Born naturals

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Mike Hirst introduces wild life books for primary pupils

Tell it not in Gath, but a lot of science is learned outside the confines of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's schemes of work.

Every classroom should contain science information books for children to explore as and when their own interest dictates. So it's encouraging to see British publishers still producing new natural history titles to meet this need, as well as support the national curriculum.

Heinemann's Creepy Creatures: Ladybirds, Snails, Spiders and Woodlice (four titles pound;7.99 hardback, pound;4.99 paperback each) have a colourful layout, simple text and captions easy enough for most six-year-olds to read. Words and photographs work together to maximise the learning on each page. There are some nice design touches to reinforce the ideas, such as a "hairy" typeface where a caption talks about a ladybird's hairy antennae.

Teachers' notes at the back refer to the foundation stage curriculum, but I'd make these available right up to Year 2.

OUP's Animal Close Ups (eight titles pound;6.99 hb, pound;4.99 pb each) series is also marked out by its child-friendly accessibility. I liked the way many photographs are accompanied by text in the first person: "I am a terrifying tiger. I am the biggest and strongest cat in the world." Some books dilute what they have to say by being a bit too broad in scope - Birds and Other Flying Animals is maybe a bit ambitious for 24 pages. But all key stage 1 children could use these titles independently.

By contrast, each book in Hodder Wayland's In the Wild series (12 species pound;10.99 hb, pound;4.99 pb each) concentrates on a single wildlife species. The natural history photography is appealing, but in some places the language of the text or the ideas it contains are too difficult for infants to understand without help.

The Watch it Grow series from Franklin Watts (Snake, Snail, Duck, Pumpkin, pound;10.99 hb each) fares better in the "readability" stakes because the lifecycle story has a clear narrative line. Having a clear subject focus and some kind of narrative direction also makes natural history books more accessible at key stage 2.

At this level, Hodder Wayland's Natural World series is a real winner (22 in the series pound;10.99 hb, pound;5.99 pb each). Each large-format book has 48 pages of well-written information about one specific species, such as the gorilla, great white shark, or grizzly bear. Initial pages introduce the animal with an annotated drawing and maps to show where it lives. The rest of the text unfolds logically in short direct sentences, complemented by carefully-matched photographs and diagrams. New ideas and scientific concepts (for instance, defining a marsupial in Koalas) are explained clearly, in language suitable for all juniors.

Also from Hodder Wayland, the six books in the What's the Difference series have been reissued in paperback (pound;4.99 each). Each of these titles defines a group of animals, such as fish or insects. These books explain what distinguishes the group from other types of animal life, and then go on to explore the variety of species within the one group under examination.

The new Rainforests series from Hodder Wayland is even more specialised (six titles at pound;11.99 hb, pound;5.99 pb each). Homing in on a section of animal life within just one of the Earth's habitats, these books have quite complicated texts discussing ecological issues, suitable for more able Years 5 and 6. Both series are clear, well-illustrated and readable.

Very different in style and content, but equally accessible, is Franklin Watts's Pet SOS series (pound;10.99 hb each). We meet Poppet the Rabbit at the Blue Cross Animal Adoption Centre. We follow how she is cared for by the centre until she is adopted by a new family. These books might be "soft" science and the spirit of Rolf Harris pervades them all, but put them in a Year 3 or 4 classroom and they'll be read until the ink fades.

Mike Hirst is assistant headteacher at Saltdean Primary School, Brighton

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