Posted in non-fiction

It’s a small (minute!) world after all…

Microbe is a word that I think I know the meaning of but if you asked me to explain it I would struggle. So I was pleased to read Nicola Davies’s and Emily Sutton’s book Tiny Creatures – The Invisible World of Microbes, which is all about what these mysterious things are.

“…do you know that there are creatures so tiny that millions could fit on [an] ant’s antenna?

So tiny that we’d have to make the ant’s antenna as big as a whale to show them to you?”

That’s pretty tiny.

The book goes on to explain how these miniscule living things come in different shapes and sizes (wiggly, thin, daisy-like, etc) and that, unlike other creatures, they have no legs, arms, eyes and other parts.

They crowd together so compactly that a teaspoon of soil could have as many as a billion microbes, which is “…about the same as the number of people in the whole of India”.

They multiply in number extremely quickly, so it’s not surprising that exposure to just a few can make you very sick, very quick (having just had a nasty cold, I can testify to this!).

I didn’t quite understand how powerful microbes can be. I thought they just sort of existed, but gave no consideration to what they do. According to Nicola Davies, they can “wear down mountains and build up cliffs. They can stain the sea red, turn the sky cloudy, and make snowflakes grow.”

This is pretty impressive stuff for such tiny beings.

I’ve always found science interesting but I’ll freely admit that I get confused sometimes, very easily. However, I came away from Tiny understanding more about microbiology than I did post-GCSE.

(Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.)

Davies and Sutton have created a lively, interesting and beautiful book that is not only informative but interesting. The title is shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2015, and it’s easy to see why. Like Shackleton’s Journey, in my previous review, it takes a narrative non-fiction approach, which helps bring facts to life. Davies gives just the right amount of detail to inform but not overburden the mind, at times even becoming quite poetic.

The drawings are superb – colourful and beautiful. If you’d asked me before I read this book if I’d ever put a picture from a science book on my wall, I’d definitely have said “no”. But Sutton’s illustrations come alive on the paper (thankfully not the germ-ridden ones!) and possess colour and movement, from the city-scape of New York City’s apartment blocks, with intricately drawn people in individual windows, to the sweeping spread of sea and mountains. The attention to detail is astonishing and complements Davies’ skill at taking a difficult subject and breaking it down into (not-quite-microbe) small pieces.

Having always had a much stronger preference for fiction over non-fiction, I am being won over by this new trend of narrative non-fiction. There will always be books with hard facts – and that’s essential – but this merging of styles will go a long way I think to bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction.

Posted in non-fiction, picture books

Bodleian Children’s Books – new imprint, lovely books

Just as I am getting back into the swing of reviewing children’s books, two beautiful titles came my way and I am delighted to give them space on Childtastic Books.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford has just launched a new imprint – Bodleian Children’s Books – with the aim of finding and republishing classic children’s books as well as publishing newly commissioned books. The two titles it has chosen to launch the imprint in September 2015 are Penguin’s Way and Whale’s Way, both written US author Johanna Johnston and illustrated by Caldecott Prize winner Leonard Weisgard.


The two books share a similar illustrative style and narrative. Johanna Johnston’s text is informative yet poetic. Take, for example, this short paragraph from Penguin’s Way:

They begin to choose partners. Two by two, they stand near each other and sing. They sing strange, echoing songs of love.’

and this, from Whale’s Way:

‘But the cows and their calves are rocked gently in the cradle of the water.’

These are both non-fiction books but the information is conveyed in a way that reads like a story, with an arc that is particularly evident in Penguin’s Way which covers a year in the life of an emperor penguin. I can imagine reading these to lovers of both fiction and non-fiction and can’t wait to introduce them to the children in my school library.

Weisgard’s drawings are beautiful and captivating, combining sponge-like backgrounds with sharp lines and colours. These books would look equally good on a coffee table as in a child’s book case but, unlike many coffee-table books, they aren’t just pleasing to the eye; the words are soothing and beautiful. As an avid avoider of nature programmes (I can’t bear seeing animals tear each other apart), this is a lovely alternative and these books are, I am sure, set to become classics once again.

Bodleian Children’s Books is not aiming to become a major player in children’s publishing, with a modest proposal to publish at least two titles per season. But the quality of the books on their list means that they deserve to make a good impression on the market.

Please note that while I was sent copies of the books to review, my opinion is entirely unbiased.

Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

In celebration of ‘Book’

Today was the peak in the ‘Books are my Bag’ 2014 calendar, with many independent bookshops celebrating what they do and the wonderful products they sell. So what better time to review John Agard’s new and marvellous title Book?

I was sent the title to review by We Love This Book, a website for which I review regularly – mainly children’s and young adults’ books but occasionally adults’ titles too. You can read my review here: but I couldn’t resist posting a piece on it on Childtastic because, well, that’s what this website is all about!

image courtesy of

As a book lover, this was a piece of heaven. Agard, in his gentle and poetic style, takes the reader through the history of books, from a time before we ever had the written word, right up to e-books and Kindles. Book is the narrator, spilling plenty of secrets and trivia which delights even the mildest bibliophile (and there is information on where that word came from, too). The strapline says: ‘My name is Book and I’ll tell you the story of my life’, which sounds like a huge undertaking but Book is a slim volume, which packs a huge amount of knowledge into its small pages. It can be read in one go or broken into chunks and is suitable for reading aloud to younger audiences too, with black and white illustrations, poems, quotes, and excerpts from other books.

There is a gentle political message in Agard’s writing, cleverly woven into Book’s place in public libraries. We find out that ‘there were libraries in Rome as early as the first century AD’ although they weren’t open to the public till the middle of the nineteenth century ‘for free’ and that, once upon a time, signs outside libraries read ‘NO CHILDREN OR DOGS ALLOWED’. It is wonderful, therefore, that children can have access to the wealth of learning and possibilities that libraries provide… if they are allowed a future. At this point, ‘Book’ alerts us to the danger of losing libraries if funding is cut, saying ‘When politicians talk about closing a library to save money, I feel like knocking them over the head. And my hardback spine can give a jolly hard knock, I can tell you.’ If you have ever loved libraries, you can understand this sentiment, along with the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks who called a library ‘the “medicine chest of the soul”‘.

I urge you to buy Book for anyone and everyone who loves books. Or even likes them. And possibly those who are wavering between appreciation and indifference. It’s one of my top books of the year, and will stay with me for a long time.

Posted in non-fiction

Review: The Girls’ Book of Crafts and Activities

Review: The Girls’ Book of Crafts and Activities

Edited by: James Mitchem

Published by: Doring Kindersley

Image courtesy of


What it’s about: (from the publishers) For girls who like to decorate, create, make and bake. The Girls’ Book of Crafts & Activities is full of 150 girly projects, ideas and activities. From making button bracelets, baking gingerbread, sewing a phone sock for your mobile or designing your own fashion collection, it’s got it all. Set out in clear step-by-step instructions, you can pick short 10 minute projects to those that will occupy you for a whole day! Not just a craft book, a cookery book or a sewing book – The Girls’ Book of Crafts & Activities is all of the best bits rolled into one.

Holly’s review: This is something a girl would want to read as it has great ideas and many interesting things, and you can keep coming back to it. Some activities include teamwork. I think this is a good book to turn to if you want to do something but it needs more instructions sometimes. A bad thing is you need to buy your own equipment sometimes for the origami activity which can be inconvenient.

This book has a crafty presentation to its pages and is something I think a girl would like to read. You can do things like turn furniture into brighter, better furniture. We made some smoothies from this book which was fun.

Sam’s review: This could be a very good book to have around the house, particularly for bad-weather days (which we’re certainly not short of). I liked the presentation of the book and agree with Holly that it would attract female readers, though I often wouldn’t buy gender-specific books – not that I am against girls like arts and crafts and boys liking cars and engines, it’s just that perhaps boys would like the cooking and the sewing too. It’s a shame to exclude an audience but I suppose it’s just what a lot of readers like.

Anyway, I always approach arts and crafts books with trepidation as I am artistically challenged, to say the least. Holly and I struggled with the origami activity but were relieved to discover it was because we didn’t have the right paper. We did the smoothies activity too and enjoyed that but this is where more instructions or details would have been more helpful – I was having to estimate quantities of fruit and yoghurt, which isn’t necessarily bad but I would have felt more confident with some guidelines. There’s a really lovely feature in the book on Grow Your Own Veg, which gives ideas for children to grow things in pots or other containers, such as strawberries in wellies and sunflowers in old paint tins. This is great if you don’t have a garden, or much of one, and enables children to experience the joys of home-grown produce and flowers. I also liked the herb section, which explained what different herbs were and how they could be used.

Below are some pictures we took of our smoothie-making!


Ingredients for our smoothies
Ingredients for our smoothies


Adding yoghurt to the blender
Adding yoghurt to the blender


Mixing the ingredients
Mixing the ingredients


The finished products! I think we all preferred the banana best...
The finished products! I think we all preferred the banana best…


Posted in non-fiction

Review: My Tourist Guide to the Solar System … and Beyond

Tonight’s book review is about My Tourist Guide to the Solar System … and Beyond, published by Doring Kindersley,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpg

Image courtesy of


What it’s about: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take a trip to outer space? Here’s your chance! Jump on board your special spacecraft and take a tour through the Solar System, learning amazing facts and figures about planets, moons, the sun and other features as you go.

Holly’s review: In this book you imagine you are about to blast off into space for a holiday. This book is set in diagrams. It is non-fiction but also sounds a bit like a fiction book. It is also a fun way to learn about the solar system.

This book carries on like it is a tourist guide to a different country. You also learn facts about the outer space world. This book is laid out in definitely a more scientific way with diagrams and captions. This is a fascinating book and doesn’t to me have a downside. You learn about over 100 things after just reading one minute of it. The good thing is you learn in a fun way and you don’t get bored while reading.

Sam’s review: This book’s unique approach in presenting facts about outer space in a tourist guide style is fun and fascinating. I became quite absorbed in it while trying to compare the different wind speeds, gravity levels and temperatures between different planets. Did you know, for example, that the journey time to the Black Hole would be 94 million Earth years? And life on one of Jupiter’s moons – Io – sounds horrific. It is: ‘the most tortured moon in the Solar System’ thanks to Jupiter’s gravitational pull and has over 400 ‘violently’ active volcanoes.

Image courtesy of

Books like this bring out the geek in me. I love facts presented as snippets of information that are easy to remember. The pictures and illustrations are lovely too, making you feel like you really are on a tour (though I must admit, it’s not one I would like to take!). Holly was definitely impressed with it as she talked constantly about the possible effects of gravity on the body and became quite animated as she related it to her studies.

Please note that we received this book for review purposes but were not influenced in any way by this.




Posted in non-fiction

Review: Girls Are Best, by Sandi Toksvig

Finally, Holly and I have got round to reviewing Girls Are Best, by Sandi Toksvig. I say finally because I wanted us to read this a little while ago, when Holly came out with a corker that stunned me – that airline pilots had to be men not women. To  be fair, she said she had this impression because, whenever we’ve flown, we’ve never had a woman at the helm. But I thought it was time to at least introduce her to some of the amazing things women have done and continue to do and some of our lovely fellow bloggers suggested we try this book.

Image courtesy of


What it’s about: (taken from back blurb) Girls have been around just as long as boys, haven’t they? Yes! So why don’t we hear more about great women from the past? Just because lots of them haven’t gone down in the history books doesn’t mean they haven’t achieved amazing things, come up with wonderful inventions or won battles! Read on to find out why GIRLS ARE BEST!

Holly and Sam – conversation

Today we’re going to do something different. Rather than a typical review, I’ll reproduce some of the conversation we had about this book as I think it might be more interesting and enlightening. I pulled it out of the bookshelf as we were having a conversation at dinnertime about monarchies and communism and why weren’t there many women presidents or prime ministers in the country? (This makes us sound terribly intellectual – we’re not! We just like throwing ideas around!) I flicked through the pages and Holly kept stopping me to ask me to read the little vignettes of information. The book isn’t solid text – it has photos, pictures, fact and of course snippets of info so you can dip in and out – perfect for learning a lot or a little at a time.

Holly: I remember seeing that book before.

Sam: I bought it a while back when you made a rather startling comment about women not being airline pilots when you were playing with your friend.

Holly: I didn’t mean it! I just meant that I have never had a woman pilot on any plane I’ve been on.

Sam: Fair enough. So, do you think this is an important book for girls to read?

Holly: Yes! So they can read about what women have done in the past.

Sam: What was the coolest thing you found out?

Holly: That bit about the woman who was the first person in the world to do a triple somersault on the trapeze. It’s great that she did that before a man did! (This was Lena Jordan, a Latvian who achieved this feat in 1897, 12 years before a man managed to do so.)

Sam: What was the most shocking thing you found out?

Holly: That loads of women did many things and men took the credit, and women weren’t allowed to. (We read about Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser, both of whom helped found the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 but weren’t allowed to be in the same portrait as the men who were also responsible, and also about Catherine Littlefield Greene, who helped Eli Whitney perfect the Cotton Gin machine in the USA – she suggested he use wire instead of wooden teeth as his design wasn’t working. Thanks to her input, this became the model upon which all cotton gins were designed, yet she got none of the credit!)

Sam: It asks here what percentage of senior business management positions are held by women. What do you think?

Holly: 50 per cent.

Sam: Two per cent (based on figures released in 2008).

Holly: NO WAY!

Sam: It also says here that boys are stronger than girls but girls are fitter generally.

Holly: Is that because boys stuff their faces at lunchtime? (Does imitation of boy stuffing his face.)

Sam: What do you think of the pink colour? Is it too girly for a book that is meant to talk about girls’ strength?

Holly: No. I think it helps to attract girls to read it. They are likely to pick it up if it’s pink and then they will look on the inside and like it. Plus it puts boys off. That’s good!


That was our discussion, and it was fun! I’d recommend this book because it does help spark conversation on women’s achievements throughout history (therefore, meeting curriculum requirements – PSHCE or whatever it’s called plus history in one go) and can act as a prompt for talking about dreams and aspirations. Interestingly, I asked Holly who her biggest heroine would be and she promptly replied Rosa Parks (she actually said Rose of Parks – I thought she meant Joan of Arc) because of the huge influence she had on the American Civil Rights movement. They’ve been learning about that at school recently and she was amazed at how profound Ms Parks’ contribution not only to racial equality but also as a woman.

Rosa Parks, image courtesy of


Who are your heroines? Please share! We’re always looking for inspirational women!



Posted in humour, non-fiction

Review: How to Look After Your Cat

Title: How to Look After Your Cat

Author: Colin and Jacqui Hawkins

What it’s about: This is a non-fiction book, in cartoon-style, which gives tips for children on how to look after their cat. Topics include feeding, health and hygiene, how to provide a good home for a cat, grooming and handling. This was first published in 1995 and it seems hard to come by new copies.

Holly’s review: This book was very funny. There were tonnes of pictures and words about looking after your cat such as what they like and don’t like – for example, they don’t like being put in a bath. It also says how to groom a cat with long fur and asks questions on what sort of cat you might like and whether you would want it to have kittens. There are little jokes and funny stuff for children. I like how they have written it, explaining in a good way to understand: short, basic and funny. Other non-fiction books can be hard to understand but this isn’t. The drawings are funny too.

Sam’s review: I got hold of this book from old stock the library was selling off and thought it was a must for Holly (and me!). Holly’s right – you can learn a lot from this book on cat care and it’s done in such a funny way that it doesn’t feel like hard learning. The little asides and jokes in the illustrations add to the content and give young readers and their parents a chance to keep finding new facts and information, as well as having a laugh together.  

Colin & Jacqui’s website: