Book review: Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Title: Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Written and Illustrated by: Kate Pankhurst

Published by: Bloomsbury

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet by Kate Pankhurst is a fun, creative non-fiction book containing snippets of interesting facts about thirteen inspirational women from all over the globe who have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting planet Earth and all its living things, making significant contributions towards improving the environment. It is part of a series of books celebrating female achievements.

Each of the women is presented in a double-page spread, which outlines where in the world they are from, their environmental beliefs and inspiration for their achievements, from the ‘shark lady’, Eugenie Clark, who inspired people to learn about the oceans and respect all underwater creatures; to Isatou Geesay who highlighted the problems of using plastic bags and encouraged people to recycle and use reusable packaging; and Daphne Sheldrick whose love and devotion to animals in Kenya inspired her to care for young elephants in the wild and go on to found The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The illustrations and characterisations are bright and imaginative bringing the characters alive. They catch the eye and will keep young readers turning the pages. Throughout the book the emphasises is on how with determination and hard work anything is possible. Every page of the book contains the message that everyone can make a difference if they put their mind to it.

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet supports primary teaching in STEM and meets the requirements of the history programmes of study as it documents the lives of significant individuals who have contributed to national and international achievements. This book would provide an excellent springboard for encouraging pupils to research their own exceptional women, which could be made into a book or encyclopedia with their own illustrations or photos printed from the Internet. 

The snippets of information can be read in any order which is ideal for the child with short attention span who prefers to dip in and out of a book. At the back there is a glossary of words ideal for helping young enquiring minds with useful definitions with examples of using the words in context helping them to use accurately environmental vocabulary and give them a greater understanding of the related concepts.

It highlights important environmental messages in a fun and motivating way and would be the ideal gift for any child interested in the environment and an excellent resource to support topics on green issues, recycling and conservation. It could also be used for triggering discussion and encouraging empathy at home and in the classroom.

An interview with… Jake Hope

Jake Hope (Chair of CILIP’s Youth Libraries Group and Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Working Party) talked to me about the importance of children’s books, libraries and children’s book awards. He talked about how stories play such a key role in shaping both who we are and the way we see the world.

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Some of his fondest early childhood memories are of being taken to the library with his mum where he would listen to stories read aloud during story times by the authors and the librarians, as well as having the opportunity to browse different books. He explained exploring and experimenting in this way is a hugely empowering and exciting way to discover and widen one’s own tastes.

Throughout his life Jake has immersed himself in exploring different themes and styles of writing. With around 10,000 children’s books commercially published every year, navigating through these to find the right book for the right child at the right time can be a real challenge. Libraries help by offering expert guidance, providing reading groups, schemes to encourage wider reading and to make reading social and creative. With increasing demands on young people’s time, reading has to be framed in a way that makes it responsive and relevant and librarians are experts at this.

Libraries can provide a safe and neutral space where this can happen and where individuals can explore their own tastes in a cost-free, risk-free environment. It is no exaggeration to say that libraries grow the readers of the future and as children’s book writers and illustrators you make this possible.

Youth Library Group

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Jake told me that the Youth Libraries Group is all about connections. They are one of the special interest groups of CILIP (the library and information association) and have over 1,500 members. The membership is comprised of librarians working with children and young people in public libraries, in school libraries and for school library services – these are organisations who tailor collections of books to meet curriculum needs and who work to provide support and advice on reading for pleasure and library provision to schools.

The Youth Libraries Group is an extraordinary collective of highly committed and knowledgeable experts who share a unique passion for reading and for library provision for children and young people. The connections the group have means we are able to support through giving advice on what has been published in the past and present, providing access to groups of young readers who can often test manuscripts or provide insight into their reading tastes. They support authors and illustrators through organising events, promotions and competitions to bring greater focus and profile to creators.

Children’s book awards

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Children’s book awards play a role in helping to make sure that certain types of book do not go unrecognised. Humorous writing, for example, does not always get the most recognition through awards, though funny books play such an important role in reading for pleasure. Awards like the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, as was, and the Laugh Out Loud awards, the LOLLIES, help to make sure these titles don’t get overlooked.

Jake has been a judge for many book awards such as: the Blue Peter Book Awards, the Costa, the Branford Boase, the Diverse Voices, the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals (whose judging panel I’ve also chaired), the Macmillan Illustration Prize and the STEAM prize and am currently judging Oscar’s Book Prize and the Klaus Flugge award. He also helped to set up the BookTrust Storytime prize.

Having such a populous award landscape enables different types of books to gain focus and creates jumping-on points for readers with different abilities and tastes. Awards remain responsive to the culture and society that they exist within. Jake advises authors to make themselves familiar with these awards and the criteria for judging them.

“A large range of books are published now, but the awards still play a lobbying role. One of the largest areas of focus for this lobbying at the moment is in encouraging diversity and inclusion, helping to make sure that the doors of reading are wide open and are inviting for all.” Jake Hope

Jake elaborated that a great story has something to say to all readers regardless of age. Criteria are a useful way for book awards to appraise a range of different titles and styles of writing, but it’s important not to downplay the overall impact that language, characterisation, plot and style can have on a reader too.

“By working together and creating critical mass we can support one another and build new opportunities. With our combined skills and knowledge we can experiment and excite new generations of readers.” (Jake Hope)

People can easily feel overwhelmed by the huge range of choice that is available and it is easy to feel under-confident about which book might suit which person best at which point in their lives. Book awards can help to build awareness and boost confidence. In spite of the value of awards, it is important not to downplay the fact that every time a reader picks up a book and connects with it, this is the biggest win of all.

The present is not an easy time either for libraries or for authors and illustrators.  Challenging times can present real opportunities for innovation and imagination, however, and by working together and creating critical mass we can support one another and build new opportunities. With our combined skills and knowledge we can experiment and excite new generations of readers.

To find out more about Jake Hope visit his website: www.jakehope.org and follow him on Twitter @jake_hope

To find out more about the Youth Libraries Group visit: www.cilip.org.uk/ylg and follow them on Twitter @youthlibraries

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #223 2020 Writers’ Forum online from Select Magazines.

To read my latest Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

My radio debut

On Wednesday 8th April, I was invited to talk about my new books on the 24-hour Internet radio station covering UK National & International, Chat and Spin radio station.  Their Head Office is based in Washington, Tyne And Wear. They have over 30,000 listeners each week. They have been interviewing authors from all over the world about their new books and where people can purchase them. My time slot was at 7:50 pm.

You can listen to a recording of the show I was on about 40 minutes in here:

I am talking about my new picture books, Rabbits’s Spring Gift and Frog’s Summer Journey. They are part of the A Year in Nature series of seasonal animal led picture books published by Quarto Educational (QED) and they have been illustrated by Lucy Barnard.

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The release of the other two books in the series, Squirrels’ Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery, have been postponed until September 2021.

After the show they invited me back for another interview on Saturday 18th April at 11:20 am. Here is  a recording of the show:

I am about 2 hours 20 mins in. This is now going to be a regular slot over the next few weeks during the corona virus lock down. You can tune in every Saturday at 11:20 to listen to me talking about my books.

You can listen to the show live on the Chat and Spin radio website: www.chatandspinradio.com

You can find out more about me and my books on my website: www.anitaloughrey.com

Or follow me on Twitter @amloughrey and Instgram @anitaloughrey

Book Review: The Crayon Man

Title: The Crayon Man The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

Written by: Natascha Biebow

Illustrated by: Steven Salerno

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Crayon Man

An ingenious narrative non-fiction book about Edwin Binney the inventor of Crayola Crayons. This book examines the history of children’s writing implements and the inspiration behind creating something children could write and draw with that did not smudge or rub off and was perfect for producing coloured pictures.

Aimed at children between the ages of 6 and nine years old, the text has a fun chatty tone ideal for reading aloud with the added bonus of a more fact based information box added to the lower left corner of some of the spreads.  In the story, Natascha recalls how Edwin Binney experimented with different ideas to create his top secret formula –  emphasising a trial and error methodology where he learnt from his mistakes. She also reveals how they came up with the new word ‘Crayola’ to name the crayons.

The illustrations by Steven Salerno are bold and colourful. I like the way they contrast to emphasise the colour of the outside world compared to the carbon factories where black printing inks and shoe polish are made. Through his illustrations Steven gives us a real sense of how the introduction of colour transformed education and learning.

I believe this book would be enjoyed by older children who like biographies and also younger aged children with adult support, so could be used in the classroom, or for home schooling, for both KS1 and KS2, as the book supports science, in that they are discovering how Edwin Binney developed a useful new material and it encourages children to think about the properties of materials that make them suitable or unsuitable for particular purposes as well as any unusual and creative uses for these materials. It supports design technology and the history national curriculum in that they are learning how a key inventor has  helped shape the world and could also be used to inspire children’s creative art work.

At the back of the book Natascha has listed some of the names given to each colour. this could be used to stimulate children to invent their own imaginative names for each colour. There are also step-by-step photographic instructions on how crayons are produced from the transporting the paraffin wax to being packaged and shopped to stores. This could be used as a sequencing activity in the classroom. The additional single page biography of Edwin Binney could be used to encourage children to research and write their own biographies of a significant person who has made an inventive contribution to society. i particularly like the inclusion of a selected bibliography listing research resources suitable for children to find out more information that includes books, interviews, articles, websites and videos.

All in all The Crayon Man The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is a well-crafted book that is informative and educational is a fun and inspiring way.

An interview with… Matt Gaw

In this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed Matt Gaw about his research for his second book, Under the Stars, which was published by Elliott & Thompson in February this year. It is about moonlight, starlight and how the subtle shades of darkness are under threat from an artificially lit world, exploring through a series of nocturnal walks, our relationship with natural night.

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Matt’s inspiration to write Under the Stars came from something his son said when he was trying to get him to bed one night. He was 10 at the time and pushing to stay up. His son told him the average human spends around 26 years of their life asleep and felt like this was a waste of time. Matt realised that although he had been out at night – camping or toddling home from the pub – he had never gone out just to experience night.

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So when day after a heavy snow fall, he decided to do some research and walk in King’s Forest near his home in Suffolk. Matt was amazed at the changes that happened as darkness slowly began to rise, changes that affected both the landscape and his own body.

“I think I realised then how much natural light there is at night; how night isn’t a black bookend today, but a place of subtlety and shades.” (Matt Gaw)

Matt explained walking the different routes to research the book was an organic process. He started off close to home and then started to go further afield when he wanted to explore both darker and brighter landscapes because he feels it is important for people to experience the nightscape close to home.

“It’s about being honest I guess, showing people that there are problems but there is action that can be taken and beauty to be found.” (Matt Gaw)

Matt told me he realised he felt safer the darker it was as once your senses have adapted to darkness, it is easy enough to navigate.

“It’s strange really, in some ways your world is made smaller – you operate in this reduced bubble of visibility – but in other ways it is infinitely bigger. At night you experience not only space, but time; the light from the stars has often been travelling for thousands of years before it reaches your retina.” (Matt Gaw)

Matt explained that wildlife is most active at dusk and dawn and I was lucky enough to see an otter hunting in Scotland and had some memorable encounters later with a huge, galloping herd of deer in King’s Forest and nightjar on Dartmoor. He has edited Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s magazine for a number of years so has an excellent foundation in natural history, but discovered he also needed to do quite a bit of additional research.

The main thing was looking at how artificial light impacts on different species, so he read quite a few scientific papers and also interviewed academics working in the field. For example, Travis Longcore, one of the first people to write extensively about artificial light and ecology was very generous with his time and illustrated to Matt how our perception of darkness is a world apart from that of nocturnal species. He recounts parts of this conversation in Chapter 5, while exploring the night close to his Suffolk home.

His research tip to other travel writers is to read everything on your topic or location – local guides, national stories, folk stories, blogs, scientific papers – then rip it all up and write your own. Matt tries not to over plan his trips, he has a rough idea of where he will start and where he wants to go, but he prefers to be adaptable to prevent being  closed off to the actual experience. If you’re just marching from A to B Matt believes you will lose something.

Matt’s has also written The Pull of the River where he explores Britain’s waterways with his friend James in a canoe, to give a new insight into nature, place and friendship.

Pull of the River

To find out more about Matt Gaw and his writing you can look at his website www.mattgaw.com, and follow him on Twitter @Mattgaw and Instagram @mattgaw

You can read the complete feature in #223 2020, which is available to buy from Writers’ Forum online at Select Magazines.

To read my latest Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Using subtext

Subtext is the gaps between what they people thinking and what they actually say. Ernest Hemingway called this the ‘Iceberg Theory’ as there is deeper meaning below the surface of the text, in the same way as the bulk of an iceberg floats beneath the surface of the water.

Iceberg

For example, when using dialogue to develop action, the real significance is not what is said but what is meant. People hold back information all the time – they keep secrets, they avoid embarrassment, they twist the truth for good and for bad reasons. US playwright and film director said:

“People may or may not say what they mean, but they always say something designed to get what they want.” (David Mamet)

The subtext reveals more to the reader about your characters than the actual text as you are conveying the motivation behind the character because when subtext conflicts with what a character says or does, it creates tension.

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Our challenge as writers is to use this omission and implication to create subtext that the reader will understand. Sometimes your characters may not even know what they truly feel or what they mean and sometimes other characters may totally misinterpret what they mean.

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You can create subtext by providing just enough information for the reader to allow them to connect the dots and reach a conclusion. To do this you need to reveal information about the plot or characters without stating it outright. In this way you are foreshadowing what’s to come.

Self-confidence could be pure bluster, evasive replies could be resistance and a seemingly harmless piece of gossip could ignite the fuse that smoulders into a dramatic explosion. A small crisis could carry the seeds that grow into high drama. Knowing what your characters really want and their motivations will strengthen your characterisation and intensify drama in your writing.

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I find acting out the story can help with this as it provides the opportunity to explore the character’s thoughts and situations and the different way s tension could be implied to allow the reader to make personal connections.

Book Review: The Austen Girls

Title: The Austen Girls

Written by: Lucy Worsley

Published by: Bloomsbury

The Austen Girls

An expertly written historical YA novel that weaves real people and places with fictional events that portray the realities of Georgian England. Fanny Austen is the eldest of eleven children. She is the niece of the infamous Jane Austen and is about to be launched at her debut ball in order to find a husband who can support her and take the burden off of her family. Both Fanny and her cousin Anna are frequently told their futures depend on finding a husband with money.

Although, I am aware these were the attitudes of the time and is no reflection on author and historian, Lucy Worsley, I personally found the opinion that women need to be married made my skin prickle and could feel myself getting angry and defensive. It drummed home how the majority of people are much more enlightened than they were over 200 years ago. Lucy skilfully portrays her characters to consider these attitudes and make up their own minds about their reasons for marriage.

We follow Fanny through her trials and tribulations of feeling obliged to find a suitable husband without ever really knowing what her heart truly desires and the emotional ups and downs of life changing events. We also see through Fanny’s eyes how her cousin Anna deals with finding a suitor and views it as a means of escape from her own life.

Yet the only man who Fanny truly enjoys dancing with is the clergyman Dominic Drummond and she has been told clergymen do not earn enough money so are not good prospects. He is then conned and whisked away to a correction centre. Fanny is left to prove his innocence and with the help of her Aunt Jane adopts the role of a thief-taker, which is similar to a detective.

Lucy Worsley’s thorough research and knowledge shines through every page with her cleverly entwined details of rooms within Godmersham Park and other locations. The reader has a distinct idea of the era and the characters are all well formed and leave you wanting to learn more about the Austen girls, their families and their futures.

An interview with… Jane Borodale

In Dec 2009, I interviewed historical novelist and short story writer Jane Borodale for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum #98.

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She explained to me how she steeped herself in the period by reading widely, including contemporary commentary such as Thomas Turner’s diary of 1754-65 and the enclosure and rural social change, prostitution, illegitimacy, parish relief, the bills of mortality. She also listened to music; Handel, Rameau, Thomas Arne, secular street ballads and poured over maps of the period like John Rocque’s famous map of London, and images of daily life from Hogarth to Paul Sandby, to get a clear idea of clothes worn at the time.

A THE BOOK OF FIRES

Whilst researching the chalk downland area for her novel, The Book of Fires, published by Harper Collins, Jane Borodale realised what a rich resource the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum was. Historic buildings, rescued from destruction and rebuilt to their original form on the Museum’s site in Sussex, demonstrate examples of vernacular homes, farmsteads and rural industries from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They’re presented in a historically precise way which also strongly evokes their individual setting and period, and they seemed ripe for exploring with the fluidity of fiction.

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“Studying the buildings closely has made an enormous difference to the scale of the way I see history – its human intimacy – and I have learnt much about using texture and atmosphere. The library for researchers at the Museum is a small goldmine – with an authentic 14th-century draught blowing over the flagstones under the thick oak door – and filled to the brim with books about vernacular architecture, building techniques and social history that relates to the Weald and Downland collection.” (Jane Borodale)

Jane explained that it was important to her to involve all the senses so she went to a butchery day one cold November, to discover what the smell of fresh pig fat was like; cooked recipes from Hannah Glasse that always seem to start ‘take a little bit of butter rolled in flour’; sat on the north scarp of the chalky Downs and looked inland, imagining her character Agnes creaking on the carrier up to London before the turnpikes had reached Sussex and grazed endlessly on the internet.

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She told me:

“I love research; it’s a huge privilege to spend time finding a trail through the wilderness of something fascinating – and call it work! I always think that looking at history is like putting your hand into a huge barrel for little fistfuls of stories – whatever comes up.” (Jane Borodale)

Researching the fireworks history was more specific, and Jane had the delicious feeling of eavesdropping on a faintly illicit scene to which she wasn’t initiated. She looked at both contemporary and modern fireworks material – the latter partly to verify the former, as many of the grubby fireworks manuals of the early 19th century were full of inaccuracies. She explained it was very exciting to order up little pamphlets at the British Library that had clearly been used over the years, blackened with thumbprints, offering recipes for detonating balls, silver rain, honorary skyrockets, serpents.

Many original documents are now digitised and searchable for free if you access them from your local library or records office – www.ancestry.com offers all census returns for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland from 1841 to 1901, among other things, or you can subscribe for access from home.

The language of the 18th-century chemistry was also rich and poetic, with its roots still firmly planted in the work of the alchemists. Jane even had fireworks propped up in her workroom, in her desk drawers, and went to displays, rubbed gunpowder between her thumb and forefinger, visited a fireworks expert to talk about his pyrotechnic work (who also demonstrated an explosion for her in his garden).

For Jane, each of her projects has a different organising solution, but she tends to sort notes, maps and copying into a stack of variously coloured Manila folders, usually according to subject, though sometimes to place or period of time. She finds the activity of regularly sifting through helps her to remember what she has, and keeps it all current in her head when she’s working on something. She explained she has separate notebooks for different aspects – one for topographical on-site notes; one for useful scraps, and a (usually) smaller one that she always carry in case of sudden unexpected bursts of inspiration on the bus.

When a notebook is full she transcribes the best bits onto the computer, striking lines through the pages as she goes, and these notes tend to be a kind of halfway house towards the writing itself. At a records office or library she writes out her notes on sheets of unlined A4 and includes the reference of what she’s looking at the top of every page, which she also numbers as it really helps when she gets home and tries to make sense of all the pencilled, frantic scribbling. She finds the use index cards quite constricting.

Her writing tip for other historical writers is to actually go to the places your are writing about. Seeing for yourself the particular scale of an environment, the prevailing wind, light quality, smell, the tilt of the land or the narrowness of a street, where the sun goes down – distinctive things that can’t be got easily on the internet. Even a few, isolated hours makes all the difference. Also (and this is quite boring) she always tries to note down the full reference details of every tiny fragment that might be useful – it is hugely frustrating to be unable to follow up something half-remembered at a later date.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #98 Dec 2009 Writers’ Forum online from Select Magazines.

To read the latest research secrets interview you can invest in a postal subscription.

To find out more about Jane Borodale check out her website: www.janeborodale.co.uk

Life… but not as we know it

Now more than ever we need to stay positive, which is easier said then done.

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As a freelance writer, you would have thought I was use to staying home all day and working and that is true but at the moment with a full house it is extremely difficult to work. Everyone is pulling on my time.

I have my husband, three children and three-year-old grandson at home and I was not prepared for how much they all eat. My first problem was that even though I had sorted evening meals for at least two weeks, I had not even thought about lunch. I had to do a special trip to the supermarket just to sort out lunches for six people each day. These will be coming to an end at the end of this week.

My second problem is that my daughter seems to think I am now her child minder. My time is monopolised by my grandson who is potty training, which leaves me very little time to work on my writing. Don’t get me wrong I love being with my grandson but I am slowly running out of ways and role play ideas to entertain him. Any ideas please post and let me know.

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The third problem is snacks. I never thought about snacks. In fact my family snack a whole lot more than me. I am avidly doing Weight Watchers and have over the last few months weened myself off of snacking but I did not account for how many more snacks I’ve had to buy and have in the house. this makes it so difficult for me. The temptation to eat is now constantly here in the house.  I hope other people who are also trying to diet via WW or any other way can empathise how difficult this is. Any ways you can suggest to keep me on track is much appreciated.

Puffer fish

Another thing making it extremely difficult for me to stay positive is the very sad fact all events for my new books have had to be cancelled and now the publication of the other two books in the series, Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery, which were due out this September have now been postponed to next year, 2021 and I suspect this is September 2021 as they are seasonal books. 😦 So I am currently seeking ideas and advice on how to stay positive and publicise the two books that have been released in the A Year in Nature series. 

Also, my columns in Writers’ Forum have also been reduced as the magazine is printing the next issue and then there will be a five month gap during the lock down. This is because high street retailers, like W H Smiths, are obviously shut and the system for stocking magazines is being suspended in supermarkets. This will obviously effect sales. Disappointing but inevitable at this difficult time. I have let me authors know yesterday but very sad for everyone involved. 

So unfortunately, this has turned into a doom and gloom blog. I am in obvious need of cheering up. Positive comments welcome.

Book Review: Prime Suspect

Title: Prime Suspect – Suspect Identification System

Written by: David Holzer

Illustrated by: The Top That! Publishing team

Published by: Tangerine Press an imprint of Scholastic US

Prime Suspect - Suspect Identification System

Learn how to solve crimes by creating your own photo-fits and matching fingerprints. This book takes you through page-by-page the different skills required to solve crimes such as, making an e-fit using the CD-ROM, retrieving and studying fingerprints, interrogation methods and techniques and witness statements. There are many fun and interesting crimes to solve included in this book. They provide the reader with the chance to use the skills identified and see for themselves how and why they are used.

I think the CD-ROM is rather disappointing in the present climate of fast moving adventure games. The fingerprint database was too small to identify the fingerprints on the normal computer screen and would have to be enlarged on an interactive whiteboard. The photo-fit graphics are very simple and a little too basic for 9+ age range it is aimed at. Children today are use to creating miis on the wii and the Prime Suspect CD-Rom can not compete with this more advanced technology.