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Evolution

Evolution

Evolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution

Sarah Darwin, Eva Maria Sadowski

Olga Baumert

What on Earth Books, 2023

64pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9781912920532

Since human life emerged on this planet, people have speculated on how it all began with many communities developing creation stories to explain what they didn’t know or understand – stories that still guide life today in some places.  But in the mid 1800s, two scientists – Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace – independently developed a theory known as evolution by natural selection,  and in this easily accessible, beautifully illustrated book, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin explains the theory –  what it is and how it works.

Feature spreads explain the important things that you need to know, a timeline plots the history of life on Earth., maps and charts show the Tree of Life, and extensive back matter includes a glossary, and index, a bibliography and the whole is backed by both the Natural History Museum in London and the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin making it a model of authoritative presentation. As well as what has gone before, there are also sections on how humans have changed their own worlds, how evolution continues to influence adaptation and survival and a suggestion as to what the future holds, as long as we are willing to learn from the past.  

As well as being an excellent introduction to the history of life on this planet spanning 4.5 billion years, this is also an important addition to both the environment and sustainability curriculum and collection because “The better we understand evolution, the better we can protect the planet”.

 

 

Cosmic Wonder: Halley’s Comet and Humankind

Cosmic Wonder: Halley's Comet and Humankind

Cosmic Wonder: Halley’s Comet and Humankind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmic Wonder: Halley’s Comet and Humankind

Ashley Benham-Yazdani

Candlewick Press, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781536223231

Over 4.6 billion years ago,  about the same time the rest of our solar system was created, a comet was born – one that now visits this planet on its long orbit around the planets and the sun and beyond, only once is a person’s lifetime.  Unlike many others that are comparatively short-lived because they lose ice and debris each time they pass a star, this one has survived and for those lucky enough to be alive in 2061 it will light up our skies once again.

Named after the Edward Halley, the astronomer and mathematician who calculated that the comets that had been seen in the skies in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were one and the same and accurately predicted that it would return in 1758, Halley’s Comet has been orbiting since time immemorial, the last time being in 1986.  During that time it has seen so many changes on this planet as humans developed and with their curiosity and creativity have transformed it.

Essentially then, this is a history of Earth seen from the comet’s perspective as it makes its regular sweeps told in simple, almost lyrical, language and depicted in stunning artworks.  Tracing the changes (which are summarised in the final pages) it tells the story of the planet’s development from a time when nothing and no one saw it light up the night sky to that of a lone teacher fascinated by it perched like Humpty Dumpty on a wall in her garden  in 1986.  (I have no idea why scaling a 2 metre wall would give me a better view but there I was…)

As well as giving the reader a unique perspective on history, showing us just how small we are and how short our time here is, this is one not only to explore the other bodies in the universe but also to consider what the comet might see when it returns in 2061, provoking all sorts of textual and artistic responses.  What would they like it to see? They might even consider what their contribution to those changes might be. 

Innovative and visually outstanding, this is such a different way to view the world that it will capture not only those budding astronomers but also those who dream and wonder and imagine… Another reason to have a rich and vibrant non fiction collection. 

A First Book of Dinosaurs

A First Book of Dinosaurs

A First Book of Dinosaurs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A First Book of Dinosaurs

Simon Mole

Matt Hunt

Walker Books, 2023

80pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9781406396096

It was an era that lasted about 180 million years over 66 million years ago and yet it still fascinates old and young alike, so much so that books about dinosaurs – fact or fiction – are regularly published for an eager audience. This one, written for an adult to share with a younger reader is one of the latest. 

Bold, contemporary illustrations and short poems with vivid language introduce young readers to this world of “eat or be eaten” . Divided into the chapters of ‘Meet the Dinosaurs, Eat or be Eaten, Dinosaur Families and The End. OR is it?’, each dinosaur or theme has its own double page spread with lively, unique graphics and a short poem, often in the voice of the dinosaur itself. Some like brachiosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex will be familiar but others such as halszkaraptor and therizinosaurus will be new so the pronunciation guide is handy, and although the descriptions – using a variety of poetry styles – are brief, there is enough information to inspire further research for those who want to know more, as well as offering an opportunity for older students to compare Mole’s style with the more traditional fact-and-figures books. 

Something new and unique to share about something old and common.

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diprotodon: A Megafauna Journey

Bronwyn Saunders

Andrew Plant

CSIRO Publishing, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781486316762 

Despite being about the size of a modern rhinoceros, prehistoric Diprotodon faced many challenges from both the harsh environment and other megafauna that roamed central Australia during the Ice Age of the Pleistocene Epoch. Separated from his mother and his herd, he needs to stay safe, and find shelter, food and water in the barren landscape blasted by icy winds and dried up by drought as so much water is now stored in the ice caps.

This narrative non fiction story introduces students to these ancestors of the wombat while opening up so many other worlds to explore such as the creatures it shared the continent with and their evolution to those we know today as well as the causes and impact of the climate change that plunged the world into lower temperatures, as opposed to the warmer ones we are experiencing now.  Beautifully and accurately illustrated by Andrew Plant, it includes some brief, easily readable facts which expand the story, as well as teachers’ notes that suggest ways to explore further.

It could also be used in conjunction with both  Dippy’s Big Day Out and Dippy and the Dinosaurs  as a way to compare fiction and non fiction, contrasting the two different purposes (imagination vs information) but discovering how much they share.  What did both authors and illustrators need to know about the diprotodon and how and where it lived  to create the stories they did? Even though they are written for a similar audience, how do the language, structure and illustrations change for each format? 

Young readers have a fascination with dinosaurs and megafauna, often opening that first door into the world of non fiction for them, and this one is an ideal addition to that collection.  

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Samantha Tidy

Rachel Gyan

CSIRO Publishing, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781486316083

Imagine if, in the course of your daily work, you discovered something so significant that only a handful of people were ever allowed to know where you had been and even they were sworn to secrecy.  

This is the story of the discovery of the Wollemi pine, a tree that can grow to over 40 metres tall but whose existence was unknown until just 30 years ago, when Ranger David Noble found a clutch of them growing in a deep gorge in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. A tree so old that it dates back to the dinosaur period and so rare that there were less than 100 in existence at the time.  No wonder its location remains a secret so that sightseers can’t traipse in and bring in diseases on their shoes, damage the site and perhaps wipe out those remaining so it is gone forever.

Sadly, though, humans aren’t the only threat to this ancient species and this is the story not just of the tree but the remarkable efforts that were made to protect the grove and the gorge during one of NSW infamous fire seasons, for surely, something that has descended from a family of trees going back 200 million years, and has survived ice, fire and the passing of many generations deserves to be saved no matter what.

This is another remarkable publication from CSIRO Publishing shining the spotlight on yet another unique Australian creature so that our youngest readers can start to build their awareness and knowledge or the amazing things we share this landscape with, and hopefully, with that knowledge and awareness, become its protectors.  Introducing Mia, the schoolgirl daughter of botanist Kate, brings the story right into their realm and when Mia suggests that her class plant a seedling to help conserve the Wollemi, they might be inspired to do the same thing as they explore the story further through the teachers’ notes

 

The Turtle and the Flood

The Turtle and the Flood

The Turtle and the Flood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Turtle and the Flood

Jackie French

Danny Snell

HarperCollins, 2023

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781460762974

Myrtle the Turtle loves by the creek, swimming in the waterholes and eating the little creatures in summer, and sleeping in the dry leaves under a log in winter.  If the creek dries up she buries herself in the silt and the sand to keep cool, and if it rains and the creek flows swiftly, she swims with her strong legs and claws.

However, every now and then she notices a slight change in the water level and the air pressure on the back of her neck, and she knows that that is the signal to move to higher ground. And so she begins to walk uphill…  Like the Fire Wombat, her long-evolved instincts, “more accurate than the weather bureau” tell her disaster is coming and it is time to act.  But Myrtle is not only saving herself from the impending flood – the other creatures of the bush know that if she is on the move then they must be too.

In a country of frequent fire and flood, our wildlife is often seen as the first and most frequent casualty as so many are estimated to perish.  And the statistics can cause great distress to many, particularly our little ones, so as well as telling the story of Myrtle and how her instincts and actions are the triggers for others to act too, this is a story of reassurance that not all is doomed during disasters. While those who know Jackie’s stories for little people most commonly think “wombats”, her home in south-eastern NSW is a haven for all wildlife, including Myrtle and her companions who live in the creek that usually meanders through the space but which can become menacing…

Used with Jackie's permission...

Used with Jackie’s permission…

But there is some peace of mind in knowing that many animals can sense rain, storms and floods well ahead of the event itself and do escape.

Once again, Jackie has used her knowledge, experience and observations of her surroundings to create a story of wonder and hope, and Danny’s illustrations bring that alive symbiotically. But while Myrtle’s story will offer comfort to younger readers, older readers might want to explore further… How do creatures like Myrtle sense the changes? Do humans have the same capacity?  Is the Bureau of Meteorology our only warning system? How do our First Nations people predict the weather and what can we learn from them?  Does the land need floods in a similar way to its need of fire? And then, on another tangent, how has the impact of humans on the environment increased or reduced the likelihood of the survival of native species during such events?  Do structures like roads and fences impede their escape?

I have often said that the best picture books operate on and across many levels, they are never an end in themselves.  This is one of those.  

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

Sami Bayly

Lothian. 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780734421371 

In 2019, “author and illustrator of all things weird and wonderful” Sami Bayly published her first book, The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals and within four years her name on the cover of a book has become the signal for an intriguing, fascinating read about the creatures that inhabit this planet.  

That first book was followed by The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals and The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Peculiar Pairs in Naturethen the first in a new series called How We Came to Be focusing on sea creatures.  This new release is the next in that series and it examines animals that are masters of disguise – those who can blend into their surroundings (camouflage) and those that can look like something else (mimicry) – and how they have developed these abilities over time. 

As she explains, there are different forms of camouflage including appearance, smell, sound, behaviour and location and so the book is divided into those sections, each examining  a handful of exponents of that art.  But rather than the usual format of an illustration accompanied by text, the information is shared in short speech bubbles with the creature itself with more generalised facts highlighted in spots. So the reader is involved in a “conversation” with the unique characteristics shared by the creature itself making the whole very accessible to younger independent readers, providing enough to satisfy curiosity but also to spark greater investigation.  For example, she dons her scuba outfit and seeks out a mimic octopus who appears as a sea snake but then confesses their ability to mimic a number of creatures, and this could then lead to reading Meet Mim to find out more.  Those featured in the book are complemented by those on the endpages, including my all-time favourite the leafy sea dragon (a cousin of the weedy sea dragon) which in itself led me to investigate the differences between them. 

In a recent blog post, I set out the reasons why our young readers need access to a robust non fiction collection including

  • not everything is available on the internet
  • what is there is not necessarily aimed at the curious minds of the very young and so is not accessible to them
  • not all young readers have easy access to internet-enabled devices and don’t have the knowledge or skills to search for what they want
  • young readers get as much from looking at the illustrations as they do from reading the text and so an attractive, graphic-laden layout is essential
  • young readers like to look, think and return to the same topic or title over and over and the static nature of a print resource allows this
  • that not everyone prefers to read from a screen, that print is the preferred medium of many, and there is research that shows that many prefer to print onscreen articles so they can absorb them better
  • that research by people like Dr Barbara Combes shows that screen-reading and information -seeking on the internet requires a different set of skills and those most able are those with a strong foundation built on the traditional skills developed through print
  • young readers need support to navigate texts so they offer contents pages, indices, glossaries and a host of other cues and clues that allow and encourage the development of information literacy skills, and again, the static nature of a book enables the young reader to flip between pages more easily
  • the price of the book covers its cost and so there is no distracting eye-candy to distract the reader from their purpose and pursuit
  • the content of most non fiction books is designed to inform rather than persuade or challenge, and so the young reader doesn’t need to be searching for objectivity, bias and undercurrent messaging
  • that young children are innately curious and that exploring the answer to a question via a book with the child in charge is a unique bonding experience shared between parent and child that is not the same as looking at a webpage where the parent controls the mouse
  • that children know what they’re interested in and a range of resources gives them a range of options all at the same time; that one question leads to another and the answer might be in another resources on the same topic but with a slightly different slant
  • that children don’t know what they don’t know so browsing an interesting display of books  with bright covers and intriguing titles can open gates to new pathways

Publishers are aware of this need, teacher librarians need to defend their collection development and whilst ever we have the likes of Sami Bayly bringing the real world to life in such interesting and intriguing ways the learning of our children will be enriched and enhanced.  Can’t wait for the next one. 

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures

Sami Bayly

Lothian Children’s, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780734421364

Just as Earth’s atmosphere has five major zones –  troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere – so do it’s oceans-sunlight, twilight, midnight, the abyss, and the trenches – and within each live very different creatures, each adapted to the particular light, depth and temperature of the water they live in.  

“Evolution is the process of a living thing changing over millions of years to survive better in their environment and ensure their species continues” and in this stunning book by Sami Bayly, known to many of our younger readers as the creator of The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly AnimalsThe Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals and The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Peculiar Pairs in Nature, we are taken on a voyage far below the sparkling surface to discover what lives there and why they are the way they are. 

In her special diving suit Sami takes the reader to the various layers, acting as a narrator interacting with the inhabitants in speech-bubble conversations while short fact boxes are scattered like bubbles to explain various phenomena that she encounters – sadly, including plastic bags in the very depths  of the darkness. 

In the first few weeks of this year, I reviewed a number of books  that focused on the origins of this planet and those that share it, and this is another to add to that collection.  With such an emphasis on environment and sustainability in our everyday lives,  if we are to have any hope of children growing up with a desire to protect what they have then they need to understand it and how it works – what they can’t see as well as what they can. Sami Bayly has made a significant contribution to both that collection and to that knowledge, and this is no exception – it’s a fascinating read even if the underwater world is not your scene.

(A category search of this blog for ‘environment and sustainability” will offer many suggestions to grow their knowledge).