buildings

Books of Wonder: Information and Knowledge

When I was growing up there was a television series called The Wonder Years, and very often I hear adults talking about a child’s sense of wonder at the world around them. I don’t know who first attributed the wonder quality to childhood, but if a child is less jaded, more open to being amazed or dazzled by the world than adults, then they’ll be even more entranced with this selection of books than I am.

atlas of adventures wonders of the worldatlas of adventures wonders
Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World, illustrated by Lucy Letherland, written by Ben Handicott

I first came across Lucy Letherland’s Atlas of Adventures in a school hall in 2014, reviewed it as one of my first books of the week, and since then my blog, and Letherland’s series has gone from strength to strength. The Wonders of the World title, however, is truly awesome, or should I say wonderful. Veering off the path of the traditional wonders of the world, Ben Handicott has picked his own; choosing 30 destinations from as far apart as Death Valley to The Forbidden City.

Introducing his wonders, Ben makes the point of explaining that wonder can be found in the simplicity of a flower blooming in your backyard as much as in the intricacies of the Sagrada Familia, but explains that some wonders are worth travelling for.

Letherland’s full page illustrations of each wonder, drawn from different and intriguing perspectives, and following on from maps of each geographical area, are truly magnificent; each populated with a raft of tourists, indigenous peoples and animals in an imaginative out-of-this-world harmony. And Handicott’s text not only introduces the site with a couple of paragraphs and snapshot information, but illuminates single sentence facts around the illustrations. His annotations on the illustration of Neuschwanstein Castle, thought to be an inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairy tale castle, highlight the modern fixtures and fittings within.

This is a bold book, in the choice of wonders and also in the guilty irreverence of some of the illustrations, (Merlin at Stonehenge, for example), but all provoke fascination in the reader. Maps fix the natural and man-made wonders firmly in their geographical position. Watch for the tourists posing at the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the bears in Yosemite. I found a marathon runner on the Great Wall of China. Can you? Find your wonder here.

welcome to our world
Welcome to Our World: A Celebration of Children Everywhere by Moira Butterfield and Harriet Lynas
With illustrations and theme reminiscent of Disneyworld’s It’s a Small World ride, this is a colourful look at childhood around the world, highlighting differences but above all sending the message of what humans have in common. The first page highlights flags, then the author looks at various ways of saying hello in different languages (with a phonetic spelling for pronunciation), as well as showcasing types of names, foods, homes, pets, and transport in different countries. For any child wanting to see how others live, this is a great introduction. There are quirks, as well as that which is familiar and relevant to children, such as school uniform, musical instruments etc. The quirks include cures for hiccups, phrases, manners and playground games. With their saucer faces and big black button eyes, the illustrations are doll-like and immensely colourful, reminding me of the collection of native dress dolls that I had as a child. Appealing and eclectic, this is a great fact-finder for the very young – kids will enjoy the celebration cakes from around the world. There’s a list of countries featured at the end of the book, and great production values throughout. Age 4+. Welcome to your world here.

one day so many ways
One Day So Many Ways by Laura Hall, illustrated by Loris Lora

Not so dissimilar is this large-size illustrated guide to 40 children from around the world, also looking at a 24 hour period, in which it compares lifestyles and habits, including houses, meals, transport to school, playtime and so on. The illustrations of the children here are slightly less doll-like, but also stylised to look similar despite their differences – almond eyes, simple bodies – they reminded me of Topsy and Tim in that last-century-retro-way. Features that differentiate from the book above include a spread called Quiet Time, which features prayer, reading time and meditation amongst other pursuits, and asks the reader to contemplate their own life features. Weekend jobs, family time, helping out and reading are also explored, as well as the more mundane foods, bedtime, friends and homework. The Highlights page showcases the highlights of some of the children’s days, and it’s clear that weather can play a large part in how children live their lives. There’s a list of countries at the back with flags and facts, and this will be a good addition in showing children the different cultures and ways of life around the world, despite the inherent similarities of childhood. You can buy it here.

wonders of the world
Wonders of the World by Isabel Otter and Margaux Carpentier
Where best to find wonder than in the traditionally designated ‘seven wonders of the world’? This book is much smaller and squarer than Lucy Letherland’s Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World and is aimed at younger children, highlighting the Ancient Wonders and Modern Wonders, exploring all 14 in a colourful lift-the-flap informative book. Each wonder receives a full page, with introductory text, and some supplementary information in small paragraphs, such as exploring that the Colossus of Rhodes was the inspiration behind the modern Statue of Liberty.

An interactive wheel displays the plants of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, as well as the features of the Lantern Room on the Lighthouse of Alexandria. This is a colourful dip into the beautiful buildings that defined their eras, and the colour palate matches well with the romance behind each – pink and patterned egg blue for the Taj Mahal, deep orange and yellow for the Great Pyramid of Giza. This cardboard novelty book has a page at the end detailing some natural wonders too. Age 7+. Find a wonder here.

treasure hunt house
Treasure Hunt House by Kate Davies and Becca Stadtlander
Not all wonders are to be found in distant places and time. This book is both a game, in that it’s a literal treasure hunt – readers must lift the flaps to solve the clues – but also a treasure trove in that it gives fascinating facts about the wonders to be found in a domestic realm. Two children go to visit their Great Aunt Martha in her house – this is not an ordinary house though, containing a music room, conservatory, library and hall of inventions. More like a stately home, although many of the items are to be found in every domestic environment, and the book gives the history behind the telephone, fridge, toilet and bath as well as stepping into the more eclectic, such as exploring a Chinese lacquered mirror, platform shoes, Renoir painting and more.

This is exploration and history and activity all in one book. The illustrations themselves are like a treasure hunt – detailed, fascinating and rather intricate – they immerse the reader in the book. The readership is hard to define here – it’s probably something that could span a host of ages – the clues are very easy to solve, but the text in some places feels older. Age 7+. Find your treasure here.

curiositree
The Curiositree: Human World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Human History by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley
A second in this series – the first Curiositree explored the natural world – now we are into human history. Divided into sections – with three colour-matching ribbons to bookmark a reader’s place – each spread is labelled as a ‘chart’. This is down to the fact that the book is remarkably visual. There is a glut of information on each topic, and although the typeface is minuscule, each ‘chart’ is different from the one before and includes many illustrations, infographics and diagrams to showcase the topic.

The three colours of the ribbons, like the colour-coding inside, represent the three strands of discovery in the book: human history, art and culture, science, trade and technology. I expected more page cross-referencing across the topics, but was nicely surprised by the depth of knowledge on individual items, such as the history of metal usage, breakthrough thinking ie in maths, and the over-riding themes of the history of farming and music.
curiositree writing
It’s difficult to showcase thousands of years of human development in a 112 page book for children and the authors do an admirable job. Of course there’s much missing, and I had rather hoped for a little more information on religion and philosophical thought before launching into Stonehenge, ancient temples and tombs, but on the whole this is a great resource, and I suppose why it is a compendium rather than an encyclopedia.

Towards the end there is information on printing and world exploration – because the book travels up to the early 1600s only. Although this is clearly aimed at much older children, in that it introduces complex themes, has a complicated layout (for dipping and researching), and articulates in a non-patronising but technically more sophisticated manner, younger readers will enjoy the detailed and colourful illustrations throughout. Aimed at 8+ years and older. Stimulate your curiosity here.

transport and travelfoods of the world
Transport and Travel Mini Hardback by Sandra Lawrence, illustrated by Jem Maybank and Foods of the World: Mini Hardback by Libby Walden and Jocelyn Kao.
For those who prefer their factual information to be more bitesize and topic-based, these two excellent little companions will be useful for curious children wondering about the world, and useful as classroom resources. Rather than holding an encyclopaedic knowledge of the topic, these dip in with illustrations dominating each page, and a couple of sentences at the top to give background.

The transport book divides nicely into wheels, rail, air and water and picks out where transport has become rather famous – the San Francisco tram, the Shinkansen railway network in Japan. There’s also a nice mix of history – the Viking longboats, and future – the jet pack. Foods of the World is even more random in its choice of information. There are customs and traditions, celebratory food and a strange section called ‘playing with food’, with quirky facts such as competitive eating, food fights and the accidental creation of bubble gum. More fun than fodder for thought, this is a good title to have in the KS1 classroom. Age 5+ years. You can buy them here and here.

How Does a Lighthouse Work? By Roman Belyaev

how does a lighthouse workDo all children have a fascination with lighthouses? Is it the Rapunzel-esque structure – that tall cylindrical height forging above the wild whipping waves? Or perhaps the power of the light beam, stretching for miles across a wide expansive sea? Or the image of the lighthouse keeper him or herself, spending long lonely hours tramping up and down the spiralling stairs, polishing the glass and ensuring safety for all who travel near? From the picturebook series The Lighthouse Keeper by Ronda and David Armitage, to Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse, to more grown up fiction by Sarah Moss (Signs for Lost Children and its protagonist, the wonderfully contained Tom Cavendish) to The Light Between the Oceans by ME Stedman, the romanticism of the lighthouse has never been far from fiction.

But what about non-fiction? This book, which I predict to sweep awards, sits perfectly with its fine balance of teaching the science behind the lighthouse, and appealing to the romanticism at the core. Full-colour illustrations, (with a nod to William Grill in the small differentiated drawings of different kinds of lighthouses, lamps and sounds), lend a narrative arc to the information. The reader is part of a group of children on a school trip being taught about lighthouses. The illustrations, in coloured tones of lighthouse red, sea blue and oilskin yellow traverse the lighthouse scene, giving the reader different perspectives – at a distance, a cross-section, from the top deck (complete with girl steaming up the glass with her breath), and from out at sea.

Inspiring both emerging architects and budding scientists, the narrative aims to decipher the beating heart of the lighthouse, from the way it works on the most basic scientific level, to the question of why there are different types of lighthouses, to the role of the keeper.

Impressed and intrigued, I learnt as much about a lighthouse as if I had been on a tour to a real one (I’m still waiting to experience that). Each spread poses a question (as if from a child on tour), and it is answered astutely, clearly, succinctly. The text is easy to understand, accessible and fascinating. I learnt about the Fresnel lens, the distance light can travel, the strategic positioning of lighthouses, their history (even the Roman coin on which the lighthouse at ancient Alexandria is shown), structure, and what happens in fog. Impressively, Roman Belyaev seems to have covered every angle (no pun intended), from what people did before lighthouses to a lighthouse keeper’s log book, and the colours with which lighthouses are painted.

At the end, Roman Belyaev invites the reader to design their own, presumably based on everything they’ve learnt, but with terrific guidelines. Like a magazine quiz, the reader has to consider where they are building it, its height and shape, its design and pattern.

This is a book that profiles STEM and engineering with a real-world application. But not only that, it does it clearly and precisely with a particular kind of beauty and lustre to the illustrations. Far more accessible than most lighthouses, and brilliantly translated from the Russian with the help of Masha Kulikova, this book’s beam of knowledge should stretch across the widest seas.

You can buy it here.

Lots by Marc Martin

Quirky and intriguing, Lots is a book about impressions – what do we notice when we go somewhere? How does one place distinguish itself from another? What would we like to explore? Marc Martin has chosen 15 places to illuminate – and they certainly shine. With handwritten text, illustrations reminiscent of William Grill in their intensity and number, this is a vibrant, bold and wonderful new non-fiction book. One for children who want to find out the little known facts about a place, or see it represented in resplendent colour. Check out, in particular, the illustration of the favelas in Rio, or the bawabs in Cairo, the Salema fish in the Galapagos, or the solitary walker in Times Square, New York. This is a beautifully illustrated book that deserves awards for both its quirkiness and illustrations. I’m delighted to host Marc on the blog today, explaining why he chose the places he did. 

It was really difficult to choose which places to include in LOTS – there are so many fascinating destinations with their own distinct character that I would have loved to include, but with only 32 pages, there are only so many places I could pick!

So, I started with a long list and slowly narrowed it down. I wanted to include a mix of iconic cities, such as New York and Paris, as well as places that not everyone might think of, such as Ulaan Bataar and Reykjavík. I also made sure I chose locations from each continent, and tried to ensure there was a good mix of cities and nature.

In terms of focusing on each place, I tried to identify some of the particularities of each destination – some are more colourful, some are busy, some are full of animals, some are really hot and some are quite cold! I asked myself questions such as: ‘What are some of the things you would notice if you were travelling here?’ or ‘What is it about this place that makes it different from other cities?’.

I’d also visited about half the places in the book, so personal experience helped shape my decisions – for instance, in Delhi I was amazed by how many cows there are roaming the streets (and how colourful they can be) – it’s not something you’d see in other cities outside of India!

If I hadn’t been to the place I was drawing, I relied on research and information from people who had been there. Once I started researching a particular location in more detail, it was usually pretty easy to discover some of the more unique things about it. There’s an amazing amount of information on the internet, and you can usually find travel blogs and other websites that give you insights into what makes a place particularly different.

Some of my favourite places in the book to visit are New York, Ulaan Bataar and Delhi. I love New York because of how vibrant and fast-paced it can be – there are lots of people from all around the world and you can always find something to do just by wandering the streets. Delhi can be slightly more challenging for visitors, just because it’s very chaotic and there’s a sense of the unexpected, but it’s a very energetic city with lots to discover. Lastly, I like Ulaan Bataar because it’s a little bit hard to get to, and off the beaten track. The people are extremely friendly, and the vastness of the Mongolian landscape is stunning.

With thanks to Marc for the guest post. You can buy it here

Summer Holiday

What are you doing this summer? Even if you’re not going anywhere – you can travel the whole world in a book. Firstly, my favourite books about key world cities:

walk in paris

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino
Quite rightly winning the IBW children’s picture book award 2015, this is a stunning example of travelling from your armchair. A grandfather takes his granddaughter on a whirlwind trip of Paris, taking in everything in sight from the Metro to the markets, the Seine and Notre Dame to the shops on the Right Bank, a bistro to the Marais, the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Tuileries. He explains, in that grandfatherly way, what things are called and points out interesting details to his granddaughter. Each spread is lushly illustrated with minute details – it’s like standing in the middle of a Parisian painting – the reader feels as if he is in an illustrated city.
Incidentals on each page are labelled in a slightly different font to give extra information to the reader, such as
‘Paris has two water systems. Water for drinking and water for cleaning run through separate pipes.’
This is in contrast to the friendly tones of the grandfather and his narrator granddaughter in the main text:
“I’ve just seen a street cleaner turn a big key. Now there’s water gushing out of the kerb! Mind your feet, Grandad! I say”.
The illustrations are incredible – the colours lend a distinctive feel to the city – mustard yellows, tarpaulin greens, leather browns. Each view deserves its own mention – from the illustration drawn as if looking out over Paris from the top of Notre Dame (with the back of the heads of the grandfather and granddaughter and the close-up of the gargoyles, to the Seine stretching out into the distance with the proportionally correct distances of the Sacre Coeur and Les Invalides (all labelled).) The characters have personality too – the granddaughter holds her pigtail aloft when admiring a coiffured lady stepping from a salon, but also sips her drink through a straw with no hands – capturing her childlike ways magnificently. From bicycles to window boxes, street artists to the bookstall-lined river – this made me want to revisit Paris, or at least the book, over and over again. Moreover, you can actually trace the ‘walk’ if you’re in the city – with instructions on the back of where to start and finish and how long it takes. (There’s also a fold-out Eiffel Tower). Dazzle your children (and yourselves) with this. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

(also available A Walk in London, A Walk in New York)

pop up new york

Pop Up New York by Jennie Maizels, paper engineering by Richard Ferguson
If ever a book could prepare you for the excitement of seeing The Big Apple for the first time, this is it. Pop-up books for children rarely appeal to me, largely because of their inability to refold back to how they were before the book opened, and their susceptibility to be torn by eager hands too early in the day, thus rendering them fairly obsolete, which seems such a pity. However, the paper engineering here is an accomplished success – each page did fold back successfully upon closing, and it does appear to be fairly sturdy. Each page is also overwhelmingly packed with pop-ups – the buildings jump out at you and stand tall – just as they do in the real city. There is a surprising array of information and interactivity laid out here, with facts about all the major districts, buildings, history, sports, and culture, including recent developments such as the regeneration of the High Line. The cleverness of the book is that it works equally well if you read it upside-down, as there is a host of information on the back of the pop-up buildlings. For those of us who know New York fairly well it appears comprehensive and modern – for those who are new to New York it’s compelling and inspiring. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

(also available pop-up London)

katie in london

Katie in London by James Mayhew
Not a new title by any means, although granted a new cover in 2014, but for a Londoner born and bred, still one of the finest and most inspiring picture books about London. James Mayhew takes his character Katie on a whirlwind tour through London, with pictures of iconic London symbols, starting with the first page, which manages to encompass red buses, red telephone boxes, the tube signs, the London taxis and the sense of London stretching for some way into the distance. He also pictures rain – a horde of people with grey umbrellas, but which isn’t Edward Hopper-depressing, but another symbol of the particularity of the glinting reflections of the London streets. London in the rain can be magical and fun. James Mayhew draws in magic, by making a lion in Trafalgar Square come to life, and taking Katie and her brother Jack on a tour of London. The magical warmth of the book lies in the small details – the astonishment on the faces as they see the live lion, the thoughts of the lion as he ponders how cold his tummy gets lying on a stone plinth, and the magnificent detail in every picture – including balustrades, lampposts, and joggers in the park. The tour encompasses the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Globe, Hyde Park, St Paul’s, and the Tower of London. It leaves Katie exhausted, but the reader exhilarated. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

hare and tortoise israel

Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel by Laura Gehl, illustrations by Sarah Goodreau
Now, an exotic location. I love the idea of taking the fable of the Hare and Tortoise and making the race track somewhere different – something children love to see is a tale reinvented. This hare and tortoise live in Tel Aviv and decide to race across Israel to the Dead Sea. Along the way they take in the sights of Israel – the tortoise more slowly, although as is always the moral, slow and steady wins the race. The book encourages children to look around as they travel and to soak in the sights. Covering the museums and entertainment in Tel Aviv, to the different types of food available, to the olive groves and persimmon trees in the countryside to the shuk in Jerusalem, this is a nicely comprehensive first look at Israel. The cultural melting pot of people is also depicted (although the main characters are animals, the extras are both human and animal, which is a little strange), from religious Jews in Jerusalem to Bedouins in the desert, footballers in the park to commuters at the train station. A good cultural summation of an exotic country. You can buy the book here or on the Amazon sidebar.

eddies tent

Eddie’s Tent and How to Go Camping by Sarah Garland
Of course sometimes holidays are about the experience rather than the location. This new book from the super talented Sarah Garland explores what it’s like to go camping, with a simple story of Eddie and his family on a camping trip. This is a stand-out picture book, because both text and pictures convey the complicated nuances within a family, especially on a holiday, and also what’s going on in Eddie’s head. Sarah Garland employs the well-known phrase – are we there yet? from the two little sisters, but the picture bears out more strongly how the family feel whilst stuck in traffic, not to mention the second picture on that spread, in which the adults exchange a glance without the children seeing. This family is not a stereotypical family either, the adult male is referred to by his name, rather than as ‘Dad’, and one of the children is of a different ethnic origin – so there is diversity and complexity in their family make up, which is refreshing to see in a picture book. Eddie is well-depicted – like many small boys he is meticulous about what he packs for the trip, and not only do we see what he imagines in his head whilst day-dreaming in the tent, but we also admire his propensity to throw himself into the trip and demonstrate his growing independence in fetching driftwood, and making his own tent. Food is a major detail in the book – as it should be on all camping trips, and a nice gentle story runs alongside the painstaking detail of camping. At the back of the book is guidance on camping including knots, cooking and first aid. This book is part of a series featuring Eddie, including his garden, his kitchen and his toolbox, which may also be well worth exploring for teaching those essential life skills to children. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

mi and museum city

Mi and Museum City by Linda Sarah
Lastly, a wacky book for any child who’s been dragged around a museum or place of ‘interest’, which they actually didn’t find that interesting at all. This book is completely leftfield, but with such great intentions, so much detail and interest and such a good idea at its heart, that I have to include it. Mi inhabits museum city, in which every building, other than Mi’s house, is a museum, but they are all dull, including such museums as the Museum of (extreme) Politeness, The Museum of One Million Completely Boring Things Belonging to King Bore, and my favourite, the Museum of One Man Walking Very Slowly. Then Mi meets Yu, a busker, and they come up with an idea to build two very different and interesting museums that make them happy. They finally secure the mayor’s approval, and before long all sorts of bizarre and unusual museums are opening, making Museum City fun and bright. This book distinguishes itself by being filled with maps of museum city, each intricately detailed and with miniscule annotation. This reminded me so much of children’s drawings themselves, when they write something in barely legible tiny writing, or doodle on paper. It’s a fun book to explore and has a detachable A-Z museum fold out map at the back. It works well as a jumping off point from which to engage children in coming up with their own museum ideas. Even the bar code on the back cover has been incorporated into the artwork – becoming a Museum of the Bar Code beep Choir. If that doesn’t entice you, then nothing will. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

Tweet me @minervamoan if you have your own favourite  ‘travel’ picture book.

With thanks to Kar-Ben publishers for the copy of Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel

 

The Story of Buildings by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephen Biesty

The Story of Buildings
The best non-fiction for children tells a narrative journey whilst attempting to impart knowledge. And Patrick Dillon’s book does just this. Although his text is not the most beautiful I’ve read, it is very readable and aims to pose a question in the mind of children and answer it – how did human civilisation get from cave dwellings to skyscrapers? And how did humans get to the point of designing beauty, not just practicality, in their buildings? By profiling a handful of famous buildings throughout the world, Patrick Dillon attempts to answer these questions. The draw with this book of course is the illustrations by Stephen Biesty, which assist in explaining the text. The introduction speeds through log cabins, stone houses, brickworks to stilt houses, igloos, tipis, Bedouin tents, staircases, Roman floors, and onto Georgian terraces, windmills, factories and railway stations, each beautifully illustrated. Then Dillon focuses on the architecture of about 20 bold and beautiful structures from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Notre Dame of Paris, Taj Mahal in Agra to the Chrysler Building in New York and the Sydney Opera House – all illuminated by Biesty’s amazing exploded gatefold cross-sections of the buildings. It’s a tour de force in explaining the very basics of architecture to children. Although Dillon does include some generalisations, and specific architects aren’t often mentioned, I don’t think it matters in that the book inspires an interest in how buildings are built, dreamt of, and used. There’s also a timeline at the back. Any adult would equally enjoy examining the detailed cut-throughs. You can even see the toilets in the Bauhaus!

The Story of Buildings2