Banishing worries, spinning webs and strange science - book reviews

Enjoy fantastical adventures, meet some of the world’s most incredible creatures, discover a pioneering photographer, and learn to keep your worries under control in a winter-warming selection of February children’s books.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 11th February 2019, 12:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 5:18 am
Banishing worries, spinning webs and strange science - book reviews
Banishing worries, spinning webs and strange science - book reviews

Age 9 plus:

The Unworry Book by Alice James and Stephen Moncrieff

We all worry but when you are a child, those worries can seem like mountains to climb.

Why am I angry, why am I frustrated, why can’t I concentrate, and why are my thoughts so negative? Children’s publisher Usborne has created the perfect unworry toolkit in an ingeniously simple but clever book packed full of bright ideas to calm and reassure youngsters.

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    The Unworry Book, written by Alice James with expert advice from clinical psychologist, Dr Angharad Rudkin, is a magic box of tricks with both write-in and mind activities that calm, reassure and relax children whose worries may be big or small.

    This book features charming illustrations by Stephen Moncrieff and provides children with a place to put their worries so that they don’t hang around inside their heads, and lots of helpful mindfulness activities, like colouring, doodling and mazes, to destress and distract from anxieties.

    The book explains in the simplest terms how worries help you manage risks and stay safe, a bit like an alarm system that goes off when you are in danger. When you worry, we are told, chemicals are released in your body so that you are ready to react to danger.

    But you don’t need to be worrying to survive from day to day.

    Some people’s alarms go off more than others and the important thing is not how much you worry but how you deal with it.

    So from falling out with your friend, worrying about ‘what if,’ and keeping your anxieties under control, there is an exercise here to help.

    Create a worry box, make a mood grid, design your own unworry island, try to chuckle, giggle or chortle your cares away, write down your feelings, get active and release your feel-good endorphins, or simply doodle your way to happiness.

    And don’t forget that taking simple steps such as breathing, relaxing and keeping your brain focused on other things can help you feel much better.

    The Unworry Book – ideal to use at home or for carers and teachers in nurseries and schools – is a creative and reassuring introduction to why we all worry and an important learning tool for coping with everyday stresses.

    And as an added extra, Usborne provide advice, support and more activities at Simply type in the keyword UNWORRY.

    (Usborne, hardback, £8.99)

    Age 8 plus:

    The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart

    After winning praise and plaudits for her stunning debut novel, The Eye of the North, master storyteller Sinéad O’Hart is back to spin her special brand of magic in a cracking, science-based novel with an extraordinary new heroine.

    The Star-Spun Web is a thrilling and atmospheric fantasy adventure starring science-mad orphan Tess de Sousa and her pet tarantula Violet who together embark on an action-packed, full-throttle adventure packed with mystery, danger and suspense.

    With her passion for scientific experimentation and her pet tarantula Violet, Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a stranger shows up at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, claiming to be a distant relative come to adopt her, Tess hopes to find some answers to her mysterious origins.

    But as she adjusts to her new life at Roedeer Lodge, it becomes clear that Norton F. Cleat knows more about Tess – and the strange device that was left with her when she was abandoned as a baby – than he is letting on.

    Far from providing answers to Tess’s mysterious past, her spooky guardian has other ideas and it seems that she is part of it.

    And when Tess discovers that the Starspinner is the gateway between her world and a parallel world in which war rages, she realises she may be the key to a terrible plan. A plan she must stop at all costs...

    O’Hart has a real gift for character development and conjuring up fantasy lands in which young heroes and heroines are pitted against evil forces and must use all their ingenuity, bravery and determination to save both themselves and all they hold dear.

    The backdrop to this breathtaking adventure is stunningly imagined and Tess proves to be a formidable star player… a resourceful and clever girl who uses her curiosity and her love of science to help solve the most intractable of problems.

    With a captivating cast of characters – not least, the remarkable Mrs Ackerbee – and plenty of wry humour, this is a brilliant second novel from an author with a soaring imagination.

    (Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 8 plus:

    Odd Science: Incredible Creatures by James Olstein

    Science doesn’t have to be boring… in fact, it can be quirky, excitingly strange and super cool!

    And no one knows that better than author and illustrator James Olstein who has put together an amazing picture book full of the most fascinating creatures that have roamed the planet, whether that’s miniscule bugs, great beasts of the deep, ferocious dinosaurs or cuddly-looking pandas.

    Yes, the world of science can be exceedingly odd and the natural world has all sorts of strange secrets that many of us don’t know about.

    There are birds that roost in the armpits of giraffes, spiders that strum the strings of their webs like a guitar, and screaming shrimps that are some of the loudest creatures on Earth!

    In Australia, scientists found that male cockatoos make their own drumsticks and their own music. Each bird plays its own different rhythm at its own different speed to attract a mate. And scientists in Tokyo have trained pigeons to distinguish between art style. They can tell the difference between works by Picasso and Monet.

    Read about the frogs that live in elephant dung and weird ‘ghost’ octopuses, wonder at the sharks that listen to heavy metal, and tell your friends that the dodo was actually quite smart.

    Discover curious facts about creepy crawlies, learn why your dog might not recognise you on screen, how penguins propose to one another, and even which came first… the chicken or the egg.

    Olstein brings to life all these odd facts with his retro-inspired, quirky illustrations.

    The designs aren’t meant to be taken literally, but children can’t help but giggle when they see a spider relaxing on a pool float and dinosaurs playing with a ball.

    Proof that science can be both fun and funny!

    (Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

    Age 6 plus:

    The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson

    The name Anna Atkins might not strike a chord with many young readers, but author and illustrator Fiona Robinson is determined to put this 19th century pioneering woman well and truly in the picture.

    The Bluest of Blues is a stunning illustrated biography of English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins… a gorgeous verbal and visual tribute to the first person to publish a book of photography.

    After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799-1871) was raised by her loving father in the Kent countryside where he gave her a scientific education, highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century.

    Fascinated with the plant life around her, Anna became a botanist in partnership with her father and recorded all her findings of flowers and plants in detailed illustrations and engravings until the invention of cyanotype photography in 1842.

    Anna used this new technology to catalogue plant specimens in an extraordinary marriage of science and art. In 1843, she published the book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with handwritten text and cyanotype photographs. It is considered the first book of photographs ever published.

    Weaving together histories of women, science, and art, Anna’s life story unfolds through a series of blue colour-washed illustrations with small striking contrasts of red and one eye-catching page of yellow to mark Anna first use of the sun’s bright rays to develop her photographs.

    Illustrated throughout with an ethereal beauty and full of fascinating facts about the Victorian passion for plant life and the emergence of women into organisations like London’s Royal Botanic Society, The Bluest of Blues is both a delight to behold and an inspiration for youngsters setting out on their own journeys of discovery and creativity.

    (Abrams Books, hardback, £12.99)

    Age 3 plus:

    William Bee’s Wonderful World of Trucks by William Bee

    Peep, peep! William Bee is just buzzing with excitement… the man who loves vehicles has his foot on the pedal and is raring to show us his amazing collection of trucks.

    Brimming with pages of eye-catching trucks in all their wonderful detail, this marvellous mix of fun and facts is irresistible to little transport enthusiasts who have plenty to spot as they make an exciting whistle-stop tour of William’s collection.

    Each double-page spread is packed with beautiful, graphic full-colour illustrations and there is plenty of humorous detail to spot along the journey as we explore cement mixers, trucks that swim through water, trucks that drive super-fast and trucks built to put out fires.

    Climb aboard a tanker truck which carries all the fuel William needs for his vehicles… in fact, it holds enough fuel for 650 cars. Discover a coal-fired steam truck, an amphibious truck that can move through water, a truck with its very own crane, a powerful snow-blowing truck, a truck that carries all William’s racing cars and last but not least, an amazing jet-powered truck that can reach 370mph!

    Little ones will love joining William and his dog on this grand tour of the world of trucks, and along the way they can laugh along with the misbehaving, madcap traffic cones who seem to be more of a hindrance than a help, and spot the toy rabbit hidden on every double page spread.

    Perfect for every child who is fascinated by trucks large and small (but mainly large!), this fun, fact-filled, engine-powered picture book puts your own little dynamos well and truly in the driving seat.

    (Pavilion Books, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 3 plus:

    Chatterbox Bear by Pippa Curnick

    Understanding others doesn’t only come through words…

    Author and illustrator Pippa Curnick uses an adorable, chatterbox bear to teach little ones that communication can be achieved through signs as well as words in a quirky, colourful picture book full of comedy, capers and common sense.

    Gary the bear with big, black eyebrows is a chatterbox but when nobody wants to listen to his raar, raar, raar, he sets sail in search of new friends. Soon Gary arrives on an island full of tropical birds all eager to chat but the problem is they don’t understand a word of Bear.

    After trial and error and lots of mishaps, Gary has to learn that words are not the only way to communicate and make new friends.

    And the solution could be a simple twitch and twist of those amazingly expressive eyebrows!

    Curnick’s warm and wise picture book is brimming with life, energy and important messages about friendship, patience, understanding and learning new ways of expressing ourselves either through signs or in different languages.

    The wide palette of eye-catching colour used in the gallery of pictures adds an extra sparkle to a story that is destined to be a family favourite … and a sure-fire hit with your own little chatterboxes!

    (Hodder Children's Books, hardback, £12.99)

    Age 3 plus:

    Do Not Open This Book Again by Andy Lee and Heath McKenzie

    A naughty monster is turning over a new leaf in the second brilliant comedy caper from Australian radio DJ and comedian Andy Lee.

    Following on from his much-loved picture book Do Not Open This Book, Lee and his illustrator team-mate Heath McKenzie have a ball in this hilarious romp which gives the term ‘page-turning’ a whole new twist.

    It’s time to visit Monster again, but he still insists that you shouldn’t open this book, and you definitely shouldn’t turn the page! But what will happen if you do?

    Young readers will love doing everything they are told not to and turning the pages to discover Monster’s hilarious naked truth at the end of a madcap story.

    Words and illustrations combine in perfect comedy chaos and kids will be giggling out loud when they discover the very ‘cheeky’ ending!

    (Studio Press, paperback, £6.99)

    Age 2 plus:

    The Mega Magic Hair Swap! by Rochelle Humes and Rachel Suzanne

    Here’s a fun and magical story with a serious message at its warm heart.

    The Mega Magic Hair Swap! is the debut picture book of singer and TV presenter Rochelle Humes who was inspired to write the book for her own daughter and other girls like her who have struggled to accept themselves.

    Two friends, one wish. Mai and Rose are best friends but they are not two peas in a pod. Mai has dark hair that is curly and whirly and never stays put. Why couldn’t she have perfect hair just like her best friend Rose?

    Rose has blonde hair, as straight as a ruler, which slips and slides whenever she tries to put it in a ponytail. Why couldn’t she have perfect hair just like her best friend Mai?

    When a magical coconut grants each girl their wish, and they get the hair they have always dreamed of, the friends are overjoyed. However, they soon learn that perfect hair is not everything it’s cracked up to be. In fact, their hair was pretty magical and perfect the way it was before...

    Rachel Suzanne’s joyful illustrations are full of colour, charm and sensitivity, and bring to life Humes’ delightful, warm-hearted tale about learning to love yourself… from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

    Girls, curls, lessons and love…

    (Studio Press, paperback, £6.99)