In a digital age, Margaret Mallett finds that printed books from new imprint Wide Eyed Editions deserve a place in non-fiction collections for the under 11s at home and school: they are visually alive, original and extremely inviting.
Counting and Colours by Aino-Maija Metsola are two striking concept books for the very young. The large portrait format works well and the sharp, clear line and intense colours of the illustrations will have strong appeal. The books manage to be both practical (the lip on the flaps make for easy handling) and aesthetically pleasing. Above all they are interactive and they encourage thinking. In Counting children lift a flap to find a dog chasing a white rabbit and are asked how many spots the dog has. I like the ‘Odd one out’ approach in Colours; for example the question on the ‘Yellow ‘ spread, which has sunny butterflies, bananas and dandelions, is ‘which thing isn’t yellow?‘ Two and half year old Oscar soon spotted the blue monkey.
One Thousand Things also keeps younger learners engaged with questions and ‘find and search’ activities. It is nicely organised round seven themes including ‘First things to learn’, ‘Things that you can do’, ‘Things inside your house’ and ‘Things in nature’. There is a pleasing generosity about the design: the tonally subtle and interesting images are given space to live and the print labelling is large and clear. In the spread on ‘What can you see in the kitchen?’ a large kitchen table is fore grounded with plates and cutlery while an oven, fridge and shelf with a tea pot are placed so the viewer is looking into the room. The mouse to spot on each spread is always doing something interesting – holding a balloon, sitting on a see saw, peeping out from someone’s pocket or swimming in a lake. The book ends dramatically and helpfully with a busy double spread of tiny pictures of hedgehogs, mushrooms and birds and suchlike and the heading – ‘So what does 1,000 really look like?’ And, yes, the mouse is there somewhere!
Creaturepedia, both information rich and hugely entertaining, makes us wonder at the enormous variety of animals across the world – over 600 creatures are included. I think many young readers will appreciate the witty way the animals are grouped: the forty one sections include ‘The architects’ – mason wasps, termites and sand martins, ‘The gladiators’- musk ox, frilled dragon and striped skunk and ‘The masters of camouflage’- bush crickets, diamond rattlesnakes and jaguars. The five pages showing portraits of endangered species would be a good starting point for discussion of the issues. Creatures that are already extinct are featured in ‘The Vanished’ – the dodo, the Tasmanian wolf and the pig-footed bandicoot. Much thought has gone into how the fine, annotated pictures which make up this animal almanac are organised on the spreads to achieve the best effect. Many of the spreads show the creatures in their habitats. The same thoughtful approach to design is apparent in Nature’s Day, a large, square book structured round the four seasons which has carefully drawn and coloured pictures of animals and plants at each stage of the year. These lyrical vignettes are accompanied by helpful annotation in a hand written script which gives the information a personal and conversational flavour. Places like the garden, the woods, the fields and the farm are revisited throughout to show the changes each seasons brings. This book bridges the space between very early nature books for the under-fives and those aimed at children in the later primary years. If I look back to my seven or eight year old self – this would have been a book to treasure. It has great aesthetic appeal and its copious information takes it far beyond the superficial. It is a book to savour and learn from throughout the year.
Finally, we come to Atlas of Adventures – a large book in portrait format which takes on a very big canvass indeed: there are seven continent maps annotated with text and pictures, and over thirty places are visited. Each place visited shows – in colourful double spreads rich with illustrations and writing – the geographical features, the people and culture. Above all it encourages young readers to think about each place and to imagine what it might be like to live there. So – to this end – two young adventurers are shown joining in many of the activities available in each country – ski-ing in the Bavarian alps, dancing the Hoe-Down in Texas USA, joining in the samba at the Rio Carnival in Brazil and travelling along the giant walkways built between the canopies of the Amazon Rain Forest to see the creatures which live there. The book is big enough for groups of children to share and would be a splendid ‘first port of call’ for many geography topics. It is practical as well as imagination-stretching: there are excellent retrieval devices – a clear contents page and comprehensive index. This would be a splendid resource for any primary classroom and, with help from an adult, even very young children would enjoy talking about the pictures. This is a multimodal visual treat for anyone!
Colours ,978-1-84780-609-3, Counting 978-1-84780-610-9 by Aino- Maija Metsola, 14pp, £8.99 each hbk. (2+)
One Thousand Things, Anna Kovecses, 80pp, 978-1-84780-607-9, £12.99 hbk. (3+)
Nature’s Day: Discover the world of wonder on your doorstep, Kay Maguire and Danielle Kroll (ill.), 80pp, 978-1-84780-608-6, £14.99 hbk. ( 7+ but 5+ if sharing with an adult)
Creaturepedia: Welcome to the greatest show on earth, Adrienne Barman, 978-1-84780-634-5, 216pp., £14.99 hbk. ( 8+)
Atlas of Adventures: A collection of Natural Wonders, Exciting Experiences and Fun Festivities from the four corners of the globe, Lucy Letherland (ill.), 978-1-84780-545-0, 96pp., £20 hbk. (9+ but also of interest to younger and older readers)
Margaret Mallett has taught in primary schools and in the Education Department of Goldsmiths College. She writes books on all aspects of Primary English and is Emeritus Fellow of the English Association.