________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 7 . . . . November 24, 2006


How Animals Use Their Senses. (Kids Can Read).

Pamela Hickman. Illustrated by Pat Stephens.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2006.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55337-903-9 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55337-902-0 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Senses and sensation-Juvenile literature.

Grades 1-2 / Ages 6-7.

Review by Lois Brymer.

*** ½ /4


Did you know that some sounds are too high or too low for people to hear?

Cats and dogs can hear sounds that are too high for us to hear. Elephants talk to each other by making noises that are too low for us to hear. For some animals, hearing is the most important sense of all.If you were a bat.

  • you would make sounds that are too high for people to hear. The sounds would bounce off things that are nearby and come back to your ears as echoes. The echoes would help you to hunt in the dark.
  • you would have large ears to hear the echoes. You could find and catch an insect in less than half a second.


How Animals Use Their Senses, by award-winning children's natural-science writer Pamela Hickman, is all about eyes, ears, noses, tongues, tentacles, whiskers, feelers, and feathers. It's the perfect book for young animal lovers, particularly those kids who are now reading on their own and who are visual learners, fact finders, and trivia seekers. Based on the author's Animal Senses: How Animals See, Hear, Taste, Smell and Feel (1998) and adapted as part of the “Kids Can Read” series, this fascinating book of discovery both entices and educates with explanations that are clear, simple, and filled with the weird and wonderful. And it's fun.

     Hickman stimulates curiosity with a conversational style that can readily hook beginning and even reluctant readers. Before introducing them to the "amazing world of animal senses," she suggests that they think about how they use their own human senses. She asks them, "How can you tell if your alarm clock is ringing? How do you know if you like strawberry ice cream? How can you tell if there are stars in the sky?" She explains that, although animals have five senses like we do (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), in some ways their senses are "different from ours."

     She helps readers grasp these differences by creating scenarios that allow them to picture themselves in the wild. For instance, "If you went outside in the dark without a flashlight, you would probably bump into things. Many animals walk around at night without any problem. That is because they can see in the dark much better than you can." After making similar connections to the animal world, Hickman then presents factual tidbits by posing such did-you-know questions as, "Did you know that: a snake smells with its tongue? a fly tastes its dinner by walking on it? a cricket's ears are on its legs?" The author encourages readers to use their imaginations to envision what it would be like to be a frog, a skunk, a fox, a bat, a deer, a butterfly or a walrus. "If you were a walrus" Hickman tells them, "you would have rows of stiff whiskers around your mouth for feeling things" and "you would poke your whiskers in the muddy ocean bottom to feel for food" such as "a nice snack (maybe a clam or a crab)." She also quizzes readers: "Can you guess how the Starnose Mole got its name?" or "How does one ant tell another ant that it has found food?"  For those kids who gravitate towards the "gross," Hickman includes a few "surprising senses," ones that animals have and humans do not. Take the vampire bat who likes to eat blood and has built-in heat sensors to help it locate warm-blooded animals to feed on. But Hickman is quick to reassure readers not to worry because "vampire bats don't like human blood."

     Bringing Hickman's text to life and luring readers into each animal's sensual world are Pat Stephens' vibrant, colourful, and realistic watercolour illustrations which seem to leap off the pages. Rich in detail and woven into, around, and behind the narrative, these images easily enhance the written word and give the book pick-up- and certainly page-turning-appeal. One of the best examples is a two-page, bigger-than-life depiction of a Green Frog camouflaged among the lily pads. Only its bulging eyes which are fixed in an inescapable glare (and which Hickman says can see all around its body), stick above the pond water. Whether it's a lizard using its tongue to clean its eyes, a bat catching a mosquito in mid air, or a European Swallowtail Butterfly walking on a flower to decide if it is good enough to eat, Stephens captures nature up close and in the moment.

      The book's format is easy to follow. Large bold type, lots of white space, labels that identify animals, text boxes with just the right amount of information, short sentences, a table of contents, and catchy chapter titles and headings (Looking Around, Let's Hear It for Ears, Say It with a Smell, Take a Whiff of the Wind, Talented Tongues, Keep in Touch) make the book user-friendly. A minor criticism would be that a few of the text boxes cover up ears, whiskers, and wings and thus get in the way of seeing the full image. Also there are no notes about the author and illustrator who, textually and visually, have created a rapport and intimacy with their young readers. It might have added to each person's reading experience to know a little something about Hickman and Stephens. Although the flow of information sometimes seems choppy and uneven, which, of course, can be attributed to the fact that How Animals Use Their Senses is a pared down and simplified version of Hickman's detailed Animal Senses, it succeeds as the publishers intended in drawing beginning readers into "a new and exciting world of reading."

Highly Recommended.

Lois Brymer is a former publicist and recent graduate of the University of British Columbia's Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program.


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

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