Non-fiction Review: The Invisible World of Germs by Isabel Thomas

Cover image by Geraldine Sy and Ana Seixas, published by OUP, May 2022

The latest in the Very Short Introductions series provides answers to many questions that children and adults might have after the past two years sitting through news briefings about viruses, vaccines and R numbers. Isabel Thomas is a first class science communicator, never talking down to her readership, but presenting scientific information and vocabulary with absolute clarity, leaving readers enlightened and satisfied. This book has been intelligently designed with photos; illustrated diagrams and cartoon strip inserts by Geraldine Sy and Ana Seixas; and shout-outs to introduce new vocabulary and concepts. Information is broken into bite-sized chunks with clever use of colour and layout, so that complex ideas can be understood. The overall package delivers a comprehensive education of the microbial world in under 100 small format pages.

It is split into eight chapters which provide a history of the scientific research that led to our present day understanding of microbes, the effect of different microbes on the human body, immunology, medicines and the positive uses of microbes in our world. I particularly liked the use of regular features throughout the book such as Germ Hero, which provided single sentence biographies of scientists who had made breakthrough discoveries; and Speak Like a Scientist where key scientific terms were explained. As you would expect from a great non-fiction book, there is a glossary at the end.

As a librarian working in the health sector, I am always delighted to find books which provide evidence-based information that is accessible and informative for a wide readership. An informed population is likely to be one that is better able to contribute to the management of their own health and less likely to fall for misinformation. The Invisible World of Germs … and its impact on our lives would be suitable for upper Key Stage 2 classrooms, as well as secondary school settings, and also provides useful information for adult readers; I highly recommend that you read it.

I am most grateful to OUP for sending me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Science Week Review: Beetles for Breakfast by Madeleine Finlay and Jisu Choi

Cover art by Jisu Choi, published by Flying Eye Books 2021

To mark this year’s #ScienceWeek I thought I would write a long-overdue review of this feast for the brain: Beetles for Breakfast, written by Madeleine Finlay, illustrated by Jisu Choi and published at the end of 2021 by Flying Eye Books. This exploration of the application of biological technology to our planet’s future was first brought to my attention in a review written by Anne Thompson, published on her blog A Library Lady which prompted me to order a copy.

This fabulous book is packed with facts and possibilities, encouraging young readers to consider everyday situations and the application of biological sciences to make life on earth sustainable in the future. The science is so compelling that although the book has been written at a level accessible to primary school children, it has engaged a teen studying biology at A level and this health librarian who studied biological sciences many years previously! The short panels of text explain the scientific principles in clear, straightforward language and specific scientific vocabulary is presented in bold font and defined in a glossary. Thus children gain valuable knowledge without being bamboozled by jargon.

I really enjoyed the structure of this book, each chapter takes on a familiar location, for example: At School, At the Beach, On the Farm and has an explainer spread, followed by spreads which delve into the future technologies which could be applied to each topic in increasing depth. The ecological problems that we currently face are explained with great clarity, and creative solutions that have been investigated or postulated by scientists are explored. Every page is fully illustrated in the quirky, retro style of Jisu Choi and there are so many details on every spread that children are likely to return to this book very often to spot new details in every chapter. I would like to congratulate the designer because the text is absolutely readable on every panel of every page, which I have not always found to be the case in highly-coloured non-fiction books.

The opening chapter which discusses the “beetles for breakfast” concept is absolutely fascinating in its examination of future sustainable food sources. I can imagine this topic along with many others (including the many prospective uses of poo) proving to be utterly compelling for curious young minds. Hopefully some young readers will contribute their energies and skills to making the ideas in the “future thinking” chapter at the end of the book become a reality.

Beetles for Breakfast definitely needs to be in every primary school library and Key Stage 2 classroom and not just for Science Week!

Non-Fiction Review: Breaking News by Nick Sheridan

To be published by Simon & Schuster on 23rd December 2021

This super-readable exploration of the “News” will appeal to all aspiring journalists and young consumers of information alike. Although humorously written, Nick Sheridan’s guide to the world of journalism covers a range of important topics such as how to check the veracity of facts, the ethics of posting consumer generated news content and how to determine whether a story is newsworthy.

The book is divided into short chapters, each wittily illustrated and utilising a range of fonts and shout-outs to highlight key points. As you would expect from a successful journalist, Nick Sheridan’s writing is thoroughly engaging, he presents information concisely and in language that KS2 and KS3 readers will relate to and be entertained by. In fact, I can envisage so many ways in which this book could be used in schools. From History lessons, to Careers Guidance by way of Literacy ( journalistic writing) and Digital Literacy; there is content here that teachers could very easily incorporate into lessons and that children could read to expand their knowledge.

I really liked the author’s use of practical examples which encourage his audience to interact with the book rather than just being a passive consumer of the information he presents. Hopefully they will then put these skills into use when reading “news” items, especially on social media but even within the mainstream media to check for bias and misinformation or fake news. If this generation of children and young people can be educated to see through media manipulation and bias, hopefully they can make decisions based on facts rather than falsehoods. 

If you want to know the difference between top lines and headlines, the meaning of MoJo and UCG, how to write a news item using the inverted pyramid or some sensible advice about how to deal with online trolls, you will find the answers in Breaking News. There is a useful glossary at the end of the book and web addresses for a list of excellent fact – checking sites. I would recommend that all primary and secondary schools purchase this useful and engaging book for their libraries and classrooms.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for early access to an electronic copy prior to publication on 23rd December 2021.

Review: The Lights That Dance in the Night written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Books

A perfect picture book to share with young children, especially this autumn/winter when the Northern Lights have been visible to many in the north of the UK, Yuval Zommer’s latest work is an absolute essential for home and school bookshelves. He consistently produces the most amazing books which capture the awesome spectacle of nature through his distinctive artwork and careful choice of simple text.

Giving a sentient voice to the tiny specks of dust that have travelled through the stormy atmosphere to perform the awe-inspiring light display known as the Northern Lights, Yuval Zommer inspires all readers – adults and children to embrace their potential to spread joy. His wondrously rendered artwork shows the radiance, happiness and pleasure that this natural phenomenon brings to a range of creatures; making whales sing, wolves howl…and my favourite, foxes sashay! Every page sparkles with the mystery of the lights and the marvels of the natural world. The human storytelling inspired by the lights is encompassed as:

People stopped to stand and stare, to feel the magic in the air.

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I think that his description of the Northern Lights as “a miracle of winter” can be applied to this book as well as to the festive season and this will be high on my gift-giving list to young relatives this winter and, I suspect for many years to come. An absolutely perfect picture book which I highly recommend to everyone to share with a young child.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott for organising my gift copy of The Lights That Dance in the Night from Oxford University Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Other books from Yuval Zommer which you might want to share as Christmas gifts include A Thing Called Snow and The Tree That’s Meant to Be.

Non-fiction November Review: Split Survival Kit by Ruth Fitzgerald & Angharad Rudkin

Cover image by Stef Murphy, to be published by Wren & Rook / Hachette Children’s Group
17th February 2022

This engaging, down to earth guide has been designed with great care to provide a practical road map to assist children and teenagers through the emotional journey encountered when parents decide to separate. One of the authors, Dr Angharad Rudkin is a Clinical Psychologist, specialising in children and family issues while Ruth Fitzgerald has written a hugely popular fiction series for the tween readership. The combination of clinical knowledge and skill at writing for the 10/11+ audience, combined with Stef Murphy’s artwork make this a book that youngsters will want to pick up and learn from, if they sadly find themselves facing this circumstance.

Starting from the premise that parental separation is a journey on which most people would not wish to embark, the book proposes to set out ten steps to help children navigate the emotional path, discussing all the steps along the way and giving young people the vocabulary they need to articulate their feelings. The ten chapters are broken into sections which include real life stories of young people who have already experienced these issues; advice on ways to think differently and empathetically about a situation; practical exercises to help manage emotions and journal writing or drawing hints to help youngsters track their feelings through the process.

The design and layout of the chapters has been done with great skill to ensure that the advice is accessible to all. The images convey information clearly and sympathetically; text is broken into chunks, often contained in panels which resemble pages ripped from a notebook or in bullet journal-style layout, with arrows and bullet points highlighting summaries or key points. Readers are guided through the process from the initial thought that perhaps they can encourage their parents to change track and stay together, to acceptance, to dealing with their own feelings, managing anxieties and finding the answers to questions that cause anxiety, learning how to talk about their family situation to others without embarrassment, how to cope when parents behave badly, how to deal with life split between two houses and the introduction of new family members and how to manage the impact on their own future emotional life.

Throughout the book there is a tone of positivity and calmness, readers are encouraged to look for the positives in their situation, advice is given on how to take control of those aspects which they can manage, and to accept that some things cannot be changed. It is made clear from the start that children are in no way to blame for parental separation and that their feelings are important and need to be discussed with the adults in their life. At the end of the book there are contact details for organisations which can supply further advice and help if needed, there is also a very helpful glossary of terms which children might hear during the family court process. While no book can take the place of personal discussion with responsible adults or even clinicians, this title is likely to be a very valuable addition to the wellbeing collections in school, public and even healthcare libraries, with its expert writing for children of 10+, presenting reassurance and practical guidance at a time of family break-up.

I am grateful to NetGalley and to Wren & Rook/Hachette Children’s Group for allowing me access to a pre-publication. electronic version of Split Survival Kit in exchange for my honest opinion.