Scoop Review of Books

Our Animals

Book Review
Animals of Aotearoa: Explore and Discover New Zealand’s Wildlife
 Written by Gillian Candler with illustrations by Ned Barraud (Potton & Burton, $34.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

animals-of-aotearoa-cover-72I can see children enjoying this handsome book just as much as Barraud’s Backyard Beasts. It covers all the categories of animal that live wild in New Zealand, from our distinctive flightless birds, through our minuscule native frogs, to introduced animals like Tahr and Red Deer. From the common bee to the cat’s eye, the blue whale to the glow worm, there is a wealth of information about the animals we might find as we travel around this country. From average sizes (a very handy fact for getting a handle on any creature) and dietary habits, to commentary on the endangered status of some of our most threatened species, this book is a terrific resource for budding zoologists and the generally curious, alike.   

As with Backyard Beasts, the artwork is by Ned Barraud and follows the same brief (there is even some crossover with the insects mentioned in Beasts) providing sufficient detail for general animal identification. The design is pretty much the same, is easy to follow and perfect for dipping in and out of. Along with a short glossary, there is an index at the back that makes searching for your favourite animal easy, along with a contents page at the front. The language used here is simpler than Beasts, making the book accessible to a wider age range.

The book opens with a general introduction to our natural habitats and the different ways animals turned up in New Zealand (I would have loved an illustration showing Gondwanaland and New Zealand breaking away from each other 80 million years ago), and also raises some conservation issues. Where appropriate, each creature is labelled with its Māori name and/or English name (except for the Pukeko which misses out on also being named swamp hen). There is the occasional clunky sentence but on the whole the text is well written. Just a quick glance throws up some fascinating factoids – on page 93 I was interested to find that scientists count insect species to measure the health of our waterways. And now I finally know the names of the sea shells I loved to collect on beach trips as a young nipper. I rarely got to see the creatures that inhabited those familiar shells in the flesh, so this was a cool insight.

There is a lot of information here, with good coverage of all the animals a child might spot both at home or on a trip around the country. This would be a great book to have on hand for your young nature lover over the summer holidays, while also providing a rich resource for future reference.