Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

With the continuous stream of books about animals, it’s great to see this large format volume about plants.

There’s an absolute wealth of information packed between its covers with each spread focusing on a different aspect of plant life. The author, Martin Jenkins is highly adept at presenting complicated topics in such a way as to make them accessible and enjoyable for children. Having explained what a plant is, he includes information about such aspects of plant life as photosynthesis, the carbon cycle and reproduction.

There’s a spread on the functions of xylem and phloem (tissues I didn’t come across until I studied A-level botany).

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

so too are plant hormones, and climbing plants – those with twining stems, tendrils, clinging suckers or roots, and hooks.

Symbiosis and other plant interactions are explored, as are carnivorous plants – I’m always fascinated by these when I visit Kew Garden – and parasitic plants.

Sacred and Symbolic Plants talks about the many thousands of plants used as medicinal herbs and stimulants, provide spices, flavourings and perfumes or for ornamental purposes. I knew that the sacred lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism but was surprised to read that it was also revered in Ancient Egypt on account of the way its beautiful pure flowers emerge from unclean waters.

There’s a look at plant defences: I was fascinated to discover that there are plants with ‘spikes’ (needle-like crystals of calcium minerals called raphides) in their tissues that can penetrate the lining of an animal’s mouth and throat releasing poison into its bloodstream.

In fact no matter which spread you choose to read, you cannot  but be excited by the manner in which Jenkins and illustrator/print maker, James Brown present the botanical world. The latter’s full page illustrations, double spreads and borders are absolutely awesome.

This book provides wonderful insight into the wide and varied world of plants.

Caterpillar and Bean

Caterpillar and Bean
Martin Jenkins and Hannah Tolson
Walker Books

Here’s a beautifully illustrated, narrative information book that cleverly combines two life cycles, that of a runner bean and an unnamed butterfly. (I’m not aware of a butterfly whose food plant is the runner bean.)

Written by conservation biologist and author, Martin Jenkins it’s the latest in the Science Storybook series for young children with growth and change as its themes.

Starting with a wrinkly bean seed ‘neath the ground, readers can follow its development as first a tiny root emerges, followed by (above ground) green leaves, then more green leaves onto one of which a white dot of an egg appears.

From this hatches a caterpillar that nibbles and grows, nibbles and grows,

shedding three skins, almost stripping the plant of its foliage.

Fortunately though, the plant too continues growing apace, but of the caterpillar there is no sign. Instead, dangling on a thread is a chrysalis.

Meanwhile bean pods have replaced the flowers and are swelling ready to shed new bean seeds after which, come winter the plant dies.

Not so the chrysalis however, that is awaiting spring when …

Simply and effectively told in a reader-friendly chatty style, alongside growing your own beans and caterpillars this is an excellent introductory book.

Bird Builds a Nest

Bird Builds a Nest
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

Back in the day when I was studying physics at O-level I recall learning things about forces with no real understanding of the concepts as they were never demonstrated practically and I’m sure terms as straightforward as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ were ever used; how I passed the exam is anybody’s guess. It was only when I began teaching young children and everything was done through playful activities that I realised ‘oh so that’s what that statement I recall really means’.

Now here’s a cracking little book that introduces forces through a story about a bird building her nest.

Oh joy, it’s a sunny day and the little creature needs to find a juicy worm to feast on and here she is about to apply a pulling force …

No luck with that particular worm but eventually she finds a suitable smaller, less strong one and out it comes. Yum! Yum!
Breakfast over, she heads off in search of twigs to build her nest. Some inevitably are too heavy but Bird perseveres, pulling and lifting, to-ing and fro-ing, pulling and pushing the twigs into place, over and over until the outer construction is ready.
Then she collects softer, light things to make a cosy lining cup…

And finally the eggs are laid …

Already a big fan of this Science Storybook series of narrative science books for young children, I’m now an even bigger one. It’s so simple and yet so effectively explained both through the main narrative and in the smaller printed factual statements.
There’s an additional investigation on the forces topic using ping pong balls to try at the end.

Once again, Richard Jones has created a series of beautiful mixed media, textured illustrations in earthy tones to complement Jenkins’ text to perfection.

 

The Squirrels’ Busy Year

The Squirrels’ Busy Year
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

From the creators of Fox in the Night is a new addition to the Science Storybook series, this time about the seasons and changes in the weather.

We start in winter and just like today when I’m writing this, it’s very cold, the pond is frozen and snow covers the ground. The animals are tucked away in warm places until they have to go out and search for food.

Spring brings warmer weather with bird song, croaking frogs, scampering squirrels hoping to find juicy maple buds on the trees or bulbs they can unearth; but they’ll have to be quick for there’s an owl on the prowl.
With the summer come hotter days, the need for shade, and longer hours of daylight with a chance of thundery weather.

Come autumn and the frogs have gone to the bottom of the pond to sleep in the mud;

many birds have flown to warmer climes and the squirrels start collecting for their winter store in preparation for hibernating.
All this is presented through an engaging, at times poetic, text, together with some basic scientific facts, and in Richard Jones’ textured illustrations.
His beautifully crafted scenes work in perfect harmony with Jenkins’ descriptions, his colour palette mirroring the seasonal hues superbly.
Look how perfectly this embodies the hushed arrival of winter’s snow …

A fine example of non-fiction for the very young.

Fox in the Night / Snow Penguin

Fox in the Night
Martin Jenkins and Richard Smythe
Walker Books

Billed as ‘A science storybook about light and dark’, this is a narrative non-fiction picture book with a sprinkling of additional facts.
We join Fox as she wakes, sees it’s still daylight outside and so goes back to sleep for a while. Later, at sundown, she leaves the safety of her den and, guided by the moon and street lights, sallies forth across the park towards the town in search of food.

A mouse eludes her so she keeps looking; perhaps something static will be easier prey.
A bumped nose and a near miss from a car later, she’s still searching. Then, turning down an alley, her nose leads her towards something more promising – a barbecue in progress – and it’s here that she’s finally rewarded with a tasty treat to take back to her den.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a good starting point for a topic on light and dark with early years children. I’d suggest reading the story first and then returning to discuss the additional, smaller print, possibly using it as pointers to get youngsters thinking for themselves about why for instance, Fox bumps her nose on the shop window.

Snow Penguin
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Far away in the icy Antarctic, a curious little penguin is restless: he wants to find out more about the chilly sea and the snow. Off he goes alone to explore, unaware that the ice on which he’s standing as he gazes seawards has become detached from the mainland.
On his trip afloat on his little ice floe he sees blue whales, orcas,

an elephant seal and a sea lion with her cub. Suddenly he feels alone and scared adrift on the darkening waters. How will he find his way back to where he most wants to be, back with his family and friends?

Mitton’s assured rhyming couplets in combination with Alison Brown’s engaging depictions of the frozen Arctic seascapes and landscapes make for a gentle cuddle-up adventure for the very young.

Fabulous Frogs, Elephants and other creatures

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Fabulous Frogs
Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood
Walker Books
I’ll never forget an experience I had in Udaipur, Rajasthan a few years back: during the monsoon time I was caught in a downpour and suddenly hundreds of tiny frogs about the size of a finger nail (and those tiny New Guineas frogs depicted herein) came raining (seemingly) down from the sky. I never knew from where they had really originated – drainpipes and gullies perhaps – but it sparked an interest in these fascinating creatures. I’ve since seen many different kinds in other parts of India, especially the Kerala coast where I had a resident frog that performed acrobatics on my washing line; and every evening also in the monsoon we would be serenaded by a mesmerising frogs’ chorus from the trees and bushes …

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Then there were the tree frogs whose foam nests we saw on branches overhanging the pond very similar to these African ones …

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None of the frog species featured in this lovely picture book is Indian but each one the conservation biologist Martin Jenkins has selected is strange and wonderful in its own way, not least being the Darwin’s Frog. The male puts the soon-to-be hatched eggs in its throat, keeping them and later, the tadpoles, safe therein.
Then there’s the world’s largest, enormous (for a frog) Goliath Frog from West Africa that eats other frogs on occasion.
Illustrator, Tim Hopgood has done these and the other frogs proud in his cracking pictures. A frogilicious book!

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Would an Elephant Enjoy the Seaside?
Camilla de la Bédoyère and Aleksei Bitskoff
QED Publishing
The title of the book is just one of the amusing scenarios explored in this attractive book. Others include
‘Could an elephant join an art class?’ …

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and “How would an elephant say “hello”? Certainly the library would be an ideal place – elephants raise their trunks and trumpet … They also talk quietly … ‘by making low rumbling sounds that pass down their legs

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and into the ground.’ This is picked up by the feet of elephants far away.
Fascinating information such as this is conveyed in a manner that is likely to stay with the reader who is one hopes, then motivated to go on to find out more. Equally importantly this book and others in the series will foster that crucial ‘What if …’ notion in young children.
Also in the series and equally entertaining and informative is:

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Could a Crocodile Play Basketball?
Camilla de la Bédoyère and Aleksei Bitskoff
QED Publishing

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Just imagine one of those jaw snappers in your early years classroom …

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Children’s Animal Atlas
Barbara Tylor, Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
QED
More than a mere atlas, this book has a pocket inside the front cover containing a fold-out poster map, half a dozen postcards to write from various animal locations, a spotter’s guide with facts and a quiz and pages of stickers, that can be used as the reader chooses.

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Find and Colour
illustrated by Joel Dreidemy
QED
For those youngsters around 5ish who like colouring with a few facts thrown in, is this pack of eight books (almost all with an animal theme) complete with pens. As it says on every cover: ‘things to colour and facts to discover’. Just the thing for rainy days and long journeys.

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