Stop the Clock! / A Walk Through Nature

Stop the Clock!
Pippa Goodhart and Maria Christania
Tiny Owl

I do so appreciate young Joe’s frustration when everything he does has to be rushed. First it’s mum with a myriad of things on her mind, telling him to hurry up before they set off for school; then the walk itself is done at a run in case they’re late. Worse still, when he gets thoroughly immersed in the art topic Mr Khan has set the class, he’s told to stop and he’s nowhere near finished.

“STOP THE CLOCK!” he cries in sheer frustration. By now everybody else has complied with the instructions, but Joe – and who can blame him – adds his crying sister to his picture, picks it up and walks out. Now this is where readers, especially adults, will have to adopt that willing suspension of disbelief mode, for Joe leaves the school premises and heads to the street where he kneels down and continues drawing.

There is so much to see from ground level: so much to interpret about what’s going on and so many wonderful details to add to that picture of his. He even finds something that his sister must have dropped in the rush to reach school on time. Finally with picture complete to his satisfaction, Joe goes back to the classroom, leaves his picture with the others and gives instructions to the clock to restart.
Come home-time, after a slight pause, four happy people walk home together.

A heartfelt look at the busy lives that most of us live, often trying to do more than one thing at a time and in danger of missing out on those quality, slow moments we all need. In the past two years, the majority of adults at least, have come to appreciate the importance of time to stop and stare. With more and more people now back working full time as well as juggling child care and more, it’s crucial that everyone, young and not so young, has time to appreciate the world around without feeling guilty about doing so.
Author Pippa Goodhart and debut illustrator Maria Christania capture this need so beautifully in this picture book – it’s a wonderful example of how some good things have come from the lockdowns we’ve been subjected to.

Also showing the importance of taking time to appreciate the wonders of the natural world is:

A Walk Through Nature
Libby Walden and Clover Robin
Little Tiger (Caterpillar Books)

Through twelve, two verse poems and beautiful collage style illustrations with some facts tucked away behind flaps and die-cuts that allow readers to glimpse (or sometimes guess) what lies beneath, author Libby Walden and artist Clover Robin take us through the countryside presenting the numerous transformations that take place throughout the year.

No matter where one looks there’s much to wonder at. We visit a field in springtime as the flowers are starting to bloom in their myriad colours; look up high where birds fly seeking nesting places in the trees; stand at the edge of a peaceful pond wherein tadpoles are hatching and baby duckling are learning to swim.

Other habitats we visit are a woodland and a beach in summertime; a forest area and a mountainside through which a river flows in autumn, and, as winter arrives, swallows taking flight to warmer climes and foxes heading to their earths and as day turns to night, the emergence of nocturnal creatures ‘neath the silvery stars.

Containing a wealth of nature-related vocabulary, both gently educative and awe inspiring, this immersive book, now in paperback is a lovely introduction to nature poetry and nature itself.

Nature in Focus – Home / Seasons

Here are two books from Little Tiger that focus on nature and the changing seasons

Home
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

‘All of us need a place to rest – / A cave, a warren, a pond, a nest … // Wherever we may choose to roam, / We need a place to call our home.” So says Patricia Hegarty’s introduction to this look at the forest that is home to all kinds of creatures large and small.
In the company of little bear, we visit a variety of animal homes starting with the cub and her family’s cave, dark and deep.

With the advent of spring, the cub ventures out watched by an owl in her tree. He visits the place where squirrels are gathering leaves for their drey; beavers are also building a shelter; a bird is busy nest building.

Further afield salmon spawn in the glistening river, multitudes of minibeasts are hard at work, and underground rabbits are safe in their warren.

As night begins to fall, a pack of wolves begin to prowl, hunting for food; while a flock of arctic terns make ready to begin their long journey before another winter sets in.

Finally as the cold arrives, it’s time for little bear and his family to hibernate ‘til spring comes round once more.

In her lyrical text Patricia takes us through the changing seasons and to the various animal homes. Britta Teckentrup’s signature style collage scenes, with their die-cut pages, follow the action and the bear cub, highlighting the importance of each home mentioned in the narrative as well as showing the seasonal changes in the forest.

Seasons
Hannah Pang and Clover Robin

Author Hannah and illustrator Clover take us to half a dozen different locations in the world to experience the natural world in all its glory through the seasons.

We observe the changes that each season brings, starting with a focus on a mighty European oak tree that stands majestically in a meadow, its spreading branches and roots providing shelter and food for countless creatures – birds, insects and other minibeasts, small mammals and some larger ones too.

Spring, summer and autumn with their flowers, fruits and fungi are times of abundance for the various animals. Come winter, the branches are bare and it’s a hard time for animals, many of which hide themselves away in order to survive. Indeed, change through every season is vital for survival of the tree and the associated wildlife.

The other natural habitats are the chilly Arctic where the change in length of day and night is dramatic,

the wilds of Alaska where rivers freeze in the coldest months; a boggy mangrove in northern Australia – one season teeming with land animals, another with fish; then comes the Yellow Dragon Valley, home to some of China’s rarest animals including the giant panda.

The last stop is on the grasslands of the Kenyan Maasai Mara with its wonderful richness of awesome animals and plant life.

As in the oak tree’s location so it is with all the others: change is vital for survival and the Great Migration of the animals of the final location is, so we read, ‘one of the most dramatic events on Earth. For the animals, … a journey of life and death.’

Since the pandemic struck, I think huge numbers of us have become much more aware of the importance of nature in our lives: this book, with Clover Robin’s richly detailed illustrations and Hannah Pang’s factual text, sings that song loud and clear.

Together / Insect Superpowers

Red Reading Hub looks at two interesting, unusual and very different ways of presenting non-fiction:

Together
Isabel Otter and Clover Robin
Caterpillar Books

By means of gorgeous collage style, die cut illustrations and a series of haiku accompanied by factual paragraphs, illustrator Clover Robin and writer Isabel Otter present a nonfiction nature book that looks at animal partnerships in the wild.

Beginning thus: ‘ A vast migration. / Cranes take turns to lead their flock: / The feathered arrow.’ and explaining that when cranes migrate and the leader of the group becomes tired, another takes its turn to lead and so on.

The migrating cranes fly above in turn, a pack of wolves; a herd of chamois deer; and a pod of pilot whales. They then pass above a shark that has its skin kept parasite free by remora fish that get a free lift;

anemones kept clean by goby fish; a badger that works with a honey guide bird; a crocodile that has its teeth cleaned by plovers; a herd of loyal elephants; giraffes with oxpecker birds that help keep down their fleas,

and finally, zebras and ostriches that use their complementary sense organs to alert each other to danger.

At last the cranes reach their winter feeding grounds and their journey is over – for the time being.

A fascinating way of presenting non-fiction that offers youngsters an introduction to an intriguing aspect of animal life.

Insect Superpowers
Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Chronicle Books

Taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending popularity of superheroes, author Kate Messner and illustrator Jillian Nickell present in action-packed, graphic novel format, an alluring array of eighteen insects with extraordinary abilities.

Before plunging readers into the specifics of the various insects’ superpowers, Messner provides an introduction to insect orders and using the Monarch butterfly as her example, shows how biological classification works.

Dramatic illustrations immediately snare the reader’s attention as they confront the bugs one by one starting with in the first FAST & FIERCE chapter, ‘Supersonic Assassin Giant robber fly – more like a supervillian – that uses its venomous spit to paralyse its prey.

Also in this chapter are The Decapitator aka the Asian giant hornet with its painful sting and fierce jaws that often rip bees apart before stealing their larvae and feeding them to their own hornet larvae.

Other chapters feature insects that use mimicry (the ‘Great Imposters’); the ‘Big & Tough’ bugs some of which are among the strongest creatures on earth; then come the ‘Masters of Chemical Weaponry’. I definitely wouldn’t fancy being sprayed by the hot noxious mist that the African bombardier beetle can emit from its abdomen when something bothers it. Yikes!

Further chapters are devoted to ‘Engineers & Architects’ and ‘Amazing Ants’ (although some of the insects in the previous chapter are also ants).

For each insect included there are facts about habitat, size, diet, allies and enemies, and of course, its superpower.

If you have or know children who are into superheroes but have yet to discover the delights of insects, this book that’s all a-buzz with superpowered bugs might just fire up their enthusiasm.

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’.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare –

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.

Creative Manipulations – Nature Origami & From Morning to Night

Nature Origami
Clover Robin
Nosy Crow

You’re in for hours of pleasure from this origami book published in collaboration with the National Trust. Containing thirteen nature inspired things to make from shells to squirrels and snails, and minnows to moths and mice, each one is allocated a double spread with a beautiful illustration by Clover Robinson on the verso while the recto has concise step-by-step instructions prefaced by a short poem by poets including Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetta, Lilian McCrea, Kenneth Grahame

and William Wordsworth.
The back part of the book is a pad of 50 sheets patterned on one side, plain on the other, which are the ideal size and weight for the projects.
Each of the projects is graded, there being a mix of each of the three levels of difficulty, the third level requiring considerable dexterity, not to mention a degree of patience.
If you scan the QR code inside the book you will be able to link to ‘how to’ videos for each object.

From Morning to Night
Flavia Ruotolo
Princeton Architectural Press

Flavia Ruotolo has a design background which she uses to great effect in this little book that plays with line, colour and form, creating sixteen pairs of objects manipulating the elements of the ordinary one to fashion something new.
She uses just two complementary colours to play with so that for instance a morning meal becomes a magic mushroom …

an orange becomes a planet, a piano is transformed into a robot toy and an open book morphs into a pair of adjacent beds.

It’s easy to see the visual relationships between the pairs but imagination is required to link for example, an orange segment on a plate with a crescent moon in orbit around a planet.
I’m all for books that help in the development of the imagination: this one certainly does that in a playful way and at the same time offers plenty of opportunities for storying. It might also encourage readers to try their own creative manipulations.