human body

When the Stars Come out by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Lucy Cartwright

when the stars come outWhenever there’s a new topic at school, there’s a scramble from teachers and some pupils to find the library books that fit, the book that’s pitched correctly for the age group and touches on all the themes that the teacher wants to explore during that term. And rarely does a book match exactly. Probably because then it would be a textbook, rather than a book for exploring, a book for further stimulus and enquiry. When the Stars Come Out by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Lucy Cartwright, is a refreshing piece of nonfiction that not only ticks the boxes when exploring ‘Time and Place, Earth and Space’ for example, but it also neatly stretches the mind, and causes pause for thought, and elicits pleasure at the same time.

Not just a space book, as the title might imply, When the Stars Come Out intends to explore our whole universe at night-time from the sciencey bits, such as why night occurs and the different constellations in the sky, but also the geographical element – both physical and human – and it also reaches right from the outer echelons of the universe into our very heads; what happens when we sleep?

Diagrams and illustrations begin the story of how the night works, showing the rotation of the Earth in relation to the sun. Then, before the constellations are explored, there’s some history on stargazing, and some recognition of why some people are scared of the dark. The moon and stars are investigated, and then tangents of this, including auroras, moonbows and shooting stars.

Coming down to earth, Edwards explores different landscapes at night, from the city to the desert, rainforests, mountains and many more including the sea, extrapolating which changes happen at night in the darkness. Animals are looked at in more detail in the next chapter, looking at sleep, dreams, nocturnal animals, and of course, humans. This chapter is particularly interesting as it’s rarely dealt with in children’s non-fiction. I liked the pie chart of sleep cycles, our natural rhythms, and then a look at super sleepers and world records, including the man who stayed awake for 11 days. It’s dangerous of course, as explained in the text, but fascinating information.

Lastly, the book investigates extreme days and nights – near the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, as well as clever inventions such as glow in the dark cement and what scientists are working on in terms of night-time and day-time differences in plant growth, for example. The book ends with a glorious celebration of the night – from Diwali to Walpurgisnacht.

This is a joyous and fascinating book. The illustrations are detailed and immersive – both conveying the science in the lunar cycle, but also a sense of wonder and mystery in dreams and night visitors. My only caveat is the size of the text against darkish backgrounds – not good for sleepy eyes – but perhaps the text’s smallness will keep the mind focussed and prevent daydreaming!

The book is large in size but well designed to reflect the information inside. The mountains spread reads as portrait rather than landscape – mirroring mountains of course, but also giving the different levels of mountainous terrain – the birds, the climbers, the foothills. Other pages look like landscapes – the savannah for example, with its panel of night sky at the top, but then it’s land mass stretching towards the reader. The animals are illustrated in action – grazing or in motion, but the text is chunked nicely into individual paragraphs, many in their own colourful panels. The book is extremely visual – the colours subtle rather than garish, reflecting the muted light of night times.

An exciting non-fiction title that illuminates the mysteries of our night-time and stimulates curious minds across a broad spectrum of inter-linking subjects. You can buy it here.

Humans

January seems like a good time to address the different things that make us human, and to show the differences between us.

humans
Humans: The Wide World Awaits by Susan Martineau, illustrated by Vicky Barker
The award-winning team behind Real-life Mysteries have produced a new series called Geographics, which aims to show intriguing geographical facts with dynamic infographics design.

Geographics: Humans certainly is appealing. A thin book with a sturdy paperback cover, the book is bright and colourful throughout. It is quirky too, in that this isn’t just a fact book of information, but aims to provide guidance too.

There is typical geography information, such as on the page entitled ‘Where We Live’, and this shows the world at night with the lights indicating population, and shows the most populated cities, and the least, and the spread of humans around coastlines and in the Northern hemisphere. Following pages have information on water, resources, transportation, power and inventions, but there is also guidance on recycling and communication.

This is a wonderful first approach to human geography, which despite its small size, reaches further than most – using its vibrancy to illuminate facts and the author’s emotional intelligence to promote the idea of being a global citizen, understanding and caring for the planet on which we live. I’m proud to have absorbed the information within easily, and have learnt facts including: more people have a mobile phone than a toilet, and Papua New Guinea has 841 living languages. You can buy it here.

i am human
It’s not just our impact on the Earth but our impact on each other. I am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde, art by Peter H Reynolds aims to explore, through simple illustrations and text, the idea of who we are inside ourselves – a person who is always learning, with dreams and hopes, but also one who makes mistakes and feels pain and fear and sadness. The third part of the book aims to show the choices available – to be kind and fair, to forgive and move forward – in essence to show empathy. The book is about being the best human you can be, reminding children that they are unique at the same time as belonging to the human race, in which there is familiarity.

Reynolds’ line drawings bring to life this manual for living. The people are diverse and different, yet similar in their thin legs and neat noses. They feel vivacious and active, even when they are blue in both feeling and colour:  fear is represented as a huge ladder stretching to the unknown, sadness is a boy sitting on a ledge – followed swiftly by him standing, arms outstretched, hope on his face as he makes a new choice. There is a wonderful empathy that Reynolds delineates in his expression.

In it’s ability to showcase both self-worth and caring for others, this serves as a good guide in both home and school, for children and adults. You can buy it here.

when I was a child
When I was a Child by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield
is a picturebook that also uses colour wisely, bursting with a zest for nature and life, as it aims to show how humans can embrace the world around them. Ostensibly a book about a child aiming to show her grandmother that the world is still magical, and that wonder still exists, this is also an exploration of imagination and curiosity bearing a subtle environmental message. The grandmother believes that her world is now grey, but through the child’s eyes, through her innocent wisdom, we see that what we have lost sight of as we grow older is still abundant if seen through the eyes of the child.

The prose is poetic: faces in raindrops and heartbeats in mountains, but once again it is the power of the illustrations that lifts the book. Litchfield brings his remarkable talent for different perspectives and clever use of light to insert his own magic on each spread. Whether it’s a parade of people in a sunrise, with the light flooding translucently through the leaves on the page, or the underwater fragmented light shimmer of a layered background as strange and wondrous horse fish swim through the river, there is both a lifting and lightness to the colourful illustrations. Each drawing pulsates with imagination in a kind of modern dreamlike wonderland, the book getting more and more fantastical as it progresses.

This is an enchanting book about humanity – encouraging intergenerational relationships, wonder in the world around us, and also the power of the imagination to soar and grow. A rainbow of images and prose. You can buy it here .

human body
The Human Body: A Pop-up Guide to Anatomy by Richard Walker, illustrated by Rachel Caldwell
Lastly, it would not be right to explore humans and humanity without one in-depth look inside the body.  This comprehensive, somewhat gruesome, guide to the human body invites the reader to venture on a real post-mortem examination, cleverly using paper engineering so that the reader can look beneath body parts – my favourite section definitely the abdomen, in which you can open up the body to see the kidneys and small intestine from different angles.

The illustrations feel old-school, traditional, multi-layered in their detail (each is highly captioned to show which body part is which), and also with instruments pencil-sketched too, so that the scalpel and tweezers lie happily next to the body. The book explains the different systems of the body – circulatory, respiratory etc, with keen observation and elucidation. Sentences are short and sweet, keeping it simple without numerous subclauses interrupting the information, and it feels matter-of-fact and clear.

You can lift the blood spatter to see it under a microscope, or open the heart to see how it works. Each tooth has been extracted so that they can be labelled, and the thorax can be opened in many layers to explore the ribs, lungs and heart. There’s even opportunity to remove the skin from the upper arm and shoulder to see the muscles underneath. This is a thoroughly enjoyable way to be educated on the human body and how it works, and a beautifully stylised well-thought-out book. You can buy it here .

Humanatomy by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by George Ermos and Jem Maybank

humanatomyAs a mother and primary school librarian, I’m always on the lookout for new non-fiction that complements the curriculum, providing help with homework or imbuing further understanding in a topic, or even stimulating further curiosity and wonder. I love to be able to say, “Go look in this book for the answer,” rather than following a web link that so often disappoints.

This brilliantly high quality book, Humanatomy How the Body Works, is a well-organised and thoughtful guide to the major organ systems in the human body. Perfectly written to assist and stimulate children in Key Stage Two and above, adults will also be sure to find something they didn’t know.

The book begins with an open-out flip section illustration of each of the body’s major organ systems – including of course the nervous system, circulatory system etc. It’s body-shaped, and manages to show both male and female, two different skin tones, as well as front and back of the body where necessary to show differences in that particular circulatory system.

The main part of the book follows suit by dividing into chapters for each organ system, with an introduction explaining how the different systems work together. Each system chapter links back to the flip out illustration, but also contains its own hugely-detailed and annotated diagrams. There is a skin diagram in the integumentary system, which reminds me of one I had to annotate for my GCSE (many moons ago). However, this doesn’t read like a school text book. Instead, facts are presented as answers to interesting questions that children might ask. For example, why do we itch and scratch, why do bruises change colour, why do our hands go wrinkly in the bath, why do we burp? etc.

There are also bitesize sentence facts in small round circles throughout – highlighted ‘Did you know?’. And quite often, I didn’t!

The pages are well designed – a good use of colour, and large illustrations of children tasting, sneezing, shivering for example, which keeps the eye moving across the page. There are numerous diagrams, all labelled to prove the point the text is trying to make.

The circulatory system is dealt with particularly well – using the classic red and blue to show the difference between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood, but in a clever diagram complete with arrows, and separating out the heart and the lungs on the page so that the way the blood flows can be seen clearly. Having just watched a child learn this at school, I know this bit of the book would have been an invaluable learning addition.

The book does cover the reproductive system, without going into exactly how sex works, but deals more with DNA and how each person is individualised. Add to that a detailed, comprehensive and accessible glossary, and thick good quality paper, and this is a nonfiction book produced to the highest order. Well executed, well designed and thoroughly informative. A joy to read and a pleasure to stock at home and in the school library. I’ll need two copies! You can buy one here.

illumanatomy by Kate Davies and Carnovsky

Another advanced, refreshing, well-conceived piece of non-fiction, this time from Wide Eyed Publishers. The book aims to teach about the human body, but does so in a startlingly beautiful visual way. Illumanatomy contains spreads of psychedelic artworks showing a kaleidoscope of colour against a white background, interspersed with other pages that display informative black and white illustrations and accompanying text.

The reason for the full-page psychedelics is because the book comes with a three-coloured lens viewer tucked into a pocket on the inner front cover. By looking through the different coloured lenses at the picture, (as a kind of eye-viewer), the lens enables the reader to effectively x-ray the image on the page, showing organs with the blue lens, muscles with the green, and bones with the red. This interactive idea works really well; the premise follows through. The blue lens is the least effective, only in that it is a bit dark, but the muscles and skeleton show up perfectly. As the reader learns more about each body part, the image they are seeing through the acetate lens becomes clearer.

Each part of the body (and the book divides these into 10, such as the head, the heart, the abdomen, as well as how a baby grows) is shown first in a full page artwork so that the reader can use their viewer, and then dissected again in the ‘anatomy’ room, which gives a black and white illustration, fully annotated with the names of parts, and also explanation. For example, the brain page illuminates the lobe and cortexes and explains which is which and what they do.

A particular pull for me in information books is the ability of the author to convey complex information in a simple way. Anatomy has never been a strong point personally, but the text here is concise and clear. The description of the heart conveys its mechanisms and divisions well, and comes neatly after the circulatory system, so that the individual parts of the whole begin to make sense.

The reproduction chapter is also precise and matter-of-fact, and suits the age group well, placing reproduction within the anatomical sphere. And the muscles and tendons in the leg section are also stripped to their fundamentals, giving a child a first basic understanding of how it works. The author encourages the reader to touch their own leg, feeling for the muscles and tendons being described.

This is the second in this series illustrated by Carnovsky (the nom de plume of Italian illustrators Silvia Quintanilla and Francesco Rugi), the first being Illuminature by Rachel Williams, and whereas usually these interactive lens things feel gimmicky, this is not the case here. The book is well executed, hugely informative, and startlingly attractive. Much to absorb and learn. You can buy a copy here.

The Awesome Body Book by Adam Frost

I’m sure I would have qualified to be a doctor, or at least enjoyed biology more, if this book had been around when I was a youngster. This is a non-fiction chapter book, set out in full colour, and packed with the most incredible facts that will enable the reader to answer quiz questions, startle their teachers and amaze their parents, as well as share delectable, laughable quirks with their friends.

There’s no index or contents, for a very good reason – this is a book of randomly assembled facts to dip into, laid out in colourful infographics and cartoon illustrations.

So the reader can find out what’s edible in their back garden, to which is the biggest/smallest/strangest/longest muscle in the human body, to bacteria, worms, hair, noise, crying, the heart, brainpower and on and on. And each section contains small enjoyable sentences of information.

Amazing the facts might be, but there’s no alternative truth here. The full source and reference list is even listed at the end of the book so that the reader can double check any truths of which they’re unsure.

The diagrams are hilarious – showing how long the human tongue would be if it was proportionally as long as an African hawkmoth’s, there’s a diagram showing different facial hair, and some of the graphics are just plain fascinating – the infographic showing different noises in decibels.

But mainly this book works because as well as being interesting, it’s so accessible. It’s easy to read, and the reader will learn without realising they are absorbing facts, and ‘read’ without realising they are ‘reading’ a book because the facts are in such small morsels.

It answers things that don’t actually come up in biology lessons, and goes beyond farts and worms, (although it does cover these in detail) and delves into the psychology of dreams, colours in different cultures, and behaviour comparisons between humans and animals.

Adam Frost has won the Blue Peter Book Award for a previous title in the series, but this is the first themed title. And it made me use my orbicularis oculi (pars lateralis). See if it makes you use yours! Buy it here.