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What book sparked your enthusiasm for the natural world?

By Amy Worley, CJS Features Commissioning Editor

Front cover of Anne of Green Gables book

I am currently reading Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery to my daughters at bedtime. They are 11 & 9 but we enjoy sharing a book so much that I will continue to read to them as long as I can. Written in 1908, lives at the time ran at a slower pace, and people seemed far more connected with nature than they do today. Life would have been much harder back then, but I often think that a simpler existence without the distractions of so many electronic gadgets would be much more pleasant.

Although there are some words I’ve never come across before and I have to use a dictionary, the text is so imaginative and the descriptions of nature conjure up such images in our minds that we are very much enjoying the book. The following is an extract:

“They had driven over the crest of a hill. Below them was a pond, looking almost like a river so long and winding was it. A bridge spanned it midway, and from there to its lower end, where an amber-hued belt of sand-hills shut it in from the dark gulf beyond, the water was a glory of many shifting hues – the most spiritual shadings of crocus and rose and ethereal green, with other elusive tintings for which no name has ever been found. Above the bridge the pond ran up in to fringing groves of fir and maple and lay all darkly translucent in their wavering shadows. Here and there wild plum leaned out from the bank like a white-clad girl tiptoeing to her own reflection. From the marsh at the head of the pond came the clear, mournfully sweet chorus of the frogs.”

The Anne of the title has an amazing imagination and is influenced greatly by her natural surroundings; I feel it encourages my children to be involved in nature more and more.

There are books of fiction that spark the imagination and draw us in to nature but there are also factual and reference books that allow us to learn more about nature and wildlife.

For International Book Giving Day on 14 February I asked some conservation professionals what books influenced them and what they would like to pass on to the next generation.

Lorna G. : Not specifically a wildlife book, but my favourite children’s book was and still is the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. The selfless act of the swallow....

Susan J.: My parents had (I think) a Readers Digest book on British Wildlife, which included wildflowers, trees, insects, birds, mammals, amphibians. Loved looking through it at the illustrations and reading all the details about the different species. Also, Collins Gem guidebooks - they're all fantastic!

Nicola B.: The Redwall series, written by Brian Jacques! Beautiful series of books, all British wildlife and habitats! Absolutely love them and I’ve started reading them to my 1 year old son in the hope they continue to inspire!

Kathryn K. still has her battered 1970s copy of Collins Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs.

Jean M.: “The Sword in the Stone”. It doesn’t seem like a wildlife book, but Merlin turns Arthur into a series of animals, each teaching him an important lesson. (And the series of books by T. H. White are all far better than Harry Potter.) Maybe not entirely true to animal behaviour but it got me interested in finding out more about the actual animals and it is a good story.

Two people mentioned the classic Animals of Farthing Wood series by Colin Dann. As relevant to us today as they were in the 80s/90s.

Also getting mentions were The Very Hungry Caterpillar and any Beatrix Potter or Gerald Durrell book.

David P said the books that influenced him were the set of Ladybird book series called What to Look for in the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter given to him in the early 1970s by his parents.

page from 'What to Look for series Ladybird books series from Penguin
Page from What to Look for in Spring (Ladybird)

Which leads us nicely on to the newly released What to Look for series.

Four new What to Look for… titles will celebrate and modernise the original series of the same name for children today, moving sequentially through all four seasons written by Elizabeth Jenner and with beautiful artwork from the talented Natasha Durley bringing each scene, subject and season to life.

The original What for Look for… books, written by E.L. Grant Watson and illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe, were published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These books explored the changes and exciting events that could be observed in nature during each of the four seasons. Inspired by this heritage, the new series has been published 60 years after the original What to Look for in Summer and Autumn hit the bookshelves, to bring a new curiosity and awareness of nature to the next generation of readers. A series of expert-led, contemporary and informative titles, these books are designed to spark the imagination and give child readers the opportunity to learn more about the world.

As conservation professionals you will be well aware of the decline of some of the species featured in the series. There is now very little chance of seeing a turtle dove in summer: once a regular rural visitor the turtle dove is now, according to IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, vulnerable to global extinction.

New additions to the series today include the grey seal and osprey – numbers of which in the UK have greatly increased over the last 60 years.

For more information about the books visit www.penguin.co.uk/ladybird

Happy Reading