A FIRST BOOK OF ANIMALS
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horacek – Walker Books, 2016
ages 2 to 8 years / pb nonfiction, s.t.e.m.
For even the most ardent nonfiction fan, there is beauty and power in art and poetry. So when art, poetry and non-fiction come together in a volume that's informative, comforting and life-enhancing, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
A First Book of Animals is that sort of book. There’s a poem for each animal, resulting in a cacophony that's a mix of familiar and obscure animals, with enough information to hold interest and enough lyricism to soothe and settle.
There are over 50 animals here, each valued for their own unique contributions. They’re grouped under headings like ‘Big and Small’ and ‘Animals in Action’ which means that each section is an eclectic mix of animals from various habitats, species, and classes.
Just a note—this is a substantial book; don’t let the ‘A First Book’ genre fool you. It’s hard-covered, over a hundred pages long and large format. Perfect for reading to a group or for spreading on your lap to read with just one child.
There are many reasons to love this book:
The mingling of poetry and facts highlight the interconnectedness of art and science—an all too often overlooked synchronicity.
The fact pages scattered throughout—like ‘Ways to get to Water’ about frogs and toads or, ‘Spots and Stripes’ about the way animals use their colour markings— help to increase base knowledge, allowing for greater enjoyment of the poetry.
It’s a great book for expanding a child’s view of poetry beyond a rhyming couplet and, because it's poetry, it’s ideal sick day reading.
The art is evocative and inviting—each animal is realistic but the art beautifully emphasises the sheer beauty of the animal world. So while each animal is easy to recognise, the art adds emotion and respect.
And some reading thoughts you may find useful:
Because each poem stands alone, it works wonderfully well for a young child with a short attention span. Also, one quick reading of a poem about a loved animal just might be enough some days. Other days, you may end up reading the whole book.
Small people will certainly have favourites and you’ll probably read some pages over and over again. So, to expand their interest, you could try finding an animal that shares a habitat or is the same colour as their first love.
The poems and pictures in A First Book of Animals are stunning. Some of the animals are familiar and much loved, some obscure and some much maligned—all are imbued with wonder. It's a lovely gift book.
This interview with Nicola Davies (who is a huge animal lover and advocate) about her favourite animals, poems and more is great.