Fabulous Non-Fiction!

It’s National Non-Fiction November so the perfect time to share some of the wonderful non-fiction books published recently.  I often tell children that there are so many amazing books written for them that they are spoilt for choice! And they really are; especially when it comes to beautifully produced non-fiction books like those featured on the blog today. With Christmas not too far away these books would make wonderful gifts!  They also demonstrate the brilliance of text and illustration working together to bring the world to life for young readers.

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The Picture Atlas An Incredible Journey by Simon Holland, illustrated by Jill Calder

This is an absolutely wonderful atlas exploring the world continent by continent. Stunning, detailed illustrations give life to the wealth of facts and information to be found on every page.

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Delving into each continent, the history of the people, artefacts, the landforms, the animals inhabiting the land and even the food are described through the perfect combination of words and pictures.

 

 

Every time you read it you discover something new and there’s a helpful glossary at the end of the book. This is a wonderful book to encourage children’s natural curiosity and a fantastic way to support learning about the world.

Find out more about the illustrator at www.jillcalder.com

The Picture Atlas is published by Bloomsbury

 

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How to Think Like a Coder without even trying!

by Jim Christian illustrated by Paul Boston

Have you ever wondered how on earth computer programmes actually work? Well according to this book, you already know! With straightforward explanations of what coding is, a fascinating look at early computers and of course, the most amazing computer of all, the human brain, the book explores all aspects of coding and gives the reader the chance to try their hand at creating code.

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For independent young readers, everyday situations are turned into opportunities to code – and of course, adults can join in too.  You don’t even need a computer!

 

 

It’s packed full of information and lively illustrations featuring fun robot characters who enliven the text throughout.  How to Think like a Coder takes what can be a rather intimidating topic and makes it more accessible and something all the family can share!

Find out more at www.jimchristian.net and www.paulboston.net

Published by Pavilion Books.

 

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Her Right Foot by Dave Eggars, illustrated by Shawn Harris

I will admit to having a big soft spot for New York having spent my honeymoon there.  But even as a child, I was always fascinated by Statue of Liberty (anyone remember she came to life in Ghostbusters 2!) so this book was an ideal opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the story behind it.

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Her Right Foot is absolutely fascinating, full of things I didn’t know about how the Statue was built to how people feel about it.  A non-fiction picture book, it’s totally accessible and a wonderful book to read aloud.

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The fantastic, vibrant illustrations capture the narrative brilliantly and history comes to life before your eyes – an impressive debut for illustrator Shawn Harris. And even more incredible is the message ‘found’ in the small trait of the Statue’s right foot that encapsulates the freedom the Statue of Liberty represents.

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A very timely publication, this book will be enjoyed not just for an entertaining take on history; but also for the deeper meaning of tolerance and acceptance behind it.

Find out more about the illustrator at www.shawnharris.info

Published by Abrams & Chronicle Books

With thanks to all the publishers of these books for sending me copies to review.

 

 

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Bookchat: A.F Harrold, poet and author

banner newThe last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow.  It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer!  I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!

I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.

Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these?  Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.

There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.

Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.

Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.

The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.

That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.

The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.

These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.

When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.

When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.  Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)

As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.

And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!

So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work. 

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Read my review of Greta Zargo here.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.joetoddstanton.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.

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Book of the Month: BUGS by Simon Tyler

book of the monthSimon Tyler is an author illustrator and graphic designer with a passion for presenting facts and information in accessible and aesthetically pleasing ways.  He has absolutely succeeded in doing that with Book of the Month, Bugs, which he wrote and illustrated in association with the Buglife conservation charity. Published by Pavilion Books, Bugs is simply one of the most gorgeous books I’ve seen this year so a very suitable choice for Book of the Month, in celebration of National Non Fiction November!

 

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BUGS written and illustrated Simon Tyler

Enter the fascinating world of bugs with this book which will introduce you to some of the strangest, scariest, biggest and smallest insects around.  Discover the bug with a 30cm tongue, get to know the insect that east dung for dinner, and meet the ant that can paralyse with a single sting. 

What strikes you instantly about this glorious book are the stunning illustrations and incredible use of colour.  Each image is beautifully detailed allowing you to get up close to some amazing life forms.

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Bursting with fascinating facts there are over 50 bugs featured, with all types of information about the wonderful world of insects; their habits, senses, defences, what they eat and where they live.

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The presentation and production quality is really special, making this a wonderful book to give as a gift to any insect enthusiast – or indeed anyone curious about the world around them.

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There’s a helpful glossary to decipher the scientific terms used and the first few pages give a brilliant introduction to insects in general. With an attractive font and accessible layout, Bugs is a lovely book for all the family to share and even if you’re not fond of creepy crawlies, I think this book could convert you!

Find out more at www.simontyler.co.uk 

With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me this book to review.

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New review: Greta Zargo by A.F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

It’s always exciting to read the first book in a new series – but even more so when the book is by A F Harrold, a fantastic writer of books and poems.  Greta Zargo doesn’t disappoint with a mystery to solve, lots of silliness, some helpful anecdotes and immensely likeable characters,  it really is just a great book for children to read.

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Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can save planet earth from the death robots coming to destroy it! But right now, she’s a bit busy finding out who stole all the cakes! Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

There’s not much for an intrepid would-be junior reporter to, well, report on, in Upper Lowerbridge, to create an award-winning, summer holiday story.  So Greta Zargo has to settle for finding a cake-thief, little realising that the real scoop is the planet-conquering robots making their way towards earth.  Greta’s no ordinary eleven-year old having been orphaned and left to fend for herself since the age of eight. She is determined to discover the culprit, working her way through a list of suspects – some of whom are not impressed to find themselves being questioned!  Meanwhile, the strange silvery robots approach, intent on finding The Great Zargo to ask if they can have planet earth in order to add data to the Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock Big Book of Galactic Facts.  A small spelling error puts Greta unwittingly in place to save Earth from a terrible fate.  Will she succeed?

Fun and full of imagination, Greta Zargo is a fantastic sci-fi mystery adventure.  The two narratives of cake thievery and death-defying space robots run alongside each other brilliantly; aided by quirky and humorous anecdotal notes at the side of the page. Greta is a feisty character, with admirable determination, encouraged by her very eccentric and rather wonderful Aunt Tabitha, who I loved. Greta’s journalistic efforts are put to the test by an amusing cast of characters – including a giant squirrel!  The space sequences are hugely imaginative and full of impressive technical jargon and madcap space names. Although comical, it’s somewhat bittersweet as various weird and wonderful aliens inadvertently allow the complete destruction of their planets – perhaps a lesson for us all.   Illustrations throughout capture the quirkiness of the tale and help to create a really engaging, warm-hearted story.  I won’t give away the ending, but how refreshing  – how very polite death robots can be…!

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Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and http://joetoddstanton.com/

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review

New review: Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock

It’s National Cat Day and soon to be Halloween, so a good time to celebrate this lovely picture book.  Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye, brings to life the magic of night time as well as the perils of being a little too inquisitive. A friendly witch, a beautiful moonlit sky, a cat full of curiosity and some furry friends create an enchanting night time adventure published by Nosy Crow.

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Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye

Have you met Miss Moon? Tonight the class are going on a nature walk. Bat, Owl and Mouse listen carefully as Miss Moon tells them they must take care NOT to wander off.  But Cat has spotted something interesting….

This is a very sweet tale featuring a curious little cat and her classmates, all of whom are eager to learn about nature.  They spot lots of lovely things in the night sky and all around during their nature walk. Readers will love spotting what each character finds and joining in by seeing what else they can find. But Cat is just a little too curious and inattentive and ends up lost in the woods on her own!

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Thankfully it’s not long before she is reunited with Miss Moon and her friends, once they’ve discovered a trail of clues to her whereabouts.   The story is complemented with lovely muted illustrations; the forest illuminated by the moonlit night and the wonder of nature brought to life on each page. With a gentle narrative and some very sweet characters, Cat Learns to Listen is a charming story with an important message about listening at its heart.

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You can read more about Miss Moon, Cat and her friends at Moonlight school in Simon Puttock’s other stories:

Find out more at www.simonputtock.com  and www.alipye.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

 

 

New Review: Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Who could resist the adventures of a courageous Pug dog?!  Safari Pug is the third book in The Adventures of Pug series by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans.  It continues the trend of fantastic storytelling, set by the Pug’s first adventure Captain Pug, which was shortlisted for the Watersones Children’s Book Prize!

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Safari Pug by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Pug doesn’t want to meet a LION. But LADY MIRANDA insists. They’ve packed a picnic and now they’re off on a SAFARI ADVENTURE….but what if wild animals like PUGS for lunch?

Another fabulous adventure for Pug this time featuring some very wild animals – and a villainous television celebrity!  Pug isn’t too sure about visiting the safari park, but as usual Lady Miranda thinks its a wonderful idea….So they all pack into the sedan chair and with the running footmen, soon arrive ready to see the wild animals. Their fun however, is interrupted by a very snooty and unpleasant TV presenter, Arlene Von Bling (what a great dastardly name!), who seems to have more than just seeing the animals on her mind – especially when it comes to the unique white lion cub… Adventure ensues and it’s up to Pug to help save everyone – not just from the jaws of the lions but the clutches of Arlene Von Bling!

Safari Pug is a great fun read, full of lively bright illustrations, that is sure to delight emerging independent readers.  I love the characters – there’s the faithful but possibly a bit long-suffering Pug, reluctantly going along with his mistress Lady Miranda’s eccentric ideas; Lady Miranda herself -very sweet but inadvertently getting them all into scrapes; the running footmen Will and Liam, who courageously transport Lady Miranda and Pug in a sedan chair on their adventures – surely the best and only way to travel?! I’ve also read and enjoyed Pug’s previous adventure Cowboy Pug – and my five year old niece is a huge fan of the stories!  Full of humour, the narrative is perfectly brought to life by Eglantine Ceulemans’ colourful illustrations. The Adventures of Pug celebrate a thoroughly endearing friendship and encourage even the most reluctant explorer to be brave and discover the big wide world!

 

Find out more at www.laurajamesauthor.com and www.eglantineceulemans.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending me this book to review.

 

Bookchat: Kate Poels, the Children’s Book Award Co-ordinator

banner newThe Children’s Book Award, run by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish.  It has always been a source of great excitement for the children I’ve worked with because they know their votes actually count!  So I’m really pleased to host a guest post today by Kate Poels, co-ordinator of the award, to tell us how it works and how she came to be involved. Thanks for joining us Kate!

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“I was delighted to be asked by the brilliant Book Activist to write a guest piece for the blog.  I am a huge admirer of the work done in schools and for parents and carers by the Book Activist and feel that anything that brings books to children is a huge bonus!

My background has always been with children.  I started out training as a nurse at Great Ormond Street and then decided to take a degree in Primary Education to work as a teacher instead.  I now have two sprouting girls of my own and so I have seen the world of children from many different angles.  The thing that always strikes me is how important a love of books can be.  The power a good story has to bring comfort, humour, reality, solace, escapism, inspiration, other worlds, different viewpoints and so much more into the life of a child.  Whether it be a very sick child in hospital, a child with problems at home, somebody struggling with bullying or a little one with a huge imagination who wants to hear new things and tread new paths.  I have seen first-hand how these children need books in their lives.

My passion for children’s literature led me to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups a few years ago.  It is a fantastic organisation, fuelled solely by volunteers, that works on a national level to bring children and books together.  I now work on a local level with them and have also attended several of their fabulous industry-filled conferences.

As a member of the FCBG my children have had the opportunity to take part in the voting process for the Children’s Book Award.  This award is unique as it is the only one in the country voted for entirely by children.  If you are over 18 then your vote doesn’t count for anything…but if you are still young enough then every vote cast goes into a big boiling pot along with roughly 150,000 other votes and together they create the top 50 books of the year.  These are then whittled down to the top 10 comprising of 4 picture books for Younger Children, 3 stories for Younger Readers and 3 stories for Older Readers.

Then the results are once again handed back to the children who decide which of these shortlisted titles deserve their votes.  They alone choose who the winners of each category are and which book will be the overall winner. And they do a fantastic job every year.  Sometimes favourite, well-known authors take the crown (this year Michaels Morpurgo and Foreman won with their book ‘An Eagle In The Snow,’) but other times they discover new gems that go on to be firm favourites.  Previous winners have included JK Rowling, Kes Gray and Jacqueline Wilson to name a few.

Earlier this year I was asked if I would consider co-coordinating the award and I was thrilled to be able to get involved.  We are in the process of taking the award forward with a fresh new website (childrensbookaward.org.uk) as well as stronger online presence.

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Our member children, families and schools are all busy voting for this year’s favourites and in February we will be finding out who they have chosen as their picks of the year.  Then the voting opens for anyone in the UK to take part, as long as you are under 18 of course! The shortlist will be announced and children can use our website to vote for their favourites.  You can pre-register now to be the first to hear the shortlist!

It is such a brilliant thing to be part of and so many of our winning authors have told us that for them it is the most important award of the year.   And that is all down to the people who vote…..their intended readers… the children!

If you would like to find out more then please follow @CBAcoordinator on Twitter or The Federation of Children’s Book Groups on Facebook. Also drop by our resource-filled website and see how you could get involved.”

Find out more about this wonderful celebration of children’s books at www.childrensbookaward.org.uk

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