New reviews: November reads big book blog

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I’ve enjoyed some great books from the TBR pile over the last month.  Here are five of my recommended reads this month featuring magical adventures, suitably wintry landscapes, a haunting war time tale and a funny blend of story and science.

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in a freezing Victorian train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is heading for a new life in the remote country house of Plas-y-Fran. But when she gets there the happy Christmas she hoped for turns out to be an illusion.  Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth,  a magical snow globe and her own indomitable courage, Sereb sets off on a perilous midnight journey into an enchanted world of snow and stars to bring happiness back to Pas-y-Fran.

A wonderful adventure story, The Clockwork Crow has mystery, magic and a marvellous heroine! Seren is no stranger to hardship having been raised in an orphanage, but just when she thinks her life will finally get easier, she is thrown headlong into a mystery adventure.  Seren’s new home is full of sadness and she is determined to find out why with the help – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of her new friend, a talking mechanical bird.  A page-turning narrative keeps you in suspense right till the end, with a few sinister and darkly magical moments that make you hold your breath.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters featured in it – especially Seren’s cantankerous companion! The Clockwork Crow is well-deserving of it’s recent short listing for the Blue Peter Book Award and a great new fantasy story to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk. With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

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The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship’s captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves.  She has read stories of a magical creature – the Nardoo – who swims through the stars at night, and stows away on a whaling boat the Plucky Leopard for an adventure full of myths and marvel among the ice-caps.  But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep….

This is a captivating story about kindness and courage, family and fortune, all rolled into one marvellous adventure.  Oona makes a delightful heroine who you instantly warm too especially when you realise what a hard life she has had as the unwanted daughter of a family with seven children. She takes matters into her own hands as she stows away on her father’s ship and her pluck and courage are not disappointed as the adventure begins. Wonderful descriptions bring a thrilling and magical world instantly to life with beautiful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz. Reminiscent of a classic fairytale where the heroine never gives up hope and finally finds where she belongs, and where the villains get their comeuppance, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is a story to be treasured.

Find out more www.scholastic.co.ukWith thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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White Feather by Catherine and David McPhail

The First World War is over, but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land. To make it worse, Charlie died not as hero but was executed as a coward. Grief-stricken Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor and he is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth.

White Feather is a haunting reminder of the horror faced by all those involved in World War One. Published in time for the Armistice centenary, this powerful middle-grade story portrays the journey of Tony as he desperately seeks the truth about his brother.  His mother refuses to accept Charlie’s death and her mental health deteriorates.  As Tony begins to uncover the truth, it is clear the impact of the war reaches even beyond his imagination and experience.  White Feather deals with many issues of the war – conflict, grief, desertion, shell shock – and challenges readers to think from a wider view about who was affected and how far reaching the consequences of war can be.  An accessible read, the simple narrative will help everyone who reads it understand why it is so important we remember the sacrifices made by so many, not just for the centenary but for always.

Find out more www.barringtonstoke.co.ukWith thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

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Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home. In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths …

Frostfire is a fabulous fantasy debut creating an utterly believable world with a brave new heroine at its heart. Bonding with a frostsliver is the highest honour that only a few of the Aderasti people are chosen for. The frostsilver becomes a symbiotic part of the chosen person and opens their eyes to the power of the frost fire.  We meet Sabira as she takes her first step toward her destiny but it’s not as straightforward as it seems.  Through flashbacks we discover she has already lost her brother to the mountain and that the world she knows is on the verge of collapse.  As the story unfolds, it is clear the dangers are not just on the mountain but inside it too and Sabira must prove her worth using all her strengths to overcome them.  A thrilling adventure, told with heart and creating a frightening and beautiful world of ice, snow and mysterious sentient beings, Frostfire will keep you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Al’s Awesome Science Blast Off by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown

It’s the twins’ birthday and Al is researching new ways to blast off his time-machine capsule into space. Trouble is, his experiments with balloons, marshmallow catapults and bottle rockets are just a little bit messy! Soon, the birthday party has taken on a rather explosive twist and trouble is brewing with Al’s nosy neighbours.

This is the third book in the science-based series featuring Al and his twin sister Lottie and Einstein the dog. A brilliant blend of science and story, these books are a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young readers as well as keep them entertained with hilarious stories.  Blast Off features a whole host of characters, from the twins’ friends to Precious the neighbour’s unfortunate cat, who gets caught up in the fun, and her owners Mr and Mrs Good.  Laugh-out-loud moments are brought to life by James Brown’s fantastic illustrations as Al investigates how rockets actually work.  Throughout there are ideas to help readers explore and try out the experiments themselves. I love that Al is never put off by the mishaps and mayhem he creates- as he says “I’m a scientist and scientists NEVER give up!”.  A great fun read to add to this fantastic science adventure series.

You can read guest blogs by the author and illustrator of this series here.

Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk. With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

 

 

New reviews: Fantastic Non-Fiction!

It’s National Non-Fiction November and a great time to share the amazing non-fiction books that bring the world we live in to life! Perfect for readers young and old to share, learn about all manner of brilliant subjects and just enjoy fantastic books.

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The National Trust Children’s Almanac 2019  by Anna Wilson illustrated by Elly Jahnz  is a beautifully written and illustrated month-by-month journey through the seasons.  Featuring everything from animal behaviour guides to seasonal recipes to activity ideas, this is a really delightful book to inspire even the most reluctant of young explorers to step outside. The author has taken great trouble to bring lots of interesting information together and show ways of being creative.  Accompanied by bright and colourful artwork, this is also a wonderful debut book for illustrator Elly Jahnz.

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I absolutely loved the activities, helpful top tips and that readers can make notes if they want to at the end of the book.  Each month includes special days to note at the start and highlights anniversaries of historical events such as the first moon landing or the Great Fire of London. The Children’s Alamanac would make a perfect gift and wonderful book to share, encouraging family outings and ways to discover new things about the world around us. Published as part of Nosy Crow’s ongoing partnership with The National Trust,  this is definitely one to add to the Christmas list!

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com and www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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Sleep by Kate Prendergastpublished by Old Barn Books, is a beautiful picture book looking at the sleeping habits of animals through stunning illustrations and simple facts.  I can’t imagine anyone seeing the book’s front cover and not wanting to pick it up! With a gentle narrative, each page describes how the animals sleep, some with extra footnotes to add different facts. The illustrations are quite amazing bringing to life the sleeping inhabitants of the book and showing their various habitats.

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Young readers will love identifying the different animals and habitats. The last spread introduces the idea of dreaming and in the final pages there are additional fascinating facts with web links to connect to online information should you wish to find out more.

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This is a really lovely book to introduce the animal kingdom to young readers and perhaps great to read at bedtime, encouraging even the most restless of little ones that everyone goes to sleep!

Find out more at www.kateprendergast.co.uk

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Secret Science The Amazing World Beyond Your Eyes by Dara O’Briain illustrated by Dan Bramall explores the incredible science behind everyday life with Dara O’Briain’s trademark humour, bringing to life even the most complicated scientific facts from molecules to neurotransmitters.

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If you’ve ever enjoyed Dara O’Briain’s stand up shows, then you’ll know the hilarious observations he makes and his brilliant use of emphasis. This translates brilliantly for kids into a very funny and totally inspired book.  Secret Science will have you laughing out loud as you discover all manner of weird and wonderful facts about things such as KILLER RAYS FROM SPACE (the Sun) to the ‘sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia’ (BRAIN FREEZE).

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Lively illustrations and larger than life graphics capture both the science and the humour perfectly showing us that it really is everywhere and ensuring readers will be utterly fascinated – as well as hugely entertained.  Published by Scholastic, Secret Science is great for all the family and a wonderful initiation in all things science!

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

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Absolutely Everything A History of East, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and things too numerous to mention by Christopher Lloyd is a beautifully presented book taking readers aged 9 and up on a journey through everything from the beginning of time to the present day.  Each chapter covers a specific time period  but connects the various eras within that time frame rather than separating them.  I enjoyed the inviting narrative style which enables you to see how history, science and nature connect. This is definitely a book for confident readers but one that could be shared and enjoyed by the whole family.  It has an index and a glossary so you can navigate more easily. Colourful and bold illustrations, alongside images of historical artefacts and locations bring many of the fascinating facts to life. It is a really informative book, that will challenge young historians to think differently.

The publication of Absolutely Everything is part of a wider campaign to connect knowledge and raise awareness of the value of a more cross-curricular approach to teaching and learning.  Having invited Christopher Lloyd to perform his What on Earth workshops in schools I have worked in, his passion for this is evident and I loved how he brought history, science, technology, literature and sport to life in just one hour!  As did the children!  Christopher’s belief is that “only by connecting knowledge back together again can children learn to think out of the box, develop critical thinking skills and become their own self-learning systems.”

Find out more at www.whatonearthbooks.com

With thanks to Old Barn Books, Nosy Crow, Scholastic and What on Earth Books for sending me this titles to review!

New review: Peace and Me by Ali Winter and Mickael El Fathi

On the blog today, I’m delighted to share my review of a beautiful new book Peace and Me which celebrates the work of  Nobel Peace Prize winners and will be published later this month. The book from Lantana Publishing is written by Ali Winter, an experienced anthologist who is passionate about seeking out lessertold stories from around the world and illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi, an acclaimed French-Moroccan children’s book illustrator who helps children travel the world through his illustrations.

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This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf. Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

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From the first page this book is fascinating, beautiful and moving in equal measure.  It begins with a spread focused on Alfred Nobel and how the Nobel Prize came to be.  What follows are double-page spreads on some of the winners of the Peace Prize, charting their contribution to world peace and reflecting on what they did to be of “greatest benefit to mankind”.

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Some of the names are very familiar, some are not, but what they all have in common is their selfless and determined efforts to help their fellow man.  As a children’s book, there is just the right amount of information on each person and enough detail to bring them to life.  The narrative is accompanied by visually stunning artwork – I would be fascinated to hear how these beautiful illustrations were created.

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The book is endorsed by Amnesty International because “it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.” Each story reminds us that one person can make a difference. What a wonderful lesson to pass on to children and what a wonderful reminder to everyone that passion and perseverance and indeed, peace, can exist even in today’s turbulent times.  Peace and Me is a book to treasure, to share with young and old and to encourage us to consider what peace means to each of us.

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Peace and Me publishes on 21st September.

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review!

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. 

Guest blog: James Brown, illustrator of Al’s Awesome Science.

How many times have you opened a book and marvelled at the illustrations inside?  I often do and feel somewhat envious of someone who can pick up a pencil, pen or paintbrush and create a little bit of magic, bringing to life an authors’ words! AAS_CVR_WEB

James Brown is just such a person and his delightful illustrations in Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! written by Jane Clarke demonstrate how words and pictures work together to capture the imagination.

Today on the blog, James is sharing his experiences of working on Al’s Awesome Science and insight into his illustration techniques. Welcome to the blog James!

 

“Pictures don’t just trigger the imagination, they fire it up. And in particular for the Al’s Awesome Science series, which features lots of science experiments for young readers to try at home, it was important to get things ‘spot on’. How else could readers give the experiments a go? I think that’s what drew me most to it – the buoyancy, the action and how to convey this visually to readers.

I remember as a child being a bit disappointed when images were repeated in books or when there were insufficient drawings. Al’s Awesome Science is filled with pictures of all the key hilarious moments in the story, but the series also allows for the ‘extras’ – awesome facts and experiments – the refreshing bits and bobs which the designer Becky places so quirkily throughout each book. I admit the experiment pages bring out the kid in me. I like doing them snappily, like I used to do in my homework diary at school. I was forever doodling. I used to Tipp-Ex the inside lid of my pencil case and draw repeatedly on it. Once it was filled, I’d blob over it and start again. If it was a caricature of the teacher I could always hide the evidence!

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When I’m out and about, especially on trains, I love using sketchbooks. I’ve got lots of Moleskin ones, a different colour per project. But, I confess that, in the main, when I’m working up an idea, character or spread, I use everyday plain A4 white paper – and reams of it!  Squiggle, scratch, swirl, sweep. I’m not sure how many other illustrators do this, but I also enjoy sketching in biro first. It’s all about getting the right shape and movement – those ‘unprecious’ sketches and scorings loosen up my initial drawings. Now I understand why editors always jump to the back of portfolios to find the sketchy stuff!

 

Then, from this sketchy beginning, I start refining, trying to retain some of that initial energy. I think that’s why my other favourite stage is watercolour (which I save ‘til last). No matter how adept you might think you are, watercolour has its own mind and it can sometimes surprise you. Often the happy accidents are the ones that add more character, either to clothing or backgrounds.

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Using my lightbox really helps to overlay and position. I do less-rough roughs on my iPad, using Procreate, then crayon, watercolour and gouache for the finals. I always aim to do the final artwork in character batches, for continuity, and have whole afternoons or evenings on just one person. You really get to ‘know’ them that way!

Sometimes characters pop up first time around. Einstein, for instance, is very similar to the first sketch I drew. I was given free rein, which is always exciting. I knew he had to be big, hairy and animated. Immediately I thought of THE Einstein and gave him a big, bushy moustache and scraggly hair. The lolling tongue and sideways eyes gave him just the look I was after. Mr Boffin is basically me (if I ate my spinach, drank umpteen protein shakes and actually went to the gym, that is). Mrs Good is a take on my mum (sorry, Mum!). But Mr Good, who was a little portly at first, took a bit of slimming down… The twins Lottie and Al were a little too old at first but soon lost a couple of years.

The freedom to try things out has been the most splendid aspect of illustrating this series. It’s very much a two-way conversation between me and the creative team. We always bounce ideas back and forth! I think flexibility and being open to ideas is important. My editor Natascha even sends me videos of her son doing the experiments! Then, BINGO! I can picture it and so too (hopefully) can the young scientists reading it with their own sketches and diagrams and oodles of doodles.

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Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown is out now, £6.99 paperback (published by Five Quills). Look out for more fun and experiments with Al and Lottie in book two, Splash Down!, coming spring 2018!

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With thanks to Catherine Ward and Five Quills for sending me this book to review. Find out more about the illustrator at www.jamesbrownillustration.com.

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.

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