Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Seen And Unseen, Earth's Residents

There can never be enough.  There can never be too much.  The more knowledge and understanding we have about how the natural world works, the better able we are to preserve and protect its riches and value to all life.  The task of caring for our planet and its inhabitants is a continuous challenge.  Sometimes it seems as if we move forward a single step, then back two.

Even a small piece of information can promote admiration or awe.  In a companion title to Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature author and zoologist Nicola Davies has penned a collection of poems which both inform and inspire.  A First Book of Animals (Walker Books, October 6, 2016) with illustrations by Petr Horacek takes us to every corner of the world; we journey beneath the waters, across the land and soar in the air.

Divided into five sections, Big And Small, Colours And Shapes, Animal Homes, Animal Babies and Animals In Action, these fifty poems create a living landscape.  At the close of each of the five portions, two pages are devoted to discussions about animal categories, animal camouflage and warnings, parasites, eggs and animals that use tools.  It's a portable enchanting exhibition.

Blue Whale
Words can't describe a blue whale's size.
Big and huge and large don't work.
Even enormous, vast, gigantic aren't enough.
But when you hear a blue whale's blow---
a deep per-wuffing sound that makes you think
of caverns, caves and concert halls---
and see its breath punch upwards
like a house-high exclamation mark,
you know that it's the biggest creature
there has ever been.

Close your eyes.  Now think of a bird so large and another bird so small that it can fit inside the large bird's eye and you will have identified the ostrich and a particular hummingbird.  Elephants living in Asia and elephants living in Africa have an identical physical trait with one notable difference.  Who knew?  Have you ever wondered how ants can find food so easily? When it is discovered a scent trail is left for others to follow.

When you think of flamingos you think pink.  Why pink?  One hump or two humps, depending on the camel, help them survive.  The clever bird who weaves a nest is waiting for a companion.  It hangs from a branch with an opening at the bottom.  Certainly their shells offer safety but they also keep them wet not dry.  This is the life of a snail.

Anemones which look like colorful stems sting some but are a haven for clownfish.  Animal relationships are a puzzle but also a wonder.  Some mothers lay their eggs and leave, never to return.  Other mothers give birth and cuddle their young.  Would you rather be a sea turtle or a gorilla?  Name two animals with fathers that tend the eggs.  Here are some clues.  One is under the sea and the other is in the coldest place on the planet.  One does not neigh and the other does not fly no matter how hard its flippers are flapped.

A slow moving sloth turns green as tiny plants hook to its fur.  Bees may not know how to communicate with us but they do speak with steps and wiggles to convey distance and direction to their hive mates.  There is so much to learn.  There is so much to know.  This is what we need to do to help our animal friends live and grow.

A variety of poetic styles and use of language depict beauty, even if deadly, in the animal world in this collection. Nicola Davies weaves truth into her free verse, rhymes and alliteration like a master artisan creating an elegant tapestry.  She gives a voice to each animal by connecting us to them with her words.  We zip but do not buzz with the bumblebee bat.  We stalk with the deadly komodo dragon that does not need flames to fashion fear.  We turn streams into a lake with the engineering skills of beavers.  Here is another poem.

The Swiftest Sailfish
Fast and fierce:
Fin flouncing, flashing, flexing;
Sword swishing, stabbing, slashing,
Small fry flinch and die
As the sailfish feeds, swift and furious.

The panda seen on the front of the dust jacket is quiet and contemplative in a setting pleasing to them; among the bamboo in a forest.  The brush strokes, lighting and shading and choice of color create a textured, realistic quality.  To the left, on the back, a canvas is supplied in shades of blue and green.  It appears to be a pattern of beetles. In the center, a loosely-formed circle frames a Monarch butterfly on a pale yellow background.  The book case has the same background with two more loosely-formed elements.  The one on the front features a giraffe.  On the back is a hummingbird.

In hues of blue an interior image of Arctic terns is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  A swarm of Monarch butterflies in flight spans across two pages circling the title text.  You expect to hear the sound of wings in both these pictures.  Beneath the table of contents a scene from an African savanna stretches across two pages as elephants, giraffes and zebras walk and stand.

For each poem a lustrous painting by Petr Horacek spans two pages with the exception of eight single page pictures, the colors used as backgrounds are indicative of the animals' habitats; darkened blues, purples and greens for the bumblebee bat, hot golden yellow for the giraffes, lush shades of green for the leaf insect and chameleon, blowing snow for the polar bears and Emperor penguins and crisp, clean white to showcase particular animals and their poems.  For the five special sections they've been illustrated to look like journal entries; black, gray and two hues of cream.  The heavy, semi-gloss paper is an excellent selection for the pictures and the use this book will receive.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of the two seahorses facing each other.  One, the male, is releasing teeny babies into the water.  Seaweed waves in the water around them. Soft swirls of greens and blues flow with the current.

A First Book of Animals written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Petr Horacek reminds us when we are curious we care.  This collaborative team raises awareness in readers of known and unknown animals.  Some of the facts are familiar, other facts will astound readers.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both maintain blogs; Nicola Davies chats about her life and work and Petr Horacek includes many posts about this title.  There is a lovely article about this title including artwork and comments by Nicola at The Guardian.  Picture Book Party, a blog maintained by Walker Books, highlights Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek in individual posts about this book.  They are absolutely wonderful conversations and Petr's is full of artwork and insights into his process.   For a pronunciation of Petr Horacek's name please go to TeachingBooks.net.  Petr Horacek is interviewed at Where The Board Books Are.  Enjoy the videos.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Nicola Davies is one of my favorite NF authors. Her Bat Loves the Night remains one of my all-time favorite books too! This one looks great too! I'll keep my eyes open for it, Margie :)

    1. She is one of my favorite nonfiction authors too, Maria. I follow her on Twitter and she tweets about great things in the natural world; many of them bringing our attention to concerns. So far this book has only been released in the UK. I am hoping it comes to the States.

  2. This sounds marvelous, Margie. I'm in the middle of reading for the Cybil's awards and am surprised it isn't on the list. I have Outside Your Window: First Book of Nature, and love it, know I will enjoy this one, too!

    1. It is marvelous Linda. It is probably not on the list because it has not been released here yet. I am hopeful a publisher here picks it up.