Reviewed by Tim Hounsome (aged 48) and Isabelle Hounsome (aged 5) – March 2023
A few weeks ago a parcel arrived for me. It was a children’s book, Maisie the Mountain Hare, and although I’m 48 years old, this wasn’t a surprise. I’d volunteered to review this book, not because I have a thing for mountain hares (although they are pretty cool) but because I have a five-year-old daughter (Isabelle), and I’m an ecologist. So, a team effort!
Maise the Mountain Hare is the latest book from Lynne Rickards and follows on from other popular titles such as Skye the Puffling, Rowan the Red Squirrel, and Willow the Wildcat. In this book, she has teamed up once again with illustrator Abigail Hookham, who also illustrated another of Lynne’s books, Oran the Curious Otter.
Using Lynne’s signature lyrical writing, the story follows a pair of juvenile hares, Maisie and her brother Archie (Isabelle and I had a discussion about whether they were babies or juveniles).
The story follows a pair of baby hares through their first summer into the following winter. During this time they learn to avoid predation by keeping a lookout and hiding when required. As they grow they notice that their fur is changing colour ready for the winter, although this happens before the first snows, and leads to a tricky situation.
I have to say, from my point of view, the lyrical approach to the text combines beautifully with the illustrations. Having spent a good amount of time in the Scottish Highlands it’s obvious to me that Abigail has also spent time there, as she has not only perfectly captured the mood and feel of the landscape, but also the changeability of the environment. Speaking as a slightly pedantic ecologist (aren’t we all?) seeing the correct plant and animal species in the illustrations really pleased me!
As a parent and environmentalist it is great to see science and important topics like climate change being introduced to a young audience. Although I joked about whether they were juveniles or babies, the word leveret is used, as well as their ‘bed’ being quite correctly called a form. There is, in my experience, a tendency in many children’s books to use ‘baby’ words for things, and using the correct terms in this book is something I entirely approve of.
Reading the story with Isabelle (possibly on to the 8th time now!) has allowed me to discuss many things with her. For example, the importance of good eyesight, smell and hearing for avoiding predation. The subject of camouflage as the hares’ fur changes from brown to white is covered in the book, as well as an intentional reference to climate change when the snows don’t arrive and the two young hares aren’t camouflaged anymore.
So what did my co-author of this review think?
I liked it! (good start and she’s too young for false flattery, believe me, I know!!).
Why did you like it?
Because it’s about baby hares and they’re cute and fluffy.
What else did you like about it?
I liked the pictures and that it rhymes.
What did we learn?
We learnt that eagles eat hares (not a spoiler – this doesn’t happen!!). We learnt that hares turn white in the winter so they are camouflaged in the snow. And ptarmigan turn white too (at this point Isabelle asks me if I’m camouflaged for winter as I have white fur too – see what I mean about false flattery!)
Baby hares are called leverets and sleep in forms
She also said she learnt that – hares are mammals like humans and that their mummy feeds them milk the same as humans. And cows. And whales. And lions and….. (the list went on for a while…. )
How does reading the book make you feel?
Calm and relaxed. Because it’s about hares.
Would you recommend it?
What does recommend mean? (explanation given). Yes, I would!
So a thumbs up from Isabelle!
At the end of the book, there is a review of learning points from the story which is a useful prompt for further conversations with a child.
Personally, I really liked this book. The atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands is captured beautifully by the text and illustrations. The text, while educational and thought-provoking for children, is also a fun and engaging story that I’m sure many children will enjoy. Of course, we’re now off to the bookshop to get the other titles!
Maisie the Mountain Hare is an illustrated story by Lynne Rickards and Abigail Hookham. It tells the story of Maisie and Archie, who must work together to stay safe in Scotland’s Cairngorms. If you would like to find out more about the book, or buy your own copy, visit Kelpies’ website or participate in our giveaway (closing 22nd March 2023) across our social media platforms!
For more information about our Volunteer Mountain Hare Survey in collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology, NatureScot and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which allows us to learn more about mountain hares, click here.