Agents of the Wild Operation Honeyhunt

Agents of the Wild: Operation Honeyhunt
Jennifer Bell, illustrated by Alice Lickens
Walker Books

Returning home one day, 8 year old Agnes Gamble, daughter of the sadly no longer alive, renowned botanists Ranulph and Azalea, discovers a creature clad in a safari uniform awaiting her in her bedroom. He informs Agnes that he’s an elephant shrew (species Rhynchocyon petersi) , a field agent for SPEARS (the Society for the Protection of Endangered and Awesomely Rare Species). He gives her a pair of knee pads covered in a sticky green goo (slug mucus) and says she’s to accompany him on a mission. He’s even brought a replacement chimp trained to mimic her so that her Uncle Douglas won’t notice her absence.

The recruiter who’s also known as Attenborough or Attie for short, says that not only did her erstwhile parents know of SPEARS but that they too were field agents for the society. This persuades Agnes to go along with Attie who leads the girl up inside a hidden passage to where eventually they board the SPEARS dragoncopter that takes them to HQ to meet the organisation’s Commander, a turkey.

He tells Agnes that she’s been scouted and if after training, she’s deemed ready, she’ll be sent on a mission with a view to becoming a permanent agent.

Needless to say the training is pretty rigorous

but Agnes scores well and along with Attie, is assigned to Operation Honeyhunt tasked with rescuing a young bee left behind during a hive relocation to a protected sanctuary the previous week. Said bee is at even greater risk due to the fact that the dastardly Axel Jabheart has been sighted in the Atlantic Forest, the place where the bee was left.

Eventually they locate the apis in the rainforest.

He then informs the agents that he’s called Elton and that he’s choreographer in chief of the hive colony. Agnes amasses a wealth of additional information about Elton but is she up to the difficult rescue task, after which she’ll become a full SPEARS agent?

With its exciting mix of adventure and wildlife conservation, Jennifer Bell has created a terrific story for those around Agnes’ own age. Alice Lickens’ wonderfully offbeat illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, break up the text; and at the end of the story are several pages providing facts about the endangered wildlife of the Atlantic Forest in which the mission is set, as well as information on how readers can get involved.

I look forward to reading more of young Agnes and her adventures.

Mr Gumpy’s Rhino

My Gumpy’s Rhino
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape

John Burningham died at the beginning of this year and the subject of this final book was one that deeply concerned him. There’s the old Burningham humour in the story but underlying it is a serious message about animal conservation, in particular the plight of the rhinos in Africa.

Last seen driving his motor car in the early 1970s Mr Gumpy is on his travels in Africa when he finds something distressing: a baby rhinoceros that has been left parentless on account of poachers taking their horns.

Knowing the young animal needs milk the kindly protagonist gives it what he has

and buys what he can from the Bedouins but it’s not sufficient for the growing rhino that he calls Charlie.

There’s plenty of milk available once they board a boat, as well as greenery

but once on dry land back home, Mr Gumpy struggles to get sufficient food for the rapidly growing Charlie.

Children at the local primary school suggest the animal might work for the council, keeping the grass and wayside verges under control, an idea that Mr Gumpy wholeheartedly endorses.
Consequently Charlie is given a high vis vest and special road sign, both of which please him considerably.

To show his appreciation, when the children’s school trip is threatened Charlie charges over land and even into the sea to enable them to catch the already departed boat. Hurrah!

This, with its mix of wonderful grainy coloured images and line drawings is vintage Burningham brilliance. Only he could make the baby rhino so appealing a character: who wouldn’t be moved by the sight of him shedding tears over the loss of his parents.

Destined to join the other Mr Gumpy stories as a modern classic, this is a wonderful way to introduce the very young to the topics of endangered creatures and animal conservation.

The Variety of Life

The Variety of Life
Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie
Hodder Children’s Books

Here’s a large format book for young readers to dip in and out of, time and again, especially those who like animals of one kind or another and the wider biodiversity of our planet.

The author and zoologist, Nicola Davies explores the huge diversity of the natural world, providing information about the chosen subjects, one per double spread – a short introductory paragraph to each group and a sentence or two about those depicted (their food, their habits and their habitats) together with the common name, the scientific (Latin) name, and if they happen to number among the endangered species, a black star. It’s alarming to see for instance, that of the eight species of bear, six are threatened with extinction.

Accessibly presented are a large variety of animals big and small, and some plants – grasses and trees and finally, representing the fungi are mushrooms.

Some of the numbers of animal species are questionable though: for instance the number given on the sheep page is 6 species but 9 are illustrated on the relevant spread.

Lorna Scobie’s illustrations of the animal kingdom in particular, are impressionistic rather than strictly scientific. Nonetheless, with their googly eyes, the creatures – from butterflies to bats and sheep to slugs –

have an irresistible child appeal embodying their essential characteristics, and are recognisable if not exactly in the field guide class.

Certainly this thoroughly enjoyable book offers opportunities to take pleasure in, to compare and contrast; and should encourage young readers to respect and treasure the world’s biodiversity and do all they can to preserve and conserve it.

Counting Lions & Actual Size

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Counting Lions
Katie Cotton and Stephen Walton
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Right from the amazing cover image I was blown away by this one. What strikes you first about this large format book is the stunning, incredibly life-like charcoal drawings of the ten animal species portrayed, so accurate and detailed are they that at first glance one could almost think they’re photos.
Starting with One lion and finishing with Ten zebras …

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this is of course a counting book but it’s so much more. Both text and pictures radiate a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the natural world.
Katie Cotton’s poetic descriptions capture verbally the creatures’ physicality and what it might be like for each of the animals in the wild at particular times in their lives so ‘Two gorillas / breathe the same breath./ The child was born a tiny, two-kilo thing of hair and bone and not much else, / so the other keeps him close./ For two or three years, they clasp each other,/ one creature, while he grows and grows and grows./ Later, as he climbs the trees alone,/ he may forget they were once/ two together./ Two gorillas.

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Many of the animals portrayed are threatened species:

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Some of the descriptions themselves mention the animal’s endangeredness, for instance “Does she know they are too few?/ What future is there for/ these four fighters?/ Four tigers.’
In ‘About the animals’ notes at the end of the book, Virginia McKenna provides additional information about each animal featured including its conservation status.

Readers also get right close up to the animals in:

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actual size
Steve Jenkins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Eighteen creatures great and small feature in this engaging book that introduces readers to a wide variety of fauna from insects to mammals although in some instances Steve Jenkins shows only a part of the animal in his layered collage style illustrations. Alongside each of these is a descriptive sentence giving additional facts such as body height and weight.
Eyes figure quite prominently in several of the spreads and in one instance virtually all we get is an enormous squid eye 30cm across staring up from the page;

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but we also get quite close up to that of the Alaskan Brown Bear, the largest bird – an ostrich, and one belonging to the salt water crocodile. Here however, thanks to a fold out, our view is expanded to take in its awesome jaws.

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In a spread where we are shown a gorilla hand and that of the pygmy mouse lemur one’s instinct is to hold one’s own hand up against the former (children will want to do likewise) and to cover completely (if you’re an adult) the latter.

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If you missed out on the original hardcover version, get hold of this new paperback edition for your primary classroom or school library.

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