CM . . . .
Volume V Number 21 . . . . June 18, 1999
According to one African legend, God made the wildebeest out of the bits and pieces He had left over after He finished creating all the other animals. He gave the wildebeest a mule's face, a cow's horns, a goat's beard, and a horse's body. Sometimes a wildebeest behaves as if all these bits and pieces want to go in different directions. It will start to gallop around, leap up and down, and kick its heels into the air for no reason we can see.The wrinkles on an elephant's thick hide, the bristly hair of a lion's mane, the smooth fur of a zebra's coat-- all these seem real enough to touch as world-renowned artist and naturalist Robert Bateman takes readers on a glorious pictorial safari to the plains and jungles of Africa. Fourteen animals-- all mammals and Bateman's personal favorites-- are featured in their natural habitats.
A few pages are devoted to each animal. Text is large, simple, and reads like a tour guide's commentary as Bateman combines interesting facts with personal anecdotes about his safari experiences. Specific facts about the height, weight, food, habitat and range of each animal are highlighted in small information boxes. The book begins with a brief introduction and several photographs of Bateman sketching some of his subjects up close and ends with the author's plea to protect the wilderness.
Although quite interesting and written from a different perspective from most animal books, the text obviously takes a back seat to the incredibly realistic illustrations which capture the "personalities" of their subjects. Bateman's clever use of light and three-dimensional perspective, as well as his attention to the most minute detail, results in magnificent paintings which defy viewers to find the subtle "clues" that distinguish the paintings from photographs. This attention to detail carries over to the end papers which pages are filled with the artist's preliminary sketches.
What is most evident throughout the book is Bateman's deep respect for the creatures depicted in his paintings. In their regal poses, the animals reveal their strength, beauty, and, as Bateman would have it, their vulnerability. It is through his art that Bateman sends his message of conservation and wildlife protection.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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