Using bat illustrations to write about big issues for young children by Emma Reynolds

Picture books are powerful – they are often human’s first experiences of stories, and as such they have the power to literally shape who we are, and we carry these stories and messages into adulthood.

They are also a chance for bonding between a child and their adult, often read at bedtime snuggled up together wrapped in each other’s arms – no safer feeling in the world.

I vividly remember my favourite books that have stayed with me from early childhood.

A story about ‘Ruby’ by Maggie Glen, a bear that comes out of the factory with mis-matched fur and ears and is accidentally still stocked in the shop – but a little girl chooses her anyway. ‘Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’ by Dave McKee who one day just wants to fit in but finds value in being his true unique self. I haven’t re-read these books in over 25 years but the illustrations and their messages about acceptance of our differences and choosing kindness have stayed with me always. Picture books can inspire generations.

And so, growing up – Stories about being different and often the underdog while still being kind have especially stayed with me. And this is partly why I chose to write a book about bats. Almost everyone knows that Bats are one of the most persecuted and misunderstood animals on the planet, but it’s not common knowledge that bats are vital species that are crucial to life on earth. Despite their importance, books about bats are rare, especially children’s books.  So, thinking about bats that I’ve loved since I was a kid – I knew I had a chance here to share the truth about bats, build empathy through a sweet and relatable story, and hopefully make a difference.

Amara and the Bats’ is a picture book all about a little girl called Amara who LOVES bats. Her favourite past time is collecting and bat facts in her note book, and watching the bats with her family in the park. But when they move house to a new town, she is sad to find there are no bats living there anymore due to habitat loss. So, inspired by real life youth activists such as Tokata Iron Eyes, Dara McAnulty and Greta Thunberg, she rallies her new friends and her community to save the bats! It’s a story all about bat conservation, community action and hope.

The habitat loss and creeping urbanisation in Amara’s new town is inspired by Manchester where I live, where luxury flats are being built on every last patch of green in the city centre. The story examines these feelings as Amara feels the pressure and dread of climate anxiety – All children and adults know that feeling of helplessness against something so big, and I wanted to show the emotional toll this takes on Amara, before she becomes inspired by real life youth climate activists to try and make a difference in her community.

I wanted to tell an engaging narrative driven story and share bat facts at the same time, which encourages the reader to see how amazing (and cute!) bats really are, and exactly why they’re vital to all life on earth through highlighting their roles in ecosystems. I show through accessible illustrations bat’s roles as keystone species seed dispersers, plant pollinators, and as earth’s natural bug repellents – eating crop destroying insects and mosquitos. Did you know that bats pollinate 70% of the tropical fruit that humans eat and that we wouldn’t have fruit like bananas without them? Or tequila? Bats save farmers billions of dollars a year in pesticides, because bats eat the insects that would otherwise destroy their crops. When humans let bats do their thing and encourage them, we all thrive.

When thinking about empathy for bats which are often feared, it was important to approach this from two angles. One, was to bust the untrue and harmful myths about bats that stoke this misplaced human fear. The other, was to visually show bats in an engaging and appealing way through my illustrations, and making sure to show bats up close – something many people are unfamiliar with.

Most people outside of tropical climates haven’t seen their local bat up close, (Looking at you Australians and your ability to see your big fruit bats!). There are over 1,400 species of bats living all over the world except for the arctic regions. Of this number, around 1,200 are microbats like Amara encounters, and only 200 species are megabats AKA fruit bats which only live in tropical regions. But, most people are more likely to have encountered a fruit bat at a zoo (I recommend the bat tunnel at Chester Zoo for this – a conservation focused Zoo with the aim of preventing extinction of species) than their local, smaller microbat.

So, knowing most bats in the world are microbats, I wanted to give readers a chance to see an example of the type of bat that they are most likely to encounter in the world flying above them looks like. It was a chance to show people how cute bats are both up close and in flight in the illustrations. A chance to share awareness and celebrate that that they have these cute fuzzballs living right on their doorstep, and that they can see them flying above them if they know where and when to look! In the UK, we have 17 species of microbats that breed here – and in the US there are nearly 50 species – fascinating! All these species look different (but they share similarities – small, brown, white or grey fur, with varying faces wings and ears), and so the bat I chose to depict that Amara sees up close is loosely based on a Noctule/Brown Bat – species commonly found in the UK and US.

(And worry not! Fruit bats make an appearance in the book too.)

Joining your local bat group is one of the best ways to experience bats – as you’ll be walking in great bat watching spots with experts listening on a bat detector for their calls, and you’ll learn to identify the different species. The first bat I saw ‘in the hand’ was a Noctule on a licensed bat box check with my bat group, and I fell in love!

Bat workers often recount how they got hooked on bat work after they saw a bat up close – to see such elusive mammals up close which are usually flitting by quickly at night really is incredible, and this experience is something I wanted to reflect in the book. Amara first feels an acute connection to bats after a bat becomes trapped in her attic when she is little, and the wildlife rescue hold the bat very gently in a towel.

It was important to me that ‘Amara and the Bats’ has a human driven narrative around bat conservation, and (as far as I’m aware) it is the only book that does so. The reader can directly place themselves in Amara and her friend’s shoes as they navigate the challenges, and also be inspired to take similar positive human action for bat conservation. Bat facts are weaved in throughout the story, and there are practical guides including a guide to bat houses/boxes, a guide to making your garden/local space bat friendly, facts on multiple bat species included, and useful links to bat charities and organisations.

I hope my author-illustrator debut ‘Amara and the Bats’ inspires kids, builds empathy and understanding, and that it fills them with excitement to go bat watching! All ages can use the tools in this book to help bat conservation and save the bats! Helping the world’s only flying mammal thrive.

Amara and the Bats is out July 20th (US) and July 22nd in paperback (UK) and available to pre-order here.

Bat Conservation Trust – UK Bat Charity

Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation – The David Attenborough of bats.

Bat Conservation International – US Bat Charity

Austin Bridge Bats – US Tourist Site

Maid of Bats – One of my favourite microbat carer accounts.

Emma Reynolds is an illustrator and author based in Manchester, UK.
Her debut author-illustrator picture book ‘Amara and the Bats’ is out July 20th 2021 with Atheneum – Simon & Schuster. Emma started the #KidLit4Climate illustrated campaign, bringing together over 3,000 children’s illustrators and authors from over 50 countries in solidarity with the youth climate strikes. She is inspired by nature, animals, adventure, and seeing the magic in the everyday.

Picture books are powerful – they are often human’s first experiences of stories, and as such they have the power to literally shape who we are, and we carry these stories and messages into adulthood.

They are also a chance for bonding between a child and their adult, often read at bedtime snuggled up together wrapped in each other’s arms – no safer feeling in the world.

I vividly remember my favourite books that have stayed with me from early childhood.

A story about ‘Ruby’ by Maggie Glen, a bear that comes out of the factory with mis-matched fur and ears and is accidentally still stocked in the shop – but a little girl chooses her anyway. ‘Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’ by Dave McKee who one day just wants to fit in but finds value in being his true unique self. I haven’t re-read these books in over 25 years but the illustrations and their messages about acceptance of our differences and choosing kindness have stayed with me always. Picture books can inspire generations.

And so, growing up – Stories about being different and often the underdog while still being kind have especially stayed with me. And this is partly why I chose to write a book about bats. Almost everyone knows that Bats are one of the most persecuted and misunderstood animals on the planet, but it’s not common knowledge that bats are vital species that are crucial to life on earth. Despite their importance, books about bats are rare, especially children’s books.  So, thinking about bats that I’ve loved since I was a kid – I knew I had a chance here to share the truth about bats, build empathy through a sweet and relatable story, and hopefully make a difference.

Amara and the Bats’ is a picture book all about a little girl called Amara who LOVES bats. Her favourite past time is collecting and bat facts in her note book, and watching the bats with her family in the park. But when they move house to a new town, she is sad to find there are no bats living there anymore due to habitat loss. So, inspired by real life youth activists such as Tokata Iron Eyes, Dara McAnulty and Greta Thunberg, she rallies her new friends and her community to save the bats! It’s a story all about bat conservation, community action and hope.

The habitat loss and creeping urbanisation in Amara’s new town is inspired by Manchester where I live, where luxury flats are being built on every last patch of green in the city centre. The story examines these feelings as Amara feels the pressure and dread of climate anxiety – All children and adults know that feeling of helplessness against something so big, and I wanted to show the emotional toll this takes on Amara, before she becomes inspired by real life youth climate activists to try and make a difference in her community.

I wanted to tell an engaging narrative driven story and share bat facts at the same time, which encourages the reader to see how amazing (and cute!) bats really are, and exactly why they’re vital to all life on earth through highlighting their roles in ecosystems. I show through accessible illustrations bat’s roles as keystone species seed dispersers, plant pollinators, and as earth’s natural bug repellents – eating crop destroying insects and mosquitos. Did you know that bats pollinate 70% of the tropical fruit that humans eat and that we wouldn’t have fruit like bananas without them? Or tequila? Bats save farmers billions of dollars a year in pesticides, because bats eat the insects that would otherwise destroy their crops. When humans let bats do their thing and encourage them, we all thrive.

When thinking about empathy for bats which are often feared, it was important to approach this from two angles. One, was to bust the untrue and harmful myths about bats that stoke this misplaced human fear. The other, was to visually show bats in an engaging and appealing way through my illustrations, and making sure to show bats up close – something many people are unfamiliar with.

Most people outside of tropical climates haven’t seen their local bat up close, (Looking at you Australians and your ability to see your big fruit bats!). There are over 1,400 species of bats living all over the world except for the arctic regions. Of this number, around 1,200 are microbats like Amara encounters, and only 200 species are megabats AKA fruit bats which only live in tropical regions. But, most people are more likely to have encountered a fruit bat at a zoo (I recommend the bat tunnel at Chester Zoo for this – a conservation focused Zoo with the aim of preventing extinction of species) than their local, smaller microbat.

So, knowing most bats in the world are microbats, I wanted to give readers a chance to see an example of the type of bat that they are most likely to encounter in the world flying above them looks like. It was a chance to show people how cute bats are both up close and in flight in the illustrations. A chance to share awareness and celebrate that that they have these cute fuzzballs living right on their doorstep, and that they can see them flying above them if they know where and when to look! In the UK, we have 17 species of microbats that breed here – and in the US there are nearly 50 species – fascinating! All these species look different (but they share similarities – small, brown, white or grey fur, with varying faces wings and ears), and so the bat I chose to depict that Amara sees up close is loosely based on a Noctule/Brown Bat – species commonly found in the UK and US.

(And worry not! Fruit bats make an appearance in the book too.)

Joining your local bat group is one of the best ways to experience bats – as you’ll be walking in great bat watching spots with experts listening on a bat detector for their calls, and you’ll learn to identify the different species. The first bat I saw ‘in the hand’ was a Noctule on a licensed bat box check with my bat group, and I fell in love!

Bat workers often recount how they got hooked on bat work after they saw a bat up close – to see such elusive mammals up close which are usually flitting by quickly at night really is incredible, and this experience is something I wanted to reflect in the book. Amara first feels an acute connection to bats after a bat becomes trapped in her attic when she is little, and the wildlife rescue hold the bat very gently in a towel.

It was important to me that ‘Amara and the Bats’ has a human driven narrative around bat conservation, and (as far as I’m aware) it is the only book that does so. The reader can directly place themselves in Amara and her friend’s shoes as they navigate the challenges, and also be inspired to take similar positive human action for bat conservation. Bat facts are weaved in throughout the story, and there are practical guides including a guide to bat houses/boxes, a guide to making your garden/local space bat friendly, facts on multiple bat species included, and useful links to bat charities and organisations.

I hope my author-illustrator debut ‘Amara and the Bats’ inspires kids, builds empathy and understanding, and that it fills them with excitement to go bat watching! All ages can use the tools in this book to help bat conservation and save the bats! Helping the world’s only flying mammal thrive.

Amara and the Bats is out July 20th (US) and July 22nd in paperback (UK) and available to pre-order here.

Bat Conservation Trust – UK Bat Charity

Merlin Tuttle Bat Conservation – The David Attenborough of bats.

Bat Conservation International – US Bat Charity

Austin Bridge Bats – US Tourist Site

Maid of Bats – One of my favourite microbat carer accounts.

Emma Reynolds is an illustrator and author based in Manchester, UK.
Her debut author-illustrator picture book ‘Amara and the Bats’ is out July 20th 2021 with Atheneum – Simon & Schuster. Emma started the #KidLit4Climate illustrated campaign, bringing together over 3,000 children’s illustrators and authors from over 50 countries in solidarity with the youth climate strikes. She is inspired by nature, animals, adventure, and seeing the magic in the everyday.


Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. She is also a Creative Writing lecturer, freelance editor, screenwriter, and the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League. Her upcoming release is Green Rising, a climate change thriller. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into five languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2021. She teaches creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

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