11 Dec 2012

A Few Aussie Natural History Books

Here are a few Aussie Natural History Books to keep your eye out for when you're perusing second hand bookstores over the break.  It's a very incomplete list, but I started out to write reviews of all the natural history books on my shelves and realised that you wouldn't get the list until Christmas, so I changed the title.  Some you'll already know, but there are some that I haven't blogged about, so I thought I'd share.  There are obviously lots more goodies to add next time.  Which favourite of yours have I left out?
  • Honey Mouse by Anita Hewett
From my post back in 2010:
Honey Mouse is not a natural history book. It is a pleasant little animal fantasy useful for story hours and for newly fluent readers to read alone. While they're reading our kids will pick up lots of incidental knowledge about our Australian birds and animals. They'll be reminded that brolgas dance; that male cassowaries look after their eggs in nests on the ground, while the brush turkey hides hers in a big mound, and the platypus in a platypussary; that lyre birds are mimics; that jabiru stork eats fish; and that kookaburras laugh at misfortune. As if an Aussie kid didn't already know that bit:
"Kookaburra laughs," they said. "He laughs when he's happy and he laughs when he's sad. We hope he will always laugh. We like it."
We read it in AO3, but it would be good anywhere between AO1-AO3, I reckon.
  • Wilderness Orphan by Dorothy Cottrell
From my post in 2010:
Even a child who does not particularly enjoy natural history type books will learn much from a well written animal story like Wilderness Orphan - the way the infant kangaroo won't drink unless it is upside down, for instance, or that a kangaroo cannot kick well unless it can embrace the thing it is kicking. But Wilderness Orphan is more than just an educational book about kangaroos - it's a story about the cruelty of animals by man, of the bewilderment that comes from that betrayal, and of a wild animal's need for independence and freedom in the wild. It is also an excellent story.
We read Wilderness Orphan as a free-read in AO3.
  • Little Dragons of the Never Never by Ella McFadyen
We absolutely adored this book.  Read my rave review from 2010 here.
  • Bright-Eyes  The Glider Possum by Veronica Basser

Obviously, it's a story about a glider possum!!  Part of the same series as Little Dragons of the Never Never, we haven't read this book yet.  So many good books, so little time!  Written as a Supplementary Reader, it continues to fit this role perfectly.  I'd say AO2-AO3, depending on reading ability. 
  • Kangaroos and Other Animals with Pockets by Louis Darling

This interesting book was written by an American, the well known illustrator of the Beezus and Ramona Series, Louis Darling.  Kangaroos and Other Animals with Pockets was written in 1958, only four years after he started writing his own books, saying that,  “I started to write my own books because it seemed to me that there was seldom enough cooperation between author and illustrator. The best way to get this cooperation was to become the author myself." (I know this because I read it in Wikipedia.)

Darling was  passionately interested in nature and the outdoor life, and was an early environmentalist and conservationist.  He was also a believer in Evolution, and this book reflects those beliefs, explaining everything from old-earth Evolutionary viewpoint. The evolution of mammals into pouched and non-pouched is explained in great detail, as is the idea of Survival of the Fittest. The evolution of the kangaroo toes from the five toes of their ancestors is also discussed, as are changes in dentition. Continental Shift gets a mention, as does micro-evolution.

This major evolutionary focus made it impossible for me to use this otherwise fascinating book at the age Jemimah would have benefited from it most, say AO2-AO3.  Instead, I'm going to read it next year, AO6 as part of a study of worldviews.  I believe that it is important for Jemimah to understand the theories believed by non-Christian scientists, so that she can better understand what she believes herself.  I think this book will open up lots of rabbit trails for discussion.  If you believe in old earth Creationism as we do, then you, too, will need to be judicious in your use of this book.  If, on the other hand, you're an old earth Evolutionist, then I think you'll love it!  Either way, you'll learn a lot abut animals with pockets.
  • Animals of Australia in Colour by Lyla Stevens

We used this terrific book in AO3, Jemimah drawing each animal in her nature notebook at the close of the session.  It really deserves a blog post of its own since we studied it for a whole year, so stay tuned for that soon.  In the mean time, snap up this book, as well as its companion title Birds of Australia, if you see it in your exploring.
  • Australian Animals and Birds by Sheila Hawkins

This book covers a bit of everything, birds, animals, reptiles, and covers species not usually covered by a primary school level study.  Its aim is to encourage appreciation of our fauna, not to present them in a formal scientific style.  That said, the material is accurate and informative.

With some adaptation it could be used as a substitute for Animals of Australia in AO3 if you can't find that excellent title, but it is a bit 'bity' and 'Usborne-like' to be classified as a true living book.  We haven't used it for school, but it is an interesting book for a browse.  You'll certainly learn something!  The vintage illustrations are lovely.
  • Spotty the Bower-Bird and Other Stories by Edward Sorenson 
My grandmother used to change the endings of the stories in this book when she read it aloud to my mother and her siblings because many of them died. That's the way with wild animals, unfortunately.  As Ernest Thompson Seton says in the introduction to Wild Animals I Have Known:
The Fact that these stories are true is the reason why all are tragic.  The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end.
Sorenson clearly had a major interest in natural history, and his descriptions of animal behaviour are delightful.  A member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union and the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, he writes about animals as one who knows them.

We'll be reading Spotty the Bower-Bird in AO6 as a substitute for School of the Woods, so I'll blog more about it when I get the Princess's verdict.  It is available online from Homeschooling Downunder. ( I've linked to Michelle's page of additional great nature books too.  Have a look while you're there!)

There are lots more lovely natural history books for me to tell you about.  View a list of some more  titles in this post from 2009.

Watch out also for these:
  • Banksia and Bilbies and Gum Leaves and Geckoes by Alan Reid
  • Books by William Gillies (titles and some online links on Carol's blog here.)
  • Leslie Rees, Amy Mack, C K Thompson


  1. woo hoo, can you believe it, I have not heard most of these books!! I only have Spotty and Shelia Hawkins. have never heard of any of the others!! scribbling now a new book list!! way to go, I must come to visit!!!

  2. Cool! We're going to do the lyla Stephens book next year on your recommendation. I'd love to read your post on that. Btw I'm thinking of ditching secrets of the woods for next year (ao3). Did Jemimah enjoy it? I just don't like it and I think it's going to be painful for me to read it lol:)

  3. Oop stay should have been Lyla Stevens :)

  4. I did read it. He talks about woodland animals that I have little knowledge of, and I think it is good for basic general knowledge. You could leave it out without too much concern, but I would look around for something else with which to teach woodland animals if you do. Jemimah quite liked it. Maybe Rebekah will too if you don't tell her that you don't!

  5. It's only the title story of Spotty that's available to download - I'm right in thinking there are more stories in the book, aren't I?

  6. Yes, there are nine stories in the book. Sorry I informed you incorrectly, Claire.

  7. Great collection! If you are stuck in doing a summarization of the book , online paraphrasing is the best tool to use.


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