CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 6. . . .October 9, 2015
Kyle Goes Alone.
Jan Thornhill. Illustrated by Ashley Barron.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids, 2015.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
Camouflage (Biology)-Juvenile literature.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
Kyle was a three-toed sloth. He lived with his mom high in the rainforest canopy.
Like all sloths, Kyle was a slowpoke.
He moved through the treetops slowly.
He chewed leaves slowly.
He scratched his belly slowly.
Kyle did everything so slowly that he only had to “go” once a week.
And that once a week was…
Children learn about animal habitats in their Early Years classes. Usually the most mundane questions, such as how an animal excretes, are not addressed. But bodily functions in some animals are unique and bear explanation.
Such is the case with the sloth, that furry, algae-covered, sleepy and slow inhabitant of the rainforest canopy in Central and South America. Most children will wonder, even if they don’t ask, how an animal that hangs upside down most of its life does what other animals do right side up?
It turns out that urinating and defecating are the only activities a sloth does in the same way as other animals, only much less often. A sloth’s diet consists exclusively of leaves that are processed extremely slowly in the chambers of its stomach. About once a week, the sloth climbs down the tree (slowly, of course) and, gripping the trunk (the sloth is helpless against predators when it is on the ground), does its business. It then returns to the upper regions to sleep, eat and digest again, slowly.
Governor General Award nominee Jan Thornhill (The Wildlife ABC & 123, Wild in the City, I Found a Dead Bird, A Tree in a Forest and many more) answers this question for young children in a tasteful, educational and entertaining way. The subject of defecation is only part of the story. In Kyle Goes Alone, a child will learn all about the different species (a parrot, a whipsnake, a frog, a leaf-cutter ant) that live in the different layers of the rainforest so that the book will be even more useful in a teaching program about habitats or the rainforest.
Several pages are turned on a 90 degree angle, emphasizing for the young reader the height of the tree and how far a sloth must descend to defecate. Ashley Barron’s paper collages are beautifully done, even if they are not scientifically accurate. She captures a sloth’s seemingly perpetual smile on Kyle’s face, but anthropomorphizes him by giving him blue eyes. The greeny brown and grey bark of the rainforest trees provides camouflage against predators, but it has become blue at Barron’s hand. Nevertheless, her deft touch at layering the papers, painting streaks of sunlight and dapples and varying shades and contrasts of every colour work together to create the complicated environment of the rainforest. Children will enjoy exploring the pages to find the animals hiding within the leaves and will be comforted to see that Kyle’s mother is keeping a quiet vigil for her son’s safety as he goes on his first trip alone.
At the end of the book, Thornhill has included two pages of information about the life of a sloth and about camouflage to make this a fully-rounded informational book.
Kyle Goes Alone will be an appreciated and well-used addition to a school library collection.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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