Inside Animals

Inside Animals
Barbara Taylor and Margaux Carpentier
Wide Eyed Editions

Back in the day when I was studying zoology at A-level and beyond I always felt extremely uncomfortable having to do animal dissections to get a close look at an animal’s innards. Now here’s a book containing twenty one cross-sections of a variety of animals large and small, all illustrated in vibrant colours by Margaux Carpentier. 

In the introductory section, detailed pictures show how skeleton, muscles, organs and nerves fit together inside the featured creature – a snake, a camel and a shark.

Then come several focus topics – Muscles and Moving, Skeletons, Lungs and Breathing, Brain and Senses, Heart and Blood, and Amazing Organs.

Written by one time Science Editor at London’s Natural History Museum, Barbara Taylor and set out around each internal view, are factual paragraphs and an introduction, for all the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, spiders and other invertebrates spotlighted herein.

I was fascinated to see the honey stomach of the honeybee – a storage organ for nectar – shown and mentioned in one of the paragraphs and part of what helps this creature survive and thrive.

No animal would be able to survive without oxygen to breathe but not all have lungs, or gills like fish and oysters. Within a parrot we see both lungs and additional air sacs that keep oxygen-supplying air flowing throughout its body so the energy for flight is available. 

Other creatures including we read, land-living earthworms, breathe through their skin.

What about brains? It’s not every animal that has one of those although all rely on sensory information sent via electrical signals along nerves. Such information might be gathered through an animal’s sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Without a brain, jellyfish for instance use a simple nerve network to detect touch, light, smells and to respond to their surroundings; amazingly these graceful creatures can still sting after they’re dead.

Turning to animals having more in common with humans, a giraffe for instance possesses lungs (around eight times the size of ours), and a heart – also enormous and roughly the weight of your average two year old. I was surprised to learn that despite its very long neck, a giraffe has only seven neck bones, linked we read by ball-and-socket joints enabling that neck to be super-bendy.

I suspect that any youngster, especially those with a scientific bent, will discover some surprises in this engrossing book. It’s one I’d recommend adding to family bookshelves and KS2 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.

Really Remarkable Reptiles / Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles

Really Remarkable Reptiles
Jake Williams
Pavilion Children’s Books

Award winning designer, Jake Williams introduces us to an amazing assortment of reptilian creatures in this his first picture book.
He provides us first with an introductory spread with paragraphs explaining what reptiles are biologically, their evolution, egg laying and habitats. Next come a reptile timeline, which goes back as far as the age of the dinosaurs, and a life cycle.

Thereafter are four sections, one each devoted to – ‘Lizards’, the carnivorous ‘Snakes’, ‘Turtles and Tortoises’ and ‘Crocodiles and Alligators’.

Included in the first group are chameleons and many people probably tend to think of those as just one kind; I was aware of different species but surprised to learn that there are over 200 chameleon species, nearly half of which live only in Madagascar.

I was also fascinated to read that the Sailfin water lizard is a metre in length, has a fin 7cm tall and can be found in a variety of colours – brown, green and yellow, adult males often turning bright blue to attract a potential mate.

Most people shudder at the mere mention of snakes; I’m certainly no snake lover but apart from the poisonous ones, am not frightened of them. I even once had to demonstrate (at the request of the hotel naturalist),their harmlessness to a group of female workers who were scared to go and clean the cottage rooms after one discovered a snake had got into one. Having it wrapped around me was I thought, over and above the cause of nature.

It happened to be a variety of tree snake, not the South American Emerald kind featured here,

as this was in Kerala (south India). I would however have been exceedingly alarmed to come upon a live and highly venomous, Sea snake on the beach or ocean’s edge there (although I did find a number of dead ones).

The domed-shape shelled Turtles and Tortoises form the next section. Did you know their shells have a web of nerve endings and a tortoise or turtle is sensitive on every centimetre of its shell? One fascinating fact I learned about female green sea turtles is that they often choose the same beach on which they were hatched to lay their eggs.
The last section includes the largest of all living reptiles, Saltwater crocodiles that can grow as long as 7m.

Did you know that crocodiles swallow stones as a food grinding aid in their stomachs? Ouch!

The final pages of this absorbing book are devoted to Habitats and environments, (reptiles are found on every one of the continents except Antarctica, residing in such diverse places as deserts, rainforests, mountain parks and cities but sadly some species have been lost or are under threat due to human action. We can all do our bit to help conserve them: using less packaging and recycling can help.

Also on the same theme is a much smaller book:

Turtles, Snakes and other Reptiles
Amy-Jane Beer and Alice Pattullo
Lincoln Children’s Books

This handy Pocket Guide, written by natural history expert, Dr Amy-Jane Beer introduces the four main reptilian groups and after introductory spreads entitled ‘What is a Reptile?’ and ‘Reptile Life’ come several spreads devoted to the different families with representative examples.

Did you know for instances that Sea turtles are able to sleep holding their breath underwater for hours? That Komodo dragons have gums that bleed easily, turning their saliva pink; or that Blind snakes hunt their prey using their sense of smell?

This is a good, get-up-close look, finely illustrated by Alice Pattullo, at the various species and an introduction to a fascinating topic that may well get young readers hooked on biological science.

Need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Crazy About Cats

Crazy About Cats
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
Owen Davey can make any subject a delight; even cats to this ailurophobic reviewer – actually though my phobia only applies to the domestic or the feral kind.
Following on from his magnificent Mad About Monkeys and superb Smart About Sharks, Davey delivers a third ace.
His fifteen spreads are again, cleverly named and playfully subtitled; so after the introductory, ‘What Are Cats?’ with its ‘Nom Nom’ consideration of diet, and ‘Hard Cat to Follow’ lines concerning locations, readers are asked to “Paws for Thought’ and focus for a while on felid evolution.

We then move on to food and the catching thereof, which looks at adaptations or what the author terms ‘super powers’ using as an example, the Asiatic golden cat.
Wildcat coat patterns and camouflage is the next topic; (the latter crops up again in ‘Making a Meal of Things’) and here Davey’s central band of patterned beasts is particularly striking in its effect.

Trees and other plants play an important role for some cat creatures such as the nocturnal Margays that lurk among their foliage, using their ‘super-powered eyes’ when hunting …

and leaping through the treetops and sprinting head first down tree trunks.
Territory, shape and size, mythology and weird features or characteristics are some of the other topics explored and the final index pages look at the lineage of eight cat families.
Another class act from Owen Davey and Flying Eye Books; awesome art, amazing design, and wonderful word wizardry; but then one has come to expect nothing less.

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Smart About Sharks

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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’ –

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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 …

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(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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Then follows a look at ‘Living in the Dark

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

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after which came – entirely logically – this one:

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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:

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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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Look, Do, Discover

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How Things Work
Thames and Hudson
This large-sized book is a veritable treasure trove of ideas scientific, all using things that are likely to be found in the immediate environment as a starting point for investigation.
We join friends Koko and Alex – the former a deconstructionist fascinated by how things work, the latter a would-be machine builder. We also meet a trio of explorers who act as commentator, questioner and thought provoker, throughout. Starting with How to build a house, our explorers take readers through the process step by step introducing the various materials used. Then we move on to a spread that looks at all kinds of homes and there’s an invitation to play I Spy.

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Back we go next to learn about water and electricity and how not to waste these vital resources in the home.
There’s a materials game to play followed by some playful ‘Can you?’ scenarios to consider such as a paper hammer or wooden specs.

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There’s also a great “How is it made? section about book making from author’s ideas to finished product, followed by instructions on making a concertina book – budding authors/illustrators take note. I could go on but suffice it to say other topics include ‘What is a machine?’ and spin off activities, shadow play and other light-related activities, a look at other power sources and …
As a teacher I’m always encouraging children to ask ‘how?’, ‘why? And ‘what?’ questions and equally they love to do so and then discover answers to their queries. Billed as ‘Facts and fun/Questions and answers/ Things to make and do’,

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this volume, in addition to being a fun introduction to a host of science concepts, is an ideal starting point for enquiring minds.
The illustrations – a mix of seemingly, simple child-like art and photographs –

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are plentiful, amusing, involving and show great attention to detail.
A stonkingly good book all round either for home enjoyment or the primary classroom.

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Creatures Great and Small
Lucy Engelman illustrator
Wide Eyed Editions
Is it a colouring book? Is it a field guide? Actually, this one is more like a sketchpad with thick card backboard and tear-out pages containing thirty five prints of members of the animal kingdom from all over the world is both. Some 250 species in all are featured and these are divided into groups, each one having a page print to colour. So for example there are pages of large mammals, Marine Mammals for instance or Primates as well as Frogs, Toads or Bugs, Beetles and Bees.
The limited space available dictates that only a snippet of information can be given about each creature on the colouring page,

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with further details provided (by Valerie Davies) on the back key page. This includes information on the colour and pattern of each animal drawn.
This is certainly not a book for the very young; rather it will appeal to older readers (child and adult) who like information rendered visually rather in lots of words. There is assuredly plenty to keep anyone gainfully occupied and may very well send readers off to research and find other sources of information although completing the pictures can equally well be an end in itself.

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