Late summer, hot and languid. A new school year, we’re slowly finding our rhythm. A barrage of term dates and commitments have family calendars by the throat and, by piecemeal, opportunities for escape are eroding. You gotta stick your elbows out, spear the ground and block out a week in August. Or two. Something to look forward to. Raison d’etre.
Holidays were generally a bi-annual event when I was a kid. No jet-travel for our cohort, these destinations were always achievable by car. South in winter; to the bush, mute lakes, cold-strangled farms. In summer, we travelled dirt roads to the shimmering North. We (four) children spent hours jammed in back seats, fighting car sickness and each other. Imagine our excitement at the new 70’s family Falcon. With it’s (seat-belt free) bench seats came a new game – “slide the corners and crush your loser sibling into the door.” The only girl, that sibling was generally me.
There were highlights of course. Barley-sugars. Picnic lunches at guano spotted picnic tables – tearing apart loaves, guzzling milk out of glass bottles. And my mother, the cerebral immigrant, always prepared with an assortment New Zealand field guides. AWB Powell’s classic Native Animals of New Zealand. The codified yet beautiful watercolours of botanist Nancy M. Adams in the Fiat Book of New Zealand Trees. Janet Marshall’s Common Birds of New Zealand. Adventurer-friendly, these had cool spiral spines and textured plastic covers.
Whether borne of boredom, escapism (those brothers) or a deeper human drive to measure and map, catalogue and classify, I loved those books. The ordered formality of forewords, plates and indexes.
Big concepts like “endemic”, “introduced”, habitat”. It was a quiet pleasure, knowing my Kauri from my Kahikatea. The names for things! Those regal diving birds were Black Shags (Kawau), the watchful, hooded flock at the mouth of the estuary were Caspian Tern (Taranui). It was a new way of seeing – a sense of my place in some other order. A sense of wonder.
Now, a generation later, I hope my children find this. I entice them with an arsenal of reference books, internet-linked encyclopaedias, pop-up anything (check out the amazing “Bugs” by George McGavin and Jim Kay). For the road and adventuring, the I-SPY series by Michelin Tyre, the Usborne Nature Trail Series and DK Pocket Nature Guides.
But finding quality New Zealand fare is a little harder, so it was with great delight I discovered Ned Barraud and Gillian Candler’s award-winning ‘explore and discover’ series – “At the Beach”(2012), “In the Garden” (2013), “Under the Ocean” (2014) and the latest title “In the Bush” (2015). Published by Potton & Burton, these fabulous books are pitched for primary school readers but could easily appeal more broadly from 4-12 years.
Barraud’s detailed and colourful blend of graphic and diagrammatic illustrations work perfectly with the mix of fictional narrative and scientific fact. Drawing on the engaging principle of encouraging children to “spot” and “discover”, readers are encouraged to explore these environments in a multi-sensory way – to listen and look.
Candler gets that kids love amazing facts and there are plenty. There are contents pages, indexes, glossaries and “find out more” sections suggest places to visit, recommend websites and include publishers links and activities. In the Bush and Beach titles, a waterproof identification card can be removed and taken out and about.
For the very young ornithologist, “Whose Beak is This?” (2015, also by Gillian Candler/Potton & Burton) will delight. This little picture book is a fun introduction to science concepts of adaptation and diversity for 3-6 year-olds.
Circular “peep-holes” show the beaks of eleven iconic New Zealand birds in close up – inviting the reader to guess the bird. Clues are found both in the picture detail and text, such as what the bird is eating or where it’s found. The reader has to turn the page to discover the answer and see the entire picture of the bird in it’s wider habitat.
Fraser Williamson’s illustrations are bold and stylised with heavy black outlines and vibrant whites. A beautifully conceived contents page is simply a collection of all the illustrations with the name of the bird and page numbers.
The mini and life-size nature guides by the prolific and award-winning Andrew Crowe (Penguin) are also excellent. “Which” series is designed to appeal to older children and adults alike. It includes “Which New Zealand Bird?”, “Which New Zealand Insect?“, “Which Native Forest Plant?”and “Which Native Tree?”
Crowe’s excellent mini guides are perfect for little pockets and easy to use. Subjects include New Zealand Trees, Land Birds, Insects and Seashells. “The Life Size Guide to Native Trees & Other Common Plants of New Zealand” features beautiful life-size photos of leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and bark for easy and accurate identification.
The Life-Size Guides all feature clever “what have you found?”identification flow charts and plenty of fascinating facts – the world’s deadliest fly, loudest insect, how fast slime moulds can travel in an hour (!) etc. All have simple “how to use this book” sections and, in the Native Trees title, a request: “Don’t pick the leaf! Don’t pick the leaf off the tree because (1) When you get to the fourth choice on page 3 you will get stuck. (2). If a lot of people pick leaves off the same tree, it is hard on the tree.”
Our little beachcombers particularly love Crowe’s “Seashells: A life size photo guide to more than 100 of New Zealand’s most common and striking seashells.” This brilliant wallet style folder is printed on tear-proof, waterproof plastic paper. This title is out of print but available at your local library.
With thanks to Potton & Burton and Penguin Books for providing review copies.