Illustrated by Wenjia Tang
For ages 7+
When researching Rachael Davis for this post I discovered she has been working with inclusive children's fiction studio, Storymix! That's so exciting, as I have recently read and reviewed (and enjoyed) the first in a new younger middle grade fiction series called 'The Secret Beast Club: The Unicorns of Silver Street' penned by Davis with Storymix as author, Robin Birch. I can't remember where I first saw illustrator, Wenjia Tang's cover artwork for this 'Over The Rainbow: The Science, Magic and Meaning of Rainbows', but I knew I had to preorder it .
It was about time my KS1 Book Club had another non-fiction session and 'Over The Rainbow' was going to hit the spot, not just because rainbows feature heavily in most of the book-based creative activities by the children each week regardless. Mind you, I have to say it was absolute chaos this morning. For a start, as soon as I walked in and saw the children were in home clothes and this is always an indicator that they're going to be excited about their school day - and so they should be as they had all been rewarded as a result of their efforts at raising money for the PTFA (note to self... contact PTFA to find out if there's money for some new library books!!).
About the book
In spite of the adrenaline overload in the room this morning, the children were thankfully engaged after I revealed the book for today's club. Phew. I asked the group who might be able to tell me what non-fiction is. After a couple of wrong answers, we got there (lots of hands shooting up no matter whether they had time to think about the answer or not - it seemed more of a game of who could point to the ceiling quickest... sound familiar? It's cute, but not sustainably cute for long when you've only got the best part of 30 minutes for the whole session).
There was much interest in the cover. One child wanted to know whether the rainbow was across the whole of the back and front covers if you opened it out. Good thinking, I was impressed. So we had a look and sure enough the front cover rainbow was being painted by and adult and a child together on the back cover - plus the front cover has embossing on each cover which is lovely and tactile. Inside, the end papers feature a black stencil style illustration with rainbow patterns showing through in all manner of shapes from butterflies to flags and birds.
Next I laid the book on the floor in the middle of the circle, open flat at the 'Contents' page and asked and handful of the children to take turns reading the book's section names out. There would never have been enough time to read the whole book, so I encouraged the children to think about what would appeal to them the most. As this book is recommended for ages 7+ and these children are aged 6-7 years old, I had anticipated that they'd be most engaged by the plentiful images, topic introduction paragraphs and the 'Did you know?' bubbles to inform our discussions.
Children this age love an acrostic (a poem or other word composition in which the first letter of each new line spells out a word, message or the alphabet). Within the double spread entitled 'A Close Look at Light' are three acrostics for remembering the order of the colours of a rainbow... the one about rinsing out a granny's boots with vinegar met with lots of giggles. I then remembered that there are a couple of children in the group for whom English isn't their first language and we all enjoyed hearing and learning the Romanian, Malayalam and German words for rainbow!! How absolutely wonderful!!
Together we went through the pages stopping and starting when things caught our eyes, from ancient theories (mostly from Ancient Greek, Persian and Syrian scientists and philosophers way before any Western world thinkers from around the 11th century onwards). The children were also very interested to hear about and pour over the illustrations of the Ancient Greek Rainbow Goddess, Iris, and the Rainbow Serpent story of the Aboriginal Australians. When we got to the section 'Over The Rainbow' is was fascinating to discover only 1 or 2 of the children recognised 'The Wizard of Oz' reference.
Lastly we focused on the final section of the book - 'The Symbol of the Rainbow'. The children were quite animated when they discovered that almost all of them were actually wearing rainbow today whether on their hair accessories, dresses, or other items of clothing. Symbols in these pages include the rainbow over Noah's ark, flags through history, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior and how rainbows are considered bad omens in Amazonian culture. In actual fact, I very much wanted to make sure we had the time to head to this chapter for the reason of it being Pride month and the author has ensured that the history of the Pride flag has its own dedicated double spread on the final pages. This enabled me to sensitively explain the flag in an age-appropriate way, it's origin and why we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community during the month of June each year.
There were many other wonders about rainbows we didn't have the time to get to this morning, particularly the 'Unusual Rainbows' which are really fascinating!
All-in-all we had a fantastic time with 'Once Upon a Rainbow' today. It's always a joy when children are learning without even realising it, because they're having so much fun. What's great about this book is that it can be used in reference to so many topics whether learning about ancient civilisations, the weather, civil rights or art.
Rainbows mean so much to so many people for many different reasons, whether it's about their gender, mental health, interest in scientific natural phenomenon, or even a fascination with kawaii!! Children's books almost always feature rainbows!! I love rainbows... I love that the children prefer our library books at school organised in a more inclusive rainbow order by spine system (per reading level), I love that looking at a rainbow in the sky can make me feel so much joy and emotion if I'm having a difficult time (remember the double rainbow over Buckingham Palace minutes after Queen Elizabeth II's passing? Unforgettable!).
Next up, my creative book-based activity.
I really wanted the children to consider all that they had found out from the book this morning, and then draw a picture of how rainbows feature in their lives. Over-excitement became calm once I put on Eva Cassidy's 'Over The Rainbow', an absolutely beautiful (and emotive) version of the original sung by Judy Garland for the 1939 'The Wizard of Oz' film. I hope you enjoy this free download too.
About the creators
Rachael Davis (author)
Rachael Davis writes picture books, fiction and non-fiction and is passionate about showcasing diversity and mental wellness in children’s books. Rachael studied maths at Oxford University and went to work in finance. When her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rachael decided life was too short not to do what you love. She left her job, did a masters in English Literature at Surrey University, became a full-time writer, and has never looked back. Her first picture book, I am NOT a Prince!, published by Hachette and illustrated by Beatrix Hatcher, was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2023. Rachael is the author of the Secret Beast Club series, developed with Storymix, published by Puffin in 2023. She lives in Hampshire with her two young daughters. (Source: Alice Williams Literary Agency)
Wenjia Tang (illustrator)
Wenjia is a freelance illustrator graduated from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) in 2017. She was born in southeast China, and came to the US for high school when she was 15. She loves all kinds of animals, and lives with a cat in Manhattan, New York. Her work has been recognised by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, AOI, 3x3 Magazine etc. (Source: wenjiatang.com)
Buy the book
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Publication date: 1 June 2023
Praise for 'Over the Rainbow'
"From how they're created to all the different things they can mean to people, this book beautifully shares the many ways that rainbows bring colour and light to our world."
- Loll Kirby, author of 'Old Enough to Save the Planet'
"A beautiful book that captures the science, history and cultural significance of rainbows. This book is for anyone who wants to learn more about one of nature's most beautiful optical illussions!"
- Rachel Ignotofsky, creator of 'Women in Science'
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