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Children's books

Michael Thorn's non-fiction choices for primary and early secondary

Pick Me Up: Stuff You Need To Know. By David Roberts and Jeremy Leslie, Dorling Kindersley pound;19.99. For ages 7 to 14. This lavish information compendium, designed for DK by John Brown Citrus Publishing, puts the uniformity of most children's information books to shame. Each information spread has its own style of presentation. The history of medicine is given comic-strip treatment: a Viking girl has an imaginary weblog; information on Brazil is presented in pictograms; there are whole pages that consist of a single image or typographical layout. One Year 6 boy I gave the book to was mesmerised by the spread of numbers on pp2123. And anyone who picks it up will do as I have done - spend minute after minute wobbling its 3D cover around in the light, amazed at the multi-layered optical illusion of thickness created. One slight annoyance is the patronising insistence on calling information "stuff". But still, a must-have for Years 5 and 6 and key stage 3 class libraries, `and would also make a great gift.

Actual Size. By Steve Jenkins, Frances Lincoln pound;9.99. For ages 4 to 12

A high-impact introduction to a sense of scale in the animal world. The front cover shows a pygmy mouse lemur nestled between the thumb and forefinger of a gorilla. Using torn, cut and textured paper collage, Jenkins has created artful, life-sized images of various creatures or parts of creatures. The result is a richly rewarding and informative picture book to be appreciated by all ages, with additional information on each of the featured creatures at the back for its older audience. One striking double-page spread is dominated by a giant squid's eye (30cm across). The saltwater crocodile's head requires an extra page-sized flap to contain its long jaws.

A Dictionary of Monsters And Mysterious Beasts. by Carey Miller, Barn Owl Books pound;6.99. For ages 7 to 14.

No eye-grabbing factfiles for instant reference here, just an alphabetically-ordered sequence of mini-essays on each beast. There is a welcome reliance on the reader's willingness to sit and read properly each entry from start to finish, rather than skim and page-flick. Whether the monsters are familiar or previously unheard-of, the quality of the descriptions is excellent. Since this book was first published in 1974, Carey Miller has spent more than 30 years working in primary education as a headteacher and adviser. Both the text and the illustrations for this new edition have been revised, with several "new" monsters added and additional information provided for others

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary, Hailsham, East Sussex

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