Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: The Australian Animal Atlas

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The Australian Animal Atlas

By Leonard Cronin and illustrated by Marion Westmacott (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99     ISBN 9781760294144

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Where, in Australia, might you find a red-headed honeyeater? What’s the wingspan of a gum moth?  Is there such a thing as a legless lizard? This 48-page reference book is jam-packed with information on 176 species of Australian animals.

The information is separated into habitats, with a selection of 16 animals per spread. The list of habitats is quite extensive and impressive: Deserts, Mangroves, Mallee and Acacia Scrublands, Waterways, Forests and Woodlands, Seashore, Rainforests, Heathlands, Tropical Wetlands, Alpine and Urban. Each habitat is introduced with 1–2 paragraphs describing its unique features, climate conditions and importance to the ecosystem. Each is accompanied with a small map of Australia, colour-coded to show the locations of that habitat.

Each section of the book comprises four pages. The first double page spread (which opens with the habitat information) includes a large look-and-find illustration. The margins feature small pictures of 16 animals that are hiding in the main picture. Each of these animals is described in further detail on the double page spread that follows. The font is on the small size, as a result, but the writing is great – Cronin has focused on lesser known facts about each animal and perfectly summarised these with an entertaining caption beneath each species name. For example, the caption for the spotted cuscus is ‘smelly chest’, and the paragraph beneath explains how smelly oil from the male’s chest is rubbed onto tree branches to mark out a territory.

The illustrations by botanical artist, Marion Westmacott, are in full-colour and look extremely realistic – some almost photographic in quality! The endpapers feature a lovely trail of animals, first wandering into the book and later wandering out. The pages of the book are glossy and white throughout, which really helps lift the illustrations off the paper and bring the detail to life.

The book will appeal to kids who love Australian wildlife, particularly those aged between 6 and 12. It would be a great addition to the classroom shelf, especially beside existing collaborations by the same author and illustrator.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-australian-animal-atlas.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams – Marie Curie

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Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

By Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99     ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/little-people-big-dreams-marie-curie.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams – Agatha Christie

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Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

By Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated byElisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99     ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/little-people-big-dreams-agatha-christie.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: 2016-17 Big Bash Book

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2016-17 Big Bash Book

By Daniel Lane (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99     ISBN 9781760291419

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

This highly visual sporting reference guide to the upcoming sixth season of the KFC Big Bash League (BBL) should appeal to T20 cricket fans of all ages. It is the second BBL guide in the series – award-winning sports journalist, Daniel Lane, also wrote one for the fifth season.

Lane covered the tournament for Fairfax Media last year and his wealth of knowledge (and passion for the BBL) definitely shines through in this guide. There is a lot to absorb!

It is presented in a full-colour, glossy, magazine-style layout with a great balance between photographs and text. It opens with an introduction to the BBL, including an article on the farewell to Mike Hussey, and a piece by Adam Gilchrist on the popularity of last season’s BBL.

There are informative, double-page spreads on the eight BBL and WBBL (Women’s Big Bash League) teams. Each section includes statistics, a fifth-season performance summary, a sixth-season prediction and the team’s game draw.

Interviews with eight selected players reveal, amongst other things, their personal mottos (such as ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’). There’s also a section showcasing 32 notable players (‘Big Performers’). The book concludes with entertaining ‘Gobsmacking Moments’ from the fifth season. (Yes, the #WatermelonBoy phenomenon is in it!)

A glossary of cricket terms and abbreviations has been included in the back of the book, along with the T20 rules. The inside front and back cover are marked ‘Autographs’, encouraging readers to take the guide along to the games. (The design might make it a little tricky to find information quickly, during a game. It would be great to have an index of players in next season’s edition, perhaps!)

The guide will make a worthy companion in the lead-up to, and during, the sixth-season of the BBL (20th December, 2016 – 28th January, 2017).

The information is separated into habitats, with a selection of 16 animals per spread. The list of habitats is quite extensive and impressive: Deserts, Mangroves, Mallee and Acacia Scrublands, Waterways, Forests and Woodlands, Seashore, Rainforests, Heathlands, Tropical Wetlands, Alpine and Urban. Each habitat is introduced with 1–2 paragraphs describing its unique features, climate conditions and importance to the ecosystem. Each is accompanied with a small map of Australia, colour-coded to show the locations of that habitat.

Each section of the book comprises four pages. The first double page spread (which opens with the habitat information) includes a large look-and-find illustration. The margins feature small pictures of 16 animals that are hiding in the main picture. Each of these animals is described in further detail on the double page spread that follows. The font is on the small size, as a result, but the writing is great – Cronin has focused on lesser known facts about each animal and perfectly summarised these with an entertaining caption beneath each species name. For example, the caption for the spotted cuscus is ‘smelly chest’, and the paragraph beneath explains how smelly oil from the male’s chest is rubbed onto tree branches to mark out a territory.

The illustrations by botanical artist, Marion Westmacott, are in full-colour and look extremely realistic – some almost photographic in quality! The endpapers feature a lovely trail of animals, first wandering into the book and later wandering out. The pages of the book are glossy and white throughout, which really helps lift the illustrations off the paper and bring the detail to life.

The book will appeal to kids who love Australian wildlife, particularly those aged between 6 and 12. It would be a great addition to the classroom shelf, especially beside existing collaborations by the same author and illustrator.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2016/12/201617-big-bash-book.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Natural World

Natural World
Natural World

By Amanda Wood & Mike Jolley, illustrated by Owen Davey (Murdoch Books)
HB RRP $35.00     ISBN 9781847807519

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘… over millions of years, since life appeared on Earth, each animal and every plant has evolved to look, behave and procreate in the way that gives it its best chance of survival …’

This information book, the first in the ‘Curiositree’ range, provides a compilation of 67 highly visual charts to help readers understand this connection.

The ‘Editor’s Note’ quotes Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, citing natural curiosity as a way for humans to peacefully co-exist with nature. To spark the curiosity of the book’s target audience (7 years and up), it has been compiled in a way that allows the reader to begin at any page they like. The chart margins include arrows propelling readers forward or backward through the book to other charts of relevance. This is great for people who don’t necessarily want to read the book from start to finish, allowing them to forge their own discovery path.

Most of the charts are double-page spreads, rich in text. Each chart is colour-coded with marginal icons. Yellow charts are about natural habitats (eg ‘Life in Tropical Rainforests’). Orange charts are about plant and animal species (eg ‘Butterflies and Moths’). Blue charts are about wildlife adaptations (eg ‘Super Spines’). The hardcover book, with thick matte pages, features three ribbons in corresponding colours to help readers bookmark their journey.

The book includes a comprehensive index, and a helpful introduction with a diagram showing how to use the book’s arrows. There is a contents page listing the chart titles. It might have been helpful for the contents listings to reflect the chart colours, but it is also nice to discover these when flipping through the book.

A lovely feature of this title is the dust jacket – it unfolds into a large, glossy poster (‘Brilliant Birds’) that will look great on the wall!

The illustrations by award-winning Owen Davey have been created digitally, but are surprisingly detailed and textured.

There is lots of information to absorb in this book, both in illustration and in text, making it a great reference for understanding how nature is connected … and indeed for encouraging one’s curiosity!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2016/12/natural-world.html