Wednesday, April 25, 2012

14 Great Educational Apps for Children

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've reviewed apps for iPad and android devices a number of times. My posts have included reviews of picture book apps (here), story apps of varied kinds (here) and apps that stimulate literacy, learning and creativity (here). In this post I review a number of educational apps that support children's learning in varied ways. I have grouped them into 5 categories for convenience. Some could well fit into more than one of these categories. Because the apps are so varied I have used a simpler rating scale than I typically use. In this post I attribute a single score from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Outstanding) to indicate the extent to which they meet these simple criteria:

  • The app is enjoyable to use
  • Children learn new things because of the app
  • The app makes it easier for children to learn
  • The app interactive elements don't distract from the key learning goals
  • The app is well designed, attractive and engaging
  • The app represents good value for money

1. Word & letter recognition, vocabulary & sounds

Purpose: Apps in this category help children to learn to read words, letters, understand sounds and improve memory.

Giraffe’s Matching Zoo for iPad
Tomato Interactive LLC
Price: Free, the deluxe version costs $0.99
Rating: 6

In this app the traditional game of memory has been adapted for the iPad using animals as the topic of interest. It requires the user to match pairs of cartoon animals. Each animal makes a unique noise when tapped. It has 25 different animals and a selection of backgrounds; it's fun for kids aged 3-6.

Peekaboo Barn
By Night and Day Studios
Price: $1.99
Rating: 6

This is a very cute word and sound app for preschoolers (1-4) who are just starting to learn to read words or for children with special needs. A toddler speaks the words. It teaches them the names of animals, the sounds they make and shows the word. The child taps the doors of the barn that open to reveal an animal. A voice tells you what it is; you hear the animal's sound and the name is displayed. You can also buy Peekaboo Wild and Peekaboo Forest that have a similar format.

By gdiplus
Price: $2.99
Rating: 7

This is primarily an app to help children learn to write letters, but in the process it teaches letters and simple words. The app is quite intuitive and easy to use. It encourages the child to form the script letters using the accepted order of stroke making (this varies from one educational system to another). Each letter sounds is given and the word when it is completed. A child drawing then appears to illustrate the word.  The letters can also be drawn automatically with the surrounding screen acting as a type of simple xylophone. This reinforces the child's attempts.

3. Writing apps

Purpose: These apps encourage the development of writing (as opposed to simply handwriting as for the last app).  

Scary Story Kit
By Comicorp
Price: $1.99
Rating: 7

The 'Scary Story Kit' is an aid to enable you to add special effects to oral storytelling and assist any scary storyteller, giving them some tools to make their scary story truly come to life. It includes visual and audio effects. The tools include a reactive light which responds to sound, and adds to any torchlight storytelling. There is also an image creation, editing and manipulation suite. This has paintbrush, a camera function, filters and effects to create scary images. There is also a soundboard that allows you to develop customised sounds. While it is designed to support oral storyelling this can be extended by requiring the creation of a written story to be presented to an audience. Suitable for children aged 6-15 years.

BY Root-One Inc
Price: FREE
Rating: 7

StoryLines is an award-winning game of 'telephone' with pictures. You can begin a StoryLine in lots of ways. For example, you can start with a common saying that is then added to. Or it could start with an opening line "One dark, dreary night in Detroit..." (no offence intended to friends in Detroit!). You can then pass the device around your friends, use Facebook, send it by email or open it in a browser to share with others. There is an option for a friend to illustrate it, give it a title and so on until completed.  You can save your favourite completed StoryLines in your Gallery, and share them on Facebook.

3. Animation & Art Apps

Purpose: Apps in this category introduce children to some basic fundamentals of animation. In some ways they could be classified as art apps as well. I have written a post on animation apps previously (here) that has some more sophisticated apps.

PlayTime Theater
By Make Believe Worlds, LLC
Price: $2.99
Rating: 9

This has to be one of the best animation apps around for children aged 3-6 years. It is so easy to use and enables children to feel successful almost immediately as animators. The app allows kids to create, record and playback their original puppet shows. It offers a castle as the puppet theatre setting and everything you need to put on and record your own shows. The stage has moving parts, its own set of customizable cast, costumes, action props, sound effects and a library of original cinematic music. Every child I've introduced this app to can use it within minutes and love it.

Elmo's Monster Maker HD
By Sesame Street
Price: $4.49
Rating: 8

This is a fun app that children aged 2-6 years will find easy to use and will love. This delightful animation features the Sesame Street character Elmo who wants you to make a monster friend! You get to choose a monster body and then touch its face to give it eyes, nose and a hat. There are lots of options. When you finish, Elmo dances and plays with your monster. The app encourages artistic interest, creativity and in its own way might raise interest in other more sophisticated animation or art apps. 

Kid Art for iPad
By GP Apps
Price: $0.99
Rating: 8

There are lots of art apps for kids on the App Store, but 'Kid Art' stands out from the crowd. With its engaging backgrounds, bright colours and ability three different themes, it offers plenty of opportunities for your child to explore their artistic side. It enables them to create great images by dropping in images, painting etc.

Play School Art Maker ABC
By Australian Broadcasting Commission
Price: Free
Rating: 10

The Play School Art Maker app is a fun way for kids to freely create pictures, animated movies and story slideshows using their favourite 'Play School' toys and craft items. They can add their own audio narration, upload their own photos as backgrounds, and save photos of their art.
 Children can select Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, Jemima and their friends and choose from 6 backgrounds to create an animation with up to 8 slides. It is perfect for children aged 2-6 years and will encourage creativity and artistic ability.

By Invocore
Price: $1.99
Rating: 7

This is an app that makes it easy for children aged 2-6 years to create images using an animated sticker book. Children can interact with a variety of characters while learning about fish, airplanes and many animals. Each sticker character can be scaled, rotated and dragged onto each imaginary scene. It includes scenes and stickers covering varied themes like the ocean, aviation, space, dolls, and safari scenes. Kids as young as two will love this app.

4. Games

Purpose: Apps in this category use a game format to develop varied skills including memory, perspective, fine and gross motor skills, maths and language.

Pirate Puzzles
By Ayars Animation
Price: $0.99
Rating: 9

This has to be one of my favourite non-story apps. Kids get to enjoy completing nine pirate puzzles. But there's more. When completed, the puzzle is followed by an animated interactive surprise. Complete all puzzles and enjoy a fully animated, fully interactive mystery pirate song. The catch is that you must complete the puzzles to see the fantastic animations. This motivates the users to complete each puzzle.

How to Train Your Dragon
By Glu Games Inc.
Price:  $ 0.99
Rating: 9

This app is based on the movie of the same name. The user can take to the sky as Toothless, the sleek, stealthy, fire-breathing dragon, with his new friend, Hiccup, the Viking teenager. The child manipulates the iPad to fly Toothless through an expanded world from the Viking home Island of Berk to the sea and the beautiful but forbidding lands beyond. The game has unlockable extras such as film stills and cheat codes. Children aged 4-8 will love this app. It is beautifully animated and is easy to use. A feast of imaginative exploration of the world of Toothless.

5. Knowledge Apps

Purpose: Apps in this category focus on specialised knowledge in some field of study.

Star Walk for iPad
Vito Technology Inc.
Price: $5.49

This is a stunning app for anyone interested in astronomy. You can encourage your children to discover the wonders of the stars with the high definition version of Star Walk. By using the camera in the iPad 2 or iPad3, you can point the tablet at the sky to view the constellations, discovering their names and history. It identifies satellites, lets you search for specific planets or stars and offers amazing images from deep space, to satisfy the astronomer in every child. The app also offers new photos each day and other features. But without a doubt the main attraction is the Augmented Reality mode, which lets you find constellations by pointing your iPad at the sky. Great for children aged 5-adults.

Frog Dissection
By Emantras Inc.
Price: $4.49
Rating: 10

This is an amazing app. As the name suggest it leads you through a virtual dissection of a frog. It is a 'greener alternative' for teaching dissection in the classroom and many children will find it a much easier experience to handle (no blood!). It offers an amazing introduction to anatomy and is suitable for children aged 8-16 years. It is ideal for children already learning about organs and organ systems as part of their life science curriculum. As well, younger gifted children interested in animals will find it fascinating. It allows children to dissect the specimen with clear step-by-step visual instructions and audio commentary. It allows 360 degree rotatable close ups of organs, additional information on every part of the body and the frogs’ life cycle. It also offers an anatomical comparison of frogs with humans, an interactive quiz and detailed descriptions of the organs. Brilliant!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Great Science & Technology Books for Boys Revisited

'Science and technology' is an important book category for children interested in understanding the natural and man-made world. In this post I thought that I'd focus on a variety of good books in this category for children aged 3-12 years. There are a number of good reasons for this:

a) Some children are fascinated by science and find it more engaging than literature.
b) Boys have a particularly strong interest in books that show how things work, or which offer a different angle on understanding the world.
c) Through such books children are introduced to new written genres and new language.
d) These books also teach and encourage children to value problem solving, observation and learning.

In choosing such books I'd consider the following:
  • Look for varied genres, not just books that read like high school science texts.
  • Choose books that use a lot of visual literacy as well as words.
  • Look for books that use colour, drawing, diagrams and photographs.
  • Identify books that adopt innovative approaches to observation and inquiry.
Please note that the age categories below don't have 'hard' boundaries. For example, some preschool children will enjoy books from the 5-8 category and some of the preschool books will work with older children. As well, many children will enjoy the preschool books prior to age 3 years.

1. Books for preschool children

It's harder to find science and technology books for preschoolers but there are some good ones around.

Pond Walk by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (ages 4 to 7) and published by Marshall Cavendish Children's Books - Buddy sets out with his mother one day to take a walk around a pond. On the way he gets to observe the animals and insects that live there. His mother takes a field guide and along the way answers all of Buddy's questions as she reads the book and explains what she knows. Buddy (like the reader) learns how to observe and gains knowledge of language and the world. Buddy has a notepad in which he draws pictures and writes captions. This is a book that models what it is to 'do' science and have fun as well.

Puggle (2009) by Catriona Hoy and Andrew Plant (Illustrator), published by Working Title Press - This story was stimulated by a visit by Catriona to the home of wildlife carers and a 'real life' orphaned echidna. The book tells the story of a baby echidna named Puggle who is taken to an animal refuge after his mother is hit by a car. The book traces Puggle's slow development from being helpless to being independent. It shows how it learns to suckle, how its body changes, being released into the wild. While the book is in a narrative form it communicates factual information about echidnas and has additional factual information on the end papers.

A seed is sleepy (2007) by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Illustrator), published by Chronicle Books - This is a delightful picture book that describes how seeds germinate. Each double page features a different aspect of seeds with a poetic statement in large-size handwritten calligraphy. The book uses very simple narrative and poetic, for example 'a seed is clever'. Scientific information for each simple statement is offered on the back page. The botanical illustrations are outstanding watercolour plates. As it is an American book it uses imperial measurements not metric.

Let's try it out with towers and bridges: Hands-on early learning science activities (2003) by Simon, Seymour and Nicole Fauteux, and illustrated by Doug Cushman. Published by Simon & Schuster.  This is one book from the 'Let's try it out' series that presents simple experiments with everyday materials. This book uses blocks, drinking straws, cardboard tubes and pieces of paper to show how buildings and bridges of different shapes can be made strong enough to withstand various forces. Australian readers may not be familiar with the introductory section about the American pioneers going west but this is a minor issue. Other books in the series can be found at the author's website:

Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged creatures concealed…and revealed (2007) by David Schwartz and Yael Schy (text) and Dwight Kuhn (photos). Published by Ten Speed press.  This is a lift the flap book which demonstrates how camouflage works for young children It uses a stunning visual format. Each page opening has a heading and poem on the left-hand side and a full-size colour photograph opposite. In each photograph is a well-camouflaged animal. The child can lift the flap to find out what the camouflaged creature is. On the reverse of each flap is extensive information about the creature. The animals are primarily North American and feature mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and reptiles.

2. Books for children aged 5-8 years

Some of the above books are probably suitable for 5 and 6 year olds as well but there are many other wonderful books for this early school-aged group.

Bird's-eye View (2006) by Maria Gill and with photographs by Darryl Torrckler & Geoff Moon. Published by Penguin Books - Bird’s-eye View reveals what 13 New Zealand birds see in their natural environment. The idea came to the New Zealand author as she watched a hawk one day while driving her car. Could it see her? What do birds see? She was surprised to find only limited research on the topic. The book introduces the reader to the range of visual capabilities that a bird has compared with humans. Using recent avian-vision research a bird’s-eye view is shown in stunning panoramic images. This innovative book offers a new perspective on the way birds live. Sure to fascinate many children.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant and would be well received by 7-10 year olds.
Bat loves the night (2001) by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies. Published by Scholastic. This book uses a simple narrative to follow one night in the life of a Pipistrelle Bat, as it flies out between broken tiles, under trees and over bushes catching insects, before returning to its roost and its baby. Like many factual books for younger children it offers a secondary text that offer extra information on echolocation, food and roosting sites. The beautiful illustrations by Sarah Fox Davies add to the text. The book was reissued with an accompanying CD in 2008.

Robert Crowther's amazing pop-up house of inventions (2000) by Robert Crowther. Published by Candlewick Press. Crowther has been making incredible pop-up books for many years, including the well known 'The most amazing hide-and-seek alphabet book'. This book is an introduction to the history of technology, as he moves room by room through a house, including the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom and garage. The reader lifts flaps, opens doors and turns dials to reveal when appliances, machines and other forms of technology were first invented or used.

Stephen Biesty's incredible cross-sections (1992) by Stephen Biesty (illustrator) and Richard J.C. Platt (author) C. - This fantastic book was one of the first to offer detailed cross-sections of various inventions. The large format book uses double-page pages spreads and cutaway drawing formats to reveal the inner workings of a building or vehicle. Captions are used to label relevant parts and explain the key components of each construction. The book includes castles, cathedrals, skyscrapers, coal mines, oil rigs, various ships, planes and trains. Boys will look at this book again and again. Richard Platt has also done many more books in the last 20 years (here).

The pebble in my pocket: A history of our Earth (1996) by Meredith Hooper and illustrated by Chris Coady - This books starts with a pebble small enough for a child to hold and describes geological processes from a time of volcanic activity 480 million years ago. It shows how things change as uplift and erosion of the Earth's crust, sedimentation, new cycles of uplift and erosion, and changes in living things over that time lead to constant change. The author uses simple but effective language that enables children to grasp the process of change on the Earth over millions of years.

The Emperor's Kingdom (2010) by Roger Kirkwood - This book tells of the life cycle of the Emperor Penguin. Using wonderful photographs, and an accompanying DVD it traces the cycle of life from February as they feed and build energy, April as they gather in colonies, May when the one egg is laid and the male takes responsibility to balance the egg in the freezing cold for 50 days before, June and July as the females journey to feed, the hatching and the return of the mothers. Told with simple text and stunning visual support.

3. Books for children aged 9-12 years

The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists (2010) by Sean Connolly and illustrated by Robert James  - This is a fantastic book. It has 34 short chapters each of which starts with an account of a major scientific or technological discovery or breakthrough. After this, the science of each is explained and simple experiments are offered to explore the topic. Topics are as diverse as Galileo's homemade telescope, Jenner's water microscope, Curie's Popcorn carbon dating, Wilbur's flying machine, Fermi's chain reaction and Gagarin's orbit. This is a book about serious science and technology presented in a simple, clear and fun way. Boys (and girls) aged 11-14 with an interest in science and discovery will love this book.

The Way We Work: Explore the Human Body Head to Toe (2009) by David Macaulay and Richard Walker - Macaulay changed the way we look at science books with his stunning first book 'The Way Things Work' (1988). His work communicates complex scientific and technological concepts in ways that young children can understand. His use of diagrams and visual material changed science for many children from a dull subject from a creative and engaging area of inquiry. He won the Caldecott medal for his book 'Black and White' in 1990.

This latest book has Macaulay turning his attention from technology to how the human body works. The 336 pages in double page spreads offer rich texts and (as usual) complex visuals. This is another wonderful example of how science can be made accessible for children.

The Usborne internet-linked science encyclopaedia (2000) by Kirsteen Rogers - This is a stunning comprehensive encyclopaedia that introduces a wide range of scientific topics to the young readers and in the process lists hundreds of excellent websites. It is beautifully produced, with many coloured illustrations and excellent well-written content. It is a stunning reference work for young and old. You can find the various websites mentioned in the book here.

Paper airplanes and super flyers (1996) by Neil Francis and illustrated by June Bradford - This book offers instructions on how to make gliders and paper aeroplanes, including fantastic stuff like how to add elevators, wing flaps and rudders. It also shows how to make parachutes, and kites and describes the principles of how they work.

How cool stuff works (2008) by Chris Woodford (and others) -

This excellent book examines the modern components behind a great deal of science and technology. It is divided into chapters with key verbs as headings (eg. 'Connect', 'Play', 'Move' and 'Survive'). It has full colour illustrations and graphics and is very well designed. Each page offers brief explanations of how new technology like MP3 players, voice recognition, microwave ovens, submersibles, virtual keyboards and pacemakers work.

One Small Step' (2009) by Jerry Stone - This is a wonderful recent example of a factual book about science. It was produced to commemorate the first moon landing on July 20th 1969. The book is a replica of a scrapbook put together by a 12 year old boy whose grandad was working in the Houston Control Room on the day when man first made it to the moon. It’s a collection of Moon-landing memorabilia (e.g. space menus, certificates, transcript of the first steps exchange etc), photographs and so on. It also has more recent space science information, including the future of space travel.

Related posts and resources

Previous post on 'Getting Boys into Reading Through Non-fiction' HERE

'Good Science Books for Children', Australian Academy of Science HERE

'Make and Do Books: Engaging Readers in Different Ways' HERE

Usborne 'Quicklinks for Internet-linked Books' HERE

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Australia's best children's books

The Children's Book Council (Australia) has just announced its short list for all five categories within its annual awards. The winners and honour books will be announced in Children's Book Week (18-24 August). The theme for Bookweek this year is 'Champions Read'. As always the standard is high. There are some very familiar names and previously honoured authors and illustrators like Nadia Wheatley, Jackie French, Bill Condon, Emily Rodda, Ron Brooks, Alison Lester and Bob Graham. But there are also some good writers who have just missed the cut in previous years and, we have some new names in the list like Ahn Do (with Suzanne Do) and Emma Quay. Interestingly, this is the year for some to have more than one shortlisting. These include Emily Rodda, Freya Blackwood (illustrator) and Bruce Whately (illustrator).

Older Readers Short List 2012

'Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel' by Michael Gerard Bauer, Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia
'A Straight Line to my Heart' by Bill Condon,  Allen & Unwin
'The Golden Day' by Ursula Dubosarsky, Allen & Unwin
'The Dead I Know' by Scot Gardner, Allen & Unwin
'Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool' by Andrew McGahan, Allen & Unwin
'When We Were Two' by Robert Newton, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Independent Younger Readers Short List 2012

'Crow Country' by Kate Constable, Allen & Unwin
'Brotherband: The Outcasts' by John Flanagan, Random House Australia
'Nanberry: Black Brother White' by Jackie French, Angus & Robertson Harper Collins Publishers
'The Truth About Verity Sparks' by Susan Green, Walker Books Australia
'The Golden Door' by Emily Rodda, Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia
'Bungawitta' by Emily Rodda, Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Early Childhood Short List 2012

'The Runaway Hug' by Nick Bland, illustrator Freya Blackwood, Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
'Come Down, Cat!' by Sonya Hartnett, illustrator Lucia Masciullo Puffin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
'That’s Not a Daffodil!' by Elizabeth Honey, Allen & Unwin
'The Last Viking' by Norman Jorgensen, illustrator James Foley, Fremantle Press
'No Bears' by Meg McKinlay, illustrator Leila Rudge, Walker Books Australia
'Rudie Nudie' by Emma Quay, ABC Books, HarperCollins

Picture Book Short List 2012

'Look, a Book!' by Libby Gleeson, illustrator Freya Blackwood, Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont
'The Dream of the Thylacine' by Margaret Wild, illustrator Ron Brooks, Allen & Unwin
'For All Creatures' by Glenda Millard, illustrator Rebecca Cool, Walker Books Australia
'A Bus Called Heaven' by Bob Graham, Walker Books
'No Bears' by Meg McKinlay, illustrator Leila Rudge Walker Books Australia
'Flood' by Jackie French, illustrator Bruce Whatley, Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Short list 2012

'The Little Refugee' by Anh Do & Suzanne Do, illustrator Bruce Whatley, Allen & Unwin
'One Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island', by Alison Lester & Coral Tulloch, Penguin Group (Australia)
'Surrealism for Kids' by  Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art
'Bilby Secrets' by Edel Wignell, illustrator Mark Jackson, Walker Books Australia
'Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War' by Carole Wilkinson, Black Dog Books
'Playground' by Nadia Wheatley (Ed), illustrator Ken Searle, Allen & Unwin

Notable List

CBCA also announced its 2012 Notable List last week. This is a list of approximately 100 books (111 this year) published in the year of the awards, that are seen as worthy of the label a 'Notable' Australian Children's books. This is usually a wonderful resource and helps to overcome the tendency to assume that the only books worth purchasing are those short listed.

Read the list HERE 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Finding book treasure in unexpected places

My stash of treasure from ALDI

Regular readers of this blog will recall that last year at Easter time I came across some literature treasure in a middle aisle at my local ALDI store (I wrote about it here). Well, it's happened again this year! While I don't like promoting stores, brands or products, when good books are going cheap, my rules go out the window.

So, if you're an Australian reader you will find at least 10 popular Dr Seuss picture book titles on sale this week for just $3.99 each. If you have ALDI in your home country you might well find a similar deal.

What attracted me in particular is that the books are generally some of the easiest to read and yet they still manage to have the Dr Seuss magic, brilliant use of language and vibrant illustrations. I'm spending the week with all 6 of my grandchildren and I always like to have new material. They aren't all new titles, for I have worn out copies of most of these books at home which have been read since my daughters were little. I have two grandchildren who are in Kindergarten and are at that wonderful beginning stage of reading. They will read and re-read these all week, and go home even better readers. What will we do?
  • I'll read the the books to them dramatically - for a start, I just love 'I Wish That I Had Duck Feet' and who can't make 'There's a Wocket in my Pocket' fun?
  • We'll read them together (maybe taking turns on each page).
  • They will read them to me and other members of the family and we'll help to prompt them to use letter/sound clues, knowledge of language and grammar, and context to read for meaning
  • We'll have hilarious fun!
You might like to read these previous related literature posts:

'Reading with your children' HERE
'Author Focus: Dr Seuss' HERE
A recent review of other great picture books HERE

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kate Greenaway shortlist announced for best illustrated children's books

In Great Britain there are two major awards for children's books - the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal (here). Both are run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).
The 'Kate Greenaway Medal' is awarded for excellence in illustration. The award was established in 1955 for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It was named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her wonderful children's illustrations and designs. The standards for the award are very high. In fact, in the first year of the Medal, no award was made because no book was seen as worthy enough. The winner of the medal in 2011 was 'FArTHER' illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith and published by Templar. You can read my post on the winners in 2011 (here). The shortlist for the 2012 medal has just been announced.

'Wolf Won't Bite' by Emily Gravett and published by Macmillan (age 3-6 years)

Three cheeky little circus pigs make a wild wolf jump through hoops and perform many daring stunts. They even put their heads between the jaws of wolf, assuming that "Wolf Won't Bite!" . . . but can you push a wolf too far? This is a funny story that young readers will love. Emily Gravett won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2008 with "Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears" and in 2006 for "Wolves". The judges commented that this book is:

"A book full of beautifully visualised comic touches. Every line works, and the more you read it, the more you see. The pigs are wonderful comic creations. The text is always part of the picture and the typography perfectly fits the action. Outstanding."

'Puffin Peter' by Petr Horáček and published by Walker Books (ages 3-6 years)

Peter and Paul are the best of friends, but Peter gets lost in a terrible storm. But with the help of a big blue whale, Puffin Peter sets off to find him. They find all kinds of birds that match Peter's description but none quite like Paul. Peter Horáček was born in Czechoslovakia but now lives in England (Worcestershire). He uses a variety of media in this book including collage. The judges describe this book as:

"A dramatically beautiful picture book full of movement. Layers of colour and texture capture the movement of water, and of light, and of Peter and Paul themselves. A thrilling visual adventure for children, with a tender message."

'A Monster Calls' illustrated by Jim Kay and written by Patrick Ness. Published by Walker Books (ages 9-11 years)

The monster shows up after midnight, not uncommon for monsters. But this isn't the one Conor was expecting. That monster was one from his nightmares, which had come every night since his mother started began treatment. However, this new monster is ancient, and is after something just as scary from him. It wants the truth. The book is based on an idea from Carnegie medal winner Siobhan Dowd who died from cancer before she could act on the idea herself. The judges describe this book as:

"Breathtaking, a perfect marriage of text and picture, in which the illustrations capture meaning and emotion completely. There are echoes of Charles Keeping in Kay's atmospheric, energetic inky illustrations. The depiction of light and shade is awe-inspiring and the illustrations extend the impact of the story."

'Slog's Dad' illustrated by Dave McKean and written by David Almond. Published by Walker Books (ages 7-11)

Slog believes in life after death. He reckons that the scruffy bloke sitting outside the pork shop is his dad come back to visit him for one last time. Slog's mate Davie isn't convinced, but does wonder how this man knows everything that Slog's Dad would have known. This is a different but stunning work, something which the judges commented on:

The different illustrative styles expand the text and the book's message; they amplify the emotions, producing a powerful impact on the reader. McKean uses different media so skilfully, and in such an effective and fluid way. The images illuminate and leave the reader full of hope. 

'Solomon Crocodile' by Catherine Rayner and published by Macmillan (ages 2-6 years)

This short story will delight readers as a read aloud book or captivate the beginning reader. Solomon is looking for some fun, but no one wants to play. His attempt to have fun with others seems only to annoy them and elicit the response, "Go away Solomon. You're nothing but a nuisance." The dragonflies tell him to buzz off, the storks get in a flap, and the less said about the hippo, the better! Somewhere there must be the perfect pal for a lonely crocodile? A like-minded crocodile fills the bill, but what will this mean for the others in this patch of jungle? Catherine Rayner won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2009 for "Harris Finds His Feet". The judges in choosing it suggested that:

The depiction of the animal characters is superb, with Solomon the archetypal naughty toddler. The use of colour is exquisite throughout, and the book has a real sense of vibrancy and energy. There's such variety in the layout but the images follow on from each other perfectly.

'The Gift' illustrated by Rob Ryan and written by Carol Anne Duffy. Published by Barefoot Books (ages 4-7years).
Rob Ryan is famous for his amazing papercut art. This book is another fine example of the quality of his work. It is the story of one girl's life and the hopes and desires that shape it. One summer day a beautiful young girl visits the woods for a picnic. A wish forms in her mind and to her surprise a silver-haired woman appears, ready to grant it. The author, Carol Ann Duffy is the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, and is the first woman in the role in 300 years. The beautiful story touches on the wonder and mysteries of what it means to be human. In commenting on the papercut art, the judges commented:

The beautiful illustrations are not just decorative, they interpret the text for us and strengthen the story's impact. The frames and shadows perfectly reflect the fairy tale feel and the different emblems and details emphasise the message. A perfect depiction of the circle of life.

'There Are No Cats in this Book' by Viviane Schwarz and published by Walker Books (4+)

Cats Tiny, Moonpie and André are filled with the spirit of adventure – they want to see the world but they can't seem to get out of the book. They try pushing their way out, and jumping their way out but nothing works. Finally they decide to WISH themselves out with your help, the reader! This is a companion book to 'There are Cats in this Book'. The judges felt that this book:

"...perfectly expresses the power of the imagination! With an extraordinary sense of participation, this is book to play with as much as to read, and very much one to share. The illustrations are full of personality, the use of colour and blank space is brilliant. A book that works on lots of different levels."

'Can We Save the Tiger?' illustrated by Vicky White and written by Martin Jenkins. Published by
Walker Books (ages 5-9)

Conservationist Martin Jenkins and Vicky White celebrate some of the world's most endangered species in this book and show us why, though nothing is simple, we must try and save them. Martin is a conservation biologist and consultant for the UN conservation organisation WCMC. Vicky White had experience as a zookeeper at the Cheshire Zoo caring for great apes. This is Vicky's second book, her first was 'Ape'. The judges commended this book for:

The stunning portraits of the animals help the reader appreciate their beauty. Close-up observation and detail bring the animals to life. Flashes of colour are used sparingly but to great effect. The perspectives used, and the use of blank space, give this an extraordinary impact. A beautiful book.