Tag Archive for Newman Ben

Back to School

The autumn always sees a mega haul of children’s nonfiction – the back to school collections, lists for National Non Fiction November, and of course the Christmas gift treasure troves. This year, unlike the wet harvest, has yielded a bumper crop.

We start the day with maths. Always a slog after the long summer holidays, this book aims to reverse that groan with a rather wonderful premise – from the front cover, the reader is a genius: This Book Thinks You’re a Maths Genius, by Dr Mike Goldsmith, illustrated by Harriet Russell. It aims to prove that if the reader likes patterns, colouring and puzzles, then actually they’re good at maths. Taking basic mathematical concepts, such as geometry, measurements, statistics, and number patterns, it gives the reader activities and games to enhance their knowledge. Most pages have a ‘Where’s the Math’s box’ at the bottom to explain the ‘science’ behind the activity. It feels more heavily weighted towards shapes and patterns than basic numbers, but it was certainly fun to fill in.

Geography next, with two books to explore. The first, Animazes, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon also combines the territory of activity book with non-fiction, as readers can trace the mazes on each page to learn about the migration patterns of different animals. There’s a vibrancy and exuberance to this book – set by the vivid colour palate, which lifts the knowledge from the page. Christmas Island red crabs, wildebeest of the Serengeti, Monarch butterflies, Mali elephants…There’s a wealth of phenomenal facts about these wonderful animals – for general use or project use. Maze answers are given at the back of the book.

For those wanting a more straightforward factual book, Starters: Rainforests by Nick Pierce and illustrated by Jean Claude ticks the box for little ones. Basic layouts and colourful simple illustrations lend this a modern textbook look, and it reads plainly, but overall gives information in a neat concise visual way, with glossary, and index. Great for Key Stage One, and will bring a dazzling intensity of colour to the topic.

After break, it’s biology, using Bugs by Simon Tyler for budding entomologists. With the first 32 pages devoted to dissecting insect life – from anatomy to taxonomy, life cycle to senses, and the rest given to large colourful illustrations of individual species with accompanying small details about size and habitat, this is a comprehensive look at the subject. However, it stands apart with its impressive use of blank space on the page, clean lines, and coloured backgrounds, which all give the book both a vivacity and a clinical feel. Rarely have insects looked quite so engaging, it could almost double as a coffee-table splendour. Inspirational for children, a minibeast triumph.

You can’t beat a good historical narrative for history lessons. Philip Ardagh’s new series sets out to dominate the market here with his ‘faction’ books, illustrated by Jamie Littler. The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge explores the life of a medieval knight with as much tongue-in-cheek humour as sword-in-hand fighting. Written in day-by-day diary form, with footnotes giving factual information or terminology, the next in the series is The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny, Victorian Housemaid.

The Histronauts series aims to mash activity, story and non-fiction in its first two titles, An Egyptian Adventure and A Roman Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke. A group of children dive back in time, and through the means of a comic strip, they illuminate facets of historical life. There are activities alongside the narrative, such as learning Roman numerals and how to play merellus, as well as mazes, recipes and a host of other factual information. Packed with detail, these are fun and educational.

For a more visual look, try Unfolding Journeys: Secrets of the Nile by Stewart Ross and Vanina Starkoff. More cross-curricula than anything, this geography/history hybrid aims to explore this part of the world with a fold-out, vividly yellow map of the Nile (not to scale), highly captioned with number points, which are then extrapolated on the reverse of the fold-out. A mixture of ancient and modern facts and points of information make this a tricky landscape for a child to navigate – a few more dates might have helped, (and I’m unsure about the James Bond reference inside) but it’s certainly an intriguing way to look at a place of interest.

After lunch, younger primary school children will be delighted to get their hands on Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System by Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman. A new title in this series, but firmly aimed at a younger age group, this is another gem from publishers Flying Eye. Fantastic, familiar cartoons, accompanied by Professor Astro Cat’s chatty and informative dialogue, this would be my go-to book for teaching KS1 children about space for the first time.

With our first day at school completed, we look forward to a trip out. The National Gallery have two phenomenal companion books to touring – Get Colouring with Katie by James Mayhew, and Picture This! By Paul Thurlby. The Katie books by James Mayhew have long been favourites for introducing the youngest children to art, and this is a great companion title that picks out paintings within the gallery and gives children space on the page to colour a detail in their own way. Katie gives hints and explanations along the way. Paul Thurlby’s spiral bound book explores more of the paintings by featuring a picture of them, and then a small explanation, with occasional questions to the readers. The paintings are grouped in different ways – both historical, but also those featuring children, times of day, fashions etc. It might be frustrating without a knowledge of which room each painting is in (which the book doesn’t give). But the questions it poses are pertinent and thoughtful. You can buy all these books from good local bookshops, or click the Waterstones link on the top left of the page.

 

Summer Reading Suggestions

It’s that time of year – a month off for MinervaReads and a sumptuous summer booklist for readers.

a fun abcoddbods

For the youngest, my top recommends include A Fun ABC by Sade Fadipe and Shedrach Ayalomeh, a rhyming ABC book set in Africa. With full colour, exquisitely detailed pictures on each page showing children what life is like in Africa as Adinah goes on an adventure during her school break to visit her grandfather. Not only showing the ABC, but also filled with delightful visual puzzles, such as how many objects beginning with the same letter are hidden within each picture – T is for table but also for tambourine, tomatoes, torch and teapot. An infectiously bouncy and lively book, bursting with colour and exuberance.

Equally colourful and with rhyming text and an alphabet theme, is OddBods by Steven Butler and illustrated by Jarvis. Weird and wonderful children and personalities laid out on each page, explaining why everyone has their own quirks and strange habits. Hugely funny, and embracing individuality.

great aaa ooosnappenpoop

Be prepared to join in wholeheartedly with The Great Aaa-Ooo by Jonny Lambent, a picture book filled with noise and laughter, as the animals try to work out who is making the great aaa-ooo noise in the woods. Lambent’s wonderful collage-style layering with different textures for each animal brings to mind his first picture book, Little Why, yet this goes one better in its animal expression, body language, and plotline. The text begs to be read aloud, the fears of the animals are assuaged, and there’s a surprise ending too.

There’s No Such Thing as a Snappenpoop by Jeanne Willis and Matt Saunders explores sibling relationships, especially during summer days in the garden. Fabulously written, with real feeling, and both brothers masterfully depicted by Saunders – reminiscent of the boys from On Sudden Hill. This is more playful though, both in picture and words, as meanies get their comeuppance.

lucinda belindanara and the island

Jeanne Willis also gives Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool, illustrated by Tony Ross what she deserves in this sparky picture book that extends all the way up the age range. With a message that looks aren’t everything; but it’s what’s inside that counts, ironically the book portrays the moral with such panache and style that it’s lucky the message in the book lives up to its looks. A brilliant picture book that manages to be as cool as a pop star.

For something altogether gentler and quieter, try Nara and the Island by Dan Ungureanu. Muted pastel colours, a thoughtful story of friendship and imagination, exploration and discovery – it feels contemporary and old-fashioned synonymously. Beautiful depictions of islands in the sea make this a joyful and peaceful summer read.

puglycaptain pugcaptain firebeard

Newly independent readers will be well rewarded in their reading with Pugly Bakes a Cake by Pamela Butchart, a hilariously funny tale about a Pug who wants to bake a cake, yet gets himself stuck in the cat flap instead. An array of comedy characters, slapstick in abundance and illustrations by Gemma Correll, everyone will fall about laughing with this great story. Further adventures of pugs in Captain Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans, with a slightly more sophisticated pug owner, and a very loveable pug, who can’t help getting into scrapes. Fully illustrated, funny and rewarding. More seafaring in Captain Firebeard’s School for Pirates by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Anna Chernyshova, this is a book that won’t get lost on the beach – it’s luminous orange – throughout! It’s Tommy’s first term on board the Rusty Barnacle learning to be a pirate – tests galore for the young piratey ‘uns, and an author who’s gone mad with the seafaring metaphors.

jim reaper 2max crumblypoppys place

Readers age 8 and over may enjoy the second in the Jim Reaper series, Saving Granny Maggot by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jamie Littler in which Jim has accepted that his Dad is the Grim Reaper, but is not quite fully okay with him killing his best friend’s grandmother. More laughs, more subversiveness. Watch out for Jamie Littler’s wonderful illustration of Granny Maggot dancing. Dork Diaries fans may be interested to hear that author Rachel Renee Russell has produced a new series about a boy called Max Crumbly entering middle school. Max loves comics and in the first in the series, The Misadventures of Max Crumbly, Locker Hero, he has to face school thug, Doug Thurston. Told in first person, with numerous illustrations, lined text pages and comic strips, this is easy summertime reading ‘a la Wimpy Kid‘ for those who may be reluctant. And for animal lovers, Poppy’s Place by Katrina Charman is a delightfully gentle feel-good series about the Palmer family who turn their home into a cat sanctuary and café. Friendship, family and beautiful illustrations by Lucy Truman – the second book in the series has just been published.

whispers of wilderwoodapprentice witchgym teacher alien

A host of meaty middle grade titles (for 9-13 years) land this summer, and are perfect for complete immersion in the garden, on the sofa while it rains, or if you’re lucky, next to a swimming pool. The Whispers of Wilderwood Hall by Karen McCombie sweeps the reader into a Downton Abbey-esque past, with a contemporary heroine who time travels and yet retains a precise sense of self – she’s likeable, flawed and intensely real. A contemporary novel that shows what family and friendship are all about. Another hugely likeable character is Arianwyn in The Apprentice Witch by James Nicols, who demonstrates supreme grit and determination with huge warmth and charm. Arianwyn is a trainee witch, who rises from failure to triumph in a book that lifts the spirit and teaches heart.

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons follows the success of My Brother is a Superhero, and continues in the same vein with Luke’s resentment at his brother’s superhero status, incorporating the same wit as before, references to comics and superheroes, and with gadgets and evilness. It’s funny and pacey – but would be best read as a sequel rather than a standalone. See also my books of the week, The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison, and Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker. Also for this age group, and great summer reads.

five hundred milesriver of inkjessica ghost

For older readers, I highly recommend short and yet compelling Five Hundred Miles by the hugely talented Kevin Brooks – darkness oozes from his novels like treacle from a jar. His first full length YA novel since The Bunker Diary comes out in the autumn – this is a good warm up. River of Ink by Helen Dennis will keep the reader gripped and mystified throughout. It features a wonderfully enigmatic protagonist, a sassy girl and her deaf brother, and stays in the memory long after reading. Not only that, but the pages are interspersed with intriguing images, which also keep the reader guessing. Book two in the series has just been published, and it’ll be in my suitcase – book three is on pre-order. Meanwhile, Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norris is released in paperback and is one of the most perfect novels I have read – easy to read, sharp, interesting characters, a mystery with perfectly crafted cliff-hanger ‘what happens next’ sentences at the end of almost every chapter – this is an emotionally astute, well-told, loving story with exceptional characters and one you’d be mad to pass on. Definitely the pick of the summer.

historium activityprofessor astro activitypierre maze colouring

For those who want something more hands-on, Historium Activity Book by Richard Wilkinson and Jo Nelson takes the reader inside the museum to recreate ancient artworks, spot differences, answer artefact questions and explore ancient mazes. For pure history buffs with a creative bent. Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book by Zelda Turner and Ben Newman includes experiments, codes, quizzes, crafts and more, all related to the science of space. Learn and play at the same time, this will keep them busy all summer. It looks good, feels good and teaches well. And lastly for pure fun, try Pierre the Maze Detective and the Great Colouring Adventure by Hiro Kamigaki and IC4Design. Like a Where’s Wally to colour in with puzzles to solve – finding objects, navigating mazes. Enormous fun, hours of entertainment (answers at the back to avoid frustration).

Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman

astro cat atomic adventures

This is an oversize square book, packaged in a beautifully textured hardback with the now familiar illustrations of Professor Astro Cat adorning the cover (we previously saw and loved him in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space). The Atomic Adventure aims to explore the scientific laws of the Universe, ie, physics.

It poses and answers questions such as where does electricity come from? How do we see colours? How does a boat float? Why is the sky blue? And many many others. As in the previous title, this author cat addresses the reader in the first person – so that I am talking to you. This is a great way to pull the reader into the book:

“If I jump in the air or throw a ball really high, I know that the ball and I will always return back to the ground. This is because of gravity, which is an invisible force that pulls us down to the ground.”

Not only does the text pull in the reader, but it’s interactive too – suggesting experiments for the reader to partake in, (and not with a whole host of difficult ingredients, but simply and easily, such as measuring time with a stopwatch, and spraying a hose on a sunny day to make rainbows).

One of my favourite pages is ‘The Man Behind the Cheese’. Not only does it explain the origin of the idea of atoms – but explains to the child that “It just goes to show that you can work out rather a lot just by thinking about things hard enough.” A lovely end to the tale of Democritus.

There’s also a great deal of humour and wit…from the text:

“There would be over ten trillion atoms right on that very tip of the pencil. That is CRAZY SMALL!”

As well as particularly, from the illustrations – a combination of comics, diagrams, cartoons – Ben Newman has used many different ways to illustrate the various scientific concepts, with our Astro Cat but also Astro Mouse guiding the way.

Great colour dynamics dominate the book, reflected in the blue, orange and yellow of the cover. It gives the book a distinctive look and flavour, but also manages to focus the mind when perusing the book – I was completely engrossed and lost inside it – my physics teacher would be proud. The design is elegant, well thought out, and perfectly executed.

Delightfully, as in the previous space title, the book doesn’t purport to be the final frontier. In fact, it talks about things scientists are trying to do in the future, rather than wrapping it all up in the present. Yes, this means at some point the book will date, but seeing as all non-fiction books date at some point, it’s rather refreshing to have concrete speculation, such as the scientists using the idea of ridges in gecko feet to make amazing new materials, as well as working on lenses that never blur.

Written by a quantum computer scientist, this appears to be an incredibly comprehensive and trustworthy title, with complex ideas explained simply, and importantly, in a fun way. Digestible, easy to decipher science and a push for the reader to keep reading and discovering. A perfect key stage two accompaniment to school physics, or a tool for home learning – it certainly enlightened this non-scientific reader.

As I said, I’m no scientist, but one quibble as a reader is the order of the topics – it is surprising to me that gravity is the first page, but ‘forces’ aren’t introduced until much later. One reason may be the explanation that gravity is the reason the Earth was created – so there is some method to the order, I’m sure. My other quibble would be the lack of contents page (I’m a traditionalist), although I heartily approve of combining the glossary and the index. Something I’ve always thought was an excellent thing to do in non-fiction books for children.

Highly recommended – you can buy it here.

Space Books: Because there’s a solar eclipse happening!

As well as being National Science Week, on Friday March 20th the moon will pass directly between the Sun and the Earth, blocking out light for many. This is the biggest solar eclipse in Europe since 1999 and schoolkids up and down the country will be learning what it is (and viewing it through special glasses – eye protection is essential if viewing the eclipse.)

To further understand what happens beyond our world and sky, I’ve been looking at some information space books for children.

Look Inside Space

For your youngest astronauts, you can’t beat Usborne Look Inside Space. Published 2012, so in no way old and out-of-date, this is an exciting illustrated title for young enthusiasts. It has lift the flaps and fold-out-pages to provide interactivity, and covers getting into space, the moon, the International Space Station, stars, the solar system, galaxies and general questions at the back. It starts with very basic information:
“From space, Earth looks like a round ball. The blue bits are sea. The green bits are land.”
and progresses quickly on to how stars are born. The illustrations are friendly and yet informative – cute pictures of astronauts asking questions, but also good representations of what the different planets look like. It doesn’t feature the solar eclipse, but does have a lovely section on the history of star gazing. Aged 5 and over.

story of stars

My other favourite for this age group is Neal Layton’s Story of Stars, which I reviewed here.

professor astro cat

For further inspiration at a slightly older level, try Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space. Told in a chatty way, as if the Professor is talking directly to you, the book talks through many topics including the universe, birth of a star, galaxies, the sun, solar system and all the different planets, space travel, telescopes, the death of stars and the future. Each page is jam packed with information told in little nuggets with illustrations and also graphics to explain things. There are also funny pictures of Professor Astro Cat along the way to liven things up, but not in too childish a way – more comic like. The colours are muted but the pages feel lush and textured, so that you almost feel as if you’re looking through an art book, but about space. There are nice touches, such as explaining how big the planets would be if Earth was a cherry tomato, and using a balloon to show how a rocket works. There is so much information in this book that it has striking longevity and yet at no time seems overwhelming. The humour jumps out of every page too. A clever book, teaching facts while inspiring children. There isn’t an index, and I couldn’t find information on a solar eclipse, but I was struck by the illustrations and guide to constellations, and spent a great deal of time looking at this. Aged 8 and over.

Collins first book of solar system

For those children who just like hard facts without any of the illustrations or extra gimmicks, Collins My First Book of the Solar System suits the bill. Although the artworks are all detailed photographs taken in space or by telescopes, the layout and presentation is unexciting and fairly uninspiring. Saying that, this came top for one of my child reviewers, simply because the information is starkly laid out making the facts accessible and easy to gather. Each planet has a fact page, with crucial information such as length of day, distance from sun, diameter etc. There are graphics to show orbits and position in space, as well as a timeline of man’s exploration of space. A quiz and comprehensive glossary at the back, with clear text throughout. It does feature both solar and lunar eclipses on the moon page. Recommended for fact gatherers aged 8 and over.

Other series that have titles on space and are frequently found in school libraries, although maybe not so much in homes, because they tend to look more educational are 100 Facts: Space, and Fact Cat the Moon.

fact cat moon100 facts space

Much more ‘educational’ looking than those reviewed above is Fact Cat the Moon from the Fact Cat series of space books, each title of which goes into slightly more depth on each subject. It features photographic graphics rather than illustrations, each clearly labelled, and asks questions of the reader as well as giving easy to understand information. The book covers topics from what is the moon? to its surface, inside, cycle, and man exploring the moon – but each page is fairly simple and contains the minimum of information to suit the age group. I couldn’t find anything about solar eclipses, and I was frustrated by a rather silly demonstration about the moon’s orbit, but I liked that it included information about tides. Aged 6yrs and over.
100 Facts about Space is more exciting and has 100 paragraphs throughout the book giving information – illustrated with a mixture of photographs and artworks. There are cartoons interspersed with these paragraphs, entitled ‘I don’t believe it’ giving extra facts, and some good graphics, such as the moon cycle, and location of the planets. There is a feature on solar eclipses, and a diagram to show what happens. It’s a colourful and lively book. Aged 8+.