CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 14 . . . . December 5, 2014
Interpretive biologist Chris Earley has assembled a fascinating collection of birds and frogs in these two books that are sure to amuse and intrigue young readers. They have all been chosen for their strange adaptations — beak, feathers, legs, feet, colours, calls or habits — that allow them to occupy a particular niche in nature. Some may be familiar, e.g. ostrich, flamingo, turkey, penguin, marsh frog, tree frogs, spadefoot toad. But most of these creatures are exotic species found only in dense tropical rainforest or the vast spaces of Africa. Along with each vivid close-up photo of the animal, brief text highlights its unusual feature. Latin names are included, as well as an index.
Of course, the bold, eye-catching photos will make this book attractive for casual, fun viewing and sharing. Could that Shoebill on page 22 be another Muppet character? Is the Tawny Frogmouth on page 53 really a bird, or a featherless frog? The concise details in language that will be easily accessible to all focus on specific features (“the Vietnamese Mossy Frog just stops moving — and disappears”) and may pique curiosity to learn more. In the Introduction, the author confesses a personal fascination for frogs since childhood and makes the point that “the more you know about the natural world…the better you will understand…how our actions affect everything else that shares this world with us.” With that in mind, who can resist the appeal of even a homely creature like the Mexican Burrowing Frog, for instance, that spends nearly all of its time underground?
One concern, though, is the design that omits background in most cases, showing the bird or frog on a stark white page or perhaps an isolated piece of branch. While this certainly highlights the vibrant nature of these species, placing them in a visual context would have added captivating information to reinforce the purpose of the book. Details of habitat would show (as well as tell) the reader in what type of environment it is found, or how the bird or frog uses camouflage as a defence. Kids can imagine how that Vietnamese Mossy Frog will ‘disappear’, but far more fun to actually see this phenomenon and realize how effective it is. Also with respect to the frogs, extra context would help to give an indication of relative size. The most frustrating image is that of the Inca Tern (page 21) described as having “curly face feathers”. These white feathers are almost impossible to discern on a solid white page.
The pair of books do achieve their purpose, though: to display the weird and wonderful features of these species, most of which we will rarely come across but which are vital to the diversity in nature.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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