Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister / Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak

Here are two terrific young fiction titles from Walker Books

Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun

Young Sona Sharma lives with her family in the Tamil Nadu city of Chennai.

As the story opens, she’s getting increasingly agitated about the forthcoming birth of a new baby sibling, an event about which the rest of her household and extended family seems obsessed. (It’s also one that children in a similar situation to Sona might find difficult adapting to).

Sona most definitely needs the sympathetic listening ear of Elephant, her best friend and constant companion (except at school). Everybody seems set on Amma having a baby boy and when talk of the naming ceremony comes up, Sona resolves to help her Appa find the perfect girl’s name (her Amma is ‘looking for boy names’ he tells her.) Nobody in the family is allowed to know if it’s a boy or girl until after the birth.

Even with this important task, sharing is still a big issue for young Sona: can it be resolved before the baby arrives?

Can Sona become the very best big sister and live up to that family motto ‘Iyavadhu Karavel’? (Always help as best you can.)

I totally fell in love with Sona and the rest of her family and community (how great to have a woman auto driver). Through Chitra’s absolutely gorgeous story of welcoming a new arrival into the hearts and home of a loving community, told from Sona’s perspective and beautiful line drawings by Jen Khatun, readers/listeners will encounter some of the traditions

and rituals – cultural and familial – of this large Indian Hindu family which may well be new to them.
I can almost smell the jasmine and feel the steamy heat as I’m transported to one of my most favourite parts of the world – one I can’t wait to revisit once this terrible pandemic allows. Till then I have this warm-hearted tale to re-read over and over (until I can bear to pass it on). More please.

Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens

Now permanent SPEARS field agents, Agnes and her partner Attie receive an emergency call and before you can say ‘penguins’ the two of them are disappearing down a speed funnel, destination Antarctica. It’s from there, sent by the team at the marine outpost, that the distress call came.

What is causing the seismic tremors being felt within and around the vicinity of the treatment centre, outpost 22? Why are all the Adelie penguins behaving in such an odd fashion? And, what on earth is the celebrity presenter and rare bird expert Cynthia Steelsharp, (one of Attie’s heroes) doing in a tent in the middle of the ice fields?

Moreover, why is she so interested in the little shrew’s trinoculars (that he’d needed to pass a two weeks training before being allowed to use in the field)?
Looks as though it’s a case of ‘operation species rescue’ for the SPEARS partnership (even though it may also mean an operation rescue of one of the pair).

Once again, team Jennifer (author) and Alice (illustrator) successfully interweave ecology and biology into an exciting and very funny story making it both enormously entertaining and educative (not a hint of preachiness at all).

Established Agnes and Attie enthusiasts (and I know a fair number) will devour this, likely in a single sitting; but you don’t really need to have read the first book to love this one, though if you’ve missed it I’d recommend getting hold of book Operation Honeyhunt and then move on to Operation Icebeak.

If you’re a teacher of 7s to 9s and would like to encourage your children to become eco-warriors, either book makes an enormously enjoyable class read aloud. (Back-matter includes information about the fragility of the Antarctic ecosystem and how readers can help reduce global warming.)

A word of warning – two actually: first -never say the word ‘onesie’ to your partner, let alone one clad in a watertight thermal body suit with SPEARS emblazoned across it; second – it doesn’t always pay to trust little lizards with the ability to change their colour.

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.