CSIRO Publishing

Communicating ecology to children through books – the importance of tree hollows

Sam Lloyd (South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium) 

Children have an instinctive curiosity for the natural world. It is important that we nurture this curiosity and inquisitiveness, as it will encourage them to be aware of the ecological challenges facing the world, and maybe even be more proactive in addressing them. Children’s books can help achieve this by providing a gateway to exploring biology and ecology from around the world and in a wide variety of ecosystems that children may not otherwise be able to experience first-hand. Here I review a recent children’s book on the importance of tree hollows as habitat for fauna. 

Title: A hollow is a home 

Illustrator/Author/Design: Abbie Mitchell and Astred Hicks 

Publisher: CSIRO Publishing (2019) 

A Hollow is a Home, written by Abbie Mitchell and illustrated by Astred Hicks, is Australia’s first book for young and adolescent readers dedicated to hollow-dependent wildlife. Hollow-dependent wildlife are animals that depend on hollows in standing trees, both living and dead, to live in for shelter, nesting and protection (from predators, amongst other things). Tree hollows provide homes for more than 340 Australian species (about 15% of Australian animals), including birds, frogs, bats, possums, gliders, rodents, snakes, small and large lizards, invertebrates (but this book focusses on vertebrate animals) and many others! A Hollow is a Home sets about to engage young readers in this intriguing and invaluable part of bush ecology—how it is that wildlife live in tree hollows, which species use tree hollows, how tree hollows form and how to spot and monitor hollows in your backyard or local area. 

The book is broken into a series of chapters, which takes the reader through some of the fundamental aspects of hollows, including why some animals need hollows and what size they need, how long they take to form (about 200 years for one 11 – 15cm hollow!), competition between animals for hollows and key threats to tree hollows (e.g., land clearing). There is a great section on how to spot and monitor tree hollows and the use of artificial hollows. The authors have also included a chapter that looks at research on tree hollows, featuring scientists and the sort of research they conduct. Of course, they profile a suite of fascinating species that use hollows. After spotlighting them a few times during my PhD, my favourite is the beautiful eastern pygmy possum, requiring a hollow with an entrance of less than 5cm. If you have a child who loves animals, this is definitely the book for them! 

Whilst the book is technically pitched to Years 3-6, I would propose that other years (in particular, students in Years 7-10) can benefit from this text. The book is beautifully laid out, with ample photos and diagrams on each page to keep readers engaged (and excellent teacher notes). It is also very comprehensive, and I just can’t see how high school students studying biology or environmental studies could not find this an informative and relevant text. I also think it could be readily applied in Prep/Kindy to Year 2 to inspire and inform lessons and discussions around how animals live in the bush. Children (and adults alike) love photos of beautiful and intriguing animals and that is exactly what this book provides. 

To see the original review of this book, see here.

Read more from the September 2020 edition of the ESA Bulletin.