Young children are fascinated by living things and have an innate curiosity about the animals, plants and other organisms they share the world with. I see it all the time when I visit primary schools under Ireland’s fabulous Heritage in Schools Scheme. In the classroom, the children’s enthusiasm is effervescent, often bubbling over into a ceaseless cascade of questions, anecdotes and observations. Get them outside and their eagerness to explore, discover and share is practically boundless.
Fast forward a few years, and things start to change. The perpetual onslaught of stimulation and distraction from a technologically connected but nature-disengaged world subverts that embryonic fascination with the wild. By the time they hit secondary school, for many children that instinctive link with nature is all but severed.
That’s why it’s vital to nurture engagement with the natural world at an early age… to build a solid foundation of respect and understanding for the wildlife that lives alongside us.
For many, other interests will supercede their childhood curiosity for wild things as they grow… yet that foundation of understanding and respect will endure. It will colour their perception of the world, and how it works; it will inform the choices they make, and the direction they take throughout their lives. Remember, the children we help engage with nature today will become the planners, policymakers, business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
I’ll say it again: nothing is more important!
In her new book “The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife Through The Seasons”, author Juanita Browne sets out to tackle the most important job in the world. That’s a big ask for any book, but then this is a big and ambitious book.
A beautifully produced, large-format picture-book, “The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife Through The Seasons” is a visual feast, combining high-quality photographs and beautifully crafted illustrations by artist Barry Reynolds, with informative, engaging and entertaining text by the author. For adults, the pages appear a little busy and hap-hazard at first… but then you remember the audience the book is aimed at, and each bite-sized nugget of information, colourful photo and playful illustration slots seamlessly into place.
“This book is a little like a diary for our animals and plants over the course of one year,” explains Juanita at the beginning of the book, before whisking her young readers off on a safari through the Irish seasons. Starting with spring, she introducing a host of wildlife characters to look out for in various habitats at different times of the year and provides lots of fun facts and insights into the incredible strategies some of them have developed to survive.
Juanita also explores some key strategies, like hibernation and migration, in more detail, offers suggestions for fun wildlife activities in each season, and takes a closer look at a few key Irish species like Red Squirrel, Atlantic Salmon, Badger, and Irish Hare among others.
The book is packed with fascinating facts that will keep children (and adults) enthralled. Here are just a few plucked at random from the 80 roughly A4 size pages:
- Swift chicks hatched in Ireland in summer eat, drink and sleep on the wing. They won’t land for three years, when they’re ready to have chicks of their own.
- Plants grow ten times faster in July than they do in February.
- Busy blue tit parents need to feed their chicks up to 500 times every day.
- Deer antlers are the fastest growing tissue of any mammal, and can grow an astonishing two and a half centimetres in just one day!
You’ll find many more throughout the book.
Overall the content is as diverse as the Irish wildlife it depicts. As a picture-book, it is of course highly visual, with lots of photos and illustrations, but the text and the information it delivers is the real star of the show here. Thoughtful, well written and delightfully engaging, it’s pitched at just the right level for its young audience.
How does the book do in terms of tackling the most important job in the world? Admirably, I’d say.
No one book is going to address the alarming disconnect between children and nature all on its own… but Juanita does a great job of tapping into that innate childhood fascination with wildlife (I suspect because, like me, she never really grew out of it). We all need to take responsibility for re-connecting our children with the natural world. Handing them this book would be a significant step in the right direction.
So, parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles of Ireland, if you’re looking for an original, educational and highly entertaining gift for a young relative, something that doesn’t feed into the attention-sapping vortex of the electronic screen, then this book fits the bill perfectly. It will stimulate young minds, nurture their fascination with the wild world around them… and most importantly of all, encourage them to get out of the house to explore it for themselves.
“The Great Big Book of Ireland’s Wildlife Through The Seasons” by Juanita Browne and Barry Reynolds is published by O’Brien Press and is available now online and through all good bookshops.
ISBN: 9781847179159 Format: 285x225mm Hard Cover 80pp