We’re sharing the recent BBC Wildlife reviews of books for younger readers. From picture books about bats or microscopic species, to guides about climate change and celebrating environmentalists, there’s a wide range of amazing titles being published for children.
The surprising lives of animals
By Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Stef Murphy. Published by Ivy Kids, £12.99
Did you know that you can make a rat laugh by tickling it? Or that spectacled caiman babysit for each other? From farming ants to Hoover the talking seal, this book contains nuggets of information to delight and fascinate readers of all ages.
Showing that animals are more like us than we might think, it covers how some species play and learn, how they use tools and partner up, and much more. But what might be an informative and entertaining one-time read is made a real treasure by the beautiful explanatory illustrations.
As well as explaining animal behaviour, the book also touches on notable scientists and their discoveries. With a glossary and further reading included, this is the perfect springboard for any budding zoologist. And it has enough poo facts to keep kids coming back for more.
This book is perfect when it comes to teaching a nature nut something new, or sparking a new interest.
Reviewed by Emma Pocklington, nature writer
This Book Will (Help) Cool the Climate
By Isabel Thomas. Published by Wren and Rook, £6.99
If everybody followed the advice in this little book, we’d stand a good chance of tackling climate change. It is full of wise ways to change your lifestyle – from altering buying, eating and even playing habits to joining in with community projects. As I read it with my 10-year-old, I learned a lot and felt guilty.
But the aim is to empower rather than frighten; to deal with defeatist attitudes such as “nothing I do is going to make a difference”. Positive change can lead to heightened self-worth, new hobbies and new friendships, though the advice to wee on your compost heap might stretch neighbourly relations.
Reviewed by Fergus Collins, editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine
The Bat Book
By Charlotte Milner. Published by DK, £12.99
Unlike Bruce Wayne, bats are well-equipped with superpowers, quickly making this big book of bat facts a firm favourite with me and my son. Charmingly illustrated with a perfect blend of science and fun, The Bat Book dispenses facts with ease – within a minute we were laughing at the idea of the fastest bat (the Mexican free-tailed) flying past us on the motorway at 100mph, and streeeeeetching to see if we could copy the giant golden-crowned flying fox’s 150cm wingspan.
The more we read, the more we learned, with sections exploring why bats hang upside down, what they eat, echolocation and, deeper into the book, bats’ key role as seed dispersers and how they keep different ecosystems healthy.
On a practical note, having learned about the threats to bats and their habitats, we’re now planning on planting some bat-friendly plants to see if we can lure any flying mammals into the garden this summer.
Reviewed by Paul McGuinness, editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine
The Natural History Puzzle Book
By Dr Gareth Moore. Published by Carlton Books, £14.99
Did you know that on a clear night the human eye can see around 19 quadrillion miles into space? And that the earliest identified puzzle was written over 4,000 years ago? These and many other fascinating nuggets of information can be found in this engaging book inspired by exhibits in the Natural History Museum.
There are over 100 challenges with three levels of difficulty, from fun mazes to tricky nonograms. Colourful, beautifully designed and a mine of facts, this book is ideal for ages 8–80, making it a great choice for a family of curious minds.
Reviewed by Margaret Bartlett, production editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine
Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us
By Helene Rajcak, illustrated by Damien Laverdunt. Published by What On Earth Books, £14.99
Microscopic ‘mini-fauna’ rarely receives even a footnote in most children’s books. Unseen Worlds attempts to put that right with a series of dramatic dioramas of everyday habitats and the tiny, but no less charming, animals they contain.
The fibres of your bed, a dusty kitchen corner, a tuft of moss – page-by-page, each microhabitat is zoomed in upon and exposed as a vibrant hotbed of tank-like pseudoscorpions, monster-like mites, cumbersome tardigrades and serpentine worms. Each miniature organism has a role or purpose, we’re told, no matter how small.
Crucially, scale-bars and species’ labels on each page keep the focus on science, plus there is a handy section about how microscopes work and the history of microscopy to inspire a new generation of wannabe microbiologists.
Unseen Worlds delivers a simple message that resonates throughout: think small, understand big. It’s a jungle out there. Everywhere.
Reviewed by Jules Howard, wildlife writer
By Lily Dyer. Published by Nosy Crow, £9.99
When I asked my 11-year-old who he associates with saving the planet, he instantly fired back the names David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. Both, fittingly, are on the cover of this colourful little hardback.
But while they clearly deserve their chapters, it’s the lesser-known of the 20 heroes introduced here that I want my son to read about – such as William Kamkwamba, the 14-year-old from Malawi who built a windmill from junk; and Isabel Soares, who saved tonnes of food waste in Portugal by persuading people to eat less-than-perfect fruit.
Given the gloomy environmental prognoses our kids are growing up with, this anthology is an inspiring reminder that even small actions make a difference.
Reviewed by Sarah McPherson, section editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine
Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain
By Justin Anderson, illustrated by Paul Benson. Published by Walker Books, £12.99
The formula for Walker Books’ nature series is a blend of evocative writing, supplementary facts and sumptuous illustrations, and it’s a winner: they’ve been favourites in our family since long before my son could read. He’s now eight – arguably a bit old for picture books, but he seized upon this latest offering by natural history film-maker Justin Anderson.
He is also a big fan of David Attenborough, so we were less than four pages in before he recognised the story from Planet Earth II, on which Anderson spent three years working.
The book provides an accessible context for that extraordinary footage and the limited palette of Patrick Benson’s illustrations perfectly evokes the hypnotic beauty of the Himalayan landscape and its most celebrated inhabitant.
Reading it prompted a wide-ranging conversation about the tenacity of wildlife film-makers, the challenges shared by humans and snow leopards, and the uncertain future of an iconic species.
Reviewed by Amy-Jane Beer, wildlife writer
Through the Animal Kingdom
By Derek Harvey, illustrated by Charlotte Pepper. Published by DK, £9.99
This enticing book relates 13 remarkable animal stories, such as an Amur leopard stalking prey through snowy Siberia and the perilous migration of wildebeest across parched African grasslands.
Harvey deftly avoids the risk of triteness inherent in such an unabashed ‘greatest hits’ of the natural world. His understated text provides an easy read, packed with insight.
But Pepper’s artwork – delightful collages blending photographs with sassy illustrations – makes the book truly special.
Reviewed by James Lowen, nature writer
Encyclopedia of Animals
By Jules Howard, illustrated by Jarom Vogel. Published by Wide Eyed, £14.99
Illustrated children’s non-fiction is booming, especially books with an environmental tilt. This encyclopedia also follows the current trend for eschewing photographs in favour of stylised, pleasingly ‘retro’ artwork.
As a boy, I would have adored it, poring over Vogel’s fabulous depictions of the weird and wonderful animals that call this planet home.
With room for just 300 species, it’s necessarily selective – of the big cats, only the lion and tiger are featured, for example. Mammals and birds take up almost half the pages, but there’s a decent selection of fascinating invertebrates – the likes of bobbit worms, remipedes and sea gooseberries usually get short shrift in books like this.
Howard does a great job of highlighting each animal’s key adaptations in a couple of pithy paragraphs. Terms such as ‘copepod’ and ‘ungulate’ really need explaining, however, and there’s no glossary. Nevertheless, it’s an absorbing treasury to spark young imaginations.
Reviewed by Ben Hoare, editorial consultant for BBC Wildlife Magazine
Main image: Mother and daughter reading in a park. © Michael H/Getty