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Natural history

USBORNE SPOTTERS GUIDES. Wild Flowers. By Christopher J Humphries. Trees. By Esmond Harris. Butterflies. By George E Hyde. The Seashore. By Su Swallow. Birds. By Peter Holden. Usborne pound;2.99 each.

THE LITTLE GUIDES. Mammals. Consultant editor George McKay. Reptile and Amphibians. Consultant editor Harold G Cogger. Time Life Books pound;7.99 each.

Usborne Spotters continue to provide helpful support in the study of habitats for primary and lower secondary pupils. Even their shape, size and weight make them ideal for most pockets.

Each book begins with a clear introduction explaining how the information is set out. There is useful support material such as details of flower structure and the relationship between flower, fruit and seed in Wild Flowers; life cycles and feeding in Butterflies; and a leaf guide in Trees. The introductions also offer advice on what to take on a field trip or holiday excursion. In The Seashore, it was refreshing to see the use of trowel and sieve recommended to investigate animals buried in the sand in addition to the more familiar fishing net and bucket.

The main sections of the books are laid out in a way that makes the illustrations easy to view and the brief text easy to read. Each page carries a lage amount of information: in Trees, two species are covered on each page and each entry features a tree in leaf, a winter silhouette and a close-up of the leaves and a flower or fruit, yet the page does not seem cluttered and will allow quick identification. Every book ends with a section on clubs, societies and web sites. This excellent series makes the study of living things in their habitats accessible to a wide range of pupils.

The Little Guides are not field guides, but guides to large divisions of the animal kingdom. The small page format (16cm x 11cm) with 320 pages makes a chunky block of information. This has great appeal as you can flick through the pages quickly, fast-forwarding or re-winding to find the necessary information.

Each book sensibly begins by defining the characteristics of their subjects and outlines their origins. In the main section of nearly 200 pages, each species is illustrated by a photograph or excellent artwork and is described under the headings of characteristics, diet, reproduction and habitat. These books provide an enjoyable way of tracking down information without using a computer.

Peter Riley is a science writer and winner of the TESEPC Secondary Schoolbook Award for Science.

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