Friday, March 6, 2015

Non-fiction for Younger Readers: Five New Titles to Explore

I've reviewed lots of non-fiction books on this blog over the years. In this post I feature five books (three by the same author) for younger readers. All have some unique qualities.

1. 'Before After' by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui (Walker Books)

Everyone knows that a tiny acorn grows into a mighty oak and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. But in this clever, visually simple and yet stunning hardcover book, French artists Ramstein and Arégui do much more than offer a simple book of word concepts. They offer visual springboards to problem solving and imagination. The authors play with numerous hidden dimensions of one's view of the world. A view of a great mountain across fields can leave the fields as simple foreground, but what if the view of the mountain is from within the foliage that covers the ground? A rocket waiting on the launch pad is positioned next to a moonscape and offers a visual point of view across the moon's surface. A landscape that displays human footprints against a backdrop of a familiar distant planet. 

Turn a page and cooking ingredients sit next to a well decorated cake, and as we turn the page we encounter a mountain field complete with cow adjacent to a bottle of milk. The next double spread returns to the mountain field, but this time in the foreground we have an easel with a painting of the scene and the cow.

So the 'reader' is invited to contemplate how a cow can result in both a bottle of milk and a painting, an ape in a jungle may become an urban King Kong, a many-tiered cake is both created and eaten, a quill pen sits beside a typewriter, a pack of cards can transform into a pyramid and so on. These simple, graphic illustrations, gently tinted with pastel colours, will appeal to readers of all ages and will make them think and contemplate their world. This is a book that doesn't just explore the concepts of 'before' and 'after' it invites the 'reader' to reflect on time, perspective and reality. Readers aged 3 to 8 will be fascinated by this book.

2. 'Funny Faces' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)

Dr Norman is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria where he leads the large and active natural sciences research team. He studies octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and nautiluses (the cephalopods). He is also a trained teacher, an educational display designer and an experienced underwater cinematographer. His research and projects with documentary makers including BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channel has covered giant squid, poisonous blue-ringed octopuses, huge aggregations of southern giant cuttlefish and diving surveys of remote Indo-Pacific coral reefs.

He has published a series of simple factual picture books framed by the word 'funny'. His first was 'Funny Bums' published in 2013. 'Funny Faces' is the second in the series. From oversized noses to bulging eyes, elaborate beaks to gigantic ears - the faces of some animals may look funny to us, but their peculiar features are exactly what those animals need to survive. Find out "Why the funny face?"

3. 'Funny Homes' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)

As with the first two books in this series Dr Norman  considers the complexity and beauty of the natural world, while at the same time considering its 'strangeness'. With his customary scientifically accurate and informative text, and stunning photographs, he invites us to explore aspects of the world around us. You see, some creatures live in funny places - prickly cactuses, dark caves, high treetops. These are strange places where humans would not survive for five minutes. Just why do these animals have such strange homes?

4. 'Funny Families' by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)

The fourth book in Mark Norman's series has just been released in recent weeks, 'Funny Families'.

If you think your family is funny, imagine being a baby alligator carried around in its mother's mouth! Find out why some families of the animal world are so funny.

Inquisitive children and lovers of wildlife will enjoy this new title just as much as previous ones. As with the other titles they are suitable for readers aged 5-8 years.

 5. 'Australian Writers of Influence' by Bernadette Kelly (Black Dog Books)

Bernadette Kelly loves writing non-fiction and in this book she writes about writers. But not ordinary writers, she writes about some of our pioneers of poetry, plays and novels. They are all great names that many of us know by reputation and the odd work, but just how much do we know about these greats who have made their mark on our literary culture. These are the writers of the 19th century who influenced our grandparents and great grandparents.

With 200-400 word descriptions, beautiful illustrations and historic photographs and paintings, she makes us want to explore the great works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Banjo Paterson, Miles Franklin, Henry Lawson, CJ Dennis, Mary Gilmore, May Gibbs and more. This book will be enjoyed by children aged 10 to 13 years. Suited ideally for use in classrooms, it will be a valuable resource and a good individual read for children who love literature.

The work has no doubt been a labour of love for Bernadette Kelly. In her words:

"Researching this book was a joy, and I learnt a lot in the process. The writers, poets and journalists of colonial and post-federation days in this country were a tough lot and they shared my love of words and stories. So it’s out there now. May it find its way into the hands of Australian history lovers and learners."

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