Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 4: Atomic Adventure by Dr. Dominic Walliman & Ben Newman

In today’s digital time frame I find it’s so easy to become mesmerised by our phones, iPads or computers. As the internet sweeps us along a path of striving for what will be, might be, or ought to be, as it promises riches and tells us we should be inspiring others or accomplishing something incredible to prove our worth and reason for existing, as it entices us to become more and more tangled up in society’s urgency, it’s then that we forget to stop and take notice of the true wonder of what we are and what is happening right in front of our eyes at this very moment in time.

Atoms

When something so tiny can be so great the only mistake to be made is for it to be overlooked. Atoms are the foundations of life, of people and the universe yet without magnification atoms are invisible to the human eye. Understanding things we cannot see or perceive continues to baffle, confuse and intrigue many of us. Making sense of what appears to be one thing but is actually quite another seems illogical. Perhaps we should be feeling our way towards the answers instead of looking for material proof. Yet as humans we want to measure things and find reasons as we strive to agree on solid results. This next book wholly encompasses the allure behind physics and scientific explanations of our world.

Book Review on Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure by author/s Dr Dominic Walliman & Ben Newman.

Atomic Adventure

What’s it all about?

This fascinating children’s non-fiction picture book delves into the physics behind the energy forces that make up our world. It presents this complex topic in a remarkable way. We learn about light, sound, gravity, force, pressure, energy, magnetism, atoms, molecules and so much more. All the things we cannot see but know they are there. This book shows us a fun, knowledgeable and contemporary approach to physics and is bursting with mind blowing facts which are concisely explained through everyday events that children can easily relate to.

Which age group is it aimed at?

Due to the complex topic and the sheer volume of information to absorb I would rate this suitable for age 6 upwards. However it’s harder to put a maximum age limit on it as it’s an excellent reminder of basic physics at any time throughout school life.

Conclusion

The look and feel of this children’s book makes it an ideal gift for a curious mind, looking for answers and keen to learn about the invisible side to our world. This large hardback book is one to keep and to be used as a handy reference book.The humorous characters and attractive infographic style illustrations bring physics alive.

Author/s: Dr Dominic Walliman & Ben Newman

Illustrator: Ben Newman

Publisher: Flying Eye Books, March 2016.

Our Rating: 5/5

CLICK TO BUY Professor Astro Cats Atomic Adventure

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Source: Own copy

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Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 1: The Story of Life

Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 2: The Adventures of Water

Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 3: Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go

Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 2: The Adventures of Water by Malcolm Rose

Most of us are well aware that we need water to stay alive but are we aware of the extent of the role that water plays in our lives and that of other organisms, animals and plants? Are we aware of how dependent we’ve become on water in daily activities and the effects we’re having on that water we drink to stay alive? Today in part two of my blog about discovering our world in picture books I explore the valuable role water plays here on earth and it’s natural continuous cycle.

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water.  Approx. 2.6% of which is fresh water found in lakes, rivers, icecaps and glaciers, or otherwise held as water vapour in the air, moisture in the ground or found within permeable rock, animals and ourselves; around 60% of the human body is made up of water. The other 97.4% of the water on Earth is salt water held in the oceans and is not drinkable.

However, just think how much of the 2.6% of fresh water is either difficult to obtain or has been contaminated by sewage, industrial and domestic waste, oil spillages and nuclear disasters. In practice less than 1% of the world’s water is considered suitable for drinking and that’s once it has travelled through a rigorous industrial cleansing process.

I once read that we need to teach our children to love and embrace nature and the outdoors if we stand a chance of saving it. It’s one thing for us as parents to nag our children about recycling and disposing of waste responsibly but quite another to explain why we do it. Helping our children understand the importance of water within ourselves and the universe is a huge step forward in this direction so they learn to understand the impact we have on nature and how protecting our world is protecting ourselves.

Book Review on The Adventures of Water by author Malcolm Rose.

The Adventures of Water

What’s it all about?

This colourful pop-up book follows the water cycle from water vapour to tidal seas. It includes interesting facts about the properties of water, the uses of water, the effects of water in the environment, water as a habitat and water in the body. With plenty of lift-up flaps and spin wheels to keep the little ones involved and keen to search for answers, this is a thorough introduction to the continuous journey of water, annotated with interesting facts alongside simple illustrations.

Which age group is it aimed at?

The Adventures of Water is another example of a non-fiction picture book which could appeal on different levels for those aged between five and ten years. I see it as a book which children can go back to time and again to re-explore its features and discover a different fact as they progress in age.

Conclusion

I love this book. The layout, the illustrations and engaging information work together perfectly. Every time I look at it with my children we find something new. However, whilst this book states that “about one-eighth of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water” I was disappointed that it didn’t mention anything about why and how it can be polluted and the devastating effects it can have. This is the only reason I rated this book 4 out of 5. The addition of one more double page spread for this purpose would have given this a 5 star rating from me. Otherwise I cannot fault it. This book would make an absorbing read for any child with a thirst for knowledge!

Author: Malcolm Rose

Illustrator: Sean Sims

Publisher: Red Shed, Aug 2015

Our Rating: 4/5

CLICK TO BUY The Adventures of Water

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

Source: Own copy

All % figures quoted from the Adventures of Water.

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Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 1: The Story of Life

Discovering our World in Picture Books PART 1: The Story of Life by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams

I’m excited about these next books I’ve got lined up to review as this time I’ve chosen something a little different. I always say that variety is the best solution to maintain a little one’s interest in reading so I thought I’d take a look at some of the amazing non-fiction picture books currently on the market which help children to understand our natural world. So what better place to start than at the beginning with evolution.

Evolution

Sitting here at my writing desk, surrounded by objects, tools and inventions, a clutter of non living things, it’s hard to imagine where it all began. It feels like the real world has been displaced and thrown off wack somehow as floors, doors and walls detach me from true life. For me evolution is the miracle of how things change, how things progress, how each individual living cell effects another, how something small can become a part of something incredible and that all of us are an integral catalyst of this cycle on earth.

Book Review on The Story of Life by author/s Catherine Barr & Steve Williams.

The Story of Life

What’s it all about?

The Story of Life is a clear, structured book which depicts the stages of evolution amid a fun and lighthearted tone. We follow the timeline from basic cells to life as we know it today. It touches on how all living things are a part of the evolution process and that it’s the development of new behaviours, abilities and changes within the natural habitat which triggers the next cycle. At each stage this book discusses why or how animals died out in the past and ultimately what is causing extinction now? If your child is curious about life on earth this book gives a clear indication of the fascinating historical chain of events and the glossary of useful words at the back of this book supports their understanding.

Which age group is it aimed at?

I found this book to have a fairly wide age appeal. A child of five years could easily grasp the basics and enjoy the pictures whilst a ten year old would appreciate the greater detail and interesting facts presented as an easy to understand timeline of the events.

Conclusion

Remarkably, this book splits a complex topic into manageable bite sized chunks with complimentary illustrations for each factual piece of information. The illustrations feel fun and make you smile but still manage to convey the right tone for each era. An excellent book for triggering discussion although probably not intended to be read in one sitting as there’s a lot of information to absorb.

Author/s: Catherine Barr & Steve Williams

Illustrator: Amy Husband

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Mar 2015

Our Rating: 5/5


CLICK TO BUY The Story of Life: A First Book about Evolution

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Source: Own copy

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From Picture Book to Chapter Book.

Early Reader 6-8 Blog Image

My six year old boy isn’t a reluctant reader as such but if I ask him to read a book that he thinks he can’t manage he’s easily put off. Whilst I will only suggest books which I think he can cope with there’s often other ideas going on in that head of his. Without a doubt, foremost he still adores many picture books but he’s now becoming interested in longer stories despite it being obvious he still lacks the confidence to tackle them head on.

I’ve therefore been looking for books which bridge the gap between picture books and longer chapter books; ones which make the transition less obvious. The general rule of thumb is to pick books which have early reader across the top of the front cover. Early reader books are smaller than picture books and although the font size varies between books that too is generally reduced. On the whole they’re also split into short chapters but predominantly still focus on less text and more illustrations. Horrid Henrys & Early Readers 20 Children’s Books Collection Box Set Illustrated by Francesca Simon is an obvious choice within this category. However for some reason despite his school book bag being packed full of early reader books my son steers well clear of these at home. I think perhaps he associates these types of books with school. So I’ve spent some time searching for chapter books which contain the same features as early reader books but maybe look a little less educational! It hasn’t been easy. There are several within this category of which he loves the story and is happy for me to read to him but if any suggestion is made for him to read them to me he quickly loses interest. I’ve therefore tried to follow his lead on this. It’s involved offering a large variety of books and much trial and error. However the following six books are all ones which he often picks up and reads by himself without any prompting.


Stink, The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald (author) & Peter H. Reynolds (illustrator). Published:  Walker Books Ltd, 2006.

This has been around for a while and is the first in a spin off series from the author’s Judy Moody series as Stink is Judy’s little brother James. In this book we follow Stink through from his experience of shrinking to dealing with an escaping class newt and being the recipient of an un-birthday party. An amusing story with a light-hearted tone encouraging children to be happy with who they are. The large text and frequent illustrations made this book a popular choice.

CLICK TO BUY Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid


Wigglesbottom Primary, The Magic Hamster by Pamela Butchart (author) & Becka Moor (illustrator). Published: Nosy Crow Ltd, 2016.

I knew this title would get my youngest’s attention. The mix of magic, hamsters and friendship was everything he loves all rolled into one. He was happy to take this one away and read it on his own instead of watching TV so it gets full marks from me. This is just one out of a growing series of books set in Wigglesbottom Primary and it’s a lovely example of the dual colour palette and shiny pages I’m seeing more and more of for this age range. Somehow this design seems to enhance the contemporary feel of the book for me. This particular book is split into three separate stories, the first being about the magic hamster.

CLICK TO BUY Wigglesbottom Primary: The Magic Hamster


Action Dogs, Ocean of Peril by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore (authors) & Martin Chatterton (illustrator). Published: Usborne Publishing Ltd, 2012.

My youngest was very keen to read this one to me and despite some words being beyond his vocabulary level he has happily persisted. Action Dogs is a graphic novel with comic style speech bubbles, black and white illustrations, moody cats and clumsy heroes with high tech gadgets and disastrous plans. The font is smaller than that of other books but it has been split into twenty-five manageable sections. A book packed with drama and mishaps galore.

CLICK TO BUY Action Dogs: Ocean of Peril (Book 1)


The Chicken Squad, The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin (author) & Kevin Cornell (illustrator). Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint ed. Edition, 2015.

These cute baby chickens are full of character and brave beyond their size. Split between an introduction, nine chapters and an epilogue, this book works well as a gentle introduction for young readers to a traditional book layout but with large text. The black and white illustrations express a range of emotions as the chickens go in search of the scary thing that has got Tail and squirrel all worked up.

CLICK TO BUY The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure


Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat by Pip Jones (author) & Ella Okstad (illustrator). Published: Faber & Faber Ltd 2014.

The large text and a dual pastel palate used to highlight expressive black and white sketches makes this book a pleasure to look at. The story is split into three short rhyming chapters about a little girl Ava and her invisible kitten who likes to get into mischief. Stories written in rhyme are often very appealing to new readers as the predictability of rhyme can help them interpret the text more easily. Squishy’s funny melodic rhyming adventures are a prime example of this. Pip Jones has had five more published since this one as part of the series.

CLICK TO BUY Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!


Claude, Going for Gold by Alex T. Smith (author / illustrator). Published: Hodder Children’s Books 2016.

Going for Gold is the latest in a superb series. Although the Claude stories aren’t split into chapters they are a must for early readers. Our entire family are huge fans of the comical French dog Claude and his best friend Sir Bobblysock. It’s extremely amusing on many levels and complimented by the eccentric illustrations splashed with red. Claude is cast as a lovable accidental hero who is always up for trying new things. Accompanied by his friend Sir Bobblysock, who doesn’t like getting dirty and prefers to do as little as he possibly can, they regularly slip out of the house in search of adventure whilst their owners are at work.

CLICK TO BUY Claude Going for Gold!

I’ll be posting some more short reviews here and on my Facebook page over the summer holidays of picture books as well as easy reader books for 6-8 year olds so hopefully everyone can find at least one to keep each little one keen to read this summer.

Source: Library or private collection.

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Is it Just Another Cover Up?

What does a book cover say about its book?

Book Cover

Is it the book’s front man in the guise of an attractive designer coat with the sole intention of luring you in? Maybe it acts as the protector of its book, like a knight defending its worth? Perhaps it feels like something which is detached from its owner to distract you from the monotonous, bland print inside?

Or … is a book’s cover an integral part of the book’s content? This was a point raised on Twitter following my blog last week when I said it’s ultimately what’s inside the book that matters not what’s on the outside and it’s a topic which proves to be greater than it first appears.

A book cover could make or break your book.

There’s no escaping it. A book cover wouldn’t exist without a book and it is marketing which plays a large part in the creation of a book cover. A book needs something pretty to prompt the reader to pick it up in the first place. However once the book has been born the need for a cover simultaneously develops into a fundamental part of the story and if done well it should be hard to separate the two.

A book cover raises curiosity.

For all books (including picture books and graphic novels) the cover illustration is always going to be a strong image we associate with the book on some level. It’s the first impression we receive before we know anything about the book and the one which symbolises the entire sense of the story in one powerful image. It should tell us what we can expect from the book and which other books it is similar to. A cover needs to raise curiosity and encourage the reader to start questioning what the book is all about.

A book cover sets the scene.

Designing a book cover is a complex process. First the illustrator needs to establish the character, setting and plot and maybe highlight any contrasts they’ve picked up on within the story. Then there’s the genre (e.g. historical, thriller, gothic), the theme (e.g. coming of age, everlasting love, desire to escape), the tone (e.g. jokey, tense, cynical), the mood (e.g. foreboding, exciting, calm) and the narrative quality (e.g. elaborate, simple, insightful) which all need to be combined in such an intriguing design that the essence of the book is poignantly portrayed without giving the story away. Finally there’s the practical imagery to consider too. What does the colour scheme say? Even the typography needs to be reflective of the contents of the book.

A book cover gives an unread book meaning.

One glimpse at a book without its cover seems to render the book void of meaning.  Have you ever seen blind dates with a book advertised in bookshops? This is when a selection of books are wrapped in brown paper so their cover images are a mystery to the reader. The excitement and wonder is in the unknown as the reader has only the title to go by and nothing else. It’s a lucky dip. When faced with these clones we realise a book cover is what differentiates each book and adds to its unique personality before it’s even been opened. Each cover and its book are intrinsically linked.

A book cover is a visual introduction which entices you to read.

Although I stand by my comment that it’s what’s on the inside that ultimately matters, this comment is based purely on the fact that a book cover only comes into existence because a book has been written and not visa versa. Unlike a book, its cover design is not about itself, its sole purpose is to represent the book’s contents so a cover cannot be designed before the book is written. However, a cover plays a very important role in the life of a story. It gives us the title, a symbolic image for the story and of course the all important blurb on the back so the chances are that without any book covers we’d probably read far fewer books in the first place… and what’s the point of a book that is never read? It’s at this point we can see that the cover develops into the visual introduction to the story and a highly influential one which sets the readers expectations.

A book and its cover work together.

So it looks like the relationship between a book and its cover has become less a matter of importance and more a matter of mutual benefit in the way that they complement each other. The next time you pick up a book why not give the cover a little more credit and make a point to observe it closer? What’s the book cover saying to you about the book? Then maybe take another look again once you’ve read the book. Did it fulfil your expectations?

Please head over to my new Pinterest board of children’s book covers where I’ve started to collect those which have caught my eye due to their colour, beauty, patterns, intricacy or simplicity. I’ve included three alternative designs for Alice in Wonderland to show how varied interpretation can be. Keep watching as I’ll be adding some more as I find them.

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Why Children’s Books Matter

The Infinite Playground

I love it when I find a blog which instantly throws my mind into chatter overload. Words, images and sounds start to explode. It gets noisy in there!

Middle Grade Strikes Back – #coverkidsbooks published one such blog concerning the limited media coverage assigned to children’s books and why we should be seeing more about children’s books in the press. One of the main reasons I started blogging about children’s book reviews, events and crafts was because as a parent I found I was struggling to find a variety of books for my children to try. I was always being exposed to the same limited selection which we’d either already read or they just didn’t appeal to my children. Of course since launching my blog, now I actively seek out alternative books and look in other places to find new ones but still it often takes some digging. Coupled with the recent disappointing news that the Guardian will soon no longer be adding to their online children’s books web page (aimed at children), I knew the only way to quieten my mind on why books are so important for children was to take on Middle Grade Strikes Back’s challenge and write a response. My little voice wanted to join the crowd to help it cheer louder and ideas started to leak out…

“Books are like people.”

I think books are like people. They each have their own personality and ultimately, it’s not what’s on the outside of a book that matters it’s what’s on the inside. The content of a book offers every child a paradox. On the one hand they have the opportunity to discover the world beyond their front door by absorbing the plentiful fresh ideas and opinions spread across the pages; whilst on the other hand they’re drawn into exploring the world within themselves through the questions and thoughts triggered every time they read a new book.

It was at this point as I wrote my blog that it became clear I needed something much sharper to express the enormity of the value books can add to children’s lives. I was looking for a perspective changer. Something children and their parents could relate to.

Why do children’s books matter so much?

So the best way I knew how to translate these feelings about why children’s books matter to me was to write this rhyme.

the-infinite-playground-2

 

A wider coverage of children’s books can only mean a greater choice is more readily available, making it easier to find the perfect fit for each child so they too have the opportunity to learn, experience and understand our world and who they are. I’d like to see not just the big names getting coverage but also new authors, niche authors, non-fiction authors and without doubt the illustrators as major contributors to many children’s book sales.

So thank you to Middle Grade Strikes Back for reminding me what drives me to keep persevering with writing children’s books and why I started blogging about children’s books in the first place.

 

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears

Fear is designed to instinctively protect us, yet it’s that same fear which also limits us and prevents us from achieving our goals. Some even believe that prolonged fear can manifest as mental and physical illness. Fears come in many guises, great and small such as a fear of snakes, the fear of being different or doing the wrong thing, the fear of failure or perhaps the fear of heights. Everyday, we let our fears determine our choices. The fear of reproach may stop us speaking out about an important issue despite feeling we should, we may opt to miss out on experiencing different countries and cultures as we can’t face getting on a plane or we simply avoiding a situation completely when we fear the outcome will be rejection. Fear makes us feel uncomfortable so many of us will automatically prefer to seek the quickest route to restoring the harmony rather than pushing past the fear to get to where we really want to be.

Understanding Overcoming Fears

For the most part fears are irrational as they’re either based on a limited amount of past experience or we’re imagining all the horrible things we think could happen in the future when they haven’t actually happened yet. We can be scared of something happening in the present but we cannot fear something happening in the present as fear needs time to breed. This suggests that fear has no power over us in the current moment, just the past or the future. Overcoming fear is about recognising that if the event we fear has happened in the past, this isolated incident doesn’t necessarily foretell the way a future event will pan out and likewise if our fear is of something which might happen in the future that fear is never a real experience until it occurs in the present. This tiny piece of knowledge alone should start to diminish the power of any fear.

Book Review on Milton’s Secret by author/s Eckhart Tolle and Robert S. Friedman.

Milton's Secret

What’s it all about?

This story is about a boy called Milton who’s being bullied by an older, bigger boy called Carter. In the beginning Milton feels powerless when he sees Carter and becomes overcome with the fear that the bullying will never stop. The author Eckhart Tolle shows why Carter’s fear has formed and how the more he replays the events in his mind the greater the fear becomes. Eventually his feelings become overwhelming, stop him sleeping and leave him scared to go to school. When Milton finally falls asleep he has a dream where he’s told about a light inside everyone and everything. This book advocates living in the now, seeing situations as they are in the present moment and understanding how the present continually effects and alters our perception of an experience. The idea behind the story is that by focusing on the present Milton is able to reduce and remove the fears he has built up in his mind about Carter.

Which age group is it aimed at?

As this story covers a very complex subject involving the concept of time, I would suggest this book is aimed at 6-10 year olds, an age by which most children have a firm grasp of the sequence of the past, present and future.

Conclusion: 

This book wasn’t published recently but at the same time it felt as though both the illustrations and the approach had aged very quickly for a book of less than a decade old. Despite this I had high hopes for a children’s picture book by Eckhart Tolle and I wasn’t disappointed until about three quarters of the way through when Milton was suddenly told about a light inside him and everything around him. Now as an adult I could get all philosophical about this and even explain to a child it’s like Yoda feeling the force as he focuses on the present moment but my problem with this part of the book was exactly that – that it needed explaining. The introduction of the light inside us felt irrelevant to the topic, made no sense in the context and it didn’t feel like a workable solution or explanation as to how to deal with the bullying.

I thought that maybe I was just reading too much into it and perhaps a child might understand and see it differently so I gave it to my nine year old to read and without any prompting from me he said “I liked the beginning but what was the light all about? That’s just weird. I don’t think that would help me if I was being bullied” as he raised his eyebrows and looked at me like the world had gone crazy.

I had to agree with him because the explanation was too abstract for a child to comprehend.  It didn’t seem to take into account that children often take things far more literally than adults do. A child would be more likely to be looking for a physical light within them than a feeling of energy and self belief.

That said, the idea of maintaining an open attitude, being aware of the present and letting go of the past is a practical and usable idea in how to build the courage to overcome the fear of bullying particularly in today’s virtual world of social media. The story demonstrated that when Milton was open to observing Carter in another environment he noticed different behaviours and because of this Carter appeared less threatening to him and it changed his perception of the boy.

Author/s: Eckhart Tolle and Robert S. Friedman.

Illustrator: Frank Riccio

Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc. (2008); co-published with Namaste Publishing.

Our Rating: 3 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY Milton’s Secret: An Adventure of Discovery Through Then, When, and the Power of Now

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 1: Emotions.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 2: Visualisation.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Thinking Positively.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.