Tag Archive for Walliman Dr Dominic

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.


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.