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Top Texts for June

​This months texts have been chosen by Nikki Gamble, Director of Just Imagine. She has selected non-fiction that is both lyrical and informative, and above all really engaging.

Everest by Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng

Everest is a compendium of fascinating facts about the Earth’s highest mountain. For instance, do you know where the name Everest comes from? I admit that I had never stopped to think about it before reading this book. The name given to the mountain by the Tibetan people is Chomolungma ‘Goddess of the World’ and in Nepal they call her Sagarmatha, ‘Goddess of the Sky’. The name ‘Everest’ is more prosaic, being the name of the Welsh surveyor after whom the mountain was renamed in 1865.

The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach, combining literature, geography, history and science. History is updated to correct the marginalisation of the local people. The conquest of Everest is rightly attributed to both Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary (in that order).

Everest was awarded A Children’s Book Council 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book Award. I was very pleased to see a further reading list to encourage young readers to research, though it is a shame that the suggested reading appears to have been formulated for the US edition.

Overall, an informative, engaging and accessible read for children in the junior years.

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies and Jane Ray

It is difficult to imagine a more sublime pairing of author and illustrator than Nicola Davies and Jane Ray, and I have selected this title for its poetry, beauty and capacity to stir the heart.

Hummingbird is narrative nonfiction. The reader is introduced to the migratory story of the ruby-throated hummingbird through a framing story about a grandmother and granddaughter who patiently await the arrival of the tiny birds as they make their way from Central America to Canada. Davies’ sensory text mimics the sound of the hummingbird wings: ‘Insects zoom. The hummingbirds ride the green wave zig-zagging from one pool of buzz and blossom to the next.’

Ray’s luminescent illustrations celebrate the lusciousness of the natural world. The vibrant hibiscus, honeysuckle, fuchsia and passionflower, twirl around the pages. Flashes of gold catch the light. The book will reward the reader who returns for a second and third reading, with details of the journey to be discovered each time: a fragment of map, the hummingbirds’ swirling flight path.

But this is more than just a beautiful book. As we expect from the Walker Nature Storybook series, the story is supplemented by facts about the tiny birds and the environmental threats they are facing.

The young girl gently offers food from her palm, the grandmother proffers water from a bowl. It’s a gesture of kindness and care, and one which Davies invokes in her young readers.

Your Mind Is Like the Sky by Bronwen Ballard and Laura Carlin

Your mind is like the sky.

Sometimes it’s clear and blue.

Sometimes it’s fizzy and stormy and black and crackly.

And so begins Bronwen Ballard’s narrative exploration of feelings: the explicable and the inexplicable; the feelings we can talk about and those that remain unspoken.

Your Mind is Like the Sky treats children’s everyday worries seriously; the tone is unpatronizing and unsentimental. The poetic text avoids mention of specific worries and is consequently universal and provides space for individual response. Bronwen Ballard’s professional understanding informs this reassuring text which acknowledges the child’s worries and negative feelings, then turns to practical ways to encourage healthy thinking habits.

Carlin’s illustrations introduce character into the narrative, which makes what could have been an abstract subject, approachable. She is a keen observer of body language; a subtle tilt of the head and hint of hunched shoulders and we immediately know what the young girl is feeling. She is a solid but smudgy figure, depicted against a background of scratchy outline figures and objects. There is much to observe in the details, some may resonate with the reader as representative of their own fears; a toilet monster, a large spider, children at a birthday party. But to others the same images may be innocuous: one person’s worry can be another person’s pleasure.

Books about mindfulness can be twee or tend towards navel gazing, but in the safe hands of Ballard and Carlin, we have a book that rings true: it is important to recognise the dark in order to catch the light.

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About this month's reviewer

Nikki Gamble is Director of Just Imagine, author of Exploring Children’s Literature (4th edit. June 2019) and Co-author of Guiding Readers: Layers of Meaning with Wayne Tenent, David Reedy and Angela Hobsbaum.@nikkigamblewww.justimagine.co.uk

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