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

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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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Book Review: Oi Frog by Kes Gray

Oi Frog

Synopsis: Frog wants to find somewhere comfortable to sit but soon finds out he can only sit where he’s expected to sit and doing the “right” thing is what it’s all about. Would you question why?

Conclusion: How often do we do something just because that’s how we’ve been told we should do it and how it’s always been done? A super rhyming story with an unexpected ending. A perfect example of when the simplest of ideas are often the best.  My children love repeating the comical and quirky rhymes. Accompanied by bold and expressive illustrations this book gets you laughing at how absurd social etiquette can be at times when we don’t really know why we do it.

Book Genre: Picture Book

Recommended Age Range: 0-5 years.

Author: Kes Gray

Illustrator: Jim Field

Published: Hodder Children’s Books Feb 2015

Source: Own copy

Rating: 5/5

CLICK TO BUY Oi Frog

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Imagine an Illiterate Life

Asian Girl Reading a Book

Being illiterate must be like living a life without any written instruction manuals, those we fondly refer to as books, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, letters, posters, signs and computers which are all packed with opinions, ideas and influences. Perhaps if we were illiterate these would all become lifeless objects and reading would be replaced with personal experience through the people we meet and talk to, everyday events we come into contact with and what we feel as a consequence.

Perhaps we’d begin to see an object for what it is or what we think it is with no added story attached. For example a plastic bag without the warning comment, bottled water with no indication of its origin or a board game without instructions. We would instinctively give each object our own meaning. Hence why a cardboard box becomes a toy for a toddler, a small toy becomes something to eat and an avocado something they start to play with and squash in their hands.

Being unable to read wouldn’t prevent us from communicating. Before speech and language was created early man used pictorial images and actions to communicate. An illiterate world would remain as we see it and not as other people know it. Our views would not be marred by millions of other people’s interpretations and our perspectives would purely be gained from our own direct experiences. There would be no additional knowledge, alternative opinion or challenging perspective beyond that of our immediate environment. It almost sounds quite refreshing to live in a world without conflicting distractions; a world which encourages you to concentrate on what is happening around you and to focus on the present moment.

However our world is no longer like this, we are natural creators and technological advancements and inventions have changed our world. Our world has grown exponentially and continues to grow on a daily basis. As reading and writing developed, messages, knowledge and memories were shared. They were depicted on walls, slate then paper and passed on through the generations. Yet even up to this point communication was confined to the small space we lived in. Humans had no way of knowing what was happening on the other side of the world and even if there was another side to it. There was no means of getting any written communication across the seas until a means of travel was invented, then a worldwide postal system was put in place and more recently the internet was born.

Reading expands our lives. Reading brings everyone in our world closer together. It connects us with people we may never meet. It shows us that what we alone experience is never the whole story. It teases us with something different, it dangles the idea of infinite possibility in front of our eyes. Our universe just got bigger. Which life would you want to lead?

Despite such changes even today a significant percentage of our population in England are what we refer to as functionally literate adults. As parents we have the power to ensure that child is not ours.  If we encourage our children to read it’s like removing the limitations of where they were born or to whom they were born to and giving them the opportunity to become a part of something much bigger.

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Books for Tweens Age 8-12

Books for Tween 8-12

As my children get older, my knowledge of children’s books expands. My eldest complained I rarely review his books so this week I’ve pulled together some of his latest reads, ideal for Summer reading. All these books come under the category known as middle grade. They’re for children who are confident at reading and keen to explore lengthy illustrated chapter books. Any of these could appeal to boys or girls.


Skellig by David Almond. Published: Hodder Children’s Books, Sept 2013.

A curious, timid character with his odd ways enters the lives of Michael and Mina and becomes their special secret in the shed. A heart-warming and original story of friendship and understanding difference. The very short chapters make this an easy one to read at bedtime.

LENGTH: 46 chapters.

CLICK TO BUY Skellig


The World of Norm, May Contain Nuts by Jonathan Meres. Published: Orchard Books, Sept 2011.

The first in a series of books following the amusing mishaps of everyday life with Norm. His life is turned upside down when he and his family move house. Norm doesn’t mean to get into trouble but things just keep happening around him. A witty, laugh out loud book about family life.

LENGTH: 27 chapters.

CLICK TO BUY The World of Norm: 1: May Contain Nuts


The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin. Published: OUP Oxford, Apr 2015.

Joe was just expressing his opinion when suddenly he finds himself in the position of prime minister. Joe wastes no time settling in and bringing in new laws and instructing everyone to lighten up and have fun. An entertaining read showing life is what you make of it.

LENGTH: 19 chapters.

CLICK TO BUY The Accidental Prime Minister


My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons. Published: Nosy Crow Ltd, Jul 2015.

You never know what you might miss when you nip off for a wee! That’s exactly what happened to Zack. When Zack returns he discovers his little brother Luke has been given superpowers and told to go and save two universes. How’s his little brother going to manage? Zack decides he will need some help. Every chapter will make you laugh.

LENGTH: 35 chapters.

CLICK TO BUY My Brother is a Superhero


Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka (author) & Brian Biggs (illustrator). Published: Amulet Books 1st ed. Sept 2014.

Science has suddenly got funnier. This highly illustrated middle grade book is genius in many ways and it’s futile to resist reading it in the robot voices. Frank Einstein has grand plans to win the Midville Science Prize with his friend Watson and the straight talking self-assembled robots Klink and Klank. However it’s not as easy as Frank first thinks once his arch rival T. Edison decides to enter it too.

LENGTH: 22 chapters.

 

CLICK TO BUY Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor


The Person Controller by David Baddiel (author) & Jim Field (illustrator). Published: Harper Collins Children’s Books, Feb 2016.

If you think video games are fun, your eyes will light up at the idea of this humorous story as it sends your imagination in a spin. What would you do with the person controller? Twins, Fred and Ellie can’t believe their luck, now they can make anything happen but perhaps all isn’t as rosy as it first seems. The story is split into four parts and interspersed with illustrations to break up the reading. Engaging from start to finish.

LENGTH: 57 chapters (4 parts).

CLICK TO BUY The Person Controller

Keep watching as I’ll be reviewing some more middle grade books soon.

Source: Own or library copies.

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Infographics on YA Fantasy Fiction

YA Infographics Banner

Being a relative newcomer to the writing industry I’m learning all the time. As I hike into the unknown of my writing adventure I always like to share with you the things I learn along the way. YA (Young Adult) fantasy fiction is one such genre which I’m still wading through and beginning to understand in greater depth so I’ve been putting together a useful infographic to condense my notes and keep them to the bear minimum – almost like a checklist to help guide me through. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it sums up the ones which have cropped up repeatedly during my search.

YA Fantasy Fiction

 

This is a free printable graphic.

 

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Book Review: The Three Ninja Pigs by David Bedford

The Three Ninja Pigs

Synopsis: Everyone gets cross when these lively, ninja kicking pigs seem to be leaving a trail of destruction behind them everywhere they go … but who is really causing the mess and how can they retaliate?

Conclusion: These unlikely martial arts heroes karate their way through this fast paced picture book. The action packed illustrations and their amusing additional comments successfully portray the pig’s good intentions mixed up in mayhem. A truly original take on a classic tale.

Book Genre: Picture Book

Recommended Age Range: 2-6 years.

Author: David Bedford

Illustrator: Becka Moor

Published: Simon and Schuster Children’s UK, Jan 2016.

Source: Own copy

Rating: 4/5

CLICK TO BUY The Three Ninja Pigs

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Book Review: There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson

There's a Lion in my Cornflakes

Synopsis: Eric and Dan collect one hundred coupons, just like it says on their their cereal packet, to be exchanged for a real pet lion. It sounds straight forward enough. Only pet lions seem to be very popular of late so they don’t quite get what they’d hoped for. It begins to look like a complete disaster … or is it?

Conclusion: This book will get both you and your children giggling. A funny, contemporary story with illustrations to match. Still a firm favourite of ours. Forget saving up for books, posters or cuddly toys. The stakes have just got higher!

Book Genre: Picture Book

Recommended Age Range: 2-6 years.

Author: Michelle Robinson

Illustrator: Jim Field

Published: Bloomsbury Children’s July 2014

Source: Own copy

Rating: 5/5

CLICK TO BUY There’s a Lion in My Cornflakes

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10 Tips for Tapping into Your Imagination

Imagination Tips

For a fiction writer to maintain a continuous stream of ideas flowing both on and off the page, not only is a huge imagination a requirement with a dash of silliness and absurdity but also some trusted prompts to encourage those ideas to keep popping into your head.

For me writing requires a combination of the six senses being sight, smell, touch, emotions, hearing and taste. These are the foundations which pull together a piece of writing and create a moving, believable and inspiring story. So if you or your child loves to write here are my ten tips to try over the summer holidays and help trigger your limitless imagination.

  1. Observing: Foremost, always be aware of your surroundings by observing your day. Use all six senses to listen out for funny comments, interesting situations and unusual reactions to inspire charismatic characters and empathic situations to write about.
  2. Looking: Study the images in a magazine, of your favourite painting or on a poster more closely to help inspire you to create an original story.
  3. Listening: Put your own spin on a topic you’ve heard on the radio, whilst on the phone or in a conversation.
  4. Tasting: Pretend you’ve won a competition which allows you to eat whatever you want in a supermarket for a day or write about your experience of accidentally eating soap, sour milk or grass maybe. The English language can be very limiting when describing taste so it’s often overlooked in writing. Learn to take it further by writing about the sensations, physical reactions and textures of food to convey the whole experience.
  5. Feeling: Imagine yourself in a fictitious situation, for example crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope! Write about the emotions you feel in your chosen situation. How you might approach it and deal with your feelings and how your feelings might change as your situation changes.
  6. Smelling: We are surrounded by smell every day. Write about how the smell makes you feel, any memories they trigger and the ones you’d prefer to avoid!
  7. Touching: Our sense of touch, whether with a person, animal or object creates a physical and mental connection with the world around us. Touch triggers emotional feelings and physical reactions which are clearly visible for you to notice if you look closely enough. Writing should make the interaction and sensations feel real.
  8. Brainstorming: Choose a topic you like to write about such as water sports then keep asking yourself questions about the topic and write down all the words and phrases you associate with that topic whilst keeping in mind your six senses.
  9. Creating the Absurd: Mix things up. Put a familiar character in an unfamiliar setting such as a postman on TV; imagine an animal, person or object possessing skills or characteristics which are the opposite of what you might expect such as a sprinting elephant or a purple skinned person. Now use your six senses to make this story idea into a believable scenario.
  10. One Word: For one day write down one word related to every place you visit throughout that day. You will then have inspiration for either one story which includes every word you wrote down or several stories based on each single word. Draw on your six senses to remember your experiences surrounding these words throughout the day. Over the summer holidays I’ll be posting some one word writing prompts on my Facebook page to challenge you or your child’s creative writing mind.

To support this blog I chose the following two picture books by children’s author Pippa Goodhart (author) and Nick Sherratt (illustrator) as they help young children discover their imagination, look for ideas by asking questions, being prompted with suggestions, observing pictures and encouraging them to imagine something different. Both books are packed with vibrant illustrations, presented in a clear and simple manner and have proven to be excellent books for fun guided discussions at bedtime.


Just imagine – Published: Corgi Children’s Jun 2013.

This is a book which encourages children to think about situations they’ve never experienced such as imagining being magical, living in the wild, flying in the sky or travelling through time. Imagination can take you anywhere.

CLICK TO BUY Just Imagine


You Choose – Published: Corgi Children’s New Ed. July 2014.

If you could have whatever you wanted, what would that be? Where would you live? How would you travel? What clothes would you wear? This book teaches children that what they imagine is their choice. There are no rules or limits to their imagination.

CLICK TO BUY You Choose!

 

Source: Private copies.

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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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