My youngest kid prefers fact over fiction when it comes to books. And animals are one of his favourite topics. He’s amassed quite the collection of non-fiction animal books over the past few years. With such a bounty of bookish brilliance, we’ve gotten into the habit of reading about a different animal each night in lieu of a traditional bedtime story.
When fact books are as stunning and well-written as these, it’s a pretty good habit to have. Presenting Will’s top seven fact books about animals … and a few more that I have stashed away to slip under the Christmas tree for him this year. If you have an animal loving kid, you’ll want to grab a copy of each of them for your place too.
1. The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts
This is the book that launched my kid’s love of non-fiction. Small in size, it packs a humungous punch on the fascinating facts front. Such as the fact that the penguin poo in Antartica can be seen from space. And that there are one million ants for every person on earth. And – my personal fave – that cockroaches don’t like cucumbers. In fact – pardon the pun – there are quirky and curious bite-sized facts about 55 different animals, birds and insects. And Swedish artist Maja Safstrom’s simple black and white line illustrations are way adorable.
The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts by Maja Safstrom, 10 Speed Press, RRP$25.
2. An Anthology of Intriguing Animals
This is one of the most beautiful fact books for children I have ever seen. Gilt-edged pages and gorgeously detailed drawings of the animals make it a very special book. Some of the drawings inside are so beautifully done that it’s easy to mistake them for photographs. The writing in this book is presented in a way that’s perfect for primary school aged kids – engaging and just the right length, with plenty of quirky facts and not too bogged down in unnecessary or overcomplicated details. There’s a whole ark of animals to discover, from giant whales to itty-bitty spiders. In short, a must-have for any kid’s book shelf and perfect for a page-a-night at bedtime.
An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare, DK, RRP$39.99.
3. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals
This animal encyclopaedia with a twist from Aussie illustrator Sami Bayly is a cracker and a personal favourite of mine. Sure, koalas and orangutans are totes adorbs, but you won’t find them in this animal fact book. Instead, Bayly has turned the spotlight on the ugly animals amongst us. The ones with beady eyes, droopy noses and hideous appendages on various parts of their bodies. The ones that suffer from bad press – or worse – no press. The unlovable underdogs of the animal world, if you like. And like ’em, you absolutely will. Incredibly detailed images of gorgeously hideous beasties for kids to pore over combine with useful information and fun facts about each animal. This is Bayly’s first book and I’m betting it won’t be her last.
The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals by Sami Bayly, Hachette, RRP$22.95.
Welcome to the museum, animal style. Animalium is like a museum in your child’s bedroom, only without the crowds and overpriced gift shop. Spread over 112 gorgeous pages are details of more than 160 animal specimens. The book is curated in a similar manner to a museum, with chapters – or galleries – dedicated to a different branch of the tree of life. Explore mammals, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds in glorious detail. Even the paper this book is printed on is sublime. Another book that’s perfect for gift-giving, kids and their grown-ups will pore over it for hours and hours and hours, just like mine does.
Animalium by Jenny Broom and illustrator Katie Scott, Templar Publishing, RRP$70.
5. Atlas of Animal Adventures
Now this one is Will’s personal favourite and one look inside shows why. It’s a glorious combination of all sorts of drawings, maps and information that will keep kids riveted. Each jumbo-sized double-page spread gives a host of interesting facts and information about animals right across each continent, with a special focus on migration and behaviour. So they’ll discover how more than 3 million caribou migrate across the Arctic tundra each year. And how the webbing on a platypus’ feet retracts on land to help them walk.
Atlas of Animal Adventures by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland, Wide Eyed Editions, RRP$35.
6. Weird Wild Amazing
Crammed with more bizarre facts than you can poke a crocodile at, Weird, Wild, Amazing is one for kids who like their non-fiction with a side-serve of fun and grossness. Aussie scientist Tim Flannery reveals all sorts of vom-inducing tidbits, such as why animals eat their own poo and whether piranhas would actually eat you. There’s also enough serious stuff to satisfy parents too, including guff about extinction and the effects of climate change on animals. And Sam Caldwell’s amusing illustrations are spot-on. A great read for upper primary and junior high school kids.
Weird Wild Amazing by Tim Flannery, illustrated by Sam Caldwell, Hardie Grant Egmont, RRP$34.99.
7. Hidden Planet
Another book stunner that animal-loving kids will get lost in and one that’s particularly suitable for older kids, presenting Hidden Planet. Or, to use its full name, Hidden Planet: An Illustrator’s Love Letter to Planet Earth. Because that’s exactly what this 96-page treasure trove is. I’ll let the book’s creator, Ben Rothery, explain. “This is my love letter to Planet Earth; a celebration of her hidden species, from the bold and the beautiful to the interesting but ugly. And while not a complete list, I hope that these few give a glimpse of the outstanding diversity of nature,” he says. Apart from the incredibly stunning artwork, I particularly like how Rothery reveals why he chose to include certain animals in the book. It adds a nice personal touch that complements all the facts. Outstanding indeed.
Hidden Planet by Ben Rothery, Penguin Books, RRP$39.99.
8. Fauna: Australia’s most curious creatures
Did you know cassowaries don’t have tongues? Or that kangaroos can’t sweat? Me neither. But I do now, thanks to Tania McCartney’s ode to Aussie animals. This is another beautiful book and one that every Aussie kid should have on the shelf – if only to let them see how big crocodile teeth REALLY are! Information is presented in snippets that are easy to both read and understand. One for my must-buy list, and not just because I want to own a book that officially refers to koalas as drop bears!
Fauna: Australia’s most curious creatures by Tania McCartney, National Library of Australia, RRP$24.99.
9. Wildlives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History
Here’s an animal book with a twist. Rather than focusing on a particular type of aninal, Lerwill dishes up interesting, amazing and emotional stories about individual animals that have done wow-worthy things. From Dolly the sheep to Laika the space dog, every page will have kids and adults enthralled.
Wildlives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, Nosy Crow, RRP$35.
10. A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals
You may know her for her stupendously intricate colouring books. Now Millie Marotta has used her illustrative talents to create an incredible fact book that celebrates the vulnerable members of the animal kingdom. Get up close to hammerhead sharks, snow owls, pangolins, the rather ridiculously named Suckley Cuckoo bumble bee and plenty more. There’s a welcome message throughout the book about how we can make a difference to save our threatened wildlife.
A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals by Millie Marotta, Particular Books, RRP$49.99.
Want to browse more great books for kids? You’ll find more curated book lists in our junior and children’s sections. And make sure to follow us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on all the best book releases for children.