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My Pop-Up World Atlas

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Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse
July 2012
16 pp
Whole book read
Young Olympic watching children wanting to know more about competing countries and where they exist geographically will find this new pop-up atlas packed with information. Anita Ganeri is very experienced in creating information books for children and Stephen Waterhouse has illustrated in a lively and colourful picture atlas style. They make a good team. Adults may find some of the information snippets a trifle trite and simplistic, but let a curious 7-9 year old pour over this for a few hours and they'll emerge with a substantial body of general knowledge.

edited by Julia Eccleshare
October 2009
This lovely whopper of a reference book weighs in at just under 1000 pages. The first thing to be said about it is that has been splendidly designed and presented, as well as printed to a high quality. The typeface is sharp and easy on the eye. The page layouts are straightforward and uniform throughout the book. For the most part the illustrations used are the book jackets from a title's first edition. Indeed, much pleasure can be derived from 1001 Children's Books without reading a single entry; just admiring the book jacket designs and (for an older consumer such as I am) taking a trip down memory lane is delight enough. Of course there are omissions. That goes without saying. Each of us might have found room for titles not included here if we had been the book's editor. I would have wanted a place for Robert O'Brien's Z for Zachariah (in addition to his Mrs Frisby and the Rats Of Nimh, which IS included here), for Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, for at least one book by Joan Bauer. But to be honest a couple of dozen changes out of the 1001 would probably be sufficient to bring the selection closer into line with my own editorial preferences, and I daresay the same would be true for everyone. Achieving a 98% satisfaction level should more than please Julia Eccleshare. A fine book currently available at a cutdown price.

ed. Leonie Flynn, Daniel Hahn & Susan Reuben
A & C Black
January 2009

As a search of this blog will reveal (if you scroll down after clicking the link), I was not an immediate fan of the Ultimate Book Guides. Coming to them from the point of view of someone who was used to contributing to works of reference such as Larousse Dictionary of Writers, H. W. Wilson's World Authors and the New DNB, I initially found the tone irritatingly enthusiastic and exclamatory and, in the worst instances, such as the entry (unrevised in the new edition) for The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, vacuous.

But I was missing the point. These are not books for the reference shelf, but hands-on guides intended to encourage and help young readers to move on from one book to the next. In this context, the range of contributors and the pervasively jolly and upbeat tone are essential ingredients.

The first Guide for 8-12's is now five years old, so a revised and updated edition is timely. The first book had 288 pages. The new one has 416, but is more compact in its dimensions (a much better size for reading and carrying around) and only has room for two entries per page in comparison to three in the earlier edition.

Additions include recent titles by the likes of Frank Cottrell Boyce (a shame he is not one of the contributors), A Dog Called grk by Joshua Doder (a shame neither Chris Priestley the contibutor nor the Next? sidebar make reference to the fact that this is the first book in a sequence rather than a one-off title) and Fly By Night by Frances Hardynge. Caroline Lawrence who was only represented in the first book by The Thieves of Ostia, Book 1 in her Roman Mysteries series, now deservedly has her entry retitled to refer to the series as a whole. I was pleased to see Rodman Philbrick's Freak The Mighty in this new edition, and although losses from a book of this type are to be regretted and can be somewhat poignant, they are inevitable. I noted that there were no longer entries for The Ennead by Jan Mark or Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo, though bouth authors remain sufficiently represented by other entries.

Entries receive one, two or three dots "as a rough indication of the relative difficulty of a title". This is a new feature and although much better than any attempt to give age advice, the allocation of the dots does appear to relate to age appropriateness rather than reading difficulty. Morris Gleitzman's Once, a very accessible and easy book to read from the point of view of vocabulary and simple sentence structure, is given three dots, presumably because of its subject matter. As the entry itself says, "it is a quick read and written in simple language, but the subject is not for young children." All credit to the editors for including the title in this book, rather than reserving it for the teen guide.

As important as the entries themselves, are the sidebars giving suggestions for what to read next. At the book's launch party, Leonie Flynn announced that the Ultimate Book Guide blog would henceforth be having a Book Of The Week entry (each Monday) with the all-important What To Read Next as an essential feature. ACHUKA will blog these recommendations to help spread the word.

The Time Traveller's Journal

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Ruth Redford
Winter 2008

The guidebook for any budding time traveller, this book takes you on a journey through time. Each page is bursting with pop-ups, pull outs, activities, rich drawings and weird and wonderful facts. Much like 'Dragonology' and 'Pirateology' this book is somewhat of a novelty, yet artfully compiled. Filled with intricate details 'The Time Traveller's Journal' fits into the 'ology' book genre that is so popular with younger readers currently. Written by Ruth Redford, and presented as 'Prospero Hermes' Journal, the book mixes diary entries with factual information from the dinosaurs to life in space. While the first glance might dismiss this book as a gimmick, there is no doubt that Rachel Clark's design is enthralling. Indeed, there was many an argument when this book arrived in my book corner; everyone wanted to use the mirror to decode the secret message or read the pull-out newspaper documenting the Titanic sinking. A firm favourite, making history compelling.

reviewed for ACHUKA by Danielle Alder.

Jen Bryant, ill. Melissa Sweet
Autumn 2008

William Carlos Williams - a poet who also worked as a family doctor - has long been a hero of mine so, while some people may question what audience a picture book biography of a twentieth century American poet is aimed at, I'm predisposed to look kindly on it. The illustrations, strong and modern with collage effects, together with the artfully simple condensing of Williams' life to its bare essentials, produce a strong evocation of the life of a working man scribbling lines for poems on yellow prescription pads when he can, corresponding by letter with other poets and writers in the evening, in those pre-internet days.
Williams' 'The Red Wheelbarrow' and 'This Is Just To Say' have been much anthologised in children's collections, so a copy of this book should be in every primary school library.

Voyage Across The Cosmos

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Giles Sparrow
Autumn 2008

This mega-sized non-fiction title is without doubt one of the most striking books about space I've seen. It's superbly well-produced and designed, with high-quality photographs and illustrations. Sparrow's writing is never condescending. It commands respect and attention, and because it's presented in manageable factboxes, even less fluent readers will be encouraged to read for meaning. Presented as a flight through the solar system (with a double page spread given to each of the planets and their moons), the Milky Way and then out beyond our galaxy, it is easy to navigate around.
A white typeface on black page backgrounds contributes to the book's striking impact.
This is a book that will be pored over for hours and is complex enough to provide several years of interest.
I can imagine an inquisitive child given this when he or she is eight years old still finding things to interest them when they are fourteen. Indeed, any adult seeing the book lying around is likely to pick the book up and find likewise.
Pleasingly free of flaps and fiddly bits.
Simply highly recommended.

Minders Of Make-Believe

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Leonard S. Marcus
Houghton Mifflin
Summer 2008

This wonderfully well-written and assembled history of children's book publishing in America will prove indispensable to all those making a serious study of the genre, but is also fascinating reading for anyone with an interest in bookish affairs.

For me the most rivetting passages in the book fell within the first two-thirds. During the early history it was a joy to come across names familiar to me from the time when I did my research into the friendship between Melville and Hawthorne. This part of the book describes, for example, the first moves of librarians to separate out children's literature from the rest of the stock. As the story moves into the 1920s and 1930s Marcus is good at pointing out the degree to which children's literature had separated itself off from the main culture of modernism.

Several times during my reading I found myself wanting to turn to a few pages of illustrative plates giving portraits of some of the key players in this fascinating story. Margaret Wise Brown is described as "the charismatic ash-blond editor with film-star good looks" - it would have been helpful to be able to turn to a photo to corroborate this description :)

Marcus finds room for some fascinating detail regarding the editors who turned down Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. The last two decades covered - the 1980s and 1990s - are given brushstroke treatment in comparison with the in-depth analysis accorded the earlier years, but that didn't bother me in the least.

Meticulously indexed and referenced, this is a work of high scholarship written for the general reader.

Chewy, Gooey, Rumble, Plop!

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Steve Alton, ill. Nick Sharratt
Bodley Head
Oct 2007
Following the processes of digestion and excretion literally from beginning to end, �The Gooey Chewy, Rumble, Plop Book� is a cavalcade of consumption! Taking as its premise the ingestion of ice-cream � and sporting a highly tactile tongue that can be made to waggle in a most disconcerting manner � the book takes us on a voyage around our extraordinary bodies, highlighting key learning areas such as taste, superb stomach statistics, an amazing account of absorption, and a double-page plop-out that will have readers doubled up with laughter! The joy of this book is the meticulous detail that has been afforded to its production. Innovative paper-engineering together with carefully penned descriptions of the processes encountered as parts of digestion and excretion make this an active � and thereby memorable � learning experience. A victory for the voyage of discovery!

Looking for Enid

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Duncan McLaren
Portobello Books ltd
Oct 2007
As well as being ubiquitous in the children�s literature field, Enid Blyton�s legacy has been highly influential. With around 8 million copies of her various titles sold annually and a body of work that embraces some seven-hundred-books, Blyton was and remains a true phenomenon in children�s publishing.

Purporting to guide readers through the �mysterious and inventive life of Enid Blyton�, Duncan McLaren�s �Looking for Enid� documents the geography that lay behind much of her life and attempts to place this in context of her work. The major initial problem with this line of thinking is that the hypothesis it posits is reliant upon the weight of emphasis and significance that McLaren places upon particular works and characters at the exclusion of others that are in contravention of his pre-defined ideologies, making this a curiously single-sided work. Only those out of the many tunnels and secret passages that fit with McLaren�s slightly aslant psycho-analytic reading, only those towers which fit with the autobiographical detail he feels permeates the works are granted accord, the remainder meanwhile are dismissed.

In spite of this, parts of McLaren�s work are revelatory and parts of his research � where it is grounded and does not involve flirtatious theorising that seems to serve its apparent primary purpose, the titillation of his travelling companion Kate � are to be applauded. This, however, is too dilute and embedded within too much supposition to be of major interest.

With the literary equivalent of a nervous-twitch, McLaren appropriates Blyton�s characters and lives out parts of his own thoughts, feelings and desires and those that he projects upon Blyton herself. This occurs most inappropriately when Enid and first husband Hugh have an imagined bed-time conversation as rabbits, Binkle and Flip discussing the hope for a fully-developed uterus� �Oh, it wouldn�t have to be a fully developed one. Not an arterial road running right through me! But perhaps I could wish for the uerus of an 18-year-old girl. Do you think that would be too much to ask for?� It becomes hard not to recoil!

Blyton�s position within the children�s literature world and the sheer mass of work she produced means that further consideration � and that which travels beyond the shifting trends and tectonics of political correctness � is needed, but this title is unequal to that. Barbara Stoney�s official biography is far more engaging, more precisely written and of lasting interest than the current work.

Portobello must be praised for the high-production values on this work, however, whether the self-indulgent content in its current form warranted publication is certainly questionable.

Unzipped: A Toolkit for Life

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Matt Whyman
Aug 2007
In �XY - a toolkit for life�, Matt Whyman achieved that rare balance of finding a chatty and informal voice and means for communicating information about puberty � the bits that everyone wants to know but that few feel comfortable in asking, or by turns in answering.

�Unzipped � a toolkit for life� is a welcome return of the winning format used previously but here updated for revised. Carefully interwoven firsthand experiences and the occasional joke prevent the book from becoming a diatribe of paternalistic guidance and advice diminishing the very real concerns that can accompany adolescence.

Written and designed with precision, many will feel as comfortable with reading this as with FHM, Loaded, Nuts or any of the other boorish magazines aimed at the young male market and further restricting popular constructions of masculinity through positing football, cars and sexual bigotry as the unique preserves of the male and denying all that is emotional or cerebral in content. Matt Whyman�s skill is in appropriating this style but through subtle awareness of the head of emotional steam that lies behind all as they encounter the transition from childhood to adulthood, paying tribute to the emotional concerns that lie beyond the front, a standpoint worthy of applause.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Non-Fiction category.

Graphic Novels is the previous category.

Picture Books is the next category.

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