Nature's Secret Adventures
By Shane Casey with illustrations by Vincent Killowry
What's on the cover?
In Nature's Secret Adventures you'll find local Irish wildlife as they really are in nature. There are no exotic animals in tuxedos here! Our aim is to open up children’s eyes to the world of wildlife on their doorsteps. The characters and settings (pygmy shrews, otters, tadpoles, mayflies, riverbanks and back gardens) are creatures and habitats you'll find right across the country.
I bought this after hearing Shane Casey talk about it on Clare FM, Co Clare’s local radio station. Shane is Clare County Council’s biodiversity officer. I love this book. It is a great book for young children (6+) to read, or have read to them (younger children, too), with charming stories, lovely illustrations and plenty of understated learning experiences. It is suitable for dyslexic readers (see “Internal design” below). I think it would be best read with an adult.
Stories: There are three stories. The first is “The Amazing Tale of Sheridan”: Sheridan is a young pygmy shrew who falls in love with a lady pygmy shrew called Cheryl. Cheryl, sadly, hardly knows Sheridan exists … until the day he rescues her from being eaten by Terry the tom cat. Along the way, we learn about how shrews live and what they eat for tea.
The second story is “Orla’s Big Day”, about Orla the otter’s first day at school. In this story we learn about animals and insects that live in or by a river. Orla is very nervous about her first day, and has the same worries that any child starting in a new class would have. But she soon makes friends with the other children.
The third story is “The Fairy’s Foxtrot” – the “oldest legend in the world”. It is about Mervin and Maria – two mayflies that fall in love, get separated, then find each other again. We learn how mayflies transform from nymphs into “duns” and then into “spinners” and live for just one day.
At the back of the book are short factual sections on pygmy shrews, otters and mayflies.
The stories are charming, and beautifully illustrated. Although simple, they use quite advanced language (“exaggerated”, “capture the imagination”, “heroics”), but I think this is a great way to introduce children to new words and phrases. The concept of death is introduced in a gentle, natural way. There are short quotations at the beginning of each story (from Shakespeare, David Everett and Roald Dahl), which I think is brilliant and a device not often used in children’s books. And, of course, the tales are teaching children (and adults) about animals and nature. This is a really lovely book that I would recommend to adults as well as children.
Editorial Input & Design
Editorial input: The book doesn’t appear to have been copy-edited or proofread. There are spelling inconsistencies, incorrect punctuation and capitalisation, even a misused word. This is an enormous shame, as the tales are lovely and the book is otherwise educational. I do so hope there is further collaboration between Shane and Vincent and more books are in the pipeline, but please do get some professional editorial input.
Cover: Just gorgeous. (The book is square; the picture here has been cropped.)
Internal design: There are pictures on every page except the three factual pages at the back. To help dyslexic readers, the text is blue and the page backgrounds are a creamy-yellow colour; the font is specially designed for dyslexic readers. The pages are well laid out. There are no running heads or page numbers. The illustrations by Vincent Killowry are fabulous.
Font: The font used in this book is OpenDyslexic, an “open-source font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia”. The typeface includes regular, bold, italic and bold-italic styles. It is free for anyone to use, and can be used for commercial products as long as you acknowledge its source. You can download it from http://opendyslexic.org/.
Book Clubs & Reviews
This probably would be suitable for a children’s book club, or for reading in class. As well as the obvious nature facts, new words and concepts could be discussed, and the fact that you don’t have to be the best looking or most intelligent person to be able to do something brave or to be loved (as Sheridan the shrew found out).
The story of Orla the otter could be a springboard to asking what children want to do when they grow up. The story of Mervin and Maria introduces death and could lead to a discussion about living life to the full and what a legend is. There could be discussion on what the quotes from other writers mean.
What others are saying: “Just lovely” says Mary Esther Judy. Read more...
Buy & Author
Mail order direct from the author Shane Casey in Ireland, €9.80 with Irish shipping; €11.60 with international shipping
Mail order from O’Mahony’s in Ennis, Co Clare, Republic of Ireland at €7.99 (+ €2.50 delivery within Ireland)
Also available in some bookshops around the county. At the time of writing, it is not available on Amazon.
Follow the author:
Website: Nature's Secret Adventures
Illustrator's website: www.killowryart.com