The Wall and the Wild

The Wall and the Wild
Christina Dendy and Katie Rewse
Lantana Publishing

At the edge of Stone Hollow town, young Ana grows a garden – a perfect garden, tidy and full of life; it’s in stark contrast to the wild, the place where she tosses her unwanted, left over seeds and against which she creates a boundary to delineate and shelter her orderly garden from the disorder beyond.

Soon Ana’s garden is full of scented flowers, delicious fruit and vegetables, leafy trees and birds and insects in abundance. It’s a place where people like to stop and admire what they see, but while they might be full of admiration, Ana is not.

Certainly not when she notices unfamiliar plants that have started to grow; these she pulls up, tossing them and other seeds that she now rejects into the wild. She also builds her boundary a bit higher and now her garden isn’t quite so thriving: less tasty crops grow and the numbers of visitors both natural and human, diminish. Despite this Ana continues to reject many seeds and shoots, hurling them into the ever-increasing wild against which she keeps on building up her boundary until eventually it’s an enormous wall.

Now at last Ana stops and takes stock of her creation – first on her side of the wall and then finally, she decides to look beyond …

What she discovers is truly astonishing and unexpectedly beautiful in its own way. Time to start removing some of that wall …

Both a fable, and a cautionary tale of sorts, Christina Dendy’s story, in tandem with Katie Rewse’s vibrant illustrations, shows the importance of biodiversity and of embracing and appreciating wildness. It’s great to see the subtle inclusion of Ana’s hearing aid in this beautiful book, which offers a great way to introduce the idea of rewilding and its potential benefits especially to those readers with gardens of their own.

What Do Animals Do All Day? / Rainforest

What Do Animals Do All Day?
Wendy Hunt and Muti
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a follow-up and in some ways, a companion volume to What Do Grown-ups Do All Day? The author and illustrator take us to fourteen different habitats – every spread has lots to look at – and for each, on the following spread, introduces us to eight residents, every one of which briefs us on its role in that particular ecosystem.

Some of the job descriptions will make young children laugh. The Decorator Crab that resides on coral reefs and sticks pieces of sponge onto its shell as camouflage describes itself as a ‘fashion designer’ …

while the Large-eared Horseshoe Bat calls itself a ‘sound engineer’ since it makes use of sound waves and echoes to locate moths in the dark.

I certainly have no desire to encounter the Striped Skunk, a forest resident that sprays stinky ‘perfume’ lasting several days. and describes its role as ‘perfumier’.
Another forest dweller the North American Porcupine tells readers its an ‘acupuncturist’.

I particularly liked the Death Stalker Scorpion’s description of itself s ‘brain surgeon’s assistant’. (Researchers are using its venom in a cure for brain tumours.)

If you were to visit the wetland reed beds in Somerset you might come across animals who describe themselves as ‘sleigh-rider, ‘aerobatic flyer’, ‘camper’, ‘trapeze artist’, ‘sun-seeker’, ‘submariner’, ‘opera singer’ and ‘synchronised swimmer’. Can you think what their common names might be?

An attractive, somewhat quirky book that provides plenty for children to talk about.

Rainforest
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

The focus here is on the visual, with fifteen animals being featured in Julia Groves’ first picture book. (Sixteen if you count the butterfly on the title page) None is named until the final spread where detailed information about each of them is given in tiny print.

A single line of text accompanies each illustration that evokes the nature of the particular creature, so for instance, ‘Fleeting ripples trace the runner’ accompanies the picture of the Plumed Basilisk Lizard; ‘Slowly stalking, majestic and silent.’ is the Jaguar and …

‘ Flickering tongues sense the air’

The rainforest is, as the book’s blurb tells us, a ‘precious and endangered habitat’; Julia Groves imaginative presentation of some of its inhabitants offers young readers an opportunity to enjoy what most of us will never see in the wild.

Hidden World: Ocean / 50 Wacky Things Humans Do

Hidden World: Ocean
Libby Walden and Stephanie Fizer Coleman
360 degrees

Essentially this is a visual exploration of living things that live beneath the ocean waves.
Six spreads present in turn Giants – some of the world’s largest creatures; Colourful Creatures; Hide and Seek – animals that camouflage themselves;

creatures that dwell on The Ocean Floor; Deep Sea creatures – those that live in the chilly, dark ocean depths and finally, The Coral Reef where sponges, corals, puffer fish, butterfly fish, clown fish and crabs can be found.
Each spread has six labelled flaps that open to reveal the creatures in their natural surroundings, and some brief factual information. I was amazed to discover that there are over 3000 different species of sea slug, for example.
With ecosystems such as coral reefs under threat from global warming, as well as being a fascinating book for young children, it’s also one that when shared with an adult, can open up discussions about the importance of protecting the crucial marine environments.
The book’s sturdy pages should help ensure that this resource can withstand fairly heavy handling from interested and enthusiastic youngsters.

50 Wacky Things Humans Do
Joe Rhatigan and Lisa Perrett
Walter Foster Jr.

Here we have a book that is full of fascinating facts relating to the weird and wonderful things our bodies do.
Each topic is introduced with an alluring title such as ‘Raisin Fingers’ (why our digits go wrinkly after a long time in the bath); ‘Rump Rumbles’ (there’s a lot of alliteration and wordplay in the headings);

Snot’s Amazing’ ;‘Black-and-Blue’ about bruising;

and ‘Be Flexible’. (It’s good to see yoga getting a mention here.)

Joe Rhatigan’s narrative style is chatty and designed to draw readers in, which it certainly does; and Lisa Perrett’s zany and colourful cartoons  add to the allure.
Most children are fascinated by their own bodies and what happens in and around them; and this unusually presented and arranged book on that topic will certainly both entertain and inform. It should also encourage young readers to value and respect their bodies, keeping them as healthy as possible.

Wonderful Wildlife

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It Starts With a Seed
Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber
Words & Pictures
Sometimes I open a parcel and just know I’m going to love a book before I’ve even got inside the cover. Such a one is this and as the title says It Starts With a Seed – a sycamore seed.
In this gorgeous book Laura Knowles’ rhyming narrative takes us on a journey – a journey through days, weeks, months, seasons and years as we follow the growth of that seed from the time it falls to earth right through until it’s a mature tree – fully formed with its own ecosystem. Jenny Webber’s delicate, detailed illustrations show every stage of the tree’s development from seedling …

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to sapling to the ‘leaf-laden, bark-bound arboreal home’ to the plethora of insects, birds and mammals that live therein.

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What I love so much about this book though is the sense of awe and wonder it’s likely to engender in those who read or listen to its lyrical words and pore over its painterly portrayals of the natural world. Such a superb way to embody a fair amount of information and the whole narrative is presented again on the front of a gatefold finale that opens to show seasonal changes to the leaf and flower and provide additional information such as ‘A sycamore’s small flowers grown in clusters known as racemes’ and ‘A sycamore can grow 35 metres tall’ – wow! And all from one tiny seed.
A book to buy and to keep, a book to share and a book to give: it’s perfect for autumnal reading but equally, it’s one to be returned to often, at home or in the classroom.
Laura Knowles has also has co-written

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British Wildlife
Matthew Morgan & Laura Knowles
QED
Essentially this is a visual introduction to some of the riches of the natural world to be found in the British Isles from frogs to fruits …

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and fishes to fungi.

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Illuminature
Rachel Williams and Carnovsky
Wide Eyed Editions
This is an awesome look at over 180 animals and the plethora of plants that inhabit ten of the world’s very different environments from the Congo Rainforest to Loch Lomond and from the Californian Redwood Forest to the Ganges River Basin.

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Awesome because, thanks to the three-coloured lens (included in a pocket at the front of the book) readers are able to get three different views. Look through the red lens and you see the diurnal animals, the blue lens will show nocturnal and crepuscular creatures and the green lens reveals each habitat’s plant life.
Each habitat is allocated six pages – two ‘viewing’ spreads, one giving key facts about the place and a textless “observation deck’ …

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followed by a black and white one –

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a ‘species guide’ that provides more detailed information on the particular animals featured in the coloured scenes. I foresee squabbles arising over this one.

A Pandemonium of Parrots & An Acorn

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A Pandemonium of Parrots and other animals
illustrated by Hui Skipp
Big Picture Press
Essentially what we have here in this super book is a series of spreads featuring collective nouns for a dozen or so animals large and small, each one playfully and alluringly illustrated by a talent new to me, Hui Skipp; and embedded within each illustration is a descriptive quatrain (presumably written by Kate Baker), such as this:
With nimble legs and pinching claws,
     they run across the forest floor.
Their gleaming armour shimmers bright,
    while fragile wings prepare for flight.
… as well as questions to answer by exploring what’s depicted on the spread.

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Representing the feathered ones are the parrots of the title, flamingos (a flamboyance), penguins in a huddle and these Hummingbird dazzlers …

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There are tigers – an ambush, a Lounge of Lizards basking in the sunshine …

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       Casually they lie around
slouched on rocks or on the ground.
       Suddenly one spots its prey
       and in a flash it darts away.

and on the river banks ‘An Army’ of frogs – croaking, singing wonders every one. The mammals are represented by a Sloth of Bears, An Ambush of Tigers, A Troop of Monkeys, A Conspiracy of Lemurs …

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and A Caravan of Camels – beauties all.
The final two spreads are a “Did You See?’ array of all the animals with questions, followed by a concluding Who’s Who that gives snippets of information about each animal included.
Altogether this book is a treat for the eyes, an opportunity to learn some collective nouns and a chance to discover a few facts about thirteen fascinating groups of creatures. One for the primary classroom or family bookshelf.

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Because of an Acorn
Lola M.Schaefer, Adam Schaefer and Frann Preston-Gannon
Chronicle Books
This is a simple, but wonderfully effective look at a forest habitat and the interconnectedness of the flora and fauna that are a part of the ecosystem.
Because of an acorn, a tree grows; this in turn provides a nesting place for a bird, an insect-eating one that happens to aid seed dispersal.

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The seed in turn grows, producing a flower that fruits, providing a chipmunk food. A snake with its beady eye upon the chipmunk …

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is in turn seized in a hawk’s talons and when the hawk lands on the branch of, yes, an oak, down comes an ripe acorn and more until ultimately, there’s …

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a forest

Circles and cycles of life are evident in this cleverly conceived, unassuming little book that packs a powerful punch.
In addition to being a super little book to share with a class or group of young children, the fact that the text is simple, patterned, and perfectly matched to the pictures on each page, beginning readers can try reading it for themselves and feel empowered having done so.
There’s so much to see and to discuss in Frann Preston-Gannon’s lush foresty illustrations. UK readers will find some of the animals less familiar and the oak species is different from the British ones but this could be a good talking point.

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The Wonder Garden

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The Wonder Garden
Kristjana S.Williams and Jenny Broom
Wide Eyed Editions
Prepare to be dazzled when you open up this sumptuous volume; it truly is a wonder to behold. Then, step through the shiny golden gate and you’re inside the wonder garden that is our planet earth and thence, explore five amazing ecosystems. First is  …

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with its superabundance of reptiles and amphibians and its plethora of beautiful birds large and small.

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Next destination is the Great Barrier Reef where we learn amongst other things, of the interdependence of coral and elaborate fish.
The Chihuahuan Desert with its hugely fluctuating temperatures is the next stop. It’s a place where harsh conditions and food scarcity make survival difficult for many of its 130 mammal and 3,000 plant species.

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The Black Forest with its tall pines (a bird haven), mountains, eight rivers and several hot springs, all of which help make a place that has a rich variety of flora and fauna is featured next.

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And the final stop is the mighty Himalayan Mountains and the only one of the locations I’ve visited and so recognize some of the animals and plants shown.

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Every one of the locations is spectacular in its own way and the overall experience is one of awe and wonder, but there’s also an almost magical feel to the whole thing. At every turn of the page Kristjana Williams presents a visual feast of insects, reptiles, birds, mammals (or marine species) set against land- (or sea-) scapes of greens and browns splashed with vibrant carmine and fuschia.
Four double spreads are given to each habitat: the first being a spectacular panoramic view jam-packed with its living inhabitants so powerful one can almost for instance, hear the croaking of tropical frogs in the Amazon Rainforest. Every location is introduced by a verbal visualization of what one might feel, see and hear on first arrival and panels containing factual information about the habitat. On the subsequent pages, filling the spaces between the stunning artwork, are blocks of text giving factual information about the habitat.
The superabundance of fauna and flora at every location means that comparatively few species get a mention and that’s fair enough in a book of this kind, though as someone with more than a passing interest in botany I would have liked some more details about the glorious flora depicted.
Assuredly a book to return to again and again and one that might well spark a lifelong interest in some aspect of the living world in the person fortunate enough to come upon this in a bookshop or library or even better, receive it as a gift.

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