We want to help create motivated and engaged young readers. This blog is about children's and YA literature (especially New Zealand), literacy research, and ways to get, and keep, kids reading.
Author-illustrator Tina Matthews describes A great cake as ‘very different’ from her other books, including her previous New Zealand Post Award successes - Out of the egg, which won the Best First Book category in 2008, and last year’s short-listed Waiting for later. It contains only 64 words and quite a bit of repetition, making it ideal for the beginning reader, but the vivid imaginative illustrations give it a much wider audience appeal than the junior level.
The story is simple - a young boy wants to make a cake for his family and friends to share. Although a lack of ingredients is a complication, he manages to make cakes suitable for snails, lizards and butterflies before a bit of co-operation from Dad enables him, finally, to bake a cake that’s right for people. (The recipe is included in the book and it is a good simple one that works - in the interests of literary research I have put it to the test several times).
In a high quality mix of picture book finalists, including several others from authors with previous New Zealand Post form, I’m not sure how this one will do. I don’t see it as a Children’s Choice contender (although the depiction of this happy, messy family is full of quirky little details) but its really superb presentation might just give it the edge over some of the other contenders for Best Picture Book.
review by Cecily
Image used with permission
The term biomimicry and biomimetics come from the Greek words bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate. Biomimicry is innovation and design inspired by nature. Velcro, camouflage, sonar, and radar are well known examples.
In this well presented book Dora Lee has used easy to understand text complimented with beautiful illustrations to examine how nature’s innovations could help create smarter structures, pollution free power, new medicines, and so much more. All without damaging our natural resources, and providing a more sustainable environment for everyone.
A thought provoking book for all ages, as well as an inspirational title for young scientists looking science fair projects with a difference.
Image by AlphachimpStudio
How do I begin to describe the detail and precision of the twelve miniature landscapes made completely of edible ingredients and colour themed?
In A world of food by Carl Warner each panorama represents a scene: a desert made of pasta, cheese, lemons, yellow peppers, and couscous; a gorgeous pink candy house complete with lollipop trees and marshmallow paths. Then my favourite a chocolate train travelling on chocolate tracks amid scenery that’s made of chocolate cake sprinkled with cocoa powder. Rhyming verse compliments all the scenes. The foods used are explained at the end.
This book challenges you to identify the food, could be used to create stories about colour as well as food, and is utterly absorbing. Photographs of Warner’s amazing work can be seen on the Telegraph website.
review by Karen
Image by AmberDeel food
The ancient Phoenicians are reputed to have discovered the process of turning sand into glass and created a product that some consider one of our most important inventions. In this excellent title, Somervill examines the history of glass, how it is made and how the various types of glass may be used and reused. A brief chapter on glass art is an excellent illustration of how this simple produce can be used not only in a multitude of practical ways but also artistically.
Beautifully illustrated with photographs that serve to enhance an already interesting work, Somervill makes judicious use of charts, drawings and sidebars as well. An excellent timeline allows the reader to understand quite simply the development of glass from its earliest time.
A thorough glossary and index make this work very accessible for the user. A “bibliography” that refers the reader to both websites and books is also of value.
review by David
Image by kistienberghs
Part of the Weird true facts series this fun colourful book is filled with interesting and quirky facts about wheels that not only informs but entertains readers. Attractively laid out with a mixture of text, diagrams and photographs this book begins with the earliest known record of wheel use in 4500 BCE.
The following pages cover various forms of transport, the power of wheels to drive machinery, and the technology of tyres. Future trends look at invisible cars, tyres with no air, and cardboard bicycles. The book concludes with a glossary, and websites.
review by Karen
Image by theirhistory
Aloian provides a lively and colourful introduction to the world of the submarine. With illustrations and useful diagrams, including cutaways, the operation and roles of a wide variety of submarines are cleanly shown.
Power sources, varied uses, ability to dive deeply and/or sustain lengthy and rapid submerged voyages, even under the Northern Polar icecap, are all examined to enhance the readers understanding of these vessels. Military, research and tourism purposes are acknowledged and the relative sizes of these submarines are clearly illustrated. Research and development and the future of the submarine are also outlined.
A useful index adds value to this very interesting book produced in the “Bobbie Kalman” style.
review by David
Image by Mr T in DC
One of a number of worthwhile titles in the “World Commodities” series, Coal, presented in a “series” style, addresses the subject via two-page spreads ranging from history, production and usages to political, environmental and social issues. A brief if valuable item that does not hide from the genuine concerns surrounding the continued use of coal but at the same time handles this potentially controversial topic with even-handedness and clarity.
This reviewer was somewhat disappointed at the lack of acknowledgement of the dangers involved in the mining of coal and the impact of the miners on the early working class history of many countries. Coal-mining is a dirty and hazardous occupation. This book does not present it as such.
The websites, glossary and index add value to this title which would be of considerable use with middle and upper primary classes.
review by David
Image by Jeffrey Beall
Jane Brocket’s clever concept book about patterns is an exceptionally bright, bold, and colourful one, full of vibrant photographs that demonstrate what patterns are, how they are formed and how they help us to decorate, plan, and predict.
Creative use has been made of familiar items like flowers, vegetables, sweets and socks, before moving through to the more complex patterning details of quilts, tiles, building facades and even shadows.
This title will have children looking around their environment for patterns, and wanting to create their own.
Professor Cook’s dynamite dinners by Lorna Brash is one of a series that uses fun delicious recipes and zany humour to explore the science concepts that happen as food is transformed into something edible.
Each double page spread is a brightly coloured mix of photographs and text boxes showing the recipe, step by step instructions, and the associated science idea. The variety of dinners include Sticky chicky burger stacks, incredible edible bowl soup, tongue-tingling sweet and sour noodles, thirsty couscous cakes and scrambly egg fried rice, plus more. Each title has a glossary, an index, and a list of useful websites to explore further.
Other titles in this series are: Dynamite dinners; Smashing snacks; Mind-blowing bakes; and Fascinating fruits.
review by Karen
Image by photoholic1
The double-spread title page of this book opens up to a large coloured drawing of an owl’s face immediately capturing the readers attention and dramatically demonstrating what symmetry is all about.
The first pages have pictures of objects in nature as well as man-made leading to the question, `so what is symmetry?’. All the different types of symmetry are then described with extensive pictures of animals, human bodies, clothing, letters, words, furniture, and buildings to help explain and reinforce the concepts.
Finally there are further notes, some symmetry activities, a glossary, and an explanation of why symmetry is an important math concept.
image by AdamAtom
I enjoyed browsing through How things work in the house by Lisa Campbell Ernst the wonderful eclectic range of items this author has chosen to portray will keep junior primary aged children turning the pages, and possibly a few adults too.
Amongst the common items are the familiar technology tools like taps, spoons, straws, and crayons. Then various toys and musical instruments are included. The more unusual additions are pets: a cat, dog, and goldfish. Food is not forgotten either with details on popcorn, bananas, and what makes a sandwich.
With a mix of single and double page spreads, each topic is laid out with a labelled picture and titbits of information all complimented by the papercut collage illustrations and easy to understand language.
reviews by Karen
The Spanish Civil War of the mid-1930s was something of a ‘proving ground” for the military aircraft of Nazi Germany. The fact that German military equipment was, in many ways, initially superior to their opponents (in WW2) was due to it having been tested and refined in Spain. German tactics were also significantly superior as the Allies quickly discovered through the Wehrmacht’s combination of ground and air forces known as the ‘Blitzkrieg’. But Great Britain and the United States, quickly adapted and upgraded their air forces to successfully combat the German air force, or Luftwaffe. The changes from training Tiger Moth bi-planes used in the very early stages of the conflict to the jet-propelled fighters at the end of the war shows the staggering advances in aircraft design, engineering and technology made in the six years of war.
Taylor details the aircraft of each of the major combatants - Britain, United States, Russia, Germany and Japan - from fighters to bombers. he also includes information on the Battle of Britain, “Strategic Bombing Campaigns” and Japanese kamikaze fighters.
For boys the book represents a clear and well illustrated part of a series about World War 11 that also includes leaders, battles, navies, generals and weapons. Air Forces of World War 2 also includes a worthwhile timeline, glossary, index and a list of relevant websites.
Review by David
Image by johntrathome
Here is a simple introduction to kitchen science experiments that junior students will have fun completing while learning – a winning combination.
Each double paged spread uses colourful graphics and clear bold text to explain each science experiment, and its done in a style that doesn’t compromise the science involved. The nine basic experiments look at bubbling and fizzing, oil and water, cleaning properties of vinegar, mould, and mixtures.
A cartoon cat and mice offer helpful information bites, quick facts, and quiz questions that will further engage young readers. Recommended.
review by Karen
image by Scott Hamlin
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