Review Blog

May 18 2012

Australian Backyard Naturalist by Peter Macinnis

cover image

National Library of Australia, 2012. ISBN 9780642277428.
From the furry to the slimy, the large to the tiny, Peter Macinnis explores the lives of the animals that share our lives and spaces in this fabulous book designed to introduce the reader to the fascinating world living in their backyard. From possums to parrots to pill-bugs, we learn about the habits and habitats of creatures that many of us never even notice yet are critical to ensuring that our environment is healthy and harmonious. Much as I think that some creatures have way too many legs and shudder as I think of them creeping over my skin, I now have a new respect for them and although I'm yet to be convinced of the value of a fly, I do understand that without them there would be no maggots and therefore the medical world would be deprived of an important source of therapy.
For this is the sort of information that is characteristic of Peter's books - he doesn't just give dry facts that can be clicked, copied and pasted into some equally dry assignment - he tells a story that absorbs you so you just keep reading and learning, engaged and intrigued, and emerging with not just information, but insight.
Each section comprises smaller sections that make its information accessible in the short chunks that support the learning needs of its audience. In My Backyard gives Peter's experiences with each sort of creature and it's this personal touch that is one of the elements which sets this book apart. At a Glance gives a broader background of the creatures and this is supported by Amazing! full of those quirky facts that some may wonder at the author's ability to winkle out, but those who are familiar with his writing and know the depth of his research are not so surprised. A Closer Look examines more complex issues such as chemical signals in ants and then the storyteller side of the scientist returns with fascinating histories about man's interaction with the creature. Did you know that Amalie Dietrich spent ten years living rough in the Queensland bush in the mid-19th century collecting, preparing and preserving specimens for use in European scientific studies, including the first-ever taipan snake? Her work led her become known as 'Australia's first spider lady'. Finally, each section has at least one project idea that students can engage in so they can see for themselves just what it is they have been learning about. (Miss 5 is going to love those and Grandma is just going to have to grow some backbone.)
The whole book is lavishly illustrated with photos from the National Library's collections and diagrams and photos that no Google search will ever deliver. The whole thing has this rich, glossy, satisfying feeling that a quality print resource offers and is accompanied by teachers notes.
I'm always honoured to review Peter's books and this one is no exception - it's been a torment having to wait till most schools were back in session so that as many as possible can know about what I consider to be a vital addition to the library's non fiction collection, primary and secondary. In 2010, Peter's book Australian Backyard Explorer won the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books from the CBCA - I predict Australian Backyard Naturalist will be a similar winner in 2013.
If it is not readily available through your local bookseller, it is online through both National Library bookshop and the distributor, NewSouth Books.
Barbara Braxton

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