Score 94+/100 (9.4+ out of 10)
It is impossible not to be touched by Nature Study Buddies, a charming, heartwarming children's book about friendship, wonder, and adventure! You and your kids will absolutely love this story about children working together to explore their curiosities regarding the fascinating creatures that come out at night.
Right off the bat, it hits you that this book and the entire Leigh's Wheelie Adventure series is dedicated to and inspired by Leigh, the author's late son, who bravely battled spina bifida until passing away in 2016. Leigh's incredible, inspiring life is chronicled in one of the author's other works, Leigh, My Amazing Son.
It hits you like a ton of bricks and really adds weight to this fun, humorous, and lighthearted story about friends embarking on a backyard project out of pure curiosity. The loss is never explicitly mentioned, but it is implied and can be inferred that these are events inspired by someone who left their mark on the world. It is difficult not to get a bit teary-eyed when reading this book with that context.
Everyone who had an awesome childhood should be able to relate to this book. We've all been there and done that, wondering: What is that animal hiding in the bushes? What is that animal sitting in the tree? What's that crawling in that hole? What's that making that strange sound at night?
And every now and then we tried to answer those questions ourselves, and shenanigans ensued. We'd have a small fall. We'd get stuck or get a cut. Things wouldn't go to plan. The animal would run/fly away or refuse to come out. We'd be so close to it but unable to snap a clear picture of it because the lighting wasn't right or we weren't as close to it as we thought we were. These are very relatable experiences. It's part of living and being a child.
Children are naturally curious, it's a large part of how they learn. What's incredible is that this book highlights a child with a disability (Leigh) exploring this same curious instinct in his own way. He does so with the amazing, loving help and support of his friends, Cosmos and Tara, who are amazing people in their own right. It's really beautiful, and actually quite powerful.
Cosmos and Tara come up with the idea of building a kind of swing to try to lift Leigh up into a tree so they can see the nocturnal nature together. However, Leigh ends up choosing to stay on the ground in his wheelchair while Cosmos and Tara report from the tree. Ironically, it is Leigh who ends up seeing some of the cooler creatures from the ground, particularly the owl who flies down and lands right on his handlebars, close enough to take a picture with! It is a really cute and endearing story.
Another thing that this book does incredibly is to showcase some of the great animals that naturally wander Australia such as owls, bandicoots, frogs, and magpies. Something that made us feel extra warm and fuzzy inside was that many of these animals aren't just found in Melbourne, Australia (where the book takes place), but have been seen in our home states in America as well! It almost gives you the feeling of how interconnected we all are, and how we're not so different or separate no matter how far apart we are (physically). We can all share common experiences (and see common animals).
If this book had a weakness, it is probably the writing itself. It's not bad by any means, but there are some minor issues. For example, single quotations marks are used instead of quotation marks for some reason. Ellipses are used rather frequently near the beginning. It really isn't that big of a deal. The author later does a good job at utilizing onomatopoeia, something which kids will probably enjoy, although some will likely object, saying, “That's not the sound that a _____ makes!” It also does meander a bit at first, building to the kids coming up with their plan and trying to execute it. It takes some patience, but it's worth it.
The art is awesome and one of the highlights of the book! The human characters look just real enough to be appealing, but not so real that they fall into the uncanny valley. The animals look good. We especially liked the frog and the owl. Everything, even the night scenes, are appealing and colorful. Kids will get a great laugh at some of the pictures that Leigh snapped.
Overall, we can highly recommend this children's book! It'd be a great addition to your home or classroom!
Check it out on Amazon!