I’ve long been a fan of Petr Horacek’s illustrations, and will happily admit that it was knowing he was the illustrator on Nicola Davies’ A First Book of Animals that made me reach for this one. But in fairness to Nicola Davies, I’d best start with her.

A First Book of Animals is the second in Nicola Davies’ series, following on the success of A First Book of Nature . It contains over 50 different animals in five sections – big and small, colours and shapes, animal homes, animal babies and animals in action. Ms Davies actually graduated in zoology, but I imagine she would have done as well in a literature degree, because the book has a beautiful, dreamy quality to the text. I adore the use of poetry and descriptive writing which is bound to not only make children fall in love with it, but help them remember what could otherwise be dry facts.

First Book of Animals

“The ostrich lives in Africa

In grasslands hot and dry,

The biggest bird in all the world;

In fact, too large to fly.”

This extract from the section Song of the Biggest and the Smallest Bird is just the start of a gorgeous poem that goes on to introduce the hummingbird, from the jungles of Cuba. It explains that it is just bigger than a bee and could fit inside the ostrich’s eye! While both might be birds – with feathers, beaks and wings – they use them for different things. Written as a poem, it is engaging and captivating. I know I’ll never forget the comparison between hummingbird and ostrich eye.

I wish I could share all the poems with you, but that would cheat you of the experience of reading them yourself. I will give you an example of how captivating they are though: Ameli (7) has turned the poem about the Zebras into a song for herself!

I may have wanted A First Book of Animals because of Petr Horacek’s illustrations, but I will be looking out for other books from Nicola Davies, because her writing is beautiful.

And then there are the illustrations.

I don’t know enough about art to be able to name Horacek’s style, but some of it always make me think of a richer, bolder, clearer Monet. (Sorry Monet!)

First Book of Animals

But he also changes it up a bit, which I think is valuable in a book this size. So there are beautiful pencil drawings and some that are simply gorgeous, no matter their medium!


My favourites are the bold, deep coloured ones that make you feel like you could be drawn into the page.

First Book of Animals

I like doing what I can to bring books to life for the children, so we went to our nearest zoo for a visit, where Ameli found the animals in the book, and read each one their poem! It was really sweet. Nala the Lion did at least deign to look at her once or twice! I thought it was a lovely way to work through the book though, and the girls enjoyed it.First Book of Animals

We read a lot of books, and many come and go as they pass in and out of favour, but I think this is one that will stay on our bookshelf for a long time to come.

  • Hardcover: 108 pages
  • Age Range: 3 years and up
  • Publisher: Walker Books (6 Oct. 2016)

Categories: Book Reviews

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