Book reviews - non fiction all ages

We have reviewed some of the best new non fiction around. There are so many wonderful books being published today that it can be hard to choose, so take a look at the ideas below and then browse in your local bookshop or library.

The Human Body: a Pup-up Guide to Anatomy by Richard Walker

I've chosen to put this book as suitable for all ages rather than children despite the pop-up aspect, which is very child-friendly. The reason is the style of the illustrations and the complex language used which makes the book more appropriate for teens and adults. This engrossing book, with its superb paper engineering, takes the reader back to 1839 where a medical student is working on their first human body dissection. Dr Richard Walker guides his students through the inner workings of the human body, from bone and muscle, to the brain, eyes, heart, lungs and everything in-between. Victorian-inspired illustrations meet with medical notes and sketches to give a complete in-depth exploration of how the human body works; the pop-ups really do leap off the page quite dramatically. The Victorian feel if the book is excellently captured and really gives a taste of knowledge as it was at the time. Unusual and extremely effective.

11 Explorations into Life on Earth: Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution by Helen Scales

The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures are justly world-renowned, and it's good to have a selection in book form to assimilate at leisure. The theme for this book, the second in the series, is the secrets of the natural world. The unifying theme is our own planet and the animals, plants, fish, insects and all the other living things that inhabit it - how they've evolved and the vital roles they play in the intricate webs of life on earth. It includes Sir David Attenborough's animal-packed Lectures from 1977 and Richard Dawkins's explosive series on the evolution of life, lectures from Julian Huxley, Desmond Morris and many other great names. They take an illuminating look at more than a hundred years of scientific exploration to discover the origins of life on our planet and the mysteries so far uncovered. The dark green cloth bound hardback has a traditional and authoritative feel and a good amount of pictorial material adds to the traditional feel of this attractive book. A book to be appreciated by all ages.

Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World by Alice Roberts

The impact of humans on our planet is inestimable - we affect every aspect of life on earth. Originally, our ancestors depended on wild plants and animals for survival, and took what they needed as and when they found it. Gradually, this changed and man began to use and develop plants and animals for mankind's benefit as the population grew and civilisation began. Tamed takes a fascinating look at ten familiar species with incredible wild pasts: dogs, apples and wheat; cattle, potatoes and chickens; rice, maize and horses (just imagine life without these species) and, finally, humans. Alice Roberts shows how becoming part of our world changed these animals and plants, and shows how they became our allies, essential to the survival and success of our own species. Her writing style is direct and engaging and very easy to read. Enlightening, wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating, Tamed encompasses thousands of years of history and archaeology alongside cutting-edge genetics and anthropology. Yet it is also a deeply personal journey that changes how we see ourselves and the species on which we have left our mark. An engrossing and highly readable account of where man is now and how we have reached this point.

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution by Jonathan Hennessey

This is a book which will appeal to all age groups, and what a brilliant idea to produce it in comic book narrative format so that a whole range of readers engage with it. I didn't know that video games first emerged during World War II; this fascinating book traces their development from then to the rise of Nintendo and on to today's app-based games like Angry Birds and Pokemon Go. The book is illustrated by Jack McGowna, whose colourful action-packed images capture the excitement of the video game world. The book acknowledges the evolution of gaming into an artform, and discusses its impact on society. Each chapter features spotlights on major players in the development of games and gaming - Alan Turing is the first. The result is an enjoyable and enlightening, giftable package that contains everything that gamers and non-gamers alike need to know about the evolution of the games. A fascinating book about an incredible phenomenon; one which will appeal to all gaming fans, young and old. Published by Watson-Guptil, ISBN 9780399578908, November 2017.

The Gamer's Guide to Coding: Design, Code, Build, Play by Gordon McComb

I've reviewed plenty of coding books for primary age children, so it's good to see one which follows on and is suitable for young people of 12+ - and adults. This illustrated, interactive guide shows how to create, test and play 2D computer games. No prior programming knowledge is required to become proficient, as the book gives a good introduction to coding with HTML, using Javascript and styles, responding to events, using graphics and more, so all the basics are covered clearly. The illustrated step-by-step examples show how to program and share games on an Apple or Windows PC, Android device, or Apple iOS tablet. The straightforward approach helps master any coding skill, from website creation to business processes, computer engineering, and professional-level game development. A comprehensive book that will inspire readers to develop an exciting range of games. Published by Sterling, November 2017, ISBN 9781454922346.


Never be short of dinner party conversation again! This fascinating collection of snippets about British history has plenty to interest both young and old, even though it is primarily aimed at children. For anyone who found history lessons boring, find out just how interesting history can be - and I think teachers could find this very useful to enliven lessons, too. Pick up on what your children are studying at school and just feed in one or two relevant facts to spark an interest. The entertaining presentation and amusing illustrations make the facts memorable and it's good to see that the book is in chronological order so children can actually visualise the course of history. The information is presented in short chunks that are easily digested and remembered and all-in-all I think this is a super book.

From Zero to Infinity by Dr Mike Goldsmith

This book is almost guaranteed to make anyone take an interest in maths - it really does make you marvel at the magic of numbers... and much more besides. This book is a real treasure trove of fascinating facts, such as why zero is so useful; what a googol really is; why music, maths and space are connected; why bees prefer hexagons; how to tell the time on other planets; and much much more.Just reading this is enough to make you want to dip in and find the answers.The book will make a great resource for teachers, helping them to engage their students with maths, as well as making the facts more memorable. As with all Buster Books, the presentation is engaging and easy to read and it really does appeal to all ages. Plenty of cartoon-style illustrations add to the fun of the book.

Knowledge Encyclopedia Animal! by DK

DK have always produced superb encyclopedias and this one is no exception. It shows nature in all her incredible variety - just looking at the page on penguins, I am amazed to learn there are 10 varieties. The book is arranged in six main sections - invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. From the wings of the almighty albatross to the deadly facts of the great white shark, this encyclopedia transports you into the amazing world of the animal kingdom. The reader will learn about habitats and ecosystems, camouflage and colours, senses and respiration, as well as facts about a phenomenal number of individual species. Bursting with amazing 3D images, the animals are brought to life, from the tiniest of crustaceans to the mightiest of mammals, in a brand new, all-encompassing animal expedition. The photographs are exceptional, bringing close-up images as well as showing the creatures in all their glory. Along the top of every page, there are lots of fascinating facts. A real feast for the eyes, visually stunning and excellently presented, with a phenomenal amount of factual information.

Atlas of Oddities by Clive Gifford

Travel around the world, discovering fascinating events that make our world the diverse place that it is. The book is divided geographically, making it an excellent way to encourage children to find out where countries are, as well as what happens in them. Seven billion people live on the earth - and they all have special interests interests, traditions and ways of life. These people live in all sorts of different places, with a phenomenal range of scenery and habitats, and home to extraordinary animals too. Journey across our planet’s continents and countries via beautifully illustrated maps which key aspects, such as borders, capital cities and major rivers, as well as engrossing facts about the ways in which people live. A fascinating book for young and old.

The Thomas the Tank Engine Man: The Life of Reverend W Awdry by Brian Sibley

It's always fascinating to read about authors of favourite books and to get an insight into their lives and their world, and to see the impact these had on their writing. The stories do reflect the gentle and moral man who wrote them - Reverend W Awdry was a devoted pastor and family man; a man who loved trains. The stories started as a way of entertaining his son Christopher, and of sharing his passion; they went on, of course, to be a phenomenal success. This detailed book tells us much about Awdry's life and also takes an in-depth look at the stories he wrote; this updated edition takes account of what is an every increasing popularity of the books. The island of Sodor reflects Awdrey's view of the world and his view that those who transgressed rules would always be 'punished, but never scrapped', just as we see in the stories. The book gives a well-rounded picture of the man and his life, his beliefs and his family and the extensive pages of photographs add a great deal to this. I really enjoyed the way we find out how Awdry's travels around the world of railways informed and inspired his wonderful stories.

Inspired Baby Names from Around the World by Neala Shane

'6,000 International Names and the Meaning Behind Them' is the subtitle of this bumper book of names. Not just useful for choosing baby names though - the meaning of every name is given, plus alternative spellings and derivation. As well, there is a quotation for every single name, each one related to the meaning of the name. These are what makes this book different and are carefully chosen to align with a name's background; culled from sources as diverse as the Bible, Koran, and Buddhist sutras; multicultural proverbs and Shakespeare; and thinkers from Alice Walker and Basho to Rumi and Muhammad Ali - quite fascinating. The book is arranged alphabetically and split into female and male sections. A really comprehensive guide.

Your Family in Pictures by Me Ra Koh

Mobile phone technology means that almost everyone of us has a camera with us at all times, and that has led to a phenomenal increase in the number of photos being taken. The book is in seven main sections, with a total of 40 different photo opportunities featured. These include everyday life, families, holidays and - interestingly - tweens and teens, a notoriously hard group to get to pose for the camera. The practical tips cover all the aspects the amateur needs to know; there is a strong emphasis on the use of digital SLR cameras as opposed to point and shoot cameras, as these offer the best opportunities. Other users shouldn't be put off though - the tips and advice apply to all and will very likely stimulate you into wanting to upgrade. Wonderful photographs throughout show the techniques in action. Published by Amphoto, ISBN 9780823086207. What are you waiting for? Get out and capture your family on film.

Portrait Photography by Sarah Plater

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about portrait photography, with tips and techniques that you can put into practice straight away. Different techniques are needed for babies, children, teens and adults as well as for couples and families - all these are covered with clear explanations and lots of photographic examples to inspire you. After the practical introduction, topics are presented as lessons which progress from basics to more advanced; an excellent way to build confidence. Of course, digital photography does mean we can take as many photos as we want without worrying about film and developing costs, but we still want to make the most of the pictures we take. Both these books make us aware of good filming opportunities and how to maximise their potential, so those wonderful one-off moments don't pass us by. A superbly produced book to inspire us all. Published by Ammonite, ISBN 9789781450895.

365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This is a companion book to the incredible WONDER, and its thoughtful collection of sayings reflects the feel of the book. It's an eclectic selection of quotes and words of wisdom, one for every day of the year. It includes funny, insightful, inspiring thoughts from a wide range of people including Roald Dahl, Paul McCartney, Anne Frank, Tolkien and Popeye - and from the novel itself. Cleverly presented with simple use of colour - basically blue, grey and white - which allows the words to take centre stage, enhanced by the varied fonts.It's the perfect gift for anyone who loved WONDER, and it's a book to be treasured and enjoyed year after year.

Introduction to Modern Art by Rosie Dickins

Taking as its starting point the 1850s the book goes on to include works from the early 21st century. This means it covers a fascinating range of work from the time artists began to rethink their art. With over 100 pieces of art illustrated and discussed, this is a comprehensive yet easy to read guide. The supplementary information at the end of the books is excellent - artist biographies, a timeline, extensive glossary and exhaustive index plus web links make for a well-rounded and useful book. This to me is an excellent book for all ages; for anyone who has a general interest in modern art and who wants an approachable and not too technical introduction to the subject.

Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers revised and updated by Rebecca Gowers

This classic work was first produced in 1948 to serve as a guide for civil servants - an interesting origin especially as simple English is something not generally associated with civil servants! It's enduring value is shown by the fact it has remained in print ever since and now an updated version brings it into the 21st century. The original prose is witty and very readable and none of that has been lost - lovers of words can dip into this book and be assured of coming up with some gems. It seems that correct use our language is dying out and a book like this is what is needed to redress the balance. The inclusion of grammatical errors from even eminent personages shows that we all need this book and the clear explanations help us all to use English correctly. It also gives an interesting insight into the writing of the original book.

History of Britain & Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide by R. G. Grant

This is the ideal book for a family reference library - leave it lying around and people won't be able to resist dipping in. From the first people through to facing the future, this beautifully illustrated book informs us about all the events that have made our country what it is. Of course, as with all DK books, it is superbly illustrated and presented. The text flows and is easy to read; the book includes an incredible amount of information. I like the timelines at the start of each section which put events into context. Encourage older children to use this to support school work rather than always relying on the internet and they will discover the joy of a beautifully produced book. If you thought history was boring, this book will make you think again.

Essential Shakespeare Handbook by Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding

Play-by-play (not forgetting the poetry), this is an in-depth insight into Shakespeare's work. If you are going to see one of the plays, then this will give you the background you need to get the full enjoyment; if you are studying the plays, then the detailed information will get you off to a great start. Well written and well researched, it gives an excellent understanding in an enjoyable way. As well, there is plenty of background about the Bard's life and times. I found the sections on 'Seeing the play' especially interesting as they trace the play through its incarnations. Superbly illustrated and laid out, this is a joy and inspiration to read.

The Colour Book by Sophie Benini Pietromarchi

The author is obviously passionate about colour and this book shares that passion - although written for children, I feel it has a far wider appeal. She encourages us to really think about colour - even to smell colour; to think about the associations of colour; how to create any colour we want. It's easy to read and surprisingly e=ngaging - we even learn how to create our own colour diary. An intriguing and unusual book which could well change the way you look at colour - and could even impact on the way you use colour in your life. A great book to have in a school art room.

Tudor Monastery Farm: Life in rural England 500 years ago by Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold

This is history at its most real as the historians go back in time and live exactly as the Tudors would have done, using only materials and technology available to people at the time. This is only possible by meticulous research beforehand and we can see the result of that through the pages of this richly illustrated book. The infectious enthusiasm of the presenters is carried over into the book and really makes the reader feel involved in the ups and downs of their year on the farm; the touches of humour help us feel we really know them. The book is packed with information and even if you have seen the TV series, you will find even more detail here which puts the events of the series into context - it really does enhance the pleasure of the TV programme as well as providing a lasting reference to life in Tudor England. As with previous books, each presenter writes about his or her own areas of interest so there is a real depth of knowledge shown. The monastic system will be unfamiliar to many so the chapter explaining this puts the whole thing into context.  In KS2, children study the Tudors and I hope they will get the opportunity to use this book and see the reality of everyday lives behind the political events. Sumptuously illustrated, this is a superb book. I wonder what will come next for our venturesome presenters...

How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman

This fascinating book would make a super present for any dog lover, not just children. We all think we know what our dog is trying to tell us but do we really? Use this informative and fascinating book to make sure you are interpreting your dog's behaviour accurately. The dog photography is, as you would expect from National Geographic, superb and really demonstrates the body language under consideration. Vet tips, fun facts, quizzes and informative sidebars enhance the content and add to the readability. Authoritative yet easy to read, this will be appreciated by dog owners as we attempt to decode their sometimes hard to understand feelings, leading to a happier and healthier environment for all.

Doctor Who: Essential Guide to 50 Years of Doctor Who by Justin Richards

This guide is a look back at the 11 incarnations of the famous Doctor over the past 50 years - I wonder who remembers (and can name) them all. It's an excellent introduction for younger readers and a good reminder for older faithful viewers. Each Doctor has his own chapter, with episode guides, characters and Time Tech - then The End of the Doctor. Packed with fascinating facts on his adventures in space and time, as well as information on both friends and foes, this heavily illustrated volume is well produced and will make an excellent gift for any fan.

Great Mysteries of the World by Richard Hammond

If you are intrigued by mysteries - or are looking for a gift for someone who is - then this is the book for you! Travel with Richard as he explores the pyramids, Stonehenge and the Bermuda Triangle, searches for werewolves, vampires, and the Loch Ness Monster and seeks out aliens. After you've read the arguments for and against, it's up to you to decide - fact or fiction? This is what sets the book apart - he gives the facts and the theories but doesn't tell you what to believe. You can make your own notes at the end with guidelines provided. It's a book that gets you thinking - read it as a family or group and I can promise some interesting discussions will ensue. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the jokes - but perhaps that's for the best!!!

Environmental Science (Idiot's Guides) by James Dauray

Environmental science covers a range of disciplines and is a topic which concerns us all, whether as students or as people who care and want to be informed about the world in which we live. Despite the title, this is quite an in-depth exploration of the subject although it is presented in reasonably simple terms. Topics include the human relationship with the natural environment; how species grow and adapt; ecosystems; the effects of agriculture and economics; the use of energy and its impact; the problems an increasing population. It is a US publication, so although the general principles are universal, many examples and references are American.

Beyond the Page by Quentin Blake

A personal account of one of today's best-loved illustrators, illustrated with over 200 pictures by the great man himself. It gives us a wonderful insight into Quentin Blake himself and into his many famous collaborations, focusing on his work from 2000 onwards but with references backwards. There are 12 chapters, describing his working processes, his travels and his various projects and commissions, including his 'illustrated walls' projects for hospitals in the UK and France. Invitingly written this really does help the reader understand and enjoy his work even more. We are all familiar with his storybook illustrations but the inclusion of his work for hospitals opens up new insights for us. a superb book by someone who writes just as compellingly as he draws.

Numberland by Marianne Taylor and others

Subtitled 'The world in over 2000 figures and facts' this is a fascinating compilation of a fantastic range of facts, presented in an unusual and engaging style. The colourful pages, packed with Andrew Pinder's quirky and amusing drawings (which repay a close look!) are enticingly laid out in various sections too many to list. To give you a taste - there are number facts about dinners, myths and legends, North America, underground, toys, sport.... and numbers! With thousands of nuggets of number information to discover, this is a book that will provide hours of interest for all ages. With so many talking points, this is a great book to have at family gatherings, ensuring there's always something to talk about!

Great Britain's Great War by Jeremy Paxman

World War I as seen through the lives of the people it affected – from politicians and generals to Tommies and their families. We are all familiar with the images of the war; the images that leave us wondering why people went off to fight and how those left behind really felt. Paxman captures the mood of the nation through a carefully selected range of contemporary material and by introducing one of his own relatives at the start, the book has an immediate personal feel. It brings to life the day-to-day experience of the British throughout the war, home and abroad. We often see the war as changing things for the worse but Paxman shows that was not inevitably the case; the impact on the future of our country is explained with some interesting observations. Rich with individuals and their personal experiences of war, this eminently readable history paints a picture of courage and confusion, doubts and dilemmas, and is written with Jeremy Paxman's characteristic flair for storytelling, wry humour and pithy observation. A compellingly written, honest and insightful account which may just change your perceptions.

Dinosaurology by Emily Hawkins

This is, quite simply, superb. This is the long-lost expedition journal of Raleigh Rimes, Assistant to Colonel P H Fawcett and it tells of their travels in South America in April 1907. It is an amazingly detailed journal, copiously illustrated, about a South American plateau where dinosaurs had survived. The reader is introduced to a wealth of living, breathing dinosaurs, as our intrepid explorers study them in their natural habitat. They are recorded in drawings, text and a fascinating array of other media including pop ups, mini books, letters, flaps and even some samples including skin and dinosaur horn. A stunningly produced book which includes a wonderful amount of quite fascinating information. If you are looking for an out of the ordinary book for a dinosaur fan, then look no further!

The Religions Book (DK Religion) from DK

It's important that we all, young and old, understand other people's religious beliefs, and here is an accessible and approachable book to help us do just that. It gives the key concepts from prehistory right up to the world's newest faiths. The five main world religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - are explored along with many others. The layout is clear, with good use of pictures, diagrams and quotations to illustrate the material. A universal timeline gives a global perspective on the origins and major events that have contributed to the growth and spread of religion and spirituality and the political and social backgrounds put the religions into context. As with any book, I would encourage you to check your facts with other sources, as I did find some inaccuracies in the account of one particular religion.

History Year by Year from DK

Not quite every year, of course, but comprehensive coverage from prehistory to today, divided into eight sections with further sub-divisions making manageable chunks of history. Taking the form of a timeline, children can easily see the way life on earth has developed, with more than 1,500 pictures of artifacts, styles of dress, architectural triumphs and magnificent civilizations to make history real. There are also chapters focusing on key themes such as The Industrial Revolution and The Cold War and these give a more in-depth picture. Children will respond particularly well to the Child of the Time articles which show how children would have lived. The book works excellently to put history into context and the exceptional layout is engaging and makes compelling reading, encouraging children to take a wider look at the history they are studying in school.

Land Art In Town: Simple Inspiration through the Seasons by Marc Pouyet

This is an interesting book which is perfect to use for inspiration in the classroom as well as giving a new perspective to all of us on urban life. In town, it is sometimes hard to remember that the natural world is all around us. Here are over one hundred simple, playful, inspiring pieces of land art made with easily found natural materials, in a city setting. For anyone who wants to step outside the urban whirl for a moment of creativity, for families and for educators, Land Art in Town is a rich source of inspiration. There are plenty of ideas here which are accessible for everyone, for example, patterns with leaves and pebbles, and they all enhance appreciation for the natural world around us.

Big Ideas That Changed the World from Dorling Kindersley

With DK's typical flair, this book introduces many of the inventions that have made our world what it is. From world-changing big ideas - the wheel - to small things yet valued by many - sticky notes, for example - it's all here. The book is divided into six sections: Genius, Great Gizmos, Handy Gadgets, On the Move, Explore and Culture; there are also articles about great inventors. Quirky facts will intrigue the reader - antibiotics were found by mistake; the microwave oven was inspired by a bar of chocolate. It's a fascinating read, perfect for dipping into and guaranteed to offer plenty of talking points. Of course, it is illustrated throughout and there are plenty of cutaways to show what goes on inside.

How To Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

Ruth Goodman's enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge has generated a huge amount of interest in everyday life in times past and this fascinating book takes us deep into Victorian life. There's plenty published about how Queen Victoria lived, but let's face it, what we really want to know is how people like us lived. Follow the rhythm of a Victorian day, from waking in an icy cold bedroom (perhaps roused by the 'knocker-upper') to the goings-on in the bedroom at night. The detail and research is phenomenal, and you just know that Ruth has tried many of the things for herself, with her passion for hands-on history. From the Victorian WC at Haddon Hall, to trying soot as a toothpaste, exercising with callisthenics and using a chamber pot the book is enlivened by personal experiences. It's an intimate look at people's lives which really brings the period to life and gives a deeper understanding of the period. Totally fascinating and completely engrossing.

What's Where in the World from DK

Take a unique tour of Planet Earth and find out what goes where in the world.. With 75 full-colour maps showing you things such as the world's tallest buildings, longest rivers, most dangerous earthquake spots and even where you can find animals that glow! It's a wide ranging book with chapters on Geography, Nature, People, History, Arts & Entertainment and Science & Technology, What's Where in the World is perfect for school projects or simply for satisfying curiosity. The state-of-the-art 3D maps bring each and every page to life and you'll never be left wondering What's Where in the World again. It's a fascinating book - one to dip into over and over again.

Judith Kerr's Creatures: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith Kerr

A fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the most prolific and best loved children's authors, perhaps best known for The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Her life story makes engrossing reading as she and her family leave Berlin and live as refugees in London during the Second World War. The development of her drawing and writing is well documented through the book, which includes a huge number of her own illustrations and extracts from her books - certainly enough to encourage anyone not familiar with her work to seek out the books. We learn that she worked at the BBC, first as a reader and then as a scriptwriter herself. Judith’s career as a children’s book writer and illustrator began after she had children, and over forty years on she is still producing classic picture books. A book to treasure.

The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret Sullivan

Subtitled 'Proper Life Skills from Regency England', this is a wonderful read for all lovers of Jane Austen and anyone who enjoys Regency romances. It was a world governed by etiquette and this absorbing insight into upper class society of the day helps to a greater understanding (and therefore greater enjoyment) of the novels set in the period. Divided into four sections - Jane Austen's World; Everyday Activities; Making Love and Social Gatherings - it gives a window into a world constrained by many rules. An elegantly presented book which would fit on any Regency heroine's bookshelf - you can just imagine gently-bred ladies using it as a guide to etiquette..

Thirty Days Has September: Cool Ways to Remember Stuff by Chris Stevens

This is a super collection of memory aids, covering a fabulous range of topics. I find this sort of book absolutely fascinating and I know many other people do too. Of course, it is a great aid for schoolchildren but I think the interest extends far beyond that. After all, we need to know the answer to common questions such as the order of the planets or harder ones like the Greek alphabet - great for quizzes! The variety of methods used means that, whatever sort of learner you are, there will be something for you. I was particularly interested in the sections on spelling and punctuation - there are some very helpful ideas here.

Dogs - A Very Peculiar History by Fiona Macdonald

A fascinating look at dogs, packed with information most of us didn't know about the history of man's best friend and their relationship with man. How dogs developed, how they became domesticated and lots of fascinating facts about dogs through history. A huge range of sources have been tapped into to collect the miscellany of information that has been gathered together. This series is so attractive - quite small in size, but beautifully designed, they are a worthy addition to any bookshelf, and perfect for dipping into to pass a few idle moments. Guaranteed to give you some talking points, the unusual collection of facts which make up these super books makes them really appealing - great presents!

The 60s - A Very Peculiar History by David Arscott

The psychedelic cover immediately gives you a feel for the 60s and anyone who lived through those stirring times will find this a fascinating and nostalgic read. Once again, this is a beautifully produced book packed with fascinating and unusual pieces of information. The 60s were a time of huge social upheaval and this book, although light-hearted in its approach, is an excellent social history. The Beatles, Lady Chatterley, John Profumo - these are just a few of the names associated with the changes that took place. It's highly readable - the lists of books, tv programmes, films etc will have many people saying 'I remember that!'.

Aprons and Silver Spoons: The heartwarming memoirs of a 1930s scullery maid by Mollie Moran

This is a totally engrossing look inside the world that so fascinates us all when we watch certain very well-known TV series. At the age of 14, Mollie started work in a London house - a far cry from the Norfolk countryside of her childhood. She learnt how to survive right at the bottom of the pecking order, and we see clearly how the hierarchy of the Servants' Hall was every bit as rigid as that 'above stairs'. It was a hard life but an eye-opening one for a country girl and Mollie made the most of her opportunities. Her descriptions of life in the 1930s are fascinating and realistic and make excellent reading. It is a world which was to vanish with the outbreak of war, and that makes the memories even more poignant. It's well written and drew me in just like a fiction book would, but with real authenticity. A great read.

 Behind the Scenes by John Burningham

This is definitely one of those books I won't want to part with! John Burningham is a superb writer/illustrator of children's picture books, and that's how most of us best know him -  but there is a great deal more to this talented man. As we learn, his other works include posters for London Transport, a lamp designed to look like a tower block and books for adults including a fascinating look at old age. He tells us his life story in a witty and entertaining way and of course illustrated throughout with a generous amount of his own work. As we learn about the man, we see the influences that shaped his work and the genius that produced some great children's classics. A beautifully produced book that will greatly interest his many fans.

The Top Gear Years by Jeremy Clarkson

Top Gear is a programme which appeals to all ages and makes great family viewing, so I though reviewing this books was very apt for Parents in Touch. It is the account of 10  exciting years at Top Gear HQ, written as only Jeremy Clarkson can write. Share the highs and lows of the team as they travel around the world in adrenaline-fuelled adventures, attempting the bizarre and the impossible, as recorded through Jeremy's columns in Top Gear magazine. IF you like Jeremy Clarkson, you'll love this book!

The Truth About Love by Philip Ardagh

A perfect book to give to a loved one, with its romantic pink cover. Philip Ardagh has brought together the answers to all the questions anyone asks about love - who was St Valentine and why is February 14 so significant?  Why does a bride throw her bouquet? Why we give red roses? All these and many more - and some of the answers may surprise you! Plenty of lesser-known facts to intrigue the reader too. Put one into a Christmas stocking, wrap it up for Valentine's Day or give as a gift for a special anniversary - it will be well received, I promise!

Carol Klein's Favourite Plants by Carol Klein

Carol's enthusiasm for plants is infectious - you only have to listen to her on TV bubbling over with love for all sorts of plants to want to get out into the garden, or off to the garden centre! That enthusiasm is brought to bear on this colourful book, which is subtitled 'Choosing and growing plants by character', which is a fascinating and different way to look at familiar plants. It is a way that will bring just as much variety and interest to your garden as the traditional methods of choosing by form, colour etc. Her plants include Cinderella plants - the ones that shoot into life briefly, enlivening the garden - bread and butter plants - the backdrop that lasts for months - and drama queens - the ones that just can't be ignored. The beautiful and artistic photos by Jonathan Buckley are a wonderful complement to the text, and the high quality production makes this a book to treasure.

 Wartime Farm by Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman and Alex Langlands

Subtitled 'Rediscovering the Skills and Spirit of World War II' this wonderful book does just what it claims. Written to support the BBC series, we follow the trio as they recreate life on a wartime farm over the period of a year. Their story makes for fascinating reading as we learn, not only how they produced food, but also about day-to-day life during the war, including cooking and entertainment. Lavishly illustrated with photos from the series, this enthralling account sets the historical background with sections on a huge range of topics set around and beyond Manor Farm in Hampshire. It is richly evocative and the resilience and resourcefulness of the British in time of hardship shines through - there is much here of relevance to today. The amount of information is phenomenal and fascinating, making this a book to return to over and over again. I can't recommend it too highly!

 Dreadfully Deadly History by Clive Gifford

A gruesome collection of historical facts which will appeal to many. It's full of things you never knew, and which will hopefully inspire an interest in history. Find out which king ate himself to death; how many wounds Julius Caesar had; who came back from the dead; and who pretended to die. An interesting look behind what can sometimes be the dry facts of history. Buster Books create some wonderful books - the sort of books which it is great to dip into and pick up snippets of fascinating information - and this is no exception. Take a look at for lots more exciting titles!

Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter by Leonard S Marcus

Leonard S Marcus is a well-known authority on children's literature and that authority shows through in this authoritative work. But it's not just what he says - to compile this book, he spoke to 21 of the world's most celebrated authors and illustrators. They include Quentin Blake, Eric Carle and Helen Oxenbury. so we know he has spoken to some of the most influential illustrators. he found out about their childhood, their inspiration, their determination, their mentors, their creative choices, and more. I was particularly interested in the colour illustrations that show just how illustrators reach the finished product - fascinating. An excellent book for anyone concerned with children's literature.

Ask Me Anything from Dorling Kindersley

Subtitled 'Every fact you ever wanted to know', this is the perfect book for lovers of trivia, and anyone who enjoys amazing others with a wide range of information on almost anything. Here are just a few questions, to illustrate the variety of fascinating topics covered - Why don't haircuts hurt? Can a car run on chocolate? Where does Europe end? What's the connection between a slug and an octopus? These intriguing questions are just a taster, so I hope they encourage you to take a look at this fact-filled book. It is crammed with information, with Dorling Kindersley's trademark exceptional photos and diagrams forming an integral part of the book. Ideal to have around when you have visitors - never a dull moment!

The Telegraph What on Earth Wallbook of Sport by Brian Oliver

 A unique book which opens up (to an amazing 2.3m) to form a timeline of sport from 776BC right up to London 2012 - a perfect souvenir of this Olympic year. It is packed with illustrations and fascinating (and often little-known) sporting facts great for trivia quizzes and dinner party conversations! The reverse side features memorable moments from the modern Olympics plus Matt cartoons and a championship crossword, Telegraph-style. Perfect to enhance a classroom display on the Olympics - or just read it like a book. There is plenty here for all ages and it's an amazing achievement to feature such a detailed history of sport in one 'book'. Find out more at

 D.E.S.I.G.N. by Ewa Solarz

A fascinating and intriguing book from Gecko Press, whose books are always out of the ordinary. Some of the most iconic designs ever created can be found in this collection of everyday objects from the past 150 years - from the common (like a supermarket trolley) to the strangest (like a chest of drawers made form recycled drawers - tied together!). Far better than a contents page - find your way round via the diagram of a house with all the objects within it. There's a wealth of information about each object, all presented in a humorous and appealing fashion. Design as never seen before! You will be amazed at how much you will learn - and the fun you will have on the way!

The Big RSPB Birdwatch by David Chandler

Although this book is written for children, and specifically to support the RSPB's Big Birdwatch, it has plenty of information that will be valued by all ages. After all, we are all encouraged to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, and this will be the ideal handbook to have by your side. The 25 birds most likely to be seen are described clearly with excellent large size photos, including pictures of the birds in their surroundings. Plenty of suggestions are given to help you encourage birds into your garden and there are lots of projects to undertake - all well thought-out and relatively easy to achieve. An excellent way to encourage everyone to appreciate the rich variety of our bird life.

 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee: A Very Peculiar History by David Arscott

Published to tie in with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, this is another title in the wonderfully appealing series A Very Peculiar History from Book House  - they make such an attractive set to collect! All the eye-appeal of an old-fashioned book but packed with a fascinating collection of contemporary facts. From the Coronation and right up to 'The Young Ones', this is a fascinating and entertaining read and I can almost guarantee you will learn something new! Fun and informative with something to appeal to everyone, this is a interesting record of a long and successful reign.

London Olympics 1908 and 1948 by Janie Hampton

Of course, interest in the Olympics is huge at the moment and it is fascinating to learn about the previous Olympic Games held in London. They were very different! In 1908, London had just two years to prepare - and a tiny budget; in 1948, the city was still recovering from the devastating effects of World War II. This is an interesting social history, as we learn much about how society has changed through the way sport has developed. Lavishly illustrated throughout, with contemporary illustrations and photographs, this is a really readable account and I found it gave plenty of food for thought compared with today's Olympics.

Animal Stories from the Bible by Lois Rock

First of all - I realise this is not strictly non-fiction - but as it is based on the Bible, it is not fiction either! This is a lovely collection of stories retold in an unusual way - from the viewpoint of the animal. This makes the stories easy for children to understand and gives an interesting and unusual perspective, complete with touches of humour. The story of the Garden of Eden is told by the snake; Jonah's story is seen through the eyes of the whale and the wolf helps us understand how it feels for a sheep to be protected by his shepherd. Five more stories told by the animals complete this excellent book. Martina Peluso's illustrations are a delight and this would make a great assembly or story time book 

Sport: Step by Step by Benedicte Mathieu & Myrtille Rambion

A fun book for sports lovers (and those who want to be able to talk about sport) ranging from the history of the Olympics,, rugby, football and tennis, to the health benefits of sport; to politics and drugs, to sports around the world; to joining in as a player and much more. All presented in an easy-to-read style with plenty of colourful cartoon illustrations - these are great fun! Lots of unusual facts - did you know that single women could attend the Olympics but married women couldn't? Or that tennis used to be played by hitting the ball with the hand? Test yourself with the fun quiz at the end. A well written and enjoyable read.


Spot 50 Dinosaurs by Belinda Gallagher
Spot 50 Dogs by Belinda Gallagher
Spot 50 Wild Animals by Belinda Gallagher

The Spot 50 series from Miles Kelly is a great resource. Each book is divided into clear sections, for example Dinosaurs are divided into Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods; Dogs are divided by the recognised Crufts categories and Wild Animals are divided into mammals, birds, reptiles & amphibians, and fish. Each is described on a full page spread, with detailed and clearly labelled colour artwork, fact files and general information. An introduction to each book gives useful basic information and each book is complemented by an extremely useful glossary. I love the inside cover flap on every book, which includes a picture of every species for easy identification - an inspired idea! A useful website on each topic is featured inside the back covers and is a great way to extend interest.

Spot 50 Butterflies & Moths by Belinda Gallagher

Butterflies is another lovely book in the series, introducing us to the wonderful world of these beautiful creatures. I will definitely be taking this out into the garden! Like all the books in the series, a useful feature is the size comparison on each page. These are slim, neat books, ideal for packing in a suitcase or backpack and taking with you whenever you are out and about. The books are geared to 7-11 year olds, but I feel they are such a great family resource that I have put them in the All Ages section. They are really well thought out and presented and offer excellent value. Here are some more in the series for you to look out for: Spot 50 Garden Birds (Spot 50's); Spot 50 Insects (Spot 50's); Spot 50 Horses and Ponies (Spot 50's). I recommend that you look at at the Miles Kelly website - they have some super books and some great collections to encourage whole families to get out and about, enjoying the world around us.

Children's Book of Baking Cakes by Abigail Wheatley

I don't know about children's book, but I am very tempted to try some of these recipes myself! It starts with helpful advice and cookery basics, making this a good book for any beginner. Recipes are split into little cakes, tray cakes and big cakes. Each is clearly presented, with ingredients list, step by step illustrations alongside the instructions, and a photo of the finished product. Plenty of variations on each recipe too. I like the suggestions for toppings, which will encourage children to branch out and experiment. This book is a super way to encourage children into the kitchen and to help instil an interest in cookery - so important in these days of fast food and meals on the run. As ever with Usborne, the book is practically produced with sturdy pages and lie-flat ring binding. It would make a lovely present.

William and Catherine by Andrew Morton

What an achievement! Michael O'Mara Books managed to produce a truly top-quality book within just a few days of THE wedding, with absolutely no compromise on quality. This is a book to treasure as a record of a wonderful occasion. Andrew Morton, biographer of the late Princess of Wales, has a unique insight into the Royal Family, and this perception is clearly displayed throughout the book. The book covers the early life of both; their early days together and the break-up; getting back together,; the engagement and the wedding preparations. The book culminates with a wonderful chapter on the wedding day itself, rich with photographs that capture the spirit of the day and the romance of it all - they create a perfect collection that includes all the key moments which we will all remember. An enthralling portrait of William and Catherine and a superb memento of the day, lavishly illustrated throughout and produced superbly. Congratulations to Michael O'Mara Books and thank you for my copy.

 Star from Birth to Black Hole by Alan Dyer

This is one in the Infinity Series from Templar Books. It is a fact-filled series, putting across a phenomenal amount of information in an innovative form, with state-of-the-art illustrations and clever use of split pages. In this book, you can explore the life of a star from its birth to its disappearance. There is information here to intrigue and fascinate all age groups as we marvel at the mysteries of the universe. Packed with facts and stunningly illustrated, the book is complemented by a graphic novel on the life of Galileo and an interactive computer game with seven challenging levels. There is also a wonderful pop up on The Big Bang. This book is really good value and will provide hours of fascination and learning.

A Little Guide to Trees by Charlotte Voake; text by Kate Petty & Jo Elsworthy

Trees are all around us - but how often do we stop and look at them? This is a beautiful guide for children - but I think all ages will find this engaging guide of interest. This delicately illustrated book helps with tree identification and gives fascinating answers to some questions - which tree's resin was used to preserve mummies?. Each tree is illustrated by a picture of the whole tree and then the leaves, flowers and fruits are illustrated by season. There is a checklist and 'scrapbook' pages to encourage children to keep their own records - and this is such a beautifully presented book, children will cherish and keep it.

 Let's Save the Animals by Frances Barry

This is a stunning book and a brilliant way to make even the youngest children aware of the importance of conservation. Beautifully engineered, with wonderful illustrations, each page has a surprise flip-flap, but the cleverest of all comes at the end, and makes an ending which will ensure that the message of this book is not forgotten. Rhythmic read aloud text is complemented by pieces of more detailed information, making this a book to cross the age divide. It succeeds on so many levels - a picture book, information text, and interactive text combine beautifully to make this a book to treasure and to use as a constant reminder of how close to extinction many species are.

That's So Gross: History by Mitchell Symons 

The title says it all, really! Guaranteed appeal to children, who will revel in the gross facts contained in this book - I read it at bedtime, which I wouldn't really recommend, especially if you are a bit squeamish. This is just the sort of information to give children a background to history and hopefully encourage them to delve a little deeper into this fascinating subject. They will love to appall parents, friends and teachers with the gruesome facts in the book - and the illustrations are just as gruesome. Find out how often a queen bathed, learn a novel way to persuade yourself to stay indoors to study and lots of other fun facts.  

I Wonder Why Pyramids Were Built by Philip Steele

This is one in a popular series from Kingfisher Books. The series aims to answer common questions children ask and the formula is very successful. Children are always very interested in Ancient Egypt, mummies and pyramids and this book will really appeal with lots of common questions answered - and some more unusual ones, such as 'Who had floury feet?' Straightforward answers, clearly laid out and plenty of descriptive illustrations (and lots of amusing cartoons) make this an excellent and accessible series, good value and ideal for home and school use. See more at

 Seashore Detectives' Handbook by Camilla de la Bedoyere

I was thrilled when I saw this series of Detectives' Handbooks from Miles Kelly - what a brilliant way to get children interested in the world around us, and excellent value too. They are a combination of reference book and spotter's notebook, with space for observations, drawings and photos.
This book is ideal for a seaside holiday and there is plenty here for all age groups. It starts with practical advice on seashore safety, explains the habitats and gives tips on using the book. Full colour illustrations of each species are labelled with key points. Alongside are descriptions and habitats. Each species is also shown in a photograph. Stickers and a map will add to children's enjoyment and sense of achievement. So much packed into one practical, spiral bound book. See the whole range of Miles Kelly handbooks at

Nature Detectives' Handbook by Barbara Taylor

Many children today spend very little time outdoors, so I hope this book will really encourage families to get out and about and enjoy the wonders of nature. The book is subtitled 'Discover Nature's Calendar' and its aim is to help explore and understand the world around us, starting in our own back gardens then travelling further afield. There are 50 factfiles, covering a range of species likely to be encountered. Each is illustrated in colour, with identification and spotting guides plus space for the reader's own notes and pictures. It would make a great family summer project book. Test your knowledge with the quiz at the end. The glossy poster, ticks to add when species are seen and stickers to use throughout the book are all great incentives for children. This is s super series - do take a look at them. at

British Wildlife Detectives' Handbook by Camilla de la Bedoyere

I will definitely be referring to this book when I am out and about. Starting with practical advice on getting the best from our countryside, it then covers mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish and bugs. What I particularly like is the fact there is a photo showing every species in its natural habitat, as well as a clearly labelled drawing - the combination makes identification really secure. There is a 'Super fact' for every species - good for showing off in front of your friends! Circles to tick on each page give a good record of what, when and where, as well as the 'notes and pictures' section to complete. The little diagrams showing scale are excellent. Young naturalists will treasure these books and they will be great to look back on as grown ups. There are glossy identification charts with stickers to encourage and reward children. This would make a perfect start of summer holiday gift - so much fun and information in one place - brilliant. See the whole range of Miles Kelly handbooks at

H.O.U.S.E  by Aleksandra Machowiak and Daniel Mizielinski

'Architecture is amazing' says the back cover of this book, and there are certainly some amazing houses in this fascinating book. It will appeal to all ages, who will be enthralled by the strange houses depicted. How about a house for the homeless - a glorified shopping trolley; or a house built into a hillside in which every room is up (or down!) another flight of stairs? Vivid and quirky illustrations give lots of information about the houses and are fascinating in their detail. This is a really unusual and well produced book which gives us a wonderful picture of man's ingenuity and ability to adapt and make best use of what is available. You never know - you may find some ideas for your next house!

Playing the Shape Game by Anthony Browne

As a child, Anthony played the shape game with his brother - one would create a doodle and the other would turn it into a picture. From there, grew Anthony's love of drawing. His books have enthralled millions of children (and their parents) and his work recognised by his appointment as Children's Laureate.  In this lavishly illustrated book, Anthony talks about what shaped his life and influenced his work, giving us an fascinating insight into the life of this much-loved author and illustrator. It is a beautifully produced book and I was fascinated to read about how the ideas that spring to life in his books actually originated. It was particularly enlightening to find out just how the ideas of transformation take shape and become such an integral part of his books- he tells us this is one of the most common themes in his work. A perfect book for old-established fans and to enthuse a whole new generation and help them come to know this multi-talented man.

Royal Weddings - A Very Peculiar History by Fiona Macdonald

A very topical book which is bound to be very popular leading up to the Royal Wedding. This is such a collectable (perhaps that should be covetable?) series. Lovely to have a small hardback instead of the ubiquitous paperback - feels so much more like a 'real' book! This is crammed with fascinating facts about past royal weddings - perfect for dipping into and will give you lots to entertain your friends with on the big day, or ideas for wedding speeches, perhaps! Carefully researched, I was amazed by the detail and sheer volume of information contained in  this book. Monarchs of the past can seem somewhat remote but this book really brings them to life and increases our knowledge and understanding of these important people.

Victorian Servants - A Very Peculiar History

The reality behind the images we see portrayed on TV and in film. I was surprised to find out that about half Victorian servants worked alone - what a very lonely life they must have led. A huge proportion of the British working population were servants and they, in their own way, played a key part in the major developments and changes that took place in the Victorian era. Another brilliant book for dipping into and picking up fascinating facts, this will really open your eyes to what went on behind the scenes in the grand Victorian houses. The harsh life lived by many servants is clearly brought out with a plethora of fascinating information and tips. Share this with your KS2 child when s/he is studying the Victorians to really bring them to life.

The British Toy Industry by Kenneth Brown

A fascinating and nostalgic read! Today's children have access to huge numbers of toys, most of them made of plastic and manufactured in the Far East. This book takes us back to the time when toys were made in this country, from wood, metal or plastic, and seemed to last forever! The fascination of toys such as Meccano, Dinky Toys, Bayko (I remember that one!) and Airfix are described for today's audience - bringing memories back to older people and showing today's children just what their parents and grandparents used to enjoy. Packed with B&W and colour illustrations, this is a fascinating read  and a valuable piece of social history.

Parlour Games for Modern Families by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras

This is a super book for family and friends to share and enjoy time together without resorting to electronic games. Absolutely packed full of games old and new, as the cover says 'Perfect games for 4-104'. Ideal for cold winter days but also ideas that can be used when travelling or out and about. Only the very simplest of equipment is needed, meaning you can pick this book up and know you can use it without problems. The book is written by two young  mums so you can be sure all the games are tried and tested. Games to challenge, games to extend your knowledge, test your reasoning skills, short games and long games and games packed with laughter - it's all here. Buy this book and you will have hours of fun!

Pop goes the Weasel by Albert Jack 

Ever wondered about the origin of those familiar rhymes? All the answers are in this fascinating book, along with the rhymes - and you are guaranteed some surprises! Beware - once you have read this book, you may never see nursery rhymes in the same way again! Find out about the historical events which gave rise to some of our most popular rhymes - and maybe have some preconceptions challenged. Just what is the origin of Ring-a-Ring o'Roses? The preservation of these traditions is really important so this is a valuable book as well as being an entertaining read.

The Good Green Lunchbox by Jocelyn Miller

This is a wonderful book and very topical. It really supports the emphasis on healthy eating but in a fun way. The recipes are laid out in a clear, easy to follow fashion and I love the ideas for packaging the food to make it attractive - great craft activities. This book really makes children (and adults) think about what they are eating - for example, by considering the amount of sugar in a home made drink. It also brings to attention the sources of food and how we can reduce packaging. The book is beautifully and appealingly presented and is guaranteed to appeal to children. This would be a great book for every child and especially those who take packed lunches to school. Good for teachers too.

How to draw comic book heroes by Mark Bergin

This is one in a series published by Salariya Books. Great for all aspiring artists, it makes it look really simple to draw favourite comic book heroes, taking you through step-by-step, with illustrations of every stage. Pencil, pen, crayon, paints and charcoal and more are all covered in detail.The use of two-tone colour shows each step clearly. The book is full of suggestions to help you draw and ideas to help you design your own characters. This book and the others in the series are a real inspiration and children (and adults!) can choose their favourite topic from a wide range.

 Christmas - a very peculiar history by Fiona Macdonald

This book is great fun! It is one in The Book House's series of Very Peculiar Histories, which is a very collectable series. Perfect to dip in and out of and an ideal stocking filler. Find out where many of our Christmas customs originated as you follow Santa through his exploration of the history of Christmas.  Why do we have a Yule Log? Why is Christmas celebrated on 25th December? Why do we give presents? Just a few of the questions answered in this enchanting little book. There are some yummy recipes too - Orange Yule Log anyone? Extend your Christmas as you find out what to do on each of the 12 Days! Plenty of ideas to talk about with your family and friends.

The Usborne Big Book of Christmas

This book really has it all! Recipes, decorations, Christmas cards...enough to keep the family busy for many Christmases to come! The spiral binding means this book is easy to use and will last for years. There are over 1000 stickers too, making this book fantastic value. Each idea is described step-by-step meaning children can easily use the book on their own to produce surprises for all the family - plenty of gift ideas such as bookmarks and cookery ideas. Make your own cards, decorations, wrapping paper......the ideas seem endless. Great for teachers to use in the classroom too, with some really unusual but simple ideas such as the printed reindeer. Well worth buying.

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