________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Well-Schooled Fish and Feathered Bandits: The Wondrous Ways Animals Learn From Animals.

Peter Christie.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2006.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (lib. bd.).
ISBN 1-55451-045-7 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55451-046-5 (lib. bd.).

Subject Heading:
Learning in animals-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4



In Japan, carrion crows use vehicles to crush walnuts for them. The crows set the nuts from nearby trees at intersections and return after the traffic has passed. The trick appears to have spread from crow to crow after first being reported near a driving school in Tokyo.

Near the Virgin Islands, French grunts learn in schools. Every dawn and dusk, these coral reef fish travel the same route between their daytime resting places and their feeding grounds. Nothing marks the path. They learn the route only if they school with fish that already know the way.

Science writer and naturalist Peter Christie has applied his expertise to a first children's book. This small, highly readable book packs a wealth of intriguing examples of social learning-how animals may learn useful skills from one another to supplement their instinctive abilities. Such learning aids in food finding, avoiding predators, finding the best mate to carry on the species, creating tools to assist in eating, communicating and in the development of practical habits.

     The 48 page book opens with engaging anecdotes describing coin-stealing starlings, other birds that have learned to sample cream from milk bottles and monkeys that copy the potato-washing habits they've observed. In six additional chapters, the author brings the extensive research of scientists to a kid-friendly level with brief and clear accounts. For example, following World War II, rats in Berlin learned to avoid poisoned bait after their first taste. Wild monkeys may fear boa constrictors, but those born in captivity tolerate them. While a few of the examples may be familiar to young readers (such as the use of tools by chimpanzees in Tanzania), the idea of orcas actively choosing to teach their young to snatch seals from shore may be new. A curious reader will appreciate the bibliography of 17 books for further reading. The lengthy bibliography included is an indication of the depth of up-to-date research involved in selecting facts for this text.

     The book is illustrated with color photos. Generous use of trivia boxes add interest. The book will find a keen audience as a source of initial research into a fascinating topic, or may be enjoyed for leisure reading about the wonder to be found in the study of nature.

Highly Recommended.

BC's Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian.

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

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