Days Out · Non-Fiction

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.

Review: 2020 Nature Month-By-Month by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz.

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The earliest Almanacs, according to the introduction to this one, were created over 3000 years ago. They were created by Ancient Egyptians, who listed dates that were thought to be lucky and unlucky. They were also used to help farmers know when to plant seeds and harvest crops. 

2020 Nature Month-By-Month takes inspiration from earlier almanacs but is catered to the modern-day and especially to children. It lists special days – from religious festivals to bank holidays – but it also suggests different activities to help its readers connect with the outdoors at different times of the year. 

The National Trust preserves some of the most special places in the UK, from coastline to land, to historic parks and gardens. According to its website, it believes that everybody has the right to escape to the outdoors. This comes across in this book, which goes to great efforts to suggest activities suitable to people in different areas and situations. We live in a society where fewer people than ever have outdoor spaces of their own and where cities are increasingly crowded and difficult to escape at a weekend. However, if we look around, we can find outdoors to interact with, even if it is the clouds above us and the puddles beneath our feet, and we can engage in activities that make us friends of the outdoors. 

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As the title suggests, the pages are divided up by the month. Each month begins with a list of dates and anniversaries and then is separated into short sections about festivals, walks, birds, nightlife and craft among others. These sections are a page or two long but they are beautifully detailed. Although this is aimed at children lots of information would be of interest to a wide age range, making it perfect for families to share. 

The pages are beautifully illustrated with pictures of plants and animals and people enjoying outdoor spaces. Almanacs are one of the places to traditionally link illustration with nature and it is encouraging to see this continue. The art so clearly comes from observation and it makes the reader want to get outside and do some looking around of their own. 

Not only is this full of wonderful ideas, beautiful illustrations and fascinating facts, but it is a handy size perfect for slipping into a pocket or a rucksack. Get your walking boots or wellies on and prepare for a year of outdoor adventure fun. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow in association with The National Trust for my copy of 2020 Nature Month-By-Month. Opinions my own.

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.

blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. Opinions my own.

 

Board Book · Uncategorized

Board Book Round-Up (March 2019)

Board Book Round-Up (March 2019)

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The ABC OF Musical Instruments by Ailie Busby

Join a cast of forest animals as they bang their drums, blow their oboes and party from A to Z. An alphabet book in a traditional format (A is for …, B is for …), what makes this especially beautiful is the use of pattern. The designs were inspired by Jane Austen’s garden, and by the lining of a coat thought to have belonged to her which is in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust. Pages alternate from a colour-blocked letter with a patterned background to a colour-blocked letter with a patterned background.

The book has a lovely vintage feel but is lively and appealing for young readers.

123 Tea Party by Ailie Busby

A little fox is setting out a tea party for his friends. How many cakes does he need? How many pots of tea. Count from one to ten and join little fox and his friends at the end as they celebrate with a tea party.

Plain block backgrounds allow the patterned numbers and details to stand out. As in The ABC Of Musical Instruments, the patterns were inspired by Jane Austen’s garden and at Chawton. This is a very pretty book. Fox is helped along the way by a flock of birds and everything about his tea service is totally Cath Kidston.

Early numeracy is important but teaching children the basics of afternoon tea is inspired.

 

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Say Hello To The Gruffalo. Based on the book by Julia Donaldson And Axel Scheffler.

A stroll in the wood. Off we go! Who is coming to say hello?

Join the famous mouse on a walk through the woods and meet the characters known and loved from the original picture book. This would make a gentle introduction to The Gruffalo for children too young for the original book. It is also a lovely rhyme.

The book has peek-through pages. Characters are first seen through round windows which then frame the mouse when the page is turned. This allows plenty of play and is a good big space to stick little fingers through.

A thoughtfully designed companion to a favourite book.

 

Gruffalo, What Can You Hear? Based on the book by Julia Donaldson And Axel Scheffler.

A hiss in the leaves, a hoot in the trees …

This lovely little book introduces words for sound, especially focusing on the animals featured in The Gruffalo. Three sentences extend over the course of the book, making it the perfect size to enjoy on the go.

The book clips on to the buggy with a strap, which can be dettached if the book is unclipped and given to a tiny child. The strap is made from stretchy elastic so the book can be pulled a little way around from where it is attached.

Give the gift of reading on the go, and introduce a small child to the Gruffalo.

 

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Pets by Jane Foster

Reptiles and birds. Big and small. Say hello to the animals most commonly adopted as companions.

With a word and a picture, this is the perfect vocabulary builder. Point at the pictures and follow the letters of the word until your little reader learns the words for our animal friends.

I adore the design, with bright, contrasting colours, subtle patterns on the pages with the words and funky retro-style animals which could be straight out of a 1960s picture book. Elder siblings might enjoy using this as a catalogue for drawing inspiration. This would be a lovely way to bring the bigger kids into a reading experience designed for the very young.

This is part of a series of books. Think first 1000 words split into bright, attractive volumes. Why wait until your child is old enough for paper pages when you can start with such beautiful and fun books?

 

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Who’s Hiding At The Seaside? and Who’s Hiding In The Woods? by Katherine McEwan

There are animals hiding everywhere. 

Take a trip to the seaside. Go for a stroll in the local woods. Who do you expect to find?

The answer is there are more animals out there than many of us realise. With an increasingly urbanised population, and dwindling knowledge of the natural world, it is important we introduce a love of the outdoors early so that the next generation grow up to love and protect the world.

Microhabitats are introduced, from a windy cliffside to a rock pool. Lift back the flaps to find out which animals inhabit each area. On the reverse side of the flaps are facts about the animals. As these are cardboard flaps, I would recommend these books to the oldest board book readers, although many of the parents I speak to on Twitter are absolute pros at keeping cardboard flaps safe (or letting them get damaged in the name of education. Also a good call.)

The illustrations pick out the different textures you would expect in each habit and capture the movement of leaves and grass blowing in the wind. A beautiful introduction to the outdoors.

 

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Hello, Mr Dinosaur! by Sam Boughton

Take a tour through the time of the dinosaurs. Just how big was a velociraptor? What did a triceratops eat? Learn some basic facts about each dinosaur until you too are a fully qualified dino-spotter.

With the dinosaurs illustrated from different angles and the textures of their bodies really thought out, this is one of the most attractive introductions to the subject which I have seen in a long time. I love the paint and crayon effect of the pictures and the way the landscape is shown alongside the animals. Many children are shown touring the prehistoric world, which makes the subject feel less remote than it can in books which show only the unknown.

The end pages fold out into a big dinosaur display which also acts as a memory test of the dinosaurs’ names. This will keep young enthusiasts busy and engaged.

The book has cardboard flaps and challenging facts and would be perfect for slightly older board book readers. This would be perfect for older children with small siblings – this was a specific group we catered to when I worked as a bookseller because some parents just didn’t want to buy paper books when they were in danger of being wrecked, but also wanted to keep their nursery aged children engaged.

An insightful and attractive introduction to a popular topic. Highly recommended.

 

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Ottie Elephant In The Town and Marley Bear At The Farm by Melissa Crowton

Where are the animals off to today? What do the hear? What kind of objects might they find? Take a trip out and about with an animal friend and explore the vocabulary relevant to different settings.

With felt flaps to lift and scrunch, mirrors for play time, textures to stroke, and hide and seek games in the pictures, these books are high on play value. They are bright and attractive with lots of primary colours and simple patterns.

Although the book follows the animal through one location, it could be opened on one page to play a game. This makes them great books for on the bus or train because they will keep your little reader distracted without it being a disappointment if the story can’t be finished.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, MacMillan Children’s Books UK, Templar Publishing and New Frontier Publishing UK for gifting the books in this feature. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · craft · Guest Post

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts

 

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts – a collaboration with Lisa’s Notebook

There’s no better time for quick crafts than in the run-up to Christmas. Whether you’re looking to distract the children for half-an-hour, to make a last-minute gift or for a bit of time out, factor some craft time into your festive agenda. 

This post is a collaboration with Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook. I adore Lisa’s blog. With regular features about gardening, self-care and kid-friendly activities, there is something for everyone. Be sure to check out Lisa’s post and see how she got on with the same crafts.

We chose some crafts from Pinterest – collaborating was a lovely way to motivate each other to do the crafts, rather than just pinning them to our boards. It was also a great way of finding things we might not have picked ourselves. Our theme was ‘nature’ and I love how we interpreted this in different ways. 

The three crafts featured here are:

  • A pine-cone elf
  • Bird feeders
  • Star decorations made from twigs 

Check them out below, then have a look at Lisa’s post to see how her crafts came out. 

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Pinecone elf – 

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This was the first craft I picked. There are many examples over Pintest and by looking at these I decided I wanted to keep my elf simple, to add a jingle-bell to his hat and to have accessories in two colours. 

The fiddliest part was making the hat, but once I found a template it came together quickly enough. The result was very sweet and I think these would make lovely little gifts or table-favours. 

 

You will need:

  • Sheets of felt
  • One pinecone 
  • A wooden ball 
  • Jingle bells
  • A pen to draw on the face
  • A glue gun 

 

Instructions: 

  1. Cut out the hat. There is a great template here which shows you the shape to cut the felt. Stick the hat together using your glue gun and add a jingle bell at the top. 
  2. Cut out the feet and scarf.  
  3. Stick the hat to your wooden ball, then stick the head on to the pine cone. Add the feet and scarf. When everything is dry, draw on the face. 

 

Bird feeders – 

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You will need – 

  • Dry mix: Birdseed, currents, sultanas, oats 
  • Fat. I used vegetable fat. 
  • Cookie cutters laid out on a baking tray. You need open cookie cutters, not the ones with patterns in. 
  • Straws (Paper ones work just fine.) 

 

Instructions –

  1. Measure out your dry ingredients. I used a ratio of 2 parts dry ingredients to one part vegetable fat, so I used 500g of dry ingredients to 250g of vegetable fat. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Melt the fat in a saucepan. When it is ready, pour it in with the dry mixture and stir until all the fat is soaked up. This step should be done by an adult. 
  3. Distribute your mixture between the cookie cutters, patting it down with a spoon. 
  4. When you’ve filled your cookie cutters, stick a straw in each one near the top of the cutter. This will form a hole so you can hang up your bird-seed cake when it is set. Leave your bird-seed cakes to set. 
  5. When your bird-seed cake is solid, remove the cookie cutter, tie the string through the hole and hang it on a branch. 

 

Twig star decorations:

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Never again will I judge a craft by the picture on Pinterest. When I saw this, I thought it would make a nice, easy extra. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The tricky part was cutting twigs to equal length and laying them out in a five-pointed star. They move so much that it was like a game of pick-up sticks. I am pleased with my final result and would try this again. 

You will need –

  • Twigs (we picked up longer sticks and branches and cut them to equal length. This should be done by an adult.)
  • A glue gun
  • Raffia or any ribbon or thread to wrap around the centre. 

 

Instructions – 

  1. Cut the twigs to equal length and lay them out in the shape of a five-pointed star. This is easier said than done. My advice is to draw the star out on paper and not overthink the layout. See how it comes together. 
  2. Stick your star together. Before you get the glue-gun out, look at where your twigs overlap and make a plan. I started with the overlaps nearest the bottom and worked up. 
  3. When your star is dry, tie raffia on to the twigs and wrap it around the decoration. This is a very kid-friendly part and you could use all sorts of ribbons and spare bits of thread. 

 

Final thoughts – 

Thanks again to Lisa for joining me in this collaboration. Our nature theme got me outside looking for bits and pieces, and it was lovely to take time out of the busy Christmas schedule for some crafting time. 

Have you tried any of the above crafts? Do you have any favourite Christmas activities? Let me know in the comments below. 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

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Review: Peek And Seek by Charlotte Milner and Violet Peto

A flock of birds. A troop of monkeys. Peek under each flap to discover different animals, learn fun facts about their species and uncover a great big hide and seek game. With five different flaps and ten things to find in each spread, this book will keep young explorers happy for hours. 

I adore this book because it is a fact-file which is accessible to very young readers. Before we read paragraphs and sentences, before we even recognise letters, we have positive experiences with books. Hide-and-seek games are a wonderful way to share time with children. They are also brilliant for keeping kids entertained and they encourage children to be observant. Trusting that information is on the page, even if we can’t initially see it, is an important step to analytical-thinking. 

peekandseek2The short facts on each spread will encourage reading skills and help children to take an interest in wildlife. With more people than ever out of touch with nature, it is important that we use books and media to pass on our knowledge and vocabulary of the natural landscape. 

Peek And Seek is bold and colourful, with appealing illustrations. Each spread takes us straight into the landscape of the different species, from the snowy mountains where the wolves hunt to the burrows and tunnels beneath tree-roots where rabbits hide their food. There is lots to be learned from the illustrations alone: which other species can be found in a habit, what sort of home the animals keep and whereabouts in the world they might be found. The illustrations promote huge amounts of conversation which will teach children about the natural world. 

An attractive and engaging book which demands to be shared and enjoyed together. 

 

Many thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Dorling Kindersley Limited for my copy of Peek And Seek. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books · poetry

Review: I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree – A Nature Poem For Every Day Of The Year

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I am the seed

that grew the tree

that gave the wood

to make the page

to fill the book

with poetry

(From Windsong by Judith Nicholls.) 

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This beautiful collection contains 366 nature poems – one for every day of the year. Every double-page spread is illustrated with pictures of nature.  This is beautifully designed and was clearly thought out with love for the subject.

img_7049The introductory letter explains how Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow publishers was gifted a volume of poetry as a child. Although she read and reread the book for years to come, the lack of illustrations meant that her initial reaction was not one of enthusiasm.  I Am The Seed … is designed to be attractive to the very youngest readers. Its illustrations are bright, bold and take up every single space. Gone are the terrifying pages of black and white. This is a book to pour over. To enjoy. To share.

The length of the poems, too, has clearly been considered. The inclusion of many short poems – some five or six lines long – and poems with short lines makes this collection perfect for newly confident readers.

I often wish I could recapture the magic of reading poems as a child. I didn’t know my modern poets from my Romantics. My haiku from my free verse. I read without discrimination and judged only on the sound. On the experience of reading and being read to. I Am The Seed… is designed to promote such an experience. There is nothing to tell the reader the date or origin of the poem. This allows the reader to pick their favourites free from ideas about what they ‘should’ enjoy.

To have 366 poems on one theme is special. Flick through the book and something special happens – you’re reading about animals and skies. The sea and the woodland and the stars. A picture of the world builds in the reader’s head. A picture which promotes love and respect for the natural world. The pictures add to this experience and it is possible to browse the book for illustration alone.

Whether you read one poem a day or pour through the anthology, this is bound to be a lovely experience. A beautiful anthology which will be treasured by those lucky enough to read it.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy of I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree. Opinions my own.