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October 2019 Book of the Month | Written for and about “the swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history and opened a world of possible”, for those who “survived America by any means necessary. And the ones who didn’t,” this is an inspiring ode to the author’s forebears and to the world-changing feats of unforgettable Black American figures. Author Kwame Alexander’s initial inspiration for this book came in the year his second daughter was born, the same year Barack Obama became the first African American president of the USA. As a result, Alexander wanted his daughters “to know how we got to this historic moment”, which is exactly what this stirring book does. The chained slaves who kept faith, the elite Olympians, the innovative musicians, the seminal scientists, the courageous activists - people from all walks of life are celebrated in Alexander’s poetically poised words, and gloriously illustrated by Kadir Nelson, with much for young children to ponder and ask questions about. As well as being a wonderful way for parents to explore Black American history with their little ones on a one-to-one basis, this will also work well with older children in a classroom context. Indeed, this is one of those rare and wonderful picture books that defies age boundaries - a radiant, resonant unforgettable tour de force, as befits its theme.
October 2019 Book of the Month | Here’s another inspiring, information-packed picture book in what’s becoming something of a series (see also Great Women Who Made History and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World). It tells the stories of pioneering women who achieved amazing things, often in the face of prejudice or downright hostility from society. There are familiar names – Rosalind Franklin is included – plus lots that are lesser known, but just as fascinating: balloonist Sophie Blanchard for example, and Sarah Breedlove, beauty entrepreneur. Their stories are told through lively, engaging text and pictures, it’s a treat to read. Kate Pankhurst is something of a fantastically great woman herself, and there’s lots for all readers to marvel at and enjoy in this book.
The partnership of Mick Manning and Brita Granström has undoubtedly transformed the approach to non-fiction over the past 20 award-winning years and here they have illuminated that tricky curriculum requirement of studying Britain in the Stone Age with their trademark information picturebook style. This book actually is much more than that; it defines the start of history, which is from the point at which humans began to write and record and asks the reader to take a bold and imaginative journey through the millennia that came before. From the very formation of the Earth and Moon to the beginnings of life and the slow progression and development of our planet, through dinosaurs, extinction events and to the eventual appearance of man. The lively text does not talk down or patronise and is highly educative in the use of correct terminology for naming the epochs and creatures as they develop. The inclusive characters that accompany the reader on the journey help to ground us in the familiar and personify our curiosity. The images are striking and informative while being gently amusing. A very informative glossary and a Timeline Game to help test your understanding complete this valuable package. An exciting book which will be picked up for reading pleasure as well as being a real asset for the curriculum.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2019 | | Sally Nicholls has a rare ability to tell a story from the past by making it both of its time and also accessible for today’s readers. Her characters are always credible people facing up to the great challenges of the day while her details of the period make her settings authentic too. Here, she takes a moment in history when the world was completely changed because of the number of people who died: 1349, the year of the Black Death. Thirteen year old Isobel tells her story, shying away from no details as she describes what she sees as the Plague strikes her family and the whole tight knit community of the Yorkshire village where she lives. Sally Nicholls pulls no punches in her telling of this dramatic story.
Produced in association with the British Museum this highly illustrated book gives kids a real sense of what life was like in Ancient Rome. It does so by asking them to put themselves in the sandals of their young forbears and compare aspects of their lives – humorously, mainly the worst bits. For example, they’re asked to imagine how horrendous school maths would be if all the letters were numbers, as they were for the Romans – it gives a whole new meaning to long division. There are sections on food, medicine (SO much better now) and family life too plus an index and glossary. Entertaining, accessible and full of information this merits X out of X.
Kate Pankhurst’s picture information books celebrate the lives of some of the world’s most inspiring women and they fill the pages of this excellent activity book too. You can cut out and make butterflies while reading about 17th century naturalist Maria Merian; dream about travelling the world while colouring in balloons and learning about pioneering aeronaut Sophie Blanchard; and detail your characteristics while discovering DNA with Rosalind Franklin. It’s fun and informative, each page offering something different to do and a new history to enjoy. At the back, just before the pages of pull-out stickers, there’s a chance to make a list of all your own hopes and dreams for the future – readers should have no trouble filling the page after what they’ve read. A great activity book for girls and boys too.
2018 saw the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth and this is a wonderful book to introduce children to one of the most inspiring figures of modern times. The text takes the form of questions from Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchildren Zazi and Ziwelene to their Grandma Zindzi. As she answers them, readers learn about Mandela and his years in prison, why he was arrested, what he was fighting for and the joy there was on his release. They’ll understand the hardships his children and family endured, and how they kept themselves strong. They’ll also take away the word ‘ubuntu’ - ‘I am because we all are’. The narrative puts readers at the heart of the story while Sean Qualls’s evocative illustrations reveal even more about Mandela’s fight for fairness and freedom.
Told with crystalline clarity and verve, and fabulously enhanced by the stylish illustrations, this tells the remarkable against-the-odds tale of Katherine Johnson from her days as an exceptional African American schoolgirl whose “boundless curiosity turned her into a star student”. But despite her brightness, ten-year-old Katherine faced the terrible restraints of segregation – as an African American she wasn’t permitted to study at her local high school. As she “burned with fury”, her family determined to get Katherine the education she deserved and so they moved to a town with a high school for black students. Her path to working on Project Apollo required incredible perseverance, but thanks to that, and to her outstanding mathematical skills, the world could count on Katherine to set the moon landings back on course. Shot-through with a rousing sense of Katherine’s determination and dedication to her work, and with her shining mathematical brilliance, this beautiful book deserves to be on the shelves of every space-loving child.
May 2019 Non-Fiction Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month May 2019 | Enduringly fascinating and inspiring, the story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest is always worth re-visiting. This strong narrative biography matched with atmospheric illustrations brings the two men to life from their childhoods in New Zealand and Nepal respectively to their amazing feat of climbing the world’s highest mountain. Alexandra Stewart and Joe Todd-Stanton capture something about the personalities of the two and the reasons that they felt the need to take on this great challenge. Most successfully, in words and pictures they describe the extraordinary landscape of Everest and the surrounding mountains and in particular the enormous dangers and the unique magic of mountaineering - especially when you take on the challenge of the highest mountain in the world.
Ferdinand Magellan, written by Isabel Thomas and illustrated by Dàlia Adillon is a charmingly illustrated biography of a brilliant and brave explorer. Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to sail all the way around the world. An intrepid sailor and navigator, he encountered lands and creatures that he could never have imagined, and the journey was fraught with danger and difficulty.
Anne Frank, written by Isabel Thomas and illustrated by Paola Escabar is a beautifully illustrated biography of a little girl who became a victim of WWII. Anne Frank was an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times. Forced to go into hiding to escape the Nazis’persecution of Jews in World War II, Anne kept a diary that would become one of the most famous books in the world. Meet one of history’s most inspiring figures in this beautifully illustrated guide to her amazing life.
Who better to introduce children to the world of ancient Greek myth than gladiator Julius Zebra (and if you don’t know, he really is a zebra). Julius and his band have already survived being kidnapped by Romans and thrown into the Colosseum, a stay in Britannia and a shipwreck in Egypt, but can they survive a challenge from the hero Heracles (or as Julius knows him Hairy Keith)? It brings them into contact with the Minotaur and King Midas, and ends with a trip into the underworld no less. The story is brilliantly funny as always, and action packed while there’s loads of proper information on ancient life amongst the silliness. Glorious stuff!