Review: Shampooch by Heather Pinar and Susan Batori

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Shampooch is the cleanest, prettiest, most pampered dog in the park. She declines all invites to roll in the mud and riffle through bins because she’s got an image to maintain. Then Sampooch chases after some beautiful kites and all chaos ensues.

A light-hearted and witty story about the price of maintaining a perfect image. 

With young people under increasing pressure to maintain an image online, it is important that children learn from an early age not to prioritise appearance over living. Shampooch misses out on friendship and fun because she is so concerned about her fur and her hair. When she is sucked into the doggy fray, she finds it liberating. 

There are extra laughs in the illustrations, especially in the contrast between aristocratic-looking Shampooch and the smelly dustbins and muddy puddles around her. We just know at some point that the two are going to meet and this keeps the reader waiting. The joke is obvious but we have to know how and when it will happen. 

Maverick Arts Publishing always produces books which are friendly to the youngest picture book readers. Their books appear to be produced with a strong knowledge of what amuses and captivates children. 

Move over Aristocats – Shampooch is here and she’s throwing off her collar. A lovely message and a great read. 

 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my gifted copy of Shampooch. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (Kate Greenaway Shortlisted Title)

Review: Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (Kate Greenaway Shortlisted Title)

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When Julian is out and about with his Nana, he sees some beautiful people on the train who remind him of mermaids. Julian would love to be a mermaid. When he gets home, he takes down the lace curtains, sticks some plants in his hair and transforms himself into a mermaid. Julian is worried about what his Nana might think, but it turns out she knows a thing or two about mermaids.

A story about love, respect and embracing our inner-selves.

Nana wins my fictional role model of the year award. When she comes out of the bath to find her little grandson parading around with the curtains around his waist, she sees right away what the game means to Julian. Offering him a string of beads and a hand to hold, she takes him outside to find some other people who are beautiful and brimming with self-confidence. People of all genders, people of all sizes, people in all kinds of costumes and outfits. 

img_8822There is no dispute that this is about gender. The key moment in the story is when Nana finds Julian and stares at him with a great big disapproving scowl. My heart brimmed at that moment because it became clear that this was about more than a kid dancing around in the curtains on a whim. However, this is a beautiful narrative about all kinds of gender and identity acceptance. Whether a child is questioning their gender or whether they are broadening their definition of what it means to be a boy or a girl, this book offers a comforting message that the happiest people in the world are the ones who love each other and themselves.

The illustrations are a beautiful wash of watercolour which fits perfectly with the theme. It’s as if there is a hint of the watery world even when Julian is in the city. Particular attention has been paid to clothes, with a range of styles, patterns and colours celebrated. 

Julian Is A Mermaid made the shortlist for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. I can only imagine the judges saw the same joy and celebration and in the illustrations which touches me more with every read. 

A picture book which deserves a place on every shelf. Grab some beautiful items from around the house and prepare to embrace your inner self. 

 

Thanks to Riot Comms and Walker Books UK for my gifted copy of Julian Is A Mermaid. Opinions my own.