Book Reviews: Factual Books from NZ

Are your kids intersted in the wilder world? Or do they love to cook? These books have tips on how to save the environment, and what you will find there if you look hard enough, reviewed by mother and journalist Tara Ward.

Animals of Aotearoa by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud (Potton & Burton)

Animals of Aotearoa is the latest in the popular ‘Explore and Discover’ series about New Zealand flora and fauna, and what a beautiful resource it is. It’s a treasure trove of fascinating facts about New Zealand’s animal world, including native and introduced animals, land and sea birds, marine creatures, insects and invertebrates.

This hardback book groups the animals together by their environment, moving from land to sea and back again. It covers a huge variety of animals, from forest and mountain birds, sharks and rays, crabs and crustaceans, and beetles and bugs. There’s a range of common creatures like the bumblebee and butterfly, as well as rarer finds like the Hector’s dolphin. One or two pages are dedicated to each animal, listing the different species within that group and explaining their unique characteristics.

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There’s such a wealth of knowledge here that you’ll return to Animals of Aotearoa time and time again, gaining something new out of each read. Kids will love reading by themselves and enjoying the detailed illustrations, or sharing with an adult to marvel over curious facts like moray eels have a second set of teeth inside their throat, or some native worms can grow over 1 metre long.

This beautiful book is an ideal reference book for children aged 4-8 years, though older kids will find plenty to enjoy in this rich celebration of our natural wildlife.

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Animals of Aotearoa

By Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud

Published by Potton & Burton

RRP: $35.00

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Good from Scratch Kids Cookbook by Michael Van de Elzen (Vancaspar Ltd)

Good from Scratch is the latest recipe book from Michael Van de Elzen, the TV chef on a mission to get kids cooking healthy meals at home.

This cheerful cookbook aims to help children gain confidence and have fun in the kitchen. The recipes are divided up by meal types, from ‘kick-starter breakfasts’ to ‘after school snacks’ and my own personal favourite, ‘The kids are on dinner!” There are fun ideas for sweet treats, party foods and lunchboxes, and each meal has a quirky name like ‘a little bit fancy pasta bake’ or ‘the greatest lemon and pistachio loaf’. Your biggest problem will be working out which dish to cook first!

Your biggest problem will be working out which dish to cook first!

The fantastic thing about Good from Scratch is that kids will understand exactly what’s going into their meals. Each recipe includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, so there’s a great choice of allergy-friendly and vegetarian options. Some flavours in recipes like ‘pulled smoked ham hock soup with white beans and vegetables’ might be a tad sophisticated, but as Michael says in the book’s introduction, ‘healthy food doesn’t have to be bland or boring’.

In fact, nothing about Good From Scratch is bland or boring. It’s designed with bright colours and charming graphics, though more photographs of the food preparation would have been a bonus. The large type makes it easy for kids of all ages to read, and the hardback cover will help the book survive the knocks and spills of a busy kitchen. I can see Good from Scratch becoming a family favourite in our house.

With so many tasty treats to choose from, I can see Good from Scratch becoming a family favourite in our house.

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Good from Scratch Cookbook

By Michael Van de Elzen

Published by Vankasper Limited

RRP: $35.00

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New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts by Ned Barraud

There’s a world of wonder on our own doorsteps, and New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts is the perfect way help us to discover it.

This fantastic book inspired my children to jump straight into the garden to see what creatures they could uncover. It’s a large paperback book, perfect for flicking through to find insects and identify mystery creatures. The muted greens, blues and browns of the book’s design echo the colours of our natural environment, and the vibrant and detailed illustrations from the talented Ned Barraud bring these ‘backyard beasts’ to life.

This fantastic book inspired my children to jump straight into the garden to see what creatures they could uncover.

Backyard Beasts features over 20 different types of creepy crawlies, from bees and wasps to aquatic insects and snails. Like Animals of Aotearoa, each animal has a double page spread dedicated to it, which details all the different species and comes with lots of intriguing facts that will strike a match in a child’s imagination.

It’s a fascinating, fact-filled read, with an excellent glossary that explain terms like ‘forciples’, ‘clitellum’ and ‘ootheca’. It’s fair to say that Backyard Beasts will encourage both young and old see their backyard in a whole new way.

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New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts

By Ned Barraud

Published by Potton & Burton

RRP $20.00

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How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan (Nosy Crow / Allen & Unwin)

Who knew dusting your lightbulbs was an easy way to save energy? This is just one of the 70 handy tips in this beautifully illustrated book about protecting the environment, featuring the delightful artwork of New Zealand illustrator Angela Keoghan.

It’s Keoghan’s brilliant illustrations that make this book special. It’s soft pastel tones and charming illustrations of animals in their natural environments and children saving the planet give this book a lovely whimsical feel, almost as if it’s a picture book rather than a non-fiction book filled with facts and information. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book to look at.

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Spread from How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear, by Jess French, illustrated by Angela Keoghan reproduced with permission.

The book aims to make taking care of the environment fun. It features 13 different habitats around the world, from gardens and woodlands to wetlands and mountains, and provides facts about the creatures that live in each habitat. It shows the negative impact climate change has had on these animals and their natural environments, and gives useful advice on how we can lessen the impact.

The book aims to make taking care of the environment fun.

While Kiwi kids might be unfamiliar with some of the wildlife in this UK published book, its simple planet-saving ideas like ‘use biodegradable cleaning products’ or ‘use a recyclable water bottle’ will be easily understood. I love how it encourages children of all ages to feel confident they can make a difference, by making simple, everyday changes wherever they live in the world.

This is a beautiful book for a young conservationist to treasure, perfect for the 5-8 age group.

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How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear

By Jess French

Illustrated by Angela Keoghan

Published by Nosy Crow Ltd

RRP $28.00

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Tara Ward

Tara Ward is a New Plymouth-based freelance writer, reality TV junkie, longtime silent reader and wrangler of two small people. She writes about television for The Spinoff and promises to never stop banging on about the time she gatecrashed Dr Chris Warner’s 50th birthday party.