New review: The Secret Diaries series by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler

Blending fiction and non fiction can create a perfect harmony, bringing stories AND facts to life so children can enjoy learning about the world around them. This is exactly what happens in the fantastic series written by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler and published by Nosy Crow in partnership with The National Trust. The Secret Diaries series introduce wonderful fictional characters who live and work in a particular time in history and share their experiences with the reader through diary entries.

The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge Medieval Knight in Training and The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny Victorian House Maid describe what daily life was like for a working young person, with each central character brilliantly brought to life. Younger readers might need a little guidance with the authentic accents but they’ll soon get the hang of it! All the facts and trivia are supported by footnotes that explain various terms and phrases along the way and give a wonderful insight to the time period in question.  There is a fictional narrative running through each book with a mystery to solve or a thrilling adventure to be had, ensuring the reader is fully engaged, all the while learning through the story.  The wider cast of characters featured give an opportunity to share what different roles people had and how the class system worked.

In Medieval Knight in Training we learn who the kennel boy was (poor chap!), how people ate, all about falconry and what a Fletcher did!  In Victorian House Maid in Training we discover how a chimney was cleaned, what ‘pinny’ is short for, the huge number of people who worked in a Victorian mansion and just how hard a maid had to work! All the while John Drawbridge survives a plan to overthrow the castle and solves the mystery of the attack; and Jane Pinny uses her detective skills to find out who stole a beautiful necklace.  Each book is brilliantly illustrated by Jamie Littler with drawings that bring to life the humour and adventure as well as the historical trivia.

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All in all The Secret Diaries series is ideal for young readers wanting to learn more about history and enjoy a great fun story.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review. 

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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.

 

 

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.

book of the month

Non-fiction: why is it so important for children’s reading?

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You may have noticed that November has been National Non Fiction Month. With so many days and occasions to celebrate reading, the focus is often on fiction.  This of course, is wonderful and absolutely as it should be. But it’s also wonderful and as it should be that we celebrate the plethora of amazing non-fiction books out there for children.  And that’s just what the Federation of Children’s Book Groups does through National Non Fiction month.

So why is non- fiction so important for children’s reading?  Well, one might say, it teaches them about the world and helps their education perhaps supporting whatever current topic they’re working on. And of course this is true; knowledge is empowering at any age. But it’s more than that. Because for some children, reading stories just isn’t something they want to do or perhaps it’s something that they can’t do.  So non-fiction opens a door to reading ensuring they too can experience the wonder of words.

Non-fiction books help children unlock the world around them, but also enable them to participate in reading, tapping into their varied interests and engaging them in a way that stories sometimes can’t.  If a child has a learning need, they can struggle with understanding the often inferred narratives in a story – with non-fiction they don’t have to worry about this, they can just read the facts off the page!  Would you believe that many children I have worked with say they don’t want to read because they don’t like stories? Of course I explain to them that this is simply not true, they haven’t found the right book yet.  But if they are adamant and don’t want to read a ‘story-book’, I will establish what their interests are and recommend a wonderful non-fiction book as a starting point that fits the bill; whatever the topic there’s bound to be something they will enjoy.  As it’s not a ‘story’ and it fits in with their interests, they start to read.  And whilst they read they are still benefiting from language, vocabulary and expression through the information presented in front of them.  This is amazing sight to see, when you’ve had a student roll their eyes on being asked to read – and a little while later they’re busy enjoying a book!

There are some simply gorgeous and amazing non-fiction books produced today for all ages with beautiful illustrations bringing the information to life. The FCBG have put together an amazing list of 100 children’s non-fiction books; plenty of ideas to choose from!

And there’s always what are viewed as the more ‘commercial’ non-fiction books; the Guinness Book of Records, Lego, Minecraft……a bone of contention for some; ‘It’s not reading’.  Well actually, yes it is. It’s a start. And for those young people who are so switched off from reading they’d rather stare at the wall, it’s the perfect combination of words, pictures and fantastic facts.  Without even realising it they become engrossed in a book, through something that interests them.  It’s a step on the road to reading – it’s fun and above all we want children and young people to associate their reading experiences with fun.  Once they find the joy of books, they are far more likely to develop a reading habit. Sadly not all have had a positive start to their reading journeys, not all have homes with books in and many have a complete lack of input as they get older.  So if we can find something that hooks them, non-fiction or fiction, little by little they will discover reading for pleasure.