Sunday, April 22, 2018

33 Non-fiction Books for Reluctant Readers (5-13 years)

I regularly do a post on non-fiction books for two reasons. First, all children need to have a good range of non-fiction books as well as narrative in their early reading life. Second, some children who are reluctant readers when faced with just narratives can be reluctant readers.

The latter is often more likely to occur with boys, and non-fiction can be a good way into reading.

I discuss this in greater detail in a post I did a number of years ago (HERE). The current post is a review of a range of good books published mostly in the last few years, that might appeal to the reluctant readers in your life. Some of the books have already been shared in other mixed review posts in the last few years.

I have arranged the examples I offer roughly in order of difficulty and age interest. It goes without saying that there are girls who are also reluctant readers, for whom non-fiction may also be more engaging.

1. 'Before After' by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui (Walker Books)

Everyone knows that a tiny acorn grows into a mighty oak and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. But in this clever, visually simple and yet stunning hardcover book, French artists Ramstein and Arégui do much more than offer a simple book of word concepts. They offer visual springboards to problem solving and imagination. The authors play with numerous hidden dimensions of one's view of the world. A view of a great mountain across fields can leave the fields as simple foreground, but what if the view of the mountain is from within the foliage that covers the ground? A rocket waiting on the launch pad is positioned next to a moonscape and offers a visual point of view across the moon's surface. A landscape that displays human footprints against a backdrop of a familiar distant planet. 

Turn a page and cooking ingredients sit next to a well decorated cake, and as we turn the page we encounter a mountain field complete with cow adjacent to a bottle of milk. The next double spread returns to the mountain field, but this time in the foreground we have an easel with a painting of the scene and the cow.

So the 'reader' is invited to contemplate how a cow can result in both a bottle of milk and a painting, an ape in a jungle may become an urban King Kong, a many-tiered cake is both created and eaten, a quill pen sits beside a typewriter, a pack of cards can transform into a pyramid and so on. These simple, graphic illustrations, gently tinted with pastel colours, will appeal to readers of all ages and will make them think and contemplate their world. This is a book that doesn't just explore the concepts of 'before' and 'after' it invites the 'reader' to reflect on time, perspective and reality. Readers aged 3 to 8 will be fascinated by this book.


2. 'Ambulance Ambulance!' by Sally Sutton & illustrated by Brian Lovelock

I've enjoyed and reviewed the wonderful work of award winning Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock before on this blog. Their attraction to big machines is a topic that many young readers enjoy, and previous books like 'Construction' and 'Roadwork' are great examples. They have teamed up again for 'Ambulance Ambulance!'.

Once again, the same simple, bright and action packed images support the simple text that exploits rhyme, onomatopoeia and action.

Bleep, bleep. Emergency! News just through: Crash, crash, there’s been a crash. Let’s go, crew!

Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar ...

Now what child 3-5 years old won't join in a shared reading of this book!


3. 'Crazy About Cats' by Owen Davey

This is part of Owen Davey's bestselling series.

Did you know that the fishing cat has partially webbed paws for catching fish? Or that pumas can leap over 15 feet into trees? There are roughly 38 species of cats today, each one superbly adapted to their environment - whether that be in the rainforest or the desert!

I have previously reviewed 'Smart About Sharks'. But your children will enjoy 'Mad About Monkeys' and many more books by Owen Davey. I love the almost geometric nature of the images, the beautifully toned colours and the multi-layered nature of the texts. Stunning work. Wonderful for children aged 4-8 years.


4. 'A is for Australian Animals', by Frané Lessac


If you haven't come across Frané Lessac before, you must correct this significant gap in your experience of children's literature. She is a U.S born author, illustrator and painter who currently lives and works in Western Australia. She has published over 40 books for children and won numerous awards for her illustrations. Don't assume that this is a simple alphabet book. While it adopts this form, this is a book that will deepen children's knowledge of some of Australia's most amazing animals. Each letter has one to three unique animals. Each has multiple illustrations with an introduction to each animal in larger font and then short paragraphs associated with separate illustrations. Every page has a depth of information in the varied texts and gorgeous illustrations that use the rich colours of the Australian landscape.


'The Blue-tongue is a lizard which, if threatened, puffs up its body, opens its mouth wide and sticks out its dark blue tongue'

'The Bilby is a desert-living marsupial with rabbit-like ears'
'Bilbies don't hop like a rabbit or jump like a kangaroo - they gallop like a pony'

A stunning book with carefully crafted text and stunning illustrations with a riot of colour and detail.

5. 'Funny Faces' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)

Dr Norman is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria where he leads the large and active natural sciences research team. He studies octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and nautiluses (the cephalopods). He is also a trained teacher, an educational display designer and an experienced underwater cinematographer. His research and projects with documentary makers including BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channel has covered giant squid, poisonous blue-ringed octopuses, huge aggregations of southern giant cuttlefish and diving surveys of remote Indo-Pacific coral reefs.

He has published a series of simple factual picture books framed by the word 'funny'. His first was 'Funny Bums' published in 2013. 'Funny Faces' is the second in the series. From oversized noses to bulging eyes, elaborate beaks to gigantic ears - the faces of some animals may look funny to us, but their peculiar features are exactly what those animals need to survive. Find out "Why the funny face?"

6. 'Funny Homes' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)


As with the first two books in this series Dr Norman  considers the complexity and beauty of the natural world, while at the same time considering its 'strangeness'. With his customary scientifically accurate and informative text, and stunning photographs, he invites us to explore aspects of the world around us. You see, some creatures live in funny places - prickly cactuses, dark caves, high treetops. These are strange places where humans would not survive for five minutes. Just why do these animals have such strange homes?

7. 'Funny Families' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)

The fourth book in Mark Norman's series has just been released in recent weeks, 'Funny Families'.

If you think your family is funny, imagine being a baby alligator carried around in its mother's mouth! Find out why some families of the animal world are so funny.

Inquisitive children and lovers of wildlife will enjoy this new title just as much as previous ones. As with the other titles they are suitable for readers aged 5-8 years.


8. 'A Kiwi Year: Twelve Months in the Life of New Zealand's Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tina Snerling


This book is the latest in a wonderful series that helps children to understand the different lives that children lead around the world. Each book takes the reader through a typical year to reveal the everyday celebrations, cultural events, special holidays, sport and lifestyle.

I have reviewed previous titles by this team on my blog - 'An Aussie Year', 'A Scottish Year' and 'An English Year' (HERE). Now it's time to find out what life is like in 'A Kiwi Year'. Each book in the series begins by introducing us to five children from diverse backgrounds. We then follow them through the year. As the seasons change, so too do the things children play, celebrate, learn and do. In January, some play 'cricket', plant veggies in the garden, go camping and enjoy summer holidays. In February, there are celebrations for Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day and hot weather at the height of summer. In March, there is a national Maori celebration (New Zealand's First People), the celebration of Pacific communities, 'Children's Day', and homework!

Children will love this simple but effective introduction to the life and culture of people from another land. Tina Snerling's wonderful images will have children wanting to dip into the book many times.

9. 'A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada's Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tina Sterling

Just as with 'A Kiwi Year', children are given an insight into the life and culture of another country - this time Canada! All the books in this splendid series offer so much more than any geography text for children ever could. The teacher in me wants to race off to a classroom to share this book as a basis for a whole unit of work on Canada.

What better way to understand a nation's history, social and cultural practices, natural wonders, climate and more. Children have the chance to view another culture through the eyes and experiences of the children who live it every day. Wonderful stuff! The texts are carefully crafted by Tania McCartney who doesn't waste a word, the descriptive text for each event or activity complements the illustrations, and judicious labelling also add depth with few extra words. Another great book to read from front to back, or to leave on the table to be dipped into over and over again. Each time, young readers will notice new things, have additional questions, and be actively learning about other cultures and nations.

10. 'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning. 


11. 'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide won the Eve Pownall prize for information books. This delightful true story of a great Australian character is based on Weidenbach's story of Tom Kruse who was the driver of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail. Once a fortnight for twenty years Tom loaded his Leyland Badger truck and drove 1,000 km across perilous territory on little more than a dusty dangerous rutted track. His job was to deliver mail and provisions to arguably the most isolated residents in the world. Tom was a great Australian character who lived in the middle decades of last century

The book is a version for younger children (aged 5-8 years) that Weidenbach has adapted into a delightful picture book for young readers. It offers just a small slice of the events of Tom's life. When floods cut the Birdsville Track, the station residents run out of supplies and worse still, the Birdsville Hotel runs out of beer! It takes Tom’s ingenuity to beat the floodwaters and get the mail and the beer through. Timothy Ide provides wonderfully detailed watercolour illustrations that add to what is already a compelling narrative account.

12. 'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book.

13. 'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

14. 'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This wonderful hard cover book from tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

15. 'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

16. 'You Can Draw Anything' by Kim Gamble

Kim Gamble is a well-known illustrator of Australian picture books. In this very accessible book he shows you how to draw just about anything you want to. Most how-to-draw books are either simple and recipe like or far too complex. The book offers principles and guidance for drawing many objects, including varied animals, people (bodies and faces), and landscapes including perspectives. He also offers techniques for shading and colouring. He intersperses the many diagrams and drawings with stories, jokes and examples that make the approach lots of fun, engaging and effective. It is ideal for children aged 7-10 years.

17. 'Locomotive', written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2013).

Floca is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including three Robert F. Sibert Honour Books: 'Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11', 'Lightship', and 'Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring', written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

'Locomotive' is the story a family’s journey across America in 1869 on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The star of the story is the steam engine, but a mother and her two children and all those who keep the train moving are essential extras as it races down the Californian coast.

For the true enthusiast of trains the author gives us plenty of technical information about 19th-century railroading. This is not surprising, as Floca seems to have aimed at a very broad audience. Some will be pulled along by rhythm of the story, others will love the train details, and some will revel in the sense of history (even in the very typefaces used). Floca uses free verse and as you'd expect plays with words and sound to great effect. 

The technical craft and book design are both brilliant, as Floca uses every device to good effect to engage readers in this exciting journey by an incredible piece of 19th century technology.

Even the way he uses his pictures provides a cinematic style that is hard to create, but which adds to the richness of the text. The detail in the illustrations is superb; it is as much draftsmanship as it is fine illustration.

'Locomotive' won the 2014 Caldecott Medal.

18. 'Kubla Khan: Emperor of Everything' by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan is not well known and has often been mentioned historically only indirectly or in passing. Who was the man who Coleridge described in his famous poem 'Kubla Kahn'? This is the presumed grandson of Genghis Khan who reputedly built the imperial city of Beijing, and fathered a hundred or more children. History and legend suggest that he ruled over the greatest empire of the time, and that it was more advanced than previous civilisations in science, art and technology. The narrative text is engaging and should hold the interest of young readers, and Robert Byrd beautifully illustrates the book. Readers aged 7-9 years will enjoy this 42 page illustrated book.



19. 'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight-month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.

20. 'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

21. 'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The words are used exactly as in the song. With Craig Smith's wonderful watercolour and line drawings they are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

22. 'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

23. 'Tales of the Greek Heroes' by Green Roger Lancelyn (Penguin, 2009)

The beautiful land of Greece is haunted by more than three thousand years of legend and history. In this gripping retelling of the Heroic Age, you'll meet the mighty Poseiden, God of the Sea; Zeus, the King of Heaven and Earth; Hades, Lord of the Dead; Artemis the Huntress; Aphrodite, Immortal Lady of Beauty and Love; and many more mortals and gods. Their adventures are some of the oldest and most famous stories in the world.

This collection of well-known Greek myths will be enjoyed by readers aged 11+

24. 'A Tale of Troy' by Lancelyn Roger Green (Penguin, 2012)

This book is a companion to 'Tales of the Greek Heroes'.

Step back into the Heroic Age with the story of Helen and the judgement of Paris; of the gathering of the heroes and the siege of Troy; of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. And join Odysseus, the last of the heroes – famous for his wisdom and cunning – on his thrilling adventures as he makes the long journey home to Greece.

Once again, perfect reading for children aged 11+

25. 'Tales of Ancient Egypt' by Lancelyn Green Roger (Penguin, 2011)

In this thrilling collection of the great myths, you'll encounter Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; Iris, searching the waters for her dead husband, Osiris; the Bennu bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told purely for pleasure, about treasure and adventure – and even the first ever story of Cinderella.

Ages 10+ will love this collection





26. 'The Dangerous Book for Boys' by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins)

As they say, this book is an 'oldie' but a 'goodie'. It offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.


27. 'Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea' by Stephanie Owen Reeder
This is a story about the courage of 16-year-old Grace Bussell. The year is 1876, when a steam ship, the 'Georgette', runs aground near Margaret River in Western Australia. On shore an ordinary 16 year-old girl sees the unfolding drama and heads off on horseback with the family servant Sam Isaacs to try to help the stranded passengers. Grace and Sam head into the water with their horses and rescue many people. Using eyewitness accounts and other historical documents as well as some slight embellishment to fill in details to sustain the narrative, Stephanie Reeder brings this true story to life.  This wonderful story is an excellent follow on from Stephanie Reeder's previous book, 'Lost! A True Tale From the Bush'. This previous story was also a true story. It told the story of 3 children who became lost on their way home in 1864 and spent eight days alone. It was shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA children's literature awards.  
28. 'The Boy from Bowral' by Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is known primarily as an illustrator but he is also a fine writer with 13 works of fiction and over 20 non-fiction. His most recent book as writer and illustrator is 'The Boy from Bowral' which tells the biographical story of Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman is seen as a legend in any cricket playing nation and Ingpen provides a lucidly written and historically accurate picture of Bradman's early life in Bowral, his rise to prominence as a cricketer, and his sporting career. The images are drawings based primarily on existing photographs, so the keen cricket fan (like me) will feel that they recognise some of them. The cover (which wraps around to the back) is a wonderful sequence of images that appear like a series of video frames that capture the classic Bradman cover drive. I loved this book and any cricket following child or adult will also enjoy it.

 29. 'Australian Writers of Influence' by Bernadette Kelly (Black Dog Books)

Bernadette Kelly loves writing non-fiction and in this book she writes about writers. But not ordinary writers, she writes about some of our pioneers of poetry, plays and novels. They are all great names that many of us know by reputation and the odd work, but just how much do we know about these greats who have made their mark on our literary culture. These are the writers of the 19th century who influenced our grandparents and great grandparents.

With 200-400 word descriptions, beautiful illustrations and historic photographs and paintings, she makes us want to explore the great works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Banjo Paterson, Miles Franklin, Henry Lawson, CJ Dennis, Mary Gilmore, May Gibbs and more. This book will be enjoyed by children aged 10 to 13 years. Suited ideally for use in classrooms, it will be a valuable resource and a good individual read for children who love literature.

The work has no doubt been a labour of love for Bernadette Kelly. In her words:

"Researching this book was a joy, and I learnt a lot in the process. The writers, poets and journalists of colonial and post-federation days in this country were a tough lot and they shared my love of words and stories. So it’s out there now. May it find its way into the hands of Australian history lovers and learners."

30. Get Coding (Walker Books)

Where can we start to inspire young girls (and boys as well) to explore coding?  There are some great resources appearing on the market that will help. I was recently sent a great little book designed for primary or elementary school children - Get Coding (Walker Books) that has been produced by Young Rewired State (see below). This is a wonderful little book, it made me want to get to a computer, and to start doing some coding.

It is well designed and very inviting. Each page combines text, step by step instructions and projects to undertake. The first 15 pages are text-based with some headings, pictures and diagrams to make sense of the limited amount of the word descriptions. The reading level is about 8-10 years. Once the reader is through this introduction they can begin a series of missions with Professor Harry Bairstone, 'a famous explorer' who is '... in desperate need of [our] help'. Once we are introduced to the mystery of the lost 'Monk Diamond', we are ready to code our way towards completing our mission. Yes, we will need to know what HTML tags are. And we will learn how to use them as we learn to write HTML code, on our way towards completing the mission. Very soon, we are writing the code for a simple web page, with text and images. Eventually we build our own 'Monk Diamond Discovery Web Page'.

By Mission 5 our young coders will be making their own game 'The House of Volkov's Security Team' that is responsible for protecting some valuable jewels on display in the The House of Volkov'.

This is wonderful stuff, and should be part of every child's primary school education. 

31. 'Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers' (Candlewick Press, 2013)


This is a true story that has been a long time coming. It tells in a fair but powerful way of the racism that has often existed in armed forces around the world. Americans may well have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but few would know of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - the Triple Nickle. These were the first US black paratroopers. They showed that black soldiers could do anything their white counterparts could do. The text and over 100 carefully labelled photographs in this 150 page book offer us an insight into how some brave and persistent African American men paved the way for others to be a full part of the US armed forces.

Tanya Lee Stone (author of 'Almost Astronauts') has done extensive research to tell her true story for readers of all ages. Boys in particular will love reading and looking at the historic photos. The work took Stone almost 10 years and the meticulous care and passion shows in this wonderful book. This amazing story will challenge all readers irrespective of age, race or ethnicity. The book recently won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. It is a very worthy winner.

32. 'Neurology: The Amazing Central Nervous System' by April Chloe Terrazas (Crazy Brainz, 2013)

Neurology explores the complexities of the Central Nervous System, beginning with the different sections (lobes) of the brain, continuing to the spinal cord and concluding with the structure and function of the neuron. Readers will learn how to pronounce key terms like Cerebellum, Occipital Lobe and Sensorimotor Cortex. They will also discover the functions of the Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia and the Hippocampus! The book will also help them to understand the way the brain is organised - Forebrain, Midbrain, Hindbrain... and much more. 

The book has wonderful images that will engage them and color-coded text will reinforce lots of new learning. A great book for boys who love science and fancy themselves as brain surgeons! This is a book that will appeal to boys (and girls) of all ages.

33. 'Movie Maker' by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards

'Movie Maker' is another wonderful resource from Walker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, and a handbook that shows you how armed simply with a video camera, you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets. All it doesn't include is the popcorn.

'Getting Boys into Books Through Non-Fiction' HERE
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' HERE

Friday, March 23, 2018

12 Outstanding New Picture Books to Enjoy

Many books cross my desk from publishers, but not all are reviewed. I try to review a range of the better books that I see as appealing to the readers for whom they were written. While I admire and respect writers, I'm careful not to review books for them. Rather, I review books for the children, and the parents and teachers who often recommend books or share them with their children. In this post, I review 12 new books that all in their own way are outstanding.

1. 'Me Too' written by Erika Geraerts and Charl Laubscher & illustrated by Gatsby
 
Sometimes the friends we seek are closer than we might think. This delightful book is a dialogue between two friends who discuss the type of friend they'd like to find when they're all grow up. It's a book about that longing for a special friend. Might the special friend they seek be closer than they think? This is a delightful book about friendship, love, and simple companionship, and the special someones who enable us to experience these precious gifts.

This a wonderful book written with simplicity and an economy of words. Prose like poetry, to be effective, often needs less words, not more. A wonderful story that is delightfully illustrated by Gatsby.



2. 'Alma and How She Got Her Name ' by Juana Martinez-Neal

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

Little Alma is perplexed by her long and unusual name. "My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits," Alma said. Why does she have the unusual name Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela? Six names!?

Alma turns to her father for an answer and learns where each name comes from. Alma learns why every name matters, and that her first name 'Alma', is a special name that will allow her, like all her relatives before her whose names she shared, to make her own story.

Juana Martinez-Neal is from Peru and this is her debut as an author-illustrator, and what a treat it is. Her soft pencil drawings have as much magic as the text she uses to tell this wonderful story. Not to be missed!

 3. 'Rescue & Jessica' by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes & illustrated by Scott Magoon

Based on a real-life partnership, the heartening story of the love and teamwork between a girl and her service dog will illuminate and inspire.

This is a lovely book about two parallel stories that come together in a beautiful way.  Rescue was growing up to be a Seeing Eye dog, but there was to be a surprise.  His trainers have another plan for him, he will be a service dog. Meanwhile Jessica is growing up and adjusting to life without two complete legs and she has a lot of adjusting to do. Jessica needs Rescue to help her accomplish everyday tasks and to be her companion. This is a lovely coming together of a young girl with big adjustments to make, and a service dog that helps her along the way.

A delightful story and at the same time, a book that helps readers to understand disabilities and how service dogs can help. The book has an end note that tells more about the training and extraordinary abilities of service dogs.

4. 'Count with Little Fish' by Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins is well known as the creator of the wonderful series of Maisy books. She is also author-illustrator of the 'Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales', which was the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year. More recent successes have been 'I’m the Best', 'Hooray for Fish!' and 'Hooray for Birds!' reviewed previously on this blog.

In this latest fun counting book she uses similarly rich, colourful and endearing illustrations to take little readers on a counting adventure.

One Little Fish, swimming in the sea.
Two twin fin-fin fish, as pretty as can be.
Three counting fish... one, two three!
Four flying fish, flapping wild and free.

Wonderful stuff as usual, that will keep little hands turning the pages as they learn to count to ten and have a great language experience along the way.

5. 'Bird Builds a Nest' by Martin Jenkins & illustrated by Richard Jones

This beautifully illustrated book in soft autumn tones follows the life cycle of two small birds that meet, pair up, build their nest, lay their eggs and then care for their clutch of 5 chicks, who eventually leave the nest to set out on their own adventures.

Richard Jones's wonderful illustrations match perfectly Martin Jenkins beautifully crafted story that weaves the narrative around a quest to teach children about physical forces like gravity, lifting, puling, pushing, strength weight and more.  It even has an index and guidance notes (at the back) for parents, caregivers and teachers.

A wonderful book!

6. 'Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship' by Irene Latham and Charles Waters & illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relateable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners. Accompanied by artwork from acclaimed illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko... this remarkable collaboration invites readers of all ages to join the dialogue by putting their own words to their experiences. 

This is a fascinating book that is an exciting creative attempt to take a different slant on inter-racial relations. It offers a rich set of poems that largely use free verse to shine a light on some of the at times idiosyncratic and confusing aspects of such relationships. For example, in 'Strands', a white boy asks a black boy can he touch his hair. "It feels like sponge," he says. In 'Beach' a white girl scrubs her sunscreen off at the beach so that she doesn't look "sugar-sand white" compared to the children with darker skins. Another poem of just eight words answers the question that represent the title of the poem, "Why Aunt Sarah Doesn't Go Downtown after Dark"? An intriguing book that children aged 9-12 will find interesting and engaging.

"A compelling portrait of two youngsters dancing delicately through a racial minefield."
 J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children's Poet Laureate 

7. 'Dingo' by Claire Saxby & illustrated by Tannya Harricks

This is an excellent addition to a growing set of engaging narrative non-fiction books. This new book in the 'Nature Storybooks' series is about dingoes.

Can you see her? There – deep in the stretching shadows – a dingo. Her pointed ears twitch. Her tawny eyes flash in the low-slung sun. Dingo listens. Dusk is a busy time. Dusk is the time for hunting.

The book is written by award-winning author Claire Saxby and illustrated by Tannya Harricks using a broad brush and colourful technique with oil paints. The illustrations are stunning and as usual Saxby crafts a text that is economical and beautifully expressed. In fact, there are two texts. One is a factual text that gives information about the dingo and its life, while the other is the narrative account of one dingo's life

8. 'I'm a Duck' by Eve Bunting & illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

This is such a beautiful book. The illustrations from Will Hillenbrand make you want to hug each page, as a brave and scared little duck encounters a world with many strange things. And it does so with a fear of water!

In spite of the encouragement of brothers, Big Frog, and Owl, the little duck cannot make the plunge, until one day, the 'whispering' of the pond saying "Come on! Let's go" does the trick.

Lovely work from Eve Bunting who has written 250 well-loved children's books, including 'Smoky Night' (illustrated by David Diaz) which won a Caldecott Medal.     

9. 'Horses: Wild & Tame', by Iris Volant  & illustrated by Jarom Vogel

This wonderful factual picture book tells the story of horses. This animal once wild, was domesticated and has been part of human life for centuries. They have taken us into battle, pulled our cargo, ploughed our fields, offered us transport and been our close companions.

This beautifully illustrated picture book engages through the beautiful illustrations of Jarom Vogel and the carefully crafted text of Iris Volant. Readers aged 5 to 8 years will enjoy finding out about the domestication of horses, their history, character and varied 'gaits'. The reader also learns about their key role across the ages.

The simple watercolour plates of Jarom Vogel add a special richness to the book, that children will be keen to pick up and read.

10. 'Three Cheers for Women' by Marcia Williams

This book is a celebration of inspirational women across the ages, and from around the world. It is told in a delightful comic book form.

The text introduces us to almost 100 women from around the world: inventors, feminists, doctors, authors, leaders, sportswomen, explorers, musicians and more. So many wonderful examples to inspire our young readers: Cleopatra, the Warrior Queen Boudicca, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Ann Frank, Aritha Franklin, Anna Pavlova and many more.

Boys and girls will enjoy this inspirational book overflowing with facts, quotes and jokes.



11. 'The Poesy Ring: A love story' by Bob Graham

"The poesy ring flew high, caught by the wind. And with the breeze in its tail, the horse turned and galloped. Salt tears dried on the rider's face. The ring tumbled end over end, and settled deep in a meadow near the sea... and there the ring stayed with just creatures to keep it company as the seasons slipped on by"

This is a tale about a poesy ring lost in a field in County Kerry (Ireland) in 1830. The ring is lost as a horse rears its head and its strange journey begins, across land and sea until one day it is found inside a fish and bought by Sonny and Jules in 1967 in New York. As always, this is a wonderful book from one of my favourite Australian authors.

His awards include the international Kate Greenaway Medal and the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Award an unprecedented six times.

The Poesy ring (traditional spelling poesy) was a gold finger ring with a short inscription often from the Bible. They were popular during the 15th to 17th centuries in both England and France as gifts between lovers.

12. 'The Things That I Love about Trees' by Chris Butterworth & illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Journey through the seasons and discover how much there is to love about trees! From brand-new buds in spring to the sound of the wind whooshing through the leaves in summer, from the fall colors to the feel of winter’s rough bark and the promise of spring returning again.

This wonderful book brings together the magic of Charlotte Voake's delicate and evocative images with Chris Butterworth's wonderful parallel texts. One is a first person narrative account of what the little girl (the central character) loves about spring. As well, in slightly smaller and different font, he provides a factual text that teaches the young reader about trees.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Children's Writing of Alcott, Austen, Carroll, Bronte, Dickens & More

An interest in Juvenilia

I have written already on this blog before (here), that children begin to write from a very young age. While their earliest attempts at writing - even before the age of 12 months - is often seen 'just' as scribble by some parents, many young children soon develop a desire to do more than simply making their marks on paper; they begin to play with language and words, often in combination with their early drawings.

Many great writers become aware very early in life that they have a desire to write, sometimes for self, but often for others. The study of early writing (and art) has been termed Juvenilia, drawing from the Latin meaning "things from youth". I have had the privilege of spending a number of years on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Juvenilia Press at the University of New South Wales. The Juvenilia Press is currently one of the passions of Christine Alexander, Distinguished Professor in English Literature at the University of New South Wales. Professor Alexander is a prominent Australian researcher, editor and writer on the Brontës and other 19th Century writers, including their juvenilia

The Juvenilia Press was founded in 1994 by Juliet McMaster at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It moved to UNSW in 2001 when Christine Alexander became the General Editor. It promotes the study of literary juvenilia (writing up to 20 years of age) of recognised adult writers. It offers insights into the later work of successful writers. It has an international team of contributing editors from Britain, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA and Australia.

Every publication combines the early writing of great authors and an essay on the work. They represent the scholarship and research of some of the world's leading professors of literature and their research students.

The Juvenilia Press, as its website suggests, is more than just a publishing project:

The Juvenilia Press was originally conceived as a university/classroom project. While it has grown well beyond those limits, pedagogy remains at the core of its mandate. Students are involved in every volume in some capacity, whether that be writing introductions, researching annotations, learning the importance of textual editing, drawing illustrations, or developing a book's layout and design. Working under the guidance of established international scholars, they gain invaluable experience, practical skills, and publication.
The format of the publications is similar each time. A theoretical essay is included to introduce the work and is written by the editor of the work. This is then followed by the juvenilia that is published with original illustrations when available.

The works published to date


Juvenilia Press has published over 50 works since 1994, some of which I reviewed in previous posts (here & here). The writers whose early work has been published include Jane Austen, Charlotte & Branwell Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), George Eliot, Margaret Atwood, Greg Hollingshead, Margaret Laurence, Rudy Wiebe, Opal Whiteley, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens and many others.

Some Selected Recent Publications


a) Louisa May Alcott's 'Norna, or the Witch's Curse'


Anyone who has read or seen 'Little Women' will remember the play that the sisters performed within the work. 'Norna, or the Witch's Curse' is the real play, written when Alcott was just 15yrs old. In it she provides a farcical description in 'Little Women'. It is filled with fierce posturing and melodramatic action, Norna shows young Louisa and her collaborating sister Anna stretching their creative wings in poetic drama.

Few readers of 'Little Women' would realise that the play in the book (and the film) was based on Alcott's play written, directed and acted out with her sisters when she was just 15.

b) Virginia Cary Hudson's 'O Ye Jigs And Juleps'


Both knowing and naïve, pious and feisty, 10-year-old Virginia Cary Hudson brings her sharp observation to bear on the adults and children, churches and institutions of her home town, early-1900s Versailles, Kentucky. Essays for a teacher have never been so revealing, or so entertaining.


Edited by Jeffrey Bibbee, Lesley Peterson, and Leigh Thompson Stanfield, with Emily Cater, Danielle Holcombe, Catherine James, and Melissa Thornton.

c) Charles Dickens's 'The Bill of Fare', 'O'Thello' & Other Early      Works (2012)

Dickens wrote of his childhood,"All these things have worked together to make me what I am". Among "these things" in his juvenilia are his genius for story telling, his creation of comic characters and his love of the theatre. Just like his later great work 'David Copperfield', they throw light on a young man in love, bursting with inventiveness and struggling to shape his ideas into the kind of public performance that would lead to fame.
Christine Alexander has edited this publication with Donna Couto and Kate Sumner. It was timed last year to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth. The critical essay that precedes Dickens juvenilia reminds us that Dickens's amazing talent for storytelling was evident from a very young age. He was a child who loved being centre stage to tell stories, sing and entertain others. It is clear that Dickens wrote a great deal as a child, but much of it doesn't seem to have survived. However, over time some works have emerged from his late teens, including some of his early poetry and fragments of his first comic drama that he titled 'O'Thello'. This is a fascinating look at some of the early work of this great writer. 

d) John Ruskin, 'Poems From Seven to Seventeen' (2012)

The greatness of great creators, John Ruskin wrote, stems from "what they had seen and felt from early childhood". These are early poems of the man known as the leading art critic of the Victorian period. He was also an artist himself and a significant social commentator. They demonstrate the truth of his own words in fascinating ways. Ruskin's life spanned much of the 19th century (1819-1900) and his creative endeavours were extraordinary. He wrote some of the most significant essays of his time on topics as diverse as art, architecture, social justice, political economy, education and culture. But his writing extended to fields such as geology, literature, social class and more. 

This publication features the poetry of this home-schooled youth. Rob Breton  who edited the work with Alayna Becker and Katrina Schurter, suggests that his poetry amongst many other things offer '...a fascinating look at the experience of growing up in an increasingly affluent home in the 1820s'. It offers us an opportunity to consider and enjoy the work of this amazing man.

e) Leigh Hunt's 'The Palace of Pleasure & Other Early Poems'
Young Leigh Hunt's poems, early recognized as “proofs of poetic genius”, offer landscapes populated by happy schoolboys and errant knights freed from magical enthrallment. Already vivid here is Hunt's lifelong commitment to the betterment of his fellow man through friendship and communion with nature.
The juvenilia of Hunt has been edited by Sylvia Hunt, with illustrations by Karl Denny

d) Hope Hook's 'Crossing Canada, 1907: The Diary of Hope Hook'
In her diary of 1907, young Hope Hook records an exciting journey across Canada to Vancouver Island and back, by ship, rail and boat. Born to a family of artists, she is eager to observe the new country that will soon be her home, and all its people, flora and fauna.
This work has been edited by Juliet McMaster.

f) Mary Grant Bruce, 'The Early Tales' (2011)
Pamela Nutt edited the work of Mary Grant Bruce with Year 11 students from Presbyterian Ladies' College in Sydney. This publication exemplifies the importance of pedagogy to the Juvenilia project. The illustrations are by Matilda Fay & Isabelle Ng.  Mary Grant Bruce’s nineteenth-century childhood was spent in rural Victoria and throughout her writing career this landscape provided the setting for many of her stories. These early tales, written for the newspaper 'The Leader', demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of the Australian outback and introduce many of the concerns she would later develop in her highly successful fiction for children.


g) Patrick Branwell Brontë, The History of the Young Men (2010)

William Baker and others have edited this early work of Patrick Branwell Brontë. This is a tale of exploration, bloody battles, colonization and supernatural ‘guardian demons’. Branwell at age 13 years chronicles the founding of imaginary African kingdoms and the exploits of the toy soldiers who inspired the Glass Town and Angrian saga. Here we observe the role of history and the power of childhood play in the early writing of the neglected but talented brother of the famous Brontë sisters.

A Useful Resource 

Christine Alexander (2010). The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, Selected Writings, London: Oxford University Press.