Last: The story of a White Rhino

Last: The story of a White Rhino
Nicola Davies
Tiny Owl

This story of Nicola Davies’ is a fine example of how a relatively few, carefully chosen words can have a very powerful impact.

Nicola’s tale, narrated by a rhino was inspired by Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino from Africa that died in 2018. From his captive state in a zoo situated in a grey city, the rhino talks of looking for another animal like himself before remembering his earlier life that was full of colour. A place where other rhinos roamed free and he stayed close to his mother by day and night

until the fateful day when a hunter came and shot her dead. The young rhino was captured, put in ‘a box’ and transported to a dreary place without flora and where ‘Even the rain smelled empty’.

There he speaks of being among many other ‘lasts’ that spend their days cooped up pondering upon their plight

and the state of the world where this is allowed to happen.

Then one day something wonderful happens; something that seems almost too good to be true for the rhino is taken back to his life in the wild and joy of joys, he’s no longer alone.

This is the first book Nicola has illustrated herself and her illustrations too are enormously potent, particularly the stark contrast between the captive grey environment and the colour-filled homeland and the finale.

There’s a page about the illustrations at the front of the book, which I won’t re-iterate in full but just mention the inspirational quote from environmentalist, Paul Hawken and endorse Nicola’s own “I believe that the world can change for the better, but it will change one heart at a time. Change your heart, change the world.’

I truly hope that this story will move others as it did this reviewer, to be part of that change.

The Brilliant Deep

The Brilliant Deep
Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe
Chronicle Books

‘It starts with one.’ So begins the inspiring true story of Ken Nedimeyer, who as a boy was fascinated by the underwater world of Florida Keys, in particular the coral reefs. He became troubled when he discovered that those reefs were fading and dying, seemingly there was nothing he could do to save them.

Then as an adult he had one of those ‘what if …?’ moments relating to the staghorn corals he’d grown on his rock farm. His brilliant idea was to transplant the staghorn coral colony he’d grown onto that reef he’d loved as a child: could that colony be brought back to life?

It was surely worth a try and so Ken went back to his beloved reef and glued six small coral colonies onto the limestone surface of the erstwhile reef.

Month by month these transplants grew and became the catalyst for the Coral Restoration Foundation, which now has international links.

Kate Messner pitches her telling of this inspiring story perfectly for primary school age audiences, telling of Ken’s passion, of staghorn corals grown on the rock farm, of his successful experiments and of the volunteers his inspirational work has recruited, finishing as she began with the upbeat, ‘It starts with one.’

A love of wildlife shines through Matthew Forsythe’s exhilarating illustrations. Using a rich colour palette to portray the undersea world and the divers he takes us right up close to the action making this a great book to share with a class or group and who knows, it might just inspire budding marine biologists.
To that end, the final spread provides details of further reading, websites to visit, ways to help and explanations of some of the terms used in the narrative.

Wild World, The Coral Kingdom and Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?

Wild World
Angela McAllister, Hvass & Hannibal
Wide Eyed Editions

The author has chosen thirteen natural habitats – Rainforest, Arctic, Prairie, Woodland, Coral reef, Desert, Rock pool, Mountain, The Outback, Moorland, Deep sea, Mangrove and Savannah – that are under threat due to human activity, and captures the essence of each one in a series of free verses.
Here’s the opening to Mountain:
‘I am the highest mountain, / Born in a collision of continents. / All is beneath me, except the sun, moon and stars. / I am rock, / Crag, cliff and ledge, draped in veils of white. / I am snow-maker, with glaciers in my arms, / Whose meltwater swells great rivers below.’

In stark contrast is the quieter sounding Savannah, which opens like this: ‘Savannah speaks in whispering grasses, / In the chatter of cicadas across an endless plain. / Spacious homeland of swift cheetah / And gazelle, with the horizon in her eye.’

Using matte colours, the illustrators Hvass and Hannibal showcase the flora and fauna of each location in a series of eye-catching paintings that incorporate the text within them.

Human use, climate change and pollution are responsible for the damage to the environment and after her introductory poem, it’s not until the final pages that the author enlarges upon her conservation message citing the specific damage within the thumbnail sketch of each of the places portrayed. Thereafter she implores readers to use less energy, to recycle and to buy with care.

We’d all do well to keep in mind her final words about our precious planet: ‘Explore it, protect it, love it. / Our Earth is a wonderful wild world. ‘

Also with an ecological message is:

The Coral Kingdom
Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber
Words & Pictures

Our coral reefs, with their gorgeous colours: crimson, red, rose, yellow,

turquoise, emerald, jade, purple, even black, that have taken 1000s of years to grow and give home to a myriad of creatures large and small are under threat.

When the coral is bleached white due to acidity caused by climate change, and stays white for too long, then the reef dies.

Laura Knowles has written a rhyming narrative that outlines the life cycle of a reef and includes a caution that unless we humans take action these amazing ecosystems will be lost forever.

Jennie Webber’s detailed watercolour illustrations show the beauty of the undersea habitat and a final fold-out page gives additional information about coral reef conservation.

A useful addition to a primary school conservation topic box, or, for a child interested in ocean life or ecosystems.

Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?
Katharine McEwen
Nosy Crow

It’s never too early to start learning about nature and here are two board books just right for introducing animals, some wild and some domesticated, to the very young.

Both are beautifully illustrated by Katharine McEwen and there are lots of animals to find in both locations.

Toddlers can spend a day by the river, from a busy morning through to night-time as they explore the pages, manipulate the sturdy flaps in response to the ‘Who’s hiding here?’ on every right hand page to discover tadpoles, cygnets, fish, dragonflies, a stoat, a beaver and more as they swim, wriggle, wade, leap, build and paddle.
The farm book also moves through the day in similar fashion and McEwen’s text is carefully worded to introduce new vocabulary including ‘pecking,’ ‘trotting’, ‘snoozing’ ‘prowling’, munching’ and ‘diving’ along the way.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust these are fun and at the same time, gently educational.

Hello Hello

Hello Hello
Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books

An exchange of hellos between a black cat and a white one sets in motion a concatenation of greetings that celebrates the world’s amazing diversity of zoological life forms, as each turn of the page leads on to something different.

First it’s the varieties of ‘Black and White’ showcasing the black cat, a black bear, a panda, a zebra and a zebrafish.
This fish starts off the colour blast on the next spread where we find …

which completes the rhyming couplet.
The salamander greets the striped and spotted animals on the following page and so it continues with more and more animals and greetings as the creatures pose and posture, display their tongues,

avort, turn upside down or strut across the pages leading into a dance of interconnectedness over the final double spread.
Wenzel uses many different media – pastels, markers, coloured pencils, cut paper collage and oils to showcase his arresting animal and human compositions.

Each of the animals portrayed has a vital role in the ecosystem it inhabits and Wenzel reminds readers of this in the final pages of the book. There is also a double spread identification guide – a cast in order of appearance –that includes information on which ones are ‘vulnerable’, ‘near threatened’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ species. We should get to know more about these amazing creatures and the need to protect those under threat.
As Wenzel, himself an animal enthusiast, says in his author’s note, ‘It starts with saying hello.’

A clever and artful book that celebrates both difference and what unites us, and a message about acceptance of all.
Savour, share, and discuss.

My Green Day

My Green Day
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books

The messages contained in this book are as relevant today as when it was first published in 2010. Yes, almost all of us use our own bags when we go shopping …

but the amount of plastic that often goes into our shopping bags still needs to be dealt with. The home baking advocated by the little girl narrator is one way of dealing with that; however, much more needs to be done by the major supermarkets.

Essentially we share the girl’s day and she talks us through the green things that are her way of helping the environment. Each of her ten green actions is printed in large type and then two or sometimes more double spreads are allocated to illustrating and adding to her narration so for instance we have ‘At lunch … ‘I eat up all my pasta.’ and in small print ‘We throw away one third of all the food we buy. If we bought only the food we actually needed to eat, we wouldn’t have to grow or transport so much food, which saves lots of energy.’ This additional information can be left out if the audience is very young but children are never too young to start thinking about the all important messages herein.

Other suggestions include: adding an extra layer rather than using the central heating, avoiding the use of tumble dryers, composting and re-using materials to make gifts.

Melanie Walsh’s bright collage illustrations, albeit without the die-cuts and cutaway pages, are as fresh and contemporary looking as they were in the original edition.

10 Reasons to Love: an Elephant / a Turtle & Dolphin Baby

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant
10 Reasons to Love a Turtle

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Two titles published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum focus on what makes the particular animal special.
Each is sandwiched between two sturdy covers with a die cut of the animal through the front one and a double spread is devoted to each reason.
I didn’t need any persuasion to love elephants mainly because of frequent encounters with the Asian variety on my numerous visits to India. (I’ve never seen any with googly eyes however.) In addition to the reason that gives each spread its title, there is plenty more to enjoy. I was fascinated to learn that elephants ‘wrap their trucks around each other in warm greetings’ and that ‘they understand how other elephants feel.’ Here for example one can see a beautiful Indian swallowtail butterfly, a common rose butterfly and a common bluebottle butterfly among the flora.

Children will I’m sure be amused to learn that forest elephants eat seeds that pass through their bodies and out in their poo, and then the seeds start growing in their dung making them “good gardeners’ for their role in seed dispersal. Equally they might, having read the ‘Show You Love an Elephant’ badge, want to look online and find how to buy some paper made from recycled elephant poo.
Ecologist, Catherine Barr’s text is very reader friendly and Hanako Clulow’s illustrations offer plenty to observe and discuss.
10 Reasons to love a Turtle features the seven different sea turtle species and interestingly, ‘gardening’ features herein too,

with sea turtles acting like ‘underwater lawn movers’ grazing on the seagrass and keeping it the appropriate length for fish, crabs and seahorses to make their homes in.
At the end of the book, readers are reminded of the threat that pollution, fishing and hunting pose to these gentle animals.
With their environmental focus, these would be worthwhile additions to classroom libraries; as well as for interested individuals, who it is hoped, might turn into conservationists.

Dolphin Baby
Nicola Davies and Brita Granström
Walker Books
‘Tail first, head last, Dolphin POPS out into the blue.’ What could be a more engaging way to start a book of narrative non-fiction? But then this is zoologist Nicola Davies writing and she knows just how to grab the attention of young readers and listeners and keep them entranced throughout.
Here, through the story of Dolphin and Mum, she describes the first six months of a baby calf’s life as it learns to feed, to acquaint itself with and respond to her call, and to explore its world playing, making friends …

and all the while he’s growing and developing his very own whistle to communicate that he has at six months old, caught his very first fish.
The text uses two fonts: the large provides the narrative with additional facts given in smaller italics; and the final spread reminds readers that dolphins need protecting from pollution, from over-fishing and from the careless use of fishing nets.
Brita Granström’s superb acrylic illustrations grace every spread helping to make the book a winner for both early years and primary school audiences.

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All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

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Dreamer

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Dreamer
Brian Moses and Bee Willey
Otter-Barry Books
Subtitled ‘Saving Our Wild World’ we join a dreaming child in this stunningly beautiful book: ‘ I dreamed I was a whale … and no hunters chased after me.’ The child continues to dream; about a world where animals are safe and nobody pursues them for food, for their fur or their ivory …

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a world where the waters of streams and lakes, and the air, are pollution-free,

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where rainforest trees are not cut down and valleys left to nature, locations where animals have territorial rights and can stay safe and perhaps undiscovered.

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Through poet, Brian Moses’ starkly powerful words and Bee Willey’s equally powerful, mixed media collage and acrylic artistry through which she conjures up atmospheric scenes of land, lake, sea and air, we have an almost prayerful visual plea for a world that is environmentally friendly, where wildlife is respected and habitats unpolluted. Every one of the spreads would look beautiful framed and the whole book is a wonderful and wondrous starting point for discussions about protecting our precious planet, and on sharing the earth’s resources. It could well spark off children’s own creative endeavours, both visual and verbal, on this vitally important topic.
To further the environmental cause, there’s a final ‘Take Action’ page with some alarming facts (did you know that every year 3 times as much junk is dumped into the world’s oceans as the weight of fish caught, for instance); and useful websites to encourage children to get involved with various ‘green’ organisations.

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Jill and the Homeless Bumblebee

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Jill and the Homeless Bumblebee
David Greaves and Danielle Callaghan
Friends of the Earth
This tale tells of a once happy bumblebee, made homeless when her meadow home is ploughed up by a tractor one day.

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With all the wild flowers gone, she is forced to find somewhere else to live, somewhere that wild flowers grow freely; and is aided by a small child (Jill in this instance) in her search.
After many hours and several abortive attempts – thanks to a hedge cutting machine,

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crop spraying, harvesting and pollution …

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the two finally come upon the ideal place for the bee to settle. A bee-friendly farmer has just the place …

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Told in jaunty rhyme, (which does work when read aloud), and illustrated with bold, bright artwork, this timely ‘name’ book supports a very important cause. It’s one I’m more than pleased to support living on the fringes of Stroud, the town that claims to be Britain’s first bee-friendly town, and knowing that numbers of our precious bees are in decline at present, thanks to housing development (yes I know that’s crucial too), as well as intensive farming.
(I was sent this personalized copy by FOE; all proceeds from sales of the book go to the charity and its vital work.)
If you, or anyone you know wants to help, then first head to the Friends of the Earth Bee page: www.foe.co.uk/page/bee-cause
Better still perhaps, especially if you know a child – and that’s pretty much all of us – a personalised book about a Homeless Bumblebee, tailor made with choice of name, skin colour, hair colour etc. from http://www.homelessbee.starringstorys.co.uk especially a bee-auty like this one with a crucial conservation message at its heart, has got to be worth getting.

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The Wolves of Currumpaw

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The Wolves of Currumpaw
William Grill
Flying Eye Books
William Grill’s award winning Shackleton’s Journey was an amazing book; but he’s now done something even more sublime with this story which is in part a retelling of a tale from New Mexico – Ernest Thompson Seton’s Lobo, King of Currumpaw – and part research about Ernest Seton.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness and in particular Wolf Brother, a fantasy story of a boy and a wolf. Now I’m a fan of another wolf tale too. Here though we have a story of a real wolf, but this is no ordinary wolf; and William Grill welds together fiction and fact, dividing his narrative into six parts starting in 1862 with the impact of the arrival of European settlers in the Old West, and bringing us right up to present time with a mention of David Attenborough and Douglas W.Smith.
Essentially, we learn the story of one particular wolf pack and Lobo its leader and of Seton, their hunter who, after his destructive encounters with the wolves, especially Blanca, Lobo’s mate and Lobo himself, undergoes a redemptive metamorphosis from killer to wild-life protector and conservationist. I have to admit, I shed a tear or two as I read of the placing of Lobo’s dead body beside Blanca’s: “There, you would come to her, now you are together again.
Sometimes tinged with humour, sometimes with sadness, there is a dreamlike quality about Grill’s drawings, executed in colour pencils. His skill in producing deceptively simple impressionistic interpretations of the wide-open landscapes …

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and big skies of New Mexico …

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is awe-inspiring, whether employed over a double page spread or in his miniature story-telling frames.

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The chilling cruelty of the vast array of vicious iron-tooth traps and other trapping paraphernalia is somehow heightened by his minimalist technique.

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Gripping too is Grill’s narrative voice; here’s an example of his succinct text: ‘Laloche, a French Canadian, believed Lobo was not simply a wolf but a genuine “loup-garou” (werewolf), and therefore could not be caught by ordinary means. He cleverly created his own devious poisons, and used a whole array of spells, charms and incantations, each more elaborate than the last. Day in, day out, he tried and tried, but for all his tricks, Lobo eluded him.’
Seemingly, every time I write a review of a title from this particular publisher, I wax lyrical about the outstanding quality of their books; here’s another example of  production extraordinaire from Flying Eye Books.

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Bee-&-Me

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Bee-&-Me
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books
Currently living just outside Stroud, Britain’s ‘First Bee Friendly town’ I knew straightway I wanted to review this wonderful wordless book. Wordless it may be but every spread, nay every single picture speaks for itself. The story’s set in a city, a very busy one where, in an apartment block, resides a little girl. Now, like me you probably dislike being buzzed at by bees, let alone stung, so I suspect the girl would have had your sympathies, had she whacked the bee that bothers her. But something stops her. Instead she does this …

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followed by …

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and some time later, she carefully releases the creature, thinking, one imagines, that’s that.
But along comes a rainstorm and what should reappear at the window looking bedraggled and in need of some T.L.C. but Bee.
And that is the start of a burgeoning friendship …

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full of adventures that take the two far afield and back again. Back with some of nature’s bounties

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that will ultimately yield not only benefits, but beauty and joy to those residing in the city, be they human or bee.

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There is gentle humour running throughout this uplifting tale or rather tales, for this is a multi-layered, multi-faceted telling. One facet shows another unfolding friendship – one between the girl and the boy living above in the same block of flats. And there is a multitude of incidental stories to conjure up through the glimpses of other people’s lives shown through the windows of the neighbouring apartments.
Pictures are such a powerful means of storying: in the right hands, as eloquent as words and just as thought-provoking, as Alison Jay so adroitly demonstrates here. Is it the floral curtains that draw Bee to the girl’s apartment? The passage of time is conveyed through Bee’s growth, and the coming of autumn by the leaves blowing through the city street and the pumpkins outside the florist’s shop –

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Words do have their place though – after the story’s end. With a final ‘BEE AWARE!’ information page, giving facts and helpful hints on bee requirements and preferences, readers themselves can take up the vital role of BEE-ing friendly.

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Environmental Concerns

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The Tree
Neal Layton
Walker Books
There stands a tree – tall and proud – a conifer that’s home to fledglings in a nest, a squirrel family, an owl one and amidst its roots, a family of rabbits. Beside the tree stands a FOR SALE board.
Then come a man and woman, also intent on making a home. The work begins …

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and halts suddenly –

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Tears are shed. Then, it’s back to the drawing board …

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and after a whole lot of measuring, hefting, hammering and painting, the result is …

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Like the humans in this seemingly simple book, Neal Layton’s fable wields a lot of power. In just fifty words and a sequence of gently humorous illustrations, he delivers a vital message about the importance of humans and animals living together and sharing.
This one delivers on so many levels: In addition to sharing it with young (and not so young listeners), I suggest giving a copy to those developers who pay scant regard to the destruction of natural habitats when drawing up and executing their plans.
In addition, it’s a perfect learning to read book that blows mindlessly boring reading schemes right out of the water.

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Where’s the Starfish?
Barroux
Egmont
See the whale – an enormous one and the brightly coloured fish – a whole multitude of them; then there’s the Starfish, the Jellyfish and the Clownfish.

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Can you spot them? Keep turning the pages and you’ll notice something else starting to appear, something undesirable and alien to the ocean. The fish appear somewhat puzzled but turn over again; the rubbish pile has grown and Starfish, Jellyfish and Clownfish are slightly easier to spy.
On the next few spreads larger rubbish items appear – car parts, washing machines, a fridge, TVs, microwaves– all evidence of our thoughtless, throwaway society; but the fish numbers have declined significantly and it’s easier still to spot our three friends.

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Finally whale cannot take it any longer and taking matters into his own hands – or rather – snout – he takes revenge in an altogether satisfying manner.

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Work out for your self – or better, get the book and see for yourself – what happens hereafter …
This, like Where’s the Elephant? is a an enormously effective and affecting lesson on how we harm our precious natural environment: the conservation message is the same though the setting of the story is entirely different.

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The Big Green Book

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The Great Big Green Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
We all know that green issues are of vital importance for our planet and it’s never too early to introduce some of the ideas about conservation to young children. Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith who gave us The Great Big Book of Feelings and The Great Big Book of Families now add a third title to their admirable series. Herein, with the help of their characters young and not so young – not to mention that striped marmalade cat – they present a straightforward outline of what the earth has to offer its inhabitants, what is needed to preserve life on earth and ways in which we can all play our part in conservation and preventing further degradation of our planet home.

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Did you know for instance that ‘Nearly one third of our food depends on bees’? Now that fascinating fact in itself is surely thought provoking.
I particularly like the Ask Questions spread: (I’m someone who is constantly inviting children to ask questions and advocating that other adults do likewise – and then of course to listen carefully to what they have to say): and the Invent pages will surely inspire young readers.

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This is assuredly a book that should be in every primary classroom. The gentle humour in Ros Asquith’s watercolour illustrations will draw young children in and will perhaps encourage the less bookish among them to keep reading.
I know from experience that it’s not difficult to get quite young children very passionate about green issues so why is it so hard to make those adults in charge of companies whose activities cause such damage to our planet take notice. Perhaps they could all start by reading a copy of this stimulating book.

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RSPB My First Birds and Wildlife Activity and Sticker Book
illustrated by Simon Abbott
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
I am not generally a fan of sticker/activity books but this one requires children to look closely at illustrations of things from nature in order to do the activities therein. For example this spread asks the child participant to select the appropriate stickers to make the two pictures look the same.

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To do so one must look carefully at for example, three sticker images of a sparrow and choose which to put in each of three places on the right hand page.
In doing this, and the other activities provided such as the maze and keeping a record of any fauna observed in four places, young children will be both having fun and imbibing information about the natural world.
With a school holiday in sight, this could well be a boon on those days when you don’t feel like venturing outdoors for long.

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