Stephanie Owen Reeder and Cher Hart – Sensational Australian Animals

CSIRO Publishing, Australia, 2024
Cover and internal design Cher Hart

In creating a book about the five senses, Stephanie Owen Reeder and Cher Hart have eschewed the commonplace (pictures of noses and ears) and opted to show our unique Australian fauna and the way their use their senses, some of them in the most remarkable ways.

Stephanie Owen Reeder spoke to Barbie about Sensational Australian Animals

This approach is bound to appeal to young readers, not least because there are some wonderfully bizarre and interesting creatures and their habits on offer – 145 of them in total. There are examples of a variety of creatures for each sense, for instance for sight we see marsupials, birds, arthropods (including insects and spiders), aquatic creatures and reptiles.

Children will especially love the Sensational Fact boxes on each double page spread. Did you know that the whale shark doesn’t have eyelids to protect its eyes – not necessary because its eyes are covered in tiny teeth! This is just the sort of thing that youngsters will be sprouting at the dinner table to horrify and fascinate their family members.

With so much information to impart, it would be tempting to fill every page chocker-block, but this book has been thoughtfully designed to have just enough to be oozing interest and not too much so as to be cluttered.

The illustrations are carefully crafted to both inform and attract the viewer. The tiny peacock spider is shown, for example, at much bigger than life size to show off his decorative abdomen which he likes to wave about to attract potential mates. Their real world size is a maximum of just 0.5cm for females and 0.4cm for males.

I do love a good endpaper and the enlarged image of the tiger shark’s skin depicted on these pages makes a striking entry and exit to the book. This picture will surely discourage us from patting tiger sharks if we were ever tempted, their skin being made up of tiny tooth like curved scales. See – even I am sprouting a fascinating fact found in this book!

With CSIRO experts on hand to fact check we can be assured of a book that is scientifically accurate, something that is very important for young readers and for teachers who will find this book very useful and no doubt much borrowed from the school library. In fact, freely available teacher’s notes for the book are available at: https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/8094/#forteachers

Stephanie Owen Reeder and Cher Hart have worked together to produce a winner here. It is to be hoped that the publishers will team them up again for another equally engaging project.

Thank you to CSIRO Publishing for my review copy and to Stephanie for chatting with me about the importance of science writing for children and about this sensational book.