This picture book is a wonderful introduction to marine wildlife in Australia, focussing on those creatures that make their home around our spectacular coral reefs.
The front cover invites the reader in with its beautiful sea-green blue and colourful illustrations of sea creatures in their natural habitat. A short introduction about what a coral reef is and how it is made sets the scene for a counting journey from one through to twelve.
We learn about giant whale sharks, shy dugongs, orange clownfish, stripy sea snakes, spotted rays and many more. Each marine animal is illustrated on a double page spread and accompanied by one or two concise sentences that give the reader some amazing facts which is not overwhelming for pre-schoolers.
At the end of the book, Lessac has concluded with a simple but profound statement about why we should protect this wonderful treasure of the deep:
Coral reefs are important because they keep the sea healthy. A healthy reef means a healthy sea. A healthy sea means a healthy planet.
One final page sets out all the creatures from one through to twelve, so that younger readers can identify the marine animals, count them individually and then go back to the front double page spread and play a game of I-Spy. It’s very clever!
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore marine wildlife, ocean habitats and the many wonders of the sea:
We bought a polar bear many years ago for our seven-year-old daughter. It was creamy white, as long as the width of a single bed, as cuddly as my daughter and so soft. Over the years, Snowy has been a pillow, a listener, an observer, a comfort, and a companion. Even today, more grey than creamy, there is something majestic about Snowy as he rests quietly at the end of the bed, his familiar place in our home for more than 20 years.
It’s sad to think that during those years, the real polar bears of this world have been fighting for survival whilst being hunted for sport and commercial interests. The most imminent threat for them is climate change and the effects of early melting of snow and ice in the Arctic during summer and the later freezing during autumn. These trends affect their ability to hunt, the availability of food and the time it takes for them to put on enough weight to survive the summer months going into winter.
Jenni Desmond has written and illustrated this gorgeous picture book about polar bears. We begin reading about these endangered animals through the eyes of a young girl as she picks this picture book off the shelf and begins to imagine herself in the polar bear’s world.
We learn about their Arctic habitat, how the polar bears spend their days, what they like to eat and how their bodies keep them insulated from freezing temperatures. Did you know that while the coat of a polar bear can be yellow or grey, the colour of its skin is black?
Adult male polar bears can weigh around 1,000 pounds. To help us understand how heavy that is, there is a wonderful two page spread with illustrations of twenty children around 7 years old. If you were to pile them up, that’s how heavy an adult polar bear could be.
There is so much more to learn: hunting techniques, life span, extraordinary sense of smell and sight, as well as how a polar bear manages motherhood, its life span in the wild, and how you can figure out its age from counting the rings inside its tooth!
The final page shows our young reader curled up with a mother polar bear and her cubs, it reminded me so much of my daughter with her bear.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature polar bears, some fictional, some humorous and some full of facts to amaze the most curious minds:
Michael Foreman has dedicated this picture book to “all creatures great and small and to the children of the world who will look after them.” It is a wonderful story about conservation, friendship and hope for the future.
In association with Tusk, an African wildlife conservation charity, the story is prefaced by Julius Obwona, a Ranger who works in Uganda protecting wildlife in the Murchison Falls National Park. There is a small photo of Julius and, underneath this, he talks about how he became a ranger and the work being done to protect all the animals in the park. Poaching has had a huge impact on elephant survival, but thanks to constant patrolling within its borders, there is hope for the future with increasing numbers in elephant herds.
In this picture book, Michael Foreman weaves a tender tale about little Noa, a young boy who takes his small boat out on to the river every day after school to catch fish for his family’s supper. Along the riverbanks, Noa encounters an amazing array of wildlife, but he especially loves watching a mother elephant with her baby. One day, Noa discovers the baby beside her mother, lying on the ground, unmoving and with her tusks removed. It is a poignant scene, illustrated in pencil and without colour.
Noa decides to take the baby elephant back to his village and they adopt it as their own, feeding and caring for it, and naming it Tembo.
One night, a terrible storm ravages the village and little Noa finds himself floundering in the river trying to save his boat from the floodwaters. Desperate to reach the safety of land, Noa feels something solid in the water bumping him towards safety…it’s Tembo!
And then little Noa makes a promise, just like Julius the Ranger:
“When I’m older, I will join my dad and the other villagers to make sure that no more elephants are shot. You are my brother. We are all one family living under the same sky, sharing the same world.”
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more picture books about elephants, some are about conservation, most are fictional, and all celebrate this amazing animal:
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, London, 2011
David Attenborough recently celebrated his 94th birthday and for one whose life has been all about the conservation, protection and exploration of the natural world and its biodiversity, it would seem remiss not to quote him saying something both wise and wonderful when reviewing a picture book that considers these themes:
“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependant on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”
Alex Beard has also travelled extensively to some of the most remote places on earth, painting and reflecting on the interconnections between environments, wildlife and people. Crocodile Tears is the third book in the Tales from the Watering Hole series which also includes The Jungle Grapevine and Monkey See Monkey Draw. Proceeds from the sale of Crocodile Tears go to the Shompole Community Trust, which is a land and animal reserve in Kenya overseen by the Maasai people.
The setting for this story is Africa, near the Mburu River. Rhino and Tickbird are coming to the river to drink and want to know why crocodile is crying, but they are afraid to approach a mouth full of teeth, so who can they ask? Off they go to explore the African plains looking for animals that might know the answer.
What I most admire about the way the story unfolds is that each creature who is asked and does not know the answer, suggests another creature by describing something remarkable and unique about them. The Golden Eagle recommends asking the Elephant whose trumpeting can be heard for miles; the Elephant suggests asking the tree frogs whose song is so beautiful; the tree frog proposes asking the butterfly whose wing patterns are so dazzling. And there are many more encounters just like this.
The animals however are proving difficult to find, and that message is often repeated. Could it be that is why the crocodile is crying? Perhaps it is because all the animals are disappearing.
Finally, after a humorous encounter with an ostrich, Rhino and Tickbird find their courage and ask Crocodile why he is crying. The answer is very clever.
“I’m crying because it is hot in the sun and the tears keep my eyes moist and healthy. It’s one of the things crocodiles do. But, since you asked Black Rhino, it could be because I am going to miss you.”
Well, if you are like me, I thought the message was about extinction.
But no, the crocodile actually eats Rhino!
Not to worry, crocodile spits Rhino out again!
But…the message is about extinction. Some of the animals mentioned in the picture book are critically endangered. Their habitats are under threat, they are at risk of poaching and hunting, and sometimes cannot find enough food.
A glossary at the end of the book gives some insight into these problems and there is a small paragraph with an accompanying photo giving the reader information about habitat, population numbers and conservation efforts.
I can highly recommend this book for children 4-8 years, it can help young readers begin to understand the complex nature of conservation and how people can play a vital role in the protection of animal species. Here are more suggestions for further reading:
Published by A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020
Using only 15 words, Jorey Hurley explores the complex world of bees and the process they go through to make beehives and honey. Those precise words accompany uncomplicated and informative art to help us understand their meaning. I love books that use sparse text. It gives the reader the opportunity to use their own words and ask questions about what they can see on the page, how it links to the previous page and where the story might be going next. A conversation can begin and very soon, a young reader or listener can develop comprehension skills, narrative skills and imaginative empathy, without even being conscious of it. A story with few words can also be used for children of different ages. Younger children can appreciate it for its simplicity, brevity and colourful imagery. Older children can ask questions and find more detailed answers at the end of the story in the author’s note, which adds depth of knowledge to the single word chosen for each double page spread. The limited colour palette contributes to the feeling of calmness too, there is no rushing here, just time to absorb the creativity and importance of bees in our gardens, in the food we eat and in our environment.
Jorey Hurley is a talented artist who sells her own prints, paintings and stationery. I can highly recommend this picture book for children aged between 2-8 years. Here are more of my favorites: