My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals by DK Book Review – 4.5 Stars

VIP Animals

The Animal Kingdom is a diverse one, full of creatures that do all sorts of things.  The number of animals out there is so vast that even vets need to do a quick google when something strange appears in their practice.  For the budding vet-to-be, animals are a constant source of fascination and they will absorb as much knowledge as you can give them.  It is not practical to visit the zoo every day, but getting an educational and entertaining animal encylopedia is.

‘‘My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals’’ is part of DK’s ‘‘Very Important’’ series that takes an encyclopaedic look at a given subject area.  Whilst the original book made a valiant attempt at trying to cover almost everything in one book, DK have sensibly focused on one area here – animals.  This is a large enough subject to cover on its own and DK have tackled it by focusing not just on animal types, but also traits.  The book is split into three parts; basic questions about animals, a deeper look at certain types and a section exploring some interesting animal antics.

As with all encyclopedias for children, there is a balance to be struck between educating the reader and making the book interesting enough to capture the imagination.  For an older reader ‘VIA’ may seem at first to be a little too in your face.  It is certainly a fun book to look at.  The hardback version is full of quality full colour photos that makes almost every page an assault on the senses.  If the visuals were the only thing with the book, it would have failed at being an encyclopedia.  Thankfully, DK have plenty of experience in this area.

Alongside the wonderful imagery are some solid facts for kids.  Whilst the likes of ‘‘Ripley’s’’ and ‘‘Guinness’’ are more about fun and not fact, ‘‘VIA’ ensures that the information is not lost.  The layouts of the pages differ, but most will have images of a few animals and the rest of the page will be dotted with factoids.  These are bitesize chunks of information that is palatable for the 4-8 year old market.  Extra credit should be given by DK’s commitment to helping with reading.  Certain words will be highlighted that show they are important.  For the younger reader this may prompt some questions to an adult about what it means.

The entire book is well designed to be inviting for a child interested in information and animals; from the colours to the layout.  Like with all encyclopedias there are gaps in what information is available, but the subject of animals is covered in enough detail here to sate the appetite of most pre-teens who are going to read the book.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

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My First Wild Activity Book’’ by Isabel Otter and Maxime Lebrun Book Review – 4.5 Stars @max_lebrun

Wild

You sit down together as a family and ask your child what they would like to read from your bulging bookcase.  Will they choose the timeless classic that you yourself read as a child?  Perhaps they will pluck for a modern tale with its dayglo colouring and storyline based around pants?  Nope.  Neither of these.  All you will hear is “Stickers!”  Your child would rather play with a sticker activity book than read with you, so best make it a worthwhile sticker activity book.

‘‘My First Wild Activity Book’’ by Isabel Otter and Maxime Lebrun is a top grade activity book that covers various wild biomes by not only allowing you to add stickers, but also quiz you on different types of animals, play spot the difference, or simply colour in.  Each section has a spread that folds out so you can add your stickers, but no inch is wasted.  Rather than leaving the back of these images plain, there are more fun activities to partake in on the reverse.

The use of every iota of space is the type of thing that lifts ‘‘Wild’’ from just being another sticker book.  As a genre it is normally one that I buy from the bargain shelves.  You know that within a week or so all the stickers will be stuck and images coloured; there is no re-reading value here, therefore why pay more?  Thankfully, ‘‘Wild’’ shows that if you do pay a little more, you will get a better book.

The entire book is perfectly aimed at the 5-7 age group, it is informative, yet still fun.  There are facts to read, but you never have long to go to find a fun puzzle.  The entire things is also full colour and wonderfully illustrated by Lebrun, it must have taken a lot of effort to get so many images into 72 pages.  The A4 format and full use of space does make this feel like a premium activity book.  The fact that it is split into environments means that it is also perfect to use as a pick up and play title.  On a car journey the format is great for taking up a proportion of the ride.

‘‘Wild’’ is a cut way above the type of activity title you buy from the supermarket as its lush illustrations and solid factual knowledge means that it acts more as a fun, interactive encyclopaedia.  However, it does still suffer from the perennial activity book problem – use a pen once and you are done.  The stickers can only be done once and most of the puzzles are single use too.  There is a little more to read than in most activity books, but still not enough that you would go back once the fun has been filled.  Luckily, you will have a great time at least once with the book.

4.5 Stars

A Roman Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Hist

I have studied propaganda in my time and as a rule of thumb the most persuasive arguments are those people don’t notice.  The same can be said when educating kids.  Some children lap up textbooks and non-fiction, but others need to be eased in.  Tricking them is perhaps a harsh term, but would you rather learn about Ancient Rome via a dry fact book or an adventure title written in the form of a cartoon and packed full of puzzles and activities?

The Histronauts are three normal school children who find themselves transported back in time to Ancient Rome.  Here they meet a slave who needs their help to fulfil his master’s wishes for the day.  Join the four of them as they learn all about Rome via a series of puzzles and activities including building your own Roman items.

There is a lot going for ‘‘A Roman Adventure’’ by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke; it oozes quality.  The book itself is fully illustrated in colour and has some very engaging images.  Cooke has laid out the book like a comic strip and you follow the story through.  Every now and again you come across a puzzle that may be a maze or working out the cost of something in Roman coins  All of these activities are realised in a lovely style that will make the book more attractive to a child who is not normally drawn towards non-fiction.

Although shown in a cartoon style, there is no dumbing down in this book.  Durkin is a historian and she makes sure that the book is actively crammed with information from the era.  There are a lot of Roman objects and words to learn.  Thankfully, Cooke’s illustrations means that you don’t always realise that you are being taught.  The blending of a fictionalised story with non-fiction information works brilliantly.  There is loads to do in the book from mental puzzles to practical make and do.

With all the information on show, the book does not patronise the reader, but it does leave a lot unsaid.  Bearing in mind that the target audience is probably 8-11 year olds, reflecting the true nature of Rome would probably be a bit full on.  However, Durkin has laid the foundations of respecting the reader by cramming the book with complex Roman words.  Therefore, if you are going to choose a slave as the person to meet who has a Gladiatrix as a sister, you probably need to mention a little bit of ‘‘Horrible History’’.  Why entirely sanitise the past?  Gladiators did not often live more than a year or so once they took up the job.

‘‘A Roman Adventure’’ is a very good education tool for a child that already has some knowledge of the era.  The complex words mean that the book will appeal most to the child who enjoys the era.  By adding the cartoon style and practical tasks Durkin and Cooke are also assuring that the non-traditionally academic children also enjoy themselves.  The entire thing has a jolly jam butties style to it that will appeal to many children, but personally I would have like a little bit of real horrible history slipped in their for a more rounded portrayal of Ancient Rome.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

3.5 Stars

Opposite Things by Anna Kovecses Book Review – 4.5 Stars

Opposite

Rearing a child is not a competition, but have a conversation with a certain type of parent and they won’t agree.  Their child can speak four languages.  Their child wrote their first sonnet at the age of three.  Their child can be seen wistfully looking into the middle distance just wanting to play on the bouncy castle.  For me, I am happy, if my child is happy; be that doing sums, or eating play-doh.  However, even with a relaxed attitude to educating your kid, it can be fun to learn a little, especially when a book is as fun as Little Mouse’s ‘‘Opposite Things’’.

Little Mouse is a curious rodent and wishes to know a little more about her environment.  If she is a Little Mouse, what is big?  Lift up the flap and you will see – Big Whale.  Over the next few pages Mouse learns different opposites from hot and cold, to happy and sad.  All of which are behind some awesome flaps.

There are loads of different areas that a child needs to understand as they grow up; colours, numbers, letters.  Anna Kovecses has created a series of lift the flap books to help and this particular outing tackles one of the harder concepts – opposites.   Whilst blue is blue and one is one, opposites are different as the ‘answer’ is not the same as the question.  Whilst a child can count the number of marbles, they will find it tricky to understand what the opposite of black is; kcalb?

A gentle introduction to the concept is required and this is exactly what Little Mouse gives.  The book comes in a small hardback format with only 16 pages.  Each page has Mouse asking a question like what time is it.  On the other page will be some opposite answers i.e. day and night.  The simple format means that the concept can be grasped by toddlers.  However, as it is a little harder to learn about opposites the likes of colours and numbers are best to start with first.

The layout of ‘‘Opposite Things’’ is wonderful for little hands and the question and answer format draws little readers in, but for all intents and purposes it is just another edutainment book.  However, Kovecses illustrations and use of flaps lifts the book beyond this.  Even if a child does not truly understand the meaning of what is happening, the book is pure fun.  Kovecses’ simple drawings have a timeless appeal and are crisp.  Soon enough even the smallest child will see what the pictures are trying to tell them and this is vital in this form of book.  Kovecses’ Hungarian illustrative roots give the book an edge over other similar titles, as it looks so lovely (plus flaps rock!)  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

The Prehistoric Times by Stella Gurney, Matthew Hodson and Neave Parker Book Review – 2.5 Stars

Prehistoric Times

With the ability to read the news on our phones or watch the 24 hour news channels, the days of the newspaper appear to be coming to an end.  You could say that they are going to be extinct, much like the dinosaurs.  So, if newspapers are a thing of the past and so are dinosaurs, it would make sense that dinosaurs had their own newspaper?  Turns out this was the case and ‘‘The Prehistoric Times’’ covers several different eras on the hunt for only the best news and views.

Read all about it, read all about.  T-Rex in midnight feast shock.  Velociraptor found to be covered in feathers.  Stegosaurus FC go for the Cup.  ‘‘Prehistoric Times’’ is a whistle-stop tour through millions of years giving you a bunch of classic dinosaur information, but in the format of a newspaper.  This means that you get salacious stories, but also interviews with some of the more famous creatures of the time and even the odd puzzle or two.

Stella Gurney should be commended for trying something new within the world of children’s non-fiction.  Often it is a pretty staid affair as pictures and facts are dotted over a series of pages.  If not staid, then the more modern fact book feels like it has given a surgery drink as they hyperactively splash full colour images everywhere and seemingly shout information directly into your eyeballs.  ‘‘Prehistoric Times’’ aims to do neither of these things by taking the format of a newspaper, but actually kind of does a bit of both.

The paper format it inherently a little dry, plenty of columns that contain different information. To remedy this the book has added zany illustrations and games.  However, all this does it make the book feel like it has a constricted framework that is full of overly enthusiastic facts.  Matters are not helped by the decision for the main colours to be orange and black, meaning that the too small script is even harder to read – the book just looks a little weird.

Speaking of which, the illustrative decisions are also odd.  There are two in the book; Matthew Hodson’s cartoons and Neave Parker’s more realistic photo-like images.  It really is a mash up of the sublime and the ridiculous.  Whilst Parker’s designs look brilliant and inspire, Hodson’s work looks childlike.  At points Hodson even draws over the work of Parker and that is surely the wrong way.

Hodson’s doodles highlight an issue the book has with tone.  The book is meant to be attractive to a young audience, but it is almost designed as if it was written and illustrated by a child. Gurney writes with enthusiasm, but the results are sometimes patronising.  Aim to write for a child, not like a child.

It is a shame that a few editorial errors have made a promising idea so clumsy.  Despite its childish script and illustrations there is actually a lot of useful information in the book.  The faux interviews with dinosaurs are full of facts and would help a child understand how to use the genre of the newspaper.  All this is hidden under a messy, orange format, so many people will never discover it before giving up.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

2.5 Stars

My First Mog ABC by Judith Kerr Book Review – 4.5 Stars

Mog abc

There are few children’s series that have been as long lasting as Judith Kerr’s ‘‘Mog’’ books and even though the cat may no longer be with us, there is a huge back catalogue of old stories and images that could be repurposed.  In the wrong hands reusing old Mog images would seem like a crass cash in, but done right, they could still hold the same sentimental appeal that the daft old cat has for so many people.  Which way does ‘‘My First Mog ABC’’ fall?

Learning your ABCs with Mog gives you the chance to learn your alphabet once again, but this time from the perspective of a rather dim, but happy cat.  Using images from the previous books, a list of Mog adventures has been created from A to Z including C for Cats of course, but also E for Eggs.  All the items are linked by Mog or his family.

The important element that ‘‘Mog ABC’’ had to achieve was keep the charm of the original books and thankfully this is the case.  ABC books by their very nature are often disjointed affairs as there is no story and instead a seemingly random selection of items reflecting different letters.  That is the case here, but instead of feeling disjointed, the book feels like an old photo album full of memories.  Each letter has its own illustration and even the simplest one is evocative.  A lot of this will be down to memories of Mog from my youth, but they all hold up on their own as Kerr’s illustrations have a timeless appeal.  As long as that time in the 70s.

As an education tool, the book works by simply giving you the capital and lower case of a letter and then a word e.g. Bb is for Baby.  However, some of the images also come with a little quote from one of the books that brings back fond memories and also tells you something about the picture.  Therefore, an image of Mog with a baby is made more amusing by the sarcastic note that Mog loves babies, when she clearly does not.

It is sometimes difficult to untangle feelings of nostalgia for something like ‘‘Mog ABC’’ with the actual book, but there is easily enough in the fun images and basic ABC format to appeal to a toddler.  What is extra special is that something that could have been published just as a way of making more money from the IP actually has the same level of charm as the originals.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

All Aboard The Discovery Express by Emily Hawkins, Tom Adams and @tomclohosycole Book Review – 4 Stars

Express

Lift the flap books are for toddlers?  Wrong, ‘All Aboard The Discovery Express’ by Emily Hawkins, Tom Adams and Tom Clohosy Cole shows that they work brilliantly for older children too.  This book is part mystery, part history book.  You step aboard a magical locomotive that travels on the tracks, but also through time.  You have to find a missing professor and he has left clues through history, each one takes you to another time and place.

‘Discovery Express’ is essentially an educational book that has been given a fantastic format.  This is a book to behold.  The A4 hardback version of the book is a masterpiece of good looking publishing.  The star is Cole’s illustrations that are crisp and evoke a timeless feel, which is useful when traveling through the ages.  The flaps themselves also work brilliantly.  Each double spread has a large illustration. But hidden amongst them are well designed flaps.  Behind these is where the real information is and authors Hawkins and Adams go into a lot more detail.  The use of flaps is a triumph as it means that the clean lines of the drawings are kept, which still allowing the book to be educational.

There are some neat puzzles hidden behind various flaps that will tickle the inquisitive 7-10 year old.  Some are quite straight forward, but all require a little knowledge such as geography or maths.  The entire book treats the target audience with respect and aims to cater for children who enjoy learning for the pleasure of it.  It is particularly of interest to those with a love of mechanics and engineering, a lot of the places that the Express visits happen to coincide with great experimental breakthroughs.

In all, ‘Discovery Express’ is almost the ideal book for an educational minded child, but there is a flaw with the layout.  It has happened before with Wide Eyed Publishing that they don’t make the text big enough, or use strange colourings.  In this case it does not make this book unreadable, but it is a tricky read for anyone with colour problems or poor eyesight.  It is a shame to alienate some users just because the font could not be upped a little, there is plenty of space.  Still a lovely book though.

4 Stars