Wild Lives

Wild Lives
Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
Nosy Crow

Subtitled 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History, this large book celebrates animals large and small that deserve to be remembered for all time.

They are grouped together under category headings: Rescue & Protect, Adventure & Explore, Change & Solve, Discover & Pioneer and Inspire & Influence.

I’m ashamed to say that many of these amazing animals and their feats have passed me by. Not though, thanks to Michael Morpurgo’s book Running Wild based on their escape, Ning Nong the elephant that saved the life of a little girl staying in Phuket in the 2004 tsunami.

The first creature in the same opening section is Cher Ami a homing pigeon that towards the end of the First World War managed to withstand bullet injuries to her breast, leg and eye to deliver a crucial message about a battalion of American soldiers who were unknowingly being attacked by their own men. In the same section is Wojtek, an ursine member of the Polish army during WW2 when, standing on his hind legs he carried onto the battlefield vital heavy boxes of bullets and bombs.

Many people know about Laika the space dog but how many know of Montauciel the sheep that also took flight, in a hot-air balloon no less? I certainly didn’t.

Because of Dianne Hofmeyr’s picture book Zeraffa Giraffa, I was familiar with the story of Zaraffa the giraffe that was sent from Egypt in the early C19th to Paris as a gift for the King of France. These animals are remembered in the Adventure & Explore section.

Again on account of a picture book, My Name is Bob, by James Bowen whose life was changed by the stray feline that befriended him, I knew of Streetcat Bob, celebrated in the Change & Solve section. It’s thanks to this fascinating section too that I learnt about another dog that changed a life forever. Endal, became an assistance dog to a wounded naval officer, Allen, and subsequently won a gold medal for bravery when Allen was hit by a car and knocked out of his wheelchair. The dog was able to move him to a safe position, run to a hotel close by and raise the alarm. Incredible.

Other animals whose stories are part of this fascinating book have had an influence on how we relate to the natural world, or have enhanced our understanding of social interaction and behaviour. Some including the dog Hackiko, Keiko the orca whale (Free Willy), Elsa the Lioness and Seabiscuit the champion racehorse have become film stars.

Every spread includes Sarah Walsh’s empathetic illustrations along with archive photos and sometimes, relevant documents; and each has a  quotation from a person, a press cutting or perhaps a TV programme.

The book ends with a world map showing where each of the fifty animals was born, annotated with a postage stamp size portrait  and a glossary.

Engrossing and enlightening Ben Lerwill’s first book for children will delight animal lovers of all ages.

AstroNuts

AstroNuts
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

In this, the first book of what is to be a series, our narrator is planet Earth, yes that’s right Earth and it starts by taking readers back thirty one years to 1988 when, so we hear, in a secret lab. within Mount Rushmore two scientists working for NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) built four super-powered animal astronauts designed to become activated should humans ever come near to destroying their home planet. Their role would be to travel through outer space in search of a new ‘Goldilocks Planet’ (not too hot, not too cold, but just right for human habitation).

That catastrophic time now has come, so let’s meet the AstroNuts – fearless leader AlphaWolf, along with SmartHawk the super-organised planner, electromagnetic LaserShark – protector and food finder, and StinkBug -as they blast off in their secret craft.

Having travelled 39 light-years in less than 3½ hours they crash land their rocket on Plant Planet.

This place certainly does have a super-abundance of lush vegetation. But it turns out that these plants aren’t the mindless flora the AstroNuts first thought. And yes, there’s food aplenty; shelter building potential – well maybe,

but a balanced ecosystem? Seemingly not. But are those inhabitants actually friend or foe? Don’t miss the fold-out feature.

This is a clever mix of science and laugh-out loud bonkerness.

What better way to put across the climate change message and along the way impart a considerable amount of biological and chemical information, than with this heady concoction of Scieszka’s irresistible verbal playfulness and Weinberg’s clever digital collages constructed in part from images from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

There are Bugs Everywhere

There are Bugs Everywhere
Lily Murray and Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press

The title of this book proved all too true for this reviewer – an elephant hawk moth caterpillar crawled past my foot as I sat outside my favourite café this morning. This insect …

is one of over 100 ‘bugs’ Britta Teckentrup has illustrated in this colourful and fascinating book.

The term bugs is here used as a catchall to include six legged insects, eight legged arachnids and multi legged myriapods and collectively there are, we’re told, millions of different species.
With spreads devoted to bug anatomy,

feeding habits, survival techniques, social insects, the life cycle of the Madagascan Sunset moth and much more, there is a mine of information for the curious reader.

Did you know that Chan’s megastick which inhabits the Borneo rainforest is the largest bug in the world, growing up to 56cm.

There’s even a ‘can you find?’ challenge posed on the final end paper to track down the golden tortoise beetle from North America hidden somewhere in the book. This will surely encourage further close perusal of every one of Britta’s already inviting spreads.

A Life Made by Hand: The story of Ruth Asawa

A Life Made by Hand: The story of Ruth Asawa
Andrea D’Aquino
Princeton Architectural Press

I have to admit that despite my interest in art the name of this book’s subject is new to me.

Brought up on her family farm in California, Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa was from an early age, mesmerised by the flora and fauna she saw around her.

Her close observation of such things as insects she saw led her to make representations of them from wire or folded paper, and she also loved to draw in the dirt with her feet.

At weekends, instead of working on the farm, Ruth studied Japanese calligraphy and later she went to art school where she gained further inspiration from dance choreography, and her teachers, in particular Buckminster Fuller and Josef Albers.

Travelling to Mexico she learned wire weaving from local craftsmen who twisted the metal to make baskets.

Back home Ruth experimented with this medium and finally knew what was THE medium for her.

Her sculptures are enormously complex, beautiful graceful pieces that are now to be found in art museums mostly in the US

where they inspire others to look closely, imagine and create for themselves.

This short interesting introductory biography for youngsters with an interest in both art and the natural world omits the darker events in the life of Asawa and her family, but the author provides factual notes on these, as well as an explanation for her own inspiration in creating the book, and instructions for making a paper dragonfly.

D’Aquino’s collage style illustrations – a combination of charcoal and colour pencil drawings with hand-printed and monoprinted paper are quirky and arresting, and may well inspire readers to experiment with collage too.

So You Think You’ve Got it Bad? A kid’s life in Ancient Rome

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A kid’s life in Ancient Rome
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

Imagine having your pet parrot or fish ending up in the cooking pot, or being sold as a slave to cook for richer neighbours.

How would you feel if you had a headache and the remedy was finding an elephant to touch your head with its trunk and hoping it sneezed a trunkful of snot right at you?

Or worse perhaps, if you were a boy you’d have to go to school every single day of the week (except holidays) and anyone who made more than the occasional mistake in class, would be held down by a couple of slaves while the teacher beat you with a leather whip: scary or what?

Alarm bells ringing I suspect, but this is just a small glimpse of what life was like for children in Ancient Rome that is provided in this fascinating book. There’s a section on clothing, hairstyles and make-up – supposing your mum used bear fat to make her hair grow, or pigeon poop to lighten it?

Other sections include food, family life, the home, gods, fun and games – yes there were some,

gladiators and emperors. And there’s a final glossary and index.

High on entertainment for sure, but also high on information of the accessible sort, this book published in association with the British Museum and with an abundance of amusing illustrations by Marisa Morea, is definitely one for primary school classes and individuals interested in ancient times.

Out and About: Night Explorer / Animal Homes

Out and About: Night Explorer
Robyn Swift, illustrated by Sara Lynn Cramb
Nosy Crow

Created in collaboration with the National Trust, this is an excellent little book if you’re planning on doing some exploring after dark with youngsters or are off camping somewhere.

It’s packed with information about such things as suitable clothing, creating a night-time den, star gazing, nocturnal creatures – from minibeasts to moths and mammals including bats, plus owls and amphibians; and, it’s good to see several spreads on night-time flowers.

There are lots of helpful hints on such things as tracking animals by means of footprints and poo deposits.

No matter the season there’ll be ideas herein: how about creating a house for creepy-crawlies in your garden during winter; or setting up a hedgehog feeding station?

I especially like the idea of making a sensory map at night, particularly focusing on sounds and smells as you walk and then repeating the same route in the light and comparing what you notice.

There are even suggestions for games, a quiz and a glossary.
All in all, with its plethora of very attractive labelled, coloured illustrations by Sara Lynn Cramb, this is ideal for encouraging young explorers (with an adult or older sibling) to get closer to nature at night.

Animal Homes
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

Wherever we walk there are likely to be animals living either in the earth beneath our feet, at eye level, or high up above our heads. We currently have a bees’ nest in our chimney.

Illustrator Clover Robin and author Libby Walden offer us an insight into six different animal homes, in various parts of the world.

After a general introductory page, we visit a beehive;

a beaver lodge; the nest (eyrie) of a North American Bald Eagle; a rabbit warren; a termite mound and the earth of a Red Fox.

As well as the habitats themselves, each spread (one per home) provides factual snippets about each of the inhabitants and their habits, some of which is hidden beneath flaps.

It’s unlikely that young children will encounter these particular habitats but nevertheless this little book, with its attractive collage style illustrations will encourage them to keep their eyes open for animal homes in the environment. Should they find any it’s important to remember Libby’s final rules: ‘Find, Look, Leave’.

1001 Ants

1001 Ants
Joanna Rzezak
Thames & Hudson

If you stop by an anthill and have time to watch the activity, you’ll discover that ants are fascinating creatures. The trouble is though that we cannot see what is going on inside.

Author/artist Joanna Rzezak shows us on her opening spread of this large format book. Thereon is a cross-section of an anthill where we see chambers connected by lots of branching tunnels, some of the former containing ants, while others hold such things as aphids, leaves and seeds needed as food by the ants.

The factual narrative is brief and light-hearted for we’re told ‘there is a little ant with red socks hiding in every picture in this book’ and asked to try and locate same.

A smell tells the ants it’s time to start walking, where we know not, and we then follow the long line of tiny creatures as they march single file through bracken, over fungi and among fallen leaves. All the while the playful red-socked ant comments and sometimes gets sidetracked.

Surprisingly for this reader, the ants traverse the edge of a pond using lily pads as stepping-stones, fortunately taking a route behind the large green frogs with protruding tongues just waiting for some tasty insects.

Their journey takes them through a field containing a variety of plants in various stages of flowering and fruiting, full of other insects including the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly; then beneath a large spider’s web

and even over the body of a huge sleeping bear.

Eventually they reach a tree and up its trunk they climb, carefully avoiding an owl resting therein, along a branch they continue; but this is nature so what is that drumming sound and what is that long pinkish worm-like protrusion.

Oh no!

The food chain must be kept working and so a large bird is left to utter the punch line. Not quite the last word though – that is left for the red-socked ant …

Factual snippets about the flora and fauna encountered on the journey will definitely keep readers interested in the natural history side, while curiosity will drive them forward as they follow the ants’ journey to its end.