Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

Even more animal magic!

Childtastic has animal fever this week, with Britta Teckentrup’s beautiful Where’s the Baby yesterday, and two lovely animal titles today, too! The first is Melissa Castrillón’s Animazes, which follows 14 of the world’s most fascinating animal journeys.

If you ask me what I know about animal migration I’d probably say that I know how salmon in Canada can swim miles and miles back upstream to spawn and die, and that certain (lucky) birds fly south to spend the winter in sunnier climes than in the UK. Not a very impressive bank of knowledge, I know. So, I was fascinated to find out that Mali elephants are constantly on the move to find water and food in the Sahara Desert, even travelling through the aptly-named Porte des Élephants (the Elephant Door) – a passage between two rocky ravines. Apparently, these large, beautiful beasts can travel up to 34 miles a day, though they tend to do so when it’s cooler at night.

And then there are the Christmas Island red crabs, who provide the world with one of the most colourful migrations when 40-50 million of them journey from the central rainforests of the island to the coast to mate and lay their eggs. One of the biggest dangers they face is the automobile, so special underground tunnels have been made to help protect them on their journey!

Animazes is designed so that readers must find their way from the creature’s starting point to their final destination, taking care not to take a wrong turn into a dead end. Fascinating facts are littered throughout the double-page spreads – for example, did you know that a wildebeest calf can run only five minutes after being born?! Melissa Castrillón’s stunning pen and ink drawings are vibrant and magical, lending beautiful artistry to her non-fiction subject matter. This is a book that any child would love to have on their book shelves, or any adult for that matter.

Animazes is published by Big Picture Press. I received a review copy but the views expressed here are entirely my own.

The second book, My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals, from Dorling Kindersley, is a mighty tome that’s perfect for animal lovers.,204,203,200_.jpg

Split into four sections – All About Animals, Amazing Animals, Animal Antics, and More Very Important Animals, the book is both generalist and specialist when discussing traits belonging to species and individual members. For example, there are over 10,000 species of birds and they all have the following in common: they have feathers that keep them warm and dry, their babies hatch from eggs, and they use their beaks to clean themselves. However, not all birds can fly – emus have the ability to run fast instead. On the other hand (or should I say ‘wing’?) owls have special feathers that enable them to fly silently.

The encyclopedia combines a mixture of photography with illustrations designed to be eye-catching and appealing to children, particularly little ones. The pages aren’t word-heavy so it is easy to find information and absorb it, rather than be inundated by facts and explanations. Graphics such as photographs showing the different sizes of eggs belonging to a hummingbird, chicken and ostrich help children to understand and appreciate perspective and variety, while the colour coding at the top edge of each page helps them (and their adults!) navigate easily around the book.

Encyclopedias for children have come a long way since I was a child, and I think this would be a useful addition to any home or school library. The problem will be getting the child to put it down!

Please note that I received a copy of this book for review.

Posted in general and welcome, non-fiction

Non-fiction round-up

Boy, have I got a lot of lovely books here to review! I’ve fallen behind somewhat recently because of the end of the school term and then a much-needed holiday in Spain, but now I am hoping to be back up to speed again, with news of the latest titles.

(NB Before I proceed, please excuse any typos in this post. I’ve tried to check for them but my computer seems to be giving up the ghost and freezing when I type, missing letters out!)

First on my pile here are three lovely non-fiction books from Dorling Kindersley. Since I am keen on increasing the number of quality non-fiction books I have in my school library, I greeted these with particular enthusiasm and I think they’ll go down well with the children.

This wonderful book has everything children (and adults!) need to know about the basics of science, from ‘What is Energy?’ to ‘Properties of Matter’ and ‘Shaping the Land’. The book is full of double-page spreads covering all the major themes in science such as Earth and Space, Materials, Life Science, Physical Science, etc. Each of these spreads is colourfully illustrated with photos of the topics, diagrams, facts and ideas for experiments you can try at home (for example, you can half-fill a jar with soil, top it up with water and give it a good shake, then leave it for a day to see how the soil separates into layers).

What I like about this book is how science is made so accessible, fascinating and fun. I remember my early textbooks being drier and more theoretical in nature which perhaps explains why I never became so interested in the sciences as in other subjects. Children are very fortunate now to benefit from a real publishing push to make all subjects lively and entertaining and hopefully this will go a long way to encouraging more children to consider sciences as career choices from a younger age.

The next book I’d like to look at is the Children’s Illustrated Thesaurus, also by Dorling Kindersley.,h_578,w_459/v1/DK/7c6ebf2855a74892ba57c29af9a3f809/8b7073a8a3ca4fcc9fa9797a7d1f7815.jpg

Now, my first copy of a thesaurus was by the famous Peter Mark Roget, a British, Victorian natural physician and lexicographer (to my utmost shame, I thought he was French until fairly recently, having never looked him up or indeed wondered why a Frenchman would compile a book of English words). This thesaurus was very old – I think I picked it up from a library sale for a few cents (this was in Canada) and I thought it was the bees knees.  It always puzzled me though that there were no entries for words that began with the letters L, M, N, O and P until I was older and realised that a good portion of the book hadn’t been included in my copy!

I digress… this book, while lovely and incomplete, was not written with a child audience in mind. It had thin paper and tiny writing, with no pictures or useful explanations. The new Thesaurus by Dorling Kindersley, by contrast, is bright, easy to navigate and attractively illustrated with drawings and photographs. The words have definitions, followed by synonyms and, sometimes but not always, antonyms. Occasionally, whole or part-page spreads are given to a featured word, with an extract of text to bring its usage to life, and I particularly like the double-page spread at the beginning of the book which shows how to use it properly. With people’s ever-increasing reliance on Google and the internet to search for answers (I include myself in this group – it’s just so easy and quick now), I do worry that children are losing the ability to use old-fashioned reference skills. This book addresses this in a helpful way, while using an alphabetical bar on the left and right page of each spread to show readers where they are in the alphabet while researching a word (perhaps more useful than the traditional top-of-page references I had in my old Roget).

I would say that this Thesaurus would be a useful addition to any classroom library and could helpfully be used alongside schools’ weekly ‘Big Write’ activities, to encourage children to broaden their vocabulary while learning useful research skills.

Last, but not least, is Dorling Kindersley’s What’s Where on Earth ATLAS – an atlas with a difference because it’s not only a fab way to find out about countries and continents, but it is also in 3D.,h_578,w_459/v1/DK/e74de9114aba417183b8b7378657c7fa/5ca1231df49e4b0fafaa96dcf37cb2f4.jpg

With the National Curriculum focusing heavily on geography through related subjects such as history and science, this atlas is another hugely helpful resource in classrooms. Not only does it show where different countries are in the world, and in relation to each other, but it also includes interesting spreads on things like Famous Landmarks (just looking at the Europe page now, I can see Brussels’ Hotel de Ville, Toledo’s Cathedral and of course the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben), satellite images of countries by night, and a very red map of Africa’s climate (did you know that the coldest temperature recorded in Africa was in Morocco, where it reached -23.9C in 1935?!). Mountain ranges leap up in the pages, giving a much more realistic sense of the terrain than traditional atlases do, and the double-page spread allocated to the Grand Canyon is particularly stunning in this way. Animal lovers will enjoy reading about the different species in each continent (nice to see the Prairie Dogs of North America featured – I used to watch them sunbathing near my elementary school in Canada), while fact finders will enjoy the spreads with interesting trivia about each continent (did you know that more than 2,000 languages are spoken on the continent of Africa?).

I am looking forward to adding these titles to my library when the next school year starts in September. I’m sure the children will be eager to get their hands on them!

Please note that while I was sent copies of these books for review the views expressed are entirely my own.


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.