Passionate About Penguins

Passionate About Penguins
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

Spending their time between land and sea, penguins are amazing creatures: I knew this, but I didn’t know that there are so many different kinds. Owen Davey talks of this on the opening spread of the eighth of his superb series. There are way more penguin species than that though, possibly as many as twenty it’s suggested here, and they are divided into six groups. Examples from each group show off their heads on the first page.

Ask a child where penguins live and they’ll likely tell you Antarctica; however that only accounts for some. Galapagos penguins might be found living north of the equator and there are lots of other kinds of terrain inhabited by penguins – beaches, rocky areas and coastal forests being some. Being carnivorous, they’re always fairly near the sea where they hunt, preying on such marine creatures as jellyfish, eels, crabs and tiny krill. 

On account of their ‘aquatic’ lifestyle, penguins have become specially adapted. Owen uses the example of a Humboldt penguin to zoom in on the special features – webbed feet positioned towards the rear of its body, countershading, making them tricky to spot, streamlined body shape to facilitate effortless swimming, wings – used not for flight but balance, thick blubber for warmth, a special gland to filter excess salt from their blood, dense skeletons for ease of swimming and diving, hooked beaks to catch and hold prey. This they swallow with the aid of fleshy spines on their tongues and inside of their mouths. There’s a spread further entitled Making a Meal of Things giving lots more information on food and feeding.

Other spreads are devoted to plumage, locomotion, self-defence, surviving in extreme conditions, the rearing of chicks – fancy having to eat partially-digested food regurgitated by a parent. Put it another way the adult throws up into the chick’s mouth and surprisingly the little ones love it.
There’s also information about love life, 

social life, size comparison – Emperor penguins can be as tall as 1.2 metres vs ‘Little’ penguins, two antipodean species being only just over 30 centimetres.

As with previous books in the series, there’s an ‘And the Award Goes To’ feature with six award winners, one each for swimming speed, the deepest divers, those that hold their breath longest (that’s two medals for Emperor penguins), the most aggressive, the most private and wait for it – the most fashionable – the feathery crowned Macaroni.

This fascinating book ends with a look at conservation, a vital topic since most penguin species are becoming endangered on account of human action and here you’ll find too what can be done to protect these creatures and their habitats. Finally there’s an index.

Imbued with Owen Davy’s gentle humour, and with a wealth of his signature style illustrations that make each page opening a treat, this fact-packed book is another must have for wild animal lovers, budding zoologists and classroom collections.

Curious About Crocodiles

Curious About Crocodiles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

Book seven of Owen Davey’s splendid series explores members of the weird and wonderful Crocodilia order. The order includes crocodiles as well as alligators, gharials and caimans, all of which are strong, armoured reptiles with four short legs, powerful jaws – beware! long, flattened snouts and long tails. Each kind spends some time on land and some in the water.

After his general introduction, Owen looks first at design using the Orinoco crocodile to which he takes us right close up and decidedly uncomfortable. I was more than a tad jealous to read that when one of these creatures loses a tooth, another one replaces it and a single croc. can go through as many as 4000 teeth in its lifetime. 

Dinosaur enthusiasts in particular will be interested to learn that millions of years ago crocodiles and dinosaurs shared the earth.

The other dozen topics, each given a double-spread, take a look at movement – sometimes crocodilians walk low to the ground but more frequently adopt a ‘high walk’ and some of the smaller species can break into a run, while others might climb trees. Most although excellent underwater swimmers, tend to stick mainly at surface level.

Did you know that a crocodile’s gender is determined by the temperature of the nest at a crucial point in the development of the egg with high and low temperatures tending to result in female babies, though due to varying layers of a nest having different temperatures, it’s likely that a clutch will have hatchlings of both sexes? First of course, a male has to attract a mate and to do so, some blow bubbles and produce a water dance with vibrating bodies and water droplets ‘that dance around them’. 

As with his previous guides, Owen has packed this with a wealth of engrossing biological information as well as some mythology; and last but definitely not least, a look at conservation including some things readers can do to help preserve both the creatures and themselves.

Truly something to chomp on and bound to scale up the interest of budding young zoologists.

Fanatical About Frogs

Fanatical About Frogs
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

For this fifth book in the series Owen Davey has chosen to focus on our amphibian friends the frogs.

Frogs in all their glory (and here Owen includes toads) can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Thus far about 7000 species have been discovered but that number is not static especially since many are very small and well camouflaged. All this and more we learn on the first spread.

On the second spread, (Warts and All) focusing on the northern leopard frog, the author discusses the particular abilities and features of Anurans – their eyes and eyelids, the tympanum, legs, feet (sometimes with sticky pads) and where appropriate, their warty bumps.

Other topics each given a spread concern the skin; feeding;

colours, pattern camouflage and other means of self-protection; ectothermic regulation (the means by which frogs regulate their temperature).


metamorphosis; a focus on the Red-eyed tree frog, some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ varieties each occupy a spread. Next there’s a look at size – the biggest and smallest species – and a gallery showing the actual shape and size of 19 different frogs, each one having its own unique beauty.

Then, as in all Owen’s titles in this series comes ‘And the award goes to …’ show-casing the most transparent frog, the loudest, the best impersonator, the creepiest, the best jumper and the most dangerous frog. Hmm, I wouldn’t like to encounter that golden poison arrow frog; it exudes a lethal poison 20 times more deadly than any other frog.

Also characteristic of the books, along with the playful topic and paragraph headings, is a spread of associated mythology that gives paragraphs on four folklore frogs. The vital topic of conservation is the final focus and there’s a concluding index.

Informative, fascinating, absorbing and as always, stupendously well illustrated and enormously enjoyable, is this excellent non-fiction book for home or school.

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

A Year in Nature
Hazel Maskell and Eleanor Taylor
Laurence King Publishing

Subtitled ‘a carousel book of the seasons’, this opens out into a four-part carousel that is sure to engage and impress.
Detailed scenes of a woodland in spring, summer, autumn and winter leap out from finely cut out pages revealing the glories of each season.

These woods are home to a family of foxes and we share the growth of the tiny cubs over a year as they explore their surroundings.
In spring there are nesting birds in the branches of the trees and new life begins everywhere.
Come summer, visiting birds have arrived; there’s an abundance of butterflies recently emerged, as well as bees, dragonflies and grasshoppers to find.

By autumn the young foxes are almost full-grown; now they hunt for their own food among the fungi under the golden brown canopy while squirrels are busy overhead gathering nuts to store.

Winter sees many of the trees without any leaves but berries still add brightness to the forest-scape.

Eleanor Taylor’s lush artwork is absorbing, bringing a place of beauty to life – the next best thing to visiting a forest for real, and Hazel Maskell provides brief snippets of information that are set among the forest branches along with things to hunt for in each scene.

This book would look great as part of a display in schools, no matter the season and would also make a great gift for a young child, particularly an urban living one.

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

Thanks to David Hawcock’s amazing paper-engineering, Owen Davey’s prehistoric creatures literally leap back into life as you open the pages of this sturdy little book. Showcasing fifteen popular and less well known beasts from Pachycephalosaurus to Pterodactylus, Ichthyosaurus to Iguanodon and Ankylosaurus to Tyrannosaurus,

Davey’s illustrations with their designs of spots, splodges and stripes are arresting in their greys, tans, browns, greens and blues.

A smashing introduction to the world of dinosaurs, with the name and pronunciation of each provided for each one. Doubtless adult sharers will delight in the book almost as much as the young target audience of aspiring palaeontologists.

Bonkers About Beetles

Bonkers About Beetles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

After focussing on monkeys, sharks and cats, Owen Davey turns his attention to beetles, a particularly successful insect group.

I knew that that were a great many different beetle species, some very tiny, others around the size of a human hand, but I had no idea that already 400,000 different kinds have been found, nor that beetles account for a quarter of all the animal species in the world being found on every continent other that Antarctica. Awesome!

There are basically four different ways of life; there are predators, herbivores, omnivores and decomposers each of which Davey explains giving examples of each of these kinds.

Clearly beetles come in many different shapes and sizes, although as we see here, all have a similar basic design.

As always in this series, Owen Davey’s playful sense of humour comes across in his choice of titles for some of the spreads as well as paragraph headings; for instance ‘Love You and Leaf You’ heads up some information about leaf-rolling weevils that construct special rounded homes for their eggs, taking around two hours to do the job.
And, dung beetles shaping dung balls to enclose their eggs, (one per egg) is under the heading ‘Let the Good Times Roll’.

What tickled my quirky nature particularly was discovering there’s a beetle that practises yoga: the head-stander beetle lives in the southern African Namib desert where the lack of water means it’s often difficult to find a drink. In the early morning, head-stander beetles climb to the top of the dunes when there’s a fog laden with moisture. They put their heads down and lift their rear ends to the sky so water collects on their backs and runs down into their mouths:
amazingly clever creatures.

I was also especially taken with the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ spread showcasing the likes of the giraffe weevil, the violin beetle and the harlequin beetle.

I’ve loved all Davey’s brilliantly illustrated books in the series but this one has to be my favourite.
What next I wonder?

Pinball Science & The Pen


Pinball Science
Illustrated by Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
The teacher part of me has always advocated putting scientific learning into a meaningful context: now here is an exciting project incorporating a whole lot of scientific principles that’s a tremendous learning opportunity. All you need to do is open up the box and follow the step-by-step instructions for assembling an 88 piece model complete with levers, plungers and flippers – awesome! In practice, I think it may prove a little more tricky.
Before plunging in though I suggest reading the pages describing the science behind the whole pinball wonder.


Here’s Jack working on the model

It’s fascinating stuff: I learned it in deadly boring, text book only O-level physics with nay a practical in sight, but only understood what some of it really means, for instance Newton’s third law of motion ‘Every action results in an equal and opposite reaction’ when messing around with toy cars while teaching infants many years later. Now, it’s explained along with a simple investigation with a balloon.


And the difference between kinetic and potential energy? I remember learning that off by heart with little understanding but here, it’s neatly explained through an investigation with a tennis ball.


These practical activities and many others, all relevant to the enterprise about to be undertaken, provided by authors of the project, Nick Arnold (of Horrible Histories fame) and Ian Graham, are all stylishly illustrated by the wonderful Owen Davey.


The Pen
Raphaël Fejtö
Firefly Books
This near pocket-sized book is one of a series called Little Inventions. It’s a fascinating and delightfully quirky look at the history and development of a writing implement from the beginnings of writing when sharp reeds were used to engrave on soft clay tablets. It takes us up right through to the advent of Biros and then, the disposable BIC pens we’re so familiar with. In Japan, brushes were used for writing and these led to the invention of felt-tip pens so popular today for writing and colouring.
That’s it briefly; and the final page is a memory quiz. With amusing illustrations on every page,


this is just the kind of book to fascinate those youngsters less keen to embark on fictional stories: a whole lot of information, delivered narrative style, is packed into just 32 pages. Having read this one, I suspect children will want to seek out the other titles in the series: The Fork, French Fries, Glasses, Pizza and The Toilet (I bet that one proves popular!).
Just right for a school topic box, home library – anywhere there are readers (and writers) actually.

Smart About Sharks


Smart About Sharks
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
If you want to be shark savvy, you need this for sure. If you love Owen Davey’s work, you need this for sure, so … what are you waiting for?
Here’s why this is a must have for natural history fans, particularly shark lovers; for anyone who is interested in top quality design, stupendously good detail or au courant artwork; this book embodies all of that and more.

Look at this amazing endpaper

What’s more it sparkles with wit – Davey must have had great fun concocting subtitles such as ‘ALL FINS CONSIDERED’, ‘’EAT, PREY, HUNT’, ‘A BITE TO EAT’, ‘HAMMER AND TAIL’ –


to mention just a few.
During the course of his shark foray, Davey dives deep as he explores much and informs plenty. First off that sharks are cartilaginous fish, not boney ones: I seem to recall that from my zoological (dogfish dissection) learning EEEUUGH! We find out much more about their anatomy, their evolution, their diet …


(have I seen that turtle elsewhere, perhaps in another book OD illustrated?), their social life – yes they do have one albeit no tweeting, or FBK-ing – and their reproduction as well as discovering some sharkish myths.


There’s even an awards spread with rosettes for fastest through the water, best barker (mmm, a woofing shark), laziest – though why that deserves a rosette only Davey knows, and the pièce de résistance surely, is the epaulette shark that gets the award for developing ‘the astounding ability of walking out of water’. That clever so and so can also hold its breath for 60 times longer than one of us mere humans. Wow!


Such amazing skills and what astonishing diversity among the superorder. There’s a very useful index at the back of the book setting out the various shark orders – eight detailed therein – with their Latin names: elasmobranchs all.
This is the way – or one certainly (deep sea diving would be another) – to make factual learning great fun, and to create a hunger for more. It’s enormously engaging both verbally and visually, with a level of sophistication that should ensure a wide interest range. What a way to get ‘SMART ABOUT SHARKS’. Do it, say I!

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Natural World


Curiositree Natural World
Amanda Wood, Mike Jolley and Owen Davey
Wide Eyed Editions
This is a weighty tome chock full of wonder: ‘ Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature’ is how it’s billed and it most definitely is: essentially, almost a visit to the Natural History Museum in a book.
And what better way to begin than with this Albert Einstein quotation: “I HAVE NO SPECIAL TALENTS. I AM ONLY PASSIONATELY CURIOUS.” That sets the scene for an amazing investigative odyssey based on sixty-seven colour-coded wall charts. This is indicative of the subject matter: yellow informs about habitats; orange focuses on particular plant or animal species; blue charts look at animal behaviour or adaptations. The first spread introduces the seven characteristics of all living things be they animal or plant.


This is followed by a look at the classification of organisms with an example of the Grey Wolf broken down into the seven levels from kingdom through to species.


There is a natural flow through the chart topics: groups lead into habitats, and thence into ‘The fight for Survival’. Thereafter a loose logical organisational path is followed: Life in Tropical Rainforests leads to ‘Who Lives Here?’ (yes, there are specific questions for consideration every so often), followed by a close look at one specific rare creature, The Curious Aye-Aye.


Then follows a look at ‘Living in the Dark


Insects have always held a particular fascination for me so I flipped through and came upon a spread entitled Interesting Insects:


after which came – entirely logically – this one:


followed by Life in the Honeybee Hive.
Most spreads are landscape though an occasional one has a portrait orientation like here in On Top of the World:


that allows the animals found at different levels from forest floor to Snow Zone to be shown to greater effect.
In the final spread, The Changing Planet, the mood shifts from celebratory to solemn as we see a polluted landscape with belching chimneys, aircraft and much more, harming air, land and water and threatening the survival of a whole host of species, plant and animal. It’s up to we humans – Homo Sapiens (wise man) to take responsibility and protect our precious planet for those who come after: a compelling message we ignore at our peril.
Owen Daveys’ art work is stupendous: a fusion of retro-style and ultra mod. computer graphics that is perfect for this book.
Every possible consideration is given to design, right down to the dust jacket which, when removed opens out into a large poster to display on your wall. There are even three marker ribbons, one orange, one yellow and one blue, in keeping with the colour-coding of the charts.
A must buy for the family bookshelf, the school or college library; in fact for any organisation that cares about life and the interconnectedness of everything.
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Mad About Monkeys

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Mad About Monkeys
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
I’ve loved Owen Davey’s work since receiving a copy of the wordless Foxly’s Feast to review. Here he offers another feast – a visual and factual one about the group of haplorine or dry-nosed primates we call monkeys.
In fifteen double spreads he presents answers to the questions, ‘What Are Monkeys?’ – which provides some basic facts, and ‘Is a Monkey My Uncle?’ In the latter he repudiates the idea that humans come from monkeys showing how primates have evolved over some 45 million years and charting the two groups (Old World and New World) into which monkeys fall. This is further explored in the next spread that explains how to differentiate between the two. I discovered quite a bit here.

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Readers are then invited to become detectives and decide whether the six shown are from the Old World or the New.
Did you know the smallest monkey species, the Pygmy Marmoset has a body of around 12cm and a tail measuring 17cm? I certainly didn’t, although I did know the male Mandrill is the largest monkey and that they have brightly coloured noses and bottoms.
Social life and hierarchy are the next topics discussed and Geladas, a very special kind of monkey are given their own spread. I certainly would not want to encounter one of those close up.

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All manner of weird and wonderful monkeys are presented in the next two spreads including the noisiest, the fastest mover, the one with the longest tail, the hairiest faced monkey and the first in space, as well as eight of the strangest-looking species.
I was fascinated to read in Smarter than Average that white-faced capuchin monkeys have even learned to self medicate by rubbing their fur with Giant African Millipedes and leaves to repel insects. And those Japanese macaques are truly amazing.
Anyone who has ever visited India will most likely have encountered monkeys that steal sandwiches, fruit and anything else such as cameras and bags that takes their fancy;I have certainly fallen victim to their unwanted thieving on several occasions. Such marauding practices are explored in the next pages

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and then we take a brief look at Monkey Mythology and, the impact of deforestation on monkey habitats.
Owen Davey’s illustrations are simply superb and truly works of art. They somehow convey so much more than a photograph and help the reader to home in on the essential characteristics of each of the animals featured as well as to appreciate their beauty. The text is highly informative, scientific and totally accessible without being in any way condescending; and there’s a useful index. One very small quibble: perhaps his editors could have been consistent over the use of metric and imperial measurements.
Awesome from cover to cover.

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Love and Friendship


I Love You, Too!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Father Bear has finished Little Bear’s bedtime story but Little Bear does not want to sleep. Instead he tries some of delaying tactics, telling his dad how much he loves him in all kinds of ways. Dad reciprocates, out-loving Little Bear’s love each time until they complete a full circle of love and then a-a-a-a-h-h-h. It’s Dad who finally falls asleep. And his offspring? Having tucked Dad in, he picks up his book and starts reading it all over again …
It’s great to see a father/son bedtime story session.
Foreman’s watercolour illustrations are as alluring as ever; here, extending the text into playful scenes of the two bears having fun together, sometimes clad in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and other times wearing more appropriate apparel.


Beautful to share at bedtime or any other time.
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Alex and Lulu Two of a Kind
Lorena Siminovich
Templar Publishing pbk
Can you be best friends despite having some very different interests?
That’s the question at the heart of this story featuring best pals, Alex, a lively adventurous dog and Lulu, a thoughtful, artistically minded cat. Of course they do have some common interests such as going to the park but it’s when they get there that their differences manifest themselves. Alex climbs trees and swings from high branches,; Lulu stays still observing ants, intending to paint them at home later. On the way home in the rain, Alex cannot resist splashing in all the puddles; Lulu hurries ahead keeping her feet dry. “..we are just SO different,” she remarks.
Back home Alex begins to wonder if they are too different to be best friends. There follows another day of differences and more worries for Alex.
Then it is down to Lulu to explain how differences can actually enrich and enhance their friendship. It’s a case of opposites attract, their bond of friendship is strong enough for all their differences.
Filled with bright colours, patterns and textures, Siminovich’s illustrations are immediately attractive. Her images are outlined with a thick black line making them stand out against the patterned backgrounds.


A charming and reassuring exploration of friendship.
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Laika the Astronaut
Owen Davey
Templar Publishing
Laika, the first creature to be launched into space, has her story told and given an alternative ending by the wonderful artist. Owen Davey.
Taken from the Moscow streets as a stray, she, along with other dogs, was trained and tested to undertake the next step in the Soviet space programme intended to maintain their supremacy in the space race. In 1957, Laika was blasted off into space in a rocket and after only a few hours, her craft developed a fault and Laika perished. (Seemingly she would have done so even without this catastrophe, there being no means of returning her craft to earth anyway.)
Davey chooses a happier ending with the lonely Laika finding a new family to love and cherish her. His use of muted tones, stylized images and shadowy figures give a vintage feel to the scenes and it is Davey’s illustrations that are the strength of the book and what make it work seeking out.


This fanciful story could be a good starting point for a space theme in a primary school with children then going on to research factual reports on the Laika story.
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Doug the Bug That Went Boing!
Simon & Schuster pbk
Sue Hendra
Doug the Bug is in trouble. Not only has he had a quarrel with his best pal Trevor while playing ball, but on top of that, he’s been unceremoniously separated from him by a large shovel. So, can he manage to find his way from atop the tower block back to Trevor and put things right with him? Assisted by a grateful fly, Doug finds himself having a thrilling time, narrowly missing falling into the loo before ‘boinging’ into all manner of strange places – a fried egg yolk, in a shower of pepper, a sponge cake, a pedal bin, even right through a slice of toast.


But anything is worth a try so that he can get back to Doug and put things right with him.
Bright bouncy illustrations, with some hair-raising scenes, are part and parcel of this light-hearted, action-packed adventure.
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Miki and the Wishing Star
Stephen Mackey
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
In this, the third story about Miki, Penguin and Polar Bear, the three friends share a birthday and are celebrating together, each making a birthday wish. Penguin has first wish but this (to be the biggest penguin in all the world) results in all manner of challenging situations for the threesome. All ends happily however in this gentle, atmospheric tale of magic, wishing and friendship. Makey’s soft-focus illustrations have a dreamlike quality and it’s these that are the main strength of the book.
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Rules of Summer
Shaun Tan
Hodder Children’s Books
If you want to be challenged, made to think deeply and interpret, look, look and look again, then try this latest work of Shaun Tan. It’s dark and mysterious, disturbing even; and both simple and complex – a real paradox – leaving much to the imagination. Is it about rules, challenges, friendship?  Or perhaps all of these as seen through the eyes of one of the boys.
In Tan’s own words, it’s a picture book about the relationship between two boys who could be brothers or close friends whose friendship is tested by challenging situations.
He presents readers with a sequence of thirteen scenes of the two boys each with a single sentence beginning ‘Never …’ placed opposite a enigmatic illustration rendered in oil paints, that is open to interpretation.


Never argue with an umpire.

After this are three wordless double spreads, two scenes each with a sentence beginning ‘Always…’ then one saying ‘Never miss the last day of summer.’,  a double wordless spread and a final ‘That’s it.’ set opposite a scene of the boys sitting together seemingly watching television.
Definitely a book that raises more questions than it answers and one that readers will respond differently to on each re-reading
I can envisage this book being discussed by groups of children/adults in both primary and secondary schools; indeed, each scene and accompanying text could form the basis of an enquiry.  Just what are those dark, sinister looking birds doing, for example.
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