non-fiction

non fiction ; nonfiction ; non-fiction

Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani and Sarah Hutt, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

I’ve been trying to think about which book would suit my last book of the week for the year 2017. What trends have there been, what news, what good coming out of the year? There’s a lot of doom and gloom with Brexit, Trump, and plastic in the environment, but I wanted to focus on the good things.

One good thing, and slightly closer to home, is the surge of awareness of gender equality. Of society beginning to see women and girls as equal to men and boys and fighting harder for a lack of discrimination, harassment and stereotyping. There have been hugely successful children’s books covered by mainstream media, such as Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, but how do we teach our girls to not only look up to pioneers who went before them, but also to change the world for the better? Technology is a huge part of our modern world – a massive chunk of our children’s waking lives. So, rather than just getting them to use the technology, let’s teach them to understand how it works. You can’t beat an algorithm if you don’t understand it.

Recently, various girls in my school have been learning to code. And one pioneer of this revolution is Reshma Saujani. You can see her TED talk here, which explains why we should be teaching girls bravery rather than perfection – a key message in her book too.

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World is proving to be helpful in many ways.

It is not just a manual for learning to code – in fact it’s not for beginners learning to code, but a resource to explain coding, and to promote confidence in doing so. The book doesn’t teach a specific coding language – as say Usborne Coding for Beginners Using Python, which is a step-by-step guide and a very useful one at that. Rather, Girls Who Code tries to indicate the logic and theory behind programming, often using cartoons in real-life applications to extricate the meaning of making the code. Although it might sound complex at first, with a little concentration my pre-tween tester completely understood the premise.

There’s also coding history and interviews with women working in programming, all of which give the message that STEM is great for girls, but that also failing and retrying are essential. Wrapped up in these is Saujani’s key message that perfection is not what girls should be striving for, but aiming instead to learn from mistakes. After all, penicillin was discovered by mistake; the first pacemaker was invented by mistake too. As was Coca-Cola – and look how successful that became.

Of course, the fun bit of coding is included in the book too – fun projects with apps, games and art etc. Throughout the book are illustrations in one-tone teal, which show a diverse cast of girls learning to code, with speech bubbles, diagrams and comics – these break up the text and are hugely informative.

In the end, the idea is that as well as understanding what coding is, and how to go about it, girls will understand how useful it is, how accessible computer science is. With a knowledge of programming, girls can go on to solve problems, take control, and in essence, change the world. An admirable book to look forward to a new year. You can buy it here.

Votes for Women

There are many reasons I’ve wanted to feature suffragette books on the blog for a while now. In a world of current political turmoil, it can be helpful to look to historical fiction for guidance. Women’s rights are still an issue, with recent contention over equal pay, sexual harassment in the workplace, and ongoing struggles within families as to ‘default’ parenting. So, the women’s fight for suffrage has never seemed that far from one’s mind. Next year, attention focusses fully on this again, as Vote 100 aims to bring attention to the 100th anniversaries in 2018: The Representation of the People Act 1918 (allowing some women to vote for the first time) and the Parliament Qualification of Women Act in 1918 (allowing women to stand for election to the Commons) as well as many other anniversaries. However, my compelling reason for bringing you these ‘suffragette books’ is that they’re all so completely brilliant.


Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
One of my favourite authors for middle grade, Nicholls tells a wonderful yarn no matter her subject matter, and here she steps completely into YA territory. This accomplished novel follows three girls, Evelyn, May and Nell, through their fight for the vote at the beginning of the First World War. Each girl is from a different social strata of society, (Evelyn is expected to marry rather than be educated, and Nell is a working class girl just trying to get by), and each has different aims and ambitions, as well as winningly flawed yet determined personas. Nicholls tackles social history with aplomb, as well as LGBT issues and the tangled emotions of suffragette women as their cause became swept up in the war breaking out across Europe.

Both a fascinating historical eye-opener and a scintillating story, readers will race through the different points of view to see how the girls’ stories collide, and where they each end up. The research shines through, but never overpowers the book, and it is the girls who in the end dominate and succeed – through hardship and tears. Characters to remember, prose to devour. Who wouldn’t give these girls the vote? Buy your copy here.


The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey
For a younger readership, but another powerful novel that also includes accurate social history of the time (the author borrows from her own school’s history), with a great story.

Told in letter format to a friend at boarding school, Mollie stumbles into women’s suffrage after sneaking out after her big sister Phyllis and ending up at a suffragist meeting. Mollie empathises with the cause after relating it to small injustices in her own life, such as the free reign afforded to her brother, and the fact that he’s always given the best bits of the roast chicken first. The story strikes a lovely balance between school days (tussles with friends and enemies, conservative teachers and disapproving adults), with the political cause dominating the landscape.

Mollie and her friend take to the suffragette cause in a gentle way; attempting to attend meetings; their most daring venture being the chalking of pavements with notices. It feels real, and practical, and suited well to the age of the protagonist. This novel is set in Dublin rather than England, and also intersperses the politics of suffrage with issues of Irish Home Rule, illustrated by speeches of the time. The book doesn’t shy away from details, but mainly explores a coming-of-age at an interesting political time, showing what it means to stick up for what you believe in, and the consequences for all those involved. Clever, engaging and endearing. You can purchase it here.


Little People: Emmeline Pankhurst by Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo
Part of the series of stylish picture books on women achievers; previous titles have included Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, telling the women’s stories simply and effectively. This one is no different.

Pankhurst’s life is explained with one or two sentences per page, from her childhood in which she first discovered the inequalities between men and women and then her inspirational fight in adulthood to obtain the vote for women. It highlights her leadership skills, the adversity she faced as a single mother after the death of her husband, and her commitment to her family as well as to the cause. Her life is distilled into a simple, harmless yet powerful biography.

With retro colouring, and great attention to detail, the illustrations make the storytelling. There is a find out more section at the back, and photographs of the real Emmeline on a timeline, but the essence of this series is that the books look as good on a coffee table as lining a child’s bedroom. You can buy it here.


Rebel Voices: The Rise of Votes for Women by Louise Kay Stewart and Eve Lloyd Knight
Cheating a little, because this book isn’t out until January, but this beautifully illustrated title celebrates campaigners around the globe who fought for the women’s right to vote. Although suffrage in this country does get a good deal of attention, there are some startling facts and figures from other countries that are worth knowing, and this book aims to highlight them. In fact, the story starts in New Zealand, with Kate Sheppard, who cycled her way around the streets in Christchurch in 1892. Maori women and female settlers in New Zealand became the first women in the world to win the right to vote in a national election in 1893. The book moves chronologically around the globe, charting the rise of women’s rights country to country, and mentions key campaigners and activists, but also points out places in which women were afforded the vote, but the right was not necessarily granted to other minority groups.

Fascinatingly illustrated too, in that the illustrations dominate each page with their bold colours, striking strength and symbolism, and each suits its country well, there is little text for the size of the book – just enough to convey the pertinent points and get the reader thinking. The book ends in 2015 with Saudi Arabia, but also draws some conclusions. The author points out that women have a long way to go in other areas of equality, such as pay, education, and opportunities, and asks the reader to think about the global patterns in which suffrage was granted – often at times of war, revolution, or changes in identity. This is a powerful-looking book for a powerful subject, and well-deserving of a place in every library. You can pre-order your copy here.


Girls Who Rocked the World by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden
Lastly, this isn’t a suffragette book, but if you’re looking for inspiration on powerful women, as well as Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst, you’d do just as well (if you’re looking for something aimed at those a little older) to pick up this collection of biographies.

Featuring women from across the centuries and around the world who have had a remarkable influence, including suffragette Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, Hatshepsut, Florence Nightingale, Anna Pavlova, The Bronte Sisters, Indira Ghandhi and many more. It’s a weird and eclectic selection, including up-to-the-minute influencers, but it attempts to show that women, just like men, have been, and continue to be, shapers of history.

Each person is described in a few pages, highlighting what they have done, but also why they matter. The text style is chatty and informative, but also quite dense – there are very few illustrations here. Perhaps a book to dip into, rather like short stories. There are ‘boxes off’ with quotes from today’s young women, talking about what they hope for their own futures: How will You rock the world? If it’s aimed to get the reader researching further, thinking more and making a difference, it works. You can buy it here.

Impossible Inventions: Ideas That Shouldn’t Work by Matgorzata Mycielska, Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski

Impossible InventionsOne of my favourite Homer Simpson lines is: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Impossible Inventions is a fabulous non-fiction book that explores inventions which are sometimes crazy, sometimes inspired and sometimes just plain weird, but what they have in common is that they all failed. The point is that they are all somewhere on the path to real discovery and invention, even if the road is rather long and winding. And some of the historical inventions featured were thought up by historical figures (Da Vinci, Tesla) who we know and recognise for inventions that did work.

The book features such weird and wacky inventions as a concentration helmet, a transport cloud, a steam horse and a bubble messenger. Each invention is afforded a double page, with full-colour illustrations and accompanying text and captions, and then a second double page with a large cartoon exploring the practicality of the invention, with cartoon bubble speech. It’s both funny and informative.

The illustrations complement the wackiness of the ideas, not only in their cartoon-like style but in the bold block colours and strong outlines, which feel both fresh and creative, and are drawn with a unique quirkiness that we’ve come to expect from Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski of Maps fame.

The book introduces the concept of invention and innovation, describing that all inventions begin with a dream or a need, and each invention takes imagination, commitment and courage. Mycielska talks about the point of patents too, and sets out the limitlessness of possibility. This book points to the power of the imagination, and the understanding that what may seem challenging or even downright peculiar at one time, may turn out to be useful and necessary – sometimes many years later.

The inventions are shown in a random order – in actual fact the contents are at the back of the book, and the placement of each invention plays to the randomness of ideas. Imagination doesn’t necessarily work in a linear fashion.

This is a wonderfully fascinating and humorous book, which teaches a great lesson in engineering and science – that not everybody will succeed every time, but each step is part of the learning process. And if you don’t try, you definitely won’t succeed. You can buy it here.

Real-Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker

real life mysteries
In childhood, there were thrills galore on camping trips in which peers or adults told stories about urban myths, real-life mysteries, unexplained happenings. Which child hasn’t at some point shuddered in horror at ghosts, looked at lights in the sky and wondered about UFOs, or stared across the water hoping to see a Loch Ness Monster? This new colourful non-fiction from b small publishing invites the reader into the world of unsolved mysteries, and helps him or her to become aware of the skills of critical thinking. The reader is not just reading the book; each reader is analysing the evidence presented, sifting and sorting and drawing their own conclusions. In a world of fake news, this is an excellent primer for thinking about what’s fact-based and what’s not. And this week, my choice has approval from the Blue Peter Book Awards Judging Panel, who shortlisted it for Best Book with Facts Award 2017.

The book highlights a whole host of real life mysteries, including Bigfoot, the timeslip of Versailles, Nasca Lines, the curse of the Hope Diamond, cases of human spontaneous combustion, crop circles and many more. Of course, some of these may bring an element of fear, but the book attempts to give some sort of explanation, making the unexplained far less scary and enabling the reader to analyse each case as a cool-headed detective.

This approach to the book is what makes it great. Each ‘mystery’ is dealt with as if it were a case to be solved by the reader. The mystery is presented, and then dealt with in a case file, in which the book  highlights the different elements: witness statements, and witness reliability, theories, physical objects, locations and photographic evidence. (Sadly, with this last, the book is illustrated so, for example, none of the photographs which people claim to have taken of Bigfoot have been reproduced here). But there are diagrams, and the ‘case files’ are laid out in the illustrations as if the pieces of evidence have been put upon a pin board – complete with post-its, captions, drawings.

Difficult words are pulled out and explained (as well as a glossary at the back), and the reader is asked to think about things carefully in a further investigation. For example, with Versailles, the reader is encouraged to tell friends an interesting story and then a week later ask the friends to repeat it back, listening to see if it’s the same. This will inevitably lead to further discussion about memory, truths and hearsay.

The book is colourful and bright – the text is accessible and interesting. Just be warned, the book might teach your children too much information. With conspiracy theories, self-fulfilling prophecies, and premonitions explained, they may want to talk to you a little more about that new ‘word’, fake news. They’ll be assessing whether you secretly ate the last biscuit while they were at school, and working out what you bought them for Christmas before you’ve even wrapped it. You can buy this wonderful book and solve your mysteries here.

Cool Physics: A NNFN guest blog by Dr Sarah Hutton

Cool Physics

I am delighted to host Dr Hutton on the blog today. With a doctorate and teaching career in physics and now a published author of a physics book, Dr Hutton comes well-equipped to explain why we should all have an interest in this cool subject.

I think that I have always been fascinated with Physics and trying to understand the world around me. One of my earliest memories is of trying to take apart electronics because I wanted to see how they worked. Over time, my parents learnt that they should never leave me alone with a screwdriver, but on top of that they also helped to fuel my curiosity. They taught me that it’s not wrong or ‘stupid’ not to know something, but that there are ways in which you can find answers through books or, in today’s world, the internet. They even showed me that we don’t have all the answers yet and that there are still things that we don’t understand or that are yet to be discovered.

My love of Physics stayed with me through school, fuelled by my wonderful (if slightly eccentric) Physics teacher, Mrs McCann. But as I grew older it became more specialised and I found the area of Physics that I could never find out enough about: space. My enthusiasm for wanting to know more about how the Universe works, and how NASA can produce such breath-taking images of phenomena so large and so far away that we can barely understand the numbers, fuelled my drive through my undergraduate Physics degree and into my Astrophysics PhD. It was during my PhD that I found out that, while I enjoyed research and trying to piece together the infinite puzzle of the cosmos, I really came alive when explaining what I knew to others. I found that I really wanted them to understand what I was saying, and spent time coming up with analogies that I could use to explain complex physics ideas with everyday items. Overtime my passion for my outreach work grew, and I found myself wanting to pursue this career path once I finished my doctorate.

I was lucky enough to work for a time as the Outreach coordinator in the UCL Physics and Astronomy Department with the Ogden Trust, a Physics educational charity. While I loved my role enthusing children and adults alike about the wonders of Physics, I found that very few people considered Physics to be something they were good at, or something they wanted to do as a career. This was especially true for girls. I was asked, time and time again, ‘what can I do with Physics?’ and ‘what is Physics good for?’ Each time I would answer with examples of how Physics influences the world we live in, from the physical, mechanical laws that govern how we move and understanding the patterns in the stock market, to the design of their TV at home. In truth, people with a Physics background, whether A-level, degree or further study, work in a huge range of fields beyond the typical research scenario; engineering, finance, software design, film production, journalism and analytics to name just a few. There are even several high profile fiction authors with Physics degrees.

Physics teaches you to think in a very analytical way. It encourages you to interpret the information you receive, and think about whether it is sensible or realistic; an excellent skill to have in today’s world of media bias and ‘fake news’.

Whenever I ran events aimed at the general public I found that, while many people find Physics interesting, they would never consider a career that uses Physics because they ‘didn’t understand Physics at school,’ or had no idea how to go about getting into a Science career. Because of this reaction I found myself increasingly working more and more in schools, both primary and secondary, focused on changing children’s perception of what a career in Physics really entails. I tried to encourage them, particularly the girls, that it was a subject they could enjoy, and more importantly be ‘good’ at, because they found it interesting. When I was approached by Pavilion Books to write Cool Physics I jumped at the chance, as it gave me the opportunity to try my hand at explaining some of the most interesting and complex phenomena in Physics in a way that was accessible to a younger audience – something that is not often attempted! I wanted to include a mix of explanations and practical experiments that could easily be carried out at home and, hopefully, inspire some of those who read it to want to know more, or even consider a career in Physics one day!

Today I work as Head of Physics in a North London girls’ school, trying to inspire girls about Physics and show them that it’s a subject they can understand and enjoy, and that is relevant to the world in which they live. I aim to inspire my students in the same way I was inspired at school by Mrs McCann, and between myself and the other Physics teacher we must be doing something right as Physics is currently the 4th most popular subject for A-level in the school! However, through my teaching I can only inspire the students who come into my classroom, whereas with Cool Physics I have the opportunity to reach a much wider audience. Hopefully it will encourage an older audience to give Physics another try, or show the next generation how awesome Physics can be, and more importantly how much we still don’t know. I hope some of them will be encouraged to work towards something yet to be discovered!

Cool Physics by Sarah Hutton is out now, £9.99 hardback, published by Pavilion, and you can buy it here. There are ten Cool books in the series, covering Architecture, Art, Astronomy, Maths, Mythology, Nature, Philosophy, Physics and Science Tricks. You can read MinervaReads review of Cool Mythology here 

 

All Aboard the Discovery Express by Emily Hawkins and Tom Adams, illustrated by Tom Clohoshy-Cole

The first thing that grabs the reader is that the whole book looks like a movie. From the first page, a night-time scene of a train on a platform, which introduces the characters who steer the reader through the book, to the final farewell: an air shot of a plane flying above a train on a bridge, a landscape of sailing boats on rivers, and vast plains spread out below. For this is no ordinary fact book about transport – this combines superior graphics, a mystery to solve, and time travel, all wrapped up in an information book that imparts knowledge on transport firsts, transport inventors, the mechanics of pedals, the Panama Canal, steam trains, steam boats, motorcars, hot air balloons and much more.

On the first page, the reader is invited to board the train, but also learns that the expedition’s leader has mysteriously vanished. The idea is to solve the mystery of his disappearance whilst learning about the history of vehicles.

Each spread depicts a different visually cinematic scene, with paragraphs to explain concepts and to further the mystery, as well as information illuminating the science behind the concept in small text or diagrams underneath flaps, which lift to give an extra dimension to the main scene. There are also clues to solve, such as riddles and codes. The first page introduces the invention of the wheel, by diagrams as well as text, and a rhyme to solve. There are tips given in tiny print, upside down, to help the reader. A map illuminates first vehicles around the world. What’s clever is that the reader becomes immersed in the scene depicted, which looks just very visual, but behind the flaps is an enormous amount of information (but all in bitesize chunks).

The overall effect is one of great excitement, as the momentum builds to show how humans have wanted to travel faster and further over time. The book incorporates engineering within the excitement of the transport race, and, as with the best books, communicates knowledge without it once feeling like a chore to learn. The execution is great, but the illustrations are stunning. Timeless, with a light effect that highlights the mysterious nature of the journey, whilst allowing cracks of realism through – the shadows cast by the vehicles themselves, the light from the coal fire on the steam train, the reflections on the window of the submarine.

The only (minor) flaw is the size of the print. In order to fit so much information behind the tabs, some of the typeface is really quite tiny, which makes it difficult to read. However, if the reader is willing to see this as one of the challenges to overcome in solving a mystery, then they’ll be richly rewarded by the end result. Overall, a triumph. Quality information and simply mesmerising to look at. Come aboard here.

Dinosaurs

One non-fiction area in the children’s bookshop or library that’s always teeming with books is the one labelled ‘dinosaurs’. With frequent new discoveries, it’s a fascinating time for anyone interested in the topic. Publishers are increasingly inventing new ways to look at dinosaurs, and these four books couldn’t be more different in their approach and target audience:


Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett
Nibbles first came to our attention last year, subversively nibbling through the pages of fairy tales, and introducing children to picture books through play and investigation. Now this cute monster is back in a book that attempts to introduce some non-fiction about dinosaurs, in an accessible and friendly, and again, slightly subversive way, as Nibbles tries again to eat his way through the book. (There are numerous cut-outs to see through, and flaps to lift). But this time, Nibbles is not contending with Goldilocks, but with a charging triceratops and a farting diplodocus. Combining story (Nibbles) with facts (dinosaurs), Yarlett introduces dinosaurs for the very young, but never talks down to them.

The book is colourful and chatty, and identifies each species in a friendly way – for example, triceratops was ‘roughly the length of a double decker bus’. Although there are more difficult words for a young reader, such as herbivore, they are only included if important, and mostly Yarlett allows the reader to relate to her text with sentences such as ‘Scientists say they had big bums and large stompy feet’. The whole book is a chase to find Nibbles, all the while exploring different species, and the book ends with a rather delightful joke about comets.

Illustrations are cute rather than scientific, but Yarlett manages to introduce the use of annotations and captions in a clever combination of non-fiction and playfulness. Another winner. Highly recommended. You can purchase it here.


Dinosaurium: Welcome to the Museum by Lily Murray and Chris Wormell
A long-awaited tome, and one of the best suited to the Welcome to the Museum series, this is an exquisite title for anyone interested in dinosaurs. The scientifically-rendered illustrations are actually digital engravings in full colour, although the colour is muted so that it doesn’t feel artificial.

In fact, the whole book has a scientific approach, although it is always clear, concise and accessible. Each species is examined in terms of how they ate, moved, lived and fought, and the book also explores the great span of time in which dinosaurs lived – and how they evolved and changed.

As with other books in the series, each species is given a full page illustration, or a horizontal half spread, with detailed accompanying text with a serious, intense amount of detail and full Latin names. Pronunciation may be a challenge, but the amount of knowledge imparted here is awesome.

Particularly inspiring is the cladogram (dinosaur family tree), and the fascinating chapter at the end on non-dinosaurs (including mammals, reptiles, extinction and survivors).

This is one of the most comprehensive and enticing books on dinosaurs produced recently, and seeing as we are in a golden age of dinosaur discovery and understanding, this is an apt and beautiful addition to the dinosaur canon. You can purchase it here.


Make and Move Mega: Dinosaurs by Sato Hisao
Not so much a book, as a paper making activitity, this pack contains five dinosaur models, flat-packed, to press out, slot together and play. There are levers included so that each dinosaur can move and ‘roar’ when the levers are pulled. T-Rex, triceratops, apatosaurus, stegosaurus and pterandon are included, and no scissors or glue are needed.

However, as I embarked on the venture with a willing ten year old, we found that brains are most certainly needed. This is not a ‘cute’ activity for a young child, but a technically quite difficult paper folding and slotting experiment. The lengthy instructions are laid out in graphics without text, much like an Ikea piece of furniture, and there is just a simple paragraph at the beginning introducing each species.

The good news is that we did succeed. A model was made, complete with levers, although I’m not sure ours was exactly as the toy engineer author intended.

A lengthy task, but the paper is sturdy enough that none was torn during the making, and a satisfying conclusion was reached! An excellent rainy day activity for an older dinosaur enthusiast.


The World of Supersaurs: Raptors in Paradise by Jay Jay Burridge
And lastly, this Jurassic Park novel that sets out to describe a world in which dinosaurs never died out, and humans live side by side with the creatures. From the cover, the reader can already see that living together may not always be harmonious, and there’s plenty of adventure within.

Bea Kingsley’s explorer parents went missing eleven years prior, when Bea was just a baby, and now she is venturing with her grandparents to the Indonesian islands of Aru, ostensibly on holiday, but it’s also the last place her parents were seen. The islands are also home to the elusive Raptors of Paradise, and before long there is trouble.

The book reads like an old-fashioned adventure, and the frequent black and white illustrations enhance this idea (in fact I sometimes felt as if they had been inspired by Westworld or Indiana Jones). The book is set in a fictional 1932 and belongs to a time in which people voyaged by sea, there were trading companies, and girls were expected to behave in a certain way.

This is one of many enjoyable subversive facets to the dinosaur story – in that the protagonist is female, and the author shows her grandparents also adventuring, rather than being discarded at the outset. The text in places is a little clunky, but most readers will happily skip through the story, as the action comes fast, and readers will be eager to use the app that accompanies the text to explore the many illustrations.

The Supersaurs app (crucially available on both android and apple) uses augmented reality with a camera to bring the illustrations to life – they literally ‘pop up’ from the page, and are easy to use and hugely effective (as well as being enormous fun). There’s also an option to ‘play’ with the book too, using the app to seek features in the book. It’s clever and engaging.

The book contains a heavy appendix with dinosaur descriptions.The Supersaurs brand neatly brings old and new together, and is worth noting for super dinosaur enthusiasts. First in a series. You can purchase it 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 Beautiful Game

Football has always been a part of my life. I’ve never played, but I’ve watched and been lucky enough to visit many stadiums in Europe. But the reason I call it ‘the beautiful game’ is because for many of my reluctant readers, football can be a great pull into reading. This latest crop of books appeals in many different ways – each book may be ‘football themed’, but each is distinct in its approach and subject.

striker boyStriker Boy by Jonny Zucker
Nat has spent most of his life travelling with his father, after his mother died, leaving them both heartbroken. Most particularly, he spent a year in Brazil, honing his incredible football talent. When Nat and his father move back to England when Nat is thirteen, he is appalled at the house his father has bought, and completely fed up. But then he plays a footy game in the park, and every boy’s dream comes true for him – he is spotted by a scout.

The scout is from Hatton Rovers, the team he supports. However, there is more than one problem. Hatton Rovers is facing relegation and the club needs saving. Nat is only 13, but tall enough to pass for 16. Will they break all the rules and sign him up for professional football?

When the unthinkable happens and he starts training with the first team, it turns out things are even more complex than he thought, and the club’s veteran striker takes an instant dislike to him. As Nat suspects all is not what it seems, a sports reporter suspects the same about Nat…

This is a fun, exciting and pacey book with a solid main character. What’s more, the plot goes beyond football and delves into thriller territory with plenty of action on and off the field.

Footballing readers will envy Nat for his rare talent and luck in being spotted, but there is also evidence of much camaraderie among certain team mates, and the volatility of training – the on/off days, injury and team selection. Overall, Zucker shows that players are rewarded for hard work and loyalty, but that even within the golden world of top-flight first team football, there are moral dilemmas to face.

The most striking quality about Striker Boy though, is the complete zest and enthusiasm Jonny Zucker shows for the game, his characters and the story. It makes the reader want to be a teen again, to be trying out for a team again, and retain the dream of playing for a top side.

Nat is so engaging as a main character, a fabulous yet flawed boy with an empathetic nature and a good heart, so that the reader can’t help but root for him, even when he makes wrong choices. Every manager would want this kid in their team, and every librarian will want this book in their library. An excellent novel for age 8+ years.

The book has been re-published to raise awareness of mental health, after the very sad passing of author Jonny Zucker. Profits from the book are being donated to the charity Mind. You can buy it here.

kickKick by Mitch Johnson
Twelve-year-old Budi works full time in a sweat shop factory in Jakarta stitching, or, if the foreman’s feeling mean, boxing football boots. He dreams of playing for Real Madrid like his hero Keiran Wakefield. But Budi’s life is a million miles away from his hero’s. Life in Jakarta is hard: he doesn’t live in the deepest slums, but there is no money for his education, and his family are struggling to get by.

One day, when he’s playing football with his friends, and they kick a ball through the window of local landlord and gang leader The Dragon, Budi will have to risk everything to pay his fine or end up dead.

This is a startlingly refreshing football novel in that it introduces a whole new way of looking at the beautiful game, and also gives an interesting perspective on a very different way of life, far removed from its Western world readers. Although some of it may be shocking to some young readers (it does contain a reference to prostitution and does climax with some violence), and the way of life itself may shock others, it also shows the similarities between football-mad children across the world. The things that Budi has in common will resonate here, such as an ongoing interest in food, football mania – both watching and playing – and most of all friendship.

In fact, above all, this is a beautifully perceptive tale of friendship between Budi and his older friend Rochy. Rochy is certainly more worldly wise, but he lives in even worse circumstances than Budi. In the end, though, the sacrifices he makes for Budi pay off, and the novel ends surprisingly, although without resorting to complete fairy tale transformation.

There is also the burgeoning relationship between Budi and his grandmother, as she relates stories to him that help him to make sense of his world, and his place within it, as well as steering him towards making the right choices in life.

The one weakness in the text is the reader’s difficulty in envisioning Budi’s entire situation. The streets and his home don’t feel described fully enough to visually create a sense of place in the reader’s mind, but Budi as a character is so well-rounded and his dreams so delineated, that it’s easy to fall under his spell.

This is a clever way into discussing other issues in the guise of a football story, and as the pundits say, ‘nice one’. You can buy this novel for 9+ years here.

iniesta Bale Gerrard

Ultimate Football Heroes: Iniesta, Bale and Gerrard by Matt and Tom Oldfield
I honestly can’t get enough of this series of books, and nor can my library kids. These three are the latest to pop through my letterbox. The books have now divided into two series: Ultimate Football Heroes, which features popular players of the moment such as Iniesta and Bale, and Classic Football Heroes (which everyone wants to be eventually), which focusses on retired all-time favourites such as Gerrard. Each book is a self-contained biography of the individual player, but written in a child-friendly accessible way.

With each there is much to admire. Particular highlights for me are the amount of dialogue within each text – there is lots of engaging conversation to move the story along – and also the underlying message in each text, that no matter the person’s talent, it still takes an incredible amount of hard work, determination and ambition. No one wins medals by taking their journey for granted. In the Iniesta book, the authors are keen to show his innermost thoughts and fears at the start – a young player being away from his family, but kept in check and reassured by teammates. The language may not be the most literary, but as a way into reading for the target age range, this is a great jumping off point.

These newer additions also have some extra data and YouTube web links at the back of the book for watching videos of key moments. I’m not a huge fan of web links – they are so easy to get wrong, but the few I tried worked, and it’s a neat way of enticing the reader. Pick your player here.

football academy

F2 Football Academy: How to Play Like a Pro by F2 Freestylers
If you’re a fan of YouTube and football, then this last book will probably appeal. Written by Billy Wingrove and Jeremy Lynch, known as the F2, these two men present football entertainment, tutorials on skills, and banter on their YouTube channel. The book is a spin-off; the text reads as they would speak it: “Our tekkers was bang on form.” It’s certainly not for everyone, but for fans, it treks through Brazil, tactics, skills, injuries, interviews, and is packed with full colour photographs and solid advice, such as to keep on trying. You can buy it here.

DK 13½ Incredible Things You need to Know About Everything


My first book of the week for National Non-fiction November has to be this incredible fact book from Dorling Kindersley. It just screams excitement from the first page because the images are bright and striking, and the pages glossy and thick.

For me fact books tend to separate into two groups – those you dip into for random facts, and those that specialise on certain topics and that are organised like an encyclopaedia so the focus on subjects comes in sections. This one definitely falls into the ‘random facts’ group – the sort of book a reader dips into to discover something about a topic they’d never considered before.

There are more than 80 topics, each with 13 distinct facts, and then a ‘half fact’ that aims to ‘bust’ a myth about the topic. So for example, on auroras, the book’s half fact points out that the northern lights don’t just happen at night, they also happen in the day, but are too faint to see by eye alone.

Each double page spread has a large image dominating the centre, but each varies so that some are mind-blowing images that almost fall out the book – such as the photographic close up of a fly, a supercell tornado, or the rather scary open jaws of a rattlesnake, but other images are blown apart – such as the scorpion illustration, which shows the creature dissected on the page so that all the distinct parts are visible (including stomach and venom gland). A particular favourite is the ‘Time Flies’ page, which features a modern watch also blown apart to show the constituent parts and workings. Clever, informative and rather beautiful at the same time.

Other pages show diagrams to extrapolate meaning and understanding, particularly on technical topics, and annotations throughout the book tell the reader what they are seeing.

The random page order means that it really is a book for dipping into rather than an encyclopedic tome for homework, but it can still be useful. We used the double page on chocolate for a project on chocolate, and made the study of ‘matter’ interesting by looking at the cool images of spilt drinks, as well as absorbing the helpful diagram of the different states of matter on the same page.

The information ranges across the spectrum from animals to science, history to transport. The text is well written – it’s absorbed well and memorable and there are even some new facts that I hadn’t come across before on these sorts of topics (bearing in mind I worked in children’s non-fiction for many years). This is a great addition for a school library, but also really, a perfect gift for that child who loves to dip into facts and amaze their friends and parents with them. (All children, then). You can buy it here.