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Book Review
New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts by Ned Barraud (Potton & Burton, paper, $19.99; hardback $29.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

nzs-backyard-beasts_cover-72You might be forgiven for being a little uncertain about what this non-fiction work is all about based just on its title, but the cover illustration steers you straight, and the content inside leaves you in no doubt about the purpose of this lovely book. Barraud has gathered a wealth of interesting information and facts — some well-known and others surprising— about the creepy crawlies that inhabit our gardens, pairing these with his gorgeous realistic artwork to bring the insects to life.

Aimed at older children, with regular use of some complex words (which get a good explanation in the glossary at the end of the book), the text is respectful of its audience, and while detailed and informative, is also clear, easy to follow, and in nice bite-size chunks. The text is a good mix of facts and points of interest.

I learnt a number of interesting titbits I’ve never come across before, despite having knocked around in science books and back gardens for some years now. I didn’t know Aphids only grow wings when food is harder to find. I never knew that that funny little bag thing hanging on the outside wall of my house was a Bagmoth. And a Weta is a grasshopper? – Of course it is!! My only quibble was the cheat of describing the metamorphosis of a butterfly as a ‘magical’ transformation. Everything else is given at least a brief description except for this. While the transformation might seem miraculous or indeed ‘magical’, it is still a biological process and I wanted to know more about it.

The illustrations are lush and detailed and a good size, and to my untrained eye look an awful lot like the real thing. The design is clear and attractive and easy to follow. I would have enjoyed having this book as a child, dragging it out in to the garden to identify the beasties I saw crawling there and comparing their appearance. All the extra bits of information would have pleased me no end. And I can just see today’s children feeling the same. This would be a cool Christmas present, especially if you are planning a family staycation this year.