Children are often inquisitive about the natural world around them. Luckily, there's a wide range of picture books that feed that curiosity in an entertaining and engaging way. The books in Puffin's Endangered Animal Tales series use storytelling to introduce the very young to a range of unusual creatures which could become extinct.
Coco, the Fish with Hands (Puffin Books. $19.99), written by Aleesah Darlison and illustrated by Mel Matthews, tells the story of a "sweet, tiny fish" from Tasmania who walks on her hands on the sandy sea bottom, fishes for food with a lure attached to her forehead and lays her eggs in sea tulips.
The fun, interactive text, which is interlaced with extra facts about these fascinating fish, is engagingly aimed at a younger audience. It will have them cheering for brave little Coco as she negotiates the dangers of the deep in a desperate attempt to survive and procreate. The accompanying cartoon-style illustrations, with their combination of bright colours, engaging characters and visual humour, are sure to entrance a young audience. Coco is a great way to introduce little ones to the importance of looking after one of Australia's most endangered creatures.
For older children fascinated by fish, Freaky, Funky Fish: Odd Facts about Fascinating Fish (Allen & Unwin. $24.99) by Debra Kempf Shumaker and Claire Powell is the perfect book. A fabulous mix of facts and fun, it combines information about fish and how they function with strange and sometimes gross details about some of the wild, wonderful and just plain whacky members of the piscatorial family.
The text is an entertaining combination of rhyme, alliteration and onomatopoeia, while the illustrations present fish with personality and attitude. These often weird creatures are presented using a semi-scientific design aesthetic that includes a map of the world's oceans, a fish inventory, "freaky" and "funky" ratings, figures and captions.
Extra factual information is provided at the end of the book, along with a comprehensive reading list so future marine biologists can explore the subject in more detail. With its glittery cover, rollicking text, entertaining illustrations and wealth of information, this is a great book to get kids interested in the weird and wonderful creatures that live beneath the waves.
Information about the animals that we share this world with is also provided in nature storybooks such as Where the Heart Is (EK Books. $24.99). Written and illustrated by Canberra creatives Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe, this is a heart-warming tale about a South American penguin and the kind fisherman who becomes his lifelong friend.
Unusually, this picture book begins rather than ends with background information, including a map of South America. The book is based on the true story of a Magellanic penguin from Patagonia that in 2011 was washed up on the coast of Brazil. Covered in oil and close to death, little Dindim was rescued by fisherman Joao, and nursed back to health. During his recuperation, the penguin and his rescuer developed an unbreakable bond. And so, every year, the penguin swims about 8000 kilometres as he divides his time between his penguin mates in Patagonia and his special human friend in Brazil.
Gold's engaging prose and strong storytelling cadences combine with Crispe's endearing watercolour illustrations to bring the story to life. Crispe's artwork has strong child appeal, with the delightful Dindim exhibiting the full gamut of emotions, from exhaustion to joy, delight, curiosity, resilience, bravery, fear and love. There is pathos, sentiment, adventure, danger and solace in this charming book about the strength of friendship and the power of kindness and caring.
Marc Martin's Masters of Disguise: Camouflaging Creatures and Magnificent Mimics (Puffin Books. $26.99) features fabulous creatures from around the world that are experts at fitting into their environment. From the emerald greens of the jungle on the front cover, to the icy blues and whites of the Arctic on the back cover, this is an artistically stunning book, packed full of interesting information.
Martin features 12 creatures from different parts of the world, including a sloth, a viper, a leopard, a chameleon and a wobbegong. Details about each animal are presented on one double-page spread, followed by another double-page spread that shows them hiding in their natural environment, along with a number of other creatures for sharp-eyed readers to find.
Martin's entrancing watercolour illustrations bring to life both the creatures and their environments, and his informative and clever text, with its eye-catching headings, draws the reader in to find out more. Stunning endpapers, which feature a map of the world showing where the animals live and the environment they inhabit, complete this well-designed, informative and intriguing book.
Karen Swann's The Tale of the Whale (UQP. $24.99), illustrated by Padmacandra, is a timely reminder of the importance of looking after our oceans. The book opens with endpapers depicting a soft-pink beachscape with seagulls dotting the sand. This sets the scene for this dreamlike story of a young boy who goes on a fantastic adventure, riding on the back of a whale as it shows introduces him to its undersea environment.
Together, the boy and the whale ride the "rocking-horse sea", exploring the depths and the creatures that live there. But this idyllic landscape is under threat from the plastic pollution produced by human beings. The whale shows the boy the impact this is having on him and his fellow creatures. Fittingly, the story closes with another soft-pink endpaper showing the boy and his friends cleaning up the beach.
Swann's lyrical rhyming text carries the story along at a great pace, with strong musical cadences that make it perfect to read aloud. And Padmacandra's magical watercolour illustrations bring the watery landscapes to life and perfectly depict the close relationship between the whale and the boy. This is a clever way to encourage discussion about the importance of cleaning up our oceans.
Earth Matters: Loving Our Planet (Wild Dog Books. $24.99), takes a more traditional nonfiction approach to the topic of conservation. Author Carole Wilkinson explores in a highly entertaining and accessible way the basics of life on Earth, starting with weather and climate, and the affect human over-consumption is having on our Earth and the atmosphere that surrounds it. She also explores how the greenhouse effect and the use of fossil fuels contribute to global warming and extreme weather events.
The final section of this informative and thought-provoking book presents a plan for dealing with climate change, including how to cut our carbon footprint and make a difference both at home and at school. A comprehensive glossary and an index complete the package.
Wilkinson's text is straightforward and interactive, explaining sometimes difficult subjects in an approachable and understandable way. Hilary Cresp's unusual, striking and highly decorative illustrations provide both child appeal and visual interest.
The linen-textured front cover, with its saturated colours in shades of blue and green is particularly appealing, while the "faceless" children of different ethnicities allow readers to imagine themselves in the pages of this book as they learn about how to enjoy their world without having a negative impact on it--which is ultimately what conservation and caring for the environment is all about!
- Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder is a Canberra author, illustrator, editor and reviewer whose latest picture book is Australia's Wild Weird Wonderful Weather, illustrated by Tania McCartney.