Wildlife wonders for little people
Children’s books: from wood mice and red squirrels to beetles and termites, there’s plenty of nature in these new releases
A fox by Aga Grandowicz, one of the many stunning illustrations in Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals (Little Island, €25)
As the trees begin to shed their leaves, there is no better way to chart the changing seasons than with a beautiful book. In Juanita Browne’s The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife: Through the Seasons (O’Brien Press, €19.99, 5+), autumn is “feast time” for the wood mice, red squirrels, finches and jays that are probably living in the trees of your back garden, and rutting time for the Irish red deer. The book reads like a diary of the seasons, drawing a connection between animals, their environment and the climate shifts that mark the passing of time. Browne directs the young reader’s attention to changes they can spot themselves, in their garden, local park, forest or beach, and the text is accessible, both in content and in form. There are practical tips for helping animals make the most of their habitats, as well as reminders of what animals and environments are best left alone. Barry Reynolds’s illustrations are intermixed with documentary photographs that reinforce the amazing wildlife all around us, even in urban environments, and the role that children can play in ensuring they thrive.
The majestic red deer also makes an appearance in Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals (Little Island, €20, 5+). Dr Finch is the greatest zoologist that Ireland never had, a fictional character created by Rob Maguire to showcase the stunning illustrations of Aga Grandowicz, whose pencil sketches bring expressive life and detail to Irish wildlife of air, land and water. An open mouthed robin sings itself off the page. An Irish hare stands erect, alert for danger. A natterjack toad curls its tongue around a bumblebee. Maguire’s text is clear and concise, but Dr Finch’s adventurous spirit crucially ensures the book is never dull. This is a stunning production from Little Island that would be welcomed by any adult seeking a coffee-table centrepiece, as well as any young reader who loves the natural world.
MG Leonard also employs a fictional guide to frame The Beetle Collector’s Handbook (Scholastic, £10.99, 8+). In this case a coleopterist called Dr Montgomery George Leonard, who bears the same initials as the writer. Leonard is the author of the Beetle Boy series, a trilogy of novels centred on the relationship between a 13-year-old boy and his best friends, an army of beetles. In The Beetle Collector’s Handbook, we learn about their superpowers in even more detail. Which beetle can shoot acid out of its bottom? The Bombardier! What is the world’s strongest insect? The Horned Dung Beetle! Leonard gives the budding entomologist all the necessary tips to get them started: what to pack in their backpack; how to capture a beetle without killing it; as well as a glossary of the beetle greats. In a glossy gold inlaid hardback format, with pages that are stained with age, the book has the feel of ancient wisdom, while Carim Nahaboo’s anatomical drawings detail every antenna and spiracle on the surprisingly varied exoskeletons of these fascinating creatures. The Beetle Collector’s Handbook will appeal to the general bug-lover as well as fans of Leonard’s brilliant series.
There is plenty of amazing insect life on show in We Build Our Homes by Laura Knowles (Words and Pictures, £12.99, 3+), which features 26 small stories about animal architects who dream big. From weaver-ants, “the stick-the-leaves-together ants”, to termites, “who build our mounds to towering heights”, Knowles introduces us through gentle rhyme to the domestic lives of some common and unusual creatures, and Chris Madden brings their homes to life using strong contrasts from his watercolour palette. We Build Our Homes finishes, fittingly, with a short story about humans, “the land-takers, the world-shapers”, providing a timely reminder that “we must all share this world, this one planet we call home”.
I am the Seed That Grew the Tree (Nosy Crow, £25, 2+) charts the turning seasons through poetry. This collection, which includes classic poems from William Blake and Emily Bronte and contemporary verse from Carol Ann Duffy and Roger McGough, is curated by Fiona Waters, who offers young readers a poem a day to meditate on. The poems draw inspiration from weather and wildlife, birds and beetles. The magical illustrations by Frann Preston Gannon offer glimpses of sunsets glowing, frost gathering, twilight twinkling and mountains damp with dew, across which various creatures cavort as they settle down. It is a special book with an inspirational format, giving a perfectly themed impetus to the poem-a-day format. This would make an excellent addition to any school library or a brilliant enhancement of the bedtime story routine every night.
Speaking of bedtime. Don’t tell Ceri and Deri, the cat and dog stars of Max Low’s new picturebook series that the clocks have turned back for winter. In No Time for Clocks (Graffeg, £7.99, 3+) they are struggling to understand how we measure the day. Is it not lunchtime when you are hungry?, they ask. And if they are always hungry, does that not make it lunchtime all day long? In Good to be Sweet, the second title in the series, they are hungry too, but they are still kind enough to share their sweet stash with their new friend Dai the Duck. Low’s series introduces mathematical concepts like clock-reading and division to very young readers, in both a philosophical and practical way. However, the bright frothy colours and zany plot are immediately engaging and no young reader will turn down the opportunity to try out their new mathematical skills, like Ceri and Deri, by making special nature treasure maps or sharing out their sweets.