The Amazing Animal Adventure written by Anna Claybourne (@AnnaClaybourne) and illustrated by Brendan Kearney (@brendandraws) is a new and worthy addition to the burgeoning, starry ranks of highly illustrated, beautiful non-fiction books for children, aimed at least as much for the home market, as for schools and libraries. An atlas-cum-animal-gazetteer which encourages close observation skills whilst you hunt for a variety of different animals in varying habitats around the world, this out-sized book mixes curious facts with clear and simple descriptions, letting the large, detailed illustrations lure you into hours pouring over its pages.
Come and discover why there’s a section dedicated to the mountains of the moon (yes, really!), learn where to find the only freshwater seals in the world, and seek out those curious animals (other than humans) who have fun making snowballs. In doing so you’ll travel the world, learning how geography influences climate and habitat, and how that in turn influences the sorts of animals you’ll come face to face with.
Interestingly, only the illustrator’s name appears on the front cover The Amazing Animal Adventure. It’s true; the illustrations really sell the book, mixing something of the classic Stephen Cartwright look (the fine black lines), with the quirkiness of Satoshi Kitamura (the arresting, stylised eyes of all the creatures, working very effectively to bring focus and connection to the animals in each spread). Whilst the earthy tones of the illustrations appealed greatly to all of us here at Playing by the Book, I do wonder if there will be a spin off colouring-in version of this book; the illustrations would lend themselves very well to this.
Although seductive to look at, it’s also important to consider whether the book’s factual accuracy matches the attention to detail lavished on its appearance. Some details in the opening habitat map aside (the Eritrean highlands and the Rockies are not mapped as mountainous, whilst the high plateaus of South Africa are put on a par with the Himalayas and Andes) and the mix-up of a Malaysian Tapir (with a white saddle) for a South American Tapir (without a white saddle), I was delighted to find that even the most surprising facts I checked all came good – sadly, not something I can always rely on in non-fiction books where the visual wow-factor is so important.
A few editorial decisions didn’t work for me: Occasionally the text lacked commentary I felt would have been justified (why could it be that tigers in the Sundarbans “have become quite keen on eating humans” and what consequences are there of collecting cave swiftlet nests for soup? Do we perhaps owe young readers some discussion of the impact humans have on animal habitats?). In several places the text describes animals behaving in a particular way but this isn’t matched in the illustrations, and the use of “lady” instead of “female” when talking about differences with male animals seemed jarringly old-fashioned. We were also frustrated at one or two points by spotting animals in the illustration which were not identified anywhere in the text, for example the crabs in the cave habitat or the anemones (?) in the Antarctic spread.
But our observation of these minutia is really a reflection of how much we enjoyed this book and how much time we’ve spent with it. We’ve been engaged and enthused by The Amazing Animal Adventure, enjoying the bonus material (a key to the animal searches, a list of world records, an introduction to animal classification) as well as the main body of the book. It’s also worth commenting on the price of this book: Lots of the new wave eye-catching children’s non-fiction is quite expensive, retailing around £20, so it is notable that this beautiful book, which still feels and looks good enough to also qualify as a gift as well as an enjoyable activity and reference book retails at the cheaper price of £14.95.
Using the glorious spreads in The Amazing Animal Adventure as our inspiration we set about recreating our own animal habitats, with playmobil, plastic animals and sand / mud / stones scavenged from the garden.
Suddenly we had an African savannah in our kitchen!
Next we were off to the Amazon rainforest…
…with one or two further stops on the way before finally ending up on the Galapagos Islands.
It’s not a bad day when you can bring the world into your home!
Whilst we made our habitats we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside readingThe Amazing Animal Adventure include:
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Laurence King.