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With our second child due in six weeks, my new duties as primary bed-time parent for our four year old have intensified, especially as my wife is flaking out at the end of the day with more and more regularity. In an effort to stop my brain from turning to mush (there's only so many times you can read "Bear Hunt", "Cat in the Hat" or "Hungry Caterpillar" before your sanity begins to fray around the edges) I have delved deep into my daughter's extensive library for new material. A colourful book called "Under the Ground" caught my eye and I decided to give it a go, for no other reason than it didn't seem to involve fairies, princesses or energetic cats in fancy headgear.
"Under the Ground", first published in 2006 by Usborne Press (www.usborne.com), is penned by Anna Milbourne and inked by Serena Riglietti. Our hardback version measures around 10 inches by 10 inches, retails for £6.99 (currently available for £6.29 on Amazon) and runs to about twenty-four beautifully illustrated pages. The covers are slightly padded, giving them a soft squidgy feel that is strangely pleasing. The book is part of a wider "Picture Books" series by the same author (with different illustrators).
The theme of the book is best summarised as the question "Have you ever wondered what's under the ground?" It asks the reader to take an imaginary journey to the centre of the Earth, using an unnamed girl and a boy in the illustrations to help the child connect with the story. It describes and explains, in simple, easy to understand language, the types of things (plants, animals, fossils, pipes and magma) you are likely to encounter as you dig deeper and deeper. The story eventually pops the reader out of the ground on the other side of the world - not in China, but in someone else's back garden - where two children are also staring at the ground, wondering what's going on underneath.
The book is first and foremost a picture book - with the illustrations being the dominant and focal point of each page. These are beautifully realised, soft, gentle and slightly cartoon-like. There is an excellent palette of colours from page to page, ensuring that, apart from the story, there is a good variety of visual stimulus. The pictures provide a good level of detail, with lots going on, making this a good candidate for repeat reads.
The book is chock fill of learning opportunities for inquisitive minds and I have used it to explore various themes and ideas with my daughter with every read. It covers a very wide variety of subjects at a basic level, allowing a parent to gauge any particular areas of interest that can be developed further.
Good examples include the way plant roots work, the variety of animals that live down below (rabbits, ants, moles, bats etc.), how the pipes laid under ground deliver water and electricity and take away our dirty water, fossils of animals that lived long ago, and the types of things people dig to find (gold, silver and coal). There is also a mini-geology lesson thrown in, describing how the earth is so hot in the middle, that the rock becomes "red gloop". Even the fact that the book is made from sustainable sources offers a learning "hook".
The font used throughout the book is funky, interesting and large enough to make reading easy for learners (and parents!). I would place the book in the three to six year age range as it works very well from the "being read to" stage to the "independent reading" stage.
The book is well put together and the covers are robust and wipeable, giving it excellent durability in the rough and tumble world of a kid's bedroom. The size of the book, the subject matter and the captivating illustrations make for excellent bed time reading and, although my daughter is yet to ask for it by name, she never objects when she lets me choose it as the evening's reading.
This one's a winner in our house and makes an excellent alternative to the usual fare of fluffy animals and fairytales before bedtime. I do like a book with learning built right in, and this one certainly fits the bill. As we are home-schooling our daughter for the time being, it's a perfect little resource to spark her interest in a variety of subjects. An excellent book for curious young minds and great value for money as well.
"Under The Ground"
Written by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Serena Riglietti
Published by Usborne Press 2006
ISBN: 0 7460 7127 2
Hard cover RRP £6.99
© Hishyeness 2009