Non-fiction round-up for March

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some fantastic non-fiction this month and I hope you enjoy these titles, too!

The Kew Gardens Children’s Cookbook – Plant, Cook, Eat!, by Caroline Craig and Joe Archer; published by Wayland together with the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew

Just in time for the planting and growing season, I’ve added this book to the school library to interest our future gardeners and growers. Split into helpful sections, children will learn the basics of plant biology before moving on to the essentials for preparing a plot. Equipment (trowels, watering cans, gloves, etc) are covered, as are the everyday jobs that are an important part of successful gardening. The book then moves on to show how to grow certain types of vegetables, and how to prevent pests, to healthy recipes that children can make with the produce they’ve grown.

It’s beautifully presented, with plenty of colourful photos to show the key actions and information. The language is just right for young gardeners, balancing information with interest. We run a successful and oversubscribed gardening club and are fortunate enough to have plentiful space on our school grounds and an allotment to show involve the children in rewarding gardening activities. I know this book will appeal to members of that group, and many more who want to learn more about gardening at home!

Kay’s Marvellous Medicine and Kay’s Anatomy, by Adam Kay and Henry Paker, published by Puffin

In recent years there has been an explosion of fascinating non-fiction books for children, though the medical and anatomy side has taken a while to catch up. Enter Adam Kay who, after conquering the adult book market, has now become a firm favourite with children. I had several in Year 6 reading both of these books, and who recommended them with glowing praise.

It’s easy to see why. Both are written exuberantly, with an energy that flies off the page – alongside the cartoon-like illustrations. Split into sections, they cover all kinds of information children want to know – not just the ‘bare bones’ (apologies) but the juicy stuff too. Brains, blood, lungs, hair – it’s all there. In Kay’s Marvellous Medicine, the focus is more on the history of medical discoveries throughout the ages (for example, did you know that Ancient Egyptians found out that heart pumps blood around the body – clever, but then they also believed that poo was pumped out of the heart.

I know this will be a roaring success with all our children. I’d recommend Kay’s Anatomy for the older side of primary school (years 5 and 6 upwards) because of the higher comprehension needed for the facts.

So You Think You’ve Got it Bad? A Kid’s Life in Prehistoric Times, by Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea; published by Nosy Crow with The British Museum

The So You Think You’ve Got it Bad? series is popular for very good reasons – they not only are interesting but they bring history to life in a way that engages their young readers. This started of course with the phenomenon that was and still is Horrible Histories and these add to the historical canon brilliantly. There’s enough information to satisfy the history fans balanced with a sense of humour that makes learning fun. For example, in prehistoric times, there was no school (‘Hooray!’ I hear the children cheer) but that wasn’t necessarily good news for young people, who instead had to learn to make tools and clothes out of whatever materials they could find (itchy woolly mammoth anyone?). There are further facts about daily life, customs, diet, etc, that bring prehistoric life to life!

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear, by Dr Jess French and Angela Keoghan; published by Nosy Crow in collaboration with the National Trust

Many of the children I know and work with are concerned about the environment and keen to know as much as possible about how to protect it. Therefore, I knew that How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear would be a hit in the Library, and I wasn’t wrong. Within minutes of putting it out, one boy came up and told me he’d already seen the book and was positive about its message.

The title itself might seem strange – helping a hedgehog seems infinitely more possible that protecting a polar bear if you’re living in a small city in the UK. However, Dr French has given some very easy examples of what we could do every day to contribute to the wellbeing of animals all over the world.

The book starts with a message about why we need to be doing more to help protect the Earth and its creatures – the horrifying statistic that, every second, we cut down enough trees to fill two football stadiums speaks volumes. In the face of such massive destruction, it is easy to feel we cannot remedy the situation, but Dr French’s words are always encouraging.

She then moves on to a brief summary of the different habitats that can be found on Earth, including the ones closest to us – gardens and woodlands – and moving to areas that are further away, including coastlines, savannahs and jungles. I learned some interesting information at this point alone. Did you know that freshwater is actually much rarer than saltwater – only making up less than three per cent of the Earth’s water? I didn’t know that!

After this, each habitat has a double-page spread with information on some of the inhabitants found there – birds, insects, amphibians, and animals. Next to these are tips and suggestions for what you can do to help the creatures living in these environments. In gardens, it might seem easy to think of ideas – creating hedgehog tunnels and houses, and planting native flowers etc to attract bees. But what can you do to help living creatures in more faraway areas? Again, the suggestions are easy to follow. Reuse your plastic bags to cut back on the amount of plastic waste, mend something that is broken rather than buy something new, use energy-efficient lightbulbs, recycle or donate old clothes that are in a good condition. Of course, it goes without saying that you should avoid buying any products that contain animal parts – ivory from elephants, and fur from wild animals.

This book is a creative approach to saving the planet and learning about the areas we share with creatures who need our help. Enjoy it and enjoy helping the panet!  

Goddesses: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief, by Dr Janina Ramirez and Sarah Walsh; published by Nosy Crow

This gorgeous book looks at female figures that have inspired respect, love, awe and reverence amongst different cultures and races around the world. Not all are goddesses, Dr Ramirez warns in her Introduction. Some are witches (eg Baba Yaga), some are saints (eg Mary) and one is even a mountain (eg Pele). There are creators (eg Mawu) and warriors (eg Itzpapalotl). But they have all unique qualities and powers that inspire people to look up to them in one for or other.

The females featured in this book are divided into sections, according to what the most represent to the people who worship them. Categories include Ruling and Guiding, Love and Wisdom, and War and Death. Each goddess has a double page devoted to her, with brief biographies and details of how her myth or legend came into being.

This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves delving into spiritual, cultural and religious beliefs. Not only do we discover more about the individual female featured, we also learn about the people whom she represents. Sarah Walsh’s illustrations are full of life and colour – utterly gorgeous to look at. We’ve already shown the book during one of our assemblies because of the quality of the writing and the interest in the story and I am sure we will be returning to this time and time again.

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