Review also includes:
Minibeasts, ***, Lynn Huggins-Cooper, 978-0750244190
The Sea, ***, Claire Llewellyn, 9780750244176
Chocolate, **, Saviour Pirotta, 978-0750244237
Teeth, ***, Saviour Pirotta, 978-0750243605
Homes, **, Rosie McCormick, 978-0750244251
This new series of topic books for pre-school children and children at the younger end of key stage 1 aims to ‘fire every child’s imagination’ – quite a big claim. There are a lot of books available on these familiar Early Years topics and we need to ask of any new series: are bright new covers and appealing illustrations just pepping up the same old content? I rather feared this might be so in the case of Chocolate as it begins with a lot of pictures of chocolate in all its different forms, pictures that tell children what they already know, supported by a rather basic text. But things improve: we go on to a clear explanation, through text and illustration, of how cocoa beans are harvested from cacao trees and we are helped to track the stages through which the sticky pulp goes to become the chocolate we eat every day. But the young readers are not told, or shown on a map, which countries produce this particular product, only that cacao trees grow where it is hot and wet.
Minibeasts has intriguing photographs and some interesting information but I think, for this age group, a detailed account of the life cycle of one creature would provide a better starting point. Covering so many small creatures shows the variety of the insect and minibeast world, but risks imparting rather miscellaneous information which is soon forgotten. Teeth has a narrower focus and therefore works better.
The Moon and The Sea are both visually alive and beautifully written. I particularly like the speculative nature of the author’s thoughts on the future of space exploration in Moon: it is never too early to realise that knowledge is not static but dynamic. When I came to Homes with its small and detailed illustrations, I wondered if this book (and indeed all the books in this series) might work best in big format. This would make it possible for the teacher to share the book with a group and to encourage questions and reflection. Most young children would need some adult mediation to understand the ideas and concepts in more than a superficial way. I am not suggesting that big books should replace the small ones – but rather that they might supplement them.
These books would find a place on the classroom browsing table to extend children’s learning and they are also helpful in introducing retrieval devices like contents pages and indexes.