Author Archives: thebookactivist

About thebookactivist

Celebrating children & young people’s reading through all sorts of book-ish activities.

BLOG TOUR: BRITANNICA ALL NEW CHILDREN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA: What We Know and What We Don’t – Humans

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the amazing BRITANNICA ALL NEW CHILDREN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA: What We Know and What We Don’t. The great joy of an encyclopedia for children is that the information has already been sifted and sorted by the experts, and is ready simply for them to enjoy and make use of as needed. As a school librarian, I could often be found encouraging children and young people to start with an encyclopedia for a foundation on which to build their knowledge. And you cannot get a stronger foundation than Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been inspiring learning since 1768!

BRITANNICA ALL NEW CHILDREN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA: What We Know and What We Don’t, edited by author and lecturer Christopher Lloyd, is the first book published under a new reference imprint, Britannica Books, a collaboration between Encyclopedia Britannica and What on Earth Publishing. With 416 pages of mind-boggling facts, data and visuals endorsed by more than 100 expert consultants, there is much to discover. Special features highlight some of the most intriguing facts and unsolved puzzles in science, archaeology, history and engineering and there are fascinating segments called FACTastic, Listified, Known Unknowns and Game Changers.

Today, I am sharing my thoughts on the section entitled ‘Humans’, almost fifty pages of dazzling insight into everything from how our bodies work to the clothes we wear, the food we eat, our emotions, human art and culture, money, crime and law, education and religion. Immediately you are struck by the high-quality production of the book and can see straightaway much thought has gone into making the information exciting and accessible. Layouts are colourful, easy to read and full of fantastic illustrations bringing the information to life.

This is the kind of book an avid reader will lap up and a reluctant reader will be very happy to dip in and out of – they won’t even realise they’re reading as they absorb the many fabulous facts on display in words and pictures! Facts like – a human being can make more than 10,000 different faces, and, scientists found 5,700 year old DNA in a piece of chewing gum! Alongside these engaging insights, children will learn so much more about human history, science and culture – this is a book readers will come back to again and again. It will also be very useful as an introduction to a whole range of topics – definitely one for the classtoom and school library.

My particular favourite spreads were (unsurprisingly) ‘Reading and Writing’ – did you know the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, was written over 1,000 years ago by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting in the Japanese court? I didn’t! And the ‘Creating Art’ and ‘Performing Arts’ spreads showing just how important the Arts are to humans; creating art has been a part of our lives for over 40, 000 years. If you haven’t picked up an encyclopedia for a long time, then this is one I’d highly recommend- great to share in school and at home, inspiring curiosity and encouraging reading.

Find out more at books.britannica.com.

With thanks to Britannica Books for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour:

GUEST POST: Poetry and privacy with A.F Harrold

A.F.Harrold is an award-winning poet and author, most recently shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2020 for Midnight Feasts: Tasty poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell. The judges, including 2019 CLiPPA winner poet Steven Camden (aka Spoken Word artist Polarbear) described Ashley’s book as ‘a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced.’

I’ve been privileged to see Ashley performing poetry and running school workshops with children aged 7 and 8 – you’d be hard-pressed to say who enjoyed it more – the children or the adults in the room! His energy, humour and love for poetry is contagious. Read an extract from Midnight Poems:

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Ashley to the blog today with a guest post about poetry and privacy and how we can use poetry to help deal with the things that trouble us. Welcome to the blog Ashley!

Poetry and Privacy – A.F. Harrold

“What I love, and have always loved, about poetry (and about all art, really) is that it’s none of your business.

What I mean is, when I read a book or a poem or listen to a piece of music or hear a joke, I am under no obligation to share it. I don’t have to tell anyone about it. Not about what I thought of it, or how it made me feel, or what it reminded me of, or what connections I traced from it to other pieces of art I’ve consumed before. I can keep all of that to myself.

Art is private, and one’s responses to art are private.

Sure, you might be the sort of person who loves sharing, in which case share away.

But for those of us who aren’t sharers, who don’t much care for the outside world, that feeling of ‘This-is-mine-ness’ of a book or a poem or a story overheard… that thing that happens in the solitary heart and the reader, the listener, is special. It’s a treasure, it’s something that belongs to us, a gem sparkling in the head of the toad of ourselves.

No one has the right to ask you what you think about this or that book or poem (or rather they have the right, but you have no duty to answer them). Keep it safe, keep it secret, if you want.

(You may not have much that belongs to you. You might have to share your toys, your bedroom, your bathwater. But this one thing, this treasure in your head, no one can take that away.)

And the same should go for making art.

You should feel free, whether you’re 8 or 80, to make poems, to do drawings, to write stories, to keep a diary, and to choose to keep them to yourself or share them with the world as you see fit.

Think of making poems as diary keeping.

Use them to find shapes for your thoughts and your fears, for the things that are happening in your life and in your family, with your friends or with strangers you saw in the shops… and sometimes just writing it down will be enough to still the fear, sometimes putting it away and looking back in a month or in six months and seeing how you’ve grown or changed or stayed the same as you-from-the-past might be helpful.

Writing something and knowing that no one else will see it, read it (until or unless you choose to share it), is a way of talking to yourself, to the future you, of checking in and taking stock. It has been essential to me, at times, and if you’re shy or solitary, like I am, then it might be something you should try.

But even if you don’t write, remember to read, that too is a good way to learn about yourself.”

Find out more about A.F Harrold at www.afharroldkids.com and the CLiPPA 2020 at www.clpe.org.uk

New review: The Rules by Tracy Darnton

RULES – Leave no trace, Trust no one, Stay one step ahead, Prep for the worst……..Amber’s an expert when it comes to staying hidden – she’s been trained her whole life for it. But what happens when the person you’re hiding from taught you everything you know? When a letter from her dad arrives, Amber knows she’s got to drop everything and run. He’s managed to track her down and he’ll stop at nothing to draw her back into his extreme ‘prepper’ way of life. Now the Rules she’s’ been trying to escape are the ones keeping her safe. But for how long?

The Rules by Tracy Darnton is a gripping YA thriller, keeping you guessing right till the egde-of-your-seat ending. Rules to live by that keep you safe and give guidance are one thing – rules that control your life and keep you prisoner are another, and this is what Amber is running from. Sadly her father is the culprit – the person she should be able to trust most in the world is the person trying to control her and with her mother gone, Amber is on her own. Not even social services can protect her. Amber’s fear but also her grit and determination are palpable from the first page, as the narrative shows us the dark side of being a ‘prepper’ – people who prepare for impending apocalypse, no matter the cost. Set in the run up to Christmas, adding to the isolation and loneliness Amber feels, it seems she is doomed to spend her life on the run. A chance encounter with a face from the past brings some light relief as we meet Josh, someone who has suffered his own traumas but manages to stay positive. And positivity is something Amber really needs if she is going to escape from her father. In light of current circumstances, this story became unnervingly more real -a great read for fans of contemporary YA thrillers.

Tracy Darnton’s previous YA novel, The Truth About Lies was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. Find out more at www.littletiger.co.uk.

With thanks to Little Tiger for sending me this book to review.

GUEST POST: Everyone Needs a Wulfie with author Lindsay J Sedgwick

I recently reviewed Wulfie: Stage Fright by Lindsay J Sedgwick illustrated by Josephine Wolff , a charming story about families, friendship and being brave even when you’re afraid. The story features a young girl LIbby who finds a much needed friend in Wulfie. Although he gets her into some scrapes, he also is a staunch ally when she needs it most. Read the review here.

I’m really pleased to welcome author Lindsay to the blog today with a guest post about why everyone needs a Wulfie. Welcome to the blog Lindsay!

Lindsay J Sedgwick

Everyone Needs a Wulfie

“It’s that simple. We all need friends, and every child needs a Wulfie.

That’s why he exists. It’s why he was created. So that every child diving into these books could imagine she was Libby and Wulfie was her best friend.

He’s a lot more loyal than many friends in the real world when you’re a child and he was invented for that very reason. For my daughter, also called Libby, who really, REALLY wanted a best friend.

She was four when Wulfie first appeared. I was sitting on her bed trying to make up stories for her. He was the explanation as to why we always had 17 odd socks – Wulfie was eating the ones that vanished before they ever made it to the washing machine. He could grow and shrink, he was purple and he loved her more than anything. He also kept getting her into more trouble, despite his intentions being good.

He was incredibly nosy and impulsive, while she was just trying to get through the days without being blamed for stuff her brother did.

Every story was adlibbed on the spot, so if I ran out of steam or inspiration, I’d ask Libby to give me three words – an object, a mood, a place, a sound …. and use those to make up a fresh adventure for the duo.  It got to the point where she wouldn’t let me take the short cut of reading a book to her – it had to be a new Wulfie story.

They weren’t always very good, but the central relationship was always fun, if sometimes sticky, muddy, messy … Because Wulfie and Libby had to face adversity, jeopardy, fear, meanness, even true nastiness so that they would triumph in the end and Libby would go to sleep with a smile on her face.

Wulfie, we discovered, would eat anyone who was mean to Libby. And, yes, the fictional Libby would make him spit them out, but for a while after they’d be sniffing bums or chasing a tail they didn’t have, so there was payback! He was fluffy and scruffy and cheeky and mischievous. And, to begin, nobody knew he existed except her.

Stories started to take us through several nights, trying to find extra twists, extra obstacles, extra fun and slapstick. Pretty soon Libby was wishing Wulfie was real and I started writing notes after she’d gone to sleep ….

Wulfie, in short, was the ultimate best friend.

That this was the motor behind the series was consolidated years later when I asked her – then aged 7 – what a best friend was. We were waiting for the bus to town and she had been musing about how everyone else seemed to have one.

“Someone who would walk through flames for me,” she said.

As a parent, my heart sank. I admired her courage and ambition, but how could anyone live up to this? It’s no use as a parent to tell your child that they will meet that ‘best friend’ at some point in the future, probably. That maybe you’re more interesting and special and shouldn’t try so hard. When you see everyone else pairing up and forming groups, it makes you sad inside.

This is where books come in to keep us going. To allow us to dive in, to be an invented world with all sorts of friends, having adventures and eventually triumphing.

Like many writers, I was the child looking on at peers who seemed to more easily make friends. I was also a daydreamer who was almost always somewhere else in my imagination when I wasn’t meant to be. Writing essays that were condemned as being too creative. When I read books then, I reinvented myself as the characters, living through their adventures and friendships. I find it all too easy to remember what it was like as a child so when I write, I am my characters; talking aloud, twitching, being in the story with them and hearing their voices in my head.

Wulfie went through a few incarnations between then and now. My daughter is now 21, doing her final year in UCC. But it was set in stone back in those first days that Wulfie’s role was that to be the best friend ever, loyal to Libby regardless of everything and everyone else.

And yes, this does mean he’s going to get her into adventures and scrapes she might not have chosen, but with all of these, she gets stronger and more confident.

That was what I wanted for my daughter Libby, way back then, and for every kid I knew. I still do.”

Find out more about Wulfie: Stage Fright at www.littleisland.ie

New reviews: Picture book roundup!

There is something quite wonderful about picture books. Is it the combination of amazing words and illustrations? The fact that picture books can convey the most important of emotions and concerns in the most simple way? Or perhaps the sheer joy of the stories that are brought to life on each spread? Or all of the above?! Today I’m sharing my thoughts on a brilliant selection of picture books I’ve received over the last few months, out now or coming soon.

Some people have dresses for every occasion but Afiya needs only one. Her dress records the memories of her childhood, from roses in bloom to pigeons in flight, from tigers at the zoo to October leaves falling. A whimsical celebration of a young girl’s childhood, igniting our curiosity and awe at the little wonders of the everyday

A Story About Afiya by James Berry illustrated by Anna Cunha is a gorgeous picture book sharing the joy of childhood and the wonder of discovery. We follow Afiya as she explores her world and each day finds a new memory ‘imprinted’ on her dress. At night her dress is washed clean, ready for a new memory the next day.

Delightfully simple, beautifully described and stunningly illustrated, this is a precious story to treasure. Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com

You might think that when you sleep the world sleeps with you, but all through the night others are busy. Firefighters wait for the bell to ring, nurses and doctors look after their patients, postal workers sort letters and parcels. Mums and Dads are up feeding their babies…and out in the wild, owls, bats and foxes search for food.

While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson and illustrated by John Broadley will spark the imaginations and bring to life a world of activity children might not realise existed! Utterly fascinating with mesmerising illustrations, watch wildlife as they come out to play and forage for food, alongside the busy people working to keep our lives running.

Particularly poignant at this time, this is a great book to bring new perspective on the world we live in and celebrate the people who help us. Find out more at www.pavilionbooks.com

The next time you look up the night sky, if you stare really hard; you might be lucky enough to see the sparkling metal planet with all its robots and all their robo-babies. A story about the many ways in which babies arrive into their families, including IVF, donor conception, surrogacy and adoption.

Robo-Babies by Laura Gallagher illustrated by Nicci Martin celebrates the many and varied journeys too parenthood. Heart-warming and informative, young children of all backgrounds will see in simple terms the many different ways a child can be brought into this world, with love at the heart of each family.

Brilliantly accessible with lively and colourful illustrations, this is a fantastic picture book with an important and inclusive message at its heart. Find out more at www.owletpress.com

We have explored every corner of our planet, and yet a whole undiscovered universe of microbes hides within our bodies…. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the connections between microbes and health. Follow the digestive process and learn about this fascinating frontier and the vast ecosystem that lives inside you!

Gut Garden : A Journey into the Wonderful World of your Microbiome by Katie Brosnan is quite simply an amazing insight into our insides! Readers young and old will be fascinated by the ecosystem that exists within the human body and how microbes are such an important part of it – from the digestive process to helping cure diseases. It’s no surprise this brilliant book has been nominated for three awards!

An essential part of our health and well-being, every child (and adult!) should visit the Gut Garden! Find out more www.cicadabooks.co.uk

Disaster strikes! Everyone is in a panic. Can Benny save the day? Will he have to press his bright red button? Benny’s new adventure sees all the robots having to work together when more aliens arrive on their planet. 

One Button Benny and the Gigantic Catastrophe by Alan Windram illustrated by Chloe Holwill-Hunter sees the return of charming and cheeky robot, Benny. This time Benny has to rescue everyone’s kidnapped pet cats, pressing his big red button and visiting an alien planet in the process! With help from his friends, Benny saves the day just in time to enter Sparky his pet cat, into the Cool Cat Competition. Can you guess who wins?!

A lively adventure, full of fun with delightful illustrations capturing the action, children will want to read this again and again. Find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

Fia longs to go to the mysterious island, where the air is thick with secrets. One night a moonbeam stretches across the bay and leads her there. She rides on the back of a gilded butterfly, dances up the stars in the sky and down to the bed of the sea….

To The Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli is a beautiful lyrical tale, full of imagination and wonder. Gorgeous illustrations and a charming narrative take you on a magical journey to the island of Hy Brasil, where the world is full of incredible creatures. Join Fia as her dream comes true and she has the most marvellous adventure through the night sky.

You can’t help but feel Hy Brasil is out there somewhere and if we just believe, our imaginations will take us there! A delightful bedtime story, find out more at www.littleisland.ie.

Feeling tired after a busy day? But you can’t sleep? Then Snooze is the perfect book for you! It will explain how to get the best sleep ever.

Snooze by Eilidh Muldoon tells the story of Owl who just can’t get to sleep. This is a humourous take on a problem many will be familiar with, as Owl’s efforts are hampered by a menagerie of noisy animals. A well-paced narrative and lively expressive illustrations combine to create lots of empathy for poor Owl!

Snooze is sure to bring a smile to young readers as well as help them get a good night’s sleep. Find out more at www.littledoorbooks.co.uk.

That fabulous, fluttering fairy, wherever can she be? Join our intrepid family to find out! In this wonderful adventure, readers will enjoy trying to find the hiding fairy, while meeting magical, endangered wildlife in the way.

We’re off to Find a Fairy by Eloise White illustrated by Cory Reid is a lovely story celebrating the magic that can be found in the countryside that surrounds us. Featuring some of our favourite insects and animals from British wildlife, the fairy may elude the family but there’s still wonder in the woods and meadows! This is one of a trio of picture books that encompass incidental diversity, with the family including mixed race and disabled characters. Children will love joining in with the rhyming narrative and spotting the wildlife in the beautifully drawn illustrations. Publishing on 20th October, find out more at www.owletpress.com

With thanks to all the publishers who sent me these books to read and review. They will be donated to a local foodbank I work with to feed minds as well as tummies!