Tag Archive for Baker Kate

Use Your Imagination

story-path

We read and read and read in library club. Sometimes the children read to themselves, and I always read a story to them. But what we like to do most is guess what’s coming next in the story – and to do this we have to use our imaginations. Sometimes our guesses are wildly inaccurate, and sometimes they’re correct. But one book for which there is no correct answer, is Storypath by Madalena Matoso and Kate Baker.

Reminiscent of You Choose, or Just Imagine by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt, Storypath guides the reader to make their own choices about the story they want to read.

Set out in bold illustrations with a vibrant colour palate, the reader chooses their first character from princess, vampire cat, five-legged octopus, space monkey or leopard, and is launched onto the story path. On each page there are things to choose, such as extra characters, settings, gifts, and further questions about the choices made, such as the noise the transport might make and its speed. Wrapped into the story are jokes and humour, such as funny hats and walking elephant teapots, but in essence, it’s still up to the reader to decide how funny they want their story to be. Suffice to say, my library club were rolling on the floor once they had chosen their space robot and his magical banana pencil case.

The book can assist in teaching basic sequences and scaffolding of stories – choosing characters, taking them along a path, meeting another character, facing a problem and resolving it, eventually going back home. It’s up the reader to add in the nuances of how the character might develop from their experiences, but for the youngest reader, this is a fun playtime with storybook princesses, monsters, vampire cats and aliens. The joy, of course, is that each reading is completely different. Reading this aloud to a group of children means that each chooses different twists and turns, and there can be much discussion about the choices they’ve made.

A joy for teachers, and much fun for parents and children, this is a stunning new interactive storybook. You can buy it here.

child-of-books

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston have come at the idea of imagination in a different way in their new collaboration, using the inspiration of real classic children’s stories to simulate a new story in which the characters ride on the waves of the canon behind them.

A Child of Books tells the simple story of a girl leading a boy on an adventure, up a mountain, through a sea-filled cave and a wood, to escape a monster via a castle, up into space and home again. But each landscape is created by a sea of words. The mountain is illustrated purely by the lines of text from Peter Pan and Wendy, the cave by a mass of words jumbled together from Treasure Island, the trees in the wood are ingeniously portrayed as books standing tall, the monster a mess of words from, yes, Frankenstein. The last pages burst into colour as the girl explains that the world is made from stories, and here there are actual colour illustrations of items, such as a pink cat, a pirate ship, Red Riding Hood, a genie’s lamp, a black horse, a heart, an apple, a kite, and so on.

This is a homage to children’s literature. An attempt to show that each person is constituted in part from the stories or books they consumed as a child.

The boy and girl featured in the story are illustrated as ‘every child’, although the girl, in blue, is slightly ethereal, or ghostlike. It’s certainly a ‘gift’ purchase – the cover is gold-foiled, the overall appearance, that of a piece of treasure rather than the kind of picture book you’d see a toddler gnawing on. In fact, for older readers the artists have posed many questions – does the reader agree that our minds are constituted from stories, what does that mean and how does that affect what we read? What differences are there between those who have read from the canon and those who haven’t? And why have the artists chosen those particular colour images? This is a layered book of depth in meaning and thought, and so appealing to older readers, as well as to adults who like their nostalgic literature. This is a book that makes a large claim on the imagination, an aspirational tome. Buy it here.

are-we-there

In our urban world, one of the best places to use your imagination as a child, is whilst sitting in the backseat of the car. Dan Santat capitalises on this in his latest book, Are We There Yet? With a general concern that children aren’t being allowed to get ‘bored’ enough in today’s overstimulated society, car journeys without ipads are a perfect opportunity to let the mind wander, and Santat uses this oft repeated refrain to frame his picture book.

On a long journey to Grandma’s house for her birthday, a little boy gets bored. Santat even spells this out in the text accompanying the pictures, but then suggests the brain is almost a separate entity, and takes it (quite literally) on a whirl, by turning the pages upside down, and going backwards. The landscape falls back into history too, past the Wild West, a pirate ship, jousting knights, and even Ancient Egypt – the parents transported too (their incredulous expressions moving with the times).

Before long the book turns into a comic strip, and the images mesh together, the pages righting themselves, as Santat plays with the idea of how we experience time, (fast or slow) and moving forward into the distant future.

By the end, the brain’s exhausted from its travels, but the boy sprightly runs into his grandmother’s arms.

There’s much fun to be had with the time play, but also with the illustrations of the people within, from the parents in the car to the family gathering at grandma- as well as the gift given to her for her birthday.

There are many nice touches, from the speech bubbles of the characters to the second person narrative that pulls the reader into the story. But for me, it was the colour palate and illustrations that dominate – the car driving into a jousting ring, lighting it up with headlights, and the contrast of modernity and history. The dreamlike colour palate, the comic strip elements. If you can’t wait, buy it now in hardback, otherwise it’s out in the UK in paperback next spring. Let your imagination soar here.

Please note that the review of Are We There Yet? was based on a proof copy of the book, in which the text and illustrations may not have been final.

 

Highest Mountain Deepest Ocean by Kate Baker and Zanna Davidson, illustrated by Page Tsou

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The introduction to this over-size book tells the reader that it is a story of superlatives. The longest this, the largest that. It’s a celebration of the natural world, exploring amazing feats of nature, wonders around us, and inspirational marvels, all illustrated in a calming and muted colour palate, with intricate pencil work and astute attention to detail.

There’s no narrative to this book, it’s just a collection of facts, which many children will adore. But some pages do hold longer explanations, for example describing lunar and solar eclipses. What’s lovely about the text though, is that as well as being told in fairly simple explanations, there is a luscious sample of descriptive vocabulary, so that eclipses are ‘eerie’ and mountains are ‘majestic’. Temperatures can be ‘scorching’ while gases ‘spew’ through space. There are also touches of folklore here and there, weaving stories with facts.

But this is a book in which visual illustrations rule, obvious from the cover where the illustrator, not the author is credited. Illustrations are not to scale, nor all scientifically accurate – this book is about visual beauty leading the reader into the book, in the same way that the visual beauty of the world can give pause for further thought. And yet it also feels rather museumy, as if the Natural History Museum has come into your house, which is no bad thing. Illustrations are all captioned, sometimes with a label, sometimes a key, but no picture is superfluous to the whole – each illustration has a reason for its placement.

The book also gives an insight into cross-references, for example under the heading ‘Burrowing Animals’, it not only explains the deepest living animal ever found and at what point, but also, on the same page, extrapolates the deepest point ever visited by humans (there’s not much difference between the two measurements), as well as the deepest tree roots – so comparisons can be easily made and wondered at.

Stunning to look at, particularly the world’s largest butterflies, and the page entitled ‘Hottest, Coldest, Driest, Wettest Places’, which takes a round intersection of the Earth with different parts of the semi-circle annotated as to the four extremes. It’s a book that immerses the reader in a compendium of facts, as well as presenting the information in a way that feels almost historical, almost classical in approach.

It is part of the new golden era of children’s non-fiction, enticing children to make discoveries about scientific facts through beautiful presentation. It certainly sucks me in every time. A perfect holiday gift. Age 8+ years.

You can buy a copy here.

Animal Non-Fiction

I have been wondering about the ratio of children’s non-fiction books about animals, to children’s books about anything else. So many seem to feature animals – in the same way that picture books often use animals as a way of exploring human foibles, or pointing out the differences between humans and animals in a subconscious way. For children, animals can be the way into various topics – geography about where they live, how the food cycle works, our emotions and behaviour (through the differences and similarities with animals), the way we portray animals in art and photography, and the environment and how human behaviour affects it. Animals are an excellent frame of reference. After watching David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2 with children, it’s easy to see how exciting animal life can be.

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Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals
From the illustrator of Horrible Histories comes this adorable non-fiction approbation to all the brilliant beasts that never quite make it into your average animal encyclopedia. Who needs further facts about flamingos or information about iguanas when you can read about the Lesser Fairy Armadillo, the Dagger-Toothed Flower Bat or the Yellow-Footed Rock-Wallaby? The latter is not a pop star wannabe, just a wallaby.

Funny from the book’s dedication onwards, Brown separates the ‘celebrity animals’ we all know and love, such as the koala, from the animals featured in his book. Each creature receives a double page spread, with a large illustration and accompanying text and facts – size, eating, habitat, status etc. The text is informative, but also a cry for help – as some of them are endangered.

Brown gives each illustration its own animal personality – with rolled eyes, or sneaky smiles or in the Gaur’s case, a death stare. This makes the book wonderfully amusing at the same time as hugely memorable and informative. I can definitely picture many eight year old children entertaining me with their facts about creatures who may sound made up, but actually exist. It’s telling that this was one of my review copy books that was appropriated by a child almost immediately. I learnt that a male lesser fairy armadillo is called a lister. (if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see why that tickled me). Buy a copy here and have a good giggle.

wilderness

Wilderness: An Interactive Atlas of Animals by Hannah Pang, illustrated by Jenny Wren
Although not purporting to do anything particularly new in the realms of children’s non-fiction, this is a particularly appealing book for the young non-fiction readership. It firmly places animals within their geography, teaching chosen facts about specific animals, as well as placing them within their habitats so that everything from common animals to more exotic, surprising species are highlighted.

Each page is a different environment, from Desert to Fresh Water, for example, and species within the latter include the common frog and the kingfisher as well as the diving bell spider, which spends its whole life underwater. What’s particularly appealing is the 3D visual interactive features of each page – in Fresh Water, the common frog is bullet-pointed with facts about the tadpole-to-frog-story, but enhanced by the visual spinning wheel which illustrates each stage, complete with matching bulleted-numbers for easy reference.

The page on the Hot Savannah features such beauties as the African thorn tree and the sociable weaver bird, but also encourages the reader to go on safari themselves, as hiding beneath the camouflaging grass illustration is information about the grass itself and the lion and zebra. One ostrich egg opens to reveal the number of hen eggs to which it is equivalent in size. Read the book to find out!

Few readers will forget which pole is where, as the Arctic sits firmly on top of the Antarctic -the latter being portrayed upside down.

The first page gives a quick guide introduction – explaining the definition of habitat, giving a key to the different types, and explaining the hemispheres, but all in very simple basic language that is easy to understand.

Each page is a hardy cardboard, allowing for the 3D visual elements – such as the pop-up mountain, but also lending a longevity to this colourful, and thoughtfully put-together animal book. You can buy a copy here.

secrets-of-the-sea

Secrets of the Sea: Discover a Hidden World by Kate Baker, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor
The sort of children’s book that doubles as a coffee table manual, or a tome that could be smuggled under the duvet and inspire future generations of marine biologists. From the publishers of Botanicum, Animalium and Historium, comes a new scientific study in illustration – life beneath water.

From rockpools along the shore, to the deepest depths of the ocean, Eleanor Taylor zooms in on fascinating sea dwellers to show the reader the intense beauty and incredible detail of a rarely photographed or illustrated world.

Each page is given over to a different species, from the wondrous pygmy seahorse, ordinarily only 2 cm in size, here magnified to over 20 times, and in a glorious illustration that shows it clinging to its host sea fan by its tail. Text details are given alongside – from its size to Latin name, behaviour, habitat and other facts. The reader can look at even more minute creatures though, such as the 2 mm in size sea butterfly – a marine snail that uses its heart-shaped muscular foot as a pair of wings.

Or perhaps, look at something larger, but under a microscope. Taylor illustrates fish gills as seen under a microscope – they look like feathers, or leaves from an exquisite tree.

The book is split into sections – swimming from the Shallows, through Sea Forests, Coral Gardens and finally into the Deep. The use of background colour throughout the book reflects this, so that by the time the reader is studying creatures in the deepest part of the ocean, the book has turned almost black, yet with a grainy bubbles feeling, a swooshy watery sensation so that the pages almost look as if they are floating in water.

The artworks are a combination of various forms including ink and charcoal, although coloured digitally, and the effect is quite mesmerising. Seeing images in such microscopic detail does make the reader think twice about what exactly it is they are looking at – zooming in at such an intensity magnifies the beauty.

The text is informative, but also fairly descriptive – definitely aimed at a confident and learned reader. However, even the youngest sibling may be enamoured by the description and picture of ‘sea sparkle’, a single-celled organism that lights up the sea at night – otherwise known as ‘sea fire’ or ‘sea ghost’. Who wouldn’t be won over? This is very stunning-looking non-fiction book to inspire future generations and delight older ones. Age 8+ years. Buy your copy here.

on-the-trail-of-the-whalewhere-is-the-bear
Supersearch Adventures: On the Trail of the Whale by Camilla de la Bedoyere and illustrated by Richard Watson, and Where is the Bear? By Camilla de la Bedoyere and illustrated by Emma Levey
Doubling as an activity book and fact book, this is another non-fiction book in which the reader learns through play and fiction narrative.

The fold out glossy cover flaps show panoramic artwork and creature spotting tick boxes to work through as the reader goes through the book. On the Trail of the Whale follows Otto the Octopus as he tries to find his best friend Hula the humpback whale, whilst Where is the Bear? follows Suki the hare looking to deliver a present to a bear called Ping.

Both books allow the reader to traverse through particular landscapes spotting animals that live there, and finding out facts about them.

The drawings are cartoon-like and colourful, appealing well to the target readership, children aged five and over. The instructions are rhyming, but the facts written clearly, as speech bubbles from the various creatures. The story nicely splits up the facts, so that there is plenty of movement on each page – the adventure doesn’t stop.

There are even some maths problems lineated inside the book, asking the reader to work out numbers of legs and suchlike. Fun, bright, and following a simple narrative. Buy On the Trail of the Whale here and Where is the Bear? here.

knowledge-animal

Knowledge Encyclopedia Animal
It may not feature the lesser fairy armadillo, but this is a fairly comprehensive look at the animals of the world, using computer-generated artworks to capture the variety of the animal world, and the details of each individual animal.

Starting with the basic question of what is an animal, the book then breaks it down into classification and explores types of animals with sections on invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals – colour-coded for ease. Fully comprehensive, there is a scale for sizing, glossary, and a section on general animal science, including parenting and migration.

As this is a DK encyclopedia, the text is accessible without being patronising. It’s not chatty but not too dry either. It feels like a hefty purchase, with a myriad of different ways of putting across information including factfiles, closeups, skeletons and diagrams.

There is lots of white space, illustrations that are sharply annotated and labelled with captions that give oodles of information. The text is concisely edited, giving the maximum amount of information in the fewest words.

The Galapagos tortoise double spread includes fact titbits such as the age it lives to, but also close up of growth rings, the armour plate, information on its bony carapace, its beak and rivalry, as well as the difference between its front and hind feet.

Fully checked by the Smithsonian Institute, the book has also been rigorously looked at to suit the national curriculum up to Key Stage 3, covering components such as habitats and ecosystems as well as senses and respiration. What an incredible way to learn. You can purchase your copy here.