There’s no substitute for observing the natural world around us at first hand, whether we live in an urban or a rural environment. Books can develop this interest, delving more deeply and widely, and help us to expand our ideas about what constitutes a wild place. Ann Lazim chooses ten that help children to do that and provide the groundwork for going beyond appreciating nature to protecting the environment.
A First Book of Nature
Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld, Walker, 978-1406349160, £12.99 pbk
No contemporary children’s author has done more to connect children with nature than Nicola Davies and it’s hard to choose just one book from her prolific output. Here seasonal sections range over many aspects of the natural world visible at a child’s level. Mixed media illustrations which make particularly effective use of collage complement a text which includes verse and prose, conveying information in a variety of ways. A book that will repay many revisits as the year rolls by, encouraging exploration of nature and inspiring children’s own artwork.
The Lost Words
Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, Hamish Hamilton, 978-0241253588, £20 hbk
Jackie Morris’s stunningly beautiful and closely observed paintings encourage children to revisit them again and again to explore the details and to seek out what she depicts for themselves, whether it’s a shiny conker, a starling, a feather or a moorland landscape where the heather grows. This collaboration with nature writer Robert Macfarlane who wrote the poems accompanying the pictures is indeed spellbinding. The act of naming which provoked creation of this book is so significant for our appreciation of nature – helping us to make connections between living things as well as with them.
Wildlife in Your Garden
Mike Dilger and Sarah Horne, Bloomsbury 978-1472913432, £12.99 pbk
Exceptionally clear photographs make this a useful guide to the variety of animals, birds and insects that may be found in British gardens. However, this is much more than an identification guide. Each section of the book is devoted to an area such as trees, shrubs and hedges; ponds; wild areas, compost heaps and log piles, and culminates in suggestions for attracting wildlife to that area. The layout is enticing with information set out like jottings from a notebook. Humorous illustrations are incorporated into the design of each spread.
RSPB Children’s Guide to Nature Watching
Mark Boyd, Bloomsbury, 978-1408187579, £9.99 pbk
The RSPB’s remit goes beyond protecting birds and is concerned with conservation and education about wildlife in general. This guide for young naturalists, while being too large for most pockets, could comfortably be slipped into a backpack for expeditions. A wildlife key with helpful questions sets readers on the right track to identification of different varieties of wildlife. There’s lots of practical information about when and where to look and about the different habitats that exist to explore.
Wild Child: A Journey through Nature
Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls, Macmillan 978-1529045321, £14.99 hbk
Who better to take children on a journey of discovery than the author of Diary of a Young Naturalist? Dara speaks very directly to child readers, taking them on a personal journey, introducing them to facts and phenomena that fascinate him and encouraging exploration. His love of lore and language as well as his respect for nature shine through in the poetic text which is carefully integrated with the illustrations. The steps on the journey alternate with practical projects but the emotional connection is always present, with Dara concluding I have merely shown you a microcosm of what there is to know about nature, a key to a door.
Busy Spring. Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor, Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu, words & pictures 978-0711255371, £12.99 hbk
A companion volume to Winter Sleep, bringing together again an author of many successful picture books, an independent ecologist and an illustrator whose inspiration comes mostly from nature. As the narrator and her excitable little sister explore their garden with their father at the beginning of spring they discover many things about the wildlife that inhabits it. A number of modern picture books have appendices with factual information supplementing that included in the story and this is a good example, with explanations about what happens to plants and animals in spring and a recognition that climate change is affecting the seasons.
When We Went Wild
Isabella Tree and Allira Tee, Ivy Kids, 978-0711262850, £7.99 pbk
Drawing on the author’s own experience, described in the bestselling Wilding, this picture book tells the story of how a couple go about rewilding the land on their farm, returning it to a more natural environment without chemicals and milking machines. Their neighbours are not happy until they discover the benefits for themselves. From an imprint focusing on sustainability in its publishing and production.
I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast
Michael Holland and Philip Giordano, Flying Eye, 978-1911171188, £14.99 hbk
This botanical feast is subtitled ‘A Celebration of Plants Around the World’ and is a cornucopia of information about plants and how integral they are to all life on Earth. The text includes a range of activities and experiments that will enable children to find out more about plants for themselves. Included is the Shelf Life Project, an idea developed by the author who is a former Head of Education at Chelsea Physic Garden. In the cheerful collage illustrations bright colours and geometric shapes are used to give form to the world of plants.
How to Help a Hedgehog & Protect a Polar Bear
Jess French and Angela Keoghan, Nosy Crow 978-1788002578, £12.99 hbk
The initial pages are devoted to different habitats, focusing first on those common to the UK – gardens, hedgerows, wetlands, woodlands and coastlines – and moving out to terrains elsewhere in the world such as jungles and savannahs. General information is given about the threats specific to that environment, followed by fact files about species native to that habitat and positive suggestions about what children can do to help.
Old Enough to Save the Planet
Loll Kirby and Adelina Lirius, Magic Cat Publishing, 978-1913520175, £6.99 pbk
This book draws attention to children around the world who are engaged in environmental activism in a variety of ways. In Indonesia, Adeline formed a community group to reintroduce native plant species to help prevent flooding. In Kenya, Eunita is educating local people about the preservation of bees and pollination while, in France, Vincent promotes small scale organic gardening as a means of food production. At the end of the book there are lists of political actions that can be taken to try and effect change as well as those that are more individual everyday commitments.
Ann Lazim is Literature and Library Development Manager at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in London.