Book Review: The Genius of Bugs, by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_genius_of_booksImagine you are a bug living in a bug world, where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree! All around you are other bugs with secret weapons on search and destroy missions. Lurking behind every leaf are mini-masters of disguise waiting to catch you out.

Bugs have been on earth for almost 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and are still here, 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. What these critters do is really clever. The genius of bugs is revealed through their use of weapons, feats of engineering, scams and deceptions, and incredible teamwork.

This is a great book to introduce children to the magic of bugs. The use of in-built weapons by the Bombardier beetle, the marvel of miniature engineering of the Dragonfly and how a Portia jumping spider uses its exceptional intelligence to hunt other spiders.

I sat down with 5 ½-year-old Abby to read this book with her. We pored over the pages with her exclaiming ‘ooh yuk’a lot, but fascinated all the same. Afterwards, we took her magnifying glass outside with her net and bug catcher to see what we could find. We found a fine collection of moths, flies, spiders and snails, examined them at length and finally released them back into the wild.

This is a great book with lots of information and facts about bugs. It was great to see a page dedicated to genius bugs from New Zealand, and over all this is a great book for the aspiring biologist.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Genius of Bugs
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136213

Book Review: Whose Beak is This?, by Gillian Candler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_whose_beak_is_thisGillian Candler has a passion for nature and the great outdoors. She has written four books in the ‘explore and discover’ series, plus this one. She has a background in publishing and education and now writes full time. Gillian regularly leads walks for Forest and Bird and enjoys tramping. She also works as a conservation volunteer.

The illustrator Fraser Williamson’s work ranges from large illustrative paintings to quirky children’s books. He regularly exhibits his paintings at the Flagstaff Gallery in Devonport, Auckland.

How many birds can you recognise by their beaks? We were doing quite well until we got further into this book. I read this book to our four-year-old granddaughter Abby. I was amazed just how many beaks she recognised – she was able to name most of them, too! Around where she lives there is a great assortment of bird species.

From the Kiwi, to the Tui and to harder ones like the Wrybills (I hadn’t heard or ever seen one of these in the wild). This is a great way of introducing the idea of being able to identify birds by their beaks and also a lot of fun. It’s also a wonderful introduction to small children about what birds are in our environment and where they live.

The illustrations are sharp and clear with a vibrancy that is sometimes hard to capture with some of our not-so-colourful native birds. I really loved this book and judging from the reaction I got reading this book to Abby, it will be a much-anticipated addition to her growing library.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Whose Beak is This?
By Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Williamson
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213612

Book Review: Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors, by Sarah O’Neil

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Most parents I know wish to get their children off ‘screens’ and outside to enjoy fresh air cv_play_in_the_gardenand creative play. This New Zealand childrens’ gardening book will achieve just that, with fun projects and inspiring activities.

The book is written for children, but there is advice for adults on how best to support children in achieving the activities and making the most of the garden. The author is realistic: ‘Most kids don’t have the kind of stamina you need to garden well and often give up quickly….but there is a better way. Instead of giving them a corner of your garden, make yours a little bigger and let the kids have fun with the extra crops you grow for them.’

The level of activities is well-suited for adults who are new to gardening, and the book has sections for spring, summer and autumn (although autumn has just one activity). There are some great basic science activities, too, like soil-testing to encourage junior botanists and microbiologists. I liked the ideas of trying to grow a square cucumber or making vegetable-based paints. For the crafty kids there are scarecrows, colourful bird scarers and corn-husk dolls. The author has clearly tried out these activities with her own children, and they are genuine and achievable projects which kids would get a kick out of.

The book is well-designed and features cute illustrations by Vasanti Unka. The photographs are instructional rather than aspirational, which is good for encouraging people to actually try the projects. Instructions for the projects are well-written and easy to follow, and the diagrams are also clear and helpful.

I liked the practicality of the projects and the many opportunities for hands-on learning. Often garden/craft books aimed at children offer projects kids are unlikely to achieve or want to achieve, with spurious educational value – this book is an exception to that. If the kids in your life undertake even a third of the great projects in this book, they will discover a love of gardening and have their curiosity about the outdoors ignited, well and truly. I asked my own non-gardening nine-year-old to have a look through the book, and he said he would like to try growing giant pumpkins, growing peanuts and making vegetable paint. That’s the beauty of this book, there is enough variety of project types in the book to appeal to all children.

This book would make a delightful Christmas present for any children in your life. It’s a practical, fun book which is sure to inspire the next generation of gardeners.


Author Sarah O’Neil has also written a gardening book for adults The Good Life: Four Glorious Seasons In My Country Garden. Her gardening blog is here.

Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors
By Sarah O’Neil
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
ISBN 9781869664138

Book Review: A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris


Available in bookstores nationwide. 

A nature journal is a way to record your observations of the natural world around you. In this informative guide, Sandra gives many suggestions of artistic and creative ways to start noting down what you see. While the book has some cool facts on plants, animals and New Zealand terrain, its aim is to inspire young nature lovers to go out and explore the world around them. The activities Sandra has demonstrated will help the reader develop their own ideas and interests.

I would recommend this book for 8−10 year old nature fans who enjoy art and being outdoors. A younger child could read and enjoy the book too as it is not too complex and there is an informative glossary at the back.

As an eleven-, soon to be twelve-year-old, I found this book quite basic. I did like however that Sandra covered a range of environments, including cities and zoos, making it relevant to anyone. Although I do not plan to start a nature journal after reading this, the artwork is wonderful. Personally, I have been inspired by the level of detail in her colouring and have started to look more closely at the birds around me.

Overall it is a lovely book and an excellent one for your young nature-lovers bookshelf.

Review by Maia Gasson

A New Zealand Nature Journal
by Sandra Morris
Published by Walker Books AU
ISBN 9781921977657