BOOKS: Titles to read aloud

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:

Families of the Deep Blue Sea
by Kenneth Mallory, illustrated by Marshall Peck III
Can We Be Friends?
by Alexandra Wright, illustrated by Marshall Peck III
Do They Scare You?
by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Kristin Kest
Animal Close-Ups series:
The Whale, by Valerie Tracqui,
with photos by Francois Gohier/Jacana
The Fox: Playful Prowler, by Christian Havard
The Wolf: Night Howler, by Christian Havard
All from Charlesbridge Publishing, 1995.
(85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02172-4411)
$6.95 each, paperback.
Animals In Disguise
by Martine Duprez,
illustrated by Helene Appell-Mertiny
Birds Of The Night
by Jean de Sart, illustrated by Jean-Marie Winants
Charlesbridge, 1995. $14.95 each, hardcover.

Charlesbridge Publishing is fast emerging as a leader in issuing
entertaining zoology books for children, with titles for each age
group from preschool to (at least) junior high. Some, like Families of
the Deep Blue Sea, by Kenneth Mallory of the New England
Aquarium, are authored by recognized experts. Mallory discusses the
early life of sea creatures as diverse as leafy sea-dragons and polar
bears. Each brief description covers both an unusual aspect of the animal
and something with which young readers can identify––including
sibling rivalry, in a page about how fetal sharks devour their siblings
in the womb. Parents may cringe, but not anyone who’s been chased
and bitten by an irate baby brother.
Most Charlesbridge titles, however, are translated from
French. The themes and illustrations speak an international language,
but there are avoidable flaws. Experts will recognize several mistakes
in species identification in a set of picture-books for non-readers, not
reviewed here, which may result from the unfamiliarity of the original
European publishers with North American species similar to, but not
the same as, their European kin. Less pardonable are the many blunders
of Christian Havard, author of both The Fox and The Wolf. For
example, in The Wolf, Havard claims coyotes don’t hunt in packs.
That’s true in areas where heavy hunting pressure prevents pack formation,
but coyotes will pack up if left alone to do so in an area
where the available prey makes pack hunting worthwhile. In The Fox,
Havard asserts with appalling naivete that while, “In other parts of the
world, a fox hunt ends with the death of the fox,” English fox hunters
“do not hurt the fox.” ANIMAL PEOPLE has a file folder of recent
photographs demonstrating the opposite.
No such ignorance mars the Charlesbridge hardcover volumes,
Birds Of The Night and Animals In Disguise. These are serious
natural history, the former covering the major families of owl, while
the latter introduces the concept of camouflage. It isn’t as funny as
the Monte Python’s Flying Circus skit on “The Advantages of Not
Being Seen,” but certain anecdotes and illustrations come close,
without compromising authoritative accuracy.
The most unique and valuable Charlesbridge titles, however,
may be Can We Be Friends?, explaining symbiosis, and Do They
Scare You?, explaining the ecological importance of creepy-crawlies
and Tasmanian devils, debunking myths right up to the last page,
where we’re abruptly introduced to the Slime-Encrusted BoneCruncher,
a dragon-like beast from “not here, not anywhere.” He’s
every child’s nightmare, and author Sneed Collard III succinctly
explains that no such creatures have ever existed, or could.

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