Inspiring Tomorrow's Adults

September 19


Browsing in Hart’s Books for books to review for this issue of Salad Days, I spotted Greta Thunberg’s No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, a collection of the young Swedish girl’s speeches at climate rallies across Europe, at the UN, at the World Economic Forum, and at the Houses of Parliament. 

It struck me that we don’t acknowledge often enough that our children listen to all that goes on around them; that they form their own important opinions; and that we owe them proper explanations and understandings; and that we have a duty to put inspirational material in their paths. I found plenty on the Hart’s Books shelves.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit and all other political upheavals will be, I think we all recognise that we need stronger and better leaders around the world in the next generation. Usborne Books’ Politics for Beginners, by Alex Frith, Rosie Hore and Louie Stowell, illustrated by Kellan Stover, is a highly accessible account of the how, and importantly, the why, of politics – from its first principle of being ‘the way people make decisions about how to work with each other in all kinds of groups, big or small’ to thoughts on ‘How does the media affect politics?’, ‘Who should pay for society?’, and ‘Is corruption inevitable?’. The topics are grouped in sections such as ‘Political Systems’, ‘Political Change’, ‘Elections’, with a final ‘Big Questions’ section. 

The book is very engaging, set out with lots of text boxes and cartoon figures with speech bubbles but with plenty of serious content to help intelligent children not only understand the mechanics of politics but to be inspired by what it can mean.

Engineering is another area which will need great minds in the future. Both Usborne and DK are already onto this one – each with excellent books to fascinate young children. Usborne’s Lift the Flap Engineering has well-chosen snippets of information, detailing the wide range of areas in which engineers engage – from bridges to robots and the music industry. The opening paragraph sets the stage: ‘Engineering means designing, testing and making all kinds of useful things. To do this, engineers use mathematics, science and – above all – their imaginations.’ With questions like, ‘How do you make an app?’ and an explanation of how engineers stopped Osaka airport, built on an artificial island, sinking into the sea, this book will certainly encourage children to look at the world around them with new understanding. 

If they are sufficiently inspired, they might like to test their engineering skills on the experiments detailed in DK’s How to be an Engineer, which shows children how to ‘think and act like an engineer’. It is full of activities and investigations such as making a cardboard arch, how to build a safe crash-landing pod for eggs, and how to build a boat to keep as many marbles afloat as possible. Alongside the activities are accounts of famous engineers and their achievements, and explanations of the science behind the activities. Again, I think the opening paragraph is particularly interesting. ‘These pages feature engineering projects for you to try yourself. The results you get may not be the same as those in the book – but that’s OK! If the results don’t match up, try to work out what you did differently, and then try again.’ What a fabulous opening message about the nature of experimentation! 

Experimentation is key to The Colours of History: How Colours Shaped the World by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre. We take colour for granted but this book explores how colours were developed and how politically significant they were. Take, for example, cochineal, created from the dried and ground-up bodies of cochineal beetles by the Aztecs and Incas. The book explains how production was taken over by the Spanish invaders who grew wealthy on the European demand for strong red colours – the symbol of power for royalty and the Catholic church. Prussian Blue was developed by mistake when an 18th-century German scientist was trying to make a rich red but discovered a new blue which, it was discovered, could be used in an early form of photocopying (hence ‘blueprints’). I leave you to read for yourselves about why margarine was required to be coloured pink in 19th-century France and what Cudbear is. This is a fascinating book. I’d be delighted if it inspired its readers to experiment with making colour or to delve further into its politics.

As inspiration goes, Shakespeare’s poetry comes second to very little and I don’t think it necessarily matters if a child doesn’t understand every word. Gina Pollinger’s selection of Classic Shakespeare Verse illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark is gloriously rich and accessible – and of course, is as relevant today as it was to Shakespeare’s original audience. Here he is on politicians, for example, ‘But man, proud man, / Dressed in a little brief authority…/… like an angry ape / Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven / As makes angels weep.’ I think even very young children could comprehend and enjoy the vivid opinion being expressed here and, perhaps, recall it and take heed as they step onto the future world’s stage ... But that’s not really my point. Just read it to your children and let them bathe in the language. Shakespeare is simply the best.

‘For Lane who knew just what to do with wondering’ is the dedication from Julie Fogliano, the author of A House that Once Was to its illustrator, Lane Smith. Knowing what to do with wondering is a talent which we have as children but seem to lose as we grow older. We need to help our children to find ways to nurture wonder and be inspired by it even as they grow up. A House that Once Was is an enchanting story of two children who find an abandoned and derelict house in the woods and wonder about its former owners. Written in the rhythms and gathering rhymes of This is the House that Jack Built, the children imagine a history for the house: ‘Who was this someone / who walked down this hallway / who cooked in this kitchen / who napped in this chair?’. I loved this: it reminded me of Quentin Blake’s wonderful The Green Ship but has its own magical poignancy, captured perfectly by Lane Smith’s exquisite illustrations.

From wonder come questions, exploration, experiment, discovery, understanding and inspiration. The sky at night is always a source of wonderment and Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright have drawn imaginatively on this in When the Stars Come Out: exploring the mysteries and magic of the night-time. Not just about the night sky, this gorgeous non-fiction picture book describes night-time across the world – in the deserts, rainforests, the ocean, woodland – and explores what night-time means to us – fear of the dark, dreams, sleep, and celebrations of the night. An inspired mix of science, natural history, myth, anthropology and psychology to inspire anyone who has gazed up at the stars.

So, where does all this inspiration come from? A bookshop, of course – which is why this set of reviews ends with The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham, illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman, a charming and heartwarming (and heartstrings-tugging) story about a little girl’s love for her local bookshop and its elderly owner – and, tying in very neatly with my opening premise, the importance of giving children the chance for a proper understanding of the world around them and the impact they can have when they voice that understanding.

Milly loves Mrs Minty, owner of the local bookshop. When Mrs Minty gets up from ‘her creaky wooden story chair’ after storytime and says ‘Goodness! I’m getting a bit creaky, too!’ a cloud of worry forms in Milly’s head as she notices how slowly Mrs Minty walks. Later, she asks mum what happens when something is old and creaky. When mum explains that ‘eventually it might need replacing with something new’, Milly is horrified. And when she finds the bookshop unexpectedly closed ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’ (which mum explains means that something happened that no one had planned), she is devastated. On seeing the ‘For Sale’ sign, she knows she has to act. She begins a campaign of putting up posters on the boarded-up windows to encourage any new buyer to re-open the bookshop. After a few days, other children’s posters appear with the same message. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but Milly reminds me of Greta Thunberg … Hooray for tomorrow’s adults!

Books chosen from the shelves at Hart’s Books (, by Jo Burch, Founder of Words in Walden


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