The boom in non-fiction publishing continues and 2022 has seen a wealth of engaging, thought-provoking texts for all ages. Here Sue McGonigle suggests some of the best new children’s non-fiction for Christmas giving, for all ages, a mix of information and some fun too. Topical concerns dominate, with the environment a key theme together with the importance of asking questions and taking action to make a difference.
Questions and Answers
My Very First Book of Everything illus by Ben Newman (under 5)
Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529094671, £12.99 hbk
An early encyclopedia with clear attractive illustrations and simple definitions. covering a wide range of topics including the human body and wild animals. The lift the flap feature is engaging, showing for example, how a chameleon uses camouflage to hide.
The Bedtime Book of Impossible Questions by Isabel Thomas ill. Aaron Cushley (8-10)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1526623751, £12.99 hbk
This attractive book is full of enormous questions (how big is the universe?) smaller ones (why we need eyebrows?) and very strange ones (how do we know unicorns have never existed?) It introduces the idea that science is about investigating seemingly impossible questions to encourage young readers to be curious. Great fun.
Every Word Tells a Story by Tom Read Wilson, ill. Ian Morris (8-10)
Words & Pictures, 978-0711277519, £12.99 hbk
With four words for each letter of the alphabet, we are taken from aardwark to zombie, meeting familiar and very unusual words to find out their meanings and origins. My favourite word was ‘quignog’ – a Cornish word meaning a ridiculous notion. Very attractive with lively poetry and exuberant illustration, this is an ideal book for young readers who like to amaze family and friends with quirky facts.
Our World and Beyond
It’s a Wonderful World Jess French ill. Aleesha Nandhra (5-8)
Dorling Kindersley Children’s Books, 978-0241533543, £9.99 hbk
TV presenter Jess French takes us on a journey around our world exploring plants and animals and habitats. Key concepts are introduced such as the balance of life and how to protect it. Beautifully designed with photography, diagrams and artwork. Eagle eyed cosmologists will notice a discrepancy in the depiction of the planets in the first image.
A Wild Child’s Book of Birds by Dara McAnulty, ill. Barry Falls (8-10)
Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529070750, £14.99 hbk
The team which created the highly successful Wild Child are back with a focus on birds. A poetic introduction and beautiful illustrations emphasise the wonder of the bird world through each of the four seasons. We learn about flight, nests, and why birds sing and gain a sense of the incredible variety of bird species. There is practical advice on bird watching, how to look after a bird feeder and useful links.
The Greatest Show on Earth by Mini Grey (8-10)
Puffin, 978-0241480830, £14.99 hbk
Crossing the boundaries between fact and fiction Mini Grey presents the 4.6-billion-year story of life on Earth as a theatrical performance with a team of insect performers in a shoe box theatre. Each double page represents a key moment in evolution, introducing a complex topic in an engaging way with wry humour and food for thought; looking after our fragile planet is an underlying theme.
The Cosmic Diary of our Incredible Universe by Tim Peake, ill. Max Rambaldi (8-10)
Wren & Rook, 978-1526363619, £12.99 hbk
In attractive and accessible graphic novel format we travel through space and time to explore the history of the universe with contributions from not only Tim himself, but other experts too.
Weather, Camera, Action Liam Dutton, ill. Giordano Poloni (8-12)
Templar Publishing, 978-1787418844, £16.99 hbk
Meteorologist Liam Dutton’s knowledge and passion shines through in this beautifully designed guide to the sky. We gain an insight into his work and learn about phenomena such as dust storms, the aurora borealis and extreme weather from hurricanes to heat waves. Pollution, climate change and simple ways we can all help to protect the planet are included.
Individuals making an impact
Little People Big Dreams, Marcus Rashford by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, ill. Guilherme Karsten (5-8)
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 978-0711270978, £9.99 hbk
An introduction for younger children to the life story (so far) of one of the UK’s most celebrated footballers and social activists. Readers learn about Marcus Rashford’s journey as a footballer including his successes but sadly also his experience of racism. We find out how his early life shaped his passion for helping end childhood food poverty leading to his well-publicised campaign for free school meals.
Darwin and Hooker Alexandra Stewart and Joe Todd-Stanton (10-12)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1526613998, £14.99 hbk
A beautifully illustrated book which foregrounds the friendship between Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker, a scientist in his own right. We learn about their separate careers and explorations, and most significantly Hooker’s role as confidante and adviser while Darwin was developing his theory of natural selection and writing the ground-breaking Origin of Species. A book which shows the importance of teamwork in developing new ideas.
You Don’t Know What War is by Yeva Skalietska (10-12)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1526659934, £9.99 pbk
In this slim volume twelve-year-old Yeva from Kahrkiv, Ukraine tells us, in her own words, how her world changed when war broke out in February 2022. We follow her dangerous journey to safety eventually settling into a new life in Dublin after her story is discovered by a UK news team. A 21st century child’s war time diary with echoes of Anne Frank. Although there is a happy ending for this writer, Yeva is aware some of her friends still live in danger in war torn Kharkiv.
Hope on the Horizon Onjali Q. Raúf ill. Pippa Curnick, Isobel Lundie (8-10)
Wren & Rook, 978-1526364418, £9.99 hbk,
Award winning author Raúf draws on her own experiences in writing this handbook. It aims to reassure and encourage children not to feel anxious or depressed but rather strive to make a difference, develop their empathy ‘muscle’ and help to build a better world. A warm-hearted book which celebrates many individuals, past, present and fictional and provides insight into Onjali Raúf’s own passions and work as an activist.
Eye catching books for families to share
Transported: 50 Vehicles that Changed the World Matt Ralphs, ill. Rui Ricardo (10-12)
Nosy Crow, 978-1839942174, £18.99 hbk
This book introduces 50 vehicles that changed the world, designed for a range of purposes including trade, exploration, private use, to feed or entertain us or to save lives. We travel through history from bronze age wagons to solar powered aeroplanes. Very attractive double page spreads for each vehicle with facts and stats; a coffee table sized book for families to pore over.
How Many Ways can you Cook an Egg? Lizzie Mabbott, ill. Charlotte Dumortier (5-10)
Big Picture Press, 978-1800781160, £16.99 hbk
An attractive and accessible book to encourage families to roll up their sleeves and cook together. Organised into food categories with general information and three or more easy to follow recipes. The recipes are from around the globe including Mexican street corn and Vietnamese noodle soup and even how to make a delicious meal from a ‘treasure trove’ of goods from the corner shop.
The Very Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Tim Lihoureau and Philip Noyce, illustrated by Olga Baumert (5-8)
Dorling Kindersley Children’s Books, 978-0241562499, £20.00 hbk
Two children set off on an interactive musical adventure. In a riverbank scene we are introduced to the cello, press a button to hear it play the swan theme from Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. A New York Street scene introduces the clarinet and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. A great introduction to the instruments of the orchestra for the very young. Information about composers, instrumentalists and the make-up of the orchestra is also included. Spot the ear worm on each page.
Sue McGonigle is an Independent Consultant and Co-Creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk.