Extraordinary by name and extraordinary by nature, WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is both gorgeous to look at and fascinating to read – what a fantastic idea for a book! Celebrating the lives of remarkable animals who have had an impact on history, the book features every type of animal you can imagine from a mystery-solving cat to a sign-language speaking gorilla to the rarest creature in the world – a tortoise. Some of the animal stories you may of heard of (A Streetcat Named Bob, Greyfriars Bobby) but prepare to be amazed as you discover their stories and just how they made history. Beautifully presented, bright and olourful illustrations alongside photographs, bring the wild lives springing to life. Each spread has a wealth of information to be enjoyed again and again. My Dad picked it up and thought it was one of the most “beautiful ideas for a children’s book” and “utterly fascinating” – high praise indeed!
Ahead of World Animal Day on Friday 4th October, it’s with great pleasure I welcome author Ben Lerwill to the blog today, talking about his Top Five stories from WildLives, which is his first children’s book. Welcome to the blog Ben!
Ben’s Top Five Stories from WildLives
“Whittling down a shortlist can be a nightmare, particularly for someone as indecisive as me. WildLives tells the stories of 50 individual animals through history, from Laika the space dog to Dolly the cloned sheep, but this number could easily have been 100. Deciding which stories to include, and which to leave out, was tough.
But I’m delighted with the list of animals that made the final book. In researching their lives, I learned something new from every single one of them. I also love the fact that, collectively, they make up a real Noah’s Ark of different creatures from around the world. Smaller animals include a Skye Terrier, a homing pigeon and two chinstrap penguins, while weighing in at the other extreme are a life-saving elephant, a headline-making giraffe and an itinerant hippo.
Pointing to my overall favourites is almost impossible – I’m indecisive, as I may have mentioned – but I’m particularly fond of these five tales.
This is a real favourite with my kids. Clever Hans was a horse who lived in Germany at the end of the 19th century. His owner claimed to have taught him how to solve sums, which sounds preposterous, but the horse achieved so much fame that he drew the attention of the European aristocracy. His uncanny power was to be able to listen to a maths problem, then stamp his hoof the correct number of times in response. Although, as it turns out, there was rather more to the story than that…
When researcher Jane Goodall was sent out to the Tanzanian jungle in 1960, we still knew precious little about chimpanzees. Little by little, she earned the animals’ trust, and was eventually able to revolutionise our understanding of this utterly extraordinary species. The chimpanzee that made the difference was David Greybeard, who was bold enough to show the rest of his troop that Jane posed no threat. A great ape in more ways than one.
I love dolphins. They’re intelligent, inquisitive and inscrutable. Moko was a dolphin living off the coast of New Zealand who got into the habit of visiting the same bay, where he would dart around people in the water. But the heart of his story focuses on the day that two pygmy sperm whales got stranded in the shallows – as onlookers watched, Moko carefully and deliberately led the whales back to the safety of the ocean. It’s a beautiful tale.
I’m a bit of a sports obsessive, so I was delighted to be able to include Pickles, the collie dog who found the World Cup when it went missing before the 1966 tournament. Exactly who stole the trophy still has detectives scratching their heads to this day, but what we do know is that without the intervention of our four-legged sleuth, Sir Bobby Moore may never have had a trophy to lift. Pickles is one of seven dogs in the book – and there’s always something heart-warming about a heroic canine.
As a boy, I remember watching incredible footage of a wild lion leaping on top of two men, not in attack mode but in affection, slobbering them with licks and cuffing them with massive paws. Christian was bought – or rather rescued – from the Harrods’ pet department in 1969 and, after spending his formative years in London, was later assimilated into the Kenyan wilderness. His reunion with his one-time owners, on the African savannah, leaves me smiling every time I think about it.”
Wild Lives by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is out now, published by Nosy Crow £16.99 hardback.
With thanks to Nosy Crow for inviting me to host this guestpost and sending me this book to review.