Non-fiction provides such a range and depth of material that it is impossible to sum it up in just a few sentences but I hope that the titles we offer here give you some ideas for some great reading material across a range of fascinating subjects.

The Beatles

Author: Mick Manning
Illustrator: Brita Granstrom
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
ISBN: 9781847804518
Reviewed by: Chris Brown

The prolific team of Manning and Granstrom seem to maintain a real quality in conveying each of the very varied subjects they pursue.

In this book, which I’d place as being suitable mainly for a 7-12 age range, the subject has been gone over many times but seldom with such accurate clarity for a young readership. Early days, families and school friendships and first encounters are covered. Then comes the beginnings of the music-making from the skiffle and rock’n’roll of The Quarrymen to the early Beatles, Liverpool venues and The Cavern, Hamburg and hard graft and eventually the recordings.  All is outlined consistently well and with anecdotal incidents that have been thoroughly researched and carefully selected.  The illustrations are, as ever, brilliant in a combination of visual quality and information enrichment: for example features gradually alter and mature as lads grow from young boys through teen years into their early, idolised and familiar adulthood.  Of course things are simplified but all essentials and more are covered in this sound well-presented history with a direct relevance to modern music as well. History which is of course nostalgia for many older readers, I still have a 6/6 (37 ½p) ticket stub from an early Beatles show.

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The Mahabharatha – A Child’s View

Author & Illustrator: Samhita Arni    
Publisher: Tara Books
Reviewed by: Simon Barrett

The Mahabharatha is an epic poem of ancient India.  Part history, the Mahabharatha narrates the fierce feud and battles between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, finally ending when they are reunited in heaven.  Part morality, the stories include many teachings on the proper behavior of kings, warriors and commoners struggling to make difficult decisions in turbulent times.

Samhita Arni’s version of the Mahabharatha was written and illustrated when she was twelve years old.  Her mother encouraged her to write her own version and helped collate it from diaries, postcards and pieces of paper Samhita had written on.  The book however is a distillation of the reading and re-reading of the many different versions of the Mahabharatha that Samhita has been absorbed in since she was four years old.  Clearly there has been a selection process as some stories have been included and others omitted.

Each chapter is short.  The language is accessible and mostly very matter-of-fact, describing the morality of the situations, people’s emotions and the often grisly fate of losers.  In addition Samhita brings a depth to many of the characters, such as Arjuna, and writes her own opinions on them.  Accompanying the text are Samhita’s line drawings.  She particularly draws the characters of each story with a fascinating insight into Hindu costumes. (In addition there are some quirky pictures, such as Krishna sleeping, whilst being kept cool by an electric fan generated by a man on a bicycle).  Otherwise the pictures are a literal rendering of the content of the text.  For example Bhishma’s bed of arrows looks like he is lying on arrows pointing upwards.  The pictures sadly are in monochrome.

Samhita’s version of the Mahabharatha is ideal for reading to children, whether at home or in a classroom.  It is a rich re-telling that will enable young people to ask a great many questions and encourage them to draw their own illustrations to accompany the text.  For me, as a teacher, the book has opened up new opportunities to introduce this great Sanskrit epic in my classroom.

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I Love Baby Animals and I Love Horses & Ponies

Author: Camilla de la Bédoyere / Nicola Jane Swinney
Publisher: QED Publishing
9781781715413 / 9781781715437
Reviewed by: Louise Ellis-Barrett

These are books of discovery, their aim is to help children discover new and exciting animals or learn more about much loved favourites. They are guides and sources of information too.  Branded with a pink ‘Over 50 Cuties’ banner on the front cover it is perhaps clear that I Love baby Animals is aimed at a female audience but I am sure that this aside quite a few boys will love the pictures too and more than that they will be desperate to learn the facts so as to impress friends and family with their knowledge, particularly if they want any one of the many animals as a pet!

Every double page spread has a selection of pictures for the animal in question – cute pictures, of course, and then a fact box with a very simple set of information to digest. I Love baby Animals is the perfect blend of cute and informative, stunning photos and essential facts which make it a fun and exciting book for young fact-finders!

I Love Horses and Ponies on the other hand has a very distinct audience, it really is likely to appeal only to those who do indeed love ponies and horses and it will provide them with a selection of pictures and facts for over 50 different breeds of horse.  Whilst the book is in the I Love series it appears to be aimed at a slightly older age group, as its facts are more involved and then there are also the breed names to consider.  The language is more sophisticated but the pictures are equally stunning.

Two fantastic books, part of a great series that will have a wide appeal and from which children will learn a lot.

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My Body

Author: Bloomsbury
Illustrator: Joelle Dreidemy
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Reviewed by: Louise Ellis-Barrett

My Body is an awesome fact-filled, flap-lifting book introducing children to the amazing human body that we all have.  Explore discover and learn as you turn the chunky pages and soak up the bright colourful illustrations, learning a few fascinating facts along the way.  Perfect for Key Stage 1 science lessons and for a home reference book, this title is certain to fascinate and amaze its young readership.  It fascinated me!  I even learnt a few things too…

Beginning at the beginning with the evolution of the human, is a very succinct but informative time line that takes us through the stages of human development from the big bang 4.5 million years ago.  When we reach ‘now’ we are instructed to turn the page and discover how the human body works today.  Here, having flipped the book so that we can see the double page human body in all its glory, we see the different parts of the body and learn that our brain actually never sleeps for it is always making sure that everything is functioning.  Flip back to landscape and the next spread, where we learn about bones, joints and muscles – did you know the heart is the hardest muscle in the body? 

And so we continue, flipping the book between portrait and landscape to view the images and find the facts, lifting the flaps for more detail and like a sponge absorbing all the information with which we are presented.

Concluding with some amazing facts and some body words – a glossary of terms – this is an accessible and fun reference book that will have a wide appeal, and if you loved this title there is another – Space to enjoy too.

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My First Lift and Learn: Baby Animals

Author & Illustrator: Little Tiger Press 
Publisher: Little Tiger Kids 
Reviewed by: Diana Barnes

In this board book with a built-in carrying handle, each page is headed “Who is my mummy?” and has a photograph (also on board) of an endearing small creature, sometimes with a sound, e.g. ‘woof’, lifts to reveal the little one with its mother, and the words for each, e.g.  ‘dog and puppy’.

Some are domestic creatures, and some are animals, like a giraffe and a zebra, that children might see in a zoo. 

On the back cover of the book are notes for parents, pointing out its educational qualities: building vocabulary by naming the animals, practising hand-eye co-ordination by opening the flaps, and enhancing memory by asking them to recall what was under each flap.

This is all very worthy, and this reviewer would not have been able to name a baby giraffe correctly, so it certainly is educational.

The photos are clear, just the creature on a white background, and then it and its mother are photographed in context under the flap, all in colour.

It’s simple and straightforward, and will be useful for toddlers.

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Tell Us a Story Papa Chagall

Author & Illustrator: Laurence Anholt 
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
ISBN: 9781847803399
Reviewed by: Margaret Pemberton

Laurence Anholt is famous for the picture books he and his wife Catherine have written over the last 30 years.  He has also created his own series of books looking at the lives of famous artists, and this latest one is about Marc Chagall.  It is set in the late period of Chagall’s life and purports to be with his granddaughters when they ask him to tell stories about his past life.  Although born in Russia Chagall had, as an adult, moved to France and then Germany. As with many other intellectual and artistic Jewish people in the 1930s he was forced to flee from Germany with his family and eventually settled in America.  Post war he returned to Europe and spent his last years in southern France.  His granddaughters are still involved with his estate and in verifying the many paintings that people try to attribute to him.

The illustrations for this book are in Anholt's own recognizable style, with images of original Chagall works inserted at appropriate points.  It is a light bright book, aimed at younger children and which will give them some idea of the artist and his life.  The language is simple, using aids such as repetition to help the young readers.  It could be read as a picture book as well as an information source and will be a welcome addition to a school library.    

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Shahnameh.  The Persian Book of Kings

Re-told by: Elizabeth Laird 
Illustrator: Shirin Adl
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
ISBN: 9781847804976
Reviewed by: Louise Ellis-Barrett

Last year an exhibition at SOAS (the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies), featuring pieces from Persian history focussing on the Shahnameh drew me to a talk at the British Museum to hear the poetry read out in its original language and in translation.  This stunning exhibition and fascinating performance talk enthralled me and inspired me to want to know more about this most wonderful book and its history.  Imagine my pleasure then when I discovered this new edition of the text for children, how could I resist?

The Shannameh is a collection of stories and myths from ancient Iran, not a collection that young people are usually aware of or perhaps even taught about in history lessons, so it is important that they are given an opportunity to widen their knowledge through books such as this one.  Laird has chosen some of the best stories of course, those that are certain to enthral younger readers and as such, they are packed with kings and princes, heroes, princesses, animals and demons.  There is adventure aplenty to enjoy and the wonderful illustrations are evocative of the power of the pen and art.

The stories have been carefully chosen, sensitively retold and collected together to capture the imagination of the reader, to ensure that they enjoy reading and having these stories read to them, as these are stories that need to be read aloud too.  They have been evocatively illustrated and will in fact appeal to children and adults alike all of whom will fall in love with this most exciting and beautiful of books about myth and history.  A great classic that has been given the treatment it deserves and the coverage it has long needed.

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My Little Book of Life Cycles & My Little Book of Animals

Camilla de la Bédoyere
Publisher: QED
ISBN: 9781781815543
 / 9781781715055
Reviewed by: Louise Ellis-Barrett

With pages packed full of photographs, it would be difficult for children not to love this book, add to that the fascinating facts, and this becomes the winning formula – cute pictures, fascinating facts!  There are seven life cycles considered in the book – Frog; Butterfly; Penguin; Sea Horse; Shark; Chicken and Kangaroo.  It may seem at first glance a random collection but on reading the preface explaining what a life cycle is, the choice makes sense, helping the reader to understand the way in which the life cycle for mammals and amphibians of different varieties works.  For each animal we learn about the important steps in their life cycles with gorgeous pictures and photographic illustrations and the explanation is in very child-friendly language.  This book makes a great introduction to its subject and would be perfect in the KS1 science classroom.

Similarly My Little Book of Animals looks at a selection of animals but these are all taken from a variety of habitats – grassland; ocean; desert; forest and cold places.  We meet some fascinating animals, my favourite are the bluebirds of the grasslands and the kingfishers of the forests.  We learn some interesting facts and expand our vocabulary too.  In fact, both books have a useful Glossary and Index allowing for them to be used not only as useful fact books but also as an example of how an information book is structured and how it can be used.

A lovely new series offering plenty of potential in the classroom and at home, for sharing and enjoying.