‘I found a dead bird. It made me sad… but I also had a lot of questions.’
Older primary school children, who are this book’s likely readers, will no doubt have pondered on the fate of the dead animals they will have come across when out and about. And so this introductory sentence is just what is needed to link their wonderings with the content of the book. And what comprehensive coverage of a challenging topic is provided here. All aspects of the cycle of life are covered – life and lifespans, how animals and people die, what happens to bodies after death and funeral customs. Headings and subheadings and use of colour make for an appealing format. The written text is lively and coherent and rich with interesting information. The longer blocks of text are substantial enough in terminology and concepts to take children far beyond the superficial. Unsettling facts are not glossed over: some lives are very short. Baby mammals, for example, are helpless and vulnerable to predators and indeed all living things are consumers of other creatures or plants. While the book is about science and evidence, it also covers what different people believe about the soul and life after death. Information is communicated in a rich variety of ways. The illustrations have a hugely important role and, in addition to copious photographs, take the form of pictorial charts and diagrams, for example showing food webs and the progress of decay.
The intriguing aspects of the topic are always to the fore. What would happen if people and animals did not die? In the case of flies, in a few months huge areas of the world would be waist-deep in the insects. After covering some ‘big shapes’ of the topic the author returns to the specific at the end and we learn the actual story of the dead hummingbird that first draws us into the book. Whatever changes come about in the curriculum, science is always going to include much about the life cycles of human beings and creatures and this book deserves a place in the primary school library.