This is a brilliantly informative and fun book. We’ve had it sitting out on our table for a week or so now and it has captivated everyone who picked it up.
It’s all about scale. Scale is tricky to understand for young children, but numbers can get so big that it becomes almost impossible to get a sense of scale even for older children, teens and adults. Things like the size of the universe, all the wealth in the world, or all the food in world are just such huge quantities that one large number blurs into another. And that’s where this book comes in.
By reducing all the wealth in the world to a pile of 100 coins, it’s so much easier to visualise where all that money is held. 100 lightbulbs make it far easier to understand where all the world’s energy is coming from. 3000 years of history condensed into 31 days on a calendar page becomes much easier to visualise. And so on.
The food production page was fascinating to me. “iF…” reduces all the food produced in the world to a loaf of bread with 25 slices, then shows how much of that loaf each region in the world produces and how much they eat of the loaf. Lots of ‘food for thought’. :) But also a really impactful talking point – even more so if there’s a loaf of bread handy to divide up.
This is not an alarmist book by any means, but it does give one pause. There's a lot to think about, from water conservation to species extinction to our place in the universe and more.
Each page is full of energy, the illustrations are quirky and fun. And there's just the right amount of information – enough to provide new information and enough left to research independently - making this an ideal book if you have a child who is struggling to find the motivation to read and research. Even the trivia/science/numbers buff in our family found it fun and interesting to read.
It’s also a great book to start talking about environmental issues, income gap issues, and social issues like poverty and life expectancy. Conversations that need to be had regularly but are sometimes forgotten in the midst of business.
iF... was written by David J Smith and illustrated by Steve Adams, published August 2014 by Kids Can Press in US and New Frontier Publishing in Australia - here's the link to Book Depository (free postage).
I think I've given more than a dozen copies of The Day of Ahmed's Secret as gifts to children who have begun to write their name – there is such a special affinity between Ahmed and a child who is becoming literate.
And I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve read it aloud. It’s the sort of book that continues to be a favourite long after a child has learned to write. I think that’s because there is such steadiness in Ahmed’s day and work and learning.
This very beautiful picture book is about Rose, who is “a new face in a new street.” It's a daunting prospect for anyone, young or old. So Rose looks out her new window and wishes.
Rose knows that she must keep searching till she finds her wish. She calls and searches and tries to show her family what her wish looks like. But her wish has no name. Rose’s family cope well with this change, but they understand Rose and they love her, so they try to help by cuddling her and playing with her and searching with her. All to no avail. The family begin to despair.
Then, as so often happens when we think we may never find that elusive wish, there it is. The ‘wish thing’.
Rose takes it home and names it Hasel. With Hasel wrapped around her, Rose finds her way onto the street, where she meets Emm with whom she becomes ‘old friends’.
Change - and confusion about our place in our world - is an inescapable part of life for all of us. So the capacity to move through change is one of the greatest skills we can teach our children. It’s possible of course, for what feels like a huge and challenging change for one person to appear to be nothing but a ripple to an outsider. And sometimes parents, teachers, family and friends can be that outsider.
There are some really wonderful words and pictures here that offer significant comfort in times of distress. As we follow Rose and her family in their search, we also see ‘the wish thing’ drawing nearer to Rose. It responds to her calling for it, even though Rose is unaware that it's on its way. A very nice reminder that as we start to wonder if the things we need even exist, they've been working their way to us all along.
A nice reminder too, to keep looking and searching for the thing that will give us the courage or the bravery we need to take risks – like heading out into a new street.
For parents, teachers and anyone who loves a child, it’s a reminder that children’s fears and concerns are real and need to be worked through, even if it takes a while. Even if the wish thing that will help them through it seems to have no name and cannot be found anywhere.
Wishing is a wonderful part of how we cope with change of any sort and, in this story, it is valued and respected. It’s nice to remember that wishing is often the beginning of good things to come.
There's wonderful imagery in this book – I especially love the page where Rose and her family are looking out the window together and longing for the wish thing. Each family member is leaning in towards Rose, supporting her and aching for her. A beautiful illustration of family love.
The story will mesmerise some children – the words are lyrical with a slightly off-beat phrasing which perfectly calls its readers to listen and ponder. It’s a story that some will relate to instantly and some will take a little while to warm up to, especially if it feels a bit confronting to them. It's also a story that adults will love to look at and read aloud, for the gentle reminders they’ll find as much as for the sheer loveliness of it.
A short PS: There's a lot going on in this book, as you can see by the larger-than-usual number of categories – it would be a truly lovely gift, especially for someone who may be working through some difficult times.
In my studio I have a huge blackboard I write on. Crossing things off lists is probably my favourite thing to do. Sometimes, I’ll even add something on to a list that I’ve already done, just so I can cross it off. - Oliver Jeffers
And one of my favourite things to do is look at Oliver's picture books. Here's our review of Lost and Found.
We know how children need more than just books and how parents have to balance the child's collection of books with all the other good things that claim a piece of the family budget. It's not always easy. (And very much appreciated when grandparents, siblings and friends chip in!).
To help with that (and perhaps as a tip-off for the aforementioned angels), we're introducing a new series that we'll publish near the end of each month, spotlighting just one book that we think is a 'must-own', versus a 'must-read'.
First up in the series, we're spotlighting The Promise - written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin, published by Walker Books. It's for 4 year olds through to grownups and it's definitely for everyone in between.
All I knew about the story I would write on the Monday morning when I sat down at my desk was that it was about a street child who planted acorns.
Two hours later The Promise was written and – somewhat scarily- I cannot tell you how – it just came out of my fingers onto the screen.
Since that first draft that made my editor cry, it has changed by a total of 6 words. I knew at once that this was a story with the power to change hearts – and as I’m always saying these days ‘ the world can change, one heart at a time’.
The editor wasn't the only person who cried when she read it!
But something that Nicola said in an email after we reviewed The Promise in October 2014 really grabbed at my heart. Here's what she wrote:
It's [The Promise] just been named as one of this year's New York Times' best picture books. Better still, I heard a few weeks ago that copies are being passed hand to hand across the most remote and war damaged areas of Afghanistan. (our italics)
Two things. Firstly, the power of truly great picture books. They transcend language and they really do have the power to "change the world, one heart at a time." Plus, how cool is she for putting 'better still' ahead of the best picture book accolades!
PS we're just a little bit late with this one, which means there'll be two in February. But they'll settle in after that. We hope you enjoy the series and find a book every month or so to love and to keep.
There are some books that really are best read in a whisper, while little bodies cuddle up and begin to sink heavily into sleep. Lullaby books, if you like.
Lullaby books need to be lyrical, preferably poetic for cadence, gentle on the eyes, and have a reassuring predictability. (Certainly nothing to startle or surprise!)
Let’s Go to Sleep is all of that – it’s one of my favourites. Each page shows a loving animal family preparing to sleep and includes a tender invitation: ‘let’s go to sleep’. These are beautiful pictures, there is love in the eyes of the animals and reassurance in the familiarity of the scenes. Each animal family is behaving just as they really do, but they are doing things that human families do too – cuddling with a sibling, lying on a parents back, sleeping under a parent’s protective gaze.
While this story is a lovely way to end a day, it also takes us around the globe as we peek in on animals and landscapes from all over the world, which makes for interesting daytime conversations about where animals live, habitats and so forth.
The certainty of the text – each page has an 8 or 9 syllable phrase followed by ‘let’s go to sleep, little ….” – makes predicting easy for emerging readers. And because the layout of the text is the same on each page, identifying the repeated words is easy too.
So it’s a great book for children who are just starting to read.
There’s a paperback version due out soon, but buy the hardcover – you’ll likely be lying down beside a baby or toddler to read this story and hardcover is so much easier to hold with one hand, while your other arm cuddles a little one. (It would make a lovely baby-shower or new born gift.)
In 2014 the Sydney Morning Herald ran this article bemoaning the state of children’s knowledge about what food looks like, and how it grows.
It’s a worry – and a bit funny – that apparently "Three-quarters of Australian children in their final year of primary school believe cotton socks come from animals and 27 per cent are convinced yoghurt grows on trees". That means we have a whole bunch of 12 year olds imagining yogurt trees somewhere. Those would be some messy trees!
While it’s pretty hilarious to think of yogurt trees, it’s not so hard to see why it might be tricky to make the connection between, say, wheat and bread. Especially if you’ve never ground wheat or made bread by hand - most children haven’t and probably won’t in the normal course of life.
George the Farmer Plants a Wheat Crop is a picture book designed to teach about where food comes from in an explicit way.
George and his wife Ruby run a mixed farming property with crops, sheep and cattle, but in this first story George has the job of planting wheat. After a few words explaining to his dog Jessie how and why he is growing wheat, George sets to and gets ploughing and seeding the paddock. Seeding is important work and George loves working with his tractor – but it is also monotonous and George starts thinking about the football. He’s so distracted by thoughts of footy training that he doesn’t hear the alarm telling him that he has run out of seed. All is well though, because Ruby finishes the job later that afternoon and she notices the problem and fixes it.
This is great little book for:
- Reading before planting a garden. (You could even plant your own little wheat crop, harvest it, grind it, and bake with it - my children did this when they were in Primary school and still talk about the effort involved in producing enough for one tiny loaf of bread.)
- Talking about sowing and reaping – both literally and metaphorically.
- Starting to investigate where the foods we eat and clothes we wear originate.
- Reading before baking – there are recipes for play dough and pizza dough in the back of the book, but any flour based recipe would be a good follow on.
- Connecting city dwellers with primary producers.
- Talking about large scale agriculture and its role in both the economy and in producing food.
- And for a glimpse into life in the country.
We’ve been blessed to always have primary producers in the family and I can vouch for the authenticity of George being distracted by thoughts of sports, and Ruby wearing pearls while ploughing! Here's a few pics from some of our own primary producers (my sister Sam's family in Central Queensland - and yes, they've had rain!).
As food security becomes an increasing global issue, the importance of treating food (and resources generally) with respect and appreciation becomes more pressing. It also becomes something that needs to be taught deliberately. And that’s where George and Ruby come in.
There’s a George the Farmer website (where you can buy the book) and App – and even a theme song to download.
Of course there’s nothing like sowing, growing and harvesting in a hands-on way, or a visit to a farming property. But in the meantime, George the Farmer Plants a Wheat Crop is a cheerful book that’s fun to read, great to look at and full of easily digestible information. I think there are more George the Farmer books in the pipeline, so do pop over to the website to watch for them.
George the Farmer Plants a Wheat Crop is by Simone Kain, illustrated by Ben Hood