________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


Amazing Animal Adventures in the Desert. (Going Wild).

Brian Keating.
Calgary, AB: Fifth House, 2005.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $14.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-894856-72-4 (pbk.), ISBN 1-894856-71-6 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Desert animals-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½  /4


Night is fantastic, but dawn on the desert is beautiful, too. The temperature is cool, so it's a great time for birds to broadcast their presence. Birds perform a dawn chorus everywhere in the world, even in the desert where there aren't many bird species. Birdcalls travel the farthest at this time. The humidity at dawn, when there's no wind to blow it away and no sun to burn it away, acts as a transmitter to help the sound of the bird permeate farther across the desert environment. When the sun is coming up, I find it so exciting to lie in my tent and listen to the desert wake up. It's a polite awakening, unlike a profound tropical forest wake-up. It's clean, it's clear, it's crisp and it's the desert at its best.


In the third title of the “Going Wild” series, Keating offers young readers a glimpse into various kinds of desert environments to examine the way desert dwellers share special physical and behavioural adaptations. He describes visits to desert areas of Arizona, Baja, Utah, the southern prairies, Namibia, Australia and Zimbabwe, as well as the Okavango Delta in the Kalahari desert, and Somerset Island in Canada's Arctic.

     As in previous books, Keating uses a comfortable conversational style to share personal experiences while presenting fascinating facts. He shows how whale baleen works while examining a piece washed up on the Baja shore, marvels at shovel-nosed lizards sinking into the Namib desert sand, takes a bug's eye view of Arctic tundra life forms thriving on soil-level warmth and enjoys cackling pink parrots that hang by their feet from telephone lines in Australia's Simpson Desert. Conservation projects are a focus for Keating, the Director of Calgary Zoo's Conservation Outreach Program: he mentions research in the Kalahari, whale studies in Baja lagoons, and the care that is needed to preserve fragile soil structures in the Utah desert. The final chapter describes wildlife restoration initiatives in Zimbabwe when drought put an end to traditional cattle ranching.

     Each chapter is presented with an attractive text/photo layout, and includes captions, fact boxes, Brian's Notes and a vocabulary definition box, Say the Word!. This last feature frees the author to use a natural scientific tone with occasional challenging language in context without talking down to the young audience: eg. "The asphalt held in the heat during the day and dissipated it during the evening."... dissipated: released or dispersed. This combines well with kid-friendly comparisons such as "fuzzy gold balls with pencil legs" (red knot chicks in the Arctic), and the welwitschia plant in Namib that looks "like a pile of trash on the desert floor." I found a tendency to overuse the word 'exciting' creeping in, however, along with some passive constructions that slow the reading in spots, eg. "There are some animals that are specifically adapted........"

     Chapter headings are intriguing, as they were in the first book in the series. Who wouldn't be tempted to find out what's meant by "Like Toothpaste from the Sand" or "Upside-down Galahs Down Under"? An activity provides an extra challenge to the reader to imagine and draw his idea of the perfect desert animal. This invitation ("Now, it's your turn......") might be better positioned at the end of the book after the reader has read about the "amazing ways ... animals have managed to survive in such a harsh environment." A free Teacher's Guide is available from the publisher's website.

     Each of the books in this series has brought vivid glimpses of often remote corners of the world to the attention of young readers. They can satisfy the curiosity Keating arouses with further research using the list of resources at the end of the book.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson, a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian, lives in BC.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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