Sometimes, the stories behind books are as fascinating — or even more so — than the books themselves, as is the case for Finding Winnie, when two stranger-than-fiction real-life sequences of events — an army veterinarian buying a baby bear off a trapper at a train station, and a little boy’s unusual friendship with a certain grown bear at the London Zoo — collide to result in the creation of one of the most beloved literary characters ever written: Winnie the Pooh.
Nature is fascinating in itself, but this doesn’t always carry across in non-fiction books that are purportedly written for young children, but which are bogged down by dull text and dry facts. Thankfully, we seem to be in a golden age of picture books, where even non-fiction works are increasingly becoming as readable and aesthetically pleasing as their fiction counterparts — and a shining example of this renaissance is The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond.
Ambitiously pitched as a natural history museum in a book, Animalium astutely focuses on the kingdom Animalia, offering an upclose look at more than 200 specimens that are neatly organised into six sections or ‘galleries’ — namely, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals — which makes the hefty tome surprisingly easy to navigate.
Packed with interesting yet concisely presented facts on worms, in clear, well-spaced type, and accompanied by seriously cute illustrations and funny cartoon asides, The Worm and The Fly are both part of the irresistibly named “Disgusting Critters” series of non-fiction books pitched at young readers, but which are also fun for grownups to read.
Today Antoine de Saint-Exupery‘s name is synonymous with his most famous legacy: the small but mighty novella Le Petit Prince, which has been translated into over 250 languages and is one of the best-selling books ever published. For anyone else, such an achievement would probably be the highlight of their lives, so it speaks volumes that Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) was but a footnote in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s incredible life.
The recent trend of high-quality picturebook biographies is one that I hope will continue, since there’s nothing more edifying than learning about the inspiring lives of real people. These artists’ biographies are particularly apt for the picturebook medium since their life’s work is pictorial by nature. The authors and illustrators of these books have also done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the artists and their unique visions.
One of my favourite recent random finds is this out-of-print gem that ingeniously plays on the misleading ‘hybrid’ names that some animals have, to produce a funny yet factual read.
One of my kids’ all-time-favourite alphabet books is this gem. Technically, this book is more about the animals in the ocean than the alphabet, even though it does feature the creatures alphabetically — but that is precisely why the kids love it, since they can’t get enough of animals in general!
To describe this book as ‘lovely’ or ‘NICE’ would be understating it, to put it mildly. Thankfully, there’s also ‘marvellous’, ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘breathtaking’, ‘remarkable’… — just a few examples of the more than a dozen more accurate words that may be used to convey the accomplishment that is this non-fiction picture book.